IN, but Not OF the World
One of the counsels of the Holy Scriptures frequently repeated, is that Christians should entirely separate themselves, in heart and spirit, from the world. We are not to run away out of the world, but to live in it in such a way as to be a blessing to it. We are to labor for the world's salvation. In a true and noble sense, we are to love the world. We are to love it to bless it, shedding light upon its darkness, watering its desert soil with our tears, mitigating its sorrow with our kindly sympathy, scattering seeds of beauty along its bare, rocky paths.
We are to be in the world like trees growing by the rivers of grace, shaking down rich fruit to feed the hunger of human souls. We are to be like fountains, fed from the river of divine love, and sending forth sweet waters of which the weary and thirsty may drink. We are to love the world by being a blessing to it.
Yet, on the other hand, we are warned against loving the world, and are taught that if we do love it, then the love of the Father is not in us. Though living in it, we are not to be of it. We are to live in the world, but the world is not to be allowed to get into us. It is all right for a ship to be in the sea. That is what a ship is made for, and so long as it rides on the waves it is safe and useful. But it is bad when the sea gets into the ship—it then goes to the bottom and is lost and worthless.
In the same way, it is right for a Christian to be in the world, but when the world gets into a Christian—then all is wrong. He either lives wearily and heavily, making no progress, doing no good—or he goes to the bottom, too often carrying with him the hopes and joys of other lives with which he had been freighted.
We must be sure that while we live our life and do our work in the world, as Christ has appointed—we do not love the world into our hearts. Christ alone must be admitted there.
The safest and easiest Christian life is the one that is most wholly Christ's. Few people are more miserable than those who are trying to live both for Christ and this world. Yet there are plenty of such people. They are only border Christians at best.
There was an old apple tree that grew on the line between two farms; half its roots were in one man's field, and half in the other's. In the autumn this tree shook down its fruit—half on this side and half on that.
In the same way, there are many who are trying to live just on the line that separates the world and the kingdom of God. Part of the roots of their lives are entwined around Christ, and part strike down into the world's soil. Then they divide the fruits. Part they give to the world—and the rest to the Lord.
But that is not the kind of life that Christ wants—he must have all. Nor does anyone ever get the best out of his religion, who tried to keep the world and Christ, too. The world clogs his feet and impedes his progress in the Christian life. It warps and stunts his growth, stunts his spiritual strength, and paralyzes spiritual energy. It keeps men mere babies in Christian character, who ought to spring up into manhood.
There was in a forest, a great oak with mighty and giant branches. At length it began to wither. Yet it had not been smitten by the thunderbolt, nor broken by the storm, nor deadened by the woodman's axe. Little treacherous vines had crept stealthily up its great trunk, running out along all its branches, covering the whole tree with a robe that was very beautiful to the eye. But this lovely vine was all the while sapping the tree's life, and at last the tree died.
In the same way, does the world often weave its robe of splendor around a Christian. It fills his hands with gold. It spreads costly tapestries beneath his feet. It decks his home with brilliant things, It wreathes a crown of laurel for his brow. Other men envy his prosperity; but the angels as they watch, see his leaf beginning to wither. One by one the branches of his life become bare and dead, until he is like the dying oak, his spiritual glory decaying, a mere skeleton of his former nobleness—though wrapped in robes of worldly prosperity. The world has sapped his religion, eaten away the fiber of his spiritual life, and destroyed his true beauty.
In the same way, worldliness has woven the shroud and built the tomb for thousands of men's souls!
The greatest peril in the Church today, is worldliness. It fastens like the fabled vampire on the life, and drains out the very heart's blood! It comes in such a subtle way as to seem harmless. It makes its appeal to men and women under the name of liberality. A sneer is one of Satan's most dangerous darts, and it is the fashion now to sneer at orthodox ideas of Christian separation from the world. Modern saints go from the sanctuary, into the world of fashionable life—and from the communion table, to the tables of earthly pleasure. Your modern Christian does not believe in being "separate"—he does not like a narrow, exclusive religion. He does not want to appear bigoted—he wants to be a liberal, large-minded man. He would commend the religion of Christ by proving that it is not stern and ascetic. The result is that thousands of church members live so that one cannot tell where the church ends, and the world begins.
But all this modern doctrine about worldly Christianity is opposed to the letter and spirit of our Lord's teachings. He said the world would hate his people, because they are not of the world. The present theory is that you must live so that the world will not hate you. Christ preaches separateness—the modern liberal Christian thinks that the idea of separateness is bigotry. Christ never designed his religion in be easy or popular; he does not want us to tone down its eternal principles of holiness to suit the taste of the age. He wants us to be a holy people—and in no other way can we honor him who himself lived in the world, but never took on a shade of its colors; who mingled among the lowest of the world's lost ones, yet never received a stain upon his own soul.