This article specifically speaks to the challenges facing young Methodists in Chadwick's day. However the same concerns should be of interest for individuals of the various religious persuasions in our day. Though the spiritual issues he discusses may not popular in our day, they are well worth pondering, for they may be mitigating God's blessings in our day.—Dan
In broad outline, the question of the Christian's attitude to the world is settled in the New Testament once and for all. All who desire to do, may know. There are seven phrases in Our Lord's last discourse and intercessory prayer, which completely define His disciple's relations to the world; they are chosen out of the world and given to Christ; they are sent back into the world to be in it, but not of it; they are hated by it, but kept from its evil; they are to live in it so as to constrain the world to believe. The world does not always mean the same thing. Nine words are translated "World”—five in the Old Testament and four in the New. The sense in which the word is used is decided by the context. It is used of the created universe, as when Christ said; “Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the World. “ It is also used of the habitable globe in such passages as John 3, 16; and John 17,11. According to these uses the world is understood to mean the earth as the habitation of man with everything that belongs to its material quality and its cosmic order. There is another use of the word in which there is a world that is condemned as wholly evil. This "present evil world" is in entire antagonism to all for which Christ stands. He came to overcome it and deliver us from it. It is alien to God. To be a friend of this world is to be an enemy of God (James 4,4). It hates God, it hates the Son of God, and it hates the people of God. Therefore the love of the world is emphatically forbidden, as totally and eternally incompatible with the love of God. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever" ( 1 John 2, 15-17).
From this evil world the Christian is commanded to come out and be separate. What exactly does that mean? It cannot mean that he has to leave it, for Christ prayed, not that His disciples should be taken out of the world, but that they should be kept from the evil. What is the evil? St. John describes the evil content of the world as, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," and the condemnation of them is that the spirit of them is alien to God, degrading to man's spiritual interests, and deceptive to man's expectations. Love of the world imprisons man's spirit, and shuts him out of the inheritance of his spiritual kingdom. The evil of this world, from which the Christian is called to come out and be separate, is that it organizes life regardless of God, and ignores the eternal realities of man's spiritual nature and the verities of the spiritual world. It is the world apart from God.
It is not necessarily blasphemous, vulgar, ignorant, or brutal; but just God-less. The world has its glory; glittering, alluring, fascinating, thrilling; but it is temporal, fleeting, deceptive, and destructive. A worldly life is lived on the horizontal, horizoned by time and death. It foreshortens vision, darkens the understanding, and destroys the soul. The Christian saves his soul by coming out from the world. He repudiates its authority, re jests its principles, reverses its values, refuses its glory, and renounces its manner and method of life. "We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is in God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (1 Cor. 2,12).
There is no difficulty in understanding the broad principles of this teaching. It is clear that he who lives for the world forfeits God and loses his soul. There is no other price at which the glories of the world can be obtained. There was not much difficulty in the practical applications of the teaching for those to whom the teaching was first given. They were converts from heathenism. The world of their age was pagan.
The two kingdoms were so distant that St. John could say: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one” (l John 5,19). The dividing line is not so clear in the civilization that is known as Christendom. We live in a Christian country, though there are signs that it may rapidly become pagan. The world spirit is the same, and there is no change in the hostility of the hostile mind to God, nor in the terms on which it bargains its glory. The fashion of the world changes, and therein lies the problem of the unworldly life. The fashion of this world is always passing away. There is no need to labour that point. A librarian is recently instructed to relegate to the cellars all books more than fifteen years old. That was in America, but in England I have heard it said that a text-book was out of date in five years. An album of family portraits is more amusing than a comic newspaper. The flaming revolutionaries of my youth would be as out of date in the political life of today as an Egyptian mummy. The separation of the Christian is in respect of faith, friendship, moral standards, social life, and religious fellowship. The white line runs through all. "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement hath a Temple of God with idols? - - Wherefore, come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you and will be to you a Father, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6, 14-18). That is clear, "but there are many that ask where exactly is the White Line?
To the Puritan the dividing line was as clear as it was in Pagan Corinth. So it was to the early Methodist. Two generations ago all men knew that certain things would happen if a man was converted and became a member of the Methodist Church. They knew where they would find him, and they knew where not to look for him. Methodist converts were required to come out from the world. An unworldly life could not be imposed, for that is essentially of the spirit and of the mind, but there were certain well known signs of worldliness that must be avoided, and certain marks of Methodist piety that were expected. Methodists dressed in an unworldly way, and their social fellowships banned worldly forms of amusement. They went to worship, class-meetings, and prayer-meetings. The orbit of their life was for the most part confined to home, Chapel, Sunday School, and business; and in that order. They did not dance, play card-games, or go to the theater. These were the accredited and acknowledged "Marks of a Methodist." That was their White Line. All this clear cut distinction has gone. The Methodist is now very much like the motorist in Punch who was brushing the sleet and slush away on a dirty night, trying to find the white line! I have a collection of examples gathered from newspapers and letters. It was my intention to publish them, but I am persuaded that their publication would help no one, so I will deal with the general question:-
The peculiar difficulty lies in the fact that there is so much in the "evil world" that is not in itself wholly evil. St. Paul speaks of those that use the world, as not abusing it by a spirit of detachment that discerns its real value (1 Cor 7, 31). How then may we distinguish the things of the world that are worldly, and from which it is our duty to be separate? The example of Christians does not help, for we may not judge the sincerity of good men who are free to do what brings another into condemnation. Everyone must give account of himself to God. Neither is it much help to ask "What would Jesus do?” The answer to such a question is largely influenced by temperament and other personal considerations. We want authoritative guidance that is neither arbitrary nor capricious. Is there any such guidance?
There is. It calls for thought, integrity, candour and courage, but it is there. The New Testament lays down principles that are simple, sure, and suitable to all grades of sincere believers who want to know the will of God in these things.
Our Lord laid it down as an axiom of spiritual knowledge, that if a man sought to know that he might do, he should know. Therefore, to every honest heart that prays, guidance is assured.
Further, there are working rules for practical guidance. They are to be found in such passages as Matt. 18, 1-20; Romans 14; 1 Cor. 8; and in 6, 12-20; as well as in the epistles of St. James and St. John. The appeal is to loyalty to the Lordship of Jesus, and to common sense. Whatever impairs spirituality and defiles the Temple of the Holy Ghost is to be put away. The real test is in their moral and spiritual effects upon others, as well as upon ourselves. Do they belong to the life of the world that leaves God out? Are they organised for spiritual or carnal ends? Do they imperil the soul? The touchstone of discipleship is the cross. It is beside the mark to argue that to us they are pleasant and profitable. The question is the influence upon others. Do they lift or degrade? Our Lord spoke terrible words of those over whom others stumble, and there are many church members who are candidates for the millstone and the rope.
As worldliness has increased in Methodism, spiritual assurance has declined, the class-meeting and the prayer meeting have largely disappeared, and the flaming passion for the conversion of souls has been exchanged for things of which the New Testament takes no account. We used to be known among the Churches and in the world for the intensity of our spiritual devotion, and for the converting power that cast out devils and raised the dead; but we are now famous for other things. Spiritual power cannot abide in a worldly church. A work of Sanctification that would call us out from the world would do more for God and the salvation of men than all the schemes devised, discussed and argued at Westminster. The Cliff men have a chorus that runs like this:-
I’m going through, Jesus, I'm going through,
I'll pay the price whatever others do;
I'll take my stand with the world-despised few,
I've started out, Jesus, I'm going through.
December 12, 1927