Secondly, walking in the light excludes all love of the world. This is another form of darkness.
He still further emphasizes the command by explaining the negative statement just made. Everything that is in the world has as its source, not the Father, but the world. This shows clearly that τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ cannot mean material objects capable of being desired; these have their origin in God who created them ( John 1:3 ). To assert otherwise is rank Gnosticism or Manicheism. But God did not create the evil dispositions and aims of men; these have their source in the sinful wills of his creatures, and ultimately in "the ruler of this world" ( John 8:44 ). The three genitives which follow are subjective, not objective. The lust of the flesh is not merely the lust after the flesh, but all lust that has its seat in the flesh ( Galatians 5:16 ; Ephesians 2:3 ). The lust of the eyes is that lust that has its origin in sight ( Augenlust ) — curiosity, covetousness, etc. (cf. "the lusts of their hearts," "the lusts of your body," Romans 1:24 ; Romans 6:12 ). In the world of St. John's day the impure and brutal spectacles of the theatre and the arena would supply abundant illustrations of these ἐπιθυμίαι . The vain-glory of life, or arrogancy of living, is ostentation exhibited in the manner of living; the empty pride and pretentiousness of fashion and display. It includes the desire to gain credit which does not belong to us, and outshine our neighbours. In Greek philosophy βίος is higher than ζωή : βίος is the life peculiar to man; ζώη is the vital principle which he shares with brutes and vegetables, In the New Testament ζωή is higher than βίος is the life peculiar to man; ζωή is the vital principle which he shares with God. Contrast βίος here; 1 John 3:17 ; Luke 8:14 , Luke 8:43 ; Luke 15:12 , Luke 15:30 , etc., with ζωή in 1 John 1:1 , 1 John 1:2 ; 1 John 3:14 ; 1 John 5:11 , 1 John 5:12 , 1 John 5:16 ; John 1:4 ; John 3:36 ; John 5:24 , John 5:26 , etc. βίος occurs only ten times in the New Testament (in 1 Peter 4:3 it is a false reading), ζωή more than a hundred and twenty times. Each of the three forms of evil here cited by St. John as typos of τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ are dangerous at different periods of a man's life; each also has been a special danger at different periods of the world's history.
Love of the world forbidden.
Connecting link: Having paused for a moment in his theme to survey lovingly the believers of various ages to whom he is writing, the apostle now resumes the theme of love and life. Inasmuch as love is no merely benevolent sentimentalism disregarding moral distinctions, it must needs follow that the duty of loving in one direction must involve the corresponding duty of not loving in an opposite and alien direction. In the negative as well as the positive aspects of duty believers need instruction. Hence our theme—The region in which love is prohibited, and why.
I. HERE IS AN EARNEST PROHIBITION . "Love not the world." Owing to the poverty of language, it may be, one word has to serve several purposes. It is so with this term "world." Sometimes it means the globe itself ( Psalms 96:10 ). Sometimes the race of people thereon ( John 3:16 ). Sometimes the outer form of things ( 1 Corinthians 7:31 ). At other times, as here, it refers to the world of busy human concerns, of thinking, planning, racing, hungering, thirsting, striving, and all for its own aims and purposes, irrespectively of the glory of God or even of questions of righteousness and truth. As such it is a sinful world, and on it our love must not be set. There are, however, three specific forms of sinfulness, against the love of which we are warned.
1 . The lust of the flesh. The vain indulgence and pampering of the fleshly nature. If, e.g., we either tutor drink merely for pleasure's sake, or indulge in excess in either direction, or gratify the sensual appetites either in wrong directions or to too great an extent, we are neglecting the warning of the text.
2 . The lust of the eyes. The fondness for glitter, glare, and show. The inordinate love of sight-seeing, etc.
3 . The pride of life. Its vain-glory and love of ostentatious display. This will have no place in a consistent Christian's life. The spirit of the words, "My river is my own, and I made it for myself," is by no means extinct. Query: How far has the civilizing and humanizing effect of Christianity changed the "world"? Is the evil in it, and the consequent peril therefrom, as great as in the Apostle John's time? In other words, Is the prohibition of the text as needful now as it was then? In reply, note:
(a) in the fact that sins to which no disgrace attached in the days of the old Roman empire are now all but unknown, or at least have to hide themselves from view;
(b) in the fact that there is a very large amount of commerce, etc., in which there is "upon the bridles of the horses, Holiness to the Lord." For this we may be devoutly thankful. In many directions, too, art, music, painting, sculpture, are consecrated to the Lord.
II. HERE ARE MANY REASONS SUGGESTED AGAINST THIS PROHIBITED LOVE . Mainly five.
1 . These things in the world which we are forbidden to love are themselves essentially and radically wrong. They are "not of the Father, but of the world," i.e., the world indulges its own lusts, pursues its own aims, seeks its own pleasures, without care for or thought of a higher will. The world is a self-seeker and self-pleaser, and will not be burdened with the larger and higher questions of God, righteousness, and truth.
2 . The love of the world is incompatible with the love of the Father, i.e., with our loving him. We can love either God or the world But no human heart can hold the two opposing at the same time. That is as absolutely certain as the doctrine of the impenetrability of matter. No man can serve God and mammon. The attempt has been made to form a God-and-mammon guild. But all such attempts must be miserable failures.
3 . Besides, "perishableness" is inscribed on the world and all that is therein. "The world passeth away." And how sorely incongruous is it for an imperishable spirit to ally itself with a merely perishing framework! £ No form of national life continueth alway. Families break up and pass away. Friends die. Nothing earthly is permanent.
4 . And more than this, even if objectively the "world" continued pretty much the same, yet "the lust thereof" passes away; earth loses its power to charm; and the passions, if they have been lustfully indulged, retain their craving, but lose the power of enjoyment. But a more pleasing reason yet remains to be specified.
5 . There is a far better pursuit open to us, which will open up nobler prospects. "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." Here the opposite course is pointed out—"doing the will of God." Losing our wills in his. "This is the way the Master went," finding his meat in the fulfillment of the Father's will. We know that that will is perfect wisdom and perfect love. And if we ever ask, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" our duty will be revealed to us
He that lives for this end "abideth for ever;" i.e., the aims of his being can never be interrupted. If he lives, he lives to the Lord; if he dies, he dies to the Lord. If he toils, he does God's will. If he suffers, he bears it. If he be on earth, he fulfils his Father's will in this life; if he departs hence, he fulfils it in another. The supreme object of his existence is sure to be realized under any circumstances, through all outward changes, in all possible places, and in any state of being, and throughout the ages of eternity. He who is thus living can use the sublime boast of Paul, and say, "In nothing I shall be ashamed… Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death For to me to live is Christ, and to have died is gain." A beloved and honoured pastor, the Rev. Thomas Craig, of Becking, in Essex, after a pastorate of sixty-two years, during which he had often expressed the wish to die "in harness," was called to his rest after a very brief illness. After his death, a sermon he had begun to prepare for the pulpit was found half-finished upon his desk. It was from the text, "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
An apostolic prohibition, and the reason thereof.
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world," etc. The text is not addressed to either of the three previously mentioned classes in particular, but to all the apostle's readers. Genuine Christians need to guard themselves against love of the world. The worldly spirit is about us, it pervades much of society, it is active and vigorous; and within us there is a residue of the old worldly and sinful nature. By reason of these things even a true Christian is in danger of loving the world. Notice—
I. THE APOSTOLIC PROHIBITION . "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."
1 . The world is not the material universe. This is a creation of God, and it vividly illustrates some of his infinite perfections. "The heavens declare the glory of God," etc. ( Psalms 19:1-6 ). The light is the garment in which he robes himself ( Psalms 104:2 ). The fertility of the earth is an illustration of his bounty and beneficence. A divinely inspired poet, having surveyed the creations of God, exclaimed, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches." We read, "The Lord shall rejoice in his works." There is in nature endless significance for our instruction, much that is vast and sublime to awe us, much that is beautiful to delight us, much that is bountiful to supply our needs, and much to lead our thoughts to God. There is a sense in which we may love this beautiful creation, and with all the more of warmth because our Father made it and sustains it!
2 . The world is not the world of men as such, or mankind. It is not the world of John 3:16 , "God so loved the world," etc. With the love of benevolence and pity God loved the world of sinful men. And we should cherish feelings of kindness and pity for those who do not yet know Jesus Christ—should love them as God loved the world.
3 . The world here is the world of sinners as distinguished from those that are true Christians, or, as Ebrard expresses it, "unchristian humanity." By "the world" St. John does not mean the material, but the moral world, the heathen world. In his view, as Dr. Culross says, "the world is in sin. Its sinful condition is variously represented. It is in darkness; it knows not God; it finds his commandments grievous; it lies in wickedness; it is in death—not merely exposed to it as a penalty, but in it as a condition. The 'things' of it are such as these—'the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.'… The 'world' of John's day we know, as to its actual condition, from other sources. Let any one turn over the pages of Tacitus, Juvenal, Martial, or Persius, with their often-unconscious disclosures of prevailing licentiousness and cruelty; and what he learns will put 'colour' into John's outlines. The same world—at heart—we still find in the present century, under modem conditions. It has grown in wealth. It has become civilized and refined. Law has become a mightier thing. The glory of science was never half so bright. But, looking close in, we still find the old facts—a dislike of God and love of sin, pride and self-sufficiency, a godless and selfish use of things, men 'hating one another,' selfishness fighting selfishness, an infinite mass of misery." £ "Neither the things that are in the world,… the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life." By "the lust of the flesh "we understand the inordinate desire for sensual indulgences, the longing for the gratification of the carnal appetites. How prevalent is this lust! We see it in the epicure, in the wine-bibber, and in others in still coarser and more degrading forms. It is most terrible in its effects upon the soul. "The lust of the eyes," interpreted by the aid of other Scriptures, seems to mean the eager desire of possession directed towards temporal and material goods, or covetousness. It is not the desire to look upon pleasing, or beautiful, or sublime things, which is here condemned, but the sinful look of avarice. In confirmation of this view, see Proverbs 23:5 ; Proverbs 27:20 ; Ecclesiastes 4:8 ; Ecclesiastes 5:10 ; Luke 14:18 , Luke 14:19 . Probably there is also a reference to the feeling of hatred and the desire of revenge, as indicated in Psalms 17:11 ; Psalms 54:7 ; Psalms 91:8 ; Psalms 92:11 . "The vain-glory of life" is "the lust of shining and making a boasting display." It points to that which is so prevalent in our day—the desire for grand houses, and costly furniture, and fine horses and carriages, and rich and fashionable dresses; the effort to give luxurious parties and splendid entertainments, and to outshine our neighbours in our mode of life. These things are of the world, worldly; and- these things Christians are exhorted not to love.
II. THE REASON OF THIS PROHIBITION . The reason, is twofold.
1 . Because the love of the world excludes the love of God. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Man cannot love the holy Father and the unchristian world. These two affections cannot coexist in one heart. Either of them, by its very nature, excludes the other. And "the things that are in the world," the love of which is prohibited, are "not of the Father, but of the world." They do not proceed from him; they are utterly opposed to his character and will; and, therefore, affection to them cannot dwell in the heart that loves him. Sensuality and covetousness and vain-glory are irreconcilably opposed to love to God.
2 . Because the world and worldly things are transient. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof." "The world" is still the unchristian world. It has in it no elements of permanence. The darkness of moral error and sin must recede before the onward march of the light of truth and holiness. The principles and words which oppose the Church of God are transient; they are passing away. Shall we set our hearts upon such fleeting things? And the lusts of the world are evanescent also. The gratifications of the flesh and. of the senses quickly cease. The things which many so eagerly desire and pursue, the pleasures and riches, the honours and vain shows of this world, are passing away like dreams of the night. And even the appetite for some of these things fails. The time comes when the desire for sensual gratifications ceases. Indulgence in the pleasures of the world tends to destroy the capacity for enjoying them. When that time comes, the man of the world, sated, wearied, disappointed, regards these things bitterly and cynically, finding that he has wasted heart and life upon them. Therefore let us not love them. But, on the other hand, "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." The doing of his will is the evidence and expression of our love to him. Here, as so frequently in the writings of St. John, we see the importance of action. It is not love in profession that is blessed, but love in practice. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments." It is not the creed that is commended, but the conduct. He who thus acts out his love to God abides for ever. He is connected with a stable order of things. He is vitally related to God himself, and is an heir of immortal and blessed life. He is now a participator in the life of Christ; and to all his disciples he gives the great assurance, "Because I live, ye shall live also."
By all these considerations let us not love the unchristian, unsatisfying, and perishing world; but through our Lord Jesus Christ, let us seek to love the Father with an ever-growing affection - W.J.
The great danger of Christians.
I. How ADDRESSED .
1 . First time,
2 . Seceded time.
II. HOW WARNED .
1 . Worldliness forbidden. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." We must connect with the world here the idea of that which is abnormal, or separated from God. But we are not to think of the morally corrupt world, the world that lieth in the evil one. We are to think of the world of created good as apart from God; for it is represented as passing away. What, then, is to be our feeling, the feeling of all Christians—for there is now no distinction of old and young—or rather, what is not to be our feeling with regard to the world? The feeling which is most peremptorily vetoed is that of love. Some would say, "Love not the world too much;" what the writer of this Epistle says is, "Love it not at all." Nay, he is yet more explicit. With regard to the various things which constitute the world, as though each passed before him in succession, he says, with the same peremptoriness, "Love them not at all."
2 . Worldliness incompatible with love to God. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Earthly things, such as a living, money, art, office, may be sought legitimately and worthily in connection with God. But when they are sought as complete, as ends in themselves, they become rivals to God, and love to them can only be cherished at the expense of love to God. Love to the world and love to the Father (who adopts us in Christ) are so contrary that one heart cannot contain them both.
3 . Three aspects of the worldliness that cannot be traced to God. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." We have not here all sin; for such sins as hatred of the brethren, heresy, spiritual pride, are not included; we have only three aspects of one sin, viz. worldliness. "The flesh" points to that in which worldly enjoyment has its scat; "the eyes" point to means by which there is a ministering to worldly enjoyment; "life" (means of living) points to there being guarantee of worldly enjoyment. Within the flesh there is the stirring of desire for worldly enjoyment; the eyes are ministers to the flesh, presenting objects for desire. Objects not desired, but possessed beyond what we can appropriate of them for worldly enjoyment, produce a feeling of vain-glory. All this stirring within the flesh, this desiring through the eyes, this gloating over possession, has no high origin; it is not of the Father, but of the world.
4 . Worldliness linked to the transient, not to the abiding. "And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." The transitoriness of the world is brought in as a dissuasive from worldliness. There is a constant flux in earthly things, and the pleasures connected with them are momentary.
"But pleasures are like poppies spread—
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snowflake on the river,
A moment white—then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow's lovely form,
Evanishing amid the storm."
Not merely does the world pass away, but also the lust thereof. After a time our capacity for enjoyment is diminished. Those that look out at the windows are darkened; the daughters of music arc brought low; and desire fails ( Ecclesiastes 12:1-14 ). Death severs our connection with the world, and puts an end to all earthly appetency. What is this transitoriness of the world meant to teach us? The voice which is here given to it is this, "Love not the world." If our love is fixed on the world, then the time is coming when we shall be left with a total blank. Divine wisdom counsels another course. It is to do the will of God, i.e., to believe in Christ, and to follow Christ. The recommendation of this course is that it links us to the eternal order of things. "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." There are creatures that keep themselves from being drifted about in the waters by fastening themselves on to a rock; so in our mutable element we must secure fixity for our being by attaching ourselves to 'him who is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever."—R.F.