1 John 2:17
And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
Jump to: AlfordBarnesBengelBensonBICalvinCambridgeClarkeDarbyEllicottExpositor'sExp DctExp GrkGaebeleinGSBGillGrayHaydockHastingsHomileticsICCJFBKellyKJTLangeMacLarenMHCMHCWMeyerParkerPNTPoolePulpitSermonSCOTTBVWSWESTSK
EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Ecclesiastes

WHAT PASSES AND WHAT ABIDES

Ecclesiastes 1:4
. - 1 John 2:17.

A great river may run through more than one kingdom, and bear more than one name, but its flow is unbroken. The river of time runs continuously, taking no heed of dates and calendars. The importance that we attach to the beginnings or endings of years and centuries is a sentimental illusion, but even an illusion that rouses us to a consciousness of the stealthy gliding of the river may do us good, and we need all the helps we can find to wise retrospect and sober anticipation. So we must let the season colour our thoughts, even whilst we feel that in yielding to that impulse we are imagining what has no reality in the passing from the last day of one century to the first day of another.

I do not mean to discuss in this sermon either the old century or the new in their wider social and other aspects. That has been done abundantly. We shall best do our parts in making the days, and the years, and the century what they should be, if we let the truths that come from these combined texts sink into and influence our individual lives. I have put them together, because they are so strikingly antithetical, both true, and yet looking at the same facts from opposite points of view, But the antithesis is not really so complete as it sounds at first hearing, because what the Preacher means by ‘the earth’ that ‘abideth for ever’ is not quite the same as what the Apostle means by the ‘world’ that ‘passes’ and the ‘generations’ that come and go are not exactly the same as the men that ‘abide for ever.’ But still the antithesis is real and impressive. The bitter melancholy of the Preacher saw but the surface; the joyous faith of the Apostle went a great deal deeper, and putting the two sets of thoughts and ways of looking at man and his dwelling-place together, we get lessons that may well shape our individual lives.

So let me ask you to look, in the first place, at-

I. The sad and superficial teaching of the Preacher.

Now in reading this Book of Ecclesiastes-which I am afraid a great many people do not read at all-we have always to remember that the wild things and the bitter things which the Preacher is saying so abundantly through its course do not represent his ultimate convictions, but thoughts that he took up in his progress from error to truth. His first word is: ‘All is vanity!’ That conviction had been set vibrating in his heart, as it is set vibrating in the heart of every man who does as he did, viz., seeks for solid good away from God. That is his starting-point. It is not true. All is not vanity, except to some blase cynic, made cynical by the failure of his voluptuousness, and to whom ‘all things here are out of joint,’ and everything looks yellow because his own biliary system is out of order. That is the beginning of the book, and there are hosts of other things in the course of it as one-sided, as cynically bitter, and therefore superficial. But the end of it is: ‘Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter; fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.’ In his journey from the one point to the other my text is the first step, ‘One generation goeth, and another cometh: the earth abideth for ever.’

He looks out upon humanity, and sees that in one aspect the world is full of births, and in another full of deaths. Coffins and cradles seem the main furniture, and he hears the tramp, tramp, tramp of the generations passing over a soil honeycombed with tombs, and therefore ringing hollow to their tread. All depends on the point of view. The strange history of humanity is like a piece of shot silk; hold it at one angle, and you see dark purple, hold at another, and you see bright golden tints. Look from one point of view, and it seems a long history of vanishing generations. Look to the rear of the procession, and it seems a buoyant spectacle of eager, young faces pressing forwards on the march, and of strong feet treading the new road. But yet the total effect of that endless procession is to impress on the observer the transiency of humanity. And that wholesome thought is made more poignant still by the comparison which the writer here draws between the fleeting generations and the abiding earth. Man is the lord of earth, and can mould it to his purpose, but it remains and he passes. He is but a lodger in an old house that has had generations of tenants, each of whom has said for a while, ‘It is mine’; and they all have drifted away, and the house stands. The Alps, over which Hannibal stormed, over which the Goths poured down on the fertile plains of Lombardy, through whose passes mediaeval emperors led their forces, over whose summits Napoleon brought his men, through whose bowels this generation has burrowed its tunnels, stand the same, and smile the same amid their snows, at the transient creatures that have crawled across them. The primrose on the rock blooms in the same place year after year, and nature and it are faithful to their covenant, but the poet’s eyes that fell upon them are sealed with dust. Generations have gone, the transient flower remains. ‘One generation cometh and another goeth,’ and the tragedy is made more tragical because the stage stands unaltered, and ‘the earth abides for ever.’ That is what sense has to say-’the foolish senses’-and that is all that sense has to say. Is it all that can be said? If it is, then the Preacher’s bitter conclusion is true, and ‘all is vanity and chasing after wind.’

He immediately proceeds to draw from this undeniable, but, as I maintain, partial fact, the broad conclusion which cannot be rebutted, if you accept what he has said in my text as being the sufficient and complete account of man and his dwelling-place. If, says he, it is true that one generation comes and another goes, and the earth abides for ever, and if that is all that has to be said, then all things are full of labour. There is immense activity, and there is no progress; it is all rotary motion round and round and round, and the same objects reappear duly and punctually as the wheel revolves, and life is futile. Yes; so it is unless there is something more to be said, and the life that is thus futile is also, as it seems to me, inexplicable if you believe in God at all. If man, being what he is, is wholly subject to that law of mutation and decay, then not only is he made ‘a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death,’ but he is also inferior to that persistent, old mother-earth from whose bosom he has come. If all that you have to say of him is, ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,’ then life is futile, and God is not vindicated for having produced it.

And there is another consequence that follows, if this is all that we have got to say. If the cynical wisdom of Ecclesiastes is the ultimate word, then I do not assert that morality is destroyed, because right and wrong are not dependent either upon the belief in a God, or on the belief in immortality. But I do say that to declare that the fleeting, transient life of earth is all does strike a staggering blow at all noble ethics and paralyses a great deal of the highest forms of human activity, and that, as has historically been the case, so on the large scale, and, speaking generally, it will be the case, that the man whose creed is only ‘To-morrow we die’ will very speedily draw the conclusion, ‘Let us eat and drink,’ and sensuous delights and the lower side of his nature will become dominant.

So, then, the Preacher had not got at the bottom of all things, either in his initial conviction that all was vanity, or in that which he laid down as the first step towards establishing that, that man passes and the earth abides. There is more to be said; the sad, superficial teaching of the Preacher needs to be supplemented.

Now turn for a moment to what does supplement it.

II. The joyous and profounder teaching of the Apostle.

The cynic never sees the depths; that is reserved for the mystical eye of the lover. So John says: ‘No, no; that is not all. Here is the true state of affairs: “The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”‘ The doctrine of the passing generations and the abiding earth is fronted squarely in my second text by the not contradictory, but complementary doctrine of the passing world and the abiding men. I do not suppose that John had this verse of Ecclesiastes in his mind, for the word ‘abide’ is one of his favourite expressions, and is always cropping up. But even though he had not, we find in his utterance the necessary correction to the first text. As I have said, and now need not do more than repeat in a sentence, the antithesis is not so complete as it seems. John’s ‘world’ is not the Preacher’s ‘earth,’ but he means thereby, as we all know, the aggregate of created things, including men, considered apart from God, and in so far as it includes voluntary agents set in opposition to God and the will of God. He means the earth rent away from God, and turned to be what it was not meant to be, a minister of evil, and he means men, in so far as they have parted themselves from God and make up an alien, if not a positively antagonistic company.

Perhaps he was referring, in the words of our text, to the break-up of the existing order of things which he discerned as impending and already begun to take effect in consequence of the coming of Jesus Christ, the shining of the true Light. For you may remember that in a previous part of the epistle he uses precisely the same expression, with a significant variation. Here, in our text, he says, ‘The world passeth away’; there he says, ‘The darkness has passed and the true light now shineth.’ He sees a process installed and going on, in which the whole solid-seeming fabric of a godless society is being dissolved and melted away. And says he, in the midst of all this change there is one who stands unchanged, the man that does God’s will.

But just for a moment we may take the lower point of view, and see here a flat contradiction of the Preacher. He said, ‘Men go, and the world abides.’ ‘No,’ says John; ‘your own psalmists might have taught you better: “As a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed.”‘ The world, the earth, which seems so solid and permanent, is all the while in perpetual flux, as our later science has taught us, in a sense of which neither Preacher nor Apostle could dream. For just as from the beginning forces were at work which out of the fire-mist shaped sun and planets, so the same forces, continuing in operation, are tending towards the end of the system which they began; and a contracting sun and a diminished light and a lowered temperature and the narrower orbits in which the planets shall revolve, prophesy that ‘the elements shall melt with fervent heat,’ and that all things which have been made must one day cease to be. Nature is the true Penelope’s web, ever being woven and ever being unravelled, and in the most purely physical and scientific sense the world is passing away. But then, because you and I belong, in a segment of our being, to that which thus is passing away, we come under the same laws, and all that has been born must die. So the generations come, and in their very coming bear the prophecy of their going. But, on the other hand, there is an inner nucleus of our being, of which the material is but the transient envelope and periphery, which holds nought of the material, but of the spiritual, and that ‘abides for ever.’

But let us lift the thought rather into the region of the true antithesis which John was contemplating, which is not so much the crumbling away of the material, and the endurance of the spiritual, as the essential transiency of everything that is antagonism to the will of God, and the essential eternity of everything which is in conformity with that will. And so, says he, ‘The world is passing, and the lust thereof.’ The desires that grasp it perish with it, or perhaps, more truly still, the object of the desire perishes, and with it the possibility of their gratification ceases, but the desire itself remains. But what of the man whose life has been devoted to the things seen and temporal, when he finds himself in a condition of being where none of these have accompanied him? Nothing to slake his lusts, if he be a sensualist. No money-bags, ledgers, or cheque-books if he be a plutocrat or a capitalist or a miser. No books or dictionaries if he be a mere student. Nothing of his vocations if he lived for ‘the world.’ But yet the appetite is abiding. Will that not be a thirst that cannot be slaked?

‘The world is passing and the lust thereof,’ and all that is antagonistic to God, or separated from Him, is essentially as ‘a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanishes away,’ whereas the man who does the will of God abideth for ever, in that he is steadfast in the midst of change.

‘His hand the good man fastens on the skies,

And lets earth roll, nor heeds its idle whirl.’

He shall ‘abide for ever,’ in the sense that his work is perpetual. In one very deep and solemn sense, nothing human ever dies, but in another all that is not running in the same direction as, and borne along by the impulse of, the will of God, is destined to be neutralised and brought to nothing at last. There may be a row of figures as long as to reach from here to the fixed stars, but if there is not in front of them the significant digit, which comes from obedience to the will of God, all is but a string of ciphers, and their net result is nothing. And he ‘abideth for ever,’ in the most blessed and profound sense, in that through his faith, which has kindled his love, and his love which has set in motion his practical obedience, he becomes participant of the very eternity of the living God. ‘This is eternal life,’ not merely to know, but ‘to do the will’ of our Father. Nothing else will last, and nothing else will prosper, any more than a bit of driftwood can stem Niagara. Unite yourself with the will of God, and you abide.

And now let me, as briefly as I can, throw together-

III. The plain, practical lessons that come from both these texts.

May I say, without seeming to be morbid or unpractical, one lesson is that we should cultivate a sense of the transiency of this outward life? One of our old authors says somewhere, that it is wholesome to smell at a piece of turf from a churchyard. I know that much harm has been done by representing Christianity as mainly a scheme which is to secure man a peaceful death, and that many morbid forms of piety have given far too large a place to the contemplation of skulls and cross-bones. But for all that, the remembrance of death present in our lives will often lay a cool hand upon a throbbing brow; and, like a bit of ice used by a skilful physician, will bring down the temperature, and stay the too tumultuous beating of the heart. ‘So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.’ It will minister energy, and lead us to say, like our Lord, ‘We must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh.’

Let me say again-a very plain, practical lesson is to dig deep down for our foundations below the rubbish that has accumulated. If a man wishes to build a house in Rome or in Jerusalem he has to go fifty or sixty feet down, through potsherds and broken tiles and triturated marbles, and the dust of ancient palaces and temples. We have to drive a shaft clear down through all the superficial strata, and to lay the first stones on the Rock of Ages. Do not build on that which quivers and shakes beneath you. Do not try to make your life’s path across the weeds, or as they call it in Egypt, the ‘sudd,’ that floats on the surface of the Nile, compacted for many a mile, and yet only a film on the surface of the river, to be swept away some day. Build on God.

And the last lesson is, let us see to it that our wills are in harmony with His, and the work of our hands His work. We can do that will in all the secularities of our daily life. The difference between the work that shrivels up and disappears and the work that abides is not so much in its external character, or in the materials on which it is expended, as in the motive from which it comes. So that, if I might so say, if two women are sitting at the same millstone face to face, and turning round the same handle, one of them for one half the circumference, and the other for the other, and grinding out the same corn, the one’s work may be ‘gold, silver, precious stones,’ which shall abide the trying fire; and the other’s may be ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ which shall be burnt up. ‘He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’

So let us set ourselves, dear friends! to our several tasks for this coming year. Never mind about the century, it will take care of itself. Do your little work in your little corner, and be sure of this, that amidst changes you will stand unchanged, amidst tumults you may stand calm, in death you will be entering on a fuller life, and that what to others is the end will be to you the beginning. ‘If any man’s work abide, he shall receive a reward,’ and he himself shall abide with the abiding God.

The bitter cynic said half the truth when he said, ‘One generation goeth, and another cometh; but the earth abides.’ The mystic Apostle saw the truth steadily, and saw it whole when he said, ‘Lo! the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’

1 John

RIVER AND ROCK

1 John 2:17.

John has been solemnly giving a charge not to love the world, nor the things that are in it. That charge was addressed to ‘children,’ ‘young men,’ ‘fathers.’ Whether these designations be taken as referring to growth and maturity of Christian experience, or of natural age, they equally carry the lesson that no age and no stage is beyond the danger of being drawn away by the world’s love, or beyond the need of the solemn dehortation therefrom.

My text is the second of the reasons which the Apostle gives for his earnest charge. We all, therefore, need it, and we always need it; though on the last Sunday of another year, it may be more than usually appropriate to turn our thoughts in its direction. ‘The world passeth away, and the lust thereof.’ Let us lay the handful of snow on our fevered foreheads and cool our desires.

Now there are but two things set forth in this text, which is a great and wonderful antithesis between something which is in perpetual flux and passage and something which is permanent. If I might venture to cast the two thoughts into metaphorical form, I should say that here are a river and a rock. The one, the sad truth of sense, universally believed and as universally forgotten; the other, the glad truth of faith, so little regarded or operative in men’s lives.

I ask you, then, to look with me for a few moments at each of these thoughts.

I. First, then, the river, or the sad truth of sense.

Now you observe that there are two things in my text of which this transiency is predicated, the one ‘the world,’ the other ‘the lust thereof’; the one outside us, the other within us. As to the former, I need only, I suppose, remind you in a sentence that what John means by ‘the world’ is not the material globe on which we dwell, but the whole aggregate of things visible and material, together with the lives of the men whose lives are directed to, and bounded by, that visible and material, and all considered as wrenched apart from God. That, and not the mere external physical creation, is what he means by ‘the world,’ and therefore the passing away of which he speaks is not only {although, of course, it includes} the decay and dissolution of material things, but the transiency of things which are or have to do with the visible, and are separated by us from God. Over all these, he says, there is written the sentence, ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.’ There is a continual flowing on of the stream. As the original implies even more strongly than in our translation, ‘the world’ is in the act of ‘passing away.’ Like the slow travelling of the scenes of some moveable panorama which glide along, even as the eye looks upon them, and are concealed behind the side flats before the gazer has taken in the whole picture, so equably, constantly, silently, and therefore unnoticed by us, all is in a state of continual motion. There is no present time. Even whilst we name the moment it dies. The drop hangs for an instant on the verge, gleaming in the sunlight, and then falls into the gloomy abyss that silently sucks up years and centuries. There is no present, but all is movement.

Brethren, that has been the commonplace of moralists and poets and preachers from the beginning of time; and it would be folly for me to suppose that I can add anything to the impressiveness of the thought. All that I want to do is to wake you up to preach it to yourselves, for that is the only thing that is of any use.

‘So passeth, in the passing of an hour

Of mortal life, the leaf, the bud, the flower.’

But besides this transiency external to us, John finds a corresponding transiency within us. ‘The world passeth, and the lust thereof.’ Of course the word ‘lust’ is employed by him in a much wider sense than in our use of it. With us it means one specific and very ugly form of earthly desire. With him it includes the whole genus--all desires of every sort, more or less noble or ignoble, which have this for their characteristic, that they are directed to, stimulated by, and fed or starved on, the fleeting things of this outward life. If thus a man has anchored himself to that which has no perpetual stay, so long as the cable holds he follows the fate of the thing to which he has pinned himself. And if it perish he perishes, in a very profound sense, with it. If you trust yourselves in the leaky vessel, when the water rises in it it will drown you, and you will go to the bottom with the craft to which you have trusted yourselves. If you embark in the little ship that carries Christ and His fortunes, you will come with Him to the haven.

But these fleeting desires, of which my text speaks, point to that sad feature of human experience, that we all outgrow and leave behind us, and think of very little value, the things that once to us were all but heaven. There was a time when toys and sweetmeats were our treasures, and since that day how many burnt-out hopes we all have had! How little we should know ourselves if we could go back to the fears and wishes and desires that used to agitate us ten, twenty, thirty years ago! They lie behind us, no longer part of ourselves; they have slipped away from us, and

‘We all are changed, by still degrees,

All but the basis of the soul.’

The self-conscious same man abides, and yet how different the same man is! Our lives, then will zig-zag instead of keeping a straight course, if we let desires that are limited by anything that we can see guide and regulate us.

But, brethren, though it be a digression from my text, I cannot help touching for a moment upon a yet sadder thought than that. There are desires that remain, when the gratification of them has become impossible. Sometimes the lust outlasts the world, sometimes the world outlasts the lust; and one knows not whether is the sadder. There is a hell upon earth for many of us who, having set our affections upon some creatural object, and having had that withdrawn from us, are ready to say, ‘They have taken away my gods! And what shall I do?’ And there is a hell of the same sort waiting beyond those dark gates through which we have all to pass, where men who never desired anything, except what the world that has slipped out of their reluctant fingers could give them, are shut up with impossible longings after a for-ever-vanished good. ‘Father Abraham! a drop of water; for I am tormented in this flame.’ That is what men come to, if the fire of their lust burn after its objects are withdrawn.

But let me remind you that this transiency of which I have been speaking receives very strange treatment from most of us. I do not know that it is altogether to be regretted that it so seldom comes to men’s consciousness. Perhaps it is right that it should not be uppermost in our thoughts always; but yet there is no vindication for the entire oblivion to which we condemn it. The march of these fleeting things is like that of cavalry with their horses’ feet wrapped in straw, in the night, across the snow, silent and unnoticed. We cannot realise the revolution of the earth, because everything partakes in it. We talk about standing still, and we are whirling through space with inconceivable rapidity. By a like illusion we deceive ourselves with the notion of stability, when everything about us is hastening away. Some of you do not like to be reminded of it, and think it a killjoy. You try to get rid of the thought, and hide your head in the sand, and fancy that the rest of your body presents no mark to the archer’s arrow. Now surely common sense says to all, that if there be some fact certain and plain and applying to you, which, if accepted, would profoundly modify your life, you ought to take it into account. And what I want you to do, dear friends, now, is to look in the face this fact, which you all acknowledge so utterly that some of you are ready to say, ‘What was the use of coming to a chapel to hear that threadbare old thing dinned into my ears again?’ and to take it into account in shaping your lives. Have you done so? Have you? Suppose a man that lived in a land habitually shaken by earthquakes were to say, ‘I mean to ignore the fact; and I am going to build a house just as if there was not such a thing as an earthquake expected’; he would have it toppling about his ears very soon. Suppose a man upon the ice-slopes of the Alps was to say, ‘I am going to ignore slipperiness and gravitation,’ he would before long find himself, if there was any consciousness left in him, at the bottom of a precipice, bruised and bleeding. And suppose a man says, ‘I am not going to take the fleetingness of the things of earth into account at all, but intend to live as if all things were to remain as they are’; what would become of him do you think? Is he a wise man or a fool? And is he you? He is some of you! ‘So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.’

Then let me say to you, see that you take noble lessons out of these undeniable and all-important facts. There is one kind of lesson that I do not want you to take out of it. ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,’ or, to put it into a more vulgar formula, ‘A short life and a merry one.’ The mere contemplation of the transiency of earthly things may, and often does, lend itself to very ignoble conclusions, and men draw from it the thought that, as life is short, they had better crowd into it as much of sensual enjoyment as they can.

‘Gather ye roses while ye may’ is a very common keynote, struck by poets of the baser sort. And it is a thought that influences some of us, I have little doubt. Or there may be another consideration. ‘Make hay whilst the sun shines.’ ‘Hurry on your getting rich, because you have not very long to do it in’; or the like.

Now all that is supremely unworthy. The true lesson to be drawn is the plain, old one which it is never superfluous to shout into men’s ears, until they have obeyed it--viz., ‘Set not thine heart on that which is not; and which flieth away as an eagle towards heaven.’ Do you, dear brother, see to it, that your roots go down through the gravel on the surface. Do you see to it that you dig deeper than that; and thrusting your hand, as it were, through the thin, silk-paper screen that stands between you and the Eternal, grasp the hand that you will find on the other side, waiting and ready to clasp you, and to hold you up.

When they build a new house in Rome they have to dig down through sometimes sixty or a hundred feet of rubbish that runs like water, the ruins of old temples and palaces, once occupied by men in the same flush of life in which we are now. We too have to dig down through ruins, until we get to the Rock and build there, and build secure. Withdraw your affections and your thoughts and your desires from the fleeting, and fix them on the permanent. If a captain takes anything but the pole-star for his fixed point he will lose his reckoning, and his ship will be on the reefs. If we take anything but God for our supreme delight and desire we shall perish.

Then let me say, too, let this thought stimulate us to crowd every moment, as full as it can be packed, with noble work and heavenly thoughts. These fleeting things are elastic, and you may put all but infinite treasure into them. Think of what the possibilities, for each of us, of this dying year were on the 1st of January; and of what the realisation has been by the 28th of December. So much that we could have done! so little that we have done! So many ripples of the river have passed, bearing no golden sand to pile upon the shore! ‘We have been’ is a sad word; but oh, the one sad word is, ‘We might have been!’ And, so, do you see to it that you fill time with that which is kindred to eternity, and make ‘one day as a thousand years’ in the elastic possibilities and realities of consecration and of service.

Further, let the thought help us to the conviction of the relative insignificance of all that can change. That will not spoil nor shade any real joy; rather it will add to it poignancy that prevents it from cloying or from becoming the enemy of our souls. But the thought will wondrously lighten the burden that we have to carry, and the tasks which we have to perform. ‘But for a moment,’ makes all light. There was an old rabbi, long ago, whose real name was all but lost, because everybody nick-named him ‘Rabbi Thisalso.’ The reason was because he had perpetually on his lips the saying about everything as it came, ‘This also will pass.’ He was a wise man. Let us go to his school and learn his wisdom.

II. Now let me say a word, and it can only be a word, about the second of the thoughts here, which I designated as the Rock, or the glad truth of Faith.

We might have expected that John’s antithesis to the world that passeth would have been the God that abides. But he does not so word his sentence, although the thought of the divine permanence underlies it. Rather over against the fleeting world he puts the abiding man who does the will of God.

Of course there is a very solemn sense in which all men, even they who have most exclusively lived for what they call the present, do last for ever, and in which their deeds do so too. After death is the judgment, and the issues of eternity depend upon the actions of time; and every fleeting thought comes back to the hand that projected it, like the Australian savage’s boomerang that, flung out, returns and falls at the feet of the thrower. But that is not what John means by ‘abiding for ever.’ He means something very much more blessed and lofty than that; and the following is the course of his thought. There is only one permanent Reality in the universe, and that is God. All else is shadow and He is the substance. All else was, is, and is not. He is the One who was, is, and is to come, the timeless and only permanent Being. The will of God is the permanent element in all changeful material things. And consequently he who does the will of God links himself with the Divine Eternity, and becomes partaker of that solemn and blessed Being which lives above mutation.

Obedience to God’s will is the permanent element in human life. Whosoever humbly and trustfully seeks to mould his will after the divine will, and to bring God’s will into practice in his doings, that man has pierced through the shadows and grasped the substance, and partakes of the Immortality which he adores and serves. Himself shall live for ever in the true life which is blessedness. His deeds shall live for ever when all that lifted itself in opposition to the Divine will shall be crushed and annihilated. They shall live in His own peaceful consciousness; they shall live in the blessed rewards which they shall bring to the doers. His habits will need no change.

What will you do when you are dead? You have to go into a world where there are no gossip and no housekeeping; no mills and no offices; no shops, no books; no colleges and no sciences to learn. What will you do there? ‘He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’ If you have done your housekeeping, and your weaving and spinning, and your book-keeping, and your buying and selling, and your studying, and your experimenting with a conscious reference to God, it is all right. That has made the act capable of eternity, and there will be no need for such a man to change. The material on which he works will change, but the inner substance of his life will be unaffected by the trivial change from earth to heaven. Whilst the endless ages roll he will be doing just what he was doing down here; only here he was playing with counters, and yonder he will be trusted with gold, and dominion over ten cities. To all other men the change that comes when earth passes from them, or they from it, is as when a trench is dug across a railway, into which the express goes with a smash, and there is an end. To the man who, in the trifles of time, has been obeying the will of God, and therefore subserving eternity and his interests there, the trench is bridged, and he will go on after he crosses it just as he did before, with the same purpose, the same desires, the same submission, and the same drinking into himself of the fulness of immortal life.

Brother, John tells us that obedience to the will of God brings permanence into our fleeting years. But how are we to obey the will of God? John tells us that the only way is by love. But how are we to love God? John tells us that the only way to love--which love is the only way to obedience--is by knowing and believing the love that God hath to us. But how are we to know that God hath love to us? John tells us that the only way to know the love of God, which is the only way of our loving Him, which in its turn is the only way to obedience, which again is the only way to permanence of life, is to believe in Jesus Christ and His propitiation for our sins. The river flows on for ever, but it sweeps round the base of the Rock of Ages. And in Him, by faith in His blood, we may find our sure refuge and eternal home.2:15-17 The things of the world may be desired and possessed for the uses and purposes which God intended, and they are to be used by his grace, and to his glory; but believers must not seek or value them for those purposes to which sin abuses them. The world draws the heart from God; and the more the love of the world prevails, the more the love of God decays. The things of the world are classed according to the three ruling inclinations of depraved nature. 1. The lust of the flesh, of the body: wrong desires of the heart, the appetite of indulging all things that excite and inflame sensual pleasures. 2. The lust of the eyes: the eyes are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. The pride of life: a vain man craves the grandeur and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this includes thirst after honour and applause. The things of the world quickly fade and die away; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, but holy affection is not like the lust that passes away. The love of God shall never fail. Many vain efforts have been made to evade the force of this passage by limitations, distinctions, or exceptions. Many have tried to show how far we may be carnally-minded, and love the world; but the plain meaning of these verses cannot easily be mistaken. Unless this victory over the world is begun in the heart, a man has no root in himself, but will fall away, or at most remain an unfruitful professor. Yet these vanities are so alluring to the corruption in our hearts, that without constant watching and prayer, we cannot escape the world, or obtain victory over the god and prince of it.And the world passeth away - Everything properly constituting this world where religion is excluded. The reference here does not seem to be so much to the material world, as to the scenes of show and vanity which make up the world. These things are passing away like the shifting scenes of the stage. See the notes at 1 Corinthians 7:31.

And the lust thereof - All that is here so much the object of desire. These things are like a pageant, which only amuses the eye for a moment, and then disappears forever.

But he that doeth the will of God abideth forever - This cannot mean that he will never die; but it means that he has built his happiness on a basis which is secure, and which can never pass away. Compare the notes at Matthew 7:24-27.

17. the world—with all who are of the world worldly.

passeth away—Greek, "is passing away" even now.

the lust thereof—in its threefold manifestation (1Jo 2:16).

he that doeth the will of God—not his own fleshly will, or the will of the world, but that of God (1Jo 2:3, 6), especially in respect to love.

abideth for ever—"even as God also abideth for ever" (with whom the godly is one; compare Ps 55:19, "God, even He that abideth of old): a true comment, which Cyprian and Lucifer have added to the text without support of Greek manuscripts. In contrast to the three passing lusts of the world, the doer of God's will has three abiding goods, "riches, honor, and life" (Pr 22:4).

He sets the difference in view, of living according to the common genius, will, or inclination of the world, (which is lust), and according to the Divine will, that he who unites himself in his will and desire with the former, which vanishes, (objects and appetite altogether), must (which is implied) perish therewith; but he that unites himself with the supreme eternal good, by a will that is guided by and conformed to the Divine will,

abideth for ever, partakes a felicity coeternal with the object and rule upon which his heart was set, and which it was guided by. And the world passeth away,.... Not the matter and substance, but the fashion, form, and scheme of it, 1 Corinthians 7:31; kingdoms, cities, towns, houses, families, estates, and possessions, are continually changing, and casting into different hands, and different forms; the men of the world, the inhabitants of it, are continually removing; one generation goes, and another comes, new faces are continually appearing; the riches and honours of the world are fading, perishing, and transitory things; everything is upon the flux, nothing is permanent; which is another argument why the world, and the things of it, are not to be loved:

and the lust thereof; also passes away; and objects of lust are fading and fleeting, as beauty, and riches, and honours; these are continually taking away from men, or men are taken away from them, and will not be hereafter; and even the pleasure of lust itself passes away as soon as enjoyed; the pleasures of sin are but for a season, and a very short one; and are indeed but imaginary, and leave a real bitterness and sorrow behind them, and at length bring a man to ruin and destruction:

but he that doeth the will of God; not perfectly as contained in the law, which is the good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God; for no man can do that in such a manner, though a regenerate man desires to do it, even as it is done in heaven, and serves the law of God with his mind, and under the influence of the Spirit of God; and does walk in his statutes, and keeps his judgments from a principle of love, in faith, and without mercenary views and sinister ends, without depending on what he does for life and salvation; and such an one may be said to be a doer of the will of God: though rather here it intends such an one as believes in Christ, as the propitiation for his sins, and as his advocate with the Father, and who, makes Christ his pattern and example, and walks as he walked; and particularly observes the new commandment of love, loves God, and Christ, and his fellow Christians, and not the world, and the things of it: and such a man is happy, for he

abideth for ever; in the love of God, which will never depart from him, nor shall he be separated from that; and in the hands and arms of Christ, out of which none can pluck him; and in the family and household of God, where he, as a son, abides for ever, and shall never be cast out; and in a state of justification, and shall never enter into condemnation; and in a state of grace and holiness, from whence he shall never fall totally and finally; and in heaven with Christ to all eternity: the reason of this his abiding is not his doing the will of God, which is only descriptive of him manifestatively, and not the cause of his perpetuity and immovableness; but his eternal election of God, which stands sure, not on the foot of works, but of him that calleth; and the covenant of grace in which he is interested, and which is immovable, sure, firm, and inviolable; and the foundation Jesus Christ, on which he is built; and the principle of grace in him, which always remains, and is connected with eternal life.

{15} And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

(15) He shows how much better it is to obey the Father's will, than the lusts of the world, by both their natures and unlike event.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 John 2:17 adds a new element to the preceding, whereby the exhortation of 1 John 2:15 is strengthened and confirmed.

καὶ ὁ κόσμος παράγεται] is frequently taken by commentators, with an appeal to 1 Corinthians 7:31, as an expression of the transitoriness of the world; either the present being changed into the future (Bede: mundus transibit, quum in die judicii per ignem in meliorem mutabitur figuram, ut sit coelum novum et terra nova), or the peculiar nature of the world being regarded as described in it (Oecumenius: τὰ κοσμικὰ ἐπιθυμήματα οὐκ ἔχει τὸ μένον τε καὶ ἑστώς, ἀλλὰ παράγεται); Düsterdieck combines both; the apostle, according to him, expresses a truth “which holds good with ever present meaning, and which will thereby show itself some time in fact” (so also Ebrard and Braune). But 1 John 2:8 and the following ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν make it more than probable that the apostle here also uses παράγεται in the consciousness of the approaching second advent of Christ and the judgment on the κόσμος which is connected with it, thus: “the world is in the state of disappearing;” in 1 Corinthians 7:31 : παράγει τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου is said with the same feeling.

καὶ ἡ ἐπιθυμία αὐτοῦ] With the world passes away also the ἐπιθυμία which dwells in it; whereby the apostle briefly refers to the threefold form previously named: αὐτοῦ is not genitive of the object (Lücke, Neander, Sander, Besser), but of the subject (Düsterdieck, Braune); though there is mention previously of an ἀγαπᾷν τὸν κόσμον, yet there is none of an ἐπιθυμία directed towards the κόσμος; the contrary view rests on an erroneous interpretation of κόσμος.

ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ] antithesis to ὁ κόσμος, which in its ἐπιθυμία does not do the will of God. It is true, “ὁ πατήρ” is previously put as antithesis to the κόσμος, but it does not follow from this that the antithesis here is not to be taken as fully corresponding, and “ἐπιθυμῶν” to be taken out of ἐπιθυμία (Lücke); the appearance of this arises only from the fact that κόσμος is taken as something concrete. The expression used by the apostle is synonymous with ὁ ἀγαπῶν τὸν Θεόν; for the doing of the divine will is the effect of love to Him.

μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα] antithesis of παράγεται; the expression signifies, as frequently, eternal, infinite endurance, comp. John 6:51; John 6:58; John 8:35, etc. That John regarded this abiding for ever as the eternally happy life in the fellowship of God is certain, but is not contained in the expression.[153] To the ΚΌΣΜΟς is assigned ΘΆΝΑΤΟς, to the children of God ΖΩῊ ΑἸΏΝΙΟς.

[153] Ebrard arbitrarily explains that by αἰών is to be understood “the Aeon which will begin with the visible establishment in glory of Christ’s kingdom on earth,” and that ὁ ποιῶνεἰς τ. αἰῶνα therefore means: “he who does the will of God shall remain till the establishment of the kingdom of Christ—he will be permitted to see the victory of Christ’s kingdom.”1 John 2:17. An explanation, especially of ἡ ἀλαζονία τοῦ βίου. To set one’s affection on the things in the world is “braggart boasting”; for they are not ours, they are transient. Cf. Mohammed: “What have I to do with the comforts of this life? The world and I—what connection is there between us? Verily the world is no otherwise than as a tree unto me: when the traveller hath rested under its shade, he passeth on.” Aug. on 1 John 4:4 : “Mundus iste omnibus fidelibus quærentibus, patriam sic est, quomodo fuit eremus populo Israel”. αὐτοῦ subjective genitive like σαρκός and ὀφθαλμῶν. τὸ θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ, alone permanent amid the flux of transitory things. Cf. Aug.: “Rerum temporalium fluvius trahit: sed tanquam circa fluvium arbor nata est Dominus noster Jesus Christus. Assumpsit carnem, mortuus est, resurrexit, ascendit in cœlum. Voluit se quodammodo circa fluvium temporalium plantare. Raperis in praeceps? tene lignum. Volvit te amor mundi? tene Christum.”17. and the world passeth away] Or, is passing away; as in 1 John 2:8 : the process is now going on. We owe the verb ‘pass away’ here to Coverdale: it is a great improvement on Tyndale’s ‘vanisheth away.’ Comp. ‘The fashion of this world is passing away’ (1 Corinthians 7:31), where the same verb is used, and where the active in a neuter sense is equivalent to the middle here and in 1 John 2:8.

and the lust thereof] Not the lust for the world, but the lust which it exhibits, the sinful tendencies mentioned in 1 John 2:16. The world is passing away with all its evil ways. How foolish, therefore, to fix one’s affections on what not only cannot endure but is already in process of dissolution! ‘The lust thereof’ = ‘all that is in the world.’

the will of God] This is the exact opposite of ‘all that is in the world’. The one sums up all the tendencies to good in the universe, the other all the tendencies to evil. We see once more how S. John in giving us the antithesis of a previous idea expands it and makes it fructify. He says that the world and all its will and ways are on the wane: but as the opposite of this he says, not merely that God and His will and ways abide, but that ‘he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’. This implies that he who follows the ways of the world will not abide for ever. Again he speaks of the love of the world and the love of the Father; but as the opposite of the man who loves the world he says not ‘he that loveth the Father,’ but ‘he that doeth the will of the Father’. This implies that true love involves obedience. Thus we have a double antithesis. On the one hand we have the world and the man who loves it and follows its ways: they both pass away. On the other hand we have God and the man who loves Him and does His will: they both abide for ever. Instead of the goods of this life (βίος) in which the world would allow him to vaunt for a moment, he who doeth the will of God has that eternal life (ζωή) in which the true Christian has fellowship with God. ‘For ever’ is literally ‘unto the age’, i.e. ‘unto the age to come’, the kingdom of heaven; the word for ‘age’ (αἰών) being the substantive from which the word for ‘eternal’ (αἰώνιος) is derived. He who does God’s will shall abide until the kingdom of God comes and be a member of it. The latter fact, though not stated, is obviously implied. It would be a punishment and not a blessing to be allowed, like Moses, to see the kingdom but not enter it. The followers of the world share the death of the world: the children of God share His eternal life.

Here probably we should make a pause in reading the Epistle. What follows is closely connected with what precedes and is suggested by it: but there is, nevertheless, a new departure, which is made with much solemnity.1 John 2:17. Καὶ, and) An abbreviated expression: that is, the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, and he also who loves the world; but God, and he who doeth, etc.—ποιῶν, doing) as the love of the Father brings with it [requires of necessity].—τὸ θέλημα, the will) This will requires from us self-restraint, temperance, modesty, which are contrary to the world.—μένει, abideth) and has abiding goods, truly to be wished for, opposed to those three mentioned before; namely, riches, and glory, and life: Proverbs 22:4.—καθὼς καὶ ὁ Θεὸς μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, even as God also abideth for ever) A various reading of great beauty, and undoubtedly true. It is found in Latin fathers of no mean authority.[3]

[3] Nevertheless it is not marked either in the margin of the larger Ed., or in the context of the Germ. Version (but only in a note). In fact, it wants the authority of Greek MSS. and Editions in its support.—E. B.

Cypr. and Lucifer add the words, “Quomodo et Deus manet in æternum.”—E.Verse 17. - Seeing, then, that the love of the world and the love of the Father are absolutely incompatible, which must we choose? Not the former, for its object is already passing away; while not only does the Father abide for ever, but he who loves him and does his will abides for ever also. The antithesis, as usual, is a progress; it carries us beyond the limits of the original statement. The world is passing away like a dissolving view. It has its sentence of death in itself; its decay has begun. And even if it were not passing away, our capacity for enjoying it would none the less certainly come to an end. "The sensualist does not know what the delights of sense are; he is out of temper when he is denied them; he is out of temper when he possesses them" (Maurice). To love the world is to lose everything, including the thing loved. To love God is to gain him and his kingdom. Some men would have it that the external world is the one thing that is certain and permanent, while religion is based on a mere hypothesis, and is ever changing its form. St. John assures us that the very reverse is the case. The world is waning: it is God alone and his faithful servants who abide. As St. Augustine says, "What can the world promise? Let it promise what you will, it makes the promise, perhaps, to one who tomorrow will die." The will of God is the exact antithesis of "all that is in the world." The one is the good power "that makes for righteousness;" the other is the sum of the evil powers which make for sin. Abideth for ever is literally, abideth unto the age (μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα). The notion of endlessness is, perhaps, not distinctly included; for that we should rather have had εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν, αἰώνων (Revelation 1:18; Revelation 11:15; Revelation 22:5). The contrast is not between "passing away" and "lasting forever," but between "passing away" and abiding till "the age" comes. But as "the age" is the age of eternity as distinguished from this age of time, the rendering "abideth for ever" is justified. The Jews used" this age" and" the age to come" to distinguish the periods before and after the coming of the Messiah. Christians adopted the same phrases to indicate the periods before and after Christ's second coming; e.g., ὁ αἰὼν οῦτος (Luke 16:8; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:20), ὁ νῦν αἰών (1 Timothy 6:17; 2 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:12), as opposed to ὁ αἰὼν ἐκεῖνος, (Luke 20:35), ὁ αἰὼν ὁ ἐρχόμενος (Luke 18:30), ὁ μέλλων (Ephesians 1:21), and very frequently, as here and throughout St. John's Gospel and Epistles, simply ὁ αἰών. In Revelation the invariable expression is εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, the τῶν being omitted in Revelation 14:11. The exact meaning here, therefore, is "abideth unto the age," i.e., the coming of Christ's eternal kingdom. Forever (εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα)

The only form in which αἰῶν age, life, occurs in the Gospel and Epistles of John, except ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος since the world began (John 9:32). Some old versions add, "as God abideth forever."

Links
1 John 2:17 Interlinear
1 John 2:17 Parallel Texts


1 John 2:17 NIV
1 John 2:17 NLT
1 John 2:17 ESV
1 John 2:17 NASB
1 John 2:17 KJV

1 John 2:17 Bible Apps
1 John 2:17 Parallel
1 John 2:17 Biblia Paralela
1 John 2:17 Chinese Bible
1 John 2:17 French Bible
1 John 2:17 German Bible

Bible Hub






1 John 2:16
Top of Page
Top of Page