1 John 2:17
And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
The first affirmation of this sentence is common enough and obvious enough. And yet perhaps it might be questioned whether any of us truly and profoundly believe it. Ask us whether we believe that the world passes away, and pointing to these lapsing years we unhesitatingly say Yes, but encounter us twelve hours after the now year is born in Cheapside or on 'Change, and you will see no diminution of our eager pursuit, no relaxation of our eager grasp of it. Not only does the world pass away, but "the lust thereof" — the very thoughts and passions with which we desire it. I know no more affecting affirmation concerning death than one that is made in one of the Psalms, "In that very day his thoughts perish." The man as we knew him and could recognise him has perished, his palpable body is no longer conscious of thought and passion. So far as the world is concerned, and so far as we look at him, his thoughts have perished, he is only dust — the eye, the hand, the tongue, and, above all, the mysterious brain, have forgotten their functions. And more than this, the thoughts of the man are perished in fact as well as in seeming, for although we believe the thinking, loving man to live in the unseen world, active from the very necessity of their nature, yet how few of the particular thoughts and desires that a man entertains here does he retain after he dies! How many of them perish! too vain, too foolish, too sinful to be retained in the light and under the conditions of another world. How few of our conscious thoughts and affections can we even now reasonably hope to retain! They are possible for this life of ignorance and sin, but possible for no other. Ay, and before a man dies "the lust of the world" may perish out of him. Difficult as it is to cure a man of an undue love of the world, disappointment and suffering may do it, and disgust may succeed to desire. Possession may bring a hatred and disgust surpassing our love and desire, and thus even before the world itself passes away the "lust" of it may. But this is true of things only in part, true only as to their outward seeming, true only of their material and external element. There is an element of everything that a moral being touches and is related to that is unchanging and eternal; that, namely, which expresses or addresses itself to his moral feeling. The material Element of this world's things passes away, the moral abides forever. This is, I think, what is meant by the second member of this sentence. And there is a moral element in everything. Everything that conies to us comes with a moral lesson and influence from God — a teaching of duty or a test of temper: and everything that goes from us carries with it a record of our moral principles and tempers. There is nothing so material and so trivial as not to be a possible means of grace to us. Let us be careful not to err, therefore, in our estimates of the transitoriness of things. Just as we do not all die because the material body dies, so we do not all pass away because the material externals of things do; there is a kind of moral soul of the world as well as a material body. Our pure thoughts, our loving affections, our holy actions, our penitence and prayer and communion with God, our service of God, our self-denial and self-consecration, all enabled by the things of the world around us, these are the elements of the things of the world that will live and abide forever.
I. Take, first, THE GENERAL HISTORY OF THE YEAR, the public deeds that have been done, the national and social movements that have been effected, the sum total of what has been contributed to the world's history, wisdom, and goodness. We need attempt no enumeration of these; it is enough to say of them that all that is merely material and external in them has passed away, only that which is moral abides. There is no moral influence, no moral life in the mere record of an event upon the page of history; it may lie there a dead fact, without a living pulse, without a particle of quickening power. Only so far as moral principles were exercised in it, only so far as it was an example of virtue or a beacon of vice, an illustration of obedience or an instance of sin, has it power to appeal to and quicken us. How, then, shall we estimate the history of the past year? We will brush away its surface of mere phenomena, and look into the world's moral life and try to understand what the year has added to the world's holiness or sin, how far Christian civilisation has been extended and Christian piety increased. Is the world purer and more elevated? It has an additional record of sin, what additional record has it of virtue, obedience, and faith?
II. Take next YOUR OWN INDIVIDUAL HISTORY THROUGH THE YEAR. Now, whatever may have befallen you, whatever sorrows or joys, pains or pleasures, the only permanent result of the year is its sum of moral actions and experiences. Of how little value now apart from it are your toils for the perishing body, your care for the physical wants of your mortal condition, your ploughing the earth, your barter of merchandise, your hoarding of money, your toil as an orator, scholar, or statesman! So far as you have done these things without spiritual feeling and reference, how little they all appear now. And as with our possessions, so with our self-culture, both of mind and of heart. How much of what a man acquires is mere properly, never entering into the essence of his moral life. Suppose that you have been a student during the year, acquiring knowledge of history, science, philosophy, well, how much of what you have acquired is mere knowledge, the mere chattel of the man? How little of it has been incorporated with your moral life! And all that has not shall pass away, save as mere memory. "Whether it be knowledge, it shall fail; whether they be prophecies, they shall cease"; only Divine charity, only that which is inwrought moral feeling, shall abide. Or suppose that you are a religious man, cultivating a religious character, and seeking to "make your calling and election sure." You have read your Bible, you have uttered prayers, you have helped in Christian labour. Well, as mere acts these have all passed away, congregations have broken up, duties have been finished. What, then, remains? Only the moral element that there was in all these things, only the inward religious feeling that prompted them or that they expressed. And it abides in two ways. First, all the moral element and influence of your religious acts produces an effect upon others — upon those who are the objects of your act, and upon others who behold it. Not merely does it relieve poverty or pain — that is only the material form and effect that will perish when pain shall end; but it exhibits a moral principle or feeling, and men are morally moved by it — moved to moral admiration and imitation. And then upon yourself the moral influence of your act is very mighty. Every exercise of virtue or a vice acts inwardly far more powerfully than it acts outwardly; it strengthens and expands your moral principle, it enlarges and deepens your brotherly sympathies.
(H. Allon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.