1 John 2:17
And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
There is one thing makes and keeps a nation great; it is a love of invisible ideas. There is one thing that makes and keeps it base; it is love of the visible and the transient. The one love we call spiritual and the other worldly. The latter, when it is first, excludes the former; the former does not exclude the latter, but ennobles its work by making the motives of it worthy. What is the spiritual life in a nation? That is our first question. It is when there is an ever-present spiritual power in the people which rules and influences their whole national life. I may state what I mean by that in this way. Through knowledge of our nation's history in the past, through admiration of her greatness, through love of her scenery, through the subtle traditionary feelings which have been sent down in our blood — through these, and through a crowd of desires and enjoyments and sorrows which are shared by us all as Englishmen, and through a crowd of hopes for the future of our country, there grows up before us an ideal image of our nation. Afterwards we separate the qualities of her character, and from them, seen one by one, we conceive other spiritual ideas. She loves, we say, rightousness in her children, and there are certain ways of action which she has always thought right for Englishmen. Knowing this, her children conceive the idea of duty to her. She says, It is better to die than to be false to these demands; and the ideas of duty and courage are both invisible. Then we conceive that she loves all her children equally, and we believe that; and immediately we conceive the spiritual idea of a brotherhood in which all Englishmen are one. When each man, far beyond his personal interests, beyond his home affections, beyond his passions, feels these things as the power of his life and lives by them, and lives to do them; when the love he has to them is so powerful that he bends to its service all he is and all he has, then the nation that has such men within it lives a spiritual national life and not a worldly one. Can you imagine this or part of it being in a nation's life and that nation not being great and keeping great? The nearest approach to the picture was in the days of Elizabeth. Not long after her accession men began to realise the freedom they had won, and passed from despair into a passionate love of their country. They idealised England, and represented their ideal in the queen. And the life that came out of this — the adventure, the sacrifices, the abounding thought, the audacious power — is even to us astonishing. A vehemence of activity and faith tilled the commonest sailor and yeoman with the same spirit as Raleigh and Greville. The intellectual work was just as great. We cannot yet cease to wonder at a time when all men seemed giants, when Elizabeth and Cecil played on Europe as on an instrument, when Spenser recreated romance and wedded her to religion, when Shakespeare made all mankind talk and act upon a rude stage, when Bacon reopened the closed doors of Nature and philosophy, when Hooker's judgment made wise the Church, and when among these kings of thought there moved a crowd of princes who in any other age would themselves have been kings of art and song and learning. That was a noble national life, and it was such because it was lived in and for spiritual ideas. Nor because of that was it less practical. The life the ideas made and supported entered into the work of wealth. the commerce of England began under Elizabeth, the agriculture of the country was trebled, houses rose everywhere, comfort and luxury and art increased. But, though wealth and comfort grew, they were never the first. Ideal motives ruled them — worship of God and England, and the queen as the image of England. An ideal national life then included all the good of a worldly one. It was no less practical in its results on the spirit of the country. There is none among us who is not the better for the example of that time, who is not prouder of our land with that pride that makes heroic deeds, who does not look back with reverence to the great names that then adorned our country. The opposite life to that is that of national worldliness. It is when there are but very few ideas in a nation, and when these few do not rule it; when its action, thoughts, and feelings are governed by what is present or visible or transitory. It is when the men in it worship as the first thing personal getting on; when wealth is first and any means are good that attain it; when those who have it or rank or position are bowed down to without consideration of character; when art is even stained and men work at it not for love of its own reward but to sell it dearly; when politics are governed solely by desire for the material prosperity of the country; when the commerce of a nation is to be kept at all hazards, even the hazard of disgrace. And as there are a great many among us who are in that condition or tending to it, we should be in bad way were it not that there are numbers who hate that condition, who do not live in it or for it, to whom it is vile and hideous and contemptible. Let all those who think thus do their best to keep the worldly spirit out of the nation's life; it will be a sacred duty. And it is one of those things which everyone can do, each in his own society. Take a few instances of it in certain spheres of thought and act that we may know it. Take the scientific world. On one side of it it is quite unworldly. It demands that it should be allowed to do its work without any practical motive, without any end such as, when reached, would increase the wealth or comfort of the world. But in two ways it may become worldly. First, it becomes partially worldly when it tries to put aside all ideal life but its own, when it mocks at any belief in the invisible except its own invisibles, when it is so foolish as to see nothing beyond itself. Secondly, it may become altogether worldly if it should tie itself to the car of the practical man, hire itself out to the manufacturer, or the police, or the politician, or the people who love luxury, making itself like Aladdin's lamp in the hands of a clodhopper. Oh, protect it from that fate! Again take art. Of all men it is true, but of the artist it is especially true, that he must not love the world nor the things of the world. He runs passionately towards the ideal beauty. The impossible is his aim; nothing he does should ever satisfy him. If he could say, "Now I grasp the perfect; the present is all in all to me; I live in and through the visible thing I have made," then were he really dead in sin; then would art glide away from him forever, and when he knew that misery as his he would die of the knowledge of it. But worse, infinitely worse, than such a death is his becoming worldly, and he may be lured into that by the love of money. He may give up all his own ideas, all the ideal he once had of his work, to do work he hates and despises. He may even get to like the base work for the sake of the goods it brings him. There is no ruin so ghastly as this. Once more, take national economy. There is a good thrift when the money of a people is carefully watched that the greatest amount of reproductive good may be got out of it, when none is wasted, when work is honestly paid its full value and no more, when no money is given for bad work, or, as is often the case, for no work at all. Such economy is ruled by ideas, especially by this main one: All expenditure, even to the last sixpence, must have some relation to the good of England. But there is a base thrift, and that is ruled by this maxim: All expenditure must increase material wealth, or have a visible practical end, practical as enabling men to get on better in this world. Love not the world, nor the things of the world in your nation, any more than in your own heart. You may think this has nothing to do with religion, with the faith and life of Christ. Then you will be much mistaken. Such a national temper will put men into the atmosphere in which a Christian life is possible. If you can get men to live an unworldly national life you have made the first step to get them to live after Christ.
(S. A. Brooke, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.