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 are but two things set forth in this text — a great 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.
I. THE RIVER OR THE SAD TRUTH OF SENSE. "The world" is in the act of "passing away." Like the slow travelling of the scenes of some movable 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 constantly, silently, and therefore unnoticed by us, all is in a state of continual motion. There is no present, but all is movement. But besides this transiency external to us, John finds a corresponding analogous 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 disappointed 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. And suppose a man says, "I am not going to take the fleetingness of the things of earth into account at all, but am going 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? 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 rock and build there, and build secure. Withdraw your affections and thoughts and 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. There was an old rabbi long ago whose own real name was all but lost because everybody nicknamed him "Rabbi This-also." 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. 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. There is only one permanent reality in the universe, and that is God. All else is shadow. 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 blessed Being which lives above mutation. 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. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever." If you have done your housekeeping, and your weaving and spinning, and your bookkeeping, 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 that 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.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.