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ROMANS XII. 2.
And be not conformed to this world.*
THIS is a general exhortation, adapted to a great variety of occasions. It affords an excellent rule for the Christian's conduct, which he may readily apply when tempted to follow the course of this world. It is easy to know what the world loves and pursues; and it is easy to remember that the Christian must take a different course. The way of the world is the broad way to destruction; the way of life is narrow, and trodden but by few.
The text is a plain and direct prohibition against conformity to the world. It is addressed to the people of God, and stands connected with an affectionate exhortation to be devoted to him. This chapter is wholly practical; and follows a large and excellent discourse upon the exceeding riches of divine grace to sinners, in their free and full justification through faith in Christ Jesus, and the most noble and glorious privileges to which they are called. "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." Thus are the doctrines of grace sweetly connected with a gracious walk and conversation. They are connected in the Bible, and they are connected in all those who are taught of God.—May we happily know their sacred union by our own experience!
* As this sermon is designed to expose the sin and danger of Carnal Games and Amusements, especially in the professors of religion, it may be usefully read in Holiday-seasons, at the time of a Fair or Wake, or when Theatrical Amusements are introduced into a Town. It may also be lent to a friend who is in danger of being tempted to sinful compliances upon such occasions.
VOL. IV. N
In order to this complete devotedness to God, the apostle here advises believers not to be " conformed to this world,"—not to be moulded into the same fashion, —not to comply with their temper and spirit,—not to imitate their depraved customs and manners; but, on the contrary, to "be transformed by the renewing of their minds;" to be changed into a contrary, better, more glorious, and abiding form,—in the daily renovation of their souls, yet more and more, by the Holy Spirit. The text, therefore, teaches us this great and useful doctrine:—That
Christians must not be conformed to this world.
By the "world," we are certainly to understand the men of the world, in opposition to true believers, or the people of God. That there is a real and essential distinction between the world and the church, is abundantly plain from the Scriptures. Jesus Christ saith of his disciples, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world:" and St. John saith of believers, "We know we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." This important distinction prevails throughout the Bible. Everywhere God's people are represented as differing from the world. Believers are called Children of God; others, the Children of the Devil, and the Children of Wrath; the one are friends, the others enemies; the one far from God, the other nigh unto him.
It was the design of Christ in dying for his people to deliver them from this present evil world,—to save them "from the evil that is in the world,"—to make an evident separation, and "to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works:" that is, to separate them from the wicked world for his own use, and for his own glory, as his precious and peculiar property, that they might be zealously affected towards him and his cause, in the performance of every good work.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls believers to this separation, and is the instrument of effecting it. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you." 2 Cor. vi. 17. There is much danger in the company of idolaters; and in connexion with unbelievers, there is danger of being infected and defiled: therefore a proper distance must be kept. And the Gospel of Christ becomes an occasion of this separation: it creates division; it causes disunion; the believer is crucified to the world, and the world unto him. Thus faith, which is the bond of union with Christ, is the instrument of separation from the world. And how reasonable is it to expect that persons whose state and character now differ essentially from others, and who will be eternally separated as far as Heaven is from Hell, should now bear the visible marks of distinction, and not be conformed to this world!
We may now proceed to enquire in what this nonconformity consists, or in what degree it is required: for a total separation is impossible in the present state of things. There are family-connexions, which are not to be dissolved, because some of the parties are gracious, and others remain in their sins. 1 Cor. vii. 1U. There are also civil connexions, in the lawful affairs of this world, with which religion cannot interfere. If we would wholly avoid intercourse with the wicked, ''we must needs go out of the world," for the world is full of them. 1 Cor. v. 10. Neither does religion require or countenance a morose and sullen, or uncivil behaviour to the men of the world; much less does it demand an entire exclusion from the affairs of life, and a solitary confinement in a monastery or nunnery. Christians are not, like the old Pharisees, to say to others, " Stand off—we are holier than you." On the contrary, believers are "the salt of the earth," and, by their necessary and lawful connexions with the world, are the happy means of preserving it from utter corruption: they are "the lights of the world," and diffuse some general rays of knowledge amidst the
feneral darkness; and, by their wise, holy, and pruent conduct among men, are to condemn the world, as to what is evil in it, and recommend the gospel they profess to the notice and approbation of others. But while they are thus engaged, they are not to be conformed to the world, in the following respects :—
1. As to the errors of the World,—their false and dangerous sentiments in religion. The doctrines of the Gospel are directly contrary to the generally-received opinions of worldly men; they directly tend to humble the sinner, to exalt the Saviour, and to promote holiness; while the notions of the world tend to make the sinner proud, with some fancied opinion of his goodness, works, and righteousness; to diminish the glory of Jesus Christ, as " the Lord our righteousness :" and to make holiness in heart and life a needless, if not a contemptible thing. It is the high privilege of God's people to be "taught of God;" to have the Spirit of truth, "whom the world cannot receive;" to "know the truth," to be "of the truth," to "keep the truth," and to be "sanctified by the truth." False teachers "are of the world, therefore they speak of the world, and the world heareth them;" but he that is of God, and knoweth God, heartily embraces the truth of the Gospel; he "heareth the voice of Christ, the true Shepherd; but the voice of the stranger he will not follow." 1 John iv. 5, 6. John x. 16, 25, 27. This separation from the religious errors of the world is of the greatest importance: and, while we pay all civil respect to all men, and abhor persecution, we must give no countenance to error. St. John gives us this direction: "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (the doctrine of Christ,) receive him not into your house, neither bid him
God-speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed, is partaker of his evil deeds." 2 John 10, 11.
2. We must not be conformed to the world in its sinful practices. "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the
eye, and the pride of life," are called " the World's Trinity,"—their God whom they worship and obey. The works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit are directly contrary to each other; they who are in the flesh practice the one; they that are in the Spirit practice the other. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest; as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, wrath, strife, seditions, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: the doers of which shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Gal. v. 19— 21. But, " if we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; and they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts." The Christian must therefore dissent from the world in its evil practices; even "the appearance of evil'' must be carefully shunned. "Pure religion and undefiled is for a man to keep himself unspotted from the world;" to behave in such a circumspect and holy manner, as to keep clear of the pollutions of this evil and ensnaring world, that he may not bring a slur upon his conscience, or his character.
3. Christians must not be conformed to the spirit of the world. There is a certain disposition and taste which forms the true character of a man of the world, and which operates as a powerful principle in the regulation of his whole conduct. There is also an opposite principle given to the people of God in.their new birth, which gives a new taste to their minds, and a new bias to their affections. St. Paul, speaking of both these, saith, " Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God." 1 Cor ii. 12. The spirit of the world must of course he a worldly spirit; or, in the language of Scripture, a "carnal mind;" it can be no other : for " that which is born of