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to this world, he must be understood as requiring them to abstain from mingling in the profane rites and superstitions, the evil customs and corrupt practices, of the heathens amongst whom they lived, and out of whom they were saved from destruction, by the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We may consider then that one of those converts, in applying this precept to his own conduct, would conceive it incumbent upon himself, to mark by his outward behaviour his abhorrence of the superstitions of idolatry; and whilst he avoided all unnecessary offence and all appearance of courting persecution, yet fearlessly to do his duty to God, and to prove his love to Christ, by the open refusal to join in any single unchristian practice.
In our own times the case is greatly altered, by the circumstance that Christianity is no longer under persecution, but is become the professed religion of the people amongst whom we live. And it might seem at first sight as if the apostle's precept had no longer any applica
tion to his readers, when the world with whom they hold commerce has professed to adopt the faith in Christ. But it is known too well to require proof, that profession and practice are two very different things. And as they who were members of the Jewish covenant were not all like Nathanael, Israelites indeed ; so neither are all they who are called by the name of Christ true members of his spiritual church. Many practices prevail in this Christian country altogether irreconcileable with the Gospel of Christ; many which much tend to impede its influence on the heart, and which can in no sense be said to be in harmony with its precepts. The apostolic injunction therefore may be in some sense applied to our own times, and, in common with all other passages in the Epistles, which originally belonged to temporary circumstances, may be found to furnish a principle of action suited to our own case.
Now the precept in the text consists of two parts. It tells
It tells us what we are not to be, and what we are to be. And the
second part of it, rightly interpreted, will be found to furnish considerable assistance, in the endeavour to explain the first, with a view to the circumstances of the present times. It indicates that the change required in a Christian is chiefly spiritual, and thus leads us to believe that his being not conformed to the world is to be taken also chiefly in a spiritual
I. What then, it may first be asked, is meant by the world, as the expression applies to the present times ? Is there in this country any distinction as clearly marked, as there was at Rome between the converts to Christianity and the worshippers of Jupiter ? Could any human being now survey the people, and count up how many are the servants of God, and how many bow the knee to Baal ? No one can possibly imagine that this is practicable. And I infer that “ this world,” as we are to understand the term, does not signify any distinct number of individual men and women, to whom we can point with the same de
finite certainty, as an early Roman convert might have done to the worshippers of Jupiter, and say, " Those are the people, they the world, to whom I am not to be conformed.” If then, in a society of professing Christians, we cannot define the world by any distinct number of individuals, it remains that we must interpret the word to mean those persons, not always discernible by man, who hold and promote opinions and practices, prevalent in the careless part of a professing Christian community, condemned by the precepts of the Gospel, opposed to its spirit, and fraught with danger to all who entertain and cherish them.
II. The question still returns in another shape, What are those opinions ? and what those practices ? and how are we to be “not conformed" unto them? I cannot offer a better general answer than by bidding you to read the Gospel, to read it with prayer that you may learn its spirit, and that you may be enabled to walk in a course of Christian life. The practices and opinions to be avoided
are those which constituted the cause of Christ's coming into the world; they are the offences for which He suffered, the sins for which He died on the cross. They are an evil heart of unbelief, a corrupt estimation of worldly pleasure, a subjection of the body to the service of Satan, an exaltation of the mind into his false eminence of spiritual pride. They are habits of thinking and acting as if this world were man's chief existence, as if heaven and hell were not as sure as earth, and eternity as certain as to day, as if the soul were not in danger, and Christ had never come to save it, as if it were not weak, and the Holy Spirit were not ready to assist it, as if the great new commandment of our Saviour were not that we should love one another.
In this imperfect summary of the unchristian features, prominent in the character of a professing Christian world, I have endeavoured to point out those principles against which we are especially to be on our guard, that we be not conformed unto them. But I am aware that