The Conquering Christ
( Originally Published 1895 )
"Be of good cheer : I have overcome the world. "—John xvi. 33.
" Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." -1 John iv. 4.
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof : but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. "—1 John ii.15-17.
THE first of these scriptures presents before us the conquering Christ, who has overcome the world. The second scripture presents to us the conquering disciple, who is a conqueror because within him dwells the conquering Christ, giving to him his own courage and power. The third scripture is a comment on the other two, telling us what is meant by "the world." As John is the reporter of these words of Jesus, the last words of comfort and good cheer which Jesus gave his disciples before entering upon his agony, it seemed to me he would be most likely of all others to know just what the Master meant by that suggestive phrase, the world."
We have here three distinct classes or phases of manifestation of the enemy described in the scriptures as "he that is in the world."
First, there is "the lust of the flesh." How the flesh presses on us from every side and through every avenue of our daily lives ! It is like a spring flood which comes down from the mountains, causing the river to overflow its banks and spread destruction everywhere. Down on the Mississippi River during the last few hundred miles of its course, the great valleys, covered with rich plantations, are in many places much lower than the river itself. And so the farmers have to build up immense levees against the encroachments of the water. And when the floods come, these have to be patrolled and watched with great care, or all their wide-spreading fields will be laid waste. They cannot let any of the flood through without letting all. They cannot leave one weak spot in the embankment without endangering the whole. So the flesh presses against us like a flood. What havoc has come to this world through the lusts of the flesh ! The Bible is full of significant illustrations. In its grosser forms there was young Sam-son, whose opening years were full of purity and innocency, and consequently full of strength and power. He could rend every young lion that roared against him, and eat honey out of the carcass of his enemy. But the lust of the flesh wrought his destruction. How many young Samsons there are to-day, born of a good father and a good mother, come out from a reverent and pure home, but the lust of the flesh in one form or another is sapping their vitality, blighting their lives, and bringing about their speedy shame and disgrace. Sometimes it is strong drink. A man thinks he can take his daily glass of beer or glass of wine in safety, and when he gets so he can drink the nauseating stuff without making a wry face, he thinks he is graduating into manhood, into society manners, and fondly imagines that he is coming to fit that much-abused phrase, " a man of the world." It sounds very big and top-lofty, but as often used it means that he is giving way to lust of the flesh, which degrades him to the mere worldly level, and shuts him out from all higher and holier visions and all nobler hopes. Soon the young man begins to lust after the strong drink. He is uneasy and restless and thirsty for it when he does not have it, and so it goes on and on, until he will pawn his little baby's shoes, until he will pawn his wife's wedding-ring, and sell his immortal soul that he may feed the lusts of his flesh.
Perhaps it doesn't take such a seemingly gross form. Possibly it shows itself in a hungering after money and luxury and ease. There was a young man like that who came to Christ. He was a moral young man. He had kept the letter of the law with great fidelity, but Jesus saw the rotten spot of selfishness in him, and his lust for riches and the ease of the flesh, and that there was just one way out of the mire for him, and that was to sell what he had and give to the poor, and deny himself and take up his cross and follow the Savior. Dante, in his vision of hell, sees there one whom he does not name, but who, he says, "made the great refusal." Most students of Dante sup-pose he refers to the young man who came to Jesus and whom Jesus loved, but who regretfully declined the Savior's precious invitation. It was a great refusal. t was a lost opportunity such as few men have had in this world. There must have been some great capacity for good in the young man, for Jesus, who could read character at a glance, loved him and gave him the glorious opportunity of going up higher. The love which Jesus felt for this youth, and which he so showed in his face that the disciples noticed it and wrote it down afterward, suggests to us that if he had accepted the offer and obeyed Jesus he might have become one of the most distinguished and useful of all that immortal group who have been taken into the heart of the world, and whose names will live forever because of their fidelity to Jesus Christ. But, poor fellow, he was overthrown by the lust of the flesh.
" The lust of the eyes."
There is a fable which says that once upon a time in a dim old forest two birds lived right merrily. And behold, a child came one day, carrying a gilded cage, which he set down on a mossy bank, and around it he strewed many seeds. The birds flew down to the bank and ate the seeds greedily. Then the child strewed more seeds, this time right close to the cage. These they ate also. The next day the seeds were strewed inside the cage. Then the birds said one to another: " What means this? Is it a snare set for our destruction?" And shaking their heads doubtfully, they flew up to their perch in the tree-top and would not venture near. But having tasted the seeds and become very fond of them already, they in a day or two appeared again upon the spot. " Shall we venture in?" they said. Reason said, "No," but appetite said, " The seeds are so savory; why not have them ?" So in they hopped. ' And in stepping about they touched a secret spring; the door flew shut with a quick rebound, and they were prisoners. Then the child stepped out from his hiding-place, took up the cage, and carried the beautiful birds, once so blithe and gay, as captives to his home.
How clearly that gilded cage illustrates the deadly fascination of an unholy habit, which, though it seems so harmless, has yet a door of despair which shuts with tenacious hold upon its victims. There is no jailer so cruel as vice, though oftentimes it clothes itself in fascinating garments and seems like an angel of light.
The lust of the eye! What a terrible thing it has meant to our humanity ! God said to our first parents that they should not eat of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and they never would have done so if Eve had not set her eyes on it until they lusted for the fruit. The scripture says she "saw that it was good for food." The lust of the eye was followed by the lust of the flesh, by sin and banishment and endless trouble and sorrow. Ahab's "eye" lusted after Naboth's vineyard, and he let his eye continue to look at it and desire it until he could not be satisfied till Jezebel had wrought murder to obtain it for him. But it was in that same vineyard that judgment came upon him and that his own life-blood dripped from the floor of his chariot. It was Achan's "eye" that beheld the wedge of gold and lusted after it until he stole it. You are not safe for a moment, though you may not have committed any outward sin yet, if your eyes are lusting after the sin, and your imagination is setting it before your mind in at-tractive pictures, and you are yielding to desires and longings for it. You may depend upon it that, unless helped of God, to-morrow or the day after you will be wallowing in the lust toward which your eyes are drawing you.
" The pride of life !" How many are destroyed by pride ! To make a display in the world, to lead the fashion, to show our good looks or our sharp witticism, to fascinate some one and be the object of admiration and envy ! t does not need that one be rich or beautiful or gifted in order to be subject to this temptation. It is a sin that may thrive in a garret as well as in a palace. There is always something that the devil can deceive us into being proud of, if it is only our meanness. For I have seen men who were actually proud of their sins. Some people are proud of their poor, puny, sarcastic temperaments; proud of their hardness of heart; proud that they are not easily moved to tenderness and love; proud that they are cynical.
The pride of life !" It has a thousand manifestations, and it destroys multitudes of souls. It must be thrown to the winds before one can become a true Christian. Many people refuse to come out openly on the Lord's side, to humble themselves by going to the altar and on their knees confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness, because in some way it offends their pride. I hope there may not be anybody so foolish here to-night; for of all the rafts upon which men try to ride the rapids of trouble and death and eternity, pride is the most perishable and the most easily destroyed. And indeed all these things that are of the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, are but for a little while, and soon are gone. Notice this solemn sentence, " The world passeth away and the lust thereof." The trouble about men or women who give themselves up to the world is not only that all worldly things, such as health and strength and beauty and money and fame and everything that men are fascinated by in this world are transitory and uncertain, but that if anything remains, the lust for it is destroyed, and many times we see illustrations of men and women living on after all the zest and enthusiasm of life have gone. Their lust for worldly riches and pleasures, for which they have sold their souls and rejected the Christ and disobeyed God, has died out, and they go on living poor old burned-out lives that are as joyless as they are useless. There are old stories of men who in the night received from fairy hands gifts of gold in some cave, and when the daylight came upon them what had seemed to be gold and jewels was a bundle of withered leaves and red berries, already half decayed, and altogether worthless. There are many things which the world counts very precious which are like the fairies' gold.
After all, anything that can be taken away from us does not really belong to us, and the glory about the Christian's joy is that it never can be taken away from us without our consent.
Now how can we overcome the world? How can we defeat the pride of life, the lust of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh? The Gospel says- we can do it through the Christ dwelling in us. St. John says that when we open our hearts to the seeking Christ and he comes into our hearts and dwells there, the hope of glory, then it becomes true that he that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. I know that there are some of you here to-night that want to be Christians. You have thought about it a good deal, and you hesitate and delay because you are afraid that the world will be too strong for you. You are satisfied that in your own strength you are no match for these things that are in the world. The difficulty is that you do not take into consideration properly the fact that there is not a single invitation in the Word of God for you to undertake the Christian life in your own strength ; but you are to surrender your life to the Lord Jesus Christ and he agrees to come in and possess your thoughts, hopes, ambitions, and will, and old things shall pass away and all things shall become new. You shall put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man with his holy ideals and with his divine strength.
Paul knew what worldliness was. He had struggled with the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, and he explains as clearly as it could be put in human language how he came to have victory over them. In his letter to the Philippians he says, " I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." That is the glory of our holy Christianity, that it puts a power in a man that makes him conqueror over circumstances and over temptations coming to him through the eyes and through the flesh; and, indeed, as the scripture puts it, gives him power to resist " the world, the flesh, and the devil."
But, dear friends, we are to have this victory only through taking the conquering Christ into our own hearts. He does not become the hope of glory to us until we have opened the door and he has come into our heart's citadel and taken possession. Then we are able to say, " I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Then your religion is spontaneous. It is not standing on guard merely.
It is not an empty ceremony, or a Sunday drill. It is the upspringing of the fountain of the water of life. It is the overflowing of a glad heart. It is the pure life gushing forth from the pure heart which is mastered and controlled by the conquering Christ.
The story is told of a boy, only six years old, who was once sailing with his father down the Danube. All day long they had been sailing past crumbling ruins, frowning castles, cloisters hidden away among the crags, towering cliffs, quiet villages nestled in sunny valleys, and here and there a deep gorge that opened back from the gliding river; its loneliness and stillness stirring the boy's heart like some dim and vast cathedral. They stopped at night at a cloister, and the father took little Wolfgang into the chapel to see the organ. It was the first large organ he had ever seen, and his face lit up with delight, and every motion and attitude of his figure expressed a wonderful reverence. "Father," said the boy, "let me play." Well pleased, the father complied. Then the little Wolfgang pushed aside the stool, and when his father had filled the great bellows, the elfin organist stood upon the pedals. How the deep tones awoke the sombre stillness of the old church ! The organ seemed some great, uncouth creature, roaring for joy at the caress of the marvelous child. The monks, eating their supper in the refectory, heard it, and dropped knife and fork in astonishment. The organist of the brotherhood was among them, but never had he played with such -power. They listened; some crossed themselves; till the prior rose up and hastened into the chapel. The others followed ; but, when they looked up into the organ loft, lo ! there was no organist to be seen, though the deep tones still massed themselves in new harmonies and made the stone arches thrill with their power. "t is the evil one," cried one of the monks, drawing closer to his companions and giving a scared look over his shoulder at the darkness of the aisle. "It is a miracle," said another. But when the boldest of them mounted the stairs of the organ-loft, he stood as if petrified with amazement. There was the tiny figure treading from pedal to pedal and at the same time clutching at the keys above with his little hands. He heard nothing, saw nothing beside; his eyes beamed, and his whole face lighted up with impassioned joy. Louder and fuller rose the harmonies, streaming forth in swelling billows, till at last they seemed to reach a sunny shore, on which they broke; and then a whispering ripple of faintest melody lingered a moment in the air, like the last murmur of a wind-harp, and all was still. The boy was John Wolfgang Mozart, one of the greatest musicians that ever lived. It was his inheritance. The music was in his very blood, it leaped to the ends of his fingers as if by intuition.
My dear friend, it is to that sort of a Christian life I call you. Not a poor, starved life, cramped and fettered; not a life that fences you in from life's sweetest joys. No, indeed.! But a life that shall lift you up and exalt you beyond your fondest dreams; a life that shall touch every pleasure that is pure and good with a sweetness that is more beautiful than the earth; a life that shall glorify every human fellowship because there shall fall over it the glorious halo of immortality; a life full of courage and victory, because your heart shall be inspired and your arm nerved with the strength of the indwelling Christ. You will lead a life good and pure and noble, not because you must, not because you are a slave under the lash, but as Wolfgang Mozart made music, because it leaps from your inmost soul and overflows in face and speech and deed from your consecrated heart.