On Being Worldly
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ST. JOHN'S text, " Love not the world," is one of those master words which are at once an interpretation of life and a direction of it. That such a word should ever have been uttered by a man to men is in itself a portent. It reveals humanity as something greater, stranger, than the wisest of us can understand. The appeal is to something beyond the senses, beyond the cold reason. The soul in its inmost depths recognises the word as a true one, answering to something essential to its own life and progress. That it was uttered, and with such prodigious effect, is only intelligible on the supposition that man is, as Lamennais puts it, " torn asunder between two worlds . . . that he has one foot in the finite and the other in the infinite." It is in proportion as men are cultivated, as they understand life, as they live it to the broadest and fullest, that they catch the apostolic meaning here, and give to its injunction their fullest weight of endorsement.
It takes, we say, a highly-developed nature to catch the real flavour of this utterance. That is the reason why raw and untrained minds have made such Iudicrous travesties of it. In the entire wide region of religious aberration there is no more curious spectacle than the fantasies which the rendering of this text has produced. Men have fled from worldliness, banned it, exorcised it, without stopping to ask first what worldliness means. They have abandoned cities and dwelt in the wilderness under the notion that they were escaping the world. With the same idea people have worn uniforms, eschewed amusements, drawn a line between themselves and outsiders, abandoned politics, abandoned business, shut themselves up in monasteries and nunneries. The world to be shunned was to them the world of average human society and of the average human activity.
Perhaps the oddest phase of supposed unworldliness—one which has still a wide enough vogue—is that which may be described as future-worldliness. Its condition of mind is one of desire for all the good things going, but with a postponement of their enjoyment to a later date and another sphere. We see this disposition in full swing in the Jewish community of the first Christian century. Their national hopes were at zero. Israel was oppressed under a foreign yoke, and the only escape from a world that had become intolerable seemed to lie in a supernatural interposition in which their promised Messiah should appear, overwhelming their enemies, and securing to them the power and splendour for which they thirsted. We have here the origin of that voluminous apocalyptic literature with which the time abounded.. This spirit has lingered into our own days. There are people who, Bible in hand, declare the world a bad world, close to a bad end. They anticipate a catastrophe for most of us, and a reign of splendour for the saints. Their heaven is as material a one as Park Lane, the only difference being one of time and place. The habit of mind here—of keeping aloof from the visible prosperities of to-day in anticipation of bigger ones of the same order tomorrow—reminds one of nothing so much as of a Temperance association reported of amongst some Northern miners, who practised total abstinence for a certain period in order with the money thus saved to have a sustained orgie later on.
The notion of worldliness, or its opposite, as having anything to do with time or place is a primitive one, outgrown by all but primitive minds. Eternity, with all that belongs to it, is now if ever. Cataclysms and so-called world-endings have nothing to do with morality. And the material world is not likely to end yet. Modern science, which traces the history of our planetary system back through immeasurable wons to the time when it was a nebula, a fiery mist—and forward through uncounted millions of years to the time when the dead sun and planets will become a nebula again—gives us an outlook which differs considerably from these naive Jewish conceptions. The spiritual life belongs to another sphere from that of big happenings, stunning to the senses, and of dates in the almanac.
What, then, is it to be worldly ? It assuredly does not mean loving the world we open our eyes on of a morning. If that were worldliness, then Jesus was the greatest of worldlings. How He loved this world ! Never in any human soul did its beauty strike a deeper chord. The deep blue sky of Galilee, the flowers by its lake, the gambols of the children, the homely business, the simple social intercourse of the countryside—all this mirrored itself on that clear spiritual surface as an image of delight. It was the Father's world, and it was good. Assuredly the man who talks pessimism is not thereby proclaiming himself unworldly. Voltaire's, " Après tout c'est un monde passable," and Lamb's " I assure you I find this world a very pretty place," are good, honest utterances. The man who can find no good in this world is not likely to find it in any other.
The real worldliness, that against which the apostolic word and all the soul's highest instincts warn us, is that of a disposition without faith and without love. It is the absence, or the fatal over-laying, of the spiritual instinct. The great scientist Pasteur, in a striking passage, speaks of the double man in us, the one taking note of all that appeals to the senses, and the other feeling an appeal from something, somewhere beyond sense, and vibrating in response to that mystic note. All the best minds of humanity have felt that appeal. It is repeated by the Indian sages, by the great Greek teachers, most impressively of all by the Christian Gospel. When Plato in the " Phaedo " and in the " Gorgias " declares for a world of divine ideas, beyond sense, in which is the one Reality, and where the soul finds its home, he forecasts the result of the best science and philosophy of our time. Modern metaphysic by a pitiless analysis has shattered every supposition of materialism, and shown us that if there be a Reality it lies not there. The latest science echoes that word. To Sir Oliver Lodge life appears " as something whose full significance lies in another scheme of things." Science is thus leading to something beyond science as alone supplying the solution of the world's riddle.
The unworldly man, then, is he who, by whatsoever path he has reached it, has arrived at a full sense and conviction of this invisible scheme, this spiritual order of the universe. The highest intuitions of his nature, the voices within that speak of love, duty, purity, sacrifice as the absolutely vital things, are by him accepted as the final authority. To obey these voices is to be religious, to disobey them is to be infidel. Every heroic life is built on these suppositions. Wherever you see a man taking his life in his hands at the call of duty, stripping himself of present ease or goods that he may serve his neighbour, you see a believer, whatever the name he calls himself. Such a man does not despise the visible. Why should he ? It is God's artistry. The beauty of sound, of sight, of odour is treasure poured out of God's soul. But the beauty of the visible has its chief appeal to him as an image and emblem of a diviner beauty still, which not eye hath seen nor ear heard.
By this standard we can measure the worldlings. There are people who have absolutely no sense of all this. So far as we can see they are born without it. It is like being without an ear for music. They are in all classes, and some of them are highly educated. You may meet them in social intercourse for years, and amidst all their sayings, witty, sparkling, full of knowledge of the world, you shall never, by any chance, catch an inspiring utterance, a word that expresses remotest suspicion of aught higher, better than they see. It is not in them, and you cannot get blood out of a post. All one can say is that, as related to the highest development, they are sub-human. Poor creatures ! God suffers them, and therefore we must.
By the side of this race of the spiritually colour-blind, we find a great class of the dim - sighted ; or perhaps, shall we say, of the near-sighted. Their retina receives a very clear vision of the world they touch, but only confused and feeble rays from the other. Duty means something to them, but interest so much more. And so their aims, instead of curving upward till they meet in God, curve downward to find their end in self. A Seneca, whom Carlyle describes as " the father of all such as wear shovel hats," trying at the same time to stand well with truth and with Nero, is their type among philosophers. He certainly was of the race represented by the philosopher, who, when asked by his king " why sages were seen at the doors of kings, but not kings at the doors of sages," replied, " Because sages knew what was good for them and kings did not." Of all worldlings of this species the ecclesiastical worldling is the strangest and most sinister specimen. It is the singular danger of professional religion that it tends to atrophy the very instincts which it is set apart to serve. The ecclesiastic studies human nature until the temptation comes to him to study its weak points, its errors, its credulities, in order to profit by them. To use spiritual means for the promotion of personal ends is the damnable infidelity to which the devil draws him. It is thus that the worldly-minded ecclesiastic becomes the most dangerous of men. When faith dies in a nation it is the Churchman who kills it. France to-day is in search of a religion. Her succession of ecclesiastical rulers and politicians-a Richelieu, a Mazarin, a Talleyrand—succeeded today by the priests who engineered the Dreyfus business, have nearly finished the old one.
Modern society in all departments of its life can only be saved by its unworldly men. We want politicians and statesmen of this breed. Plato's cry for philosophers as State rulers meant that the only men for such posts were such as were rooted in the Eternal. Happily there were and are such. Creighton's remark about Hildebrand's monk-popes, who ruled the world while renouncing it, suggests the high road here. A man may be in the foremost place and keep the heart of a child. He will keep it by abiding in God, ready to rule or to serve, to be at top or bottom if only it be His will. At present politics are an ugly scramble, and Church life is little better. When Lord Grey resigned in 1834 he told Creevey that he had 300 applications for peerages and a perfectly endless number for baronetcies. In the Church, of all denominations, the rush for front places is just as fierce and as ruthless. Men will talk angelically on a public platform about humility and self-renunciation, their chief thought being meanwhile to get their name advertised and their address published. The spiritual education, both of the world and of the Church, is as yet clearly only at its beginning. We see our nobler, inner world but dimly, " as through a glass darkly." We need all of us to get our vision purged. The reform of the soul is a more urgent need than the reform of Parliament. When we are at last fairly in love with that highest world—the world opened to us in the New Testament, which Jesus lived in, and where all the noblest aspirations have their springs—we shall be fit for whatever post or work is assigned us, and carry a clean soul through it all.