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STUDIES ON STRONG DOCTRINE
STUDIES ON THE WORD "WORLD"
For which world did Christ die?" At first appearance, this question may not appear very sensible, for some will immediately ask, "How many worlds are there?" But this is because most people erroneously assume that the word "world" is consistently used but one way throughout the Scriptures. The Greek word of which this is a translation (kosmos), is found 188 times in the New Testament, and only rarely, comparatively speaking, is it ever used with such a latitude of meaning as that which is assumed to be its only meaning. There are five Greek words which are translated "world" in the English version, and these are aiōn, aiōnios, gē, kosmos and oikoumenē, but it is only with the word kosmos that we wish to deal with in this study, for this is the word about which there is the most confusion in men’s minds.John 3:16-17 will serve as a fitting starting point for this study, for this text is one of the most embattled texts in this present matter, and has been the scene of many theological battles. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." Many people say that Christ died "for all men" without exception, but that the benefits avail only for those who believe. This sounds good at first appearance, but when we begin to examine the terms used, we run into some contradictions that put a question mark over the statement. Romans 5:6 and 8 tells us: "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly...But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The word here rendered "for" (Grk. huper), like the English word "for" has a twofold significance; it means: (1) In the place of, which, of course, refers to Christ’s substitution, in the present verse. (2) For the benefit of, which points to the saving benefits of Christ’s redemptive work. If some men do not receive the benefits of Christ’s death, then it is clear that He did not die for them in this sense of the word "for," and if not in this sense of the word, then not in the sense of being a substitute for them either, for this word cannot be divided, so as to take half of the meaning of it. Christ’s death cannot be "for" a man, and yet him not benefit by it, for this is an integral part of the meaning of the word. Let us examine the word "world" to see what its meaning is, and how it is used, and then we shall learn for whom Christ died, for both of these are necessary in determining the significance of Biblical terms.
I. THE DEFINTTION OF THE WORD "WORLD."The primary meaning of this word will probably surprise many people, for it does not, as commonly supposed, mean "all mankind." If it ever has this meaning, it will lie in its usage, rather than in its primary meaning. W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says that it means "primarily order, arrangement, ornament, adornment," while J. H. Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, says it means, "in Greek writings from Homer down, an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, order." He proceeds to give eight different meanings and applications of it, the last of which is "Any aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort." With this meaning, we can easily see how it can be used in such a wide range of applications and contexts as we shall shortly note. Richard Trench in his Synonyms of the New Testament (lix) also mentions this variety of meanings, and shows that its common usage was significant more of limitation than of extensiveness. This present writer was amazed when it first came to his attention that this word had more than one meaning and application, and he has since, in subsequent studies found that it is used in at least fourteen different ways in the New Testament. Let us note these: (1) It is used of the universe as a whole. Pythagoras first used it in this sense because of the obvious order that was discernable in the universe. "God that made the world and all things therein..." (Acts 17:24). The parallel clause reveals the latitude of meaning that the word here has. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen ..." (Rom. 1:20). (2) It is used of the earth, and it will be noted that this is a more limited meaning than the foregoing: "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35). "Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father" (John 13:1). His departure was not to be out of the universe, but out of the earth only as He returned to His Father in the third heaven. "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.." (John 21:25). "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). We believe that it will be found that the phrase "the foundation of the world" refers in all ten of its appearances to the creation of the earth. "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out" (1 Tim. 6:7). "Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb. 4:3). "For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world..." (Heb. 9:26). (3) It is used of the present world-system, generally with the suggestion of its opposition to God: "Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them" (Matthew 4:8). "The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil" (John 7:7). "And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23). "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). "And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John 5:19). The reader will note that in all these texts, there is an evident contrast of this word either with heaven, or with the things of God, which helps in the determination of the meaning of the word. (4) Sometimes it is used of the whole human race. This is the meaning that many people erroneously assume is the constant and unvarying meaning of the word throughout the New Testament, but one has but to take a concordance and carefully and without prejudice examine each usage of the word to find that not even in the majority of instances does it have this meaning. In some instances, more than one meaning and application may be merged in one text. "Ye are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not" (John 1:9-10). "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19). "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law" (Rom. 5:12-13). (5) It is used of the Gentiles as distinguished from, and excluding the Jews; this is one of the several instances where this word cannot mean all mankind, for a segment is expressly excluded. "Now if the fall of them (the Jews) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?...For if the casting away of them (the Jews) be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead" (Rom. 11:12,15). It is notable that in verse 12 "world" is used in apposition to the Gentiles, and this is doubtless the meaning in many instances. Dr. John Gill, one of the most noted authorities on Jewish writings, says:
"The phrase, the whole world, is frequently used by the Jews in a limited and restrained sense" of the Jews, and also "Nothing is more common in the Jewish writings, than to call the Gentiles the world; and the whole world." —The Cause Of God And Truth, pp. 65, 66. Sovereign Grace Book Club, Evansville, Indiana, no date.
(6) It is again used in a limited sense of humanity minus believers; in this sense, it applies to the world of unbelievers. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18). Clearly, the word cannot here include believers, for they do not hate Christ. "God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world" (Rom. 3:6). Here again the word cannot have application to believers, for John 5:24, R. V., expressly declares, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life." Equally expressive is John 17:16: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."(7) It is used in an extremely limited sense of a portion of the people of Palestine in John 12:19: "The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him." It is obvious that all mankind is not referred to here, nor even all of the inhabitants of Palestine, for the Jewish leaders themselves had not gone out after the Lord Jesus. This confirms from the Scriptures the statement made by Dr. John Gill above, of this limited sense of this word among the Jews. (8) It is used of the then known world, or the so-called Roman or civilized world: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Rom. 1:8). It is clear that this is a limited usage of the word "world," for the gospel had not gone out beyond the limits of the Roman world, and many parts of the world, including the Americas, were as yet undiscovered. (9) It is used of the professing Christians world in 1 John 4:1: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." There would be no danger of any Christians being deceived by any spirit or prophet unless it posed as Christian, for they had been often warned about the unbelieving world, but now they are further warned of dangers from within the "Christian" world. (10) It is used of the New Earth that is some day to cone to pass: "For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13). We arrive at this application of the word by considering Acts 7:5 where we are told that Abraham never received so much as a foot of the land that was promised to him as an heritage, but Hebrews 11:8-10 declares that he looked forward to the New Jerusalem for the fulfillment of this promise. (11) It is used of the sum of material possessions: "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26). "And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Cor. 7:31). In both these verses the word is used in reference to material possessions, and indeed, our English language uses it in much the same way when it speaks of the "business world," yet clearly it is a restricted usage, and not referring to mankind at all. (12) It is used metaphorically of the tongue in James 3:6: "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity." Remembering the primary meaning of this word to be "order, arrangement or constitution," the meaning here is doubtless that the tongue is by nature so constituted and arranged that it is filled with a magnitude and variety of evil. (13) It is used chronologically, distinguishing the present order of things from the world to come, or eternal life. John 12:25: "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." I John 4:17: "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world." Revelation 11:15: "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever." (l4) Finally, it is used of the entire number of those whom Jesus has entered into a covenant with the Father to save. It is in this sense, we believe, that the word is used in John 1:29; 3:16-17, et al. In proof of this, John 6:33 declares: "For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world." Note carefully this last phrase: now it is not defined for us in this place whom this world consists of, but everyone knows that all men are not given eternal life, for a large majority go out into eternal death. But we find that in Jesus’ great intercessory prayer, He clearly declares who He gives life to: "As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him" (John 17:2). There is no room for debate or question here; He gives life to the world of those whom the Father has given to Him in the covenant of redemption. Note how many times Jesus refers to "those whom thou hast given me’" in John 17. These are the ones whom the Father has chosen out of the corrupt mass of mankind, and who shall certainly, and without fail, come to Christ, as John 6:37 declares: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me." This is the same world that is spoken of in John 12:47: "...for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." If He came for this purpose, who will be bold enough to say that He has failed of His purpose. Not this writer, for we do not preach a failing Christ, but a victorious Christ. In due time He will judge the "world" of unbelievers according to Revelation 20:11-15. "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (2 Cor. 5:19). Here, again, this world can only be the world of those who are saved, for they alone are reconciled to God; no one can be saved without also being reconciled to God, and none can be reconciled to God without being saved also, for the two things are co-extensive. But in proof that this world refers to the saved, we have but to remember that the Lord does not impute their sins to them. Romans 4:6-8 unequivocally declares that it is those whose iniquities are forgiven to whom the Lord does not impute sin; this world consists of those only whose sins are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them. The word "world" having as one of its meanings "any aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort," (Thayer), it is easy to see how it can be applied to the people of God, for they are often referred to as a distinct people, who are called "saints," "believers," "the elect," "children of God," etc., so that they do constitute a collection or aggregate of particulars. But let us pass on and note:
II. DISTINCTIONS IN CHRIST’S WORK FOR THE "WORLD."When we come to examine the different applications of this word, we find some contradictory things if we try to make the word "world" always to apply to the same ones throughout the Bible. There is a world which hates Christ, as we noted in John 7:7, and it is to this world that all unbelievers belong, for to a group of the most religious, but unbelieving individuals, Jesus said, "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23). But to this world believers do not belong, for Jesus just as emphatically said of then, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:16). Here is a patent contradiction, unless it be recognized that there are at least two "worlds," for John 3:16 and other texts declare that Jesus died for the world. Not only so, but in John 12:31 Jesus said that the world was to be judged, while in John 12:47, He as clearly said that He came not to judge the world but to save the world, and even more distinctly He declares in John 5:24, R. V., that the believer is not judged, but has passed from death unto life. An explanation is suggested in 1 John 5: 19: a "whole world" is declared to lie in wickedness (or, in the wicked one), while the saints are declared to be a distinct and separate class that are "in Christ." Thus, in this and several other places where the phrase "whole world" is found, not even this more extensive statement includes all mankind. See also Matthew 16:26; Romans 1:8; 1 John 2:2 and Revelation 12:9 where this phrase is also used in a limited sense. There is a world which knew Jesus not when He came (John 1:10), yet we are told of some who did know Him when He came. The virgin Mary did, as did ancient Simeon and the prophetess Anna. So did the shepherds and the wise men from the East, but we know that all these knew Him because it had been divinely given to them to recognize and know him, and this is the only reason why any person ever knows the Lord. See John 17:25. While we are considering John 1:10, it is noteworthy that this word "world" is used in three different ways: these three usages refer respectively to the earth, for it was to the earth that He came from heaven, to the universe in the second place, for other texts, notably verse 1, tell us that Jesus created all things that are created, and then the third reference is to the world of unbelieving men, for these were the ones who rejected Him. It should have occurred to the reader by now how many references to this word are found in John’s writings; of the 188 appearances of this word, 106 are in John’s writings, and he uses the word in the greatest number of ways as well. Of the fourteen different ways in which this word may be used, John uses it in over half these ways. Therefore, it is nothing short of folly for one to blindly try to force John 1:29; 3:16-17, et al., into a preconceived meaning, and especially when to do so will involve one in contradictions of other texts. There is also a world which is going to pass away, and which believers are not to love, but from which they are to abstain, according to 1 John 2:15-17, yet the believer is not going to pass away, but is to abide for ever, so that it again becomes obvious that the believer does not belong to this world. The reader will note that Jesus sometimes used the demonstrative pronoun "this" with the word "world" (John 8:23; 12:31), by which is implied that there is another "world" which contrasts with the one mentioned. There is a world for which Christ died, according to John 3:16-17, but inasmuch as John 8:23; 17:16; 1 John 5:19 et al., reveal that believers and unbelievers do not belong to the same world, it is obvious that the world mentioned in John 1:29; 3:16-17, etc., must refer to the world of the elect. They are spoken of as a definite and distinct number in John 17:2-3, 6-9, for whom Christ accomplished eternal life. They are a definite number because the Father does not do anything haphazardly, but has chosen each one of them to be the recipient of His gracious influences. They are a distinct number because the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit sets them apart from the world in time. It is for the world of the elect alone that Christ intercedes: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.." (John 17:9). But Christ’s intercessory prayers are an integral part of the redemption of Christ, and it is necessary for the final salvation of any, as Hebrews 7:25 reveals: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." If He does not pray for those of that world, then they are clearly not in His redemptive purposes, for they could not remain saved without His intercession, if they could somehow be saved. Here we tread upon mysterious ground, for no one of Adam’s race has the capacity to fully understand the purpose of God; it is not for us to question the fact that "he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9:18). It is for us to gratefully praise Him that we have been made the recipients of His glorious grace, and to stand ready to testify to others of this grace that they might also be led to lay hold of it by faith in Christ.
III. DOCTRINES AFFECTED BY THIS DISTINCTION IN THIS WORD.Those who have held that Christ died for all men without exception, have often been charged with inconsistency by the Universalists, who also hold the same, but who also hold the added theory that therefore eventually all men, fallen angels, and even the devil himself will be saved, contrary to the clear Biblical statements that many will die impenitent and be finally and irrevocably lost. To hold that there is but one "world" referred to in the Bible is to put one’s self in a position that is hard to defend against the arguments of the Universalists, but to recognize that there are several applications of this word is to relieve the difficulty. We believe that we are justified in asking the following questions: if Jesus died to take away all iniquity, as Titus 2:14; 1 John 1:7, et al., declares, then what condemns those who are finally lost? Some would say that their sins were indeed taken away by Jesus on the cross, but that they were condemned by their unbelief. But is unbelief not a sin? And if it is, was it not included in the "all iniquity" that Christ took away? What believer was not once an unbeliever, who lived in rebellious unbelief until he was saved? And if Christ’s death availed to take away all iniquity except the sin of unbelief, what provision is made for the removal of this sin? But if His atoning work was effectual for this sin as well as for all others, then why are not all men saved, if He died for the sins of the world of all mankind? The problem is easily resolved when we once realize that Christ died for the world of those comprehended in the covenant of redemption—the elect who shall all be effectually drawn to Christ (John 6:37, 44-45), shall believe on Him and be saved. The rest of mankind will contentedly go on in their unbelief and rebellion and be lost for ever, but not one drop of Christ’s blood will ever be shed needlessly nor in vain. Why should it be, when, by the admission of all, God knows who shall and who shall not receive Christ as Saviour? Sometimes it is asked, "If these things be so, then why preach to any but the elect?" But who knows who the elect are before they are called out by the gospel? 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 reveals that men are indeed chosen unto salvation, by the Father, but they are called thereunto by the gospel as the Holy Spirit empowers and applies it. But even if we could know who the elect are, we should still be duty bound to preach the gospel to all mankind that those who reject it might be condemned for their unbelief of it. Paul wrote: "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:14-16). The gospel will either be a savour of life or of death depending upon man’s response to it, and how often the preacher realizes his insufficiency for such a task as declaring the gospel to an unbelieving world; but as the Spirit takes the message home to souls, some are called out from that world to be part of a better world. Thus, there are several "worlds" referred to in the Scriptures, and we must not confuse them, nor apply texts to them that do not belong to them. But when we speak of the word "world" having a limited meaning, many, who are ruled more by their emotions than by the Scriptures, immediately think that we are trying to shut the door to heaven so that some seeking soul cannot enter. This is not so at all, for we believe that the Lord’s invitation is fully wide enough to admit as many as truly desire to be saved, and as many as are ordained to eternal life (Acts 13:48). However, it is not the business of any preacher, no, nor any other mortal to either convict, or convert any person; this is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. It is this assumption of the work of the Godhead by men which has filled so many churches with obviously unsaved persons. It is the business of the believer to faithfully witness of the saving grace of God—to proclaim the gospel to a lost world. God, whose business it is, will take care of the application of the gospel to human hearts, the conversion of men and the calling of them out into an open profession of the gospel; if we meddle with what is God’s business, only confusion can result. God has given a commission to His people in their organized capacity to "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), and the word "world" here obviously refers to the earth, so that we have no stopping place short of "the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8), and the "end of the age" (Matthew 28:20; Grk.), in our service. We must not preach a powerless Saviour who wishes to save men, but who cannot overcome their unbelief. God forbid such a disgraceful message. We must preach a victorious Christ who saves all that He sets out to save, for He Himself says, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). This verse gives the certainty of salvation of the elect as viewed from the Divine side, yet it also gives encouragement to all who will to come to Christ, for He promises to turn none away. In closing, may we ask the reader, Have you truly come to Christ in repentance and faith? If not, then why not now receive Him? "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to come the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12). Note carefully that the power to become the sons of God is a given power, it is not a natural ability, and this is given, not to all men irrespectively, but only to those that received Him. Their faith which they manifest in receiving Him evidences that Divine enablement has been given to them.
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