NONCONFORMITY TO THE WORLD ENJOINED, OR THE
EVIL AND DANGER OF SYMBOLIZING WITH THE WICKED, OPENED.
This Sermon was preached by our Author, in his own church at Dunfermline, in the year 1723. And from the beginning of the Sermon itself, as well as from the place it has in the notebook, we learn, that it was delivered immediately after these on Proverbs 30:12.
“Be not conformed to this world.” Romans 12:2”
It is the character of the children of God, that they have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, (1 Cor. 2:12). They are not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world. But it is the character of the wicked, that they are the men of the world who have their portion in this life, (Ps. 17:14). Conformity to Christ is the great mark and character of saints; “Whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,” (Rom. 8:20). But conformity to the world is the great characteristic of atheists and wicked persons; and therefore the apostle here dissuades all the children of God from such conformity; “Be not conformed to this world.”
The apostle having at large treated the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, in the preceding chapters, he comes now in this to press home, upon the conscience, the principal duties thereof. True religion is not only designed to inform the judgment; but also to transform the heart, and reform the life. But the foundation of Christian practice must be laid in Christian knowledge: and hence the apostle, having discoursed at large, of justification by faith, through the imputed righteousness of Christ, and of the riches of free grace, carnal wisdom might be apt to infer, therefore we may live as we list, and walk in the way of our own heart: No, that doth not follow; the faith that justifies is a faith that worketh by love; having understanding how to receive Christ Jesus the Lord, we come to understand how to walk in him. Hence this chapter is joined to the foregoing discourse by the word therefore; “I beseech you, therefore, brethren:” intimating, that the practical application of doctrinal truths is the life of preaching.
The first verse of the chapter is a general direction; and that urged with the strongest motives and arguments and in the most affectionate and pathetic manner: “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” It might be useful to offer some explication hereof; but it is not what I propose at the time; and therefore I go forward.
The apostle proceeds to give more particular directions: and that which the text bears is set down both negatively and positively. The positive direction is last set down, though first in the order of nature and operation, before the former; “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove [or understand] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Concerning this renovation of mind, I propose not at present to treat; especially as it is much the same, in other words with that holiness and purity, or being washed from our filthiness, which I insisted so much upon from the last text of scripture we prosecuted in your hearing, [Alluding to the preceding Sermons, from Proverbs 30:12]. Now the negative direction is, “Be not conformed to this world.” By World here, we are to understand the men of the world, the wicked of the world, the lusts of the world, the way and course of the world, &c. And by not conforming thereto, we are to understand, our not fashioning ourselves according to the world. All the disciples and followers of Christ must be non‑conformists to this world, or unlike the wicked therein. And for the further explication of this text, I shall prosecute this doctrinal proposition.
Observation: That the people of God must not be like the world, or the wicked therein: They must not be conformed to the wicked world.
The method we propose to observe, for illustrating this observation, through supernatural aid, shall be the following:
I. Prove and clear the truth of the doctrine.
II. Inquire what it is in the world we are not to be conformed to.
III. Point out what this disconformity to the world imports.
IV. Give the reasons why we are not to be conformed to the world.
V. Make application of the whole subject.
Now, as I suppose, this subject is not unseasonable: so, I think, it is not unsuitable to the last we insisted upon from Proverbs 30:12.
Having of late, 1. Spoken of the Father’s exhibition of Christ, saying, “I will give thee for a covenant of the people.” 2. Of the Spirit’s operation, in order to his being known; “He shall testify of me.” 3. Of the Son’s declaration of his own excellency, saying, “I and my Father are one.” 4. Of the World’s disapprobation of this glorious person, and the harsh treatment he got among them; Behold, I and the children which the Lord has given me, are for signs and wonders in Israel.” 5. Of the reason why so many, even in Israel, pour contempt thus upon Christ and his followers; why, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” Here is the set of the world. We now come, 6. To inquire what is our duty in a suitableness to this, even not to be conformed to this world.
I. The first thing proposed, on the general method, was, To prove and clear the truth of the doctrine, viz., That the people of God must not be like the wicked word, or conformed thereto. We shall prove this, both by scripture precepts and precedents.
1st, There are scripture precepts both in the Old and New Testament, to evince the truth hereof; and I would have you to consult them carefully in your Bible, and there see what is the mind of God to you in this matter.
1. There are Old Testament precepts that enjoin this duty: such as these and the like: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil,” (Ex. 23:2). “Enter not into the path of the wicked; and go not in the way of evil men: avoid them, pass not by them, turn from them, and pass away” (Prov. 4:14,15; See also, Lev. 18:24‑27; Deut. 12:30-32; Ps. 1:1; Prov. 1:10,11,14-16). 2. There are likewise New Testament precepts enforcing the duty, such as these following; “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation,” (Acts 2:40). This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that henceforth ye walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind: “Be not partakers with them,” (Eph. 4:17; 5:7). “Keep yourselves unspotted from the world,” (Jam. 1:27; See also Matt. 5:46, 6:31-32; Luke 12: 29-30; 2 Cor. 4:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:5‑8; 2 Pet. 3:17).
2dly, There are scripture precedents to influence us not to be conformed to the wicked world. I shall instance in the following persons. (1.) In Noah, —“And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation,” (Gen. 7:1). (2.) In Lot, “And delivered righteous Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked; for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul, from day to day, with their sinful deeds,” (2 Pet. 2:7,8) (3.) In Joshua, “And, if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served, that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” (Joshua 24:14). (4.) In Nehemiah, “But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver: yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God,” (Neh. 5:15). (5.) In David, “I have not sat with vain persons; neither will I go in with dissemblers; I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked,” (Ps. 26:4,5).
The Lord would have his children to act flat contrary to the world, and not be like other men. That part of the Pharisee’s prayer, wherein he thanks God that he was not like other men, was not amiss for the substance of it, if it had not come from a vain‑glorious, proud, and lying spirit; for he thought that he was better than others, whereas he was worse than all others to whom he preferred himself, (Luke 18:11): but yet every one should labor to be that truly, for which he gave thanks falsely; even not to be like others. Others neglect prayer, whether secret, family, or social: others neglect Christ, and despise his word and institutions; yea, many others, they drink, and swear, and whore, and cheat, and defraud and oppress, and lie, and break the Sabbath, and give way to all manner of impieties and immoralities. Either they are not subject to his law, and so walk in all manner of wickedness; or they are not subject to his gospel and so will not submit themselves to his righteousness, to be saved by grace through Jesus Christ. Therefore we must not be like others. Others are without; and without are dogs. And indeed, we find others, and without are equivalent terms in scripture, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them that are without, all is in parables,” (Mark 4:11). And compared with “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom; but to others in parables,” (Luke 8:10). Mark hath it, To them that are without; and Luke hath it, To others. Others then, I say, are without, and belong not to God. It is dangerous, therefore, being with others; for they are without, and shall be without; it is better to be within alone, than without with others.—So much for clearing and confirming the truth of the doctrine. We must not be like the world.
II. The second general head was, To inquire what it is in the world that we are not to be conformed to. In short then, we must not be conformed to the things of the world, the fashions, worship, principles nor trade of the world.
1. We must not be conformed to the things of the world; for they are mutable, and the fashion of them passeth away. What are the things of the world that we must not be conformed to? The apostle gives us a sum of these things; “All that is in the world, the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world; and the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof,” (1 John 2:16-17). We are so far to avoid being conformed to the sinful things of the world, that, in our several places and stations, we ought to witness against them; nay, even in the indifferent things of the world, which are not in themselves sinful, we must so far not conform ourselves to the manner of the world therein, as not to act by the world’s dictates, as our rule: nor to aim at the world’s favor, as our end. True Christianity consists much in a sober singularity.—Here we might show a variety of things in the world that we ought not to be conformed unto, or thirst after: such as the profits, the honors, preferments, pleasures, and applause of the world; but we insist not.
2. We must not be conformed to the fashions and customs of the world; “Not fashioning ourselves according to the former lusts,” as the apostle speaks, (1 Pet. 1:14). There is a novelty of disposition prevails, that makes multitudes fall in with every new, vain fashion. There are vain fashions of gesture, ways of carrying, that discover nothing but levity, and expressly condemned in scripture, (Isa. 3:16). There are vain fashions of apparel, inconsistent with, and unsuitable to the rules of modesty, that many affect: contrary to the word of God, (Isa. 3:13‑23; 1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3). This is the epidemical disease of both sexes; and even too much affected by those who ought to be exemplary to others, of modesty and sobriety. There are vain and foolish customs, even in matters of religion; and many are fond of what is fashionable, though it be never such an ill fashion. Hence,
3. We must not be conformed to the worship of the world; for the world worship they know not what; they worship an unknown God; they worship God in a carnal, hypocritical, and superstitious way. But we are to worship him in spirit, and in truth; and in the way and manner that he hath appointed in his word, that we may not be puzzled with that question, “Who hath required these things at your hand?” but may have it to say, “He by whose authority I do these things, is neither pope, nor prelate, nor civil potentate; but there is my warrant in the word of God,” Hence,
4. We must not be conformed to the traditions and rudiments of the world; “Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy, and vain deceit, after the invention of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ,” (Col. 2:8); see also verses 20-22, where God teacheth us our freedom from all abolished ceremonies, and ritual observances; and that subjection to ordinances of human invention and appointment, in the worship of God is highly blamable and contrary to the freedom and liberty of the gospel; and invading the authority of Christ, the head of the church, on which account we are exhorted to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; and not to be entangled again into the yoke of bondage. But I must here pass many things, which would natively fall in, for want of time.
5. We must not be conformed to the principles of the world. There are many doctrinal principles that we are not to be conformed to which would lead to a large field to speak of, [The reader, if he pleases, may see some of those Doctrinal Principles, by consulting the Sermon under the use of Reproof]: but to confine myself to this point, namely, What are the principles of the unregenerate world? Why, they are even naturally of devilish and hellish principles. By nature we are all Arminians, Pelagians, Socinians, yea, and Atheists, without God in the world; and therefore suspect the principle that is most natural, and that is most easy for you to fall in with. Every principle that favors corrupt and depraved reason is suspicious; for the gospel is a mystery that vitiated nature cannot fathom. There are political principles that the world is filled with. Many, for example, are of that principle, that it is better to sin than to stiffer; better to make such and such compliances, than expose ourselves to the fury of men, or the loss of some worldly substance: better an uneasy conscience than an empty purse. Many are of that principle, better a bird in hand than two in the bush, as we use to speak: better a palace in Paris, a portion in this world, which we see and have among our hands, than a palace in Paradise: and hence many say, “Who will shew us any good?” and few, Lord, lift upon us the light of thy countenance,” (Ps. 4:6). We must not be conformed to the world herein.
6. We must not be conformed to the practice, course, and way of the world: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience,” (Eph. 2:2). God would have his people cross the world in their life and conversation. This was pointed out by his forbidding Israel to eat and touch some things which other nations did eat and touch; and his allowing them to eat what other nations did not. For example: the Egyptians did eat, for the most part fish, and some few kinds of birds; but of the flesh of beasts they eat no other but only swine’s flesh; and this one kind of flesh is directly forbidden the Jews, (Lev. 11:7,8). By this was pointed out, that God would have a kind of contrariety between the world, and such as make a profession of his name; and that his children must be as far from the manners of the world as may be. The way of the world is downward; he will have his people to walk upward: the course of this world is hell‑ward; he will have his people’s course to be heavenward: the world walk in the broad way; he will have his people walk in the narrow way.
In a word, we are not to be conformed to the world in their thoughts, words, actions, desires, delights, loves, joys, affections, or passions. But on all these we cannot insist at the time: and must therefore proceed,
III. To the third thing proposed, which was, To show what this disconformity to the world imports. Not to multiply particulars, it fairly imports the four following things.
1. It imports more than a contrariety to the world. What is said of the flesh, may be said of the world, with respect to the believer. As the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these two are contrary one to another: so, the world fights against the believer, and the believer fights against the world; and these two are contrary one to the other: and this is the victory whereby he overcometh the world, even his faith.
2. This disconformity to the world imports a despising of the world. They that are not conformed to the world are not in love with the world; they are not taken up with the gaudy vanities thereof. They that are saints indeed, have got a sight that makes the world appear nothing. The natural sun shines upon this world and enlightens it: but the sun of righteousness, when he shines upon the soul, darkens this earth, and all the excellencies thereof, and makes them all appear but loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. Hence the believer doth not admire the world: it is not silver and gold that he calls true riches; it is not worldly advancement that he calls honour; it is not carnal delight that he reckons pleasure and happiness; it is not human learning that he esteems solid wisdom: he can be rich, honorable, happy, and all without them; and all in Christ. He values worldly and earthly things no more than a picture drawn in the sand, which the least wave will wash away.
3. This disconformity to the world imports a forsaking of the world; “Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty,” (Ps. 45:10,11). The child of God is made to forsake the world, and to come up from this world leaning on the Beloved: this seems to be the import of that call to the church,— “Come with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon; from the lions’ dens, and from the mountains of leopards,” (Song 4:8). We profess to renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh; to forsake the world, and follow Christ. Now, this forsaking of the world, viewed negatively, it is not to go out of the world by a hasty death, that were double iniquity; nor is it to vow a voluntary poverty, as the Papists do; nor is it to be idle and improvident about the things of the world: but, affirmatively, to forsake the world, is to do it in point of use; to use this world as if we used it not; that is, moderately, to forsake it in point of service, we are not to be slaves to it, for we cannot serve God and Mammon; to forsake it in point of confidence; we are not to trust in, or depend upon outward enjoyments, and we are to forsake it in point of adherence, so as not to be glued to it; it should not be like the hair of the head, or skin of the hand, which cannot be pulled off without pain: but like a hat on the head, or a glove on the hand, that we can take off when we please; we must keep a loose grip of it. And,
4. This disconformity to the world imports an actual crucifying of the world: “God forbid that I should glory,” saith the apostle, “save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” The world cares not for me, and I care not for the world; the world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world. But I insist not, and therefore proceed,
IV. To the fourth thing, which was to inquire why, or for what reasons the people of God must not be conformed to the world. Why, in general, because they are of another world: they are subjects of another kingdom; they are people of another state; they are persons of another principle: they are recipients of another spirit; they are directed by another rule; and they are aiming at another world than the rest of the world: but, concerning these and other things of this nature, we will have occasion to speak upon more fully afterwards. We shall only, in the meantime, observe that there are two great contending parties that powerfully draw all men after them; namely, God and the world; and there is an irreconcilable enmity between them: those who are on God’s side are against the world; and those that are on the world’s side are against God, and, therefore, it is the duty of all the followers of Christ not to take the world’s part against him; and, consequently, not to be conformed to the world. When the three children, (Dan. 3:12), refused to fall down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image, he was full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against them, (Dan. 3:19). It is so with the men of this world; if the friends of Christ will not bow down and worship this golden image, and join in with the vanities and follies thereof, why, then, the worldlings run mad at them. It is true, the world would agree with the godly if they would bow down to them; but that they cannot do, they dare not do, because the Lord forbids it: “Be not conformed to the world.”
Now the reasons of the doctrine may be classed under these four heads. The children of God must not be conformed to this world, 1. In respect of God. 2. In respect of the world. 3 In respect of their brethren. And, 4. In respect of themselves.
1st, In respect of God; there are many reasons might be given, why the people of God are not to be conformed to the world. For,
1. By being conformed to the world, you tempt God, and lead yourselves into temptation: if any of God’s people entertain unnecessary communion with the wicked of the world, like Peter in the high‑priest’s hall, they tempt God, to let them fall into mischief, contrary to his express command, “Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.” They run upon a dangerous precipice, where, if God take away his hand, they may fall and break all their bones.
2. By being conformed to the world, they so far forsake God, and so forsake their own mercies, and run into idolatry: hence covetousness is called idolatry; for it is making the world our God. Whatever we love most, and serve most, and depend upon most, that we make our God; and so do we, when we love, serve, and depend upon the world so as to jostle God out of doors: But, why do we dote upon the creature, or upon the world? For, whatever the world hath of goods, it hath it from God. Your food, raiment, comforts and conveniences of the world, as they are, any way good to you, it is from God: and therefore, if you forsake God, and follow the world, from a desire after these things, you forsake the full fountain, and follow the fading streams; you depart even from the true good, that is in the world itself, while you go to the world for it. “My people have committed two great evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters; and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water,” (Jer. 2:13).
3. God and the world are at odds; there is a disagreement between God and the world, between Christ and the world: all the time that Christ was in the world it mocked, reviled, opposed, and persecuted him, and at last killed him; and Christ, by his life and death, did fight against the world, and overcome it: and he hath put enmity between his people and the world. All the prophets, and apostles, and saints, in all ages, have been at hot war with the world, and contended with all the wicked in it; “They that forsake the law, praise the wicked; but such as keep the law, contend with them,” (Prov. 28:4). They have been men of contention in the world: Why? the world is in arms against their God; therefore the Lord hath sworn that he will have war with its as with Amalek, unto all generations; and with all who shall join it; yea, or stand neutral: they are cursed because they rise not up to the help of the Lord against the mighty, (Judges 5:23). Christ hath given encouragement to his people, that they shall be more than conquerors, through him who hath overcome the world.
4. The love of God, and the love of the world, are contrary! “He that loveth the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” God’s work is, to draw our affections from the world: the world’s work is, to draw our affections from God: and both God and the world seek the whole man. If a man desire to be religious, God must have his whole heart: and he through grace must give its and make a continual trade of religion: if a man desire to be rich, the world will oblige him to rise early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness; yea, and employ his head and heart, and all about the world. And therefore God and the world cannot be served by one and the same man. Yea, the love of the world leads to the hatred of God: because there is a contrary nature between God and the world; the Lord is pure, the world is polluted; the Lord is good, the world is evil: the Lord hates the world, though not as his creature, but as it is our Lord’s rival, usurping his room in our hearts.
2dly, In respect of the world itself, many reasons may be given, why the people of God are not to be conformed to it. And here if we view the men of this world, the god of this world, and the whole complex frame of its we will see grounds and reasons why we ought not to be conformed thereto.
1. The men of this world is a reason, why the people of God should not be conformed to this world, or to the practice of the men that are in it. Why? it hardens the wicked in their wickedness, when they see professors of religion, and those that have the reputation of godly persons, join with them, or too familiarly converse with them: and so this their conformity to the world is hurtful to the wicked of the world: they will applaud themselves in their wicked courses, when such as are applauded for godly persons do associate with them. Thus, after Saul had spared Agag, Samuel refused to return with him; “And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee; for thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel, (1 Sam. 15:26). So should the godly say to the wicked, Ye have rejected the word of the Lord; therefore I will not return with you, I will not join with you. If you join with the vicious, you do vice too much honour. If you join with the sinners you give sin too much encouragement. And therefore, it is sometimes the greatest act of love towards wicked men, to deny them our countenances and withdraw from their society: yeas to refuse to keep company with them, may sometimes be a means to reform.
2. The god of this world is another reason why the people of God ought not to be conformed to it. The god of this world is the devil: and, to be conformed to this world is conformity to the devil, and to love the world is to worship the devil; therefore, as covetousness is called idolatry, so the devil tempted Christ to worship him by offering the world to him, (Matt. 4:9). This world is the devil’s walk where he goes to and fro; yea, goes about as a roaring lions seeking whom he may devour; and, like a crooked serpent whom he may deceive: and when we are upon the devil’s ground among the wicked of the worlds joining in fellowship with the wicked, in their unfruitful works of darkness, it is one to a thousands if Satan do not cheat us through his subtlety; and, by little and little captivate us. As thieves usually first put in a little one at the window to open the door to all the rest; so Satan presents us an apple, a wedge of gold to the eye; or a whispering tale, a polluting word, or suspicion to the ear; these are the doors of the house; and these little thieves will open the door and let in adultery, whoredom, thefts malice, murders &c. Satan’s request seems mannerly and modest at first. As Semiramis desired of Ninus only to reign one day, and that day to do what she pleased what she listed; which being granted behold in that day she cut off his head: even so, the devil, the god of this world, will desire only to reign a day, or to have you dedicate a day to him and to the world and the vanities, and follies, and vices thereof; but, behold, in that very day he may cut off your head, cut off your soul by drawing away your heart and affections from God.
3. The whole complex frame of this world, and things thereof, affords a complex reason why we are not to be conformed to this world. Why, the whole world lieth in wickedness; for, All that is in the world, the lusts of the fleshy the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life, are nothing but trash and trumpery of hell.—In a word, the world is but a contemptible thing; Christ pouted contempt upon it, and disgraced it, when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It is nothing to be contemned and disgraced by the world; nay, sometimes it is a man’s glory to be so; but Christ’s disesteeming and despising a thing, rubs a real infamy upon it: and why then should we be conformed to it?—The world is a vanishing thing, the clock of time is almost run out; and, in a little, it will be winded up in eternity. If a man had a tack of a house, or a farm, but for two or three days, and should fall a building and planting would he not be judged very foolish: so, when we have such a short and uncertain time here, and death calls us presently off the stage, to thirst immoderately after the world’s pleasures, profits, honors and vanities, is it not extreme folly? It is doomed to destruction; and will be all in a flame and red low ere long.—The world is but a vain thing: “Man in his best estate is altogether vanity;” even in his most prosperous state. Prosperity, in scripture, is compared to a candle; and many have burnt their wings about this candle. This world cheats all that dotes upon it; it promises pleasure, but cannot perform; for no solid satisfaction can be found in it. The world’s votaries are but a pack of cheated fools: “Wherefore do they spend their money for that which is not bread; and their labor for that which satisfieth not?” When the world speaks you fair, believe it not; for there are seven abominations in its heart; its greatest glory is but a fading shadow.—The world is a hurtful thing; and we little need to be conformed to it; the customs of it choke the seed of the word, that it cannot grow. The things of this world is the false deception the devil casts over our eyes, that we do not see the glory of the Lord; “The god of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not;” it is the bait that draws so many fish into the devil’s net whereby he bewitches them, and allures them into the pit of ruin.
3dly, In respect of their brethren; there are many reasons also, why they are not to be conformed to the world, lest their brethren in Christ be either grieved or offended; for your conformity to the world and joining with the wicked, is both grieving to the strong, and offensive to the weak believer.
1. It is grieving to the godly; and, is it nothing to you to grieve the generation of the righteous? The sin of the wicked is a grief to the godly; and, how unnatural is it for any of God’s children to add to their grief, by joining issue with the wicked! It is said of Lot, that his righteous soul was vexed from day to day with the unlawful deeds of the wicked; but for such to be vexed, not only with the ungodliness of sinners but with the untenderness of saints also, is an additional vexation, and grief upon the back of grief.
2. It is offensive to the weak believer; it lays a stumbling-block in his way, over which he is ready to fall: either by discouraging him in the way of duty, or encouraging and leading him into sin, or any other way leading him into some snare, with respect to his own soul: “When ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak consciences, ye sin against Christ” (1 Cor. 8:12).
4thly, In respect of themselves: and that, 1. Because of their circumstances. 2. Their safety requires that they be not conformed to the world.
[1.] Because of their circumstances. They are quite in other circumstances than the rest of the world. Why?
1. They are people of another world than this, and therefore are not to be conformed to this world; they, are not of the world even as Christ is not of the world. They are of another kingdom; for Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. They are of another country; for they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly. They are of another city; even the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. They are of another world; for God hath chosen them out of the world.
2. They must not be conformed to this world, because they are persons of another state than this world. The world is in a state of condemnation, but they are in a state of justification; therefore they are to walk like those that are in favor with God. They are in a state of adoption; therefore to be followers of God as dear children. They are in a state of grace, they are the children of the light and of the day; therefore they are not to sleep as others do.
3. They must not be conformed to the world, because they are acted by another principle than the rest of the world.—They have a principle of faith, and this faith worketh by love: while the world lieth in unbelief; and this their unbelief worketh by enmity. They have a principle of love; and the love of Christ constrains them to serve the Lord: while the enmity of the world constrains them to dishonor God. They have a principle of holy fear; while the world hath no fear of God before their eyes.
4. They must not be conformed to the world, because they are directed by another rule than the rest of the world. The rule that the world walks by is their own will, their own corrupt wicked will; and hence they say with the people of old, We are lords, and we will not have this man to reign over us: but the rule by which the children of God do walk is the word and will of God: and this is the will of God, even our sanctification.
5. They must not be conformed to the world, because they aim at another end than the rest of the world; whether we consider the end propounded by them, or the end designed upon them.—The end propounded by them. Why, the last end, and chief end of the world is self; to live to themselves: but the great and chief end of the godly is to live unto God: the principal end they profess is God’s glory, and Christ’s honor. And those who differ so far in their end, good reason they differ in their way. Again, as to the end designed upon them: why, the world will come to a dismal issue; for, the wicked will be turned into hell, and tormented with the devil and his angels: but the godly, being chosen out of the world, will shortly enter into the joy of their Lord. And seeing their ends are so different, surely they cannot both walk in the same road. If one goes east, another west, surely they cannot walk the same way.
6. They must not be conformed to the world, because they are objects of another love than the rest of the world; they are loved with an everlasting love, and so drawn with loving‑kindness; and being drawn with the cords of love, they are to run the way of God’s commandments, while others run in the broad way to destruction: the world is the object of God’s hatred; “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,” (Rom. 9:13).
7. They must not be conformed to the world, because they are servants of another master, than the rest of the world. The world serves the devil, and serves their lusts, and serves other gods; but every believer is a Joshua in this; “As for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Now, a man cannot serve two masters; and the believer cannot serve both God and Mammon; Christ and the world.
8. They must not be conformed to the world, because they are partakers of another spirit than the world: “They have not received the spirit of this world, but the spirit which is of God.” The world is led by an ill spirit to the land of darkness; whereas they are led by the good spirit to the land of uprightness.—The world is led by a poor, pitiful, low, and mean spirit; whereby they are easily put off with trifles, and satisfied with shadows and vanities; but the godly are led by a noble, high, and heavenly spirit: whereby they aspire after divine and celestial things.—The world is led by a blind ignorant, foolish spirit; whereby they are mad upon their idols: the children of God are led by a spirit of wisdom, knowledge and understanding: whereby they are wise unto salvation. And thus the circumstances of the people of God yield all the reason in the world, why they ought not to be conformed to this world.
[2.] Their safety requires it also, that they be not conformed to the world: (1.) The safety of their names, that are in danger to be disgraced. (2.) The safety of their consciences, that are in danger to be defiled. (3.) The safety of their graces, that are in hazard of being marred. And, (4.) The safety of their persons, that are in danger to be punished by their conformity to the world.
1. The safety of their names requires, that they be not conformed to this world; for their names are in danger of being disgraced, by such a conformity. Because when they become like unto the wicked, and conformed to the world, they give occasion for their being suspected of the world, and so shame and disgrace their own name and their father’s name; “He that is a companion of riotous men, shameth his father,” (Prov. 28:7). So the believer shames his heavenly Father by conformity to the world; for what agreement is their between God and the world? He shameth his earthly father also, whether he be a graceless or a gracious man; if he be a graceless man, he shameth him by giving occasion to say, he is like him; Like father like son: If he be a gracious man, he shameth him, by being so unlike unto him. But he especially shameth himself; for, whereas a good name is as precious ointment; so his conformity to the world, in any measure, is the dead fly that causes the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor, (Eccl. 10:1). They lose their credit and esteem.
2. The safety of their consciences require that they be not conformed to the world: because, by conformity to the world, their consciences are in danger of being defiled, and their souls to be depraved; for the sin and way of the world is of an infectious nature: can a man touch pitch and not be defiled? “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes be not burnt? Can he go upon hot coals, and his feet be not burnt?” saith Solomon. We are told of the Jews, (Ps. 106:35), that when they were mingled among the heathen, they learned their works, and served their idols, which was a snare to them. The finest looking‑glasses will gather dust and defilement; even so may the children of God themselves gather dust and defilement, by mingling with the world: for sin is a plague and infection. And the haunting of sinful company will defile a saint: Joseph, in Pharaoh’s court, learned to swear by the life of Pharaoh; Peter, in the high‑priest’s hall, swears and denies his master; the Israelites, being used to the Egyptian furnaces, framed an idol. They that lie down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas; they that dwell in the kitchen will smell of the smoke.
3. The safety even of their graces, that are in danger to be marred and weakened, require that they be not conformed to the world. There is not such a gracious person on earth, but if he cast himself, by untenderness and unwatchfulness into the company of a carnal world, he will find their conversation abate the edge of his zeal, and cool the fervor of his devotion; yea, enervate, debilitate, and weaken every grace; and, by little and little, transform him to their manner, in a great measure, till sovereign grace reform him again: “When iniquity abounds, the love of many waxeth cold.” This new‑planted colony of grace in the heart, is in great danger when opposed, not only by the native; (I mean, our corruption,) but also by the auxiliary help and aid of the corruption of others.
4. The safety of their persons require that they be not conformed to the world: for they who are conformed to the wicked world are in danger of being punished therewith. Though all that are in Christ are freed from condemnation and eternal wrath; yet they are not freed from affliction and temporal judgments, especially if they shall associate with the wicked. If Lot had not come out of Sodom at the command of God, he had perished in the flames; if Noah had not made the ark at God’s command, he had perished in the flood with the world. And hence the command of God to us is, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that he receive not of her plagues,” (Rev. 18:4). “A companion of fools shall be destroyed,” (Prov. 13:20). And again, “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. 6:17). “Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord,” (2 Chron. 19:2).
Thus you see many reasons why the people of God must not be conformed to this world, and that in respect of themselves: their circumstances and their safety every way require it.
V. The Fifth thing proposed in the method was, To make application of the subject, which we shall essay in a use of information, reproof, examination, and exhortation, enforced with some motives; and then conclude the subject with some directions.
Use I. Let us improve the doctrine in an use of information. If, then, matters be so, as you have been hearing, That the people of God must not be conformed to the wicked world, we may hence learn,
1. What are the rules by which our conversation in the world is to be squared, and how our conversation in the world is to be cautioned. This non‑conformity to the world doth not exclude all conversation whatsoever with the world: for, in several cases, we may lawfully converse with them.
Question: In what cases may the godly converse with the world?
Answer: (1.) In case of necessity; when we are compelled and obliged to live amongst them. This was David’s case in Kedar; “Woe is me that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar;” (Ps. 120:5). So it was with the church of Pergamos; “I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is,” (Rev. 2:13). Where God hath a chapel, Satan hath a throne.
(2.) In case of policy, traffic, trade, and merchandise: in this respect we cannot live without the wicked of the world. It is lawful to have commerce with them, provided always we do not mingle with their vices.
(3.) In case of courtesy and civility. As this non‑conformity to the world doth not exclude lawful traffic, so neither doth it exclude or impeach civil courtesy. It is not only lawful, but laudable to do any courteous offices towards them that are without, whereby to gain them.
(4.) In case of charity; hence we are called to do good to all but especially to the household of faith. Though the household of faith, in poverty, be the special objects of charity, yet we are not to exclude others: “Do good to all.”
(5.) In case of piety; and thus it is lawful to converse with the wicked as far as, by gentle and reasonable reproofs, we may, through grace, be useful to reclaim them. We are to walk wisely towards these that are without; to visit them in their distress when they are in affliction; and to do all the good we can to their souls.
(6.) In case of affinity; this non‑conformity to the world doth not take away natural affection; neither will it extend to a separation between husband and wife for the sake of religion: it is lawful for the believing wife to converse with the carnal husband, as Abigail with Nabal: nay, for religion’s sake, such as are called to converse together: “What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or, what knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Cor. 7:14‑16).
In all these, and the like cases, converse with the wicked of the world is lawful. But the meaning of non‑conformity with them is, we must not chose them for our daily companions, delight in their discourse, or frequent their haunts; “Now, I have written unto you, not to keep company; if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one no not to eat,” (1 Cor. 5:11). We are not to affect their society, nor to savor their wickedness; but keep ourselves unspotted from the world, (Jam. 1:27).
Thus we see, I say, the rule by which our conversation in the world should be squared. In things which are absolutely moral indeed, all rules of art should be affirmative: but in this point, a man may give a negative rule, which may be safe and good. Do not as the world doth: do quite contrary to them. It is a good rule to live by, to mark the courses of worldly men, and to do the quite contrary. Worldly men will give themselves to covetousness, to worldly pleasure, worldly lusts, worldly affections: now, it is a good rule of walk, to observe what they do, and to do the quite contrary.
2. Hence we may see, if it be the property of a true Christian, not to be conformed to the world, how few true Christians there are in the world. There are many professors indeed, but few godly persons: why? because they are like the world; they live as others in the world do: they live as atheists and infidels. Look to yourself, man, woman; do you not even the same things that the rest of the profane world do? Do you not live after the same course, and at the same rate? They restrain prayer before God, both in secret, and in their families: they neglect the word; they regard it not, they obey it not; they swell against it, they snarl at it: they break and profane the Sabbath; they omit the proper duties of it, and do those things which are in themselves unlawful on that day: they are malicious: they are deceitful in their dealings; they live contentedly without Christ: though they be poor, they live contentedly without the tried gold of his grace: though they be blind, they live satisfied without the eye‑salve of his spirit; though they be naked, they live peaceably without the white raiment of his righteousness. Now, what is your life? What contrariety is there between you and the world? Do you not live the very same way? O then, you are conformed to this world with the rest: and, how few are otherwise! Therefore there are but few saints indeed; because the most part are conformed to the world, and taken up with the vanities of it.
I understand there is to be a remarkable meeting here this week: an idle, vain rendezvous; I know not upon what pretence: but I fear the motto of it be, Vanity and Folly; if not Wickedness and Debauchery in the issue: and in case that prove the issue of it, I must exonerate myself on the head. True; some may be thinking, it is better that the minister hold his peace; for, say what he will, the company will but laugh at it, when they are convened: But I do not value that; I must answer to God for what I say, and you must answer for what you hear and do at his tribunal; and see who will laugh there.
I have only a few questions to propose to all that design to countenance that convention of idleness and folly. 1. Will it be no conformity to the world, and fostering of its vanity and idleness, to give countenance thereto? 2. Will it be with a view to glorify God, or edify any poor immortal soul, that this meeting shall gather together? 3. Will it be of such a nature, that any, who countenance it, dare go to God and pray for a blessing upon it? 4. Will it be of such a nature, as shall not counteract and contradict the call of providence, at this clay, which calls us rather to mourning and weeping, than to joy and gladness? 5. Will it be a meeting of God’s approbation, and such as they shall be able to account for, at his awful tribunal, without fear or shame? 6. Will it be such a meeting, as that your countenancing it, will give ground of joyful reflection, when your eye‑strings are breaking, and your souls flying out of your bodies into eternity?
If these questions can be answered in the positive, and that it be indeed a meeting of this nature, then I have no quarrel with it: but if otherwise, and that none of these things can be said of it, then I protest against it, in God’s great name; and take instruments, in the hand of your consciences, that I do so. And I would earnestly exhort all, that desire to be followers of Christ, that they would beware of it, as they would not offend God, nor grieve the generation of the righteous, and be guilty of conformity to the world: for, before ever it come, it hath no savor of heaven about it; and, I fear, the interest of hell be advanced, and the vanity of the mind prompted by it.
Why, say you, it is but designed for a little diversion and recreation. Indeed, it is easy for persons to put a fair face upon a foul design: but I fear the promiscuous dancing and reveling that I here is designed, together with the drinking and carousing that may take place, will discover that the god of this world will be the great master‑convener, and the lusts of the world will be the great diversion; even the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life.
A meeting for prayer and humiliation would be more suitable for the sad state of the souls of many of those who have such designs in view: for, it is to be feared, some will give countenance to that vanity, by whom the ordinances of Christ have been little countenanced these twelve months; and some who will find more pleasure in such merry caballing, than ever they found in God’s sanctuary all their days; which says, that they have more need that God set them to their knees, to deprecate the vengeance that is hanging over their guilty heads, than that the devil set them on their feet, to dance away merrily to hell.1
3. Hence see, that it is no wonder that religious persons be cried down for niceness and singularity. Indeed, religion must be cross, and contrary to the world. If this be singularity, not to walk as those do that make no conscience of duty, but mock and jest at better things than they will imitate, then we must be singular: If this be to be vile, as David said in another case, then we shall be more vile. Why, say you, shall we expose ourselves to be traduced as proud, precise, and singular persons, who think none so good as ourselves? Why, sirs, it is better that the world speak ill of us without cause, than that God should be angry at us, and proceed against us on just reason.
4. Hence we may see, what a weak argument it is, that is only drawn from multitudes and universality. Most men do so and so; yea, all men do so and so; and why shall we not follow their example? But the apostle’s argument is quite of another nature,—“I testify, in the Lord, that henceforth ye walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, &c.; but ye have not so learned Christ, (Eph. 9:17‑20); See 1 Thessalonians 4:5, where we are told, that it is but a poor, vain, weak argument for one to urge, others do so and so; and therefore why not I? Why, Paul’s argument is quite the reverse: “Let us not sleep as others do:” let us not drink and tipple as others do; “but let us watch and be sober,” (1 Thess. 5:6). Non‑conformity to the world with, on the contrary to this carnal reasoning, “Let us not sleep as others do; let us not swear as others do; let us not profane the Sabbath as others do; let us not commit uncleanness as others do; let us not lie as others do; let us not steal and cheat as others do; let us not live in the omission of religious duties and ordinances as others do; let us not live without God and Christ, and in the neglect of eternity, as others do.” It is a weak argument for one to say, “Lord help us, if all others be in the wrong but you; if all those that have authority, numbers, and multitude on their side be in the wrong, and you only right.” This way of reasoning crosses the very scope of the text, “Be not conformed to this world:” which supposes that the world is all wrong, and that very few in it are right: even a few that are not of the world.
5. Hence see, that the wicked world need not quarrel with the saints for refraining their company; why, God encourages them to do so; yea, commands them to do so: “Now, we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly,” (2 Thess. 3:6). Why, should we esteem them as dogs, and trample upon them? No; we are to withdraw from them, in pity to their souls; we are to mourn for their sins, to pray for their conversion, to use all proper means to reduce them to their duty, and to exercise all manner of hospitality and civility towards them: but, in the meantime, to withdraw from intimate society and fellowship with them, saying, as Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “O, my soul, come not thou into their secret; and unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united,” (Gen. 49:6). For God hath commanded us not to be conformed to them.—Where by‑the‑bye, we see also how low an esteem the Lord hath of the wicked world; he will not allow his saints to keep company with them.
6. Hence see the vanity of all those shifts and excuses whereby people cover their deformity to the world. But, to speak of these shifts will fall more natively in upon the following use; only, I would observe here that many indulge themselves in entertaining fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, and communion with the wicked, and conformity to them, and yet never think it is ill done; they have never the least check or challenge for it; while they do not see their own guilt in associating with the wicked, nor can they charge themselves with the fault of their associates. Many willfully delight in such company, whom they know hath no relish for religion; whose discourse is not seasoned with salt; and whose ill breath discovers that their lungs are infected; being depraved in their morals, dangerous in their communication, scandalous in their lives, erroneous in their principles, and wear their faults upon their foreheads, so as to be pointed at by common observation, as notorious and flagitious, and despisers of God, his word, his people, and his ordinances, (Ps. 1:1).
Use 2. Again, the doctrine may be improven for reproof to all that are conformed to the world; and particularly to all that, having a profession of religion, and yet keep company with the loose and wicked of the world, notwithstanding the call of God, “Have no fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them,” (Eph. 5:11); notwithstanding the danger that is in such fellowship: the danger of infection; for, as he that walketh with the wise shall be wise, so he that walketh with fools will learn of them their folly: the danger of punishment and suffering; for, the companions of fools shall be destroyed: and the danger of scandal; so Jehosaphat’s joining in affinity with Ahab did eclipse his honor, and became scandalous; “Shouldst thou help the ungodly and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord,” (2 Chron. 19:20).—How doth this doctrine condemn all such as profess the name of God, and yet say, as the Israelites to Samuel, “Nay, but we will be like other nations,” (1 Sam. 8:20). Tell many a man, You must not do so and so, for thus do Turks and Tartars, and the barbarous nations of the world: you must not join in affinity with the people of these abominations; you must not walk in vanity and idleness; you must walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness for thus much the secure people of the world do: urge them with this argument, and what will they say? Why, this is to be too strict and precise; this is to be contrary to all the world; and this is to be singular; yea, this is but proud, hypocritical superstition of ourselves from all the rest of mankind. Alas! what carnal reasoning is this against the clear command of God? “Be not conformed to this world.”
Question: Who are they that conform and fashion themselves according to this world?
Answer: Those that take the example of men, and not of the word of God, for the rule of their actions. The greatest and most eminent have their infirmities, and are subject to manifold failings. We are to be followers of none but as they are followers of Christ, (1 Cor. 11:1).
2. Those that make their ancestors the pattern of their religious services: “Our fathers burnt incense to the queen of heaven, and so will we.” Our forefathers were of such a religion and persuasion, and so will we be. We see no ground to differ from the religion of our predecessors.
3. Those that follow a multitude to do evil; and walk in the broad way of wickedness, for the sake of company: but when vice becomes general, singularity becomes a virtue. When any error in judgment or practice, becomes universal, then singularity becomes a necessary duty.
4. Those that rule their actions by the will of their superiors; so Israel followed Jeroboam: while yet great men are not always the best men. Those are chargeable with conformity to the world, who, to please great men, will make bold with light and conscience directing them another way.
5. Those who hang their faith to the belt of human wisdom and learning; that follow those whom they think the wisest men, the deepest divines, the most learned doctors. It is the devil’s policy to seduce the world by such blazing light, as the serpent beguiled Eve, and the Pharisees misled the people, saying, “Have any of the rulers and Pharisees believed on him? Have any of the learned Rabbis fallen in with that man? “But this people who know not the law are accursed.”
6. All that are chargeable with other men’s sins, by countenancing them: whether it be the sins of forefathers, looking backwards; or the sins of posterity looking forwards; or the sins of the present generation we live among, looking round about us. And people may be chargeable many ways with the sins of others.
Question: How is a person chargeable with the sins of others
Answer: We are chargeable with the sins of others, more generally two ways; either by imitation or interpretation: when we imitate others in their sinful practices, or put too favorable glosses upon their vicious courses. More particularly, we are chargeable with the sins of others, when we command others to sin; as Pharaoh commanded to murder the Hebrew children, and Herod to kill the babes of Bethlehem, and Nebuchadnezzar to worship the golden image; they were guilty of all that murder and idolatry.—When we counsel others to sin; so Balaam did the children of Israel.—When we consent to the sin of others: So Saul consented to the death of Stephen.—When we conceal the sins of others, and do not reveal them, and reprove the committers of them, and use all proper methods to bring them to condign punishment for them. When we constrain others to sin, either by compulsion, provocation, or enticing of them. When we seduce others into sin, by sly artifices, ensnaring suggestions, and taking arguments; and so gain their assent to our vicious ways.—When we commend and praise others for their sinful courses, and applaud them in their sin.—When we wish them success in their evil courses; for, “He that biddeth them God speed, is a partaker of their evil deeds.”—When we do not correct and punish people for their sins as we have access, in our capacities; whether as magistrates, parents, masters, or otherwise related.—When we defend and justify sin, and call evil good, and good evil; and not to condemn sin, nor hinder the commission of it, when it is in our power to do so.—In a word, when we give or take an ill example in sin; or when we learn at others, and others learn at us any sinful ways. And finally, when we rejoice at the sins, of others, and take pleasure in them that do so.
In all these cases we are chargeable with the sins of others, and so with the conformity to a sinful world. And, indeed, as I had occasion lately to observe on another subject, this may let us see, that many will have sins to answer for, that they never dreamed of; not only their own sins, but all the sins of other men, that ever they countenanced in this manner, and never seriously reproved and mourned over.
It is possible one ,ay say to a reprover of his sins, “What have you to do with me?” you will not answer for my sins. What hath the minister ado with my faults, my particular failings? Why does he take, upon him to rip up my sores?” O man! do you not consider: We must answer not only for our own sins, but for all the sins we countenance and encourage: and for all the sins that we do not reprove, lament over, and repent of. Alas! little do the world consider, what need they have, of Christ as a Saviour and Redeemer, to ransom them from the guilt, not only of their own sins, but their guilt of other men’s sins. Little do the companions of drunkards, swearers, fornicators, Sabbath‑breakers, and such‑like, consider how they lie involved in the guilt of all the sins of those, with whom they associate themselves, and whose wickedness they connive at, and consent unto, or make a jest of.—However, all these now are guilty of fashioning themselves like unto the world.
But carnal reason will produce manifold pleas why people should be like their neighbors. And if any ask, What are these pleas and shifts? We might reply, by condescending upon the four following, amongst many others.
Plea 1. “I must conform myself, saith one, to the company I converse with, that I may not be reckoned morose, ill‑natured, and unsociable; but become all things to all men.”
Reply. You must know, if you be religious at all, you must not be neutral in religion: you must be either hot or cold; either wholly for God, or wholly for Baal. Where courtesy will not comply with religion, and yield to it, it becomes cruelty to the soul. To comply with a course of idleness and vanity, out of a pretence of good nature and sociableness, is to betray the want of a new nature, and of sweet fellowship with Christ. It is true, civil society is nowhere forbidden, unless it degenerate into levity, vanity, idleness, chambering, and wantonness; but intimate society with those that have no fear of God, no smell of religion, or of Christ, in their words and actions, can never be justified, whatever shift or plea be made use of for that end.
Plea 2. “Why, saith another, I must conform myself to, and join with such a drunken company, sometimes; for they are my customers, with whom I buy and sell, and on whom my livelihood depends: and, I hope, it is not unlawful for me to go and drink with them.”
Reply. Though I said before, that non‑conformity to the world doth not exclude traffic and merchandise; yet I shall add here, that though it be not unlawful, but necessary, on many accounts, both to drink and eat with moderation, and to trade and traffic with honesty; yet, I hope, none will thence infer, that it is lawful either to make unnecessary society with the wicked, or drunkenness a part of their trade. Your livelihood doth not depend upon these, but upon the providence of God: it is his blessing that maketh rich: and the Lord needs no sinful shift of ours, to supply his course of providence. As Christ with, “Which of you, by taking thought, can add a cubit to his stature?” (Matt. 6:27); so, who can add a penny to his estate by drunkenness, or conformity to drunkards? yea, though he should gain the whole world, you lose more than you gain, by every sinful compliance; for, “What is a man profited, though he should gain the whole world, if he lose his soul?” (Matt. 14:26). He makes a dangerous adventure that hazards his precious soul to gain the trifles of a perishing world.
Plea 3. “Why, saith a third, may not I associate with the wicked, that I may reclaim them; for so did Christ?”
Reply. Christ’s office was a physician to save and heal diseased sinners. Take heed it be not zeal in you, but presumption: be sure of a call.—And again, Christ could not be infected with any man’s vice: if you had such a preservative, then you might go in peace through the midst of plagues.—Indeed, the nature of grace is to diffuse itself, and communicate good to others: yet many, who make this their pretence, to convince or convert others, do not consider the deceitfulness of their own hearts, and what sinful by‑ends they are led by, even under this color. But, indeed, if a man had a clear call to join in, for a while, with a company of vain person, and to sit with them, which the Psalmist owns he shunned, saying, “I have not sat with vain persons;” I say, though a man had the clearest call to join company with such, he had need to do as the physicians, when they go into an infected place, they arm themselves with some antidotes; so should we do, if we go into such company; we have need to be armed with faith, and prayer, and holy resolution, and heavenly wisdom, such as may work more strongly than the plague of sin and subtlety of Satan, which we are to encounter with.
Plea 4. “Some will plead the violence of importunity; such a company doth urge and press me; and if I refuse to join with them, they will scoff and scorn me.”
Reply. If you can never resist a temptation to sin, you have no evidence of being a child of God: but by resisting such assaults as these, providence gives you an occasion both of opposing sin in yourselves, by your refusal; and of destroying it in others, by your example. If they scoff and scorn, do you pity; and bless the Lord that hath given you better counsel, than to run with them into the same excess of riot. The more they show themselves to be scoffers and scorners of religion and grace, the more they are to be resisted, with this meditation, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful,” (Ps. 1:1). Make not their violent importunity your excuse: for when they call you one way, and Christ calls you another, you need not be at a loss to know what hand to turn to. They say, “Come with us,” (Prov. 1:11). Christ saith “Come with me,” (Song 4:8). And, “whether is it better to obey God or man, judge ye,” (Acts 4:18). When they are saying, Follow us; remember that Christ is saying, “Follow me: and, “The grace of God that bringeth salvation, teacheth us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” (Titus 2:11,12).—But I proceed to another use from the doctrine.
Use 3. This doctrine may be applied for trial and examination. You may try your state by this doctrine, whether you be conformed to the world or not.
Question: How shall I know whether I be conformed to the world or not.
Answer: You may know it these three ways. 1. By your state and condition. 2. By your frame and disposition. 3. By your life and conversation.
[l.] You may know whether or not you be conformed to the world, by your state and condition. If you be not conformed to the world, then your state is such as that word describes: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world,” (John 17:16). And if it be still inquired by any, How shall I know if my state be so changed, that I am not of this world? We may reply to this as follows; If you be not of this world, let me ask you, How came you out of it? There are three things which contribute to bring a person out of this world; see if you know these. Were you ever brought out of this world, 1. By regeneration: 2. By consent: 3. By compulsion and force.
1. Were you ever brought out of this world by regeneration, or the new‑birth. If you be not of this world then you are born again; hence we have that expression, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit, is spirit.” If you have been born of God, then you are not of this world: If never born of God, then you are of the world, and conformed to it. If you never knew any other birth yet, but the natural birth, the sinful birth; you are yet of this world. By generation, we are of the world; but by regeneration, we come to be not of this worlds, (John 1:13). “Of his own will begat he us, with the word of truth,” (Jam. 1:18). If you have been regenerate God himself hath been the efficient cause; you could never effectuate it by the power of nature. The will of God hath been the impulsive cause; “For it is not of him that wileth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” The word of truth hath been the instrumental cause. Try then if ever, by the means of the word, the power of God hath been put forth, for making you a new creature and bringing you to a new world.
2. By consent also is a man brought out of this world: For, in the day of God’s power, the man is made willing to forsake the world, and all the vanities thereof; to forget his own people, and his father’s house; to look upon this world as not his home, and upon himself as a stranger and pilgrim in it; and to desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: he is made to look for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. He is dead to the world, and the world is dead to him: as we bury dead things out of our sight: so he is content to be rid of the world, and the world is content to be rid of him: he cares not for the world, and the world cares not for him.
3. By force; “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,” (1 John 4:1). If you ask then, how they come to be not of this world? It is even by force they overcome the world: and that partly by the price of his blood, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, and so we overcome by the blood of the Lamb: partly by the power of his spirit; they receive not the spirit which is of this world, but the spirit which is of God, which is a spirit of power, as well as of love and a sound mind; and stronger is the spirit that is in them, than the spirit that is in the world. They overcome not by might nor power, but by his spirit, breaking the power of sin in them, and mortifying the love of the world in them; and making them count all things but loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.—Thus a man comes to be not of this world; and so you may try your nonconformity to the world by your state, viz. your being not of this world. For, if you be not of this world, then you are not conformed to it.
But, on the other band, if you be of this world, then you are conformed to it. And there are three ways that discover people to be of this world.
(1.) They that are of this world, could be satisfied to live forever in this world: and would care for no other heaven, no other Paradise, but the pleasures, profits, and honors of this world. Look into your heart and thoughts, man: if you be content with this world for your portion; if you could possibly live and enjoy it forever: if you could be satisfied therewith, and desire no other heaven, it is an evidence you are of this world.
(2.) They that are of this world, look upon the comforts of this world as realities; but upon the promises of God’s covenant as fancies. And hence they dote upon the things of this world, and take pleasure in them; but dare not trust God with his promise, nor take comfort therein.
(3.) They that are of this world, they look upon men as happy or miserable according to the things they enjoy of this world: yea, though they see them to be wicked men: yet if they enjoy the outward things of this world they judge them to be happy. Is it thus that you judge? It is an evidence that you are of this world; and consequently are conformed to the world.
(4.) Try whether or not you be conformed to the world by your frame and disposition. If you be not conformed to the world, then your affections will be habitually set upon things that are above: but if you be conformed to the world, then your affections will be habitually set on things below; and so you mind earthly things. Here I will offer you a few marks of a person who minds earthly things, and consequently is conformed to the world,
1. When a man looks upon earthly things as the most beautiful and eminent things, that is an evidence that he minds earthly things, and consequently is conformed to this world. The heavenly disposed man looks upon celestial things to be the most beautiful and eminent.
2. When a man’s greatest thoughts are busied about earthly things, it is an evidence that he is a worldly man. A man may know himself better by his thoughts, than his words and actions for the thoughts are immediately from the heart: even as we may know better what the fountain is, by the immediate bullering of it near the spring than by the streams afar off: “For, as he thinketh in his heart, so is he,” (Prov. 23:7). A man is as he thinketh in his heart, when earthly thoughts are sweetest. I speak not of those thoughts which a person, through weakness or temptation, may be subject unto; but of those which are sweetest unto the soul; such as are the habitual delight of his heart.
3. The man minds earthly things, whose heart cleaves to the earth. Discourse to such a man never so much of the vanity of this earth, he may give you a hearing but his heart still cleaves to the earth: talk to him never so much of the glory of heaven, and the happiness of the saints: yet still his heart cleaves to the earth: yea, he himself may comment and flourish in his discourse, concerning the vanity of all things in the world; and yet still his heart cleaves to the earth.
4. The earthly‑minded man is filled with distracting cares about the things of this earth. If he be disappointed as to these things, he looks upon himself as undone: God, and Christ, and the promises, none of them can give him any contentment or comfort, if his idols on the earth be removed: if he miscarries there, he is undone: “They have taken away my gods, and what have I more?” His greatest business, and strongest endeavors, are the adequate object of his earthly mind; they take up the whole strength of his soul.
5. In a word, an earthly man passes through many difficulties, about earthly things, and is never weary, because he is in his element; he is like the fish in the sea. A man is soon weary of swimming in the water, because it is not his element; but the fish is not weary, because it is its element. An earthly man is quickly weary of spiritual duties: whereas a spiritual man calls the Sabbath his delight. An earthly man will not go through with his work, because his heart and mind is elsewhere. If you mind earthly things at this rate, as I have shown, it is a shrewd evidence of a worldly frame; and this worldly frame and disposition is an evidence of conformity to the world.
(3.) You may know whether you be conformed to the world or not, by your life and conversation, by your words and actions. They that are of the world, they speak of the world, they deal with the world, their whole conversation smells of the world; “They savor not the things that are of God, but the things that are of the world.” Worldly discourse goes best away with them: worldly converse is their pleasure; worldly wisdom is their disposition; and worldly company is their delight: but their delight is not in the saints, the excellent ones of the earth. And, indeed, those that can take pleasure in vain, wicked, light, and lewd company, but never affected fellowship with the saints, nor company with the godly, about soul‑matters, they discover their great conformity to the world, and their want of conformity to God and Christ.
Use 4. This doctrine may be improven for exhortation or dehortation, in the words of the text: O sirs, be not conformed to this world. Some sober heathens have sometimes expressed the greatest dislike to the vanity of this world. Socrates thought it one of the greatest torments of men, in another life, to be bound to commit those sins wherein they most delighted in this life. Seneca said of himself, “I am too great, and born to greater things, than that I should be a slave to my body.” And Tully thought him not worthy the name of a man, that could spend a whole day in carnal pleasure. And surely they do not deserve the name of Christians, who spend a whole day in worldly carnal pleasure and recreation. How will those heathens rise up in judgment against us, if we live in conformity to the world!
In order to enforce the exhortation, we adduce the following motives. Consider, that conformity to the world is adultery, idolatry, enmity, and contrariety to the power of religion.
1. It is adultery, spiritual adultery. If a man’s heart goes after another woman, more than his wife; or a woman’s heart more after another man than her husband, it is adultery: so, if our heart go a whoring after anything in the world, more than our Maker, who is our husband, it is spiritual adultery.
2. It is idolatry. As covetousness is called idolatry; so, conformity to the world, is worshipping of idols. If a man should carnally affect a queen, or an empress, though the most beautiful woman in the world, instead of his own wife, it is a great sin: but if he forsake a queen, a most beautiful person for a dung‑hill raker, a nasty scullion, it were a greater evil: so here, to forsake him who is altogether lovely, for the empty things of the world, Oh! what an evil is it! It is to depart from the fountain of living waters, and hew out to ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
3. It is enmity; for “The carnal mind is enmity against God:” the carnal man is enmity against God; and to embrace a carnal company is to embrace God’s enemies, and those that are enemies to all spiritual good.
4. It is a contrariety to the power of godliness. Grace and godliness tend to alienate and disengage the heart from the world and from all things under God: but this conformity to the world is directly contrary, to this end. And, indeed, let a man have the sweetest and most awful impressions made upon his heart by the word, and let him go straight into a carnal company: behold! how quickly will his impression be removed, and conviction stifled thereby!
We shall now conclude the subject with a few directions; and we shall just name them in so many words.
1. Seek to be regenerated and born of God; born from above: for, he that is born of God is not conformed to the world; but is transformed by the renewing of his mind.
2. Seek the Spirit to bring you by force out of this world; and to conquer the world for you. But concerning both these, we spoke at some length on the use of trial: and shall now pass them.
3. Be aware of wicked company: and let your delight be in the saints, the excellent ones of the earth; and this, by the blessing of God, will be a mighty preservative from being conformed to the sinful courses and practices of the wicked world.
4. Be restless till you attain conformity to the Lord Jesus Christ; and, in order thereto, seek discoveries of his glory, that, beholding it you may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory, (2 Cor. 3:18). There is a smiting favor in the face of Christ; they who see him cannot but be like him, and desire to be like him: so it is with those about the throne; “They shall be like him, for they shall see him as he is.” Conformity to Christ is the best cure of conformity to the world: for it makes the man to count all things but loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.
1 These notes have relation to a remarkable Ball In Dunfermline, in which much promiscuous dancing, levity, and wantonness, took place.—If there was at that time so much occasion for our Author to inveigh so severely against such promiscuous assembling and caballing, drinking, and reveling, how much more reason now, in these days of profanity and, prodigality, when these practices are become so universal among all ranks, and carried to greater extremes, especially in populous cities and places of public resort, to the dishonor of God, the discredit of religion, the consumption of precious time, the wasting of the substance, fostering the vanity of the mind, and the ruin of the soul in the issue.