Living in a passing world - Midweek Message 24th March 2021
For this world in its present form is passing away (1 Corinthians 7.31)
Following up on some of the things we were thinking about last Sunday from James 4.13-17, I wanted to draw your attention to the writing of two different men from different times but both saying something relevant.
Firstly, I mentioned on Sunday Tim Keller’s recent article in The Atlantic online magazine ‘Growing my faith in the face of death’ in which he reflects very honestly and helpfully about his response to being diagnosed in February 2020 with pancreatic cancer. You can find the article here
Secondly, James was reminding us that life is short, transient, fleeting, especially when viewed in the light of eternity. Someone who had evidently reflected on that deeply was the Scottish preacher and hymn writer from the 19th century Horatius Bonar. Like James, Bonar wanted people to take this reality into account in their life choices. Here’s an extract from a sermon he preached on the text quoted above and also from 1 John 2.17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (If you want to read the whole sermon you can do so here)
‘The world is passing away — like a dream of the night. We lie down to rest; we fall asleep; we dream; we awake at morn — and lo, all is fled, which in our dream seemed so stable and so pleasant! So hastens the world away. O child of mortality, have you no brighter world beyond?
The world is passing away — like the mist of the morning. The night brings down the mists upon the hills — the vapour covers the valleys; the sun rises, all has passed away — hill and valley are clear. So the world passes away, and is seen no more. O man, will you embrace a world like this? Will you lie down upon a mist, and say: This is my home?
The world is passing away — like a shadow. There is nothing more unreal than a shadow. It has no substance, no being. It is dark, it is a figure, it has motion, that is all! Such is the world. O man will you chase a shadow? What will a shadow do for you?
The world is passing away — like a wave of the sea. It rises, falls, and is seen no more. Such is the history of a wave. Such is the story of the world. O man will you make a wave your portion? Have you no better pillow on which to lay your wearied head than this? A poor world this for human heart to love, for an immortal soul to be filled with!
The world is passing away — like a rainbow. The sun throws its colours on a cloud, and for a few minutes all is brilliant. But the cloud shifts, and the brilliance is all gone. Such is the world.
With all its beauty and brightness;
with all its honours and pleasures;
with all its mirth and madness;
with all its pomp and luxury;
with all its revelry and riot;
with all its hopes and flatteries;
with all its love and laughter;
with all its songs and splendour;
with all its gems and gold — it vanishes away!
And the cloud that knew the rainbow knows it no more. O man, is a passing world like this, all that you have for an inheritance?
The world is passing away — like a flower. Beautiful, very beautiful; fragrant, very fragrant, are the summer flowers. But they wither away. So fades the world from before our eyes. While we are looking at it, and admiring it — behold, it is gone! No trace is left of all its loveliness but a little dust! O man, can you feed on flowers? Can you dote on that which is but for an hour? You were made for eternity — and only that which is eternal can be your portion or your resting place. The things that perish with the using only mock your longings. They cannot fill you — and even if they filled, they cannot abide. Mortality is written on all things here — immortality belongs only to the world to come — to that new heavens and new earth wherein dwells righteousness.
The world is passing away — like a ship at sea. With all its sails set, and a fresh breeze blowing, the vessel comes into sight, passes before our eye in the distance, and then disappears. So comes, so goes, so vanishes away this present world, with all that it contains. A few hours within sight, then gone! The wide sea o'er which it sailed, is as calm or as stormy as before; no trace anywhere of all the life or motion or beauty which was passing over it! O man, is that vanishing world your only dwelling-place? Are all your treasures, your hopes, your joys laid up there? Where will all these be when you go down to the tomb? Or where will you be when these things leave you, and you are stripped of all the inheritance which you are ever to have for eternity? It is a poor heritage at the best, and its short duration makes it poorer still. Oh, choose the better part, which shall not be taken from you!
The world is passing away — like a tent in the desert. Those who have travelled over the Arabian sands know what this means. At sunset a little speck of white seems to rise out of the barren waste. It is a traveller’s tent. At sunrise it disappears. Both it and its inhabitant are gone. The wilderness is as lonely as before. Such is the world. Today it shows itself — tomorrow it disappears. O man, is that your stay and your home? Will you say of it, "This is my rest!" There is an everlasting rest, remaining for the people of God.’
That awareness of the passing nature of this world is not meant to cause us to despise it but paradoxically to help us enjoy it in the manner that God intended. A couple of quotes from Tim Keller’s article speak to this.
‘Since my diagnosis, Kathy (TK’s wife) and I have come to see that the more we tried to make a heaven out of this world—the more we grounded our comfort and security in it—the less we were able to enjoy it….. To our surprise and encouragement, … (we) have discovered that the less we attempt to make this world into a heaven, the more we are able to enjoy it….. the simplest pleasures of this world have become sources of daily happiness. It is only as I have become, for lack of a better term, more heavenly minded that I can see the material world for the astonishingly good divine gift that it is.’
Much in all of this to reflect on,
Yours in that reflecting,