By Rev. Richard Watson
By Rev. Richard Watson.
ONE METHODIST VOL. 4 NO. 3 November 2001

"Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God," James 4:4

This epistle was written to the Jewish converts scattered throughout the world, and especially in Asia Minor. Many of them were poor and persecuted; and to these the apostle administers consolation. The vices of the unbelieving Jews among whom they lived were many; and these he reproves, and teaches the persons to whom he wrote how to reprove them. And it is probable that many Jews had at that time joined the Christian Church, who were converted but nominally, and brought all the hypocrisy and worldliness of Judaism into Christianity. However that be, it is clear from the epistle that the apostle addresses three classes; the pious and troubled,-the rich and vicious,-and a third class of cowardly conformists to the world, who, for credit among men, for interest or pleasure, betrayed the cause of Christ, and hazarded their souls. To this class of professors, the text is a powerful address; and as human nature is always the same, and we are always exposed to the same dangers, I wish to make a calm appeal to your judgment and consciences upon the important topics which it contains.

Four things will call our attention.

I. The world, the friendship of which is courted by treacherous and lukewarm Christians.
II. The manner in which this unsanctified friendship with the world manifests itself.
III. The aggravation of the crime charged.
IV. That more excellent way which the apostle's denunciation suggests.

I. The world, the friendship of which is courted by treacherous and lukewarm Christians.
When we are guarded against intercourse or friendship with a party, it is necessary that the party be marked out by specific characters. Here too we must be guided by Scripture. We are not at liberty to say that all who religiously differ from us are "of the world;" nor, on the other hand, that those who agree with us are not "of the world." The text was not designed to nourish bigotry, but to guard purity.

Some, indeed, would stretch their charity very boundlessly; and contend that, by the world we are to understand all who are not professed Christians; all heathens and Mohammedans, for instance. If so, it would be very easy for us to keep ourselves unspotted. But, brethren, the doctrine of Scripture is, that there is a world in the professing Church. The term was first used by our Lord. He uses it to designate not pagans merely, but a part, a great part, of the Jews, who were God's visible Church.

Think it not strange, then, that we should find a world within the pale of the Christian Church. We shall all apply no other than our Lord's own rules; and by them we shall detect it, and array it in characters so marked that you cannot mistake.

Among the Jews, the professing people of God, mark! whom did Christ designate "the world?" All vicious and vain persons: "Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."

All worldly persons, who preferred earthly to spiritual things: So, in the parable, "one went to his farm, another to his merchandise;" and the master of the feast passes a sentence of exclusion upon them. He was angry and said, "None of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper."

All persons ignorant of the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures, so as to have no spiritual knowledge or taste: "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me." They did not believe him, because they did not believe the spiritual testimony of the law and the prophets.

All Pharisaic formalists, enemies of the cross of Christ, and of spiritual religion.

All Sadducean skeptics, whatever may be their learning, eloquence, rank, who are vitiated by their unbelief.

By their marks you may always detect the world in the Church; from which world you are to come out as much as the primitive Christians from their pagan neighbors.

We proceed to consider,

II.The manner in which that unsanctified friendship with the world, which is condemned in the text, manifests itself.

And here we must guard, both on the right hand and on the left.-To keep ourselves "unspotted from the world," we are not to go out of the world. Christians ought to be found in every lawful path of life; and God puts them into every various state, that they may show that they have by faith the victory over the world in the noblest sense: in poverty over murmuring; in riches, over sordidness and vanity; in the way of temptations to pleasure, that they may deny themselves; in the walks of business, that they may exhibit an honourable rectitude. They are open to the seductions of taste and imagination, that they may mortify the mind, as well as the senses, by checking excesses; and to wrongs and injuries, that they may triumph by meekness, and the spirit of generous forgiveness.

Let it be also understood, that this friendship with the world is not to be avoided by surliness of manners; nor by indifference to the good opinion of the world itself. Religion requires no singularities which have not in them some moral quality. It is innocently cheerful, though grave; it has a kind and sympathizing heart; it will have a courteous and respectful manner. We are to "please all men;" only we are to remember to do it "for their good to edification."

The culpable courting of the world's friendship here condemned, manifests itself,
1. In being unwilling to encounter reproach and difficulty for Christ's sake. A youth is called of God; a husband, a wife, a child, is made a happy partaker of true religion. Such a one ought to use no sinful compliances in order to escape reproach, either from near relations, or others.

2. In hiding our opinions, and suffering men to go on in error and spiritual danger, that we may keep up their society.

Christians are to be the light of the world; and ought never to be ashamed of the words of their Lord.

3. In preferring some interest, some honour, to adherence to conscience.
Every thing, even character, property, life itself, is to be given up for Christ, and to preserve a conscience void of offense.

4. In such an obsequiousness to the world's maxims and principles, as to lead to, at least, doubtful compliances.

The world has something to say in defence of most of its evils. It has its grave advocates for duelling, for gambling, for the race course, and for the theatre; although all these things are connected with evils of the most serious magnitude. And no doubt it has much to plead for the approaching festival. (This sermon was preached at Oxford-road chapel, Manchester, a short time before a splendid musical festival and fancy ball were held in that town. On the occasion Mr. Watson felt it to be his duty to lift up his warning voice in the two principal chapels of his circuit: and he had the satisfaction to know that his admonitions were not entirely in vain.)

Now, when we show a ready leaning to all the sophistry by which such practices are defended, there is a sad approach to the friendship of the world. Debatable ground ought to be avoided, where sin is concerned.

III. The aggravation of the crime charged.

If we would know the nature of an evil, we must look into the word of God, who is our Judge. Criminals may jest at frauds and robberies; but what says the law?-"O house of Israel, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord." Here these friendships with the world which betray Christ are marked by two opprobrious characters:

1. Spiritual adultery. This implies abnegation of God. The relation in which the Church stands to God is often compared to the marriage covenant. Idolatry, in the language of Scripture, is adultery. It is a violation of the vow and covenant, and is followed by a liability to be put away. The same is here declared concerning "the friendship of the world."

2. Enmity to God.
How often is the friendship of the world marked by a growing dislike to God's control, and to his people! The Bible become dull; prayer becomes irksome; and final apostasy is often the sad consequence of worldly compliances. IV. That more excellent way which the apostle's denunciation suggests.

He would have us decide. The benefits of decision are numerous and great.

1. It is ordinarily attended with less difficulty than a vacillating and hesitating habit. A double-minded man is unstable and unhappy.

2. It is a noble object to aspire to fidelity to God. "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord." This is the true dignity of man.

3. There is an interesting reciprocation. If we are God's people, he is our God; and we have every thing to expect from him.

4. The real pleasures which decision opens are many and great. It forbids no solid pleasures; it opens religious ones. The conscience is at rest; we have unbounded confidence toward God; and the unclouded prospect of heaven is opened before us.

5. The comforting sense of acting according to our real circumstances, as responsible, dying men, men who are to be judged.


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I have but one passion - it is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ.
-- Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700 - 1760)

All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired, although not in the hour or in the measure, or the very thing which they ask; yet they will obtain something greater and more glorious than they had dared to ask.
-- Martin Luther (1483 -1546)

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The editor while agreeing with the content presented in this page, does not necessarily endorse all of a writer's works, doctrines, etc. The editor is solely responsible for all mistakes. If you find this page to be of some spiritual help, please pass it on. January 2002