Based on John Nelson Darby’s paper ‘What is the World, and What is its End? A serious question for those who are of it.’ – by Sosthenes
Note – This paper was written in 1862. Though much of what Darby wrote has relevance today, circumstances, especially in technology, have changed, and these have been reflected in this summary. Changes I have made are shown in blue.
Despite Christianity, the world has not changed since Adam. Things have progressively deteriorate, but man’s worst sin was the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus. Men fear what might come, but the Christian is restful, trusting in God. Some might try and loosen human restraints, whilst others tighten them. Some say that commerce or education is the answer. Religious superstition and extremism, and infidelity may oppose one another, but the world is the same. It is under judgment. God is patient and merciful, but evil will not prevail. Flee the wrath to come.
The World is Unchanged
Men are apt to think that have continue unchanged in this world since creation (or since the so-called ‘big bang’). Man has been more prosperous and civilised, making great strides in technology, travel, communications, ammunitions and medicine. All the time, though, man himself is unchanged, his passions remain, and the essential differences in the world since biblical times are not so great as is supposed. Children are not more obedient; families are not more united; the relationship between employer and employee is no better. The world thinks itself better, and vaunts its progress – but is it progress? Underneath the veneer, it recognises that things cannot go on long as they are; we are heading for yet another a crisis of the world’s history, which must result in great disruption.
Christianity has made a difference. But if we look beneath the surface, even that is not much. The world is not Paradise, as God made it. Since Adam, the world has developed through man’s departure from and independence of God. Men posture their solutions, some advocating democracy and others authoritarianism. But though judgment is inevitable, God is patient – and over all.
Throughout history men have worried about the future of the world, but their fears, are the fruit of the restless working of principles beyond their control. The world is inherently unstable: regimes have ended violently because man’s passions were stronger than that which controlled them. The bonds of society are either too tight or too weak. Power is not in them, but in the force beneath them. As a result, some would slacken the bonds to give people more independence, whilst others would tighten them through repression. Furthermore, others just give up in fear, hoping for the best.
Man desires to be in control, or at least, control what is within his reach. This can be seen in modern times in the matter of climate change. Despite his fear, man has an exaggerated estimate of his self-importance. The true Christian, on the other hand, he does not fear in this way: he knows that God is over everything. He is more calm and clear-sighted, more interested in the needs of his fellow men, and less interested in politics. In spite of this though, many Christians are deluded into believing that they can meet the world’s needs by their own good works. They even worship them!
What is the World?
What is, then, the world? It is a vast system, grown up after man had departed from God, nd Satan is the god and prince of it. At the fall, Man was driven out of the place in which God had set him in innocence and peace. God had made him a vagabond, and barred His way back to the tree of life. Man gave up God for his own lusts and, under the influence of Satan, built a city, Enoch (Gen 4:17), adorning it with art and music. Left without law, the world became so bad that God had to destroy mankind by the deluge, leaving just eight persons. Then under law, man plunged into idolatry, ignoring every prophetic warning. Ultimately God sent His Son, but man would not have Him: He was cast out of the vineyard and slain. Man turned God out of the world, as far as he could, when He had come into it in mercy.
Now when we look at the principles and motives which characterise the world, are they “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) – pleasure, gain, vanity, ambition, etc. When we speak of men getting on in the world, is it not ambition and gain which motivates? There cannot be much difference in what Cain did in his city, and what men are now doing in theirs. If, say, a Chinese person came to London to see what Christ and Christianity was, he or she would find men governed by the same motives that govern the masses back home in Beijing or Guangzhou. In short, he would find a system in which men honour one another more than God. The world rejected the Son of God when He was here, but the Father set Him at His right hand . Jesus said, “Oh, righteous Father, the world hath not known thee...” (John 17:25). Then, “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).
There is no point in looking to heathenism or Islam for the world; we must look to Christendom. What characterises its state is pleasure, gain, ambition, vanity, without conscience, like the Pharisees. A man is morally what he pursues: if gain, He is covetous: if power, he is ambitious; if pleasure, he is hedonistic, and so on. At the beginning, of Christianity, God’s grace and power of the Holy Spirit raised people above normal human values, and united them in the enjoyment of heavenly things, displaying a care for one other in a way the world never knew. They were dead to the world, pure in walk and unselfish in their ways, so the church got the attention of a hostile, yet admiring, world. Now for centuries, what in infidelity calls itself the church, is marked by ambition, crime and deceit, haughty power and worldly luxury. It makes no difference whether we are looking at Catholicism, Greek orthodoxy or Protestantism. Of course the Spirit of God is active, and that, thank God, good is done in the midst of all this. However, that is not the world, but a distinct power which works in the midst of the world, influencing it and its government. The world is far more guilty, having had Christianity in its midst – it has not ceased to be the world.
Remember that it was at the death of Christ that the devil received the title of prince of this world, and as to his religious influence, is called the god of this world, When God’s throne was at Jerusalem this was impossible; but, when the true Ruler of the world was rejected, it became plain that Satan was its prince. No doubt the cross gave Satan’s power its death-blow in the sight of God, but not in the in the sight of the world.
Satan’s worst reign is his religious one, as we see from the beasts in Revelation. He reigns only by the corrupt motives of man’s heart, the fears of a bad conscience being the means of his power. He leads men astray by their lusts, and then gives them religion to assuage their consciences, for he cannot cleanse them. Hence wickedness becomes religious wickedness, and the conscience even thinks it is doing God service, while Satan craftily directs all this to his own end, the governance of the world – the Christian world – by men’s lusts. In unbelief and defiance of Christ, the pursuit of gain and pleasure is more ardent and unrestrained than ever. War rages as it ever did.
What, then, is its end? Judgment, speedy judgment. Of the day and the hour, no man knows: it comes as a thief in the night. The self-confident thoughts that men have of improving the world by human development and energy are evil in the extreme. Man sees himself and the world as getting better. He views Christianity as only a phase of man’s history; better is to come. Where from, and how?
Commerce and Education
Commerce, we are told, civilises. Commerce appears to have made the world less violent; but gain is its selfish motive. It has not elevated the tone of society, but the contrary. Fraud and corruption are major problems. It has not stopped exploitation and wars; it has caused many, especially where oil is concerned.
What has education done? It certainly has enlargesd the mind, but has it changed man’s values? People are more educated than they used to be; but to what end? Has the influence of superstition really diminished? The infidelity produced by dependence on man’s mind has forced men, who are not personally established in divine truth, back into a different type of superstition. They call it liberalism, which is bound by no truth, knows no truth, and doubts all truth. It is simply destructive. Go anywhere and everywhere, to India, England, Italy, Russia or America: deliverance from superstition is not by truth, but by disbelief of all known truth. Even Christians rely, not on the Spirit, the gospel and word of God, but on human progress.
Superstition and Infidelity
The present conflict is between superstition and infidelity – the mere pretensions of man’s mind. Neither superstition nor infidelity know or respect truth. One recognises authority; the other rejects it. One is the church, so called (with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, I would venture to include this – Sosthenes); the other, free thought. Faith in the truth is known to neither. Where it is no one knows; the business of man’s mind being to disprove any claim to it.
It is a striking phenomenon that liberalism or infidelity prefer Popery to truth. Truth is divine, Popery is human, and liberalism will be liberal as to it. So governments, pander to Popery, because it is a strong, unscrupulous political power, not concerned with the truth. When centralised power fails, it falls back on modifications, witness Liberation Theology in Latin America, and formal protestant religion which has given up scripture and all moral values.
Even if we turn to America, which many would regard as the most attractive part of the new world, what do we see? There is a large profession and much religious activity, even large-scale tele-evangelism, but Christians are often the most worldly of all. Money is the number one influence; overrun with alcoholism, immorality and family breakdown.
So where is God in all this?
The world, then, has been evil from its origin. Christianity has been corrupted by man. It has not reformed the world, more it has become the seat of its greatest corruption. Commerce, a partial civiliser of men, absorbs them with the basest of motives – avarice, indifferent to truth and morality. Education has not improved man’s motives or morals either, nor has it freed him from the bonds of superstition. It has merely set aside all positive truth, by infidelity.
So where is God in all this? God is patient with men, a testimony to His grace. He continues to testify, so long as souls can be won and delivered. But He will not allow the power of evil to last for ever. He declares that evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse; filling up the cup of wrath for themselves. He is patient till no more can be done. God says, “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen 15:16). Finally He will remove all evil and bless the earth.
Judgment of the World
The object here is not to enter into prophecy in any detail; that has been amply done elsewhere. But the course of the world’s history points to judgment, the removal of the power of evil by power being the only remedy. This is clearly stated in scripture. This is not the judgment of the dead before the Great White Throne, but the judgment of this visible world. ‘Because he [God] hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him [Jesus] from the dead’ (Acts 17:31). Sin will increase till judgment comes. But the world’s greatest sin was the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. However, He whom the world rejected, God has raised from the dead, and committed all judgment to Him. Every knee will bow to Him; and the more boldly men have rejected and opposed Him, the more terrible will be their judgment. All man’s pride, vanity and pretension must come to nought.
- Isa. 2:10-22
- Isa 24:19-23
- Isa 26:21
- Zeph 3:8.
- Rev 16:19
- Rev 17:1-6
- Rev 18:21-24
- Rev 16:13-14
- Rev 19:11-21
- Dan 2:34,35
- Dan 7:9-11.
Such is the end of the world as we know it. Its profession of Christianity will only have increased the severity of its judgment. They that have known their Master’s will, and not done it, will be beaten with many stripes. (See Luke 12:47). Christendom fell from the heavenly state in the early chapters of the Acts. Now it will wax worse and worse, ripening for the judgment that so surely awaits it. Flee from the wrath to come.