Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:…
Let us now look at this rescue or deliverance as the principal subject of thought in the verse of our text. The world spoken of is the present world; it is called evil, and so, if this word evil has any force, the deliverance is a moral and spiritual deliverance, A commentator of great name translates, instead of the present world, the impending world or age — that is, the age of apostasy and of the second coming of Christ as a Judge. But this is unnecessary and improbable. The word rendered present is the same which occurs in the passage, "Things present and things to come;" it is used by the grammarians to denote the present tense as contrasted with the future; and it is a truly Christian idea, that escape from present sin and present corruption was offered by our Lord in His gospel and made possible for us by His death. But what is meant by the world, and in what sense is it an evil world? There are two words used in the New Testament where we find world in our translation. One (κόμος) makes prominent the order or system of things as it exists in space, the other (αἰών) the course or flow of events in time. The two words, as denoting men, the inhabitants of the earth or world, in their present condition of estrangement from God as to their feelings, habits, character, in the world and in the ages of time, are used indiscriminately. In one or two instances the word αἰών is made to signify the material creation; κόσμος, just as our word world, which at first denoted an age of men, has come steadily to have the signification of the material earth or universe. We see from this exposition how and why the world is called evil. If Christ or His apostles have taught that in the order of created things evil is inherent, that this visible world is essentially a vile and corrupt place, owing to its material elements, they would have given sanction to the Gnostic doctrine that God, the supreme and the pure, is not the maker of heaven and earth, but that some other being made them, who is essentially imperfect. Thus Christian morality would have coincided with that ascetical system that has done so much mischief in the world, by teaching that escape from evil consists in extinction of desire, in abstinence from all that gratifies the senses, seclusion from society and absorption in contemplation of the Godhead. In this way we should have had a Christianity which was unfit for the mass of mankind, and which had the seeds of death in itself. Certainly, this was not the view of the world which He took who said, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from evil." To the follower of Christ, then, the world, as continued by its Great Maker, in its structure, its sights and sounds, its influences on the soul, cannot appear to be evil. The present creation, though it may have fallen, with man, from a more perfect beauty that once belonged to it, is only good, just as it was at the first, "when God saw everything that He had made and, behold, it was very good." The sky and clouds are good, although sometimes monotonous rain-clouds cover the face of the heavens. Nor can I see what can possibly make a Christian look on the outer world without joy, when, besides having the same sources of pleasure in it which others find, he sees a God and a Father reflected from the whole universe. It has been sometimes said that the great seriousness which Christianity throws into life, the pressure upon the Christian mind of an unseen world and of the great thoughts of trial and of duty, ought naturally to call him away from things outward and visible. He may be compared to the soldier just before battle. What leisure has he for the music of the birds and the sweet forms of flowers, when victory and death are close at hand? Or he may be compared to the man just ready to embark on a vessel, whose thoughts are turned away from the beautiful outline of the coast, or the floating clouds, and fastened on the great, immeasurable ocean. And so it is said that the culture springing from the world and from life, the refinement of the taste and sensibility to things beautiful, are not encouraged by Christianity. Its influences are one-sidedly moral: it is imperfect, when alone, as a discipline for man. Some of the early Christians showed this defect; the stricter religionists since have shown it. They have looked on the world as evil. In my apprehension this charge has no true foundation. The gospel aims to cultivate our nature, not to turn it into another nature. And this it tries to effect by bringing the most inspiring, elevating motives to bear on our life and character. But, setting the differences of men aside, the gospel has often awakened the slumbering seeds of feeling, the love of beauty or power of thought which lay dormant before, and it puts the soul in the best position to receive all the good, all the softening influences which God appointed for it in its education in this present world. How unlike Christ's gospel is, in its view of the present evil world, to the religions which have swayed and pressed upon the souls of the great Hindoo race. To them the world was filled with illusions; personal existence was an evil; the soul was on an almost endless transit from one form of life to another; the great goal afar off was absorption in the supreme essence; and self-torture was a means to this consummation. So dreary did this religion of Brahminism become, that the atheism and extinction promised by Buddhism became a positive blessing. This present evil world, then, is such as man has made it, not such as God made it. The very essential doctrine of Christianity is, that God made His revelation and sent His Son to stem and abridge this evil. Here we may see two thoughts in the text. First, IT IS A PRESENT EVIL WORLD AS CONTRASTED WITH A FUTURE AND AN UNSEEN WORLD. The presence of evil in a visible form, in a society of men whom we cannot avoid and from good whom we ought not to withdraw, if we would, gives to it its principal power. The which resists this evil, on the other hand, is spiritual and distant; there is a conflict between forces that draw their power from unseen realities and forces that have the senses and our temporal state and human opinion on their side. Let us next, for a moment, LOOK AT THE NATURE OF THE EVIL OF THE WORLD. It is, first, evil mixed with good, founded on desires and principles which, but for sin in the world, would lead only to good. Hence, it is insidious. We scarce know what excess is, where we must stop, how far we may venture. We have for all this no exact rules, and can have none. Herein lies a great part of our danger, that the judge within is blinded and misguided by the evil without, so that the decisions in the court of conscience are iniquitous. Again, there is an unrighteous sway, even a terror, over us, wielded by the evil or defective opinions of society. If the apostles opposed a false religion, they who wanted just that kind of religion which appeases the conscience and suits a feeble religious sense, became their enemies, Or it may he that a peculiarity of an age of the world consists in a decay of faith, an atmosphere of doubt which seems to act on the minds of men without their being conscious of it. In the light of Scripture this is, indeed, present evil, for it destroys the power of motives and deadens the religious nature. I will speak of but one other characteristic of the evil that may be in the world; it is the accumulation of objects to gratify the desires, and even those desires which may be called voluptuous. In a simple condition of society, where there is little wealth and little division of labour, this is not the predominant evil. Thus, early Rome — and the same is true of almost all simple societies — was outwardly virtuous, reverential, law-abiding, for some generations, only to fall into the grossest condition, at the decline of the Republic and through the Empire, when all the vices in a mingled stream seemed to be overflowing mankind. The apostle saw this; he saw the same decay of good habits in the Greek countries which he traversed; he might, if alive now, see it at Paris; he might see the inroads of thoroughly worldly enjoyment among us. Society ruins itself in such a decline, and needs frightful judgments, wide-sweeping changes, to make it endurable. All this enervating, voluptuous influence must act on every member of society, unless he fights against it and forms himself, by the conflict, into a heroic character. All this philosophers have felt, as well as Christians. There is a celebrated passage in one of Plato's works, where he uses language something like the apostle's: "Evil," says Socrates (in Theaetetus, 176, A.B.), "can never perish; for there must always remain something which is antagonistic to good. Of necessity they hover around this mortal sphere and the earthly nature, having no place among the gods in heaven. Wherefore, also, we ought to fly away thither; and to fly thither is to become like God, as far as this is possible; and to become like Him is to become holy, just, and wise." Plato saw the evil, and longed for a deliverance, and looked to wisdom and to the inspiration of moral beauty as the best means which he could offer. We look on him as one of the noblest of men, but we have a better guide — even Him who said, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil." His prayer was fulfilled. God has rescued many from the power of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of His dear Son. This rescue was accomplished by Christ, says the apostle, in His giving Himself for us. The first step is the offer of forgiveness of sins, which is procured, according to the uniform testimony of Scripture, by the death of Christ. Without this assurance of receiving pardon and help the sense of sin would be a paralysis of the soul's active powers; and there would be, after a few fruitless efforts, a despair of making progress toward a holy and a perfect life. Christ's disclosure of the evil of sin would then have been only a ministry of wrath and of death. Secondly, the soul is thus opened to all the genial motives which must act upon it in order that it may be delivered from the evil that is in the world. Once more, the evil of the world is, to a considerable extent, an excess of good. Desire may not be bad in itself, yet a large amount of the corruption in the world comes from inordinate desire, Finally, the closing words of our text assure us that all this which we have considered is no plan for the improvement of mankind as merely living on the earth, but for the renewal of the world and as an ultimate deliverance of men from sin, through Christ. And Christ's giving of Himself for our sins, and His purpose, in so doing, to deliver us from the present evil world, took place according to the will of God and our Father. We do not owe our salvation to an impulse, a temporary movement in the mind of Christ, or to circumstances which awoke in a benevolent heart an opposition to the hypocrisy and covetousness of His day. We are taught by this high example, that a life thought out beforehand, carried through to the end according to one plan, is a life nearest to the life of God.
(T. D. Woolsey.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
WEB: who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father—