How many errors have arisen in the interpretation of God’s Word, through men insisting that the word “world” be understood always in a absolutely universal sense. In the Gospels and in the Epistles of John, and in most other places of Scripture, the word is used with limitations. In I John 4.14, for instance, the “world” of which God’s Son is the Saviour can only consist of those who are saved, for God is almighty and always fulfils His purposes.
The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I pray not for the world” (Jn. 17.9). Did He die for those for whom He would not pray? Or, as an old writer puts it: Did He open His side for those for whom He would not open His mouth?.
In John 1.10 the word is used in three senses, namely, “He was in the world (the habitable earth), and the world (the whole universe) was made by Him, and the world (the earth’s inhabitants, His disciples excepted) knew Him not.” It is a term used in various limited senses, as when we speak of ‘the religious world’, ‘the polite world’, ‘the scientific world’, ‘the world of art’, etc, etc.
If the Gospel were intended to convert the world, in its most universal sense, should we not have seen tokens of it before now? But where are such to be found? Shall we look to missionaries, who sometimes labour for years before one sinner yields to the claims of the Gospel? Shall we look to the dense darkness of the heathen world? Shall we look to the formalism of the professed church? Shall we look at the wide extension of infidelity and atheism? Shall we look at the abounding iniquity, and the waxing cold of love? Shall we look at a world where nineteen hundred years of toil and tears have not brought one twentieth part of mankind even to a profession of true Christianity, and where not more than one fifth claim for themselves the dubious title of Christian nations? Shall we look over a world in which we cannot find one whole nation of Christians, nor one whole tribe of Christians, nor one city of Christians, nor one whole town or village of Christians? … Surely, after nineteen centuries of work with a system designed to convert the whole world, men might, at some point, in some country, province, or nation say, ‘Behold the commencement of a converted world!. . .’
If the world is not converted will the Gospel then prove a failure? That depends on what is expected of it. If the lifeboat was intended to keep the ship from sinking, then it proves a failure if it saves only some of the crew. If the Gospel was to effect the eternal salvation of all mankind, then failing to accomplish that work is a failure of the Gospel. But if the Gospel was preached to take out of every kindred, tribe, tongue and nation a people for His name, then it is
not a failure. If it was given that God, in inifinite mercy might ‘save some’, then it is not a failure. If it was given that every repentant sinner might have eternal life, and that every good soldier might receive a crown of glory, then it is not a failure. If it was given that an innumerable company might be redeemed from among men, and that ‘paradise restored’ might teem with a holy throng who shall be equal unto the angels, the children of God being the children of the resurrection; and if it was given that God’s elect might be brought into one great family, then it is not a failure.