Then said he to me, Son of man, have you seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark…
Although we do not bow down before graven images, and our women weep not for Adonis, yet we may be as really idolaters as ever were the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, or these apostate Jews. We may be doing practical homage to the Baal of power, — canonising brute force, or adoring mere success. We may be "causing our children to pass through the fire to Moloch," — sacrificing their happiness and their spiritual growth at the altar of society, or fashion, or worldly prudence. We may be practical worshippers of the Astarte of licentiousness, — sacrificing health, fortune, friendship, nobleness at the shrine of lust. We may be devotees of Mammon, — ever toiling, with selfish aims, to lay up stores of wealth; or we may be devotees of fame, — labouring with all our might to secure the breath of human applause.
I. These "chambers of imagery" may be taken as the type of A BLIND MATERIALISM. If we cease to exercise faith in the God whom we see not, all our boasted civilisation will not prevent us from beginning to worship, practically, the things which we see. This century has a materialism of its own — more refined, but perhaps just as dangerous as that of the ancient Egyptians.
1. Some of our men of science seem practically to have lost God. They may not be so unphilosophical as to assert that there is no God; but they tell us that they have abandoned "the conception of creative acts," and that "matter is the universal mother who brings forth all things as the fruit of her own womb." They tell us that "all we see around us and all we feel within us — the phenomena of physical nature, as well as those of the human mind — have their unsearchable roots in a cosmical life." They say that, "if the human mind will turn to the mystery from which it has emerged, seeking so to fashion it as to give unity to thought and faith," then this is a field for. what, in contrast with the knowing faculties, may be called the creative faculties of man. And then they bid us take note that "there is no very rank materialism here." But is it not the simple fact that these men have practically ceased to believe in a personal God? With them nature — "the universal mother" — takes the place of "our Father in heaven." Swinging their censers in their halls of science, they burn their incense to "matter," as having in itself "the promise and potency of every form and quality of life."
2. The secularist follows in the same key, — addressing himself, however, to the working man, rather than to the student. "God," he says, "may or may not be a dream; but man is a reality. A future life may or may not be a dream; but the present life is palpable and real. Let us therefore confine ourselves to what we see and know. Let us cherish faith in political economy and social science. Let us believe that good budgets will do vastly more for the people than the old, worn out Bible!"
3. It is reserved, however, for the "positive" philosopher to assert that the very idea of a personal God belongs to the infantile age of humanity, and that the notion of a personal immortality is nothing but a childish fancy. Auguste Comte, the founder of this philosophy, had his peculiar "chamber of imagery"; for, although a materialist, he discovered that he must have something to worship. And accordingly he employed his "creative faculty" to fashion what he calls the "Religion of Humanity," which he believed was destined to supplant all other religions of the world. By the great being "Humanity" is to be understood the aggregate of good human beings — past, present, and future; including, however, such of the lower animals as have been and are most serviceable to mankind! Is not this, indeed, coming back again to the "chambers of imagery" — to the "four-footed beasts," as well as to the images of human form?
4. Only one thing can save us from the grasp of materialism. Not civilisation, not poetry, not art, not philosophy; but simply the exercise of the faculty of faith. "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how dark must the darkness be!" If we will not use the inner eye which beholds the unseen and spiritual, that eye will become blind, and we shall begin to worship "in the dark," and in some form or other the created instead of the Creator.
II. These "chambers of imagery" may be taken as the symbol of A SECRET UNGODLINESS.
1. Men present themselves in the sanctuary; they seem to join in the praises and prayers which are offered to the Creator; perhaps they even come to the table of the Lord, and take into their hands the memorials of His death; but where all the while are their hearts? What is the real state of their souls? Whom are they actually serving in their daily life? What are they in their business and in their homes?
2. Sometimes the iniquity which men are carrying on "in the dark" comes suddenly and strangely to light; "some hole in the wall" betrays the secret! Here is a man who has had the reputation of being thoroughly upright and honourable, and whom his friends would have trusted to the utmost; but the hidden "door" is at length discovered, and it turns out that he has been engaged in some fraudulent transaction — cheating his creditors, or tampering with his employer's books. Here is a woman, seemingly religious, outwardly decorous, spoken of by her friends and acquaintances as worthy of all respect and affection; but it turns out that, in secret, she is allowing the habit of drunkenness to creep over her, and that her servants could tell the tale of her occasional debasement. Here, again, is a man, respectable, amiable, seemingly devout, of whom everybody speaks well: when, all of a sudden, the hidden door is revealed, and it turns out that he has been living an unchaste and brutish life.
3. Resolve to be, at least, real and genuine. Let not your worship be a sham. Be impatient of every approach to insincerity. Give your very heart to God. Be Christ's, not in name only, but in deed and in truth.
III. These "chambers of imagery" may be taken as the emblem of AN IMPURE IMAGINATION. Whether a man's imagination be pure or impure will depend, partly on his past conduct, partly on his present character, partly also, it must be acknowledged, on his circumstances. A man may accidentally see something which he wishes he had never seen, but which, being once seen, lodges itself in the memory, and is apt thenceforth to be reproduced in the imagination. Still, the mind has a certain power of self-direction, and can deliberately turn away its gaze from the picture thus presented. The same may be said of scenes of impurity, through which a man may have passed, only too willingly, in former days. As such scenes are reproduced occasionally in the chambers of imagery, — the man, if he be altered in character, will turn away from them with revulsion. But, alas! there are many who deliberately carry the lamp of memory into this secret chamber of the soul, and cast its full light on these loathsome pictures. Oh, beware of retiring into the chamber of an impure imagination, to revel in the pictures which it presents to you. This is the surest way of shutting your eye to the vision of the Eternal; for it is "the pure in heart" who "see God." Beware, too, of everything that tends to defile the imagination, — impure actions, impure companionship, impure literature. Guard your imagination. Watch your reveries. Seek to carry a pure mind and heart after your evening prayer, even into the land of dreams. Cherish a love of what is truly beautiful and good. Live purely; and you will people your imagination with scenes of purity. Above all, cherish a sense of the presence of the Holy One. Say not, with the worshippers in the dark chamber, "The Lord seeth us not"; but say rather, "Thou God seest me."
(T. C. Finlayson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.
WEB: Then he said to me, Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in his rooms of imagery? for they say, Yahweh doesn't see us; Yahweh has forsaken the land.