and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
I. THE WORSHIP OF IMAGES ORIGINATES IN A NATURAL CRAVING FOR A SENSIBLE EMBODIMENT OF DEITY. Abstract ideas have little charm or power for men, and the worship of force or humanity can never attract the multitudes. The yearning for a visible God was answered in the Shechinah, and in the many appearances of the angel of Jehovah, and has received fullest recognition in the manifestation of God in Christ. The spirituality of Divine worship was to be preserved in Israel by the commandment not to rear graven images, and the ascension of Christ to heaven, withdrawing the Saviour from mortal eyes, is likewise intended to protect Christianity from the dangers liable to a system whose votaries should "walk by sight" rather than by faith. The Scriptures and universal history demonstrate the rapidity with which, as in the Roman Catholic Church to-day, men's homage and devotion are transferred from the Being represented, to the statue or figure which at first stood innocently enough as his symbol. There is a danger of modern literature seeking too much "to know Christ after the flesh," instead of relying upon the assistance furnished by the teaching of the Spirit, the invisible Christ dwelling in the heart.
II. THE TENDENCY OF IMAGE-WORSHIP IS TO DEGRADE RELIGION. The argument of Xenophanes, ridiculing the Homeric theology that if sheep and oxen were to picture a god, they would imagine him like one of themselves, only showed that natural religion, in framing a notion of Deity, rightly attributes to him the highest attributes of personality and intelligence conceivable. And the Apostle Paul accused the Athenians of unreasonableness in fancying that the great Father could be supposed to be less powerful and intelligent than his children. But without supernatural aid man sinks lower and lower in his conceptions; the direction of evolution in religion is downward, not upward, except where there is a manifest interposition of the Supreme Being. Note how strenuously the prophets had to combat the desire of Israel to ally themselves in worship with the abominable idolatries of the nations around. Man, selected as God's representative, becomes man in his lowest moods and merely animal existence; the transition is easy to the wise-looking owl and soaring eagle, then to the cow and the dog, and finally to the serpent and the fish. The unity of God is lost in the multiplicity of idols, and his power and righteousness swamped in bestial stupidity and depravity. Religious rites became scenes of licentiousness. "The light that was in men has turned to darkness, and how great is that darkness!"
III. THE WORSHIPPER GRADUALLY ASSIMILATES HIMSELF TO THE OBJECT WORSHIPPED. Man does not rise higher in thought and life than the Deity before whom he bows and to whom he submits himself; but he may, and too generally does, adopt the worst features of the character and conduct of his gods. What we constantly meditate upon transforms us into its own lineaments. Where the lower animals are deified, there the passions of the brutes are rampant, and a merely animal existence is lived. The lie substituted for the truth shunts man's behaviour on to another line, and a descending plane lands him in moral ruin. "They that make the gods are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them." The revelation God gives of himself in his Word operates reversely on a similar principle, so that "we beholding as in a glass the true glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image;" and, the image of God in man being restored, the likeness to God to which we are made to attain grows unto perfection, till "we shall be like him, when we shall see him as he is." - S.R.A.
Who changed the truth of God into a lie.ἐν, signifies the workshop, or matrix, where the exchange took place. Everything, of course, effected in and coming out of the workshop or matrix of falsehood is falsehood itself. How ridiculous would it be for us to exchange the present knowledge of science for the crude notions and false theories of savages or of the ancients! How absurd for us to strip the walls of our national galleries of the masterpieces of such artists as Raphael and Titian and the like, and to put up in their places paintings without true perspective, worthy conception, or correct execution! Or, again, what an act of madness would it be to abandon springs of clear and crystal waters for impure and poisonous ponds! (Isaiah 44:20.) But such instances of folly and madness in exchanging the true for the false, the good for the evil, were nothing in comparison to the exchanging the positive and precious knowledge of God in the workshop of falsehood, and, as a matter of course, into falsehood itself, such as idols, the tales of mythology, and heathen systems of philosophy and religion.
(C. Neil, M. A.)
(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)I. AN IDOL IS A LIE.
1. As professing to be what it is not.
2. As deceiving him who trusts in it.
II. EVERYTHING OPPOSED TO GOD IS A LIE.
III. EVERYTHING IS A LIE which —
1. Disappoints man's hopes.
2. Fails to satisfy the cravings of his immortal soul.
IV. THAT LIFE IS A LIE which is not —
1. According to God's will.
2. Directed to His glory.
3. The realisation of His enjoyment.
(T. Robinson, D. D.)
And worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator1. There is no fact in the history of the Jews more certain or familiar than their propensity to lapse into idolatry, yet after the return from Babylon they have never been reproached with any tendency to idol worship. While a large part of the Christian world has resumed the form, if not the substance of idolatry, the Jews have borne witness against their defection.
2. This extraordinary contrast prompts the question, How and why is it so? What has become of the idolatrous propensity which once appeared inseparable from the corruptions of the human heart? There might be less cause to propound this question if a corresponding change had taken place among the heathen. But the heathen world is as idolatrous as ever. Is it because we are too civilised? If by this we mean intellectual refinement and cultivation of the taste, we have only to remember Greece. Or if a civil and political wisdom, military force, and practical sagacity, then look at Rome!
3. Since none of these solutions explain why idolatry is now so rare among ourselves, it may not be without its use to inquire whether, after all, we are so free from idolatry as supposed. Let us then inquire what is idolatry. We must reject the etymological definition which would restrict it to the worship of images. Then they who adored the host of heaven, who invoked the winds, bowed down at the fountains, whispered their devotions to the air, and called upon the mountains, are excluded from the catalogue. On the other hand, idolatry is not to be resolved into a purely spiritual act, the preference of some other supreme object of affection to our Maker. This, though the soul of all idolatry, is not the whole of it, and exists now just as much as in ancient times. Covetousness is idolatry, but idolatry is not covetousness. What imparted to the ancient Paganism its distinctive character, and gave unity to it, was the worship of nature. However they might differ in their symbols, rites, theology, or ethics, they are all reducible to this.
4. This view does not exclude a vast variety of forms and of gradations. The lowest stage, above that of mere stupid fetishism, may be described as the religious worship of particular natural objects or their artificial representatives, rising from the shapeless stone to plants, to trees, from the meanest brutes to the most noble, from the clod to the mountain, from the spring to the ocean, from earth to heaven. A still more intellectual variety would be that which, instead of individual sensible objects, paid its adorations to the elements or mysterious powers of nature. By a still higher act of philosophical abstraction some worshipped Nature itself, τὸ πᾶν, including all the objects which have been already mentioned.
5. These views as to the essential character of ancient heathenism derive at least some countenance from the solution which they seem to afford of the disappearance of idolatry. On this hypothesis, if on no other, it may certainly be said that there is still a strong taint of idolatry perceptible.
I. IN OUR LANGUAGE; for to what strange accident can it be owing that in common parlance and in current literature there should be so constant, so instinctive an aversion to the name of God as a personal distinctive appellation. Can it be reverence? Alas! this explanation is precluded by the levity with which the same men often make that venerable name the theme of jests and the burden of imprecation. No; the name seems to be shunned because it means too much. Not only is the grand and simple name of God exchanged for a descriptive title, such as Supreme Being — or an abstract term, the Deity — but still more readily and frequently is God supplanted by a goddess, and her name is Nature. It is Nature that endows men with her gifts and graces, that regulates the seasons and controls the elements. Whatever explanation may be given of this, it is still an odd coincidence that this darling figure of speech or philosophical formula should so exactly tally with the spirit and language of idolatry considered as the worship of nature.
II. But this coincidence may, in some, be the effect of classical studies, and need excite no serious alarm if confined to the fanciful creations of romance or poetry. But we find these analogies also IN REAL LIFE AND ITS LEAST IMAGINATIVE WALKS. The compulsory dependence upon seasons and weather often takes the form of an extreme anxiety, a breathless watching of the elements, a superstitious faith in something quite distinct from God, and a constant disposition to invest this something with an individual existence and with personal attributes; although it may prove nothing with respect to any formal belief, it certainly presents another strange approximation to the spirit and the practice of the old idolaters. The fisherman who feels himself to be the slave of the winds and tides, without a thought of God as his Creator, is not so very far removed from the old Greek or Phoenician, who sacrificed to Ocean ere he launched his bark. The mariner who spends whole nights in whistling for the wind, may do it from habit or in jest; but he may also do it with a secret faith, by no means wholly different in kind from the emotions of the ancient pagan, as he poured out his libations to Eolus, or his prayers to the particular wind of which he stood in need. The social and domestic superstitions which have lingered in all Christian countries, as to signs of good and evil luck, and the methods of procuring or averting it, are the relics of a heathenism which we sometimes look upon as finally exploded.
III. But objection may be made to sweeping influences from the errors of the vulgar. Well, admitting that the uninstructed multitude must always embrace errors, some of which may accidentally resemble those of heathenism, let us ascend again into the region of intellectual cultivation IN REFERENCE TO SCIENTIFIC OBSERVATION. The philosophical explorer often looks upon God's place as empty, or as filled by another — yet the same — viz., Nature. No one supposes that astronomers ever formally adore the stars, or geologists earth, or chemists the elements, or botanists trees and flowers. But let the evidence that some of all these classes recognise a Nature, quite distinct from God, by whose mysterious virtues these effects are all produced, and whose authoritative laws are independent of His will, be gathered from the language, actions, and feelings of these votaries of science, and then it will appear whether the prophets and the high priests of material wisdom are or are not in heart and practice worshipped of nature.
IV. Another class adore nature as the source of sensible and imaginative pleasure. These are the worshippers of BEAUTY. The voice that whispers in the trees or roars in the tornado may, to some ears, be the voice of God; but they may also utter other inspirations, and bring responses from another oracle. Instead of calling us to God, they may but call us to themselves, or to the place where nature sits enthroned as God. This form of idolatry has all the aid that art can yield to nature. The idolater of nature cannot but be an idolater of art. The high art of the ancients was a part of their religion. It was nature that they represented, beautified and worshipped. The gradual return in modern times to this view of the arts, and the impassioned zeal with which it is pursued, is one of the most startling analogies to heathenism that can be produced, and threatens, more than any other, to result in an exterior resemblance corresponding to the essential one described already. It may no doubt be said that this apotheosis, both of art and nature, has resulted by reaction from the barbarous and unscriptural contempt, especially of God's material works. This is in some sense true. But the idolatry itself springs from a deeper and remoter source. As long as man retains the sensibilities which God has given him, and yet remains unwilling to retain God in his thoughts, the voice of nature will be louder than the voice of God.
V. From the agreements which have now been traced, it may reasonably be expected that the principle of this idolatry will also avow itself IN DOCTRINE. It has done so already in the pantheistical philosophy of Germany. Conclusion: From all this it becomes us to take warning, that whatever we do we do with our eyes open, to see to it that we incur not the reproach, "Ye know not what ye worship," and to see to it that we are not led into idolatry by any specious figments or delusions, lest we be constrained to take up the lament of those confessors in the times of heathen persecution, who, though proof against all menace and persuasion, were at last miserably cheated into sets of worship at the altar of an idol, when they thought themselves kneeling at the altar of their God.
(J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Who is blessed forever.I. THE BLESSEDNESS OF GOD. To bless is to make happy, and to be blessed is to be happy. God is necessarily happy —
1. In His benevolent feelings. God is love. Benevolence always gives pleasure to the mind. There is a selfish benevolence, which is a happy feeling so long as it continues. There is also a pure, disinterested, and universal benevolence, which yields a purer, higher, and more lasting satisfaction to the mind. And such is the benevolence of the Deity. His benevolent feelings, therefore, must be a source of pure and permanent felicity.
2. In expressing His benevolent feelings. There are emotions which are not productive of any external act. Good men have a thousand affections which they never could express by any external actions, but God is both able and disposed to express His benevolence. He diffuses as much happiness among His creatures as His mighty power, guided by His unsearchable wisdom, can produce. And all these expressions of His goodness are extremely gratifying to His benevolent heart. He makes Himself happy by making His creatures happy. Do parents feel peculiar satisfaction in expressing their love to their children? So does the kind parent of the universe.
3. In beholding the effects of His benevolence. As He loves to promote the happiness of His creatures, so He loves to see the happiness which He bestows and they enjoy.
II. GOD IS PERFECTLY AND FOREVER BLESSED. This blessedness is —
1. Without the least alloy, or mixture. It is as pure as His perfect benevolence, from which it flows. God is love, and in Him is no malevolence at all. Though the benevolence of saints in this life affords them some real happiness, yet it is mixed with many painful feelings, which arise from the mixture of their selfish with their benevolent affections. But all the affections of God's heart are uniform and harmonious.
2. Uninterrupted. There are many things which serve to interrupt the happiness of saints in this imperfect state. But there is nothing to interrupt the pure and unmixed felicity of the Divine Being. He never finds any difficulty in the way of extending His benevolent regards to any of His creatures, who are always in His sight and His reach. He never sees a good to be done which is out of His power to do. He never sees an evil to be removed which it is out of His power to remove.
3. Unlimited. The happiness of created beings never can be unlimited. Their finite natures will forever set bounds to their enjoyments. But the blessedness of the Deity can admit of no limitation. This is evident from the great scheme which God formed from eternity. Among all possible modes of operation which stood present to His omniscient eye, His infinite wisdom chose the best, to give the most free, full, extensive expressions of His perfectly benevolent feelings. Among all possible things to be done, He determined to do all those which would diffuse the greatest sum of happiness through the universe. And by forming this scheme which would give the most unlimited indulgence to His benevolent feelings, He laid a foundation for His own unlimited felicity and self-enjoyment.
4. Everlasting. He is blessed forever. He can never see any reason to alter His designs, and therefore it is certain that He never will alter them. He can never meet with any insurmountable difficulties in carrying His designs into effect, and therefore He will infallibly accomplish them. And if He does eventually accomplish all His purposes, His joy will be full. He was blessed in forming His benevolent designs; He has been blessed in carrying them on; He will be blessed in bringing them to a close; and He will be blessed in contemplating them, through interminable ages.
1. If the blessedness of God essentially consists in the benevolence of His heart, then we may clearly understand what is meant by His acting for His own glory. His creating the universe for His glory, means His creating it for His own most benevolent and perfect blessedness.
2. If God's blessedness, which consists in the gratification of His benevolence, be His glory, which He seeks in all His works, then His glory and the good of the universe cannot be separated. His acting for His glory is acting to express His pure benevolence to His creatures, in promoting their highest happiness. It is impossible that God should promote His own glory to the highest degree, without promoting the highest good of the universe.
3. If God means to gratify His own benevolence in all His conduct, then we may be assured that He never has suffered, and never will suffer anything to take place but what will promote the greatest good of the whole system of moral beings. Since He has caused both natural and moral evils to exist, we may be sure that no more shall exist than He sees necessary to promote His benevolent purposes. As He designs that the wrath of man shall praise Him, so the remainder of wrath He will restrain, or not cause to exist.
4. If it be God's supreme design to make Himself and His creatures as happy as possible, then we have reason to rejoice that He is absolutely sovereign. If any of His selfish creatures could guide or stay His hand, they would not suffer Him to seek His own happiness, nor the greatest happiness of the universe, but constrain Him to promote their own private, personal, selfish happiness.
5. Since God places His highest happiness in promoting the highest happiness of His creatures, we have solid ground to believe that He will fulfil all His great and precious promises to believers. He has inseparably connected their happiness with His own.
6. We learn from what has been said that none can be miserable, in time or eternity, but those who are unwilling that God should promote the highest good of the universe.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)I. Let us approach this subject from the easiest standpoint, that of THE FUTURE. We project our vision through dim ages yet to come. The curse has gone from the universe. Terrible whilst it lasted, God's tenderness has at last abolished it from the hearts and lives of men. God's innate blessedness has been transfused into numbers no arithmetic can compute, and they are eager to copy the beneficence that has won their supreme adoration. If there were fresh worlds to be redeemed, not one would decline the task, for the Son who gave Himself a ransom for many is in them. In spirits many as the sands of the sea, He has implanted the foundation motives of His own saving love, and has drawn them into the same circle of sacred joy with Himself. When we look at God from this standpoint, it is not difficult to conceive of Him as infinitely and endlessly blessed. But the subject is not without its difficulties.
1. On the far-off confines of all this blessedness, is there not the smoke of a torment that ascendeth up forever and ever? Whilst there is one world of guilt and pain, can God's great pitying heart be quite at rest? Well, do not suppose that the ratio between good and evil will always be what it was when Christ spoke of the few that were saved, or even what it is now. Evil will shrink to ever-diminishing proportions in the uncounted centuries yet to be. In the quiet night the heavens breathe their wealth of dew upon the fields and moors and forests, but you can scarcely find the dewdrop that has distilled itself into the cup of the nightshade. For many a hundred miles the trellised vines spread their proud clusters before the sun, You may travel for days before you find the one vine that has been smitten with mildew. Uncounted suns glitter through the Milky Way. The astronomer may search for months before he can find the sun whose light has been quenched. And so evil will be lost in the prevalence of good, and God's blessing prove itself measureless.
2. But does not this view run counter to that of the Good Shepherd who left the ninety and nine to seek that which was lost? Yes, if the lost one could still be brought back. But I know of no law of beneficence that compels the Shepherd to tarry in the wilderness when the wanderer fights the hand that seeks to guide it back, or rushes into thickets where it is impossible to follow it. I know of no law of beneficence which compels the Shepherd to sit down by the carcase of His lost sheep, like Rizpah by the bones of her son, and rend the air with incessant lamentation. God would be untrue to the claims of the saved if He were so full of regrets for the lost few, that He could not rejoice with infinite gladness over the saved multitudes.
3. But was not God the Father of these lost ones, and can a father be perfectly blessed whilst a single child remains in uncancelled sin and abiding torment? But what is it that haunts the mind of the parent? The sense of possible failure in himself. "If I had guided more wisely, spoken more softly, prayed more faithfully, sympathised more ungrudgingly, possibly the issue might have been otherwise." But no thought akin to that can be awakened in the Divine mind. Whatever suffering convulses the world of impenitence, He has not contributed to it. In respect of the damned He has the blessedness of knowing that He has done for them all that infinite love and patience and resource could.
4. But He might have withheld the freedom through the misuse of which these men have damned themselves. Yes, but that would have been to create a vast negative hell of privation and frustrated gladness, in place of a limited positive hell of incurable perversity and woe. If God does all that His great heart can devise, and all that His mighty hand can achieve, and if what He has done issues in the sanctity and blessedness of a vast preponderating majority, God is without qualification infinitely blessed.
II. Contemplate God's blessedness from the standpoint of THE PRESENT. That is much more difficult. How are we to reconcile God's blessedness with suffering and sin? If a mother lay in a trance, conscious of all that was going on around, but unable to move, and heard the cry of pain from her little one, could she be blessed? And God seems to be blessed? And God seems to be present in every scene of human woe. The human parent is spared the pain of looking upon the actual circumstances of the child's profligacy. But God is looking with unveiled eye upon every offence. One hot summer morning, long before daybreak, I wandered through the streets of a Japanese city. The houses are built of thin board, and the rooms separated by paper partitions only. I cannot describe the strange sensations that took possession of my mind. I could hear the tick of every clock, the very breath and movements of the sleepers. And I thought, Is it not thus with God as He walks through this world of ours? How can He be perfectly blessed? The least sensitive man in our midst could not bear it for an hour. Is not God's present relation to pain a qualification of His blessedness?
1. No; for He is ever exercising a ministry of pity and healing. A nervous woman in the presence of disaster is brought by the excess of grief to the verge of madness; but commit to her some trifling ministry of help, and she becomes calm as an angel. The people whose lives are employed in mitigating pain are always the happiest. And so the blessedness God realises through His secret ministry to sorrow, protects Him against the shadow that the spectacle of widespread suffering might otherwise cast upon His gladness.
2. God's blessedness can suffer no eclipse from contact with pain, because it is His will to make it the vehicle for the manifestation of conspicuous tenderness. How many cynical people have only felt the sympathy and affection of their kind in the hour of affliction? Although the human heart in its perversity may make of suffering a curse, it is God's will to make it a point in our wilderness lives at which sweet, secret springs of Divine and human sympathy shall arise and blend with each other, and create magic balm and beauty and freshness. When God's purpose is accomplished, He makes His servants glory in their tribulations; and when men glory in their tribulations God glories with them, and in that case His blessedness is not impaired.
3. God's blessedness is not overshadowed by human pain, because by it He is teaching us sympathy with each other, and conformity to His own pattern of beneficence. God very often does not help and heal because He wants us to do it. God is blessed in the very pains of His creatures, when they teach His people to be full of kindness.
4. God looks upon pain from the standpoint of that wider epoch when sorrow and sighing shall have fled away,(1) Pain so viewed cannot darken His gladness. What a little thing the pain and sickness of your childhood is, when you look at it through the vista of years! Pain is nothing when passed, and, regarded from the standpoint of the Eternal, it is as though it were passed already.(2) So with death — so sad, solemn, unknown to us, it is a very different thing as God sees it. Some time ago a young lady was operated upon who had been blind from her childhood. The operations themselves were not painful, but the terror created by the returning power of sight was excruciating. She wished to remain in blindness. She felt as though she were always standing upon the brink of a precipice. But the doctor felt no remorse. He knew that his patient would by and by rejoice in the faculty of sight. So when death takes the scales from our sight, the revelation is full of terror. But the beneficent issue of the process is more than a counterpoise to its pain. The work of death does not embitter the blessedness of God. By and by death, like pain, will be no more.(3) And so with sin, which would otherwise be a qualification of the Divine blessedness. It is in the hearts of parents that the sweetest joys as well as sharpest sorrows are to be found. The father, by his relation and process of loving his children, has given to those children a strange power of wounding him through their disobedience. But the very same love attunes his nature to gratifications that may reach him through the conduct of dutiful and loving children. God looks upon the race in Jesus Christ, and in regard to their future. He may see the prodigal in his unholy riot. That is the fleeting image of the moment. He sees the restored prodigal welcomed back within the household. That is the reality that abides. He may hear the music to whose seductive strains the prodigal is listening in the haunts of harlotry, and that is the murmur in the sea shell. He hears also the music and gladness in the homes whose vacant places have just been filled again, and that is the pealing anthem of an everlasting ocean. In that anthem the faint murmurs in the shells that strew the shore are swallowed up and forgotten. There are terrible contingencies connected with the gift of free will. But we must never forget the profound theology in the simple parable of the marriage feast. God will find countless recipients for the bounty His great love has made ready; if not amongst Pharisees, then amongst publicans; if not amongst Jews, then amongst Gentiles; if not in the men of this generation, then in uncounted generations yet to come.
III. Realise God's blessedness in relation to THE PAST. We go back to the epochs when the worlds had not issued upon their courses. How can we reconcile the Divine blessedness with solitude? There can be no blessedness without beneficence, and no beneficence without a relation.
1. Well, the beneficence of character that was the spring of all after triumph and achievement was there. The righteousness and purity and love that were exercised in the relations to be afterwards constituted, were already living and conscious forces. And God could not be morally perfect without being infinitely blessed in Himself.
2. More still: the Son, who was to be the instrument for the accomplishment of all the Father's vast and holy and loving purposes, was already a willing instrument in the Father's bosom. And in the life of that Son every soul was reflected that was to be afterwards united by faith to Him as its Saviour and Head. Literary artists sometimes identify themselves with the creatures of their imagination. They have shed tears over their pains and reverses, and been in ecstasies over the good fortune to which they thought fit to bring them at the breaking of the clouds. And the mind of God has been peopled from the beginning with the forms of those who were afterwards to be, not the figures of a romance only, but profound realities upon the platform of human life and action. And towards all these, the Divine love has been pouring itself out from everlasting. Conclusion: But it may be asked: "Does not this view of the eternal blessedness of God preclude the possibility of sympathy? How can the eternal God enter into the fleeting sorrows of time? Can He grieve for us in our grief and shame? Does not the vast perspective in His vision seem to exclude every trace of affinity and sensitive relation with our mortal life?" Just as the human eye has different focal lengths, and can adjust itself to the different degrees in which light may be diffused, so the Divine mind can mysteriously combine into one the view of life opening itself at the standpoint of time, and that other view opening itself at the standpoint of eternity. Indeed, in the Person of Jesus He has given us proof of the fact that He can bring Himself under the conditions of time, looking at sorrow and sin from our own levels, and transcending all human brotherhood and friendship in the perfectness of His sympathy.
(T. G. Selby.)
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