« PreviousContinue »
good, or are pursued as our chief end, or have the supreme place in our affections, become idols to us; and our esteem, love and pursuit of them are idolatry. Friends also in this respect may and often do become idols, and our attachment to them, idolatry. In short, whatever we exalt in our estimation above God, and whatever we give the chief place in our hearts or our pursuits, we make an idol.
Let us now attend to an improvement of this subject. 1. We learn from what has been said on the Pagan idolatry, the exceeding blindness and depravity of human nature. Surely that nature must be exceedingly blinded and depraved, which is capable of the excess, into which the Heathen world went, on the subject of religion. We have here a picture of human nature calculated to humble us. Who or what maketh us to differ? It is not because our nature differs from that of those who went into such excess; but it is owing to the light of revealed truth, and especially the light and influence of the New Testa ment, that we are not idolaters.
2. From the situation of the Pagan world, contrasted with our own, we learn the excellency of the Gospel. That it is owing to the light of the Gospel, and not to the efforts of human reason, that we are not idolaters, is evident. What human reason could do on this subject has been sufficiently tried. The Gentile world were for ages left to its guidance; and while they advanced in human science, instead of becoming more and more enlightened on the subject of religion, they became more and more darkened, the number of their gods were multiplied, and the absurdity of their idolatry increased. "The world by wisdom knew not God." 1 Cor. i. 21. But the preaching of the Gospel effected what the wisdom of the world could not do. Wherever it was received, it turned men from the service of dumb idols. It banished Polytheism and idolatry. It cast down the Heathen temples and altars. It convinced men of the unity of the Godhead, and that he is not like unto gold, or silver, or stone graven by art and man's device. And it has done more. It has banished from countries where it has been received some enormous vices, and it has imposed restraints upon others. Many of the Heathen, gods, were, according to their ideas, addicted to many vices, and even patrons of par
ticular vices; and the worship which was rendered them was like them-replete with wickedness. Many vices unknown in christian countries, were publicly practised, and some were even sanctioned by law. Many of the vices which were practised in Heathen lands, have been banished from society where the gospel has been receiv ed, and others are forbidden by law, and frowned upon by public opinion. It is certain that it is the influence of the gospel which has banished from what is now called Christendom idolatry with its attendant enormities. Our forefathers were Pagans, when the gospel first came among them; and if it had not been for the influence of Revelation, we would now be idolaters. We would now instead of offering our devotions to the true God, be worshipping the host of heaven, graven images, stocks, and stones-we would be sacrificing our children to Moloch or Saturn, or some equally cruel Deity, and engaging in all the other shocking rites of the Heathen religion, and practising all its monstrous vices. How excellent therefore is the gospel! And what reason have we of gratitude for such an inestimable gift! What a great account will we have to render for it! How aggravated will be our punishment, if we despise or neglect it! And what enemies to human happiness are those who wish to see this divine gift banished from the earth!
3. Is the state of the Heathen world so wretched as we have seen? Has the gospel where it has been received, banished idolatry? And is there a large portion of our world still in the darkness and wretchedness of Paganism? It is then the duty of those, who have been delivered from idolatry, to feel for those who are yet sunk in Heathenish darkness; to pray that the gospel may be sent unto them; and according to their ability and opportunity, to aid benevolent exertions for this end.
4. From what has been said of that kind of idolatry which prevails in a christian land, or the giving to any other object that which is God's right and due to him alone, we may derive much instruction. We ought to be led to self-examination. If we habitually give the chief place in our hearts to anything besides God, we cannot be his people. God must be upon the throne in our hearts, or we are none of his. "No man (saith Christ) can serve two masters: for either he will hate the
and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon, Mat. vi. 24. And again, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me," Mat. x. 37. Let us therefore examine ourselves, whether any idol reigns in our hearts; and if so, it must be dethroned, be it ever so dear to us, and God must be enthroned in our hearts, if we would enter into his heavenly kingdom. We discard the Pagan idolatry. Let us be careful while we do this, that we do not cherish the other kind of idolatry which we have been considering; for this also is very odious in the sight of God.
Christians have cause to attend to our text as well as others; for it is remarkable that it was addressed by the Apostle, particularly to professing christians. "Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry." God is enthroned in the heart of every real christian; but still there are in his heart remains of idolatry as well as other sins. There is such a thing as loving and pursuing the world and its possessions and enjoyments in subordination to the glory of God. But christians are in danger of loving, pursuing and enjoying the creature, not in subordination, but in opposition to their duty to God. To seek and love the creature in subordination to the Creator, is right; but to suffer the creature to become a rival to the Creator, and an ultimate instead of a subordinate object of pursuit, affection, and enjoyment, is wrong. And how often is this the case with the christian! How often does the world divide our hearts, and as one expresses it, "leave but half for God." Instead of being instrumental in leading us to glorify God more, as it ought to be, it distracts our minds from him, and causes us to glorify him less. Against this species of idolatry, christians ought to guard. God will not suffer a rival in your hearts; and if he loves you, and you have idols which are drawing your hearts away from him, you may expect that he will either take away your idols, or embitter them to you.
And here we may remark that in the observations just made, we may find a reason why the people of God are sometimes afflicted; why their friends are sometimes taken away from them, or are suffered so to act as to disappoint their fond expectation; and why the world is some
times either taken from them, when they have had it in their possession, or withheld from them when they are in the pursuit of it, or its enjoyments are in some way or other embittered to them. It is because these things were cherished as idols, or were dividing and lessening their affections towards God, their trust in him, and their estimation of him as their only portion. Or God foresaw that this would be the event. Let christians therefore guard against idolatry and flee from it. And if God has taken away their idols, and thereby has brought them nearer to himself, they have reason of thankfulness for his salutary chastisements, instead of murmuring at his dispensations; and to say with the Psalmist, "it is good for me that I have been afflicted." Ps. cxIx. 71. If we have idols, it is an instance of God's displeasure, to let us alone. For it was an awful instance of God's displeasure against Ephraim, when he was joined to idols, that he said, "let him alone," Hos. iv. 17. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry."-AMEN.
THE SECOND COMMANDMENT.
EXODUS XX 4, 5, 6.
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments."
The difference between the first and second commandments appears to be, that the first respects the object, and the second the means of worship. The first requires us
to worship and glorify the true God, and forbids us to have or to worship any other being as God, with, or instead of, the true God, and to give to any other being that glory which is due to him alone; the second requires us to worship the true God in the way that he has appointed, and forbids us to worship him in any other way.
The duties required in this commandment, we have stated in our Catechism in the answer to the 50th question.
"What is required in the second commandment ?
The second commandment requireth, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances, as God hath appointed in his word."
The sins forbidden in this commandment, are summarily contained in the answer to the next question. "What is forbidden in the second commandment? "The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word." The reasons by which obedience to this commandment is enforced, we have stated in the answer to the next question.
"What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
"The reasons annexed to the second commandment, are, God's sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship."
In the ensuing discourse we shall consider,
I. The duties required in the second commandment. II. The sins forbidden, and
III. The reasons annexed to enforce obedience to the commandment.
I. The duties required.-The great duty required is to worship God in such a way as he has directed in his word. The ordinances which God hath appointed to be the means of worship, are such as the following, viz. prayer, reading, preaching and hearing of the word, singing praises, administration and receiving the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper, church-government and discipline, instruction of children, religious conference, fasting, special thanksgiving, meditation, self-examination, and perhaps some others. In these and all other ordinances of God's appointment, it becomes us to worship him. It is our duty to receive and observe them, and keep them and entire. pure