Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,…
No charge more acutely stings a man than that of being considered senseless; he would rather be deemed a knave than a fool. The apostle shows that man, whom God created upright that he might behold God and heavenly things, has continually gazed at the earth, and become prone like the beasts. Thus bending, he has wrapped his soul in shadow, and his religion, instead of a blessing, has proved a curse.
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,