The Cosmopolitan in Religion
2 Kings 16:10-15
And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus…

This is an incident familiar to all Bible students. You know that King Ahaz, and it is saying a great deal, was about the most foolish and weak king that ever sat upon the throne of Judah. After the time of Solomon the kingdom was threatened by the neighbouring kingdom of Israel, which had made a league with the King of Syria, whose centre was in Damascus. They had already besieged Jerusalem ineffectually. It was the time when Isaiah the prophet was carrying on his ministry in the holy city. He advised this weak and foolish young man to have no fear whatever of the two powers that were leagued against him, He described them in that uncomplimentary phrase of two "smoking stumps of firebrands" — what you would describe as spent forces — and advised the young king to be quiet, and trust in God. But trust in God was not original or clever enough for Ahaz. He was one of the men who thought that you might trust in God when you had exhausted every other resource. So, instead of trusting in God, he proceeded to do the very opposite thing — to strip the temple of Jehovah of its vessels of gold and silver, to strip its walls of the platings of gold, and to send this gold, with some treasures from his own house, as a present to Tiglath-pileser, the King of Assyria — the Roman Empire of that day, threatening and menacing every other power — and he said: "I am thy son and thy servant; come and save me out of the hands of the King of Israel and the King of Syria." And the device succeeded; the glittering gold secured the strong arm of the Assyrian king. Tiglath-pileser conquered Syria, led away the king of it captive, established some sort of a seat at Damascus; and Ahaz went up to visit him, and while there turned things over in his own mind, and, thinking that religion was very useful to a politician, he came across a heathen altar — an elaborate and aesthetic altar — and it occurred to him that it would be another original thing to enlarge the original scope of the temple at Jerusalem, and to bring something of an ornate character into its service, by erecting there an altar of the exact pattern of the thing he had seen at Damascus. Having unfortunately a creature who was supple and obedient, in Urijah the priest — the very opposite of Isaiah the prophet — having sent an exact pattern of the altar by special messenger to Jerusalem, his assiduous and time-serving priest had it all ready by the time of his return. It was put in the centre of the sanctuary, and now said King Ahaz to his supple and accommodating religious functionary, "I am not going to desert the old altar, it is to be kept on the premises, it is to be moved a little to the north; the great altar is to take the central position, the altar with the heathen embellishments upon it, with heathen and corrupt associations connected with it, is to have the centre; but I am not going over to heathenism — God forbid! — I have a very tender place in my heart for the old altar, and in the day when trouble comes, and when perhaps this brilliant experiment in religion has failed, in the day when darkness falls, the old altar will do for me to inquire by." He did not know that he was mocking God when he did that.

1. Have you met this man Ahaz? I have seen him. He is a type, and the type is not extinct. He is like a man who has gone away from the Church that gave him all that he was ever worth, and he says that he has not gone away from it. The old altar is not put away, it is only in practice that he has gone over to another Church — for family reasons, and for aesthetic considerations. I think you have met the man, and know the type. The cosmopolitan in matters of religion, the man who comes to you and raves about the wonders of Buddhism; and he asks you if you have read the Vedas and the Zendavesta, and if you are acquainted with Confucian philosophy, and if you know that there is really a great deal of truth and merit in heathen religion. Now nobody would deny that this man had made some sort of a discovery, as Ahaz did, but nobody sensible has ever thought of denying that there is a certain element of truth in heathen religions. God has not left Himself without witness; He has not been doing nothing in the great heathen countries through all the ages; He has spoken here and there; and there may be enough truth in a system to hold it together for centuries. But you may be sure that the man who talks in this way has not on the spot considered the product of heathen religion, and when he talks of the picturesqueness of many heathen customs, he has forgotten the degradation and the uncleanness and the shameful superstition and the unutterable cruelty and lies that are connected with the religions that he praises. Either the Christian religion was designed and destined to supersede and supplant all others, or it was not, and we must make up our minds. Study comparative religions if you will, but the man who studies the Christian religion, and digs deeply into it, contents, will find a glory that takes to itself every scattered ray of glory that is in every other religion, and repels all that is base and degrading and unworthy. If the Christian religion is not intended to supersede and supplant all others, if the faiths of the world were sufficient by themselves to save the world, even the faith of Judah, with its doctrine of one righteous and holy God, then the Incarnation was a superfluity, and the cross and bitter passion of our Lord were altogether unnecessary, The cosmopolitan in religion does not dig deeply enough into the glory that excels, to see that it does excel all other light.

2. But I go on to speak, the next place, of this man as the type of a man who will do anything, right or wrong, in order to succeed. Why did he erect the Assyrian altar, or a pattern of it, in the temple at Jerusalem? Not because it was false, or because it was true; the man did not understand religion a bit; it was a kind of penny-in-the-slot business; them was magic in it; you did something, and something came out of it, and he knew nothing better than that. But he knew that this altar was the altar of a powerful nation, and that the men who worshipped at it were succeeding, and there is where we make the mistake to-day. We are worshipping success, right or wrong. Of course you want to succeed; it would be exceedingly foolish on my part, and useless to suggest to any man before me that he should not desire passionately the success of anything with which he is connected. There is a danger of worshipping success in the Christian Church, of sacrificing inward things for numbers and wealth in the character of the Church. Naturally, I want my business to succeed, but I want to know how the dividends are earned. That is a question that every Christian man should ask. Naturally I want my party to succeed, but the party had better journey in the wilderness for fifty years than sacrifice any of its sincerity and its views for the sake of office. I would say in all earnestness that my ambition to succeed, and yours, must in all things be strictly subordinated to our ambition and purpose to do the will of God everywhere, and when we stand upon the threshold of an enterprise we must not admit anything into it, if we know it, that will clash with the will of God, and that will not be in accordance with our conscience. What is religion? What do some people think it to be? Is it a series of ecclesiastical and ceremonial operations, which God will accept as an equivalent or a substitute for a man's heart obedience? Is it an endeavour to get the Most High over to your side, right or wrong? Is it not a feeling after God, and finding Him, and then submitting the whole life, with all its possibilities of success or failure to the absolute and undisputed authority, and will of God?

3. I think I can see a little bit of a parable in this sad history. There is a temple of God in the heart of every man here to-day which should be kept inviolate for Him, and the golden vessels in it are the convictions that God has created in your heart; and you must say, in the sight of God, "I will not sacrifice one of these to ward off any impending danger, to buy over any strong thing to my side; here I stand, I can no other; where God has placed me, whatever comes." I know what it means, I have graduated in business, and I know it — how you are tempted to stretch a point here and there in the presence of new combinations, in the presence of new competition and anti-Christian customs. There is a crisis coming on, and they tell you that if you will not bribe people and drink with people, and do this, that, and the other, you will not succeed; and you say, "I know it is abominable." Will you whittle away the abominableness of it until you make it fit for you to do it? Or will you say, "I can fail, but I can't stifle my conscience, and I cannot stifle the voice of God in my soul, I cannot do evil that good may come." Whenever you are tempted to do it, remember the apostle's words about the people who do it — it is a strong word, not a bit too strong — "whose damnation is just."

4. This is a man who, like many people to-day, tries to do an impossible thing — to serve two masters — and he fails. He is going to keep in touch with the true religion, and he is going to give the central place in life to the religion that has only a grain of truth in it at best. He did not want to cut himself adrift from the old religion; he had a great respect for it, and he wanted to keep it on the premises, just as a man keeps a Bible on the premises. He is going to resort to it in time of trouble; it is as great a comfort to him as it is for him to know that there is a doctor somewhere in the vicinity if illness should come. It would be too shocking to give up religion. Yes, but you can relegate religion to the north side of the altar, and give it a subordinate place, or you think you can, and you fail to see that you are mocking it. A great many people say, "I like religion all very well in its place." Where is the place of religion? Some people think the proper place for religion is in the pew, and it is to be left there with the hymn-book on Sundays, and returned to when Sunday comes back again. We do not understand the heart of religion until we understand that there is no place for religion in a man's life unless it has the first place, because the Lord Jesus Christ will not be one in a Pantheon of many deities; it must be all or nothing. Not the main altar for business and pleasure and fame, and a little comer on the north side for Jesus Christ; but the supreme altar for Him, and He must govern your pleasures and your business. Until we can say, "For me to live is Christ," we have not come to the heart of the Christian life.

(C. Brown.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus: and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof.

WEB: King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath Pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar that was at Damascus; and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and its pattern, according to all its workmanship.

The Altar to Inquire By
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