1 John 5:21
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
I. WHAT IS THE RIGHT NOTION OF IDOLATRY, AS IT STILL PREVAILS EVEN AMONG NOMINAL CHRISTIANS?" I answer generally; whatever is so desired and loved, so trusted in or honoured, as to displace God from His preeminence is an idol. Accordingly the objects of human idolatry are exceedingly numerous; and one individual is far from being constant to the same. We see the idol of yesterday cast to the moles and bats today; and that which is deified today may probably be trampled in the mire tomorrow. This multiplicity of idols, this unsteadiness of taste and affection appeared among the heathen polytheists. It is the proper curse and punishment of forsaking the Creator that the heart roam from creature to creature with a sickly capriciousness, and never know where to settle. Consider, then, whether or not you are immoderately attached to any earthly object; to any friend or relation; to money, power, learning, reputation, pleasure, popularity.
II. THE WAY OF DETECTING THESE IDOLATROUS PROPENSITIES IN OURSELVES.
1. What is their effect in filling your mind, and memory, and imagination? What do your thoughts chiefly run upon? To what do they naturally tend — God or Mammon? Your memory too, what scenes and discourses does it most fondly review? Those of a spiritual and devout, or those of a worldly cast? Tell me, also, which way your fancy flies when it makes excursions. To airy castles of augumented wealth and importance in this world; to higher distinctions, and finer houses, and more abundant comforts; or to scenes of heavenly holiness and bliss? Try yourselves, again, as to the influence of temporal things upon your religious exercises.
2. Is your sensibility to sin as lively as ever? If you have lost ground in this respect, and are less particular than once you were, what has so sadly altered you? Has it not been too warm an attachment to this or that person; too keen a solicitude for this or the other acquisition?
3. Are you greatly elated by gain, and greatly dejected by loss in your worldly affairs and connections? In thought survey your possessions and still more your friends. Now, which of all these is dearest to you? Have you ascertained? Then I ask whether you could bear to part with that possession by the stroke of misfortune; with that friend by the stroke of death? Ah, you exclaim, it would break my heart to be deprived of such a blessing. Would that indeed be the ease? Then tremble lest that blessing turn into a curse by proving your idol.
III. SOME OF GOD'S METHODS OF DEALING WITH SUCH IDOLATERS; for He is a jealous God. "The idols He will utterly abolish." Sometimes He sweeps them away as with a whirlwind. They are smitten to the ground and disappear in a moment. Health, strength, beauty, knowledge, fame, wealth, just now they were flourishing like a flower; and like a flower they have faded away. Sometimes the cup of idolatrous happiness is not dashed from our lips, but wormwood is mingled with it. God embitters to us our darling enjoyments, so that where we looked for peace and comfort we find nothing but misery. Was it the husband you loved more than God? That husband becomes faithless and unkind. Was it the wife? She grows sickly and fretful. The child? He turns out wild; or is lost to you in some other way. Be assured that the over-eager pursuit of any worldly good is full of mischief and peril. And this dreadful consummation occurs when God leaves us to our idols; when he suffers them to take and keep possession of our souls. "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone. Leave him to his fatal infatuation. Let him take his fill of carnal delights till the day of repentance is closed and judgment bursts upon him." Merciful God, sever us from our idols by whatever visitation thou mayest see fit; only leave us not bound up with them to perish in the day of Thy coming!
IV. THE MEANS OF KEEPING OURSELVES FROM IDOLS.
1. Exercise a sleepless vigilance, kept awake by a sense of your proneness to fall into this evil; and be much in prayer for Divine help, conscious that you are too weak to preserve yourselves without assistance from above. Understand, however, that what you have mainly to guard against is not any particular object, but the turning of that object into an idol.
2. Do not heedlessly form such connections and acquaintances, whether by marriage or partnership in business or domestic service, as threaten to absorb the heart and alienate the affections from God. Recollect that it is easier to abstain from making idols than afterwards to put them away.
3. Think much of the vanity of human things; what they really are and of what account. Often the dearest idol gives birth to the greatest sorrow. How common the remark upon something of which high expectations were conceived, "It has turned out quite the reverse." Oh, truly, it is most unwise to set our heart upon a gourd which may wither away at any moment and leave us more painfully sensible than ever of the scorching sunbeams.
4. Never forget that it is the prime end of the gospel to unbind your heart from the creature in order to its being reunited to your Father in heaven. Are you not to be "temples of the Holy Ghost"; to be sanctified into "an habitation of God through the Spirit"? What then have you "to do any more with idols"?
(J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.