Furthermore, since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, He gave them up to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
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.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.
1. In its origin. It flows from a corrupt heart, desirous not to retain the knowledge of God.
2. In its nature. However great the variety, or modes of worship, there is a grand generic likeness in them all. The Greeks may worship Jupiter, and the Hindoos Vishnu; one class a god, and another a goddess; but still all agree in this one point, they "like not to retain God in their knowledge."
3. In its effects: "God gave them over to a reprobate mind"; and, as the necessary consequence of that, they did "those things which are not convenient" (vers. 29-32). Such were the effects produced by idolatry in ancient times. And we ask those who object to this language to show us by idolatry, by being continued in for nearly two thousand years, has grown better than it was in the days of the apostle?
I. THE STATE OF THE HEATHEN AS HERE DESCRIBED.
1. God has given them over to "a reprobate mind." The term signifies disapproved. The mind which God approves must be one which has correct views of the Divine character — a just idea of the plan of salvation; and these views must have a holy influence on the heart and life. The views of the heathen on these points prove that they are given over to a reprobate mind.(1) What are their views of the Supreme Being? The heathens of India believe that all things exist in God, and that God exists in them all. Hence, when you charge a Hindoo with sin, he answers with the greatest gravity, "Sir, it is not I that sin, but God that does all these things in me." If you ask them, Why, then, are you punished for what is not done by your agency? they answer, "Because there must be a certain consequence from all actions, like fruit from a seed; and it is not in the power of all the gods to prevent it." Surely they are given over to a reprobate mind! The same may be said with regard to their views of the gods and goddesses they worship. Seeing in these nothing that is excellent, they become objects of terror only to their minds. And to those whom they consider as having the greatest power, and as doing the greatest mischief, they pay the greatest respect, and make the most frequent offerings. All their gods and goddesses have been guilty of the greatest excesses. How must this strengthen their minds in sin, when they find themselves encouraged by such examples! So that their very religion is a curse to them. As for their visible embodiments, they know that "they have eyes, but see not," etc.; and yet such is their infatuation, that when the priest has pronounced certain formularies over these images, they imagine that the beings whom they represent become completely identified with the stocks of wood or of stone which stand before them. Is not this a proof that they are "given over to a reprobate mind?"(2) Being ignorant of God, they are ignorant of the way in which His favour may be secured. They suppose that they can obtain absorption into the supreme Being, by meditating upon Him. Hence some of them plunge into the forest, and stand in one posture meditating upon Him, till their hair becomes grown like eagles' feathers, and their nails like birds' claws. Thus they remain till they believe that their souls have passed into the structure of their skulls, and are completely absorbed into it. Those who are not able to enter into this sublime course of study, found the same hope on the performance of a number of rites, such as bathing in the river Ganges; repeating thousands of times the names of their chosen gods, counting over a vast number of beads, building some temple, making some god, offering fruits and flowers to some deity. By some, or all, of these duties they hope to heap up a stock of merit for a future world; and they have no other idea whatever of anything in the way of atonement. As merit is attached to suffering as well as to actions, many of the heathen have entered on certain penalties, and inflicted severe pains upon themselves. Some hold their hands towards heaven till their arms become fixed in their sockets. Some travel hundreds of miles to visit some sacred place; others measure the whole length of their journey with their bodies on the ground. Thousands die every year by these penances. Do not these things prove that they are "given over," etc.(3) Ignorance of the means to be adopted argues ignorance of the end that is to be obtained. The heathen have no idea of a pure and eternal heaven. Those who live in meditation maintain that when the soul goes out of the body it mingles as completely with the Deity as water mingles with the ocean, and suppose that they shall be as incapable of pleasure as of pare. Those who depend on rights and ceremonies believe that in proportion to their attention to these duties will be their future degree of pleasure in a heaven that is as sensual in its nature as it is short in its duration; and that then they shall return back again to earth to suffer again. Those who are left unburied, they believe will be cast into one of the nine hells, and will then come back to earth in the form of a reptile, a bird, or a beast, before they can again assume a human form. Thus, when there is no true knowledge of God or Christ, there is no true notion of eternal life. "This is life eternal," etc.
2. God has given them over "to do those things which are not convenient," Without entering into all here stated, we may instance —(1) Their lying. The character of a people must always be in accordance with the things they believe. The Hindoos believe tales the most monstrous and absurd, and what wonder that they, who receive such lies, should be themselves given to lying? They consider the sin to consist, not in lying, but in being detected. So much does it prevail in civil life, that in the courts of judicature it is almost impossible to administer justice. In mercantile concerns, after telling many lies as to the value of an article, and what it cost them, they will sell the article for one-third less than they at first demanded. And the inconveniences of this practice are almost endless.(2) So are those which arise from the free and unrestrained indulgence of vicious appetites and propensities. The sins which are specified in this chapter are the very sins which they commit. I have gone through it with the Pundits, and have found, from their own confession, that this is really the case.(3) Their covetousness must be noticed also. They believe that money is everything, both for this world and the next. When urged to become Christians, it is not uncommon for them to say, "Give us fine houses, and gold, and we will become Christians." They will submit to anything, however base and mean, for money. It is contrary to their Shasters for any Brahmin to become the servant of a foreigner; and yet, for the sake of gain, there is not a priest among them but will acknowledge a barbarian for his master. They will offer up prayers to the goddess Kalee, to be assisted in their depredations on the property of others; and I know of one instance in which, when these prayers were supposed to be unanswered, the goddess was herself robbed.(4) Their cruelty. Some of them they practise on themselves. In many cases they will see misery and distress, without moving to afford the least relief. I have seen men fastened to a long pole by hooks, and then swung round by a rope with a swiftness which deprived them of their reason. Some have iron spits run through their tongues, or sticks passed through their sides. But the greatest of all their cruelties is the burning of widows, infanticide and murder of parents.
II. WHAT EFFECT OUGHT THIS VIEW TO PRODUCE IN OUR MINDS? We ought to learn —
1. How evil and dreadful a thing it is to separate God from our thoughts. If we exclude God from our thoughts, we must expect that He will east us out from His presence. It became the righteous God to give over to a reprobate mind those who "did not like to retain Him in their knowledge."(1) That others may see the folly of such conduct, and avoid the rocks on which they have split.(2) That He might show His just abhorrence of idolatry. God had tried all means with the heathen, and all in vain; and at last He said, "They are joined to their idols, let them alone!"
2. To be truly thankful for our superior state and privileges. Contrast your state with theirs: they have no Bible, you have the Word of God. Their sacred books countenance the most unhallowed feelings, while the Bible teaches you to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts," and to "follow holiness." Your Bible reveals an immortality of purity and bliss, their Bible reveals nothing except a sensual heaven. You have teachers to guide you in the way to heaven, but ignorance is perfect bliss compared to the knowledge which they obtain from their Brahmins. The priest will visit them at their houses, and covet some article which he sees in the room; and if it be not given to him, he will leave a curse instead of a blessing. You have Sabbaths, but the Sabbath never shines on Hindoostan!
3. To pity and to pray for the heathen. We ought to look on them as Christ looked on us when in our sins and our blood. If your feeling of pity be genuine, it will lead to prayer.
4. To make the most strenuous exertions for the amelioration of their condition. It is well to pity them and to pray for them; but if you do no more, it will be difficult to prove to God or man the sincerity of your pity and your prayers.(1) We should do so from a regard to the glory of God. The Word of God declares that He has given His Son "the heathen for His inheritance." He has placed the heathen of India in our hands, that we may bring them to the knowledge of the truth.(2) To this we are bound by the greatest obligations. "Freely have ye received, freely give." What a disgrace to the Christian army if volunteers be not found to engage in this service! Some may perhaps say, there are so many discouragements. But we should remember that God does not despise "the day of small things"; and that from some of our saddest exercises, the most glorious prospects may arise.(3) We call upon you, by the memory of those noble servants of the Lord who have laid down their lives in His service.(4) We exhort you, by the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, "who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
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