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the perfections and being of God—it is practical atheism and strikes at the very existence of the Supreme Being. Let this thought be present when tempted to sin, and prevent its commission. AMEN.
I CORINTHIANS X. 14.
Wherefore my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.”
It was made a question among the Corinthian christians, whether it was lawful for them to sit down at the table of their Heathen neighbours, at their feasts, and partake with them of meat, which they were informed had been previously offered in sacrifice to idols. This question the Apostle decided in the negative ; because the practice offended weak brethren, and was calculated to lead them astray; because it was a dangerous temptation to idolatry; and because it was itself a species of idolatry, as it was holding communion with idolaters in their idolatrous rites. To enforce his decision he reminded them of the example of the Israelites; and hence he inferred our text, “ wherefore my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
The two great sins forbidden in the first commandment are atheism and idolatry. The former in its several kinds has already been considered. We come now in this discourse to treat of the latter Idolatry as forbidden in the first commandment may be divided into two kinds, viz.
I. The worshipping as God anything beside or instead of the true Gud.
II. The giving to anything else that which is God's right, and due to him alone.
The first is the Pagan idolatry; the last prevails where the true God is acknowledged, and the worship of idols is discarded.
I. With respect to the first kind, or the Pagan idolatry, some suppose it was practised before the flood, among the posterity of wicked Cain. Of this however we have no conclusive proof. Be this as it may, it is certain, idolatry was practised not long after the flood. It prevailed in Chaldea, at and before the time Abraham was called of God to leave that country. For we read Josh. xxiv. 2. “ Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor ; and they served other gods.” It is highly probable that Chaldea was the birth-place of idolatry. Agreeably to this we find it called, as it were by way of eminence, Jer. ư. 38. “ the land of graven images.” And probably in allusion to the origin of idolatry in Babylon, the antichristian power is in the Revelation, under the name of Babylon, called, “ the mother of abominations of the earth.” Rev. xvii. 5.
Idolatry however was not long confined to Chaldea ; but, soon overspread the world, except the family of Abraham ; and his family too, except in the line of Isaac and Jacob, in which God was pleased to keep up his church, and which he favoured with a special revelation of truth. And even the children of Israel, notwithstanding they were in visible covenant with the true God, had the oracles of truth, and were frequently warned against idolatry, were often guilty of this sin. They were probably guilty of it while in bondage in Egypt. Their readiness to worship the calf which Aaron made at Sinai, and which was one of the Egyptian gods, is an argument in favour of this opinion; and the same appears to be clearly taught by a passage Ezek. xx. 6. 8. - In the day that I lifted up
mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt. Then said I unto them, cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt. But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt.”. After the Israelites were established in the promised land, during the government of the fudges and the reign of the kings, they often forsook the Lord,
and worshipped the idols of the surrounding nations. And this was one leading sin, for which they were carried away from their own land into captivity. The ten tribes were cast off by God, and never returned. The other two tribes endured a seventy years captivity in Babylon. After their return we never find them again falling into idolatry; but ever manifesting the most marked abhorence of it. Their sufferings on account of their former idolatry, probably, had some influence in effecting this change ; but the principal cause of it probably was, the establishment of the synagogue wor. ship; and the public reading of the Scriptures, every week, in every part of the land.
The earliest kind of idolatry is allowed to have been, the worship of the sun and the host of heaven. This appears to have been the only kind of idolatry practised in the time of Job, or the only kind with which he was acquainted. For in protesting his integrity he declared his innocence of this kind of idolatry, and mentioned no other. The worship of the souls of departed heroes appears to have succeeded that of the host of heaven; the worship of graven images followed; and in some countries especially in Egypt, they finally, descended to the worship of animals, rivers, and plants. This idolatry of which we have been speaking was not confined to the
of the world, when the efforts, discoveries, and influence of human reason were in their infancy; nor to savage nations enveloped in ignorance, and which had made no improvements in human science; but it prevailed in latter times, and in nations, where human science was esteemed and highly cultivated. It prevailed in Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the most polished, and learned of the ancient nations. And it prevailed at a period, when those nations had arrived at their summit of improvement. And as civilization, and improvements in human science advanced in these nations, the number of their gods were multiplied, and the absurdity of their idolatry increased so that about the time of our Saviour, when human learning had reached perhaps the greatest summit of glory, to which it has ever yet attained, idolatry was also at its greatest height. Since that time, by means of the light and the power of the Gospel, idolatry has much decreased, and many nations have been rescued from its empire. But still there is a large portion of our world in which idolatry prevails. We however confidently look forward to the time when, according to the prophecies of the
Scriptures, men shall be rescued from the dominion of this deplorable blindness and the Heathen be given to Christ for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession.
Various causes contributed to the introduction and practice of idolatry in the world.
One leading cause was ignorance of the nature and character of the true God. It is probable that the sun, as being the most glorious object which met the eye, and at the same time one from which mankind received the inestimable benefits of light and heat, and being also one principal cause of vegetation, was the first object of idolatrous worship. Men probably supposed that this was the residence of the Deity; and the body in which the great Spirit dwelt
. Receiving light from the other heavenly bodies in the absence of the sun, these also probably came by degrees to be considered as the residence and the bodies of divinities. The regard which men had to some great personages, and respect to their memory after they had departed this life, probably led to the placing them among the gods, and to this species of idolatry. Images were probably intended at first not to be the objects of worship; but only to remind men of the god whom they were intended to represent, and to be a means of exciting their devotions: but by degrees, through ignorance, what was at first intended, only to be the means to excite devotion, became the object of worship. The worship of brute animals, which prevailed, especially in Egypt, some suppose, originated from the great scarcity of useful animals, at an early period, in that country, which led the civil authority to enact laws for their pres. ervation; and to give these laws the greater force, the priests gave out, that a divine virtue resided in certain animals, and the ignorance of the people prepared them to adopt this suggestion. The principle of fear probably led to the worship of noxious animals, such as crocodiles and serpents. Men supposed them to be animated by evil spirits, and to avert their wrath, they worshipped thein.
Another cause of idolatry probably was the great distance between the Supreme Being and men, which led to a desire that there might be some order of beings superior to men and nearer God, whom they might more easily and familiarly approach, and obtain their interest with the supreme God in their behalf
. It is probable that this desire in part first led to the worship of the host of heaven.
Another and a leading cause was, most probably, a dislike to the true character of the true God. The apostle speaking of the Heathen world Rom. i. 28. says, " they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. They did not like the true character of the true God, therefore they formed to themselves, ideas of God, more congenial with the corruptions of the human heart; and God being provoked at their wickedness gave them up to judicial blindness, to follow their own corrupt propensities.
We proceed to an illustration of the
II. Kind of idolatry forbidden by the first commandment, viz. the giving to any other object, that which is God's right and due to him alone. That this is a species of idolatry the scriptures teach. Thus Eph. v. 5. a covetous man is said to be an idolater. In Col. iii. 5. covetousness is called idolatry; and in Phil. iii. 19. we read of some whose god is their belly. In these passages there are two particular sins, which the Scriptures make idolatry, viz. covetousness, or an inordinate love of riches; and sensuality, or an inordinate attachment to sensual gratifications. And for the same reason that riches or our appetites may be called idols, and a supreme attachment to them, idolatry, may any created object, on which we supremely fix our affections, be called an idol, and a supreme attachment to it, idolatry. God demands all our hearts. Our supreme love and obedience are his due; his glory ought to be our chief end; and we ought to take him as our supreme good and portion. If then we give to anything else the supreme place in our affections, we are guilty of idolatry. If we more readily obey the will of the creature than that of the Creator; if we put our trust in the creature, instead of the Creator; if we pursue something else as our chief end instead of the glory of God; and if we esteem any thing else as the chief good, and choose it as our portion instead of God, we are idolaters and break the first commandment.
Hence, self is an idol, and self-seeking in opposition to the glory of God is idolatry. The riches, honours, and pleasures of the world, if they be esteemed ther?