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8. You cannot find your long sought happiness in all the pleasures of the world. Are they not "deceitful upon the weights ?" Are they not lighter than vanity itself? How long will ye “ feed upon that which is not bread ?” Which may amuse, but cannot satisty. You cannot find it in the religion of the world : either in opinions, or a mere round of outward duties. Vain labour! Is not God a Spirit ? and therefore to be “worshipped in spirit and in truth?” In this alone can you find the happiness you seek; in the union of your spirit with the Father of spirits; in the knowledge and love of him who is the fountain of happiness, sufficient for all the souls he has made.
9. But where is he to be found ? Shall we go up into heaven, or down into hell to seek him? “Shall we take the wings of the morning,” and search for him " in the uttermost parts of the sea ?" Nay, Quod petis, hic est! What a strange word to fall from the pen of a heathen! What you seek, is here!” He is “about your bed." He is “about your path.” He “besets you behind and before." He “lays his hand upon you.” Lo! God is here! not afar off. Now, believe and feel him near! May he now reveal himself in your heart! Know him! Love him! and you are happy.
10. Are you already happy in him ? then see that you “hold fast whereunto ye have attained !” “Watch and pray,” that you may never be “moved from your steadfastness." “ Look unto yourselves, that ye lose not what ye have gained, but that ye receive a full reward." In so doing, expect a continual growth in grace, in the loving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Expect that the power of the Highest shall suddenly overshadow you, that all sin may be destroyed, and nothing may remain in your heart, but holiness unto the Lord. And this moment, and every moment, " present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God," and "glorify him with your body and with your spirit, which are God's !"
SERMON LXXXIII.-On Spiritual Idolatry.
“ Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” 1 John v, 21. 1. THERE are two words that occur several times in this epistle ; παιδια and στεκνια; both of which our translators render by the saine expression, little children. But their meaning is very different. The former is very properly rendered little children; for it means, babes in Christ : those that have lately tasted of his love, and are, as yet, weak and unestablished therein. The latter might, with more propriety be rendered, beloved children; as it does not denote any more than the affection of the speaker to those whom he had begotten in the Lord.
2. An ancient historian relates, that when the apostle was so enfeebled by age, as not to be able to preach, he was frequently brought into the congregation in his chair, and just uttered, “ Beloved children, love one another.” Ile could not have given a more important advice.And equally important is this which lies before us; equally necessary for every part of the church of Christ.
“ Beloved children, keep yourselves from idols."
3. Indeed there is a close connection between them: one cannot subsist without the other. As there is no firm foundation for the love
of our brethren, except the love of God, so there is no possibility of loving God, except we keep ourselves from idols.
But what are the idols of which the apostle speaks ? This is the first thing to be considered. We may then, in the second place, inquire, how shall we keep ourselves from them?
I. 1. We are first to consider, What are the idols of which the aposile speaks? I do not conceive him to mean, at least not principally, the idols that were worshipped by the heathens. They to whom he was writing, whether they had been Jews or heathens, were not in much danger from these. There is no probability that the Jews now coaverted, had ever been guilty of worshipping them: as deeply given to this gross idolatry as the Israelites had been for many ages, they were hardly ever entangled therein after their return from the Babylonish captivity. From that period, the whole body of Jews had shown a constant, deep abhorrence of it; and the heathens, after they had once turned to the living God, had their former idols in the utmost detestation. They abhorred to touch the unclean thing ; yea, they chose to lay down their lives, rather than turn to the worship of those gods, whom they now knew to be devils.
2. Neither can we reasonably suppose, that he speaks of those idols that are now worshipped in the church of Rome : whether angels, or the souls of departed saints, or images of gold, silver, wood or stone. None of these idols were known in the Christian church, till some centuries after the time of the apostles. Once, indeed, St. John himself “ fell down to worship before the face of an angel” that spake unto him; probably mistaking him, fiom his glorious appearance, for the Great Angel of the Covenant; but the strong reproof of the angel, which immediately followed, secured the Christians from imitating that bad example : “ See thou do it not:” as glorious as I appear, I am not thy Master. “I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets : worship God," Rev. xxii, 9.
3. Setting, then, pagan and Romish idols aside, what are those of which we are here warned by the apostle? The preceding words show us the meaning of these. " This is the true God;" the end of all the souls he has made ; the centre of all created spirits ;" and eternal life;" the only foundation of present as well as eternal happiness. To him, therefore, alone, our heart is due. And he cannot, he will not quit his claim, or consent to its being given to any other. He is continually saying to every child of man, “My son, give me thy heart!" And to give our heart to any other is plai.1 idolatry. Accordingly, whatever takes our heart from him, or shares it with him, is an idol; or, in other words, whatever we seek happiness in, independent of God.
4. Take an instance that occurs almost every day : A person who has been long involved in the world, surrounded and fatigued with abundance of business, having at length acquired an easy fortune, disengages himself from all business, and retires into the country,--to be happy. Happy in what? Why in taking his ease. For he intends now,
Somno ei inertibus horis
To sleep, and pass away,
IIappy in eating and drinking whatever his heart desires : perhaps more elegant fare than that of the old Roman, who fcasted his imagination before the treat was served up; who, before he left the town, consoled himself with the thought of " fat bacon, and cabbage too!"
Uncta satis pingui ponentur oluscula lardo! Happy,—in altering, enlarging, rebuilding, or at least decorating, the old mansion house he has purchased; and likewise in improving every thing about it; the stables, out houses, grounds. But, mean time, where does God come in? No where at all. He did not think about him. He no more thought of the King of heaven, than of the king of France. God is not in his plan. The knowledge and love of God are entirely out of the question. Therefore, this whole scheme of happiness in retirement is idolatry, from beginning to end.
5. If we descend to particulars, the first species of this idolatry is what St. John terms, the desire of the flesh. We are apt to take this in too narrow a meaning, as if it related to one of the senses only. Not so: this expression equally refers to all the outward senses. It means the seeking happiness in the gratification of any, or all of the external senses; although more particularly of the three lower senses; tasting, smelling, and feeling. It means, the seeking happiness herein, if not in a gross, indelicate manner, by open intemperance, by gluttony or drunkenness, or shameless debauchery; yet, in a regular kind of epicurism; in a genteel sensuality; in such an elegant course of self indulgence, as does not disorder either the head or the stomach; as does not at all impair our health, or blemish our reputation.
6. But we must not imagine this species of idolatry is confined to the rich and great. In this also, " the toe of the peasant,” (as our poet speaks,)“ treads upon the heel of the courtier." Thousands in low, as well as in high life, sacrifice to this idol: seeking their happiness, (though in a more humble manner,) in gratifying their outward
It is true, their meat, their drink, and the objects that gratify their other senses, are of a coarser kind. But still they make all the happiness they either have or seek, and usurp the hearts which are due to God.
7. The second species of idolatry mentioned by the apostle, is, the desire of the cye : that is, the seeking of happiness in gratifying the imagination ; (chiefly by means of the eyes ;) that internal sense, which is as natural to men as either sight or hearing. This is gratified by such objects as are either grand, or beautiful, or uncommon. But as to grand objects, it seems they do not please any longer than they are new. Were we to survey the pyramids of Egypt daily for a year, what pleasure would they then give? Nay, what pleasure does a far grander object than these,
“ The ocean rolling on the shelly shore," give to one who has been long accustomed to it? Yea, what pleasure do we generally receive from the grandest object in the universe,
" Yon ample, azure sky, Terribly large, and wonderfully bright,
With stars unnumber'd, and unmeasured light ?" 8. Beautiful objects are the next general source of the pleasures of the imagination: the works of nature in particular. So persons in all ezes have been delighted
“With sylvan scenes, and hill and dale,
And liquid lapse of murmuring streams.' Others are pleased with adding art to nature; as in gardens, with their various ornaments : others with mere works of art; as buildings, and representations of nature, whether in statues or paintings. Many, likewise, find pleasure in beautiful apparel, or furniture of various kinds. But novelty must be added to beauty, as well as grandeur, or it soon palls upon the sense.
9. Are we to refer to the head of beauty, the pleasure which many take in a favourite animal ? Suppose a sparrow, a parrot, a cat, a lap dog ? Sometimes it may be owing to this. At other times, none but the person pleased can find any beauty at all in the favourite. Nay, perchance it is, in the eyes of all other persons, superlatively ugly. In this case, the pleasure seems to arise from mere whim or caprice; that is, madness.
10. Must we not refer to the head of novelty, chiefly, the pleasure found in most diversions and amusements; which, were we to repeat them daily but a few months, would be utterly flat and insipid ? To the same head, we may refer the pleasure that is taken in collecting curiosities; whether they are natural or artificial, whether old or new. This sweetens the labour of the virtuoso, and makes all his labour light.
But it is not chiefly to novelty, that we are to impute the pleasure we receive from music. Certainly this has an intrinsic beauty, as well as frequently an intrinsic grandeur. This is a beauty and grandeur of a peculiar kind, not easy to be expressed: nearly related to the sublime and the beautiful in poetry, which give an exquisite pleasure. And yet it may be allowed that novelty heightens the pleasure which arises from any of these sources.
12. From the study of languages, from criticism, and from history, we receive a pleasure of a mixed nature. In all these, there is always something new; frequently, something beautiful or sublime. And history not only gratifies the imagination in all these respects, but likewise pleases us by touching our passions; our love, desire, joy, pity. The last of these gives us a strong pleasure, though strangely mixed with a kind of pain. So that one need not wonder at the exclamation of a fine poet,
“ What is all mirth but turbulence unholy,
When to the charms compared of heavenly melancholy ?" 13. The love of novelty is immeasurably gratified by experimental philosophy; and, indeed, by every branch of natural philosophy; which opens an immense field for still new discoveries. But is there not likewise a pleasure therein, as well as in mathematical and metaphysical studies, which does not result from the imagination, but from the exercise of the understanding ? Unless we will say, that the newness of the discoveries which we make by mathematical or metaphysical researches, is one reason, at least, if not the chief, of the pleasure we receive therefrom.
14. I dwell the longer on these things, because so very few see them in the true point of view. The generality of men, and more particularly men of sense and learning, are so far from suspecting that there is, or can be the least harm in them, that they seriously believe, it is matter of great praise, to give ourselves wholly to them. Who of them, only to
for instance, would not admire and commend the indefatigable industry of that great philosopher, who says, “I have now been eight and thirty years at my parish of Upminster; and I have made it clear, that there are no less than three and fifty species of butterflies therein : but if God should spare my life a few years longer, I do not doubt but I should demonstrate, there are five and fifty!" I allow that most of these studies have their use, and that it is possible to use without abusing them. But if we seek our happiness in any of these things, then it commences an idol. And the enjoyment of it, however it may be admired and applauded by the world, is condemned by God as neither better nor worse than damnable idolatry.
15. The third kind of love of the world, the apostle speaks of under that uncommon expression, nahazovela 52 Šis. This is rendered by our translators, the pride of life. It is usually supposed to mean, the pomp and splendour of those that are in high life. But has it not a more extensive sense ? Does it not rather mean, the seeking happiness in the praise of men, which, above all things, engenders pride ? When this is pursued in a more pompous way, by kings, or illustrious men, we call it, "thirst for glory;" when it is sought in a lower way, by ordinary men, it is styled, " taking care of our reputation.” In plain terms, ir is seeking the honour that cometh of men, instead of that which cometh of God only. 16. But what creates a difficulty here, is this: we are required, not
give no offence to any one,” and to “provide things honest in the sight of all men,” but to "please all men for their good to edification.” But how difficult is it to do this, with a single eye to God? We ought to do all that in us lics, to prevent “ the good that is in us from being evil spoken of." Yea, we ought to value a clear reputation, if it be given us, only less than a good conscience. But yet, if we seek our happiness therein, we are liable to perish in our idolatry.
17. To which of the preceding heads is the love of money to be referred ? Perhaps sometimes to one, and sometimes to another; as it is a means of procuring gratifications, either for “the desire of the flesh,” for “the desire of the eyes," or for “the pride of life.” In any of these cases, money is only pursued, in order to a farther end. But it is sometimes pursued for its own sake, without any farther view. One who is properly a miser, loves and seeks money for its own sake. He looks no farther, but places his happiness in the acquiring or the possessing of it. And this is a species of idolatry, distant from all the preceding; and indeed the lowest, basest idolatry, of which the human soul is capable. To seek happiness either in gratifying this, or any other of the desires above mentioned, is effectually to renounce the true God, and to set up an idol in his place. In a word, so many objects as there are in the world, wherein men seek happiness instead of seeking it in God, so many idols they set up in their hearts; so many species of itlolatry they practise.
18. I would take notice of only one more, which, though it in some measure falls in with several of the preceding, yet, in many respects, is distinct from them all; I mean the idolizing a human creature. Undoubtedly it is the will of God that we should all love one another. It is his will that we should love our relations and Olir Christian brethren with a peculiar love; and those in particular, whom he has made par