committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION, COUNSEL AND CONSOLATION FOR THE TEMPTED

Octavius Winslow

 

CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN TEMPTED TO FALSE AND IDOLATROUS WORSHIP.

"Again, the Devil takes Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and said unto Him, All these things will I give You, if You wilt fall down and worship me. Then said Jesus unto him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall you serve."-Matt. iv. 8-10.

The most barbed and potent shaft in Satan’s quiver was reserved for the last and final throw: the most arrogant and blasphemous onslaught for the closing scene of the temptation, and for the most signal discomfiture of the Tempter. The combined ingenuity of hell could not possibly have invented, or its hottest furnace have forged, a weapon more profane, venomous, and offensive-the Son of God incited to do homage and worship to the Devil! "Fall down and worship me." How must His holy soul have shuddered, and His loyal feelings have recoiled, at the bare thought! The proposal was the very height of blasphemy! But turn we now from the tempted Christ to the tempted Christian.

Conceding that there may exist but little, if any, danger of a reproduction in the experience of the believer of the same gross, profane, and appalling temptation, yet, transforming himself into an angel of light-as is his subtle and insidious mode-may not Satan approach us in a form so fascinating and disguised, with language so insinuating and arguments so plausible as to seduce us into a species of false and idolatrous worship, scarcely less impious, dishonoring, and offensive to God? All spurious and superstitious worship-whatever its object or its mode-is an indirect acknowledgment of, and a Divine homage paid to, the authority and power of Satan. Little do those who, professing and calling themselves Christians and Protestants, reflect that in so doing, they are indirectly "sacrificing to devils and not to God." Let us direct our attention to some of those unlawful and idolatrous objects and modes of worship which are not less offensive to God than was Satan’s suggestion to Christ-"Fall down and worship me."

Of all the sins common to our fallen nature, God has the most signally marked that of Idolatry, or False Worship. The reason of this is obvious. Other sins may aim at some one perfection of His Being-this aims at His very Being itself: it is the worst species of Atheism; for while in name it acknowledges, in worship it denies Him. It were far less a crime to assert that there is no God, than, while in theory acknowledging, in practice we ignore Him. It is more than a mere negation of His existence; it is a positive insult and dishonor done to His Great and Holy Name.

Man is by nature an idolater. The Fall having diverted the mind from God, it seeks some object of worship other than God only. The renewed man is not entirely exempt from this sin. Hence the exhortation of the Apostle addressed to the early Christians, and in these last days addressed to us: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols," "My dearly beloved, flee from idolatry." Surely, it was not the gross and senseless idolatry of the heathens to which the Apostles thus refer; from this many of those saints to whom they wrote had already been delivered; but to other idols and other worship, less palpable and degrading, but not less superstitious or offensive to God. Let us specify a few.

How much has Satan to do in promoting the idolatry of self, by which the Christian is so much and so severely tempted! The worship of self-or self-righteousness-is a natural and fearful form of idolatry. It is an innate and never entirely eradicated principle of our nature, but clings to us to the very last of life. Alas! the holiest and the best of us want to be something, and to do something, when in reality we are nothing, and can do nothing. "Though I be nothing," was the noble confession of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. We walk in our religious life, for the most part, upon stilts-always appearing in the eyes of others taller than we really are! If God condescends to make us of use in His service-if the Holy Spirit employs us as instruments in conversion, instruction, or comfort to souls,-or, if He adorns us with some eminent spiritual gift or grace-Satan is at one elbow suggesting to self to put in its claim to some share of praise, dividing the honor and glory with God. What is this idolatry of self but the old temptation-"Fall down and worship me"? But real greatness and true humility have ever been in alliance with entire abnegation of self. Listen to John, the forerunner of Christ-"Whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose." Listen to Paul, the great Apostle-"Less than the least of all saints, sinners of whom I am chief." Transcending all examples of self-abnegation and humility, behold the Lamb of God! Who can worship at the manger of Bethlehem-who can behold the Incarnate God making Himself of no reputation, and taking upon Him the form of a servant-who can see Him stooping to bathe the disciples’ feet-who can sit at His feet and hear the marvelous words as they fall from His lips, "Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart"-who can stand before the cross and gaze upon the Creator of all worlds impaled between two malefactors, Himself dying as the chief,-and not shrink into his own nothingness, bewailing that he should ever have been betrayed into the folly and the sin of burning the incense of idolatry before the wretched idol-self! My soul! beware of self-idolatry-the most insidious, hateful, and degrading form of idolism to which the soul can be subjected. It is but the old temptation in another and more subtle shape-the little, contemptible idol self-echoing the cursed language of Satan-"Fall down and worship me." If, through any good thing wrought, you merit human approbation, "let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." And when thus praised, let the reflection crimson our cheek that, did the eulogist know us as God does, or as we know ourselves, censure and not applause, condemnation and not approval, would be our just reward. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Oh, that the weapon wielded by our Lord with such crushing effect may conquer and overcome this self-idolatry in us!-"You shall worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall you serve."

Human intellect is a popular and powerful idol, and clusters around its attractive shrine countless admiring and ardent worshippers. To the undue place and power awarded to Human Reason in matters of religious faith, must be ascribed much of the infidelity of the age. Intellect, in the creed of many, is but a synonym of Rationalism,-substituting a speculative interpretation and intellectual reception of Revelation for the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and the experience of the heart, and that reverential and devout submission of faith which God’s Word demands. To this cause we trace much of the loose views of Inspiration-tampering with the Atonement and Sacrifice of Christ-speculative and erroneous theories touching the final condition of the lost-the eternity of future suffering, and the natural immortality of the soul dogmatically and unblushingly denied-with which, alas! the pulpit and the press are so rife. We pen not a sentence tending to narrow the province of Reason in matters of faith. On the contrary, we are prepared fully to maintain that Reason and Revelation, Science and Religion, are not divorced and antagonistic forces-as some suppose-but are-if we may be allowed the expression-en-rapport-in harmonious and continuous communication the one with the other; conspiring to lay their richest treasures at the feet of Revelation, and testifying, as with one voice, that God’s Word is true! So far from ignoring the province and power of the intellectual faculty, we admit that Reason is the grandest gift with which man is endowed-the faculty which approximates the nearest to the Creator,-and that it is as much the duty of Reason to study, examine, and sift the truth of the Bible and the evidences of Christianity, as it is the duty and the privilege of Faith humbly and unquestioningly to receive them. Our simple object is to guard the reader against the undue exaltation and supremacy of the intellectual powers, a fertile cause of much of the prevailing atheism and semi-skepticism of the day: exhibited either in a covert tampering with the inspiration of the Bible, or in the unblushing and avowed rejection of Revelation altogether.

The idolatrous pride of intellect! Alas! in how many melancholy instances has it resulted in the sad abandonment by the imperious idol of its too ardent worshipper! The words of the prophet, addressed to Jeroboam the son of Nebat, concerning his idolatry, have found a singular and melancholy application in many instances to the idolatrous devotee of the human mind-"Thy calf, O Samaria, has cast you off!" The god you did worship so devoutly-in whose power you did confide so implicitly-has disowned and forsaken you-"has cast you off"-scorning the worship and despising the worshipper. Let the melancholy history of many a mental wreck testify! The over-wrought brain has become plastic-its unnatural tension of study and thought has disturbed the mental balance; and the mind that was enthroned so firmly and so proudly-that shone in the realm of literature so brilliantly-and gave promise of attaining to the loftiest eminence of ambition so hopefully-has become a ruin and a blank! "Thy god, O Samaria, has cast you off." Alas! the wise man gloried in his superior wisdom-the intellectual man prided himself of his brilliant intellect-the wrangler plumed himself of his high scholarship-and the scientist boasted of his great discoveries-and in a moment God-who will not give His glory to another-has smitten the idol to the dust! It was but a drop of blood mounting to the brain-a sunbeam falling upon its surface-and the intellect collapsed, and the mind passed into the dark eclipse of driveling idiocy, or, into the still darker night of moody madness! Oh, that men would employ their vast intellectual endowments, their rich mental acquisitions, for the good of their fellows, and the glory of Him at whose tribunal they are to render an account of their talents, be it the one or the ten! We can scarcely portray or even imagine a spectacle more appalling than that of an intellect of rare power, a gifted mind highly cultivated and richly stored, passing from the scene of its probation to that of its account, with no ‘gain’ to present-no ‘account’ to deliver-as the fruit of its gigantic powers, prolonged existence, and tremendous responsibility, save the brilliant history-the sentimental fiction-the vapid story-the frivolous song-or, perhaps, the sad memorials of an atheistic and infidel philosophy! Shades of Macaulay, Scott, and Byron! of Dickens, Thackeray, and Mills!-vanished stars from the republic of letters-where have ye left the glory of your great powers, and what their solemn record and reward?

But is the Christian student entirely invulnerable to this temptation-indirectly presented by the Evil One-of falling down before the idol Intellect? We trow not. Are there not in our universities, our schools of science, and along the various professional walks of life, those with the sacred office of the Christian ministry in view, or are actively engaged in the discharge of its sacred functions-who yet are too ardent devotees-idolaters, in truth-of human intellect?-the learning, philosophy, and science of this world filling the entire vision of the soul, to the total exclusion of more weighty matters-"the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord." Candidates for the holy ministry have great reason to guard against this species of idolatry. It has not been untruly remarked that in our Universities Christ has often been crucified between the Classics and Mathematics. The fascination of abstract study-the absorbing power of human science-has exerted a deteriorating influence upon the spiritual interests of the soul; and the aspirants for the most solemn office a mortal can fill, emerge from the academical shades but imperfectly, if at all, prepared to enter upon a work the Great Apostle has in these words so distinctly and emphatically described-"Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." Whenever man’s judgment is made the sole interpreter of the Bible, and human learning and scientific research are substituted for the Divine illumination and experimental teaching of the Holy Spirit, God is dishonored-the Bible is a sealed book-and the mind, in its search for truth, is left to grope its way amid the shadows of ignorance, the rocks of error, and the quicksands of sin. Oh, let us, then, be solemnly aware of the idolatry of Intellect! "Fall down and worship me," is its constant and ensnaring challenge. How many, carried away with the erudition of the schools, and even the eloquence of the pulpit-giving themselves too exclusively and absorbingly to the pursuit of intellectual studies, and swayed in their religious opinions by the authority of master-minds and commanding rhetoric, have sacrificed themselves at the shrine of their idol!

Author of my being! Giver and Sustainer of my mind! renew, sanctify, and guide my intellectual powers. And, as You did create them for Thyself, and dost hold me responsible for their possession and accountable for their use, vouchsafe me grace to employ them for the best good of my fellows, and the highest glory and honour of Thy Great Name!

The idolatry of wealth forms another, a more sensual and degrading species of temptation brought to bear upon our fallen humanity by the great enemy of souls. The love for wealth is as strong and absorbing as it is fascinating and universal. Its thirst is, to the covetous worldling, what the desire for strong drink is to the inveterate inebriate-the one all-consuming passion-the ruling demon of the soul. And, as in the case of the drunkard, the more the passion is fed, the more fiercely-and, to all human appearance, unquenchably-the flame burns,-so the more devoutly the idol wealth is worshipped, the more imperious is its sway, and the more insatiable its demand. It is the natural, but singular, effect of great and unsanctified wealth that it freezes the finest currents, and corrodes the loveliest sentiments of the soul-engendering parsimony and inspiring covetousness: and the more successful the effort to acquire it, the more intense grows the desire of its accumulation,-it is the curse of affluence, unblessed of God! Nor is this all. "The love of money"-records the inspired Apostle-"is the root of all evil." To this corrupt principle-"the love of money"-and to this unappeased hankering-the anxiety for its possession-may be traced-as a natural and fertile cause-that low standard of commercial morality which, alas! has found so many startling and humiliating examples in this and in other lands: examples of misplaced confidence-heartless fraud, enormous defalcation-and reckless speculation,-tarnishing many an escutcheon, dishonoring many a home, and breaking many a heart! How many a merchant-prince, who stood upon the highest eminence of commercial distinction, honor and affluence, have not hesitated, sacrificing integrity, character, and fortune upon the altar of their favorite god, around whose altar lie scattered the wrecks of many a fair name-happy home, princely fortune-and the hope of another and a better world. How emphatically and solemnly is the truth of the Bible verified day by day: "They that will be rich fall into divers temptations and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men’s souls in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil." Oh, beware of the idolatry of money! "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them." Unsanctified by the love of God and the grace of Christ, they create penury, engender meanness, strengthen selfishness, destroy natural affection, and take the place of God! That wealth is a power-and, when sanctified and guided by God, a mighty power-who can doubt? Oh, if the rich but recognized more solemnly the responsibility of its possession, the luxury of its dispersion, and the blessing of its reflex influence-blessing him that receives, still more him that gives-would there not be less hoarding and more scattering! less selfishness and more of that expansive sympathy which He displayed, of whom it is written-"Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich." Pause not at admiration, but aspire to emulate this meritorious and illustrious Pattern of self-sacrifice and wondrous compassion. Study your Model closely. Dwell upon the countless riches He abjured and the abject poverty which He assumed-all for you! Blush, as you stand before this Divine-Human Statue, that you are so imperfect a reflection of its beauty. Remember, O Christian, that you are God’s purse-bearer-the King’s almoner-the Church’s treasurer; and that, as Christ’s steward, and not a proprietor-as God’s trustee, and not an owner;-for the ten, the five, and the one talent confided to your trading, ere long you must render an account to your Lord. Give of your abundance to assist Christ’s cause, which may languish; relieve the need of some saint who may be necessitous; lighten the burden of some hard-working servant of Christ, bowed beneath its weight and ready to sink; light up with sunshine some desolate heart pining in the cold shade of anxiety, loneliness, and want. Oh, learn the happy secret of preserving riches by their liberal dispersion; clip their pinions by a little seasonable charity, lest they take wing and fly away! Remember that, "there is that scatters and yet increases, and there is that with holds more than is meet, and it tends to poverty." God’s word is true! and sooner or later we shall find it so. "Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have; for He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you." With a precept so holy, and a promise so precious, what true Christian will not turn a deaf ear to all those specious allurements to immediate and great wealth with which the apostles and priests of Mammon seek to beguile and ruin the unsuspecting and covetous? O Christ, my Master! give me grace to write "Holiness to the Lord" upon all I am and all I have; remembering that not my own, but "of Thine have I given You."

"We give You but Thine own,
Whatever the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from You.

"May we Thy bounties thus
As stewards true receive,
And gladly, as You givest us,
To You our first-fruits give.

"To comfort and to bless
To find a balm for woe,
To tend the lone and fatherless,
Is angels’ work below.

"The captive to release,
To God the lost to bring,
To teach the way of life and peace-
It is a Christ-like thing.

"And we believe Thy Word,
Though dim our faith may be;
Whatever for Thine we do, O Lord,
We do it unto You."

Creature idolatry takes its place among the many forms of temptation to which the Christian is exposed. It is true our blessed Lord was not thus tempted, for His love and friendship were pure from all idolatry and sin; notwithstanding, He not the less measures out grace for, and exercises sympathy with, all those who, through the depth and exuberance of human affection, are enamored of its idol, and are thus exposed to its idolatry. The heart is as much the creature of God as the mind; human love as much a Divine inspiration as human thought. And as God hates nothing that He has made, we may infer that the proper development and legitimate exercise of the affections cannot be displeasing in His sight. "God is love," and God is the Inspirer of love, and the source of all the blessings which flow through its channel. He has made love-His own love-the pivot upon which all His Perfections revolve. Its greatness and grandeur, culminating at the Cross, blends in the sweetest and most perfect harmony all His moral attributes, moulding them into a resplendent bow which encircles the throne upon which He sits-the bow of His covenant salvation, "round about the throne." "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." This being so,-God’s love electing us to salvation, and sacrificing His beloved Son to accomplish it, forming those sacred relations of life which are centers of its existence and channels of its flow,-surely they err who say it is a sin to love, and to love to the utmost capacity of loving! But the sin and danger lie-not in loving-but in such an inordinate and supreme surrender of the affections as to transform their object into an idol and their love into idolatry. But God, who is love, demands the supreme, the undivided heart. Does He then frown upon human affection in its natural and sacred outflow? Would He still a single throb of those sacred and precious relations of life He Himself has formed? So far from this, He has selected earthly love as an emblem of the Heavenly, and human relations as types of the Divine. God’s relation to us is Parental: Christ’s love to us is Conjugal: His friendship Filial. Who can study the safeguards God has thrown around the different relations of life-especially the Domestic Constitution-the sanctity, obligations, and blessings He has attached to each-and not be profoundly impressed with the idea of God’s high estimate of human affection? But it is here we need the most unslumbering vigilance and the most unceasing prayer-vigilance, lest our affections should become inordinate and idolatrous; and prayer, that Divine grace may control, and the Holy Spirit sanctify, the relations God has formed and the love He has inspired. The earthly idols of the heart-whatever the idol be-God will and must ‘abolish.’ If it is the intellect-He veils it; if wealth-He removes it; if health-He blows upon it; if the creature-He recalls it! We often wonder at the mysterious event that breaks the strong and beautiful staff-that nips the young flower in the bud-that removes from our fond gaze the fully developed object of loveliness and love. "You shall worship the Lord thy God, and Him only," explains the mystery! A fond mother had an only and adored child, which she never allowed out of her sight, or for a moment entrusted to the care of another. She forgot that Christ took especial and loving care of little children, and would not confide it to His care. Sitting by her side at an open window, on one occasion, in an unguarded moment her little one sprang from her arms, and falling from a fearful height, instantly perished!-so appallingly was her idol smitten, so signally was her idolatry marked, and so affectingly was the sin of her distrust of God righteously, yet lovingly, corrected! And why this discipline of our earthly loves?-why this chastening of our human affections? The answer again returns-"You shall worship the Lord thy God, and Him only." Oh, that God may be the supreme Object of our love! Oh, that Christ may hold His right and rightful place in our hearts! Who so loving as God? Who so lovely as Jesus? He has but imperfectly studied the subtlety and sounded the depths of the human heart, who is not thoroughly convinced of the dangers which attach to its affections; and the holy discipline and vigilance those affections need!

"The brightest things below the sky
Give but a flattering light;
We should suspect some danger nigh
Where we possess delight.

"Our dearest joys and nearest friends,
The partners of our blood,
How they divide our wavering minds,
And leave but half for God!

"The fondness of a creature’s love,
How strong it strikes the sense!
Thither the warm affections move,
Nor can we call them thence.

"Dear Savior! let Thy beauties be
My soul’s eternal food;
And grace command my heart away
From all created good."

False, or idolatrous, religious worship is, perhaps, the most prevalent and ensnaring form of idolatry, but, important as this illustration of our subject is-especially at the present time-the limits of this chapter allow but a brief illusion. Upon how many professedly religious altars in the present day the Athenian inscription, "To the Unknown God,"-may be inscribed. The temple in which they stand, the ritual which they observe, the homage they present, is essentially mediaeval in its appointments, and superstitious and idolatrous in its worship. "Fall down and worship me," is the voice rising from that ‘high altar,’ and resounding through those gloomy aisles. "Hear the word of the Lord," oh, ye idolatrous worshippers-"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? . . . When ye come to appear before Me, who has required this at your hand, to tread My courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; . . . the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; . . . I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear." My soul! beware of false and idolatrous worship! Ponder often and devoutly the weighty and solemn words of thy Lord: "The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Cherish the profoundest sincerity, observe the sternest simplicity, and cultivate the highest spirituality in all thine approaches to God-public, social, private. There is but one Being in the universe before whom you can offer the undivided love of your heart, the profoundest homage of your mind, the deepest devotion of your soul-yea, before whom you can prostrate your whole being-it is that great God who has said-"You shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," and whose own unparalleled love to us is thus expressed-"God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Oh, let this truth be engraved, as in marble, on the tablet of your memory-let it be written, as with a sunbeam, on the consciousness of your daily life-that God looks only at the heart, and that, where that heart offers to Him its pure incense of love, prayer and praise, every forest is a cathedral, every home a sanctuary, every spot an altar, and every worshipper a priest! Let us, when tempted, as was our Lord, to false and idolatrous worship, repel the dart and foil the Archer with Christ’s invulnerable weapon-"It is written, You shall worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall you serve."

"Is there a thing beneath the sun,
That strives with You my heart to share?
Take it away, and reign alone,
The Lord of every motion there!"

 
 
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