What is Idolatry?
A reader alerted us to the relevance of the sermon by J.C. Philpot, entitled simply "Idolatry," to our recent series of posts. A few excerpts are below. To read the sermon in its entirety go to:
"For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God: and to whit for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead. even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come."–1 Thess. i. 9. 10.
Now, what is idolatry? What is an idol? The bringing or meeting together in the human heart of two opposite principles. These are in every human heart, and are seen in various shapes and lusts, and mixed with natural religion. Idolatry embodies two things that are quite distinct and opposite. Idolatry embodies a false notion of God; at the same time it deifies some lust or corruption. These heathen idolaters had their god of war, of love, of murder, of wine, and the god of death. Their idols were deified vices, lusts, passions, corruptions, and the wickedness of the human heart. Such was the working of Satan on the human mind, that he brought forth an idol representing two things apparently distinct, yet united: religion and lust, worship and devilism; the prostration of the body before a god that truly was nothing less than some deified lust and corruption. This is devilism, a false religion, worshipping some lust or corruption under the mask of religion; our natural corruptions under a profession; worshipping our pride, our respectability, our covetousness, or love of the world. All these are worshipped under the garb of religion, which is idolatry; and this is what every man does, except so far as he is delivered from it by the power and grace of God. Men must worship something. All have a natural religion. When the mind is dark through sin, the heart ignorant, the old veil remaining on the heart, no teaching of the Spirit of God in the soul, we must worship something, as the Athenians of old had an altar to the Unknown God. We must worship something; and if what we worship is not the true God, then we worship idols. . . .
A man may have a hearty appetite, but if indulged in to excess may be a snare to him. So in many other things, as children, wife, family, and conversation. How soon may they degenerate into idolatry, occupy the thoughts and affections, and turn the soul away from God. Like David, who idolized Absalom, Eli with his sons, or Samuel, that great and good man, who made his corrupt sons judges in Israel. How deep this idolatry is rooted in a man's heart, how it steals upon his soul! Whatever is indulged in, how it creeps over him, until it gets such power that it becomes master. What work for conscience to get out of this snare; how the conscience is defiled when these idols become an object of worship! There is something so detestable and abominable in an idol that it should be our earnest prayer for God to deliver us.
If a man knows anything of the idolatry of his fallen nature he knows also the desire to serve the living and true God. He will also know that he never can blend these two things. He may try to do it – while serving idols to serve God, but he cannot; "for what communion hath light with darkness, or Christ with Belial?" There can be no communion between a dead soul and a living God. How these things make a man wince, to give up his idol, to be obliged to part with it. How he pleads so hard: just this time. What work it makes. especially if the conscience is tender, struggling with the idolatry of the heart, the lust, concupiscence, and devilism of our fallen nature. I have compared it to a spider watching a fly. The poor little fly has just been caught in the extremity of the web; the spider lies in a hole: as soon as he sees the web shake, down he runs, and draws the threads around his victim, kills him, sucks his carcase, and leaves it.
Thus the devil may be compared to the spider working in his web, waiting, lurking, in reality to suck the very bones and blood of a child of God and cast him into hell; and so he would, were it not for preserving grace. What conscience work there is between the idols struggling for mastery and for the grace of the Spirit of God, groaning, crying, and sighing continually to cast these idols out. Then we turn to God with weeping and lamentation, rending our hearts and not our garments; turn to the Lord with weeping and supplications. A man does not know himself if he does not know what power this idolatry has over him. None but God can make the man know it; and when the Lord delivers him, he then turns to God and says, "What a vile wretch I have been! What a monster to go after these idols, loving this thing, and that. A wretch, a monster of iniquity, the vilest wretch that ever crawled on the face of God's earth, for my wicked heart to go out after these idols!"
When the soul is brought down to a sense of its vileness and baseness and God's longsuffering and forebearance, it turns to God from idols to serve the only living and true God, waiting for his Son from heaven, who pardons the idolater, heals the backslider, and communicates special mercy to his soul. The Lord raises the poor soul up, raises him from the dead. What a blessed doctrine is the Resurrection of Christ! What a glory there is in it! The resurrection of Jesus is my triumph over death, sin, hell, and the grave; lifting the poor, his poor people, up from the grave of their misery and wretchedness, raising them from the dead. . . .
Preached at Bedworth on a Tuesday Evening in April 1852