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SERMON BY THE LATE REV. GEORGE GRISWOLD.
3 St. Joha, v. 21—" Little children, keep yourselves from idols."
On the announcement of this text the imaginations of some may take the alarm. What! they may be ready to exclaim, do you propose to warn a Christian assembly against a practice which has never appeared but in those times and places where darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people? Do you suspect any of us to be in danger of falling into idolatry? Yes ; the whole tenor of Scripture authorises such suspicion ; and it may be found, before we have dismissed our subject, that there are some, even in this assembly, who have not altogether kept themselves from idols.
It may soon appear that idolatry is not so exclusively the sin of particular nations, and of particular periods, as is sometimes supposed; that it is rather the sin which most easily besets human nature; and thence that an exhortation to keep themselves from it is always in season to those who inherit that evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God, which his word so fully describes, and which the actual state of the world so completely illustrates. Our general position is this: that the spirit of idolatry may exist in all its malignancy, and produce a decided rebellion against the sovereignty of Heaven, even when unaccompanied or uninfluenced by a visible form; and this sentiment it will be my endeavor to enlarge upon, illustrate, and apply to the consciousness of every individual.
Man judgeth after the outward appearance; but God, who is a Spirit, judgeth all things; he is a discerner of the intents of the heart, and understandeth our thoughts long before we utter them. His claims on the love and obedience of all his intelligent creatures are absolute : they are like his own nature, eternal and immutable. Wherever this love is withheld, therefore ; wherever these claims are practically disavowed,—it matters not what principles are set up in their place, nor on what particular objects they are bestowed,—the high and lofty ONE sees there an abandonment of those laws, which are the main pillars of his stupendous moral fabric; the Allseeing Eye perceives the disruption of those sacred ties which give order and consistency to the remotest provinces of his empire. Every act of rebellion is in his sight the signal of an universal revolt; for he sees in every instance of disobedience, the elements of a disorder which, if the contagion were to spread, and become general throughout his dominion, would strip his intelligent creation of its glory ; would counteract the very purpose for which he made the worlds, and reduce all that was beautiful and grand in his sublimer workmanship, back again to the hideousness of chaos. No wonder then that he looks down from that awful throne which is high and lifted up, on every act of wilful disobedience, with displeasure and abhorrence; no wonder that He whose omniscient eye, piercing through that immensity which his presence fills, traces the sinful thing to its remote and unseen consequences, should look upon every transgressor with all the severity of his unbending justice; no wonder that the law should begin to utter its thunders when the sacred majesty of the law is threatened with violation. But oh! it is a wonder that, after the rash deed had been accomplished which brought down the just weight of its anathema on our race, after sentence of death had been pronounced the wages of transgression, God should still so love the world as to give bis only begotten Son, that whosoever believed on him might not perish, but have everlasting life. And the greatest wonder is,-af
, ter all that has been done by God to magnify the law and make it honorable ; after all that has been suffered by the son of God to bring in an everlasting righteousness; after all the striving of his HOLY SPIRIT to convince the world of sin and reestablish principles of obedience in the bosoms of an apostate race,—that any of them should yet stand in need of the admonition to keep themselves from idols. It is a fact which fills Heaven with amazement, and Hell with triumph. That principle of alienation from God which began the work of death in the garden of Eden, has spread its contagious influence wherever the human race is found; has run its fatal career through generation after generation, till, notwithstanding what has been done by Him who put forth the might of his omnipotence and travailed in the greatness of his strength to arrest its progress, there is, even in this day of Gospel light and glory, among the vast majority of men, an entire alienation of their affections from the supreme and only Potentate. “ Hear, 0 Heavens, and give ear, 0 Earth, for the LORD hath spoken : I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me."
The comprehensive spirit of Christianity teaches us to generalize on moral subjects, and to classify mankind according to their fundamental principles of action. He who looks upon his fellow men with an understanding enlightened by that word which is a discerner of hearts, will recognise in them but a faint likeness to the holy image which that word holds out; he who compares what he sees in the history of human life, with what he reads in the book of revelation, will see very few deeds that might not have been done had that book never been written. indeed, is the coincidence between the conduct of human affairs and the known will of God, that if the history of this world's doings were spread out in all its details, an overwhelming proportion of its activity would be found to have owed its first impulse to a principle of alienation from the living God, to which the Seriptures ascribe the attributes, and on which they bestow the denomination, of downright idolatry.
Still the men of a refined and sensitive age, like the present, may shrink from such a charge as this reasoning would imply: it may not be agreeable to believe that,—after so much light from Heaven has been poured upon our world ; after the graven images have been utterly abolished, and the grosser forms of superstition
banished from view ; after the condition of society has been so much meliorated, and such wonderful improvements have been made in knowledge and the arts of life ; when Christian institutions with all their becoming observances, have supplanted the absurd and degraded rites of Heathenism, and the charms of refinement have thrown their lustre over the whole aspect of civilized men ; when, in the words of one who was a better politician than he was a theologian, “ Vice has lost half its venom, by losing all its grossness,"—it may not be grateful, I say, to believe after all this progress in refinement and grace, that there should still lie against the majority of our species so fearful a charge as this, in all its depth and dimensions. And if an enlightened Christian observer, looking abroad from this vantage ground on some scene of peculiar busy speculation, should, like St. Paul at Athens, have his spirit stirred within him at seeing the city wholly given to idolatry, and should, like him, be moved to raise a note of remonstrance so loud as to awaken an interest to know the result of his observations, they would probably be as much astonished at his doctrine as were the refined and philosophical Athenians, and would probably answer, like them, “ Thou bringest certain strange things to our ears.” It would serve to dispel much of the delusion on which all this surprise and reluctance is founded, could we see as God seeth, with all these external meliorations, how comparatively small has been the moral improvement of our species! Amidst all these surprising movements towards realising the finest conceptions of philosophy, how little advance has been made towards realising the demands of revelation ! amidst the thousand forms of godliness that prevail around us, how little of its power is exerted in the human heart ! amidst all the ardor with which the endless varieties of knowledge are pursued, how little is directed to Him, whom to know aright is life eternal ! and amidst all this flood of moral and intellectual light, which has been poured from Heaven upon the habitations of men, we might see how this is only a manifold condemnation, because light has come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light. When God arises to judge the world in righteousness, and makes manifest the secrets of all hearts, every mouth shall be stopped, and all the world shall become guilty before him.
Whatever the object be, which stands between a man and his Maker, that is the object of his idolatry. Whatever principle so effectually exalts itself in his heart, as to withdraw his affections from God, and prevent his being brought into subjection to the obedience of CARIST; whatever closes his soul against the visitations of the Holy SPIRIT; whatever it be, whether in Heaven above, or on the earth beneath, which exercises that exclusive jurisdiction over his mind, which belongs to the Supreme and only Potentate, that object, or that principle, is an abomination to the LORD his God; and until it be utterly abolished and put away, the LORD, as a mighty and strong one, hath precisely the same controversy with that man which he hath with all who have not kept themselves from idols.
It is readily conceded that, in the gradations of society and in its several stages of outward improvement, this principle may be modified to an almost endless extent, but what we would have you bear in mind is, that in the sight of God its evil character and pernicious tendency are always the same. The idolatry of a refined and intelligent age may assume a different guise from that of a dark and sensual period. In countries blessed with the light of Christianity, men may not fall down to stocks and stones, nor call in the aid of the painter and the statuary to give a sensible image to the object of their adoration, and yet it is possible that the homage paid by them to an abstract sentiment of honor may be as profound, and the sacrifices offered to it may be as bloody, and as abominable in the sight of God, as were ever burnt on the altars of the Druids. Parents may not cause their tender offspring to pass through the fire to Moloch, but they may immolate them before the shrine of Fashion, or consecrate them to the cruel and souldestroying service of the god of this world. And while it raises a cry of horror among us, when from the shores of a distant and benighted land tidings are brought to our ears of some bloody massacre at the car of Juggernaut, while the story of a new sacrifice at the shrine of Superstition, wafted to us from some lonely island of the ocean, communicates a thrill of