This week I have been reading, a little bit at a time, a sermon by Ralph Erskine entitled, "A Treasure of Gospel Grace Digged Out of Mount Sinai." The scripture text for this sermon is Exodus 20 v. 2-3, "I am the Lord thy God. -- Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
What strikes me initially is the length of this sermon. It is 38 pages long! Contrast this with the typical "sermonette" given in most churches today. The attention span of modern man is so shallow that he couldn't sit still while this was delivered in its entirity on a Lord's Day morning. This is to our shame. May we repent from our shallowness and declare, as did King David, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord."
I'm going to give you 4 pages of this 38 page sermon. You will find in these four pages more "meat" than I would ever expect to hear from the pulpits of this land. The remaining 34 pages are just as good, but is just a little too much to type into this blog. Enjoy.
This premised, I would have you consider, that there are two grand idols worshipped and served by the generality of the world, yea, of the visible church, viz. self, and the world.
1. I say, self is the great Diana, which all the world worshippeth, excepting a very few whom God has called out of the world. Every man, while in a natural state, makes a god of himself. Hence it is that the principal batteries of the gospel are mounted against this idol. The very first lesson in the school of Christianity, which is materially the same with the first precept of the moral law, is, "Let a man deny himself;" let him renounce self as his god, that he may have no other gods before me, who am God manifested in the flesh.
This idol of self is pregnant with a numerous brood of lesser or subordinate idols. Some make a God of their own understandings; "for vain man would be wise, though he be born as the wild ass's colt." What cursed pride is it in some, even in our own bowels, that they will needs exalt their own depraved reason, which is nonplussed by the least work of nature, is able to comprehend? Is not this a giving that glory to our own understanding which is due unto an infinitely wise God? If ever we be believers indeed, reason must quit the throne, and lie down at the foot of faith, owning that reason is but folly before teh wisdom of God revealed in his word. Others idolize their own understandings, when inwardly they disapprove of God's providential dispensations, as if they could manage things more to advantage, if the reins of administration were in their hands.
Some make a god of their wills. When a person follows the swing of his own corrupted and rebellious will, in opposition to the commanding will of God in his word: what else is that but to exalt self-will above the will of God? It is the will of God, that men should read and hear his word, attend his courts, wait upon his ordinances, sanctify his name, keep his sabbath, that they should forego such a lust, that shey should pluck out a right-eye, and cut off a right-hand sin, in obedience to him who is the Lord our God. No, says the rebellious depraved will, "I have loved strangers, and after them will I go. Who is the Almighty, that I should serve him? and what profit should I have if I pray unto him? Let him depart; for I desire not the knowledge of his ways;" I know not the Lord, neither will I let my lusts go.
Will any man practically treat God after this manner, and yet pretend that he obeys this command, Thou shalt have no other gods before me? No, his own will is his god: and therefore he never yet closed by a true faith with this covenant-grant, I am the Lord thy God.
Some again make a god of their righteousness, putting it in the room of him who is JEHOVAH our righteousness;" like the Jews, Rom. x. 3. who "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness would not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God." This is the idol which of all others it is the hardest to pull out of the sinner's embraces. And the reason is, because self-righteousness is a thing which seems to have the countenance of the law of God; and while a man has the law on his side, he thinks himself in safety, and that he has the approbation of the Lawgiver: "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men," said the self-righteous Pharisee. It is harder to convince this man of his dangerous state, than to convince and hundred profane wretches of their danger: hence Christ says to the self-righteous Pharisees, "Publicans and harlots shall enter into the kingdom of God before you." I shall only say to you who are hugging this idol of your own law-righteousness in your bosoms, you shall as surely perish in your righteousness, as ever any of Adam's race perished in thier sins. Why, because God has said, that "by the works of the law no flesh living shall be justified;" and "As many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse." You are pretending to keep the law, and seeking righteousness by the law; and yet are living in the neglect and contempt of the first and greatest command in the whole law, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. You never yet discarded the idol of self, and therefore never learned that first lesson of religion, "If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself," &c.
2. Another grand idol, to which the greatest multitude do bow, is the world. Solomon tells us of some who have "the world set in their heart." Ever since the fall of Adam, the world and vanities thereof, have usurped that rooom in the heart of man which is due unto God only; and nothing less than infinite power can unhinge the world from that feat which it has got in our hearts. Hence it is, that until a day of power come, we are ever making a god of one thing or another in this visible perishing world.
Some make a god of their worldly riches and substance. This is done when the desire, delight, and esteem of the soul terminates more upon these than upon God who is the chief good. O "who will shew us any good?" is the cry of many. But few say with David, "Lord lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord," &c. The covetous worldling sees more beauty in gathering dust, than he sees in him who is the brightness of the Father's glory, and is more concerned to get and keep the mammon of this world, than how to be interested in the unsearchable riches of Christ, or to lay up for himself treasures in heaven, which moth and rust do not corrupt. And will such a man pretend, that he keeps the first commandment, or hath no other gods before the Lord?
Some make a god of their worldly relations. The husband may idolise his wife, the wife her husband, parents their children, and children their parents, by giving more of their affection to them than unto God himself. Upon this account Christ tells us, "If we love father or mother, brother or sister, more than him, we are not worthy of him." When we delight more in societies of our friends and relations, than in fellowship with God; or are more impatient of their absence, than we are under God's hidings and withdrawings from our souls; in that case we put them in God's room, and so break his command, Thou shalt have no other gods before me; and also sin against the love and grace of his covenant, where he says, I am the Lord thy God. Of this kind of idolatry they are guilty, who value themselves more upon their relation to, or descent from, such and such families or ancestors, than upon their relation to God, or those who are dignified with his image, or are of his household and family by regeneration and adoption.
Some make a god of their worldly pleasure: 2 Tim. iii. 4. the apostle tells us of some who "are lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." The drunkard has more pleasure in his cups, the swearer in his oaths, the unclean person in his swinish lusts, the unjust person in his unlawful gains, than in God. Many will rather risk the displeasure of God, and "rush upon the thick bosses of his buckler, than make a covenant with their eyes" or other senses, that they may not be porches for the fiery darts of Satan to enter in and inflame the fuel of inward lust and corruption. The apostle speaks of some "whose god is their belly," Phil. iii. 19; they are more concerned what they shall eat and drink, or wherewith they shall be clothed, than how they shall glorify God, or advance their own or others spiritual and eternal well-being. They have more pleasure in an ordinary meal among friends, than in eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of God, among his friends and members at his table. And is this to have no other gods before JEHOVAH our God?
Some again make a god of their worldly credit and reputation: John v. 44. the Pharisees loved the praise of men, more than that honour which comes from God: and this was the reason of their rejecting Christ. Will not our spirits rise with resentment when our own character or reputation is attacked; and yet bear it with patience when God is dishonoured, or his holy name profaned? which plainly says, that our own honour is dearer to us than the honour of God; which could never be, if we had no other god before him.
Some make a god of their worldly helps and confidence in the time of danger, and trust more to these for deliverance than unto himself: Is. xxxi. 1. "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong: but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord." There is a solemn curse pronounced against idolaters of this kind, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." Some again make a god of their very enemies, and are more afraid of him that can only kill the body, than they are of him who is able to cast both soul and body into hell. Some make a god of the devil, who is indeed called the "god of this world." When any lust or idol is set up and served, either with body or mind, the devil himself in that case is worshipped and served, though not intentionally; hence Jeroboam's calves are called devils, although by these he only intended to worship the true God. The devil is then worshipped, when we are more afraid of him than we are to displease God by sin; and when people run to wizards, or such as are supposed to be in compact with the devil, in order to ask advice, or to know future events, or to discover what is stolen or lost; this I say, is devil-worship, and was the immediate forerunner of Saul's ruin, when he went to the witch of Endor to seek counsel. It is joined with the abominable idolatry of Molech, Lev. xx. 6.
To conclude, how many are there that make gods of their vile lusts, and serve and obey these rather than God? Some serve the lust of uncleanness, some that of intemperance, some the lust of revenge, others of covetousness or ambition, or the like. O how innumerable are the lusts of the unmortified heart? yet, according to the number of thy lusts, O sinner, so are thy gods. "Know ye not (says the apostle), that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" Rom. vi. 16.
Thus I have given you a short account of some other gods which people may have secretly lodged in their hearts, which they pretend to obey this command, That shalt have no other gods before me. Take heed that the word of the Lord be not against you; and that, while I have been minting to open this law or commandment of God in its spirituality, conscience be not saying, as Ahab to the prophet, "Thou hast found me, O mine enemy." Has not this commandment, which is exceeding broad, discovered some other god in thy heart than him who says here, I am the Lord thy God? If any one of these idols be reigning upon the throne of thy heart, thou never to this day obeyedst the first commandment of the law of God.