March 21: Broken Cisterns Of Creature Idolatry

Also, you son of man, shall it not be in the day when I take from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their minds, their sons and their daughters, That he that escapes in that day shall come unto you, to cause you to hear it with your ears? Ezekiel 24:25-26

WHAT is the history of creature idolatry, but a mournful record of beautiful and inviting cisterns of happiness, which, nevertheless, God has destroyed. This is a wide and an affecting circle. We enter it cautiously, we allude to it feelingly and tenderly. We touch the subject with a pen that has often sought (though in much feebleness it is acknowledged), to comfort the mourner, and to lift the pressure from the bowed spirit. We enter the domestic circle—oh! what beautiful cisterns of creature good, broken and empty, meet us here!

The affectionate husband, the fond wife, the devoted parent, the pleasant child, the faithful friend, laid low in death. They were lovely cisterns, and the heart loved to drink from them its bliss. But lo! God has smitten, and they are broken, and the sweet waters have passed away! Was there not a worshiping of the creature, rather than the Creator? Was not the object deified? Was not the attachment idolatrous? Did not the loved one occupy Christ’s place in the heart? Ah! the wound, the void, the desolateness, the lonely grief of that heart, but too truly tell who was enthroned upon its strongest and its best affections.

Turn every loss of creature-good into an occasion of greater nearness to Christ. The dearest and loveliest creature is but a cistern—an inferior and contracted good. If it contains any sweetness, the Lord put it there. If it is a medium of any blessing to your soul, Jesus made it so. But do not forget, beloved, it is only a cistern. And what more? Shall I wound you if I say it? Tenderly do I speak—and if, instead of leading you to, it draws you from, the Fountain, in unerring wisdom, in tender mercy, and in faithful love, the Lord will break it, that you might learn, that while no creature can be a substitute for Him, He Himself can be a substitute for all creatures. Thus His friendship, His love, and His presence are frequently the sweetest, and the most fully enjoyed, when He has taken all things else away.

Jesus loves you far too much to allow another, however dear, to eclipse and rival Him. “The day of the Lord will be upon all pleasant pictures,” and then the poor, imperfect copy will retire, and give place to the divine and glorious Original; and God in Christ will be all in all.

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March 18: Our Guide Unto Death

For this God is our God forever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death. Psalm 47:14

THE natural man is a god to himself. Yes, he has his gods many. Whether it be self-righteousness, self-gratification, the world, wealth, family, in whatever form it appears, “other lords have dominion over him,” to the exclusion of the one true and living God. The nature of the human mind is such, that it must love and worship some object supremely. In his state of innocence, Jehovah was the one and supreme object of the creature’s love and adoration. Seduced from that state of simple and supreme affection by the tempter’s promise, that if they ate of the fruit, forbidden of God, “they should be as gods,” in one moment, they threw off their allegiance to Jehovah; renounced Him as the object of their supreme love, the center of their holiest affections, and became gods to themselves.

The temple was ruined, the altar was thrown down, the pure flame was extinguished; God departed, and “other lords” entered and took possession of the soul. But what a change does grace produce! It repairs the temple, rebuilds the altar, rekindles the flame, and brings God back to man! God in Christ is now the supreme object of his love, his adoration, and his worship. The idol self has been cast down, self-righteousness renounced, self-exaltation crucified. One stronger than it has entered, cast out the usurper, and, “creating all things new,” has resumed His rightful supremacy. The affections, released from their false deity, and renewed by the Spirit, now turn to, and take up their rest in, God. God in Christ! how glorious does He now appear! Never did the soul see in Him such beauty, such excellence, such blessedness as it now sees. All other glory fades and dies before the surpassing glory of His character, His attributes, His government, and His law.

God in Christ is viewed as reconciled now; enmity ceases; hatred has passed away; opposition grounds its weapons; hard thoughts of His law, and treason thoughts of His government, subside; love kindles in the soul, and in one precious Christ, the one Mediator, God and the sinner meet, embrace, and blend. Truly they become one. God says, “You are mine.” The soul responds, “You are my God. Other lords have had dominion over me, but henceforth You only will I serve, You only will I love. My soul follows hard after You; Your right hand upholds me.”

God in Christ is his Father now. “I will arise and go unto my Father,” is the first motion of a renewed soul. “Father, I have sinned against You,” is the first confession rising from the broken heart. The Father hastens to meet and embrace his child, and clasping him to his bosom exclaims, “This my son was dead, and is alive again.” Reconciled, he now looks up to Him truly as his father. “You shall call me My Father; and shall not turn away from me.” Does God speak? it is the voice of a Father he hears. Does God chasten and rebuke? it is from his Father he feels. Are his hopes disappointed, his plans crossed, his cisterns broken, his gourds withered? “My Father has done it all,” he exclaims. Blessed spirit of adoption! sweet pledge and evidence are you of the new creature.

God in Christ is now the object of confidence and trust. Trust in a reconciled God and Father was no mark and portion of his unrenewed state. It was then trust in self, in its imagined wisdom and strength and goodness. It was then trust in the arm of flesh, in second causes. Now the soul trusts in God; trusts him at all times and under all circumstances; trusts Him in the darkest hour, under the gloomiest dispensation; trusts Him when His providences look dark and lowering, and God seems to hide Himself; yes, trusts Him “though he slay.” Oh, how safe he feels in God’s hands and under His government now! His soul, his body, his family, his business, his cares, are completely surrendered, and God is all in all.

Reader, this is to be born again.

July 31: The Idol Of Self

“Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.” Psalm 131:2

The first object from which our heavenly Father weans His child is self. Of all idols, he finds self the hardest to abandon. When man in Paradise aspired to be as God, God was dethroned from his soul, and the creature became as a deity to itself. From that moment, the idolatry of self has been the great and universal crime of our race, and will continue to be until Christ comes to restore all things.

In the soul of the regenerate, Divine grace has done much to dethrone this idol, and to reinstate God. The work, however, is but partially accomplished. The dishonored and rejected rival is not eager to relinquish his throne, and yield to the supreme control and sway of another. There is much yet to be achieved before this still indwelling and unconquered foe lays down his weapons in entire subjection to the will and the authority of that Savior, whose throne and rights he has usurped.

Thus, much still lingers in the heart which the Spirit has renewed and inhabits, of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-seeking, and self-love. From all this our Father seeks to wean us.

From our own wisdom, which is but folly; from our own strength, which is but weakness; from our own wills, which are often as an uncurbed steed; from our own ways, which are crooked; from our own hearts, which are deceitful; from our own judgments, which are dark; from our own ends, which are narrow and selfish, He would wean and detach us, that our souls may get more and more back to their original center of repose–God Himself.

In view of this mournful exhibition of fallen and corrupt self, how necessary the discipline of our heavenly Father that extorts from us the Psalmist’s language, “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of this mother”!

Self did seem to be our mother–the fruitful parent of so much in our plans and aims and spirit that was dishonoring to our God. From this He would gently and tenderly, but effectually, wean us, that we may learn to rely upon His wisdom, to repose in His strength, to consult His honor, and to seek His glory and smile, supremely and alone.

And oh! how effectually is this blessed state attained when God, by setting us aside in the season of solitude and sorrow, teaches us that He can do without us. We perhaps thought that our rank, or our talents, or our influence, or our very presence were essential to the advancement of His cause, and that some parts of it could not proceed without us! The Lord knew otherwise.

And so He laid His hand upon us, and withdrew us from the scene of our labors and duties, engagements and ambition, that He might hide pride from our hearts–the pride of self-importance. And oh, is it no mighty attainment in the Christian life to be thus weaned from ourselves!

Beloved, it forms the root of all other blessing. The moment we learn to cease from ourselves–from our own wisdom, and power, and importance–the Lord appears and takes us up. Then His wisdom is displayed, His power is put forth, His glory is developed, and His great name gets to itself all the praise. It was not until God had placed Moses in the cleft of the rock, that His glory passed by. Moses must be hid, that God might be all.

May 18: Love The Lord Your God

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38

Love to God is spoken of in His word as forming the primary and grand requirement of the divine law. Now, it was both infinitely wise and good in God thus to present Himself the proper and lawful object of love. We say it was wise, because, had He placed the object of supreme affection lower than Himself, it had been to have elevated an inferior object above Himself. For whatever other object than God is loved with a sole and supreme affection, it is a deifying of that object, so that it, as God, sits in the temple of God, showing itself that it is God. It was good, because a lesser object of affection could never have met the desires and aspirations of an immortal mind.

God has so constituted man, implanting in him such a capacity for happiness, and such boundless and immortal desires for its possession, as can find their full enjoyment only in infinity itself. He never designed that the intelligent and immortal creature should sip its bliss at a lower fountain than Himself.

Then, it was infinitely wise and good in God that He should have presented Himself as the sole object of supreme love and worship to His intelligent creatures. His wisdom saw the necessity of having one center of supreme and adoring affection, and one object of supreme and spiritual worship, to angels and to men. His goodness suggested that that center and that object should be Himself, the perfection of infinite excellence, the fountain of infinite good. That, as from Him went forth all the streams of life to all creatures, it was but reasonable and just that to Him should return, and in Him should center, all the streams of love and obedience of all intelligent and immortal creatures: that, as He was the most intelligent, wise, glorious, and beneficent object in the universe, it was fit that the first, strongest, and purest love of the creature should soar towards and find its resting-place in Him.

Love to God, then, forms the grand requirement and fundamental precept of the divine law. It is binding upon all intelligent beings. From it no consideration can release the creature. No plea of inability, no claim of inferior objects, no opposition of rival interest, can lessen the obligation of every creature that has breath to “love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.” It grows out of the relation of the creature to God, as his Creator, moral Governor, and Preserver; and as being in Himself the only object of infinite excellence, wisdom, holiness, majesty, and grace.

This obligation, too, to love God with supreme affection is binding upon the creature, irrespective of any advantage which may result to him from so loving God. It is most true that God has benevolently connected supreme happiness with supreme love, and has threatened supreme misery where supreme affection is withheld; yet, independent of any blessing that may accrue to the creature from its love to God, the infinite excellence of the Divine nature and the eternal relation in which He stands to the intelligent universe, render it irreversibly obligatory on every creature to love Him with a supreme, paramount, holy, and unreserved affection.

April 23: A Stolen Heart

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21

An idolatrous and unsanctified attachment to the creature has again and again crucified love to Christ in the heart. Upon the same principle that no man can love the world and God with a like supreme and kindred affection, so no man can give to Christ and the creature the same intensity
of regard.

And yet, how often has the creature stolen the heart from its lawful Sovereign! That heart that was once so simply and so supremely the Lord’s, those affections that clung to Him with such purity and power of grasp, have now been transferred to another and an inferior object; the piece of clay that God had given but to deepen the obligation, and heighten the soul’s love to Himself, has been molded into an idol, before which the heart pours its daily incense; the flower that He has caused to spring forth but to endear His own beauty, and make His own name more fragrant, has supplanted the “Rose of Sharon” in the bosom.

Oh! is it thus that we abuse our mercies? is it thus that we convert our blessings into poisons? that we allow the things that were sent to endear the heart of our God, and to make the cross, through which they came, more precious, to allure our affections from their holy and blessed center? Fools that we are, to love the creature more than the Creator!

Dear reader, why has God been disciplining you as it may be, He has? why has He removed your idols, crumbled into dust your piece of clay, and blown witheringly upon your beauteous flower? Why? Because He hates idolatry; and idolatry is essentially the same, whether it be offered to a lifeless, shapeless stock, or to a being of intellect and beauty.

And what does His voice speak in every stream that He dries, in every plant that He blows upon, and in every disappointment He writes upon the creature? “My son, give me your heart. I want your love, your pure and supreme affection; I want to be the one and only object of your delight. I gave my Son for you- His life for yours; I sent my Spirit to quicken, to renew, to seal, and possess you for myself; all this I did that I might have your heart.

To possess myself of this, I have smitten your gourds, removed your idols, broken your earthly dependences, and have sought to detach your affections from the creature, that they may arise, undivided and unfettered, and entwine around One who loves you with an undying love.”

November 14

“My son, give me your heart.” Proverbs 23:26

THE human heart is naturally idolatrous. Its affections once supremely centered in God: but now, disjoined from Him, they go in quest of other objects of attachment, and we love and worship the creature rather than the Creator. The circle which our affections traverse may not indeed be a large one; there are, perchance, but few to whom we fully surrender our heart; no, so circumscribed may the circle be, that one object alone shall attract, absorb, and concentrate in itself our entire and undivided love—that one object to us as a universe of beings, and all others comparatively indifferent and insipid. Who cannot see that, in a case like this, the danger is imminent of transforming the heart—Christ’s own sanctuary—into an idol’s temple, where the creature is loved, and reverenced, and served more than He who gave it. But from all idolatry our God will cleanse us, and from all our idols Christ will wean us.

The Lord is jealous, with a holy jealousy, of our love. Poor as our affection is, He asks its complete surrender. That He requires our love at the expense of all creature attachment, the Bible nowhere intimates. He created our affections, and He it is who provides for their proper and pleasant indulgence. There is not a single precept or command in the Scriptures that forbids their exercise, or that discourages their intensity. Husbands are exhorted to “love their wives, even as Christ loved His church.” Parents are to cherish a like affection toward their children, and children are bound to render back a filial love not less intense to their parents. And we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Nor does the word of God furnish examples of Christian friendship less interesting and devoted.

One of the choicest and tenderest blessings with which God can enrich us, next to Himself, is such a friend as Paul had in Epaphroditus, a “brother and companion in labor, and fellow-soldier;” and such an affectionate friendship as John, the loving disciple, cherished for his well-beloved Gaius, whom he loved in the truth, and to whom, in the season of his sickness, he thus touchingly poured out his heart’s affectionate sympathy: “Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.” Count such a friend and such friendship among God’s sweetest and holiest bestowments. The blessings of which it may be to you the sanctifying channel are immense. The tender sympathy—the jealous watchfulness—the confidential repose—the faithful admonition—above all, the intercessory prayer, connected with Christian friendship, may be placed in the inventory of our most inestimable and precious things.

It is not therefore the use, but the abuse, of our affections—not their legitimate exercise, but their idolatrous tendency—over which we have need to exercise the greatest vigilance. It is not our love to the creature against which God contends, but it is in not allowing our love to Himself to subordinate all other love. We may love the creature, but we may not love the creature more than the Creator. When the Giver is lost sight of and forgotten in the gift, then comes the painful process of weaning. When the heart burns its incense before some human shrine, and the cloud as it ascends veils from the eye the beauty and the excellence of Jesus, then comes the painful proves of weaning. When the absorbing claims and the engrossing attentions of some loved one are placed in competition and are allowed to clash with the claims of God, and the service due from us personally to His cause and truth, then comes the painful process of weaning. When creature devotion deadens our heart to the Lord, lessens our interest in His cause, congeals our zeal and love and liberality, detaches us from the public means of grace, withdraws from the closet, the Bible, and the communion of saints, thus propagating leanness of soul, and robbing God of His glory, then comes the painful process of weaning. Christ will be the first in our affections—God will be supreme in our service—and His kingdom and righteousness must take precedence of all other things.

September 10

“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13

GOD speaks of it as involving two evils—the evil of forsaking Him, and the evil of substituting a false object of happiness for Him. Dear reader, the true painfulness of this subject consists not in the sorrow which your heart may have felt in seeing your cisterns broken. Ah no! the true agony should be, that you have, in your wanderings and creature idolatry, sinned, deeply sinned, against the Lord your God. This, and not your loss, ought to lay you low before Him. This, and not your broken scheme of earthly happiness, ought to fill you with the bitterness of sorrow, and clothe you with the drapery of woe. Oh! to have turned your back upon such a God, upon such a Father, upon such a Friend, and to have supposed that even a universe of creatures could have made you happy without Him, ought to bring you to His feet exclaiming, “God be merciful to me, the chief of sinners!” Is it no sin to have said to God, as you have a thousand times over—”I prefer myself to You—my family to You—my estate to You—my pleasure to You—my honor to You”? Is it no sin to have taken the gifts with which He endowed you, or the wealth with which He intrusted you, and forming them into a golden image, to have fallen down before it, exclaiming, “This is your god, O my soul?” Oh yes, it is a sin, the guilt and the greatness of which no language can describe. And is it no sin, O believer in Jesus, to have turned away, in your unbelief and inconstancy, from the glorious redemption which the Lord has obtained for you at such a price, and to have sought the assurance and the joy of your salvation from other sources than it? What! is not the atoning work of Jesus sufficient to give your believing soul solid rest, and peace, and hope, but that you should have turned your eye from Him, and have sought it in the polluted and broken cistern of self? Oh, slight not the precious blood, the glorious righteousness, the infinite fullness, and the tender love of Jesus thus. No, you dishonor this precious Jesus Himself! Shall He have wrought such an obedience, shall He have made such an atonement, shall He have died such a death, shall He have risen and have ascended up on high, all to secure your full salvation and certain glory, and will you derive the evidence and the comfort of your acceptance from any other than this one precious source—”looking unto Jesus!” Look away, then, from everything to Jesus. No matter what you are, look away from self—to Jesus. The more vile, the more empty, the more unworthy, the greater reason and the stronger argument why you should look entirely off yourself—to Jesus. His atoning work is finished by Him, and is sealed by the Father. It is impossible that God can reject you, entirely renouncing yourself and fleeing into Christ. Coming to Him in the name of Jesus, God cannot deny you. He has pledged Himself that whatever is asked in that name He will grant. Take Him at His word!

Ask Him for a sense of His reconciled love—ask Him for the Spirit of adoption—ask Him for a filial, loving, and obedient heart—ask Him for a meek, lowly, and submissive will. Yes, pour out your heart before Him: God waits to grant your utmost desire breathed out to Him in the name of Jesus. He has given you His beloved Son—oh largess worthy of a God!—oh gift of gifts, priceless and precious beyond all thought!—what inferior blessing will He then, withhold?