The Golden Calf

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However much controversy may be needed for the preservation of the faith once delivered to the saints, it is at best a sorrowful necessity; it not only endangers the spirit of those engaged in it, often clothing self-glorying under the garb of zeal for the Lord, but it extends its influence beyond the immediate actors. The age itself may assume a controversial character, so that everything is viewed through a controversial medium. At the era of our Lord's ministry, the age was characteristically religious; but at the same time so controversial, that one ignorant as the woman of Samaria had caught the spirit; and the effect on her was to hinder any exercise of conscience before God. The present age presents too just a parallel to the one mentioned. It is also characteristically a religious age, and at the same time so systematically sectarian, that the truth of God is only viewed through controversy; and it thus fails of reaching the conscience, and hinders very effectually the ascertainment of the state of souls, individually, before God. There is a remarkable impatience of resolving things into their principles, so that some of the most important truths fail to affect the conscience, because that which embodies them is supposed to be attacked; and in this manner a great deal of the most searching truth is deprived of its point. It is even difficult to apply principles to the consciences of Christians so as to avoid the appearance of controversy, for time has sanctioned so much evil which is not suspected to be evil, that principles have never been tested. Now if, as individual Christians, we know that the principle of every manifested evil is to be found in our own hearts, so as to induce the need of self judgment and constant watchfulness (for grace alone maketh us to differ), so is it equally true that all the corporately manifested evil in Christendom has arisen from some wrong desire working unsuspectedly in the hearts of real Christians; so that there is quite as great need to watch against the working of those principles among Christians corporately, which eventually lead to the worst form of evil, as for an individual Christian to watch against the principle of hatred which, if cherished, might lead to actual murder.
The principle embodied in the golden calf is one which most readily insinuates itself among real Christians. It may indeed be recognized when it has received a gross and tangible form, but spiritual wisdom is able to detect the working of the principle before it becomes embodied in form. The golden calf is one of "our figures"(1 Cor. 10:66Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. (1 Corinthians 10:6), margin.) Its history has been recorded for "our admonition." Israel, outwardly and typically redeemed, serve to show, in a great variety of ways, those who are eternally redeemed to God through the blood of the Lamb, their peculiar dangers. That which "happened" to Israel is "written for our admonition." And thus their failures become beacons to us, and at the same time "figures "of those forms of error to which, as redeemed, we are liable. It is important, therefore, to seek to ascertain the germinant principle of evil which led to the setting up of the golden calf.
The people had sung the song of redemption on the banks of the Red Sea. They had murmured -but their murmurings had only been answered by the grace of God, in supplying their need. They had fought with Amalek, and prevailed through the uplifted hands of Moses. After all this, they receive the law by the "disposition of angels," and by the hand of the Mediator. The covenant between Jehovah and Israel is solemnly entered on and ratified by blood-the people on their part with one voice saying -"All the words which the Lord hath said will we do." Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu go up to the mount with seventy of the elders of Israel, and were permitted to see the God of Israel on the mount, and to eat and drink; but Moses is called up into the mount of God, with this express injunction to the elders -"Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you; and behold Aaron and Hur are with you; if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them." The people had seen the glory of the Lord at a distance -"and the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel." Here we have brought before us the position of the several parties. (See Ex. 24.)
Moses, hidden from the sight of the people, was still occupied with God for the people. He was at that very time receiving instructions from Jehovah for the construction of the beautiful tabernacle, and the ordering of their needed priesthood. He was still blessedly serving them, although they did not see him.
The evil commences with the people; but is consummated by means of the very leader, in whose charge they are left, during the absence of Moses. The people do not mean to disown Moses -they fully recognize him as the man who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt -but he was not then present to their sight. This was their need -some present visible prop on which they might cast themselves so as to be relieved from dependence on that which was invisible. They said to Aaron, "Up, make us gods which shall go before us." Their desire was urgent, and to be gratified at any cost. Without a murmur they bring their golden ornaments to Aaron. How deeply rooted is this principle in the human heart; that which men pay for, they think they have title to use for their own ends; and if it promises relief from dependence on God, they will purchase it at any cost. That which the people demanded received its shape and form from Aaron. He received the gold "at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf." It is remarkable, how little definiteness there was in the mind, either of the people or of Aaron, as to what would be the result of their gratified desire. The people said, "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." How soon is Moses forgotten in this new and present object. At first they only desired gods to go before them, to carry on that which Moses had begun to do, even to complete their deliverance out of Egypt, by leading them into Canaan. But now they regard these gods, and not Moses, as having brought them out of Egypt. How deeply, how solemnly instructive is this. One departure from the fear of God may lead to incalculable mischief.
The feelings of Aaron are different from those of the people. "When he saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah." How subtle is sin. Aaron, on being remonstrated with by Moses, excuses himself on the plea of simply humoring the people in what he did. "Thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf." Alas! what amount of evil may not a good man occasion by acting unfaithfully in a case of emergency. Aaron was left in charge of the people, to meet any difficulty which might arise; but the leader falls in with the desire of the people, and unintentionally leads them into idolatry. He himself had no idolatrous object in that which he did, neither was idolatry the intention of the people. In vain was Aaron's proclamation, "To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah." The calf, and not Jehovah, had the homage of their hearts. (See Acts 7:4141And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. (Acts 7:41).) "And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." On this is grounded the solemn warning to us, "Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them (1 Cor. 10:77Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. (1 Corinthians 10:7))." We must now turn to the thoughts and judgment of God Himself on this scene. And at the very outset, we are instructed in a solemn and searching truth -that God does not measure things by the intention of human agents, but by His own glory. The thoughts of God are not as "our thoughts, neither are his ways as our ways." Our simple and plain duty is to acknowledge Him in all our ways. There is no such thing before God as innocence of intention, when any man presumes to prescribe for himself the mode in which he thinks God can be honored, or the work of God can be furthered. In such instances, the means employed are quite as important as the end intended. God is to be honored in the means we use, "for to obey is better than sacrifice." And it is in the acknowledgment of God, by waiting upon Him in His own appointed way, that we shall find the most searching test of our obedience to Him, and the uprightness of our heart before Him. And may it not with truth be asserted, that the deepest corruption, both in Israel and the Church, can alike be traced to some individual or corporate act, the only fault of which was, that it was unauthorized by God. But this is a fatal fault. It is the introduction of the will and wisdom of man into the very sphere, where the will and wisdom of God are pre-eminently displayed in carrying out His own work.
We must now transfer our thoughts from Aaron and the people, and their feast below, to Moses standing in the presence of Jehovah himself, within the cloud of glory on the top of the mount. And well would it be for us frequently to do this practically, so that we might form a godly judgment of our own ways. We should then be enabled, when inclined to rejoice in the work of our own hands, to detect the danger of secretly departing in our heart from God. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." The desire of the people, the surrender of their gold, the act of Aaron had together ended in corruption. How fearfully instructive. The people of God cannot interfere with the things of God; but they corrupt them and themselves by them. They cast aside their proper glory, and become occupied with that which debases them. That Jehovah was their God was their glory; but they would make to themselves gods.
In their after-history, they desired to be as the nations, and to have a king over them, when Jehovah was their King. They corrupted themselves, and lost their distinguishing glory. And when do we find corruption stealthily creeping into the early Church. Is it not in "philosophical wisdom and admiration of teachers"? The glory of the Church is the presence of the Holy Ghost in the midst of her. The gospel needed not the extraneous support of wisdom or the schools -it came "in demonstration of the spirit and of power." The introduction of human wisdom, admiration of teachers, and all that was most esteemed among men, would virtually displace the Holy Ghost, so that His power, His teaching, His guidance would practically be superseded. "If any man defile [corrupt] the temple of God, him will God destroy [corrupt]." How rapidly it spread. Evil communications speedily corrupted the manners of the Church. And surely it does not require depth of learning, but subjection of mind to the Scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth, to trace back to this germinant corruption in the Church, suppressed at the time by apostolical power, the full-blown corruption yet to be manifested, when that day of the Lord God Almighty comes, "that he should destroy those who destroy the earth" (Rev. 11:1818And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth. (Revelation 11:18)). Viewed in the light of heaven, and as from heaven, this introduction of human wisdom in the Church was by the Apostle seen to be corruption. Those who would have introduced it, thought it a help and an ornament. "They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them." The rapid inroad of corruption into that which God has set up in purity is remarkable. The people of Israel, awe-struck by the Majesty of God, had heard the solemn words, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." To this they had responded, "All the words which the Lord has said will we do." And yet after the lapse of a few short days, they turn aside out of the way, and make to themselves gods. Does this surprise us? Is it not rather too faithful a history of the ostensible people of God in all ages and in every dispensation? God has not been pleased to record how long man stood in innocency -but the sacred narrative proceeds from his exercise of dominion over every living creature, and his reception of the blessed gift of a help-meet from God, to state his grievous fall. When Noah, who had in the Ark passed safe through the judgment, is set up as head of a new world, how quickly there is his fall into drunkenness recorded!
And has the latest intervention of God in the revelation of the Gospel of His grace proved an exception to the general rule, of immediate failure on the part of man? If we proceed to the period after the Holy Ghost had come down from heaven -what says the Apostle of that which would be after him? "I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them." The mystery of iniquity had begun to work in the Apostles' time, when there was spiritual discernment to detect its beginnings, and infallible authority to meet the evil. But how quickly had the disciples turned out of the way. And this is solemnly important to mark; the worst evils which have arisen in the Church, were detected as secretly working in their principles by the Apostles themselves, so that we dare not go back to any form of the Church as a pattern subsequent to the days of the Apostles; because the evil which so secretly was at work in their days would only become more formed, when their discernment and authority was no longer present to detect and to resist it. It is indeed a curious feature of the mind of man, that in the things of God, he prefers stopping at secondary authority when access is open to its primary source. Both Jews and Christians have alike resorted to antiquity for their pattern, when the thing needed was to judge antiquity by the light of the Scripture. Jewish antiquity was the tradition of the elders -"vain conversation received by tradition "from their fathers -for this they vehemently contended, even at the expense of nullifying the Scriptures. And so among Christians, the most bitter contention has been for traditionary religion, and "the faith once delivered to the saints" has been little regarded. Christians forget how early was the departure from the faith once delivered to the saints, and propose to themselves as a pattern of excellence some age of the Church in which there must have been deterioration; and thus virtually set aside Scripture and neglect the guidance of the Holy Ghost, to unravel the intricacies of time-honored tradition and enable them to find that path which is pleasing to God. When tested by Scripture, it surprises us to find how much of that to which we have clung will not bear its uncompromising light.
But how solemn is the judgment of God on the people -"have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them." But if Moses was in the place of righteous judgment, he was also in the very atmosphere of grace, and there he could take the place of intercession, and prevail because his plea was the honor of the Lord Himself. This must ever be a prevailing plea, because it acknowledges the righteousness of the judgment of God. "For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. " Moses can neither excuse or extenuate the sin of the people. It is not the place of intercession to do this, because everything before God must be truthful. What comfort for us to know of Christ that "He is at the right hand of God, and that He also maketh intercession for us." He knows the righteous judgment of God -He knows, too, the evil of our sin, but His intercession is grounded on the way in which He himself has vindicated the righteousness of God in putting away our sin. The intercession of Moses brings out a new feature; viz., the long-suffering of God with His redeemed people -with that (i.e. Israel as now the professing Church) which has the responsibility as well as the privilege of bearing His name. This was shown in the mount, and afterward proclaimed by Jehovah himself to Moses. God had previously shown His long-suffering in bearing with the world for a hundred and twenty years, while the ark was preparing. He had borne with the abominations of the Canaanites four hundred years, "because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full." And now, when He has redeemed to Himself a chosen people out of Egypt, this very people corrupt themselves and become the objects of His long-suffering. And is it not the same in the present time'? Is not God now showing forth "the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering "towards man as man, and this only to be scorned and despised, while those who are outwardly by profession His people, and bearing His name, are quite as much the object of His long-suffering as the world? The outward professing body has not continued "in the goodness of God," and all which awaits it is to be "cut off' -to be spued out of his mouth (Rev. 3).
But we must follow Moses down from the mount to the scene of Israel's sin. The eye of Jehovah had seen it from heaven, His dwelling-place; there also Moses had heard the report of it, and interceded for the people, and not in vain. But when Moses leaves the immediate sphere of the grace of God, and becomes himself a spectator of Israel's condition, his feeling is that of indignation and not of intercession. "His anger waxed hot," and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount." How had Moses interceded when the Lord had said "Let me alone that my wrath may wax hot against them." There are deep lessons to be learned here. "God, the Judge of all," who must ever judge according to His own holiness, can at the same time act according to His own grace. He cannot extenuate sin -and "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish," are revealed by Him as "against every soul of man which doeth evil." God has revealed to us how He is both faithful and just in forgiving us our sin. But how different is man from God? The sin which God had seen and pardoned at the intercession of Moses, when Moses himself sees he cannot bear with. Here we may learn the infirmity of the creature, and something beside this -that the saint cannot bear in himself the very sin which God had pardoned; nor will the servant of God tolerate in the people of God the sin of that people. What indignation had the godly part of the Corinthian church evinced against themselves for tolerating sin among them, even after the sin itself had been punished? Indignation is dangerous, because it is so allied to human infirmity, and "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" -but indignation is godly when arising from the sense of an insult cast upon God, or the shamelessness of saints as to their condition before God. We dare not think of man, however highly honored of God, above what is written; and we gain deep instruction from Moses in this instance, it may be spewing human infirmity, or from Moses acting as "the servant of the Lord." How constantly do we find the practical truth of that word-" When I would do good, evil is present with me." Honest zeal will often find close by its side, self-satisfaction or self-exaltation. Real kindliness of feeling may readily associate itself with disregard for the honor of Christ. What need of walking in the fear of the Lord, and habitual exercise of soul before him, in order that we may "judge righteous judgment!" In that which follows there is a typical action, embodying deep practical truths. Moses "took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it." Their "sin" ("and I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire" (Deut. 9:2121And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount. (Deuteronomy 9:21))), thus became inherent in them. It was the "original sin" of the dispensation, and hung over them all the time of their prophets and their kings, and during the whole period they were in the land. They never recovered from its effects. At length, after the lapse of centuries, this original sin was met by due punishment in the Babylonish captivity (Amos 5:25-2725Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? 26But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. 27Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is The God of hosts. (Amos 5:25‑27); Acts 7:41, 4241And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. 42Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? (Acts 7:41‑42)).
It has not pleased God ever to reverse an original sin. He allows it to take its course, and during the progress of the development of its effects, he takes occasion to unfold more and more of His purpose in Christ. This is true of the first great original sin, as we are so wonderfully taught (Rom. 5); where we find the important statement that there is no such thing as the reversal of one sin without the reversal of all -no reversal of original sin without the reversal of actual transgression as well. "And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift; for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification." It is one of the many ways which human wisdom has devised to nullify redemption, to assign to the work of Christ the reversal of original sin. It is said, that man is placed in a salvable state, so that as to actual salvation it must be uncertain, because salvation is again contingent on conditions to be performed by man. Men use such know-ledge as they "naturally" have of Christ, not to see their increased responsibility, but to elevate their own state before God, so that when redemption is preached as a divine certainty to faith, such a testimony invades their self-complacency, and upsets all their theory. Blessed indeed to know that "by Christ all that believe are justified from all things."
The position which the Church of God occupies is very remarkable. "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." The ages had all run their course. Under whatever favor of God man had been placed, He had never answered his responsibility. Some fatal sin had invariably occurred at the commencement of the age, and continued through-out its downward course; and the special failures of the typically redeemed people of God, which marked their downward course, are "written especially for our admonition." But has the Church been admonished'? Or, rather, neglecting admonition, has not the Church followed in a course answerable to those very sins by which we are admonished in Israel's history? The apostolic testimony too plainly and painfully' proves, that in their days the Church had already taken the downward course. Early in the days of the apostles, there was manifested what may be regarded as the original sin, or original sins of the Church, even when there was power to detect and expose evil, and to obviate also its baneful effects, by the only way opened under such circumstances -the confession of the sin, and faith in the ability of God to bless by His grace for His own name's sake. We find this instruction blessedly set forth in Israel's history. "And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy' God, that we die not; for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart, and turn ye not aside, for then should ye go after vain things which cannot profit nor deliver, for they are vain. For the Lord will not forsake His people for His great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you his people." The original sins of the Church have held on their course for eighteen hundred years; and have produced as a result the present actual state of the professing Christian world, in the midst of which the Church of the living God is nevertheless to be found. The full results of these sins seem to be on the eve of manifestation; and when fully manifested, will be met by direct judgment from God, analogously to the judgment of God on Israel's sin in the wilderness, viz, subsequent Gentile domination -a judgment still in actual force against Israel, since their sin also has been fearfully aggravated in again rejecting Jehovah, even Jehovah Jesus, that they might maintain their own traditions.
But to return to the scene into which Moses had come from the presence of Jehovah. After making the children of Israel to drink down their own sin, Moses turns to Aaron and asks him -"What did this people unto thee, that, thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?" In Aaron we find a representation of the fatal principle of expediency, or of man's attempt to manage the things of God. His excuse is, that he thought it best to humor the petulance of the people. He had no intention to make them gods. "Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me; then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf' And have not the greatest corruptions in the Church originated from the. effort of good men to try to consecrate some popular feeling, little thinking what they were really sanctioning; for, image-worship itself was "but the calf which came out" of the homage which was rendered to the memory of. saints, and which good men tried to turn to good account -but which is idolatry in the sight of God. Human expediency in the things of God speedily turns to discomfort and weakness. Aaron had listened to the people's cry instead of resenting it, and by listening, he had made them "naked to their shame among their enemies." And is it not always so? In every case where the will of man has worked, and worked successfully, it has produced weakness; the desire may be gratified but leanness enters into the soul. But here it is not the discomfiture of enemies; the Lord uses another rod, the most painful and humbling for those who are disciplined by it. The watchword is -"Who is on the Lord's side?" and brother is armed against brother -the commission is, "Slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor." He whose name is "Jealous" is a jealous God; and well indeed is it for us to have a godly jealousy, especially in a day when lukewarmness as to the honor of Christ so generally prevails.
Moses has now but little heart for intercession, when on the mount he breathed the very atmosphere of grace; but now he is in the actual scene of sin, and sees it as the Lord had seen it on the mount, when Moses had interceded with Him for the people. But now, nothing but the sin of the people is before Moses. "Ye have sinned a great sin"; he must needs get out of the scene of sin, in order to get into the place of intercession. Blessed instruction for us -such a high priest became us, "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens!" Ever able to estimate sin as it must be in the sight of Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and at the same time to throw the glory of His own person, and the value of His own work, into His own prevailing intercession. "And now I will go up unto the Lord: peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin." Surely Moses the servant of the Lord goes up to the mount dispirited and dismayed. He had not personally sinned the sin; but for that very reason he felt it the deeper. "And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of Thy book which Thou lust written." There was the truthful consciousness in Moses that he could find no plea in himself or in the people to present before the Lord; his only alternative was either to find forgiveness in the Lord's own grace, or that he himself might be blotted out, so as not to witness the shame of his people. How strongly does this consciousness of worthlessness in Moses bring into relief the dignified consciousness of worth in Jesus -"I have prayed for thee." But the Lord has His own ways: when corporate failure has come in, He can deal with individuals in the midst of it according to His own righteous judgment. "Whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book." At the same time it is clearly announced, that the corporate sin would in due time be punished corporately; "nevertheless, in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them." These are principles of God of deep and solemn importance. God is pleased to commit to man's responsibility certain corporate blessings. Such blessings become speedily forfeited through the failure of men; God still bears on in protracted long-suffering, dealing with individuals according to His own grace, but at length the time comes for corporately visiting the failing body. "And the Lord plagued the people because they made the calf which Aaron made." Aaron laid the blame on the people; but it is regarded by God "as with the priest, so with the people." God knows the amount of guilt attached to the several parties, and where they may lay it the one on the other, God charges both alike.
The principle embodied in the golden calf was early manifested in the Church; and is in fact the principle of idolatry. "Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play." This admonition was given to those who were "called saints. " Is it unneeded now? Are we in no danger of idolatry? We are aware of the fine-drawn distinctions of the Romanist to justify picture and image-worship; and we know also that it is not the meaning which they attach to such homage, but the light in which it is regarded by God, which is the truth. Many also most confidently believe, on the authority of the word of God, that the corruption of Christendom will end in open, gross, and palpable idolatry. Neither the progress of civilization nor the emancipation of the mind of man are any safeguard against gross and palpable idolatry. It was the wisdom of man making the Godhead the subject of speculation instead of the object of faith, which originally introduced idolatry. "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations [reasonings] and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things." Surely man will never find his way back to God, by the very road of his departure from God; and the veneration of ordinances and intellectual rationalism may meet in the end in palpable idolatry. The word of admonition still applies to saints, "Neither be ye idolaters," for the principle of idolatry is some present palpable object between the soul and God, which effectually hinders dependence on God; and this is the principle embodied in the golden calf. We find in the days of the Apostles the original elements of this principle of idolatry under several modifications: and in the progress of declension these elements have received more or less tangible form. The grossest form of the original sin of the Church is found in the Galatian error -an error held up to us as a beacon, but which really has been followed as a pattern, so as to have been in great measure the formative power of the great professing body. It is the grossest form of the principle of the golden calf, being the natural expression of the feeling of the human heart, as though God was served with man's hands as needing something. It is said of the people when they made the golden calf, "they rejoiced in the work of their own hands," the same in principle as the Galatian error. But how strongly does the Apostle rebuke it. He knew of no middle way between the grace of God in Christ and idolatry. The Galatians had been turned from idolatry to the true God by faith in Christ Jesus. They were now in danger of relapsing in principle into their old idolatry, by adding the law to Christ. "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods; but now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again [back, marg.] to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" In the Epistle to the Hebrews we have the same principle in another form; the virtual setting aside of the perfectness of the work of Christ on the cross, and His present perfect priestly ministry, by recurrence to Jewish ordinances of worship. It is but the golden calf in another form. "As for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him." Even so now; Christ, received into the heavens, is forgotten in His ministry there, and early indeed did the Church desire to have some visible and tangible helps to worship, and they took their pattern from the sin of Israel. Stern and solemn is the warning rebuke of the Apostle (Heb. 6 and 10), so that scarcely a saint has been unexercised by it; and yet how little has it been aptly applied. These warnings are manifestly against the tendency to relapse into the old form of worship, to go back to the shadow and lose the reality. "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace?" Judaism Christianized, is a large and extensive characteristic of the great professing body; men have assimilated the very things which God has contrasted, and that by putting together such heterogeneous materials Christ has been dishonored, even as He, as Jehovah, was dishonored by Israel setting up visible gods, which really rivaled Jehovah Himself.
The principle of the golden calf was detected by the watchful eye of the Apostle, working among the Colossians in a more subtle form. Such foreign helps as philosophy and asceticism were there intruded; but in reality they hindered the simplicity of the Gospel, instead of helping the soul to realized union with Christ; such helps took it away from dependence on Christ, so that those who esteemed them, did not "hold the head. " This form of the original sin of the Church has worked its way in the downward course of the Church; the fleshly mind has intruded its own conceits into the revelation of God; under the garb of affected humility, or it may be even under the semblance of spiritual aspirations, we find the glory of Christ in His own person, as well as the glory of His work, virtually superseded. It is the exercise of the human mind on the great facts of revelation, instead of staying the soul by faith on these great facts, which especially marks this principle; and it is one which readily insinuates itself. Direct "holding the head "is the only safeguard against it.
But by far the most subtle form of the idolatry of the golden calf, is that which we find in the Corinthian church; the "glorying in men" or idolatry of man. Not of man as man, but man as the minister of Christ. How nice the line between esteeming such very highly in love for their works' sake, and putting them between the soul and Christ, according to the desire of Israel to have gods to go before them, when Moses who brought them up out of Egypt was lost to their sight. It is very possible to find this principle lurking where priestcraft is loudly abjured. The desire is deeply rooted in the human heart to have some tangible medium between itself and God, which, while it may be the medium of communicating the truth of God to the soul, is nevertheless used by the soul to hinder its coming into immediate contact with Christ Himself, and to keep it in measured distance from God. Paul, Apollos, or Cephas, the gracious gifts of Christ Himself to the Church, the moment they severally became regarded as the minister of so many persons, were by this very means put between the soul and Christ, they were gloried in as men. This was to their own dishonor, and at the same time to the deep damage of the souls of those who thus set them up over themselves. For by thus misplacing the channel of His grace, Christ Himself as the fountain of all grace is lost sight of. "All are yours." The infinite fullness of Him in whom dwelleth all fullness is little known; because men only regard one, instead of the many channels, by which that fullness is communicated, "All are yours" (1 Cor. 3). And thus, virtually, it is not the truth itself which is so much regarded, as the person who testifies to it. The truth is accredited by the person, and not the person by the truth. "And," said 'the Truth' Himself, "because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not." Any dogma of an accredited teacher would have been received; but the truth was unpalatable in itself, and not received because of Him who spoke it. In what little power is the truth which we do know held; because doctrines are received rather on the credit of man than of God.
The revealed order of God's dealings with His accredited people shows that, notwithstanding His long-suffering, He allows things to take their course and to work out to their legitimate end; and not only is it positively stated in scripture, but it is confirmed by analogy, that the end will be idolatry. The long-suffering of God affords indeed the occasion for separating that which is essential, and cannot fail from that which, by being entrusted to man's responsibility has failed, but it does not hinder evil principles introduced at the outset of the Church working out to their necessary result.
The perversion of the gospel, as among the Galatians, is the almost accredited order. Rituals, formed from Judaism, prove that the Church has fallen into the very form of error against which the apostle so solemnly warns in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Religious sentimentalism, mysticism (and asceticism in measure), the Colossian danger, have well-nigh supplanted "the head"; and the glorying in men, ministers of Christ though they be, tends to eclipse the glory of Christ Himself, and to nullify the great doctrine of the other present Comforter, "the Spirit of truth to guide into all truth."
"Neither be ye idolaters as were some of them." It is a standing, and not a temporary warning. Let us give it a due place in our souls. There is but one safeguard, -the occupancy of the soul immediately with Him "who is the image of the invisible God." Has the person of Christ its due place in our hearts? Has He no rival there? Is there a holy craving to "know Him"? Is the thought of everlasting blessedness associated in our souls with being "ever with the Lord"? What is there lacking which we do not find in Him? Are we lost in the immensity of contemplating the Godhead? "In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Do we find the need of a medium of communication between our souls and God? "There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Only let us be alive to our danger -our own hearts -our own reasonings -the reasonings of others who combine with Satan himself to intercept the immediate intercourse of our souls with Christ. Even service, apparently done to Him, may distract our souls from Him. We need the exhortation "to continue in the grace of God," and "with purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord." We need awakened jealousy for His honor. The duty of upholding the dignity of His person and the perfectness of His work is as incumbent on us as on the apostles. May the unction from the Holy One deeply teach us the words of the beloved disciple -"We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. LITTLE CHILDREN, KEEP YOURSELVES FROM IDOLS. Amen."
The Present Testimony 2:130-149 (1850).