Were Some Early Church Elders also Bond-Slaves?

Were Some Early Church Elders also Bond-Slaves?

Who are your leaders?  Are they the most financially successful people in your church? Are they the people who have the greatest status in your community?

What about the early church?

Is it possible that some of the early church Elders in Ephesus were also bond-slaves to other men outside the church?

This is the question that comes to mind as I read 1 Timothy 5 and 6. Traditionally, there is a split at the end of chapter 5 verse 25. Van Neste summarizes the common reading this way;

The disappearance of ‘elders’ and the appearance of slaves (v. 1) and masters (v. 1, 2), both for the first time in the letter, signals the beginning of a new unit. In the verbs, the third person, which occurred at the close of 5:17–25, dominates 6:1–2b, and quite unlike 5:17–25 there are no second person imperatives in 6:1–2b. Thus, a new unit on slaves and masters begins at 6:1.1

It seems that most commentators assert this passage break because of a presupposition that Elders must be a different topic than bond-slaves. But why?  Why must they necessarily be different topics.? Read the passage below and consider the following:

1 Timothy 5:17–6:2 (ESV)

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. 1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things.

Arguments for Elders = Bond-slaves

Textual Clues

Following are the items of internal evidence I see that argue for the possibility that some of the Elders in the church might also have been bond-slaves in the community.

1.The Elders in 5:17 are the Bond-slaves of 6:1 and Paul is giving instruction for how these men should lead first in the church and then how they should conduct themselves outside the church.

2. In the church Elders were to be given double “honor” (5:17) for their service, but outside the church, they still needed to “honor”(6:1) those who were in authority over them.

3. Paul is concerned that Elders not be men who persist in sin (5:20) and demonstrate good works (5:25) .  Some sins, Paul says, are harder to discern (5:24), so he gives some specific examples of what sin looks like for an Elder who is also a bond-slave (6:1 and 6:2).

4. Earlier in the first letter to Timothy, Paul made it clear that Elders were to be men of good repute outside the church (3:7).  Here in 6:1 he makes it clear that Elders who are bond-slaves must act so as not to bring disgrace to the teachings of God.

Cultural Considerations

Going beyond the text, there are also some cultural considerations that come into play.

1. Conflicts arose in the early church because when a person came to faith, they still had to live in the circumstance of their life outside the church.  We can see this clearly in the case of Paul’s instruction to wives with unbelieving husbands (1 Cor 7:12-16).  So it does not seem unreasonable to assume that a bond-slave could come to faith and demonstrate the necessary qualities of a mature leader in the church.  But what if his unbelieving master also came to faith at a later time?  At this point, the church would have a situation where a man could be the master of someone who was now his Elder in the church.  In this case, 1 Tim 6:1-3 becomes an important set of instructions for Elders who were bond-slaves.

2. It seems that the false teachers in Ephesus were concerned with making money.  They wrongly assumed that the purpose of their service was to gain wealth (1 Tim 6:5-10).  In this context, it makes sense that Paul gave special attention to Elders who were also bond-slaves because he needed to counter these false teachers who tried to diminish these men who were poor.

 Questions

  1. Does the above make a good case for Elders as bond-slaves in the New Testament church?
  2. If the church did have Elders who were bond-slaves, what are the implications for the church today for how we select our leaders?

FOOTNOTES

1. Ray Van Neste, vol. 280, Cohesion and Structure in the Pastoral Epistles, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series (London; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 66.
Restored to Attendance or Restored to Holiness?

Restored to Attendance or Restored to Holiness?

Joel Osteen is the pastor at Lakewood Church in Texas. More than 25,000 people attend his weekend service and his television broadcast reaches more than 200 million households in the US.  This sermon is titled, “Go After The Prodigals” on Sunday, March 25, 2012.

Osteen’s summary of the message is this:

James 5:19-20 says, “If you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction…” (The Message) We all know people who used to be strong in their faith, who were excited about God and their life. But somewhere along the way, they got off course or experienced a disappointment – maybe a sickness, a divorce or a loss, and now they’re discouraged and have checked out of life. God is counting on us to reach out to them in love and compassion. Who is discouraged, struggling, going through a rough patch? Can you call them? Visit them? Email them? When people know you care, you can be the catalyst that turns their life around for good and sees their faith restored.

Following is a short video excerpt from Osteen’s message. You can listen to the sermon in its entirety on his website. After listening, take the quiz and share your thoughts below.

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Powerful Persuasion or Exaggerated Excrement?

Powerful Persuasion or Exaggerated Excrement?

This sermon excerpt was delivered by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758); one of the most influential preachers of the 18th century in America. This message was given in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741 and titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”  The text for this sermon was Deuteronomy 32:35 (NLT)

35 I will take revenge; I will pay them back. In due time their feet will slip. Their day of disaster will arrive, and their destiny will overtake them.’

Throughout Edward’s sermon , he was interrupted multiple times with people crying out, “what must I do to be saved?”  I encourage you to read the full text of his sermon, and then focus on the application of his message which follows.

The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ.—That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of, there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, as the good state of your bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should withdraw his band, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who has subjected it in hope. There are black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor.

The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner, consider the fearful danger you are in! It is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment. And consider here more particularly:

1. Whose wrath it is: it is the wrath of the infinite God. If it were only the wrath of man, though it were of the most potent prince, it would be comparatively little to be regarded. The wrath of kings is very much dreaded, especially of absolute monarchs, who have the possessions and lives of their subjects wholly in their power, to be disposed of at their mere will. Proverbs 20:2—“The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: Whoso provoketh him to anger, sinneth against his own soul.” The subject that very much enrages an arbitrary prince, is liable to suffer the most extreme torments that human art can invent, or human power can inflict. But the greatest earthly potentates in their greatest majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatest terrors, are but feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty Creator and King of heaven and earth. It is but little that they can do, when most enraged, and when they have exerted the utmost of their fury. All the kings of the earth, before God, are as grasshoppers; they are nothing, and less than nothing: both their love and their hatred is to be despised. The wrath of the great King of kings, is as much more terrible than theirs, as his majesty is greater. Luke 12:4, 5—“And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that, have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: fear him, which after he has killed, has power to cast into hell. I say unto you, Fear him.”

2. It is the fierceness of his wrath that you are exposed to. We often read of the fury of God, as in Isaiah 59:18—“According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay fury to his adversaries.” Also in Isaiah 66:15—“For behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” And in many other places. So, Revelation 19:15, we read of “the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” The words are exceeding terrible. If it had only been said, “the wrath of God,” the words would have implied that which is infinitely dreadful: but it is “the fierceness and wrath of God.” The fury of God! the fierceness of Jehovah! Oh, how dreadful must that be! Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them! But it is also “the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” As though there would be a very great manifestation of his almighty power in what the fierceness of his wrath should inflict, as though omnipotence should be as it were enraged, and exerted, as men are wont to exert their strength in the fierceness of their wrath. Oh! then, what will be the consequence! What will become of the poor worms that shall suffer it! Whose hands can be strong? And whose heart can endure? To what a dreadful, inexpressible, inconceivable depth of misery must the poor creature be sunk who shall be the subject of this!

Consider this, you that are here present, that yet remain in an unregenerate state. That God will execute the fierceness of his anger, implies, that he will inflict wrath without any pity. When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinite gloom; he will have no compassion upon you, he will not forbear the executions of his wrath, or in the least lighten his hand; there shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God then at all stay his rough wind; he will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much in any other sense, than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires. Nothing shall be withheld, because it is so hard for you to bear. Ezekiel 8:18—“Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.” Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare. God will have no other use to put you to, but to suffer misery; you shall be continued in being to no other end; for you will be a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and there will be no other use of this vessel, but to be filled full of wrath. God will be so far from pitying you when you cry to him, that it is said he will only “laugh and mock” (Proverbs 1:25, 26, etc.).

How awful are those words, Isa. 63:3, which are the words of the great God. “I will tread them in mine anger, and will trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.” It is perhaps impossible to conceive of words that carry in them greater manifestations of these three things, vis. contempt, and hatred, and fierceness of indignation. If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favor, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you, in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.

The misery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict to that end, that he might show what that wrath of Jehovah is. God has had it on his heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent his love is, and also how terrible his wrath is. Sometimes earthly kings have a mind to show how terrible their wrath is, by the extreme punishments they would execute on those that would provoke them. Nebuchadnezzar, that mighty and haughty monarch of the Chaldean empire, was willing to show his wrath when enraged with Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego; and accordingly gave orders that the burning fiery furnace should be heated seven times hotter than it was before; doubtless, it was raised to the utmost degree of fierceness that human art could raise it. But the great God is also willing to show his wrath, and magnify his awful majesty and mighty power in the extreme sufferings of his enemies. Romans 9:22—“What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?” And seeing this is his design, and what he has determined, even to show how terrible the unrestrained wrath, the fury and fierceness of Jehovah is, he will do it to effect. There will be something accomplished and brought to pass that will be dreadful with a witness. When the great and angry God has risen up and executed his awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of his indignation, then will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it. Isaiah 33:12–14—“And the people shall be as the burnings of lime, as thorns cut up shall they be burnt in the fire. Hear, you that are far off, what I have done; and you that are near, acknowledge my might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites,” etc.

Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might, and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable strength of your torments. You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty. Isaiah 66:23, 24—“And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, says the Lord. And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.”

4. It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: For “who knows the power of God’s anger?”

How dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in the danger of this great wrath and infinite misery! But this is the dismal case of every soul in this congregation that has not been born again, however moral and strict, sober and religious, they may otherwise be. Oh that you would consider it, whether you be young or old! There is reason to think, that there are many in this congregation now hearing this discourse, that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity. We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have. It may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promising themselves that they shall escape. If we knew that there was one person, and but one, in the whole congregation, that was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing would it be to think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him! But, alas! instead of one, how many is it likely will remember this discourse in hell? And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting-house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there before to-morrow morning. Those of you that finally continue in a natural condition, that shall keep out of hell longest will be there in a little time! your damnation does not slumber; it will come swiftly, and, in all probability, very suddenly upon many of you. You have reason to wonder that you are not already in hell. It is doubtless the case of some whom you have seen and known, that never deserved hell more than you, and that heretofore appeared as likely to have been now alive as you. Their case is past all hope; they are crying in extreme misery and perfect despair; but here you are in the land of the living and in the house of God, and have an opportunity to obtain salvation. What would not those poor damned hopeless souls give for one day’s opportunity such as you now enjoy!

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition? Are not your souls as precious as the souls of the people at Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ?

Are there not many here who have lived long in the world, and are not to this day born again? and so are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and have done nothing ever since they have lived, but treasure up wrath against the day of wrath? Oh, sirs, your case, in an especial manner, is extremely dangerous. Your guilt and hardness of heart is extremely great. Do you not see how generally persons of your years are passed over and left, in the present remarkable and wonderful dispensation of God’s mercy? You had need to consider yourselves, and awake thoroughly out of sleep. You cannot bear the fierceness and wrath of the infinite God.—And you, young men, and young women, will you neglect this precious season which you now enjoy, when so many others of your age are renouncing all youthful vanities, and flocking to Christ? You especially have now an extraordinary opportunity; but if you neglect it, it will soon be with you as with those persons who spent all the precious days of youth in sin, and are now come to such a dreadful pass in blindness and hardness. And you, children, who are unconverted, do not you know that you are going down to hell, to bear the dreadful wrath of that God, who is now angry with you every day and every night? Will you be content to be the children of the devil, when so many other children in the land are converted, and are become the holy and happy children of the King of kings?

And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now harken to the loud calls of God’s word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favors to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeance to others. Men’s hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls; and never was there so great danger of such persons being given up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind. God seems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts of the land; and probably the greater part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little time, and that it will be as it was on the great out-pouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the apostles’ days; the election will obtain, and the rest will be blinded. If this should be the case with you, you will eternally curse this day, and will curse the day that ever you was born, to see such a season of the pouring out of God’s Spirit, and will wish that you had died and gone to hell before you had seen it. Now undoubtedly it is, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid at the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the fire. Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”

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Timeless Truth Or Temporary Trivia?

Timeless Truth Or Temporary Trivia?

This sermon was given by Robert Murray McCheyne (21 May 1813 – 25 March 1843) who was a poet and minister in the Church of Scotland. This sermon was titled, “What have I to do any more with idols?” and was inspired by Hosea 14:1–9 (ESV)

1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. 2 Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” 4 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. 9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

The occasion for this sermon was the close of a communion sabbath on 25th Oct., 1840.

Every one who has been truly united to Christ, and has this day confessed him before men, should now take up these words, and solemnly, in the presence of God, declare, “What have I to do any more with idols?” Two reasons are given.

I. Verse 4.—God loves you freely.—If you are this day come to Jesus, God loves you freely. If you believe on him that justifieth the ungodly, your faith is counted for righteousness. As long as you came to God in yourself, you were infinitely vile, loathsome, condemned; mountains of iniquity covered your soul; but blessed, blessed, blessed be the Holy Spirit who has led you to Jesus. You have come to God’s righteous servant, who by his knowledge justifies many, because he bears their iniquities. Your sins are covered, God sees no iniquity in you; God loves you freely, his anger is turned away from you. What have you to do then any more with idols? Is not the love of God enough for thee? The loving and much loved wife is satisfied with the love of her husband; his smile is her joy, she cares little for any other. So, if you have come to Christ, thy Maker is thine husband; his free love to you is all you need, and all you can care for; there is no cloud between you and God; there is no veil between you and the Father; you have access to him who is the fountain of happiness, of peace, of holiness; what have you to do any more with idols? Oh! if your heart swims in the rays of God’s love, like a little mote swimming in the sunbeam, you will have no room in your heart for idols.

II. The Spirit, like dew, descends on your souls.—Verse 5, “I will be like the dew.” If you are this day united to Jesus, the Spirit will come like dew upon your soul. The Spirit is given to them that obey Jesus, “I will pray the Father.” When all nature is at rest, not a leaf moving, then at evening the dew comes down, no eye to see the pearly drops descending, no ear to hear them falling on the verdant grass, so does the Spirit come to you who believe. When the heart is at rest in Jesus, unseen, unheard by the world, the Spirit comes, and softly fills the believing soul, quickening all, renewing all within. “If I go away I will send him unto you.” Dear little ones, whom God hath chosen out of this world, you are like Gideon’s fleece, the Lord will fill you with dew when all around is dry. You are his vineyard of red wine; he says, I will water it every moment, silently, unfelt, unseen, but surely. But, ah! that Spirit is a holy Spirit. “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” He cannot bear an idol in his temple. When the ark of God was carried into the temple of Dagon, the idol fell flat before it; much more when the Holy Spirit comes into the heart will he cast out the idols.

“When Christ came into the temple, he found those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money, sitting; and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple.” John 2:15. So when the Holy Spirit comes into any heart, he drives out the buyers and sellers. If you have received the Spirit, you will be crying now in your heart, Lord, take these things hence; drive them out of my heart. What have I to do any more with idols? Some of the idols to be cast away are,

1. Self-righteousness.—This is the largest idol of the human heart, the idol which man loves most and God hates most. Dearly beloved, you will always be going back to this idol. You are always trying to be something in yourself, to gain God’s favor by thinking little of your sin, or by looking to your repentance, tears, prayers; or by looking to your religious exercises, your frames, &c.; or by looking to your graces, the Spirit’s work in your heart. Beware of false Christs. Study sanctification to the utmost, but make not a Christ of it. God hates this idol more than all others because it comes in the place of Christ; it sits on Christ’s throne. Just as the worship of the Virgin Mary is the worst of all kinds of idolatry, because it puts her in the place of Christ, so self-righteousness is the idol God hates most, for it sits on the throne of Christ. Dash it down, dear friends; let it never appear again. It is like Manasseh’s carved image in the holiest of all. When Manasseh came home an altered man to Jerusalem, would not his first visit be to the holiest of all? With eager hand he would draw the veil aside; and when he found the carved image, he would dash it down from the throne of God. Go and do likewise. If you feel God’s love freely by the righteousness without works, then why would you go back to this grim idol? What have I to do any more with idols?

2. Darling Sins.—Every man has his darling sins. Long they kept you from the Lord Jesus. You have this day declared that you were willing to leave them all for Christ. Go home, then, and perform your vows. After Hezekiah’s passover, when they had enjoyed much of the love and spirit of God, “All Israel that were present went home, and broke the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, until they had utterly destroyed them all.” You might have seen them entering the shady groves and dashing down the carved images. Go you and do likewise. Dash down family idols, unholy practices that have spread through your family. Dash down secret idols in your own heart. Leave not one. Remember, one Achan in the camp troubled Israel, and they were smitten before their enemies. So, one idol left in your heart may trouble you. Let Achan be slain if you would go on your way rejoicing. What have I to do any more with idols? “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.”

3. Unlawful attachments.—There is not a more fruitful source of sin and misery than unlawful attachments. How much of the poetry and music of our country are given over to the worship of the idols of a foolish heart! How many are given over to worship a piece of clay that will soon be eaten of worms! O my friends, have you felt the love of God? Do you feel the sweet, full beams of his grace shining down upon your soul? Have you received the dew of his Spirit? How can you, then, any more love a creature that is void of the grace of God? What have you to do any more with idols? Dear young persons, abhor the idea of marriage with the unconverted. Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Marry only in the Lord. Remember, if it be otherwise, it is a forbidden marriage. There may be none on earth so kind or faithful as to forbid the banns. Earthly friends may be kind and smiling; the marriage circle may be gay and lovely: but God forbids the banns. But may there not be a lawful attachment? I believe there may; but take heed it be not an idol. I believe they are happiest who are living only for eternity, who have no object in this world to divert their hearts from Christ. “The time is short; it remaineth that they who have wives be as though they had none.” “What have I to do any more with idols?”

4. Ministers.—You have good reason to love ministers, and to esteem them highly for their works’ sake. They love you; they watch for your souls as they that must give an account; they bear you on their hearts; they travail in birth till Christ be formed in you; they spend and are spent for you; they often endure amazing temptations, agonies, wrestlings, for your sake.

Some have been your spiritual fathers. This is a holy tie that will never be broken. You have good reason to love your spiritual father. You may have ten thousand instructors in Christ, &c.; but ah! make not an idol of them. The people that would have worshipped Paul, were the very people that stoned him, and left him for dead. O I wish that this day may bring you so near to Christ, and so much under the love of God and the dew of Israel, that, you shall no more glory in man! What have I to do any more with idols?

5. Earthly pleasures.—This is a smiling, dazzling idol, that has ten thousand worshippers, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. What have you to do any more with this idol? Sometimes it is a gross idol. The theatre is one of its temples, there it sits enthroned. The tavern is another, where its reeling, staggering votaries sing its praise. What have you to do with these? Have you the love of God in your soul, the Spirit of God in you? How dare you cross the threshold of a theatre or a tavern any more? What! the Spirit of God amid the wanton songs of a theatre, the boisterous, merriment of a tavern! Shame on such practical blasphemy! No; leave them, dear friends, to be cages of devils and of every unclean and hateful bird. You must never cross their threshold any more. What shall I say of games, cards, dice, dancing? I will only say this, that if you love them you have never tasted the joys of the new creature. If you feel the love of God and the Spirit, you will not lightly sin these joys away amid the vain anxieties of cards, or the rattling of senseless dice. What shall I say of simpering tea-parties, the pleasures of religious gossipping, and useless calls, without meaning, sincerity, or end? I will only say, they are the happiest of God’s children who have neither time nor heart for these things. I believe there cannot be much of the Spirit where there is much of these. What shall I say of dress? A young believer, full of faith and joy, was offered a present of flowers for her hair. She would not take them. She was pressed to accept them; still she refused. Why will you not? Ah, she said, how can I wear roses on my brow, when Christ wore thorns on his? The joy of being in Christ is so sweet, that it makes all other joys insipid, dull, lifeless. In his right hand are riches and honors; in his left are length of days. His ways are ways of pleasantness. What, then, have I to do any more with idols?

6. Money.—Dear souls, if you have felt the love of God, the dew, you must dash down this idol. You must not love money. You must be more open-hearted, more open-handed. To the poor—“He that gives to the poor lends to the Lord.” “Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.” You must build more churches. God be praised for what has been done; but you must do far more. I have as many in this parish who go nowhere as would fill another church. You must give more to missions, to send the knowledge of Jesus to the Jews, and to the Gentile world. O how can you grasp your money in hand so greedily, while there are hundreds of millions perishing? You that give tens must give your hundreds. You that are poor must do what you can. Remember Mary, and the widow’s mite. Let us resolve to give the tenth of all we have to God. God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye always having all-sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.

7. Fear of man.—Grim idol, bloody mouthed; many souls he has devoured and trampled down into hell! His eyes are full of hatred to Christ’s disciples. Scoffs and jeers lurk in his eye. The laugh of the scorner growls in his throat. Cast down this idol. This keeps some of you from secret prayer, from worshipping God in your family, from going to lay your ease before ministers, from openly confessing Christ. You that have felt God’s love and Spirit, dash this idol to pieces. Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die? Fear not, thou worm Jacob. What have I to do any more with idols?

Dearly-beloved and longed-for, my heart’s desire for you is, to see you a holy people. How much longer my ministry may be continued among you God only knows; but if God give me health and grace among you, I here willingly devote my all to him. No moment, no pleasure, no ease, no wealth, do I wish for myself. I feel that he has bought me, and I am his property. O come, give yourselves to the Lord with me. Bind yourselves to the horns of God’s altar. Time past is enough to have been the devil’s, the world’s, our own. Now, let us be Christ’s alone. Are you willing? Lord, bear witness; seal it in heaven; write it in thy book. Bear witness, angels, devils, scowling world, bear witness, sun and moon, bear witness, stones and timber, bear witness, Jesus, Lamb of God! We are thine now, and thine for ever. What have we to do any more with idols?

Robert Murray McCheyne, The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, Vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), 151-55.

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