IDOLATRY was the great sin of the 10 tribes represented by Ephraim. Indeed, it is the sin of the entire human race! When we speak of idolatry we need not think of blocks of wood and stone and men bowing down before them, for our native land swarms with idolaters. Neither need you go into the streets to find them. Stay where you are and look into your own hearts—you will find idols there. This is the one easily besetting sin of our nature—to turn aside from the living God and to make unto ourselves idols in some fashion or another. The essence of idolatry is this—to love anything better than God, to trust anything more than God, to wish to have a god other than we have, or to have some signs and wonders by which we may see Him, some outward symbol or manifestation that can be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears rather than to rest in an invisible God and believe the faithful promise of Him whom eye has not seen nor ear heard.
In some form or other this great sin is the main mischief in the heart of man. And even in saved men this is one of the developments of remaining corruption. We may very easily make an idol of anything and in many different ways. No doubt many mothers and fathers make idols of their children. And so many husbands and wives idolize each other and we may even make idols of ministers, even as there were idol shepherds of old. Equally is it certain that many a thoughtful man makes an idol of his intellect. Many another makes an idol of his gold, or even of that little home wherein he enjoys so much content. The ignorant papist holds up his crucifix and worships that—and that is one of his idols.
But men who are better instructed often take the Bible and read it and, failing to get through the letter into the spirit, they trust in the mere act of Scripture reading and make even the Word of God, itself, to become an idol to them through their resting in a mere creed, or in Bible reading—not pressing through it to spiritual hearty worship of God, Himself. Anything, however holy, which comes between us and the personal dealing of our soul with God, as He is revealed in Christ Jesus by faith and love and hope, becomes an idol to us!
There are idols of all sorts, more or less intrinsically valuable. Just as in material substances one idol is made of wood, another of stone, another of silver and another of gold so that these idols differ in value and yet they are all idols, so may men, according to their different grades of mind, make an idol of this or of that or of the other, every man according to his own fancy. Many of these idols may, in themselves, be considered good enough—but when they are made into idols they are none the better for that—a golden idol is just as obnoxious to God as a wooden one! And so the dearest and best thing on earth, if it is allowed to come between us and God, as an idol, becomes an abomination in the sight of the Most High.
O Brothers and Sisters, when you cannot trust the Providence of God, but feel as if you must have something of visible substance to lean upon, you idolize your savings, or the money you covet! When you cannot take the bare promise of God and dare not risk everything for God, but need something over and above the Word of God to rest in, you idolize your own selfishness! When you must have marks and signs and evidences of the things which God has plainly declared— and will not believe God unless you have corroborative proof—you are playing the idolater’s part! Yet human nature continually craves for more than God All-Sufficient because it is so carnal that it will not trust the Invisible One. It is, therefore, a supreme work of Grace when God brings any man to say, “What have I to do any more with idols?”
I ASK YOUR ATTENTION TO THREE POINTS.
And the first is this—I want you to notice THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THIS PREDICTION. “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?” God speaks of Ephraim as if Ephraim would do and must do what He declared it should do. “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?” But who was this Ephraim? If we look at him as an individual, he represents the 10 tribes of Israel at the time when they were wedded to strange gods. Ephraim is a man and, therefore, he has a will of his own. He is a depraved man and, therefore, he has an obstinate will. And yet God speaks about Ephraim as positively as if he had no will, and states that he shall say, “What have I to do any more with idols?”
It would be very difficult to say what the wind will do—very hard to say what the waves will do. But man’s will is more changeable and uncontrollable than the winds and the waves! Yet God speaks as if Ephraim were absolutely in His hands and He tells us what Ephraim shall say, and, in fact, what Ephraim shall feel. It is wonderful—is it not?—that God, who knows the inconstancy and willfulness of humans, thus speaks about the mind of man and declares what he shall say and what he shall feel?
Now, in all this it is to be observed that there is no violation of the human will. Men are not blocks of wood, nor lumps of unconscious clay! God has made man a creature that wills and determines and judges for himself and He deals with him as such. There are persons who seem to fancy that whenever we speak of God as being Omnipotent in the realm of mind and speak of His declaring what men shall do and feel, that we, therefore, deny free agency. By no manner of means! We are never prepared, for the sake of one Truth of God, to deny another! And we do as heartily believe in free agency as we do in predestination!
But now, secondly, in our text we see A MARVELOUS CHANGE. “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?” Who is this Ephraim? Why, if you read the book of Hosea through you will find him turning up continually. Ephraim—Who was he? Who is this that says, “What have I to do any more with idols?” I will tell you. It is that same Ephraim of whom the Lord had said, “Leave him alone: he is given unto idols.” This is different talk, is it not? At one time he is “glued” to his idols, for that is the word used in the original—glued to them as if he was stuck to them and could not get away at all.
But here he is saying, “What have I to do any more with them?” What a change it is! Is that the same man? Yes, the same man. But mark what the Grace of God has done for him. See, also, how resolute he is. He speaks plainly and positively, “What have I to do any more with idols?” Is this the same man that we read of in a former chapter, “Ephraim is a silly dove without heart”? Yes, he was “a silly dove without heart,” but now, this same Ephraim, is saying, “What have I to do any more with idols?” He is speaking as if he had received a new, enlightened, bold and decided heart! This is a change, is it not?
The man who was glued to his idols and full of vacillation whenever better things came before him, is now clean separated from his former trusts and made to hate them! He no longer vacillates and hesitates, but takes his stand and asks with glorious promptitude, “What have I to do any more with idols?” It is a great change! And it is such a great change as many of us have undergone! And it is such a change as everybody here must undergo or else they shall never see the face of God with acceptance! Conversion, which is the first fruit of regeneration, makes such a difference in a man that it is as though he had been dead and buried and were now raised from the dead into newness of life! It is as much a change as if the man were destroyed and then were made a new creature in Christ Jesus!
I wonder whether you have all felt such a change as this? I sometimes meet with persons who claim to be Christians and Believers and all that, but they have never experienced any change that they can remember from their babyhood. Well, dear Friend, there must have been such a change if you are a Christian! I will not say that you ought to know the day and the hour, but, depend upon it, if you are now what you were when you were born, you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity! If there has not been a turning, you are going the wrong way! Every man must be turned from the way in which father Adam set his face, for our face is towards sin and destruction, and we must be turned right round so as to have our faces towards holiness and everlasting life.
Where there is not such a turning, there is the most solemn cause for heart-searching, humiliation and for the seeking of salvation! Have you undergone a great transformation? The necessity for it is no fantasy of mine, remember. It is that most solemn word of the New Testament—”You must be born again.” There must be a complete and total change in you, so that the things you once loved you come to hate and the things you hated you are made to love—as great a change as there was in Ephraim who was formerly glued to his idols and then came to abhor them!
I pray you all search and see whether such a difference has been made in your hearts by the Holy Spirit—for a mistake here will be fatal. If you have never undergone such a renewing, let the prayer be breathed that the Holy Spirit may now renew you in the spirit of your mind. And if you hope that such a change has taken place upon you, then may God grant it may be a real abiding conversion, so that you may remain in Grace and go from strength to strength till the idols are utterly abolished and your whole nature shall become the temple of the living God! Thus, we have two remarks—a sovereign prediction and a marvelous change.
The last point is to be THE RESOLUTE QUESTION, “What have I to do any more with idols?” Let us put it this way, “What have I to do any more with them? I have had enough to do with them. What have my sins done for me, already?” Brothers and Sisters, look at what sin has done for us and all our race! It made that beautiful Eden, which was our garden of delight, to be a wilderness! It has made us to be the children of toil and sorrow! What has sin done for us? It has stripped us of our beauty! It has put us away from God! It has set the flaming cherubim with the drawn sword to keep us back from coming near to God as long as we live in sin.
Sin has wounded us, spoiled us, killed us, corrupted us! Sin has brought disease into the world and dug the grave and bred the worm. O Sin, you are the mother of all the griefs and groans and sighs and tears that ever befell men and women in this world! O wretched Sin, what have we to do any more with you? We have had more than enough of you! And have not you and I, personally, had quite enough to do with our idols? I had enough to do with my self-righteousness, I do boldly say, for, oh, how I loathe to think that I should ever have been such a fool as to think that there was anything good in me—to think that I could ever have dreamed of coming before God with a righteousness of my own!
Oh, how I abhor the thought! God forbid for one single moment that I should ever be other than ashamed of having boasted in anything that I could do, or feel, or be! Do you not feel yourselves humiliated at the remembrance of such pride and presumption? What have you to do any more with the idol of righteous self? Nothing! We can never bow down before that any more! With regard to other idols, have you not smarted enough about them? The convert who was once a drunk will say, “I have had enough to do with the cup of intoxication. Who has woe? Who has redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine. The men of strength to mingle strong drink.” The winebibber has had enough to do with that. He has paid heavy smart money and now he has done with rioting and excess forever.
The man who has plunged into vice will often have to say, “It has injured me in body, mind and estate. What more can I have to do with it?” “Ah,” said one to me the other day, “when I lived in sin it was so expensive that it will take me years to recover what I have wasted upon the devil and myself. I am not the man for the service of God that I could have been if it had not been for that.” Ah, we have all had enough of it—more than enough of it! There is no cup of sin, however sweet it was in the day of our unregeneracy, but we feel that we want no more of it—not even with all its beaded bubbles sparkling on the brim when it moves itself right. We are sick of it—sick to the death and the very name of it causes nausea in our soul. What have I to do any more with idols when I consider what idols have done for me?
But there is another view of it. “What have I to do any more with idols?” Do you see? Can you bear to look upon that strange sight yonder—three crosses set upon a hill. And on the center one a wondrous Man, in fearful agony, nailed to the wood. If you look at Him you will see that there is such a mixture of majesty in His misery that you discover Him, at once, to be your Lord! Lo, it is the Bridegroom of your soul—your heart’s best Beloved! And He is nailed up there like a felon hanged to die! Who nailed Him there? Who nailed Him there, I say? Where is the hammer? Where did the nails come from? Who nailed Him there?
And the answer is—Our idols nailed Him there! Our sins pierced His heart! Ah, then, what have I to do any more with them? If I had a favorite knife and with it a murderer had killed my wife, do you think I would use it at my table or carry it about with me? Away with the accursed thing! How I should loathe the very sight of it! And sin has murdered Christ! Our idols have put our Lord to death! Stand at the foot of the Cross and see His murdered, mangled body, bleeding with its five great wounds and you will say, “What have I to do any more with idols?” The vinegar and gall, the bloody sweat and death pangs have divorced my soul from all its ancient loves and wedded my heart forever to the Well-Beloved, even the King of kings! “What have I to do any more with idols?”
Nothing separates a man from sin like a sense of the love and the sufferings of Jesus! Redeeming Grace and dying love—these ring the death-knells of our lusts and idols—
“Soon as faith the Lord can see,
Bleeding on a Cross for me,
Quick my idols all depart,
Jesus gets and fills my heart!”
Now, you may remember, again, that we must have no more to do with idols, for the same sins which put our Lord to death will put us to death if they can. O child of God, you never sin without injuring yourself! The smallest sin that ever creeps into your heart is a robber seeking to kill and to destroy! You never profited by sin and never can. No, it is poison, deadly poison to your spirit. Do not, therefore, tolerate it for an instant. What have you to do with it? You know it is to be evil, only evil, and that continually. You know that it injures your faith, destroys your enjoyment, withers up your peace, weakens you in prayer, prevents your example being beneficial to others—and for all these reasons what have you to do any more with idols?