They feared the Lord, and served their own gods. 2 Kings 17:33.
When the ten tribes of Israel were carried away captive bythe king of Assyria, their places were supplied with strangersof different idolatrous nations, who knew nothing of the religionof the Jews. Very soon the wild beasts increased in the country,and the lions destroyed multitudes of the people, and they thoughtit was because they did not know the god of the country, and hadtherefore ignorantly transgressed his religion, and offended him,and he had sent the lions among them as a punishment. So theyapplied to the king, who told them to get one of the priests ofthe Israelites to teach them the manner of the god of the land.They took this advice, and obtained one of the priests to cometo Bethel and teach them the religious ceremonies and modes ofworship that had been practiced there. And he taught them to fearJehovah, as the God of that country. But still they did not receivehim as the only God. They feared him; that is, they feared hisanger and his judgments, and to avert these, they performed theprescribed rites. But they "served" their own gods.They kept up their idolatrous worship, and this was what theyloved and preferred, though they felt obliged to pay some reverenceto Jehovah, as the God of that country. There are still multitudesof persons, professing to fear God, and perhaps possessing a certainkind of the fear of the Lord, who, nevertheless, serve their owngods they have other things to which their hearts are supremelydevoted, and other objects in which they mainly put their trust.
There are, as you know, two kinds of fear. There is that fearof the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom, which is foundedin love. There is also a slavish fear, which is a mere dread ofevil, and is purely selfish. This is the kind of fear which ispossessed by those people spoken of in the text. They were afraidJehovah would send his judgments upon them, if they did not performcertain rites and this was the motive they had for paying himworship. Those who have this fear are supremely selfish, and whilethey profess to reverence Jehovah, have other gods whom they loveand serve.
There are several classes of persons to whom this is applicable,and my object tonight is to describe some of them, in such a way,that those of you here, who possess this character, may know yourselves,and may see how it is that your neighbors know you and understandyour real characters.
To serve a person is to be obedient to the will and devotedto the interests of that individual. It is not properly calledserving where only certain acts are performed, without enteringinto the service of the person; but to serve, is to make it abusiness to do the will and promote the interest of the person.To serve God is to make religion the main business of life. Itis to devote one's self, heart, life, powers, time, influence,and all, to promote the interests of God, to build up the kingdomof God, and to advance the glory of God. Who are they who, whilethey profess to fear the Lord, serve their own gods?
I answer, first, all those of you who have not heartily andpractically renounced the ownership of your possessions, and giventhem up to God.
It is self-evident that if you have not done this, you arenot serving God. Suppose a gentleman were to employ a clerk totake care of his store, and suppose the clerk were to continueto attend to his own business, and when asked to do what is necessaryfor his employer, who pays him his wages, he should reply,
"I really have so much business of my own to attend to,that I have no time to do these things;" would not everybodycry out against such a servant, and say he was not serving hisemployer at all, his time is not his own, it is paid for, andhe but served himself? So where a man has not renounced the ownershipof himself, not only in thought, but practically, he has not takenthe first lesson in religion. He is not serving the Lord, butserving his own gods.
2. That man who does not make the business in which he is engageda part of his religion, does not serve God.
You hear a man say, sometimes, I am so much engaged all dayin the world, or in worldly business, that I have not time toserve God. He thinks he serves God a little while in the morning,and then attends to his worldly business. That man, you may relyon it, left his religion where he said his prayers. He is willing,perhaps, to give God the time before breakfast, before he getsready to go to his own business; but as soon as that is over,away he goes to his own work. He fears the Lord enough, perhaps,to go through his prayers night and morning, but he serves hisown gods. That man's religion is the laughing stock of hell! Heprays very devoutly, and then, instead of engaging in his businessfor God, he is serving himself. No doubt the idols are well satisfiedwith the arrangement, but God is wholly displeased.
3. But again: Those of you are serving your own gods, who devoteto Jehovah that which costs you little or nothing.
There are many who make religion consist in certain acts ofpiety that do not interfere with their selfishness. You pray inthe morning in your family, because you can do it then very conveniently,but do not suffer the service of Jehovah to interfere with theservice of your gods, or to stand in the way of your getting rich,or enjoying the world. The gods you serve make no complaint ofbeing slighted or neglected for the service of Jehovah.
4. All that class are serving their own gods, who suppose thatthe six days of the week belong to themselves, and that the Sabbathonly is God's day.
There are multitudes who suppose that the week is man's time,and the Sabbath only God's, and that they have a right to do theirown work during the week, and to serve themselves, and promotetheir own interests, if they will only keep the Sabbath strictly,and serve God on the Sabbath. For instance: a celebrated preacher,in illustrating the wickedness of breaking the Sabbath, used thisillustration "Suppose a man, having seven dollars in hispocket, should meet a beggar in great distress, and give him sixdollars, keeping only one for himself; and the beggar, seeingthat he retained one dollar, should return and rob him of that;would not every heart despise his baseness?" You see it embodiesthis idea that it is very ungrateful to break the Sabbath sinceGod has given to men six days for their own, to serve themselves,and only reserved the Sabbath to himself, and to rob God of theseventh day is base ingratitude.
You that do this do not serve God at all. If you are selfishduring the week, you are selfish altogether. To suppose you hadany real piety would imply that you were converted every Sabbathand unconverted every Monday. If a man would serve himself allthe week and really posses religion on the Sabbath, he requiresto be converted for it. But is this the idea of the Sabbath, thatit is a day to serve God in exclusive of other days? Is God inneed of your services on the Sabbath to keep his work on?
God requires all your services as much on the six days as onthe Sabbath, only he has appropriated the Sabbath to peculiarduties, and required its observance as a day of rest from bodilytoil and from those fatiguing cares and labors that concern thepresent world. But because God uses means in accomplishing hispurposes, and men have bodies as well as souls, and the gospelis to be spread and sustained by the things of this world, thereforeGod requires you to work all the six days at your secular employments.But it is all for his service, as much as the worship of the Sabbath.The Sabbath is no more given for the service of God than Monday.You have no more right to serve yourselves on Monday than youhave on the Sabbath. If any of you have thus considered the matter,and imagined that the six days of the week were your own time,it shows that you are supremely selfish. I beg of you not to considerthat in prayer and on the Sabbath you are serving God at all,if the rest of the time you are considered as serving yourself.You have never known the radical principle of serving the Lord.
5. Those are serving themselves, or their own gods, who willnot make any sacrifices of personal ease and comfort in religion.
For instance, there are multitudes who object to free churcheson this ground, that they require a sacrifice of personal gratification.They talk like this: "We wish to sit with our families;"or, "We want our seats cushioned," or "We alwayslike to sit in the same place." They admit that free churchesare necessary, in order to make the gospel accessible to the thousandsthat are going to hell in this city. But they cannot make theselittle sacrifices, to throw open the doors of God's house to thismass of impenitent sinners.
These little things often indicate most clearly the state ofmen's hearts. Suppose your servant were to say, "I cannotdo this," or "I cannot do that," because it interfereswith his personal ease and comfort. He cannot do this becausehe likes to sit on a cushion and work. Or he cannot do that becauseit would separate him from his family an hour and a half. What!is that doing service? When a man enters into service he givesup his ease and comfort for the interest and at the will of hisemployer. Is it true that any man is supremely devoted to theservice of God, when he shows that his own ease and comfort aredearer than the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and that he would soonersacrifice the salvation of sinners than sit on a hard seat, orbe separated from his family an hour or two?
6. Those are serving their own gods, who give their time andmoney, when they do give, grudgingly, by constraint, and not ofa ready mind, and with a cheerful heart.
What would you think of your servant, if you had to dun ordrive him all the time, to do anything for your interest? Wouldyou not say he was an eye-servant? How many people there are,who when they do anything on account of religion, do it grudgingly.If they do anything, it comes hard. If you go to one of thesecharacters, and want his time or his money for any religious objectit is difficult to get him engaged. It seems to go across thegrain and is not easy or natural. It is plain he does not considerthe interests of Christ's kingdom the same with his own. He maymake a show of fearing the Lord, but he "serves" someother gods of his own.
7. Those who are always ready to ask how little they may dofor religion rather than how much they may do, are serving theirown gods.
There are multitudes of persons who seem always to ask howlittle they can get along with in what they do for God.
You hear such a man making up his accounts of profit and loss"So much made this year then so much it costs for charityso much obliged to give for religion." (OBLIGED to give forthe interests of religion!) "and so much lost by fire, andso much by bad debts," and so on is that man serving God?It is a simple matter of fact that you have never set your heartson the object of promoting religion in the world. If you had,you would ask, How much can I do for this object and for that?Cannot I do so much or so much or so much?
8. They who are laying up wealth for their families, to elevateand aggrandize them, are serving gods of their own, and not Jehovah.
Those who are thus aiming to elevate their own families intoa different sphere, by laying up wealth for them, show that theyhave some other object to live for than bringing this world underthe authority of Jesus Christ. They have other gods to serve.They may pretend to fear the Lord, but they "serve"their own gods.
9. Those who are making it their object to accumulate so muchproperty that they can retire from business and live at ease,are serving their own gods.
There are many persons who profess to be the servants of God,but are eagerly engaged in gathering property, and calculatingto retire to their country seat by-and-by, and live at their ease.What do you mean? Has God given you a right to a perpetual Sabbath,as soon as you have made so much money? Did God tell you, whenyou professed to enter his service, to work hard so many years,and then you might have a perpetual holiday? Did he promise toexcuse you after that from making the most of your time and talents,and let you live at ease the rest of your days? If your thoughtsare set upon this notion, I tell you, you are not serving Godbut your own selfishness and sloth.
10. Those persons are serving their own gods who would soonergratify their appetites than deny themselves things that are unnecessary,or even hurtful, for the sake of doing good.
You find persons that greatly love things that do them no good,and others even form an artificial appetite for the thing positivelyloathsome, and after it they will go, and no arguments will prevailupon them to abandon it for the sake of doing good. Are such personsabsorbed in the service of God? Certainly not. Will they sacrificetheir lives for the kingdom of God? Why you cannot make them evengive up a quid of tobacco! a weed that is injurious to healthand loathsome to society; they cannot give it up, were it to savea soul from death!
Who does not see that selfishness predominates in such persons?It shows the astonishing strength of selfishness. You often seethestrength of selfishness showing itself in some such little thingmore than in things that are greater. The real state of a man'smind stands out, that self-gratification is the law of his life,so strongly, that it will not give place, even in a trifle, tothose great interests, for which he ought to be willing to laydown his life.
11. Those persons who are most readily moved to action by appealsto their own selfish interests, show that they are serving theirown gods.
You see what motive influences such a man. Suppose I wish toget him to subscribe for building a church, what must I urge?Why, I must show how it will improve the value of his property,or advance his party, or gratify his selfishness in some otherway. If he is more excited by these motives, than he is by a desireto save perishing souls and advance the kingdom of Christ, yousee that he has never given himself up to serve the Lord. He isstill serving himself. He is more influenced by his selfish intereststhan by all those benevolent principles on which all religionturns. The character of a true servant of God is right oppositeto this.
Take the case of two servants, one devoted to his master'sinterests, and the other having no conscience or concern but tosecure his wages. Go to one, and he throws into the shade allpersonal considerations, and enlists with heart and soul in achievingthe object. The other will not act unless you present some selfishmotive; unless you say, "Do so, and I will raise your wagesor set you up in business," or the like. Is there not a radicaldifference between these two servants? Is not this an illustrationof what actually takes place in our churches? Propose a plan ofdoing good that will cost nothing, and they will all go for it.But propose a plan which is going to affect their personal interestto cost money, or take up time in a busy season, and you willsee they begin to divide. Some hesitate; some doubt; some raiseobjections; and some resolutely refuse. Some enlist at once, becausethey see it will do great good. Others stand back till you devisesome means to excite their selfishness in its favor. What causesthe difference? Some of them are serving their own gods.
12. Those are of this character, who are more interested inother subjects than in religion.
If you find them more ready to talk on other subjects; moreeasily excited by them, more awake to learn the news, they areserving their own gods. What multitudes are more excited by thebank question, or the question about war, or about the fire, oranything of a worldly nature, than about revivals, missions, oranything connected with the interests of religion. You find themall engaged about politics or speculation; but if you bring upthe subject of religion, ah, they are afraid of excitement! andtalk about animal feeling! Showing that religion is not the subjectthat is nearest their hearts. A man is always most easily excitedon that subject that lies nearest his heart. Bring that up, andhe is interested. When you can talk early and late about the newsand other worldly topics, and when you cannot possibly be interestedin the subject of religion, you know that your heart is not init; and if you pretend to be a servant of God, you are a hypocrite.
13. When persons are more jealous for their own fame than forGod's glory, it shows that they live for themselves, and servetheir own gods.
You see a man more vexed or grieved by what is said againsthim than against God; whom does he serve who is his God, himselfor Jehovah? There is a minister thrown into a fever because somebodyhas said a word derogatory to his scholarship, or his dignity,or his infallibility, while he is as cool as ice at all the indignitiesthrown upon the blessed God. Is that man a follower of Paul, willingto be considered a fool for the cause of Christ? Did that manever take the first lesson in religion? If he had, he would rejoiceto have his name cast out as evil for the cause of religion. No,he is not serving God; he is serving his own gods.
14. Those are serving their own gods, who are not make salvationof souls the great and leading object of their lives.
The end of all religious institutions, that which gives valueto them all, is the salvation of sinners. The end for which Christlives, and for which he has left his church in the world, is thesalvation of sinners. This is the business which God sets hisservants about, and if any man be not doing this, as his businessas the leading and main object of his life, he is not servingJehovah, he is serving his own gods.
15. Those who are doing but little for God, or who bring butlittle to pass for God, cannot properly be said to serve him.
Suppose you ask a professed servant of God. "What areyou doing for God? Are you bringing anything to pass? Are youinstrumental in the conversion of any sinners?
Are you making impressions in favor of religion, or helpingforward the cause of Christ? "He replies," Why I donot know have a hope; I sometimes think I do love God; but I donot know that I am doing any thing in particular at present."Is that man serving God! Or is he serving his own gods? "Italk to sinners some times," he says, "but they do notseem to feel much." Then YOU do not feel. If your heart benot in it, no wonder you cannot make sinners feel. Whereas, ifyou do your duty, with your heart in the work, sinners cannothelp feeling.
16. Those who seek for happiness in religion, rather than forusefulness, are serving their own gods.
Their religion is entirely selfish. They want to enjoy religion,and are all the while inquiring how they can get happy framesof mind, and how they can be pleasurably excited in religiousexercises. And they will go only to such meetings, and sit onlyunder such preaching, as will make them happy; never asking thequestion whether that is the way to do the most good or not. Now,suppose your servant should do so, and be constantly contrivinghow to enjoy himself, and if he thought he could be most happyin the parlor, stretched on the sofa, with a pillow of down underhis head, and another servant to fan him, refusing to do the workwhich you set him about, and which your interest urgently requires;instead of manifesting a desire to work for you, and a solicitudefor your interest, and a willingness to lay himself out with allhis powers in your service, he wants only to be happy! It is justso with those professed servants of Jehovah, who want to do nothingbut sit on their handsome cushion, and have their minister feedthem. Instead of seeking how to do good, they are only seekingto be happy. Their daily prayer is not, like that of the convertedSaul of Tarsus, "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?"but, "Lord, tell me how I can be happy." Is that thespirit of Jesus Christ? No, he said, "I delight to do thywill. O God." Is that the spirit of the apostle Paul? No,he threw of his upper garments at once, and made his arms barefoot the field of labor.
17. Those who make their own salvation their supreme objectin religion, are serving their own gods.
There are multitudes in the church, who show by their conduct,and even avow in their language, that their leading object isto secure their own salvation, and their grand determination isto get their own souls planted on the firm battlements of theheavenly Jerusalem, and walk the golden fields of Canaan above.If the Bible is not in error all such characters will go to hell.Their religion is pure selfishness. And "he that will savehis life shall lose it, and he that will lose his life for mysake, shall save it."
1. See why so little is accomplished in the world for JesusChrist.
It is because there are so few that do anything for it. Itis because Jesus Christ has so few real servants in the world.How many professors do you suppose there are in this church, orin your whole acquaintance, that are really at work for God, andmaking a business of religion, and laying themselves out to advancethe kingdom of Christ? The reason why religion advances no fasteris, that there are so few to advance it, and so many to hinderit. You see a parcel of people at a fire, trying to get out thegoods of a store.
Some are determined to get out the goods, but the rest arenot engaged about it, and they divert their attention by talkingaboutother things, or positively hinder them by finding faultwith their way of doing it, or by holding them back. So it isin the church. Those who are desirous of doing the work are greatlyhindered by the backwardness, the cavils, and the positive resistanceof the rest.
2. See why so few Christians have the spirit of prayer. Howcan they have the spirit of prayer? What should God give themthe spirit of prayer for? Suppose a man engaged in his worldlyschemes, and that God should give that man the spirit of prayer.Of course he would pray for that which lies nearest his heart;that is, for success in his worldly schemes, to serve his owngods with. Will God give him the spirit of prayer for such purpose?Never. Let him go to his own gods for a spirit of prayer, outlet him not expect Jehovah to bestow the spirit of prayer, whilehe is serving his own gods.
3. You see that there are a multitude of professors, of religionthat have not begun to be religious yet.
Said a man to one of them, Do you feel that your property andyour business are all God's, and do you hold and manage them forGod? "O, no," said he, "I have not got so far asthat yet." Not got so far as that! That man had been a professorof religion for years, and yet had not got so far as to considerhis property, and business, and all that he had, as belongingto God! No doubt he was serving his own gods. For I insist uponit, that this is the very beginning of religion. What is conversion,but turning from the service of the world to the service of God?And yet this man had not found out that he was God's servant.And he seemed to think he was getting a great way in religion,to feel that all he had was the Lord's.
4. It is great dishonesty for persons to profess to serve theLord, and yet in reality serve themselves.
You who are performing religious duties from selfish motivesare in reality trying to make God your servant. If your own interestbe the supreme object, all your religious services are only desiresto induce God to promote your interests. Why do you pray, or keepthe Sabbath, or give your property for religious objects? Youanswer, "For the sake of promoting my own salvation."Indeed! Not to glorify God, but to get to heaven! Do not you thinkthe devil would do all that, if he thought he could gain his endby it and be a devil still? The highest style of selfishness mustbe to get God with all his attributes, enlisted in the serviceof your mighty self.
And now, my hearers, where are you all? Are you serving Jehovah,or are you serving your own gods? How have you been doing thesesix months that I have been absent? Have you done anything forGod? Have you been living as servants of God? Is Satan's kingdomweakened by what you have done? Could you say now, "Comewith me, and I will show you this and that sinner converted, orthis and that backslider reclaimed, or this and that weak saintstrengthened and aided?" Could you bring living witnessesof what you have done in the service of God? Or would your answerbe, "I have been to meeting regularly on the Sabbath, andheard a great deal of good preaching, and I have generally attendedthe prayer meetings, and we had some precious meetings, and Ihave prayed in my family, and twice or thrice a day in my closet,and read the Bible." And in all that you have been merelypassive, as to anything done for God. You have feared the Lord,and served your own gods.
"Yes, but I have sold so many goods, and made so muchmoney, of which I intend to give a tenth to the missionary cause."Who hath required this at your hand, instead of saving souls?Going to send the gospel to the heathen, and letting sinners rightunder your own eyes go down to hell! Be not deceived. If you lovedsouls, in you were engaged to serve God, you would think of soulshere, and do the work of God here. What should we think of a missionarygoing to the heathen, who had never said a word to sinners aroundhim at home? Does he love souls? There is burlesque in the ideaof sending such a man to the heathen.
The man that will do nothing at home is not fit to go to theheathen. And he that pretends to be getting money for missionswhilehe will not try to save sinners here, is an outrageous hypocrite.
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