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difficulty consists in practising what is good, there is none at all in distinguishing it or making it out. Good and evil, in most common cases, are plain enough to be seen : we do not mistake the one for the other; the fault is wholly in our practice; we knowingly leave good undone and do evil. But there are also many cases where it is otherwise, and where before we come to the difficulty of right acting, we have a previous difficulty to overcome in the right judging. And here it is that St. Paul's prayer for the Philippians applies to us also. We need God's help in order to distinguish and approve what is really excellent.
Now what hinders us from doing this when we set about it, is always some one or more kinds of idolatry. I say, when we set about it; for I am not speaking of those who never think seriously at all, and who live merely at random. But what hinders persons with any degree of seriousness and sincerity of character from distinguishing rightly between good and evil, is always idolatry. There are some, it is likely, who, when they read so much against idolatry in the Old Testament, and so much about the worshipping of strange gods, and of many gods, and find this regarded as the greatest of sins, consider that such parts of the Bible belonged only to times past, and that idolatry was the sin indeed to which the Israelites were most exposed, but not one from which
we are in danger now. This mistake arises from confounding idolatry with image worship,—the sin forbidden by the first commandment with that forbidden by the second. The difference between them is very great and palpable. He who were to represent God in the shocking way that He is represented in some old pictures, and make an image of Him like the form of an old man, and then to worship God under that image, would certainly be guilty of image worship, but not of idolatry. Whereas, he who prays to the Virgin Mary, or to the saints, though he may have no image of them at all, is equally guilty of idolatry. What he worships is not merely an unauthorized representation of God, but it is not God at all; and the sin of idolatry is the reverencing or worshipping, or loving another in the place of God. And thus St. Paul tells us more than once, that covetousness is idolatry. Nor is this a mere figurative way of speaking : it is idolatry; not image worship, but idolatry, really and truly. The covetous man loves and trusts in his riches more than he loves and trusts in God. He gives to them his heart, and not to God; and this is not figuratively but truly the sin of idolatry. In the same way there are many other things which different persons honour and love and obey excessively; and in each case there is a different sort of idolatry it is true, but all the cases are idol
atry. And therefore the large portion of the Old Testament which speaks of the sin of idolatry, so far from not concerning us, does in fact show us how completely it is the sin which does so easily beset us. It is merely the form that is altered, not the reality. And here too we may apply to the Old Testament our Lord's words, that not one jot or one tittle should pass from the law till all be fulfilled.
But more may be said than this. The ancient idols were so numerous, that it was said by the prophet, “ According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah.” And so are they no less numerous now. For take any congregation, and we shall not find that they worship the same idols; on the contrary, it may almost be said that each man worships his own. There are a great variety of notions, of persons, of things, some of which are the idols of one man and some of another, none of them being worshipped by all alike, and some one or two perhaps worshipped by a very few, nay, worshipped, it may be, by not more than one single person in the same manner and with the same exclusiveness.
Now our idols, whatever they may be, hinder us from approving the things which are excellent. They make us believe that our service to them is a true worship, and therefore we give a larger place to it in our hearts and lives than we should
do. It takes the place of some duty which ought not to be so neglected; it makes us judge the worse to be the better, and the better to be the worse.
Various instances of this might be given, and almost every different congregation might require different examples. But we are not concerned with other persons' idols; our concern is to know what are our own.
What are the things, which being loved by us or feared, or reverenced more than they should be, become to us idols, and hinder us from discerning the things that are excellent ? And certainly it is not difficult to find out one of them which is very generally-worshipped, and this is the praise or the dispraise, the liking or the disliking of those around us. I know that this is an idol in many other places beside this; but it is neither so general elsewhere, nor is it nearly so mischievous. But here it is a very dangerous idol, and one which persecutes bitterly those who will not worship it. It says, “I approve of many things which God approves of, and I condemn many things which God condemns. Worship me, therefore, and I will guide you, and will reward
do well, and punish you if you do ill.” Truly this is no deaf and dumb and senseless image, which could do nothing to its worshippers either of evil or of good. It is a real and living and mighty power ; it can affect our condition beyond all doubt for good and for evil. And thus many of us follow it altogether, and would be afraid either to do, or to leave undone, a single thing which this idol forbade or commanded. It is a constant worship; every day, and every hour of every day, it presses on our service. Who is not afraid to do what those around him despise or condemn? Who is not desirous of doing what all about him love and honour?
Now first of all it should be said plainly that even where this idol is as much like God as it ever can be in this world, still its worship is idolatry. I mean that if the church were in the greatest state of purity which we can conceive ever attainable, so that our brethren around us did speak very generally the language of Christ, approving truly what Christ approved, condemning what He condemned, yet even then the looking to its approbation or to its censure would be dangerous, would have a tendency to become, and very easily might become idolatry. For no man or set of men may be to us in God's place, nor can claim from our conscience that its account should be rendered to them with the same submission to their judgment which it owes to God's. However great, therefore, may be the respect which the opinions of those around us may claim from their general agreement with Christ's judgment, still the independence of