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THE REV. C. SIMEO, M.A.
Isai. xliv. 20. Hefeedetli on ashes : a deceived heart hath turned
him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not
a lie in my right hand?
WE who have lived under the light of revelation, and
have been instructed in the knowledge of the one true
God, are amazed at the stupidity of the Heathen, who
form idols of wood and stone, and worship gods which
they themselves have made. But we do not consider,
that it is not the formiJig of these images, but the trust-
ing in them, that makes them gods : and that we our-
selves are guilty of idolatry as much as the heathen
themselves, if in any respect we " love and serve the
creature more than the Creator^." This is the essence
of idolatry ; as the Apostle tells us ; '• Beware of
covetousness, which is idolatry''." And of persons
addicted to sensual enjoyments, he says, they '' make
a god of their belly'':" and Christians universally,
being in danger of indulging an undue confidence in,
or attachment to, the creature, are guarded against
those evils in these very expressive terms, " Little
children, keep yourselves from idols'*." In speaking
therefore of idolaters, it is not necessary that we carry
you back to the prophet's days, or that we take you
amongst Pagans of the present day : the language in
our text is quite as applicable to us at this time as to
any of them. With a view therefore to spiritual
idolaters amongst ourselves, I will shew you,
I. The folly of their ways —
Of every one amongst them it may truly be said,
* Rom. i. 25. " Ccl. iii. 5. ' Phil. iii. IQ. ^ John v. 21.
358 ' ISAIAH, XLIV. 20. [515.
** He feedeth on ashes :" for, whatever the things be
with which he seeks to satisfy his desires, they are,
1. Unsuitable —
[It is needless to say, how unsuitable ashes are for the
food of the body : but they are not a whit less so than the
things of this world are for the nourishment of the soul. The
soul is a spiritual substance, and must be fed with that which
is spiritual. It was formed for God : and nothing but what
comes from God, and leads to God, can support it. The
word of God, for instance, is food on which it may subsist :
and hence " the new-born babe desires the unadulterated milk
of the word, that he may grow thereby ^" On this the saints
of old subsisted : " Thy words were found, and I did eat
them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing
of my heart V The presence of God also is that which
strengthens the believing soul : " for that it hungers and
thirsts, even to see his power and glory, as they are revealed in
the sanctuary: and, when a sense of his loving-kindness is
imparted to it, the soul is filled as with marrow and fatness,
and praiseth him with joyful lips^." In a more particular
ijianner the Christian is nourished by the flesh of Christ and
the blood of Christ ; on which he feeds continually, and which
he finds to " be meat indeed, and drink indeed ''." As for the
things of time and sense, they are but as husks which the
swine eat of: and to attempt to feed on them, is only to " feed
upon the wind'," and to "fill the belly with the east wind''."]
2. Unsatisfying —
[To all who go to the creature for happiness, the prophet
says, " Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not
bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not ? Hearken
diligently unto me, and eat ye tliat which is good, and let
your soul delight itself in fatness '." In confirmation of the
reproof here given, I will venture to appeal to all, even to
those who have drunk deepest of the cup of pleasure, and
feasted themselves most largely with carnal delights ; Has
any thing that you have ever enjoyed, afforded you perma-
nent satisfaction? "Was your eye ever satisfied with see-
ing, or your ear with hearing ?" or, " Was any man that loved
silver, ever satisfied with silver™?" There is but one testi-
mony on this head, from every Child of man. Vanity is written
upon all human enjoyments; and vexation invariably follows
the pursuit of them.]
3. Injurious —
' I Pet. ii. 2. ' Jer. xv.lf). Ps. cxix. 103. ^ Ps. Ixiii. 1—5.
'' Johnvi.53— 55. 'Hus.xii. I. '' Job xv. 2. ' Isai. Iv. 1, 2.
'" Kccl.v. lO.
515.] THE FOLLY OF SPIRITUAL IDOLATRY. S&fli
[As ashes, if taken into the stomach, would soon injure
the constitution of the body, so all endeavours to satisfy
the soul with carnal enjoyments will of necessity deprave
and vitiate all its faculties. Such food will indispose the soul
for every thing that is spiritual and divine : it will weaken
all its energies ; and debase all its powers ; and reduce it to
the lowest possible state of degradation, causing it to nau-
seate every thing which God has ordained for its good, and to
affect every thing which will tend to its destruction. Every
day that a man lives to himself and to this present world,
he departs farther and farther from God, and renders him-
self more and more incapable of heavenly pursuits and
heavenly enjoyments. He is " a sinner against his own soul";"
and is fitly represented as "wronging his own soul, and loving
But to what shall we look as,
II. The source of their errors —
It is not from any radical defect in their under-
standing that this idolatry proceeds : it comes from
their heart: " a deceived heart hath turned them
aside." This is a point which is by no means duly
considered. If the subject of idolatry be brought
fairly before a heathen, he sees at once that his god
cannot help itself, and consequently can much less
afford any help to him. And in like manner the
spiritual idolater, if only he will candidly examine
the matter, must see, and be convinced, that a vaia
world can never satisfy an immortal soul. But,
1 . His heart is deceived by Satan —
[Satan is the great deceiver of mankind. He puts a
gloss on every thing ; representing as desirable that which is
in itself evil ; and hiding the deformity of it ; and assuring
us, that no painful consequences will follow a compliance
with his suggestions. Thus he beguiled Eve in Paradise :
and thus he still deceives the children of men, over the face
of the whole earth. " He was a lying spirit in all the pro-
phets of AhabP:" and he has his agents in everyplace, who
are ready by every possible means to forward his delusions-
He can, and often does, " assume the form of an angel of
lighf*:" and not unfrequently urges his temptations in so
specious a way, as " to deceive, if it were possible, the very
elect'." In a word, so subtle are his devices, that to know
them, and be aware of them, is a science which scarcely any
" umb. xvi. 3S. * Prov. viii. 35, 36. ^ 1 Kin. xxii. 22.
•> 2 Cor. xi. 13 — 15. ' Matt. xxiv. 24.
360 ISAIAH, XLIV. 20. [515".
human being is able to attain"; so innumerable are his wiles
and so unsearchable his deceits.]
2. His deceived heart turns aside his whole man ¦¦
[The heart, l)eguiled tlius, and vitiated with evil pro-
pensities, blinds his understanding, biasses his will, and
carries him forward in ways, which a more dispassionate view
of diings would lead him to condemn. This distinction clearly
appears in the two verses preceding our text: " Tliey have not
known, nor understood : for God hath shut their eyes, that they
cannot see, and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And
none considereth in his heart, neither is their knowledge nor
understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire, &c.
and shall I make the remains thereof an abomination ? shall I
fall down to the stock of a tree?" Then it is added, " He
feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him' aside"
The blindness in his understanding arises from a want of due
and unbiassed consideration in the heart. And, in fact, all
evil will be found to originate here. " The heart of the sons
of men is full of evil^" and it is " deceitful above all thincrs,
as well as desperately wicked":" and, like a bias in a bowl,
even when under any strong impulse a man has been going for
a season in a right direction, it draws him gradually aside, and
causes him to rest in a situation far distant from that at which
he aimed. Who amongst us has not had abundant experience
of this in his own soul ? Who amongst us has not been drawn
from complying with the dictates of a better principle, by the
more powerful influence of an evil principle within him; and
thus followed the less proper course, at the very time that he
beheld and approved the better ''? Thus it is"^ with all the
votaries of this world : they have an internal consciousness
that their ways and their doings are not good : they therefore
will not bring them to the test of God's revealed will : " they
are afraid of coming to the light, lest their deeds should be
reproved y:" yet, through the deceits of Satan and their own
hearts, they say, « We shall have peace, notwithstanding we
walk m the miagmation of our own hearts ^" Thus, I say, it
is with them: they are " carried away by a spirit of ivhore-
a^rn\" they are drawn away of their own lust, and enticed.
Ihen, when then- lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin-
and sm, when it is finished, bringeth forth death ^"J '
Hence we may easily account for,
HI. The strength of their delusions —
"They cannot deliver their souls" —
•2Cor.ii 11. 'Eccles.ix. 3. " Jer. xvii. p. » Rom. vii. 23.
^JohnHM9,20. 'Deut.xxix.ip. ^Hos.iv.i2. " Jam. i. 14,15.
515.] THE FOLLY OF SPIRITUAL IDOLATRY. 361
[Truly, as our Liturgy well expresses it, they " are tied and
bound Avith the chain of their sins." The whole generation of
ungodly men are " led captive by the devil, at his will%" and
are "carried away to their idols, even as they are led**."
Amongst them all there are few, if any, who have not felt at
times some desire to liberate themselves from their thraldom,
and formed some purpose to turn unto their God. But they
have not been able to eftect it: their inward lusts have been
too strong for them, and their deep-rooted habits too invete-
rate; so that " they could no more change their course of life,
than an Ethiopian could change his skin, or a leopard his
spots*." Their good desires have perhaps been renewed from
time to time ; but have soon vanished again ; " their goodness
being only as a morning cloud, or as the early dew that passeth
away^" In a time of sickness possibly, and at the expected
approach of death, they may appear to have gained the vic-
tory over their corruptions. But no resolutions of theirs have
been found sufficient. Returning health has brought with it
renewed temptations; and these have borne down all their
purposes, which have snapped asunder, as the cords or withs
with which Sampson was bound: and the poor devotees of
this world have returned again to their idols, " as a dog to his
vomit, and as a sow that is washed to her wallowing in the
*' They cannot even say. Is there not a lie in my
right hand ?"
[Even to consider their ways with any seriousness, is an
effort beyond their power. I mean not that they are under
any natural incapacity for this; but such is their moral weak-
ness, and such the strength of their corrupt nature, that they
cannot do what their better judgment would dictate. If they
attempt to read or pray, their minds start aside from the em-
ployment, " even as a deceitful bow^:" and their thoughts
quickly rove to the very ends of the earth. ' It is said of
Satan, that, " as a strong man armed, he keepeth his palace,
and his goods are in peace ^." And this is verified in expe-
rience : for he keepeth his vassals from considering their
bondage; he suggests to them that they will have some more
convenient season for such unwelcome reflections ; and he thus
induces them to " think only of peace and safety, till sudden
destruction come upon them*," and they " perish without a re-
medy ''." One would indeed scarcely conceive it possible that
rational and immortal Beings should be so insensible in the
midst of their dangers, and against all the dictates of their
' 2 Tim. ii. 26. '' 1 Cor. xii. 2. ' Jer. xiii.23.
' Hos. vi. 4. ^ Ps. Ixxviii. 57- Hos. vii. \6.
*" Luke xi. 21. * 1 Thess. v. 3. '' Prov xxix. I.
362 ISAIAH, XLIV. 20. [515r
better judgment: butsoitis: they are willingly deceived, and
are therefore " given over to a delusion to believe their own
lie':" and so " vain are they in their imaginations, and so
darkened in their foolish hearts'"," that to bid them examine
whether they have not a lie in their right hand,is as great an offence
to them, as it would be to a poor, blind, infatuated heathen.]
] . How thankful should we be for a Saviour !
[If God had not " laid help for us upon One that is
mighty," who amongst us could ever be saved? Blessed be
God, if there is " a strong man armed that has enslaved us,
there is a stronger than he, that has overcome him, and taken
from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divided his
spoils";" and at this moment sends his servants to proclaim, in
his name, " liberty to the captives, and the opening of the
prison to them that are bound °." The very first sermon which
he himself ever preached on earth was to this effect p. In his
name therefore I now "preach the acceptable year of the
Lord," even the year of Jubilee, wherein every slave may
assert his liberty, and claim the possession of his forfeited in-
heritance. Rejoice then, Brethren, in these glad tidings:
and now " cast your idols to the moles and to the bats."
Feed no more on ashes: let not a deceived heart any longer
turn you aside : but deliver your souls ; and come forth into
the light and liberty of the children of God. If your past
idolatries have involved your souls in guilt, there is a suffi-
ciency in the blood of Christ to cleanse you from if: if your
corruptions appear so inveterate that you cannot hope to sub-
due them, " the grace of Christ shall be sufficient for you''."
Only seek henceforth your all in him, and " you shall be
saved by him with an everlasting salvation: you shall not be
ashamed or confounded, world without end ^"]
2. How watchful should we be against the remains
of our corrupt nature I
[Whilst we are in this world, we still carry about with
us " a body of sin and death," and many corrupt propensities,
against which we must be ever on our guard. We are but
" in part renewed." " The flesh still lusteth against the
spirit, as well as the spirit against the flesh*." And Satan has
still power to tempt us, yea, and " will sift us all as wheat," if
our blessed Lord do not interpose for our help. We see in
Demas, how prone the carnal heart is to relapse into the love
of earthly things; and we know very little of ourselves, if we
have not learned, by our own manifold backslidings, that we
' 2Thess. ii. II. ""Rom. i. 21. " Luke xi. 22.
°L:\i. xlix. 9, P Luke iv. 18,19. 1 1 John i. 7.
' 2 Cor. xiu 9. ' Isai. :xlv. 1 ;. ' Gnl. v. 17.
are yet in clanger of " turning back unto perdition"," and of
" losing all the things which we have wrought"." I would
say then, " Watch and pray, that ye enter not into tempta-
tion^:" "and take to you the whole armour of God, that ye
may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done
all, to stand ^" ]
" Heb. X. 38, Sp. " 2 John ver. 8. ' Matt xxvi. 41.
* Eph, vi. 12, 13.
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