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THE BIBLE STANDARD OF RELIGION
2 Kings 17:33. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods.
THE views which men in general have of religion are extremely indistinct. Hence arises the necessity of unfolding religion to them in every possible way. Sometimes we attempt it by a clear exposition of its principles from the declarations of the Inspired Volume. Sometimes we bring forth the examples of the Apostles, and shew what their views of religion were. On the present occasion, I will proceed in a way of contrast, that so the difference between true religion and false may the more fully appear.
The persons of whom my text speaks were the inhabitants of Samaria. When the king of Assyria had subdued the ten tribes of Israel, he took away the inhabitants, and dispersed them throughout his own dominions, and sent a number of his own subjects to occupy and cultivate the land. These persons, coming from different parts of the Assyrian Empire, took with them their own gods, whom they had severally been wont to worship. But, after a season, the lions of the forests multiplied, and caused such destruction among them, that they could not but regard it as a token of God’s displeasure, for not being worshipped and served in a way conformable to his own appointed ordinances. The people stated this to the king of Assyria; and requested that one of the priests who had been taken from the land, should be sent back, in order to instruct them how Jehovah, whom they supposed to be a local Deity, and the god of that particular land, was to be worshipped. This request was complied with: a priest was sent to them: a number of others were appointed to officiate with him under his direction: and thus the people united the worship of Jehovah with that of their own idols; or, as my text expresses it, “feared the Lord, and served their own gods [Note: ver. 24–41.].” And in this state they continued even to the time of our blessed Lord; who said to the Samaritan woman, “Ye worship ye know not what [Note: John 4:22.].” Now, this will afford me an opportunity of shewing what true religion is; by contrasting,
The Samaritan standard of religion—
From the history of the Samaritans, as contained in the chapter before us, it will be seen what their religion was—
[It had self-complacency for its object, form for its essence, and custom for its origin.
It had self-complacency for its object: for every one worshipped his own gods; as it is said: “Every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high-places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities where they dwelt [Note: ver. 29–31.].” If they added Jehovah to them, it was from fear of his vengeance: “They feared the Lord, and served their own gods;” fearing him by constraint, and serving them by choice. They had a general idea that it was well to acknowledge some god: and with that they were satisfied.
It had form for its essence: “They made unto themselves, of the lowest of the people, priests of the high-places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high-places [Note: ver. 32.].” Whilst the priests were at their posts, and performing their accustomed round of services, all was well. Respecting religion as a personal concern between them individually and the god whom they served, they knew nothing. It was with them a mere official matter: and if it was performed with regularity by the appointed officers, they felt no want, no cause for self-reproach.
It had custom for its origin: “They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations who had carried Israel away captive from thence: Unto this day they do after the former manners [Note: ver. 33, 34, marginal reading.].” “So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so did they unto this day [Note: ver. 41.].” None of them inquired whether their views were right or wrong: they took for granted that the religion which they had received from their forefathers was right: and, if they only conformed themselves to that, they had nothing to fear.]
And what is the religion which obtains amongst us?
[Verily, we might almost conceive ourselves to be in Samaria, rather than in Britain, where the light of the Gospel so clearly shines. For what is the object which the generality of us aim at, even in religion? is it not merely to have within our own bosoms a foundation for self-applause? As to any real delight in holy exercises, we do not pretend to it. To read the word of God with a devout application of it to our own particular case; to commune with God in secret, and pour out our souls before him in praise and thanksgiving; these are not really the employments we affect: as for enjoying his presence, and receiving communications from him in answer to our prayers, we scarcely contemplate such a thing as attainable by us: if we do our duty, as we call it, that is all that we are concerned about; that satisfies our conscience; and we neither desire nor think of any thing beyond.
In perfect accordance with these views are all our services. We come to the house of God: we follow the minister in the different parts of the service, standing, sitting, kneeling, as occasion requires, and making our responses at the places assigned us: we then attend to his discourse with interest or indifference, as it may happen: and then congratulate ourselves as having performed a duty, though the soul has not been really engaged in a single word that has been uttered either by the minister or ourselves. Samaritan-like, we devolve almost the whole service on the minister; and, if he have discharged his office with regularity and decorum, we conclude that we have done all that was required of us.
If it were asked of us, Why we professed the Christian faith at all, the greater part of us would have no better reason than that by which the Samaritans were influenced; “We follow the religion of our forefathers.” We are Christians, in fact, for the very same reasons that Mahometans or Pagans profess the faith maintained respectively by them. We have taken our religion upon trust from those who have gone before us, without ever having examined it for ourselves: and it is owing to the circumstance of our having been born in a Christian land, and not to any conviction of the truth and excellency of our religion, that we are Protestants and not Papists, or Christians and not Heathens.
God in Christ is professedly the object of our worship; but the gods whom we really worship, and by choice, are the pleasures, and riches, and honours, of this vain world. On them our heart is fixed; to them is our time devoted; and, if we but attain them to the extent of our desires, we bless ourselves as having gained the objects most worthy of our pursuit.]
But now, in opposition to all this, let us notice
The standard proposed to us in the Bible—
This, also, is fully set forth in the chapter before us—
It has God alone for its object—
[”Ye shall not fear other gods, nor how yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them; but to the Lord: him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice [Note: ver. 35, 36.].” In the first and great commandment that is given us, of loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, there is no alienation admitted, no participation with any creature upon earth. “God is a jealous God,” and must have our whole hearts. “If our heart be divided, we shall,” as the prophet warns us, assuredly “be found faulty [Note: Hosea 10:2.].” Now, then, if there be any one thing under heaven that is not truly and entirely subordinated to him, we have not yet taken so much as one step in true religion. We may have some fear of God: hut whilst there is any other god in the universe that we serve, or that stands in competition with him, we are yet Samaritans in heart, “having the form of godliness, but not any of its power [Note: 2 Timothy 3:5.].”]
It has the covenant of grace altogether for its ground—
[”The covenant that I have made with you, ye shall not forget [Note: ver. 38.].” We have no hope whatever before God, but as founded on that everlasting covenant which the Father entered into with his dear Son, as the head and representative of his elect people [Note: Zechariah 6:13; Hebrews 13:20.]. In ourselves we were reduced to a footing with the fallen angels, and had in ourselves no more claim on God than they. By the first covenant we were all condemned [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. But God has made a new covenant with us, “ordered in all things and sure [Note: 2 Samuel 23:5.];” and has “confirmed that covenant with an oath [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18.];” and according to the tenour of that covenant, shall mercy be vouchsafed unto us [Note: Hebrews 8:8-12.]. But who knows any thing about that covenant? Who even thinks of it, or has any more respect unto it than if it never had existed? The utmost that people in general know about religion is, that they need to repent; and that, if they repent, they shall obtain mercy: but under what considerations, and by what distinct means, mercy shall be accorded to them, they know nothing. They see not every thing as springing from the sovereign grace of God, and given to Christ for us, and received from Christ through the exercise of faith: verily, so miserably defective are the most of us in the knowledge of these things, that the Samaritans themselves had almost as good a discernment of them as we.]
It has the work of redemption for its great influential motive—
[“Ye shall fear the Lord, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched-out arm [Note: ver. 36.].” Throughout all the Old Testament, the deliverance from Egypt is urged as the chief incentive to serve and glorify God. Yet what was that, in comparison of the redemption vouchsafed to us through the blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? This is the substance, of which the redemption from Egypt was the mere shadow. And it is from the consideration of this stupendous work that we are exhorted to “yield up ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord [Note: Romans 12:1.].” It is “because Christ has bought us with a price, that we are called to glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:17-19.].” See the saints in heaven: even there are they actuated in all their services by a sense of redeeming love [Note: Revelation 5:9-10.]: much more are we on earth induced by this wonderful mystery to “live to Him, who died for us, and rose again [Note: Romans 14:7-9.]!”]
It has holiness, real and universal holiness, for its end—
[Not even the salvation of men from perdition is so much the end of all religion as the saving of them from sin. It was in the latter view, rather than the former, that the very name of Jesus was given to our blessed Lord [Note: Matthew 1:21.]. He came to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” This also, like all the foregoing characters of true religion, is specified in the passage before us: “The statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do for evermore [Note: ver. 37.].” And to this agrees the testimony of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us — — — that, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, we might serve him without fear, in righteousness and holiness before him, all the days of our life [Note: Luke 1:67-69; Luke 1:74-75.].”
Now, from hence we may see how far we are possessed of true religion: for, if we desire not holiness as our chief aim, and as that which alone can render heaven itself desirable, we have yet to learn what are the first principles of true religion. Satan himself would gladly be restored to his original happiness in heaven: but he has no desire to be “renewed in the spirit of his mind, and to be created anew, after the divine image, in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:23-24.].” These are exclusively the desires of a Christian mind; and in every regenerate soul under heaven are they paramount and predominant. There is not a Christian in the universe who does not desire to become “holy, as God himself is holy,” and “perfect, even as his Father which is in heaven is perfect.”]
And now, by way of improvement,
I will call you to humiliation—
[Methinks the Prophet Isaiah furnishes me with the most appropriate address that can possibly be delivered to you: “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah; who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness [Note: Isaiah 48:1.]!” Here your Christian profession is acknowledged: and here, alas! is your Christian practice described. For who amongst us has devoted himself to God with that entireness of heart and life which the very name of Christian implies? — — — I must indeed warn you, that “ye cannot serve two masters, who are so opposed to each other as God and the world are. To whichever of them you adhere, you must, of necessity, despise the other: ye cannot serve God and mammon [Note: Matthew 6:24.].” This is not the warning of an enthusiast who is carried to excess by an heated imagination, but the warning of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who will confirm it by his judgment at the last day. And if this be true, what have you been, but despisers of God, whilst you have been professing to reverence and serve him? Let a sense of this humble you in the dust: and remember, that, if ever you would serve God acceptably, every rival must be put away, and he alone must reign in your heart.]
I call you to decision—
[What is the determination which I would wish you all to form? It is that which the Prophet Micah so well inculcates: “All people will walk every one in the name of his God; and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God, for ever and ever [Note: Micah 4:5.].” Yes; “walk in the name of your incarnate God,” whose name you bear: and let it be seen “whose you are, and whom you serve.” Do this at all events, without compromising the matter, or “halting between two opinions.” “If Baal be God, follow him: but if the Lord be God, then follow him [Note: 1 Kings 18:21.].” Yes, and “follow him fully too [Note: Joshua 14:8-9.]:” and if you are called to bear a cross for him, stay not till it is laid upon you by necessity; but “take it up willingly, and follow him [Note: Luke 9:23.]:” “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach [Note: Hebrews 13:13.];” and, whatever be the cross laid upon you, rejoice, and “glory in it, for his sake [Note: Acts 5:41.].” This is the Bible standard. Attempt not to lower it. Aspire after a full conformity to it. Your Lord well deserves this at your hands. It was not by measure that he expressed love to you. There was nothing which he did not forego for you; nothing which he did not sustain for you. Walk ye, then, in his steps; and have no other standard than this, to “love him as he has loved you,” and to serve him as he has served you. Whatever he did for your salvation, that be ye ready to do for his honour. And whatever attainments ye have made, still endeavour to advance, “walking on” with ever-increasing zeal, “forgetting what is behind, and pressing forward to that which is before, till the prize of your high calling is awarded to you [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.],” and you rest for ever in the bosom of your God.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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