LOVE AND IDOLATRY — By Charles A. Coates

Acts 20:22, 23; Joshua 23

The time was drawing near for Paul to depart–the spiritual vessel of uncorrupted truth was about to go, and what concerned the name and interests of Christ and of God was to be transferred to the hands of the elders of Ephesus, representing the responsible element in the assembly. Paul had been, in the power of the Spirit, a faithful leader of the people of God into the inheritance; he had kept back nothing; he had declared all the counsel of God, and now, as he departs, he commends to God and to the word of His grace those he is leaving. If Paul was going to depart, Paul’s God was not, and the only way anything of God is going to be maintained now is by the power of the living God. The only thing to be afraid of is “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God”. Whatever is spiritually wrought, God is the doer of it. We see in Paul what He could do. God preserved him in moral suitability to the inheritance to the end. It was the power of God that did it, and the same God and the same power are available for us.

“And to the word of his grace”. God is not making demands, but giving expression to the immensity of His own grace. He brings it freshly before us every first day of the week-a presentation to our hearts of all that He is in His love-coming out to us through the death of Christ to bless us infinitely according to His own heart. That is what will secure responsive affections to God, and it is only as loving God that the spiritual inheritance can be enjoyed. It is impossible to enjoy it except as loving God. The trouble is that influences come in to steal our hearts away from Him. If I loved God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, I should have the same happiness now as I shall have in heaven; and that is God’s proposal. It is the supreme blessedness of the creature. God is not proposing an impossibility: He is proposing what is a necessity to His own love and He has given His Holy Spirit to form in our hearts affections which have their spring and object in Himself.

How touching that Paul should speak to the Ephesian elders about the assembly as that which God had “purchased with the blood of his own”. Think what it was to God to have the assembly. He was prepared to pay that price! “The blood of his own”-what an appeal! What a claim it makes! It is a matter of righteousness that He should have our affections.

We are apt to overlook the importance of watching against any influence which dulls the sense in our souls of the love of God. Joshua’s warning to Israel is as much for us at the present day as it was for Israel, for “what things were written beforetime were written for our instruction”. He says to them, “Take great heed unto your souls, that ye love Jehovah your God. For if ye in any wise go back, and cleave unto the residue of these nations, these that remain among you, and make marriages with them ... know for a certainty that Jehovah your God will no more dispossess these nations from before you, and they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which Jehovah your God hath given you”. The two sets of influences are always there; the influence of the love of God and the influences represented by the nations of Canaan, the effect of which is to counteract divine influence. What answers to “the residue of these nations” is the influence of persons who are not governed by love to God and by what is spiritual; therefore it is of the greatest importance that we should preserve purity in our associations. If we keep company with persons who are of the world and governed by what is natural and not spiritual, the subtle influence of what governs them will insidiously and unconsciously operate on us all the time. Joshua speaks about the danger of cleaving to them and making marriages with them; it suggests that they are attractive persons.We are apt to forget that influences which rob us of the enjoyment of God’s love often operate through nice, attractive people, not through drunkards, thieves, or immoral persons. Nothing will do for us but to be set in our affections for what is of God and to keep ourselves carefully from association with persons who are governed by other principles. However attractive they may be naturally, they can never help us in relation to God; they can only become a snare, and a trap, and a scourge, and thorns in our eyes. Let us remember, too, that books emanate from persons. When I read a book I put myself under the influence of the person who wrote it. If he loves God, and the Lord Jesus Christ is supreme to him, if he is walking in the Spirit, that man will help me; but if he is of the world, however nice and interesting his book is, it will be a trap and a snare to me.

The last two chapters of Joshua are a solemn test to us. Are we living in the inheritance and enjoying it? Are we loving God and enjoying what His love gives? or have we some underground passage which keeps up a link with “the nations”-that is, with the influences of the world which are contrary to God?

Then Joshua has to say, “Put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river, and in Egypt”. One might be surprised to find this injunction after the enemies had been overthrown, the cities possessed, the vineyards and oliveyards enjoyed, but it is manifest that the elements of idolatry remained amongst them. It is a witness to us that whatever God may have done for us-however great the extent of His love and power-there are still remaining elements which have to be refused. John, at the end of that wonderful epistle speaking of the truth of God and eternal life, writes, “keep yourselves from idols”. There are always in the human heart elements which tend to rob us of the enjoyment of God and then we cannot love Him or serve Him.The devil would like to occupy us with something of the creature so as to obscure the thought of God and hinder our enjoyment of Him. We can test everything in a simple way: Does it bring God in or shut Him out? If it shuts Him out it is idolatrous. A man may say, ‘I have my business to attend to’, but you need God in every detail of your business. If it shuts Him out it is idolatry. Then a woman has her household duties, not surely to shut God out! Every duty requires that I bring God in, and then it will not be idolatrous. The blessed God is, in His grace and love, the Source of all supply for me. An idol is a trouble-some thing. You have to carry it, minister to it, do everything for it, and it will never do a single thing for you. Idolatry among the people of God begins in a hidden way. Things come in surreptitiously and are kept out of sight.

It is a sobering question for every one of us: Am I enjoying God as much as I might? Everyone of us must admit that we might enjoy Him more than we do, but what hinders the enjoyment of God is more or less of idolatrous nature.

We have a witness before us every week in the Supper that God has committed Himself to us in love-a love expressed in the death of Christ: that is what the cup of the new covenant means. When we bless the cup we commit ourselves to it. It is a blessed thing for me to commit myself to the fidelity of divine love to support me and carry me through in spite of all that is in the world and in my own heart. That is the committal God looks for. We commit ourselves in the sense that we undertake to go on on these terms. God says, as it were: I am the blessed God and I delight to make Myself known to you in all the power and reality of My love; I am committed to it and now you commit yourself to it and all will be well with you


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