“THEY chose new gods; then was war in the gates.”
The elect of God are the only people to whom it is given to know the only true and living God. It is written, They shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord. In order to have this knowledge of the Lord there is life. How shall they that are dead in trespasses and sins ever attain to the knowledge of God? The dead know not anything, and the sinner dead in his sins has no knowledge of the most high God. He is alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his heart. But to Christ Jesus power is given over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as the Father hath given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I will give them an heart to know me. (Jer. Xxiv. 7.) The apostle John saith, And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (1 John v. 20.) Therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God. Beloved of God, have we not some hope, most precious to us, that we are not altogether strangers to what is recorded of his people? The Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, in a waste howling wilderness. He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, ﬂuttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. In the day when first we felt his tender love, his sweet mercy and his great salvation, O what love, what praise, what worship were we constrained to render to our glorious God. Truly there was no strange god with us. Like Manasseh, we knew that the Lord he is God. Shall we continue reading about his people? What is this in Deut. lxxxii. 16, 17? They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not; to new gods that came newly up, Whom your fathers feared not. Can it be true, dear child of God’? O what a shame! O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces. When Israel had been delivered from the house of bondage, at the Red Sea they sang praises to the Lord, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously. But how soon it is said, They tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not? Before long the people gathered themselves unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods which shall go before us. And presently they were dancing before the golden calf. How often did they provoke God in the wilderness! And when the Lord had brought them into the land he had promised to give them, they forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth. But the Lord was gracious, for his own name’s sake, and delivered them from their woes. He sent them saviors, who saved them out of the hands of their enemies. (Neh. ix. 27.) Yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them. (Judges ii. 17.) Are we not better than they? No, in no wise. “They chose new gods;” so have we been guilty. How often have we found the word most needful to stir up our pure mind by way of remembrance. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. After that we have known God, or rather are known of God, how could it ever be that we have chosen new gods’? Is not the Lord of hosts sufficient? Is he not almighty, merciful, gracious, abounding in goodness, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning? Why and how is it that of Israel it is recorded, “They chose new gods”? To typical Israel it was promised that in their obedience to God they should be plentifully blessed in all things pertaining to this life, but if they failed to render to the Lord that obedience which was meet, they should meet with reverses. The Lord would bring upon them a nation of fierce countenance, and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst throughout thy land. Thus the Lord would accomplish his pleasure in chastening his nation, in visiting their transgressions with the rod and their iniquities with stripes. (Deut. xxviii.) How often did this occur, and with spiritual Israel, with those who are Jews inwardly, when first we realized the grace of God, how low, how sinful and utterly helpless we felt ourselves to be! In this time of our distress the Lord answered the cry which the Spirit of Christ Jesus sent forth in our hearts. O, we were moved unto the Lord our God, and Christ was revealed unto us as our tender Shepherd and glorious Deliverer. He led us about, and though the way was rough, and many a sigh and complaint we made, yet we received instruction. Some of it was sweet, reviving our drooping soul, and there were bitter and humbling things we learned. But have we not felt it was all for our good? Who teacheth like him? He revealed his great salvation to us, and we felt that in the crucified Lamb of God was all our hope of eternal life. Christ Jesus was all our desire, and our spirit exclaimed, Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none on earth that I desire beside thee. We did not halt between two opinions, we had but one, and that was, The Lord he is God. There was no strange god with us. Had the thought been suggested that one day we might choose new gods, how indignant we would have felt, and in all the warmth of our soul’s affection for our dear Lord Jesus we would have said with Peter, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in anywise. Likewise said they all.
“They chose new gods.” Does the divine nature, the Spirit of Christ in the saints, move them to choose new gods? O no. It is the carnal, fleshly nature in the people of God, greatly aided by the devil, that is in subtile war with the Spirit of Christ in them, in all the deceit of our desperately wicked heart, suggesting and alluring us into departures from the living God, to serve other gods. How gracious is the counsel of the Holy Ghost, by the pen of the apostle to the Hebrews: Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. This evil heart of unbelief is the foul nest in which all treason and rebellion is hatched and nursed against our God and King and Savior. How silently and cunningly is its vile plotting done! The children of God, in their early experiences, are little aware of the devices of Satan or the deceitfulness of the human heart. Satan is transformed as an angel of light, and is ever ready to insinuate his delusive and hurtful counsels, and our flesh is ever ready to war against the Spirit. The work of the flesh is idolatry. (Gal. v. 20.) What comfort the Lord oftentimes indulges his people in while in prayer and in reading the Scriptures, so that we have longed to he often so engaged. But after a time we began to think and act as though there were some .merit in these exercises, and that if these exercises were constantly maintained we should never see want. Some professors may sneer at such things, for they were never babes, foolish or weak. But you poor, simple ones, you have found before you were aware of it that you were looking to your own performances of these things as the fountains to minister to your souls’ needs. And though in Word we might deny it, yet in fact, in spirit we were saying to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods. (Hosea xiv. 3.) Have you known your fleshly mind to become very religious for a season – to make an inspection of the city in which you dwell, and suggest how we ought to be fortified in readiness for future conflicts? Yes, that we might have very judicious precautions on hand to withstand the onslaughts of error and safeguards against temptations. We became most industrious in preparing our defences, endeavoring to store our minds with certain texts of Scripture, which we thought would repel and over-throw all errors. We endeavored to make a study of this and that doctrine, that we might be able so clearly to present the truth that none of the enemy could stand before us. Now and again we reviewed what we had wrought, and deemed ourselves almost impregnable, land in fancied security we seemed eager for the foe to appear, that we might ﬁre ;a few shots at him; for, relying upon our accumulated stores of sound doctrine, we presumptuously imagined we were quite prepared to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints and for the defence of the gospel. A head full of texts of Scriptures and unanswerable arguments is not the living God, but some of Israel have made a god of it, a private god; we worshiped our accumulated funds of Scripture knowledge, we became self-sufficient, our dependence upon the ministrations of the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, declined; we made and chose a new god, our stored up knowledge, but it proved to be only an idol, and such we have found it to be in adversities. Again, dear children of God, when we have been in various difficulties, when the enemy has invaded the land, we have been sorely perplexed. We have waited upon God, we have cried unto him for succor and to grant us enlargement. Have we become impatient for deliverance? Then our fleshly mind began to lift up its head, and to insinuate that the Lord was tarrying, that his help was so slow, that a little foreign aid might be of advantage to facilitate deliverance from our embarrassments. If we had a few horses and chariots we should not be far from salvation. We went down to Egypt for help. (Isaiah xxxi. 1.) Herein we did foolishly, (2 Chron. xvi. 9,) resorting to carnal notions, putting our trust in an arm of flesh. We became rebellious, and took counsel, but not of the Lord, and in our vain help thought to experience relief sooner than the Lord seemed willing to grant it to us. We chose new gods. O what a gracious, glorious God is the true God, the God of our salvation. Who is a God like unto thee? that pardoneth iniquity and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage. He retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy. When the Lord was revealed as such unto us, and we were delivered from the powers of darkness and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son, how we delighted in the law of Jesus Christ, our heavenly King! We were his willing people in the day of his power, our souls yearned to follow his gracious instructions, to run in the way of his commandments, and thus in our grateful obedience show forth the praises of our God and King.
“They chose new gods.” We were ensnared to listen to other voices than Christ, our Lawgiver. We might still speak of the church being subject unto Christ, yet the thought would arise, What harm could there be in this or that? It may be we have derived much pleasure in reading the writings of certain gracious men, or we have become so attached to some of the Lord’s dear children that our very souls have been knit to them in love. Then our carnal mind might suggest and tell us that what they might write or speak could not be wrong, and we have looked to them as authority. In this way how many have been the customs, usages, rules and traditions which have become gods to us of our own choosing. Though we still profess Christ Jesus, our glorious Redeemer, to be our King, and as his subjects to be subject to his laws alone, yet something would say to us, Would not the doing of this be just as well? and our flesh has responded, It certainly would be more easy, less troublesome. But in Vain is it that we think we worship God when we are disobedient to the law of Christ, our precious Savior, that we may keep our own traditions, (Mark vii. 7-9,) which are ever most dear to our carnal minds. The mind of Christ in the elect of God is ever in the most sacred subjection to the law of Zion’s King, and the called of God according to this mind in them find in the law of Christ delightful meditation. But the carnal mind is ever at unrest, ever manifesting deep-rooted enmity against the Lord, ever devising inventions, thoughts, imaginations, heresies, and whatsoever is contrary to sound doctrine, some of which are so cunningly fashioned, are so cloaked in pleasing attire, that we have been deceived, and have gone a whoring with our own inventions. (Psalms cvi. 39.) We have been allured by that heart which is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked to suppose that gain is godliness. O What a dreadful plague unto Israel is this vile, deceitful heart! Truly the child of God has need to come unto God often with prayer and supplication, because of the havoc and miseries experienced from his sinful, deceitful heart. (1 Kings viii. 38.) Gain is godliness. How many suppose it is so. To die is gain. (Phil. i. 21.) How few understand and are in accord with the apostle. To vast multitudes, who only have their portion in this life, to die is to lose all. (Psalms xvii. 14.) As for me, (says David, and my heart is in accord with his) I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. But how delusive are the thoughts and emotions of the flesh. We would be rich, we have coveted the estate, the prosperity of others. Our desires have gone forth after the smiles of men. Have we not coveted the good opinion and praises of men? We have felt it would be so pleasant, wherever we went, to have the worship of our fellows, and somewhat of the same spirit that was manifested in those who loved to be called Rabbi, who prayed at the corners of the streets, who did their aims in the sight of men, has been manifested in us, and if in any measure our fleshly mind has had its reward, and we have imagined to ourselves that men thought we were something, that on account of our wealth, our gifts, our religious walk, we had gained some notice, we have thought this gain was godliness; we have coveted the honor that cometh from men. Child of God, are you in any degree guilty? What is all this desire of gain but that covetousness which is idolatry? (Col. iii. 5.) The Lord our God is a jealous God, and when we choose new gods these are images of jealousy. (Psalms lxxviii. 58; Ezek. viii. 3-5.) It is sacredly, blessedly true his loving-kindness he will not take from us. He will forgive our iniquities, but he will take vengeance on our inventions. (Psalms xcix. 8.) Our idols he will utterly abolish, and cleanse us from them all; and this humbling but gracious work of God with us is being repeated again and again all our pilgrimage, for we are
“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.”
“They chose new gods.” They ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way. (Judges ii. 19.) “Then was war.” The Lord will bring upon his people his army, the Assyrian, the rod of his anger, the palmerworm and canker- worm, blasting and mildew. Prepare ye war against her. For thus hath the Lord said, Hew ye down trees, and cast a mount against Jerusalem. This is the city to be visited. (Jer. vi. 6.) In our idol worship we thought ourselves secure. The new gods cried, Peace, peace, but suddenly war is in our gates. The Lord has given commandment, Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord’s. (Jer. v. 10.) Ah, we had foolishly erected battlements which we thought no enemy could scale; they would prove to be equal to every assault. But what are all our fleshly defences, all our head knowledge of the truth, sound arguments, all our devices, our precautions to prevent the inroads of hellish temptations, the invasions of error? Beloved of God, have you known something of the fierce attacks of infidelity, when every vestige of the doctrine of Christ has been brought into question, and our hope therein assailed? We have run into our towers, have taken refuge in our strongholds. But what availed all our words, all our arguments, all our fleshly knowledge of the letter of the doctrine of Christ? It could not stand before the spirit of infidelity, the fierce assaults of the devil. O child of God, thy only salvation is that our gracious, merciful, covenant God shall arise to our help and bring again Christ’s gospel into our hearts, not in word only, but in power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. Did you ever hear that dreadful challenge in your soul, How do you know there is a God? What breath was there in any new gods? Could they declare? Could all the religion accumulated by the efforts of the flesh make known and say, Thy God reigneth? Vain was all our confidence in what we esteemed sound arguments, texts of Scripture, our head knowledge of the Bible. The enemy gained ground upon us, wrested from us all our defences, demolished our self-erected towers and battlements. We were filled with dismay, with questionings, tossed to and fro by the enemy, and we found these new gods could not arise and save. Hellish temptations encompassed us, all our safe- guards, our fleshly, pious resolutions, were valueless in their resistance to the temptations of the wicked one. Now did the enemy come in like a flood, and we felt ourselves swept along by the incoming billows of evil. “Then was war in the gates.” Though we had multiplied horses, and sent down into Egypt for help, and trusted in them because they were many, yet thus saith the jealous Lord God, I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots. (Micah v.10.) Egypt did help in vain. Ah, when the conflict was sharp, and the battle long, and difficulties multiplied, did we become fretful under our soul-sickness and wounds? Did we forget to trust in the Lord alone? Did we send to King Jareb? (Hosea v. 13.) “Then was war in the gates.” The Egyptians and every foreign aid to which we appeal are not God, and this to our sorrow we have proved. Though the wisdom and devices of our fleshly minds cried, Peace, peace, what health could we find? what release from our woes? We found our trust in an arm of flesh to be our shame and confusion. The rod of the Lord’s anger smote us, we were broken under his chastening, and in deep humility of soul confessed our shame in departing from the living God. “Then was war in the gates.” The Lord shall utter his voice before his army, for his camp is very strong. He sends sore afflictions and trials. He calls for blasting and mildew, and all our pleasant plants are withered. We looked for peace, but thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet and the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried, the whole land is spoiled, the invasion of the enemy, the world, the flesh and the devil, eat up our pleasant things. O, it is dreadful to find that our heart’s vilenesses are as mildew to our joy and peace. The Lord has brought upon us a time of famine. He has commanded the clouds that they rain no rain upon us, (Isaiah vi. 6,) and we are made to feelingly cry out, O what a barren time! my leanness, my leanness! Woe is me. Where are the new gods? Can they arise and save us in the time of our trouble? (Jer. ii. 28.) A time of drought in the soul of a child of God is the time when all the new gods that we have chosen and worshiped are put to the test. Can any of these vanities cause rain? (Jer. xiv. 22.) Do we seek to cisterns that we have hewn out? They are broken, and afford us no supply. Our thoughts had been that we were rich, and increased with goods, and had need of nothing; but now in war, with enemies many, our necessities are deep, and of what utility are all the gods, all creature doings? The idols have spoken vanity, miserable comforters are they all. (Zech. x. 2.) Of what value is all the wealth of the world, the smiles and worship of men, when our gracious God hideth his face from us, and has brought afflictions to our gates? He will famish all the gods of the earth. (Zeph. ii. 11.) Not all the customs, rules and traditions that we have worshiped are able to bring plenty, We are minished and brought low through oppression, affliction and sorrow. The Lord will plead with his people: Have I been a wilderness unto Israel, a land of darkness? No, dear Lord, thou hast not. O my soul, clothe thee with sackcloth, put thy mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats. Sometimes the Lord has so chastened us that we have been carried away to Babylon. O what confusion and distress we have experienced! Then we were subdued, then we were mercifully instructed, we mourned our folly in choosing new gods. How we longed once more to dwell in the land of gospel rest. We wept when we remembered Zion, and with Jonah we could exclaim, I am cast out of thy sight, yet will I look again toward thy holy temple. In all the chastenings the kindness and love of our heavenly Father appear. Even when we are in Babylon it is for our good. (Jer. xxiv. 5.) We are weaned from our idols, and become ashamed of our confidences, and mourn over our departures from the Lord. When the Lord our God has dethroned all the new gods, and he seeth that our power is gone, (Deut. xxxii. 36,) will he be favorable no more’? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? O no, he abideth faithful, the same gracious, unchanging God, therefore we are not consumed; and when the set time to favor Zion is come, and he saith unto her, Thy God reigneth, then though the heavens have been shut up, and it rained not by the space of three years and six months, then, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance when’ it was weary. Who can stay the bottles of heaven? Who shall prevent the showers of blessing? We have proved his doctrine to drop as the rain, his speech to distil as the dew. The blessed Comforter has taken the things of Jesus our Savior and has again nourished and cherished our souls. We have found that he alone is the fountain of living waters, the source of all pure delight; he alone is our strength. It is the Lord who teacheth our hands to war and our fingers to fight, and we learn that except the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain. O, we have learned, and we still are learning, that peace and righteousness are only found in the old paths, the good way, the footsteps of the flock. All speculations and false doctrines are new gods, lying vanities, and the child of God who for a time has been enticed by them forsakes his own mercies. What improvement can any false gods make upon the gospel of Christ? In walking according to the rule of Christ our King we experience peace and mercy to be our heritage. How prone we are to make gods to ourselves that are not gods, (Jer. Xvi. 20,) and should the Lord at any time say, Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone, (Hosea iv. 17,) a sad and woeful time will be experienced by us. But when our gracious, covenant God shall heal our backslidings, then shall we exclaim, What have I any more to do with idols’? Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses, neither will we say to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods. (Hosea xiv. 3-8.) Are these experiences of soul thus portrayed in some measure yours “I You perhaps, dear child of God, are both troubled and comforted, but it all is a pathway uutrodden by those who fear not God and love not our Lord Jesus Christ.
FREDERICK W. KEENE.
North Berwick Maine.
Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 1.
January 1, 1916