Idolatry Condemned

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.—1 John 5:21

John has, in this epistle, written much concerning the love of Jesus, as well he might, for he knew more about that love than any other man knew. And yet, when he had written concerning love to Jesus, he was moved to an intense jealousy lest by any means the hearts of those to whom he wrote should be turned aside from that dear Lover of their souls Who deserved their entire affection. And, therefore, not only love to them, but also love to Jesus made him wind up his letter with these significant words, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”…

First, keep yourselves from worshipping yourselves. Alas, how many fall into this gross sin! Some do it by indulgence at the table. How much of eating, and especially of drinking, is there which, correctly speaking, is nothing better than gluttony and drunkenness! There are professing Christians who perhaps never are regarded as intoxicated, yet they sip and sip and sip until, if they do not lose the control of their brain, they cause observers to raise the question whether they ever had any at all. It is almost a pity for some professing Christians that they can thus indulge themselves at home…It is a scandalous thing when there is such a sin as this in the Church of God…I urge all of you, beloved, to see to it that you offer no sacrifices to gluttony nor pour out libations to Bacchus.12 For if you do, you prove that you are idolaters worshipping your own bellies and that God’s love dwelleth not within you.

There are others who worship themselves by living a life of indolence.13 They have nothing to do, and they seem to do it very thoroughly. They take their ease, and that is the main thing in which they take any interest. They flit from pleasure to pleasure, from show to show, from vanity to vanity, as if this life were only a garden in which butterflies might fly from flower to flower, and not a sphere where serious work was to be done and all-important business for eternity was to be accomplished. Worship not yourselves by trifling as these indolent people do.

Some worship themselves by decorating their bodies most elaborately. Their first and their last thought being, “What shall we wear?” Fall not into that idolatry.

Then there are some people who make idols of their wealth. Getting money seems to be the main purpose of their lives. Now it is right that a Christian man should be diligent in business. He should not be second to anybody in the diligence with which he attends to the affairs of this life. But it is always a pity when we can be truthfully told, “So-and-so is getting richer every year, but he has got stingier also. He gives less now than he gave when he had only half as much as he now has.” We meet occasionally with people like the man who, when he was comparatively poor, gave his guinea; but when he grew rich, he only gave a shilling…

Some worship the pursuit which they have undertaken. They give their whole soul up to their art or their particular calling, whatever it may be. In a certain sense, this is a right thing to do; yet we must never forget that the first and great commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mat 22:37). This must always have the first place.

Let me here touch a very tender point. There are some who make idols of their dearest relatives and friends. Some have done this with their children. I remember reading a story of a good man who seemed as if he could never forgive God for taking away his child. He sat in a Quakers’ meeting, bowed down and sorrowful, and his time of deliverance came when a sister rose [and] uttered these words, “Verily, I perceive that children are idols,” and then resumed her seat. Such a message as that is often needed; yet it is a pity that it should be. Make no idol of your child or your wife or your husband; for by putting them into Christ’s place, you really provoke Him to take them from you. Love them as much as you please—I would that some loved their children, their husbands, or their wives more than they do—but always love them in such a fashion that Christ shall have the first place in your hearts.

The catalogue of idols that we are apt to worship is a very long one...It would take me a very long while to make a list of the various forms which the idolatry of the heart will take. But in a sentence let me say to you: remember that God has a right to your whole being. There is nothing, and there can be nothing which ought to be supreme in your affections save your Lord. And if you worship anything or any ideal whatever it may be, if you love that more than you love your God, you are an idolater; and you are disobeying the command of the text, Little children, keep yourselves from idols”…

I would say to you, beloved, in closing my observations upon this point: in the matter of your faith, be sure to keep yourselves from the idol of the hour. Some of us have lived long enough to see the world’s idols altered any number of times. Just now, in some professedly Christian churches, the idol is “intellectualism,” “culture,” “modern thought.” Whatever name it bears, it has no right to be in a Christian church, for it believes very little that appertains to Christ. Now I have some sort of respect for a downright honest infidel, like Voltaire14 or Tom Paine.15 But I have none for the man who goes to college to be trained for the Christian ministry, and then claims to be free to doubt the deity of Christ, the need of conversion, the punishment of the wicked, and other truths that seem to me to be essential to a full proclamation of the gospel of Christ. Such a man must have strange views of honesty. And so has the minister who goes into a pulpit and addresses people when he knows that he does not believe any of the doctrines that are dearer to them than their own lives. Yet, the moment he is called to account for his unbelief, he cries out, “Persecution! Persecution! Bigotry! Bigotry!” A burglar, if I found him outside my bedroom door and held him till the policeman came, might consider me to be very bigoted because I did not care to have my property stolen by him and because I interfered with his liberty. So, in like manner, I am called bigoted because I will not allow a man to come and assail from my own pulpit the truths which are dearer to me than my life. I am quite willing to give that man liberty to go and publish his views somewhere else and at his own expense. But it shall not be done at my expense nor in the midst of a congregation gathered by me for the worship of God and the proclamation of the truth as it is revealed in the Scriptures. Keep yourselves from this idol of the times; for it is the precursor of death to any church that gives it admittance…

Believe me, my brethren, that the Church of Christ, if not the world, shall yet learn that the highest culture is a heart that is cultivated by divine grace; that the truest science is…Jesus Christ and Him crucified; and that the greatest thought and the deepest of all metaphysics are found at the foot of the cross; and that the men who will keep on simply and earnestly preaching the old-fashioned gospel, and the people who will stand fast in the old paths are they who will most certainly win the victory. When those who are sailing in a frail bark,16 which they or their fellow-sinners have constructed, without a rudder, without a pilot at the helm, shall drift away and be dashed to pieces upon the rocks, they who trust in the Lord and have Him as their Pilot shall be kept clear of the rocks on which others have made shipwreck and shall be safely steered into the haven of peace and there be at rest for ever.

From a sermon delivered, at The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, on Lord’s-Day Evening, Sept. 6th, 1874.


Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892): Influential Baptist minister in England. History’s most widely read preacher (apart from those found in Scripture). Today, there is available more material written by Spurgeon than by any other Christian author, living or dead. Born at Kelvedon, Essex.