The Nature of Idolatry

Luke 18:11
       The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God I thank thee that I am not as other men are.

WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): What is idolatry? Is it not the transferring to the creature, the homage due to the Creator?

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Idolatry is a worship in which the honour due unto God in Trinity, and to Him only, is given to some of His creatures, or some invention of His creatures…And whenever this is done, whether in heathen temples, or professedly Christian churches, there is an act of idolatry.

A. W. TOZER (1897-1963): An idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.

OLIVER CROMWELL (1599-1658): Idolatry is anything which cooleth thy desires after Christ.

WILLIAM JAY: If therefore we love or fear any thing more than God; if we make it our portion and depend upon it for happiness, we are chargeable with idolatry.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): In his natural state, every man born into the world is a rank idolater. Perhaps, indeed, we may not be such in the vulgar sense of the word―we do not, like idolatrous Heathens, worship molten or graven images. We do not bow down to the stock of a tree, to the work of our own hands. We do not pray to the angels or saints in heaven, any more than to the saints that are upon the earth. But what then? We have set up idols in our hearts; and to these we bow down, and worship them: we worship ourselves, when we pay that honour to ourselves which is due to God only. Therefore, all pride is idolatry; it is ascribing to ourselves what is due to God alone. And although pride was not made for man, yet where is the man that is born without it?

THOMAS ADAMS (1583-1656): We are all born idolaters.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.

JOHN WESLEY: But pride is not the only sort of idolatry which we are all by nature guilty of. Satan has stamped his own image on our heart in self-will also. “I will,” said he, before he was cast out of heaven, “I will sit upon the sides of the north,” Isaiah 14:12, 13―I will do my own will and pleasure, independently of that of my Creator. The same does every man born into the world say, and that in a thousand instances; nay, and avow it too, without either fear or shame. Ask a man, “Why did you do this?”―he answers, “Because I had a mind to it.” What is this but, “Because it was my will?”―that is, in effect, because the devil and I are agreed; Satan and I govern our actions by one and the same principle.

A. W. TOZER: Self-will is a close relative of pride.

JOHN CALVIN: Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual idol factory.

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): We easily fall into idolatry, for we are inclined to it by nature; and coming to us by inheritance, it seems pleasant.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): I suppose we can sum it up by saying that sin is ultimately self-worship and self-adulation; and our Lord shows―what to me is an alarming and terrifying thing―that this tendency on our part to self adulation is something that follows us even into the very presence of God. It sometimes produces this result; that even when we try to persuade ourselves that we are worshipping God, we are actually worshipping ourselves and doing nothing more.

JOHN KNOX (1514-1572): Externally I commit no idolatry; but my wicked heart loveth the self, and cannot be refrained from vain imaginations, yea, not from such as were the fountain of all idolatry.

JOHN FLAVEL (1630-1691): That household god―a man’s own self.

MARTIN LUTHER: I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope―Self.

SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (1600-1661): O, if I could be master of that house-idol myself—my own, mine, my own will, wit, credit, and ease, how blessed were I! We have need to be redeemed from ourselves rather than from the devil…O wretched idol, myself! when shall I see thee wholly decourted, and Christ wholly put in thy room?—that all my aims, purposes, thoughts, and desires, would land upon Christ, and not upon myself! Howbeit we cannot attain to this denial that we can say I am not myself—yet our aiming at this in all we do shall be accepted; for, alas! I think I shall die but aiming to be a Christian!

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): You will never glory in God till first of all God has killed your glorying in yourself.

THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): Deliver me, O Lord, from that evil man―myself.


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