Since he is the only God, the Creator of heaven and earth, he cannot endure that any creature of his own hands, or fiction of a creature’s imagination should be thrust into his throne, and be made to wear his crown. In Ezekiel we find the false god described as “the image of jealousy which provoketh to jealousy,” and the doom on Jerusalem for thus turning from Jehovah runs thus, “Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way upon their head.”
Sympathy with God
I felt in my own soul while meditating upon this matter an intense sympathy with God. Can you put yourselves in God’s place for a moment? Suppose that you had made the heavens and the earth, and all the creatures that inhabit this round globe; how would you feel if those creatures should set up an image of wood, or brass, or gold, and cry, “These are the gods that made us; these things give us life.” What—a dead piece of earth set up in rivalry with real Deity! What must be the Lord’s indignation against infatuated rebels when they so far despise him as to set up a leek, or an onion, or a beetle, or a frog, preferring to worship the fruit of their own gardens, or the vermin of their muddy rivers, rather than acknowledge the God in whose hand their breath is, and whose are all their ways! Oh! it is a marvel that God hath not dashed the world to pieces with thunderbolts, when we recollect that even to this day millions of men have changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.
Egypt and ancient Israel
It was divine jealousy which moved the Lord to bring all his plagues on Egypt. Careful reading will show you that those wonders were all aimed at the gods of Egypt. The people were tormented by the very things which they had made to be their deities, or else, as in the case of the murrain, their sacred animals were themselves smitten, even as the Lord had threatened—”Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am Jehovah.” Was it not the same with ancient Israel? Why were they routed before their enemies? Why was their land so often invaded? Why did famine follow pestilence, and war succeed to famine? Only because “they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images. When God heard this, he was Froth, and greatly abhorred Israel.” (Psalm 78:58-59.) How was it that at the last the Lord gave up Jerusalem to the flames, and bade the Chaldeans carry into captivity the remnant of his people? How was it that he abhorred his heritage, and gave up Mount Zion to be trodden under foot by the Gentiles? Did not Jeremiah tell them plainly that because they had walked after other gods and forsaken Jehovah, therefore he would cast them out into a land which they knew not?
Brethren, the whole history of the human race is a record of the wars of the Lord against idolatry. The right hand of the Lord hath dashed in pieces the enemy and cast the ancient idols to the ground. Behold the heaps of Nineveh! Search for the desolations of Babylon! Look upon the broken temples of Greece! See the ruins of Pagan Rome! Journey where you will, you behold the dilapidated temples of the gods and the ruined empires of their foolish votaries.
The moles and the bats have covered with forgetfulness the once famous deities of Chaldea and Assyria. The Lord hath made bare his arm and eased him of his adversaries, for Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
With what indignation, then, must the Lord look down upon that apostate harlot, called the Romish Church, when, in all her sanctuaries, there are pictures and images, relics and slivines, and poor infatuated beings are even taught to bow before a piece of bread. In this country, Popish idolatry is not so barefaced and naked as it is in other lands; but I have seen it, and my soul has been moved with indignation like that of Paul on Mars’ Hill, when he saw the city wholly to idolatry; I have seen thousands adore the wafer, hundreds bow before the image of the Virgin, scores at prayer before a crucifix, and companies of men and women adoring a rotten bone or a rusty nail, because said to be the relic of a saint. It is vain for the Romanist to assert that he worships not the things themselves, but only the Lord through them, for this the second commandment expressly forbids, and it is upon this point that the Lord calls himself a jealous God.
Husband, is your wife your goddess in your spirit?
Even believers may be reproved on this subject. God is very jealous of his deity in the hearts of his own people. Mother, what will he say of you, if that darling child occupies a more prominent place in your love than your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Husband, what shall he say to you, and with what stripes shall he smite you, when your wife reigns as a goddess in your spirit? And wife, thou shouldest love thy husband—thou doest well in so doing; but if thou exaltest him above God, if thou makest him to have dominion over thy conscience, and art willing to forsake thy Lord to please him, then thou hast made to thyself another god, and God is jealous with thee.
Provoke him with the dead
Ay, and we may thus provoke him with the dead as well as with the living. A grief carried to excess, a grief nurtured until it prevents our attention to duty, a grief which makes us murmur and repine against the will of Providence is sheer rebellion; it hath in it the very spirit of idolatry; it will provoke the Lord to anger, and he will surely chasten yet again, until our spirit becomes resigned to his rod. “Hast thou not forgiven God yet?” was the language of an old Quaker when he saw a widow who for years had worn her weeds, and was inconsolable in her grief—”Hast thou not forgiven God yet?”
We may weep under bereavements, for Jesus wept; but we must not sorrow so as to provoke the Lord to anger, we must not act as if our friends were more precious to us than our God. We are permitted to take solace in each other, but when we carry love to idolatry, and put the creature into the Creator’s place, and rebel, and fret, and bitterly repine, then the Lord hath a rod in his hand, and he will make us feel its weight, for he is a jealous God. I fear there are some professors who put their house, their garden, their business, their skill, I know not what, at seasons into the place of God. It were not consistent with the life of godliness for a man to be perpetually an idolater, but even true believers will sometimes be overcome with this sin, and will have to mourn over it.
Pushing the matter home
Come, let me push this matter home upon your consciences; … How many of you merchants aim only to accumulate a fortune! How many of you tradesmen are living only for your families! How many young men breathe only for pleasure! How many young women exist only for amusement and vanity?
Beware of Self-righteousness
Surely, if sin attacks the sovereignty of God, self-righteousness is equally guilty of treason: for as sin boasts, “I will not keep God’s law,” self-righteousness exclaims, “I will not be saved in God’s way; I will make a new road to heaven; I will not bow before God’s grace; I will not accept the atonement which God has wrought out in the person of Jesus; I will be my own redeemer; I will enter heaven by my own strength, and glorify my own merits.”
The Lord is very wroth against self-righteousness. I do not know of anything against which his fury burneth more than against this, because this touches him in a very tender point, it insults the glory and honor of his Son Jesus Christ. Joshua said to the children of Israel when they promised to keep the law—”Ye cannot serve the Lord, for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; and he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.” So I may well say to every self-righteous person, “You cannot keep the law, for God is a jealous God,” carefully marking every fault, and just to mark your iniquities; nor will he forgive your iniquities so long as you attempt to win his favor by works of law.
Throw away thy self-righteousness, thou proud one; cast it with all other idols to the moles and to the bats, for there is no hope for thee so long as thou dost cling to it. Self-righteousness is in itself the very height and crowning-point of rebellion against God. For a man to say, “Lord, I have not sinned,” is the gathering-up, the emphasis, the climax of iniquity, and God’s jealousy is hot against it.
How, careful, then, should we be when we do anything for God, and God is pleased to accept of our doings, that we never congratulate ourselves. The minister of Christ should unrobe himself of every rag of praise. “You preached well,” said a friend to John Bunyan one morning. “You are too late,” said honest John, “the devil told me that before I left the pulpit.” The devil often tells God’s servants a great many things which they should be sorry to hear. Why, you can hardly be useful in a Sunday School but he will say to you—”How well you have done it!” You can scarcely resist a temptation, or set a good example, but he will be whispering to you—”What an excellent person you must be!” It is, perhaps, one of the hardest struggles of the Christian life to learn this sentence—”Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name be glory.” Now God is so jealous on this point that, while he will forgive his own servants a thousand things, this is an offense for which he is sure to chasten us. Let a believer once say, “I am,” and God will soon make him say “I am not.” Let a Christian begin to boast, “I can do all things,” without adding “through Christ which strengtheneth me,” and before long he will have to groan, “I can do nothing,” and bemoan himself in the dust.
Beware of vain glory
Many of the sins of true Christians, I do not doubt, have been the result of their glorifying themselves. Many a man has been permitted by God to stain a noble character and to ruin an admirable reputation, because the character and the reputation had come to be the man’s own, instead of being laid, as all our crowns must be laid, at the feet of Christ. Thou mayest build the city, but if thou sayest with Nebuchadnezzar, “Behold this great Babylon which I have builded!” thou shalt be smitten to the earth. The worms which ate Herod when he gave not God the glory are ready for another meal; beware of vain glory!
God save you for Jesus’ sake.
Jealous of your love
The Lord Jesus Christ, of whom I now speak, is very jealous of your love, O believer. Did he not choose you? He cannot bear that you should choose another. Did he not buy you with his own blood? He cannot endure that you should think you are your own, or that you belong to this world. He loved you with such a love that he could not stop in heaven without you; he would sooner die than that you should perish; he stripped himself to nakedness that he might clothe you with beauty; he bowed his face to shame and spitting that he might lift you up to honor and glory, and he cannot endure that you should love the world, and the things of the world. His love is strong as death towards you, and therefore will be cruel as the grave. He will be as a cruel one towards you if you do not love him with a perfect heart. He will take away that husband; he will smite that child; he will bring you from riches to poverty, from health to sickness, even to the gates of the grave, because he loves you so much that he cannot endure that anything should stand between your heart’s love and him. Be careful Christians, you that are married to Christ; remember, you are married to a jealous husband.
The subject is large and deep; let us prove that we understand it, by henceforth walking very carefully; and if any say “Why are you so precise?” let this be our answer—”I serve a jealous God.”