Norman puts his finger on an issue that confronts all Christians at some time or another–idolatry–and describes the realization when “it is borne in on us with a burning, smarting, certainty that something is more to us than Christ.”
Concerning natural faith, there are two kinds: simple and advanced. One seems almost effortless, almost automatic; the other calls for concentration, adventure, persistence. It is the same in the life of the Spirit.
Saving faith is very simple. “Except ye become as a little child, ye cannot enter.” A man sees his need, sees his Saviour, takes Him at His word, confesses Him, and lo, Christ is his; he knows it, he has the witness in himself, the Spirit Himself bears witness with his spirit that he is a child of God. His faith is consummated, for perfected faith possesses, and knows it possesses. It is as simple as the eating of bread or drinking of water.
The probable reason for this simplicity and ease of reception is that man can much more easily believe a thing that concerns the past or future than the present. When he comes to Jesus as a sinner, his main preoccupation is usually his past sins and their consequences, or his future destiny: past and future, rather than the present; and it is not very hard to take Christ at His word, that the past is blotted out in His blood and the future assured in His gift of eternal life.
But it is not long before a far more serious problem arises, more serious, that is to say, in the difficulty of its solution. As time passes, the young Christian becomes more and more conscious of the dead weight of his own corrupt nature. Truth can only be revealed to us in stages, as we become capable of accepting it, truth about ourselves and corresponding truth about the fullness of deliverance in Christ. At first we see sins rather than sin. We are made conscious that we are lost and defiled, but that is interpreted to us by our conscience more in the light of the sins we have committed and the attitudes of rebellion and indifference which we have adopted, than by a sight of the sinful nature which has produced all these evil fruits. At first we see outwardly, rather than inwardly. Equally our first consciousness of cleansing is from outward defilements such as these; as “Christian” in Pilgrim’s Progress, we know our sins as a load on our backs, and rejoice as the burden tumbled off at the Cross and rolls down into the empty tomb.
A further, but not final, stage in self-revelation and deliverance comes to many when they have their eyes opened to see what a hold the world has upon their affections. It might be called the stage of separation or consecration. Man is so made that he may have a multitude of interests, each of which has some claim upon his heart; but down in the centre there is always one master-interest, one master-passion. The heart of man, like a wheel, has many spokes, but one hub. That is what is meant by the constant emphasis in the Scriptures on the word “heart.” It is the focal point of personality. When a man does a thing with all his heart, his enthusiasm is in it: his will, his affection, his imagination–himself. “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” says the wise man, “for out of it are the issues of life.” Where a man’s heart is, he is. And a man’s heart is always centered somewhere. In its long, blind quest for its true Owner, the Beloved for whom it was made, it may flit from thing to thing, from passing interest to passing interest, or may twine firmly and fast round one object. The heart is held by what it holds. What a man possesses, possesses him. It is his idol and his master. This is the true meaning of the accursed thing the Bible calls idolatry. It is that thing which has mastered the heart and claims the centre of its affections, that heart which by right of creation and redemption belongs solely to Him who made it for Himself. “No man can serve two masters,” said Christ: but he is always serving one, he is never without a master of some kind.
Before conversion it may be some-thing gross, evil–sensual pleasures, dishonest practices, unscrupulous ambition. After conversion it certainly cannot be these, for he that is born of God does not keep sinning. But there may still be an “inordinate affection” for something innocent in itself, something which is useful, helpful, uplifting, if retained in the circumference of the affections, but a destructive idol if in the centre. It might be, and often is, a person, a loved one, and Jesus’ warning voice is heard in those terrific words: “If any man hate not he cannot be my disciple.” It may be business interests, home, the pursuit of knowledge, politics, sport, society. It may be any of these good things of life which we are given richly to enjoy, but not to adore and worship, not to hold or be held by in such entwining bonds that we cannot do without them.
Then to the younger Christian, or to the older maybe who has lost the first engrossing love for Christ, comes the rapier thrust of conviction: “Lovest thou Me more than these?” And it is borne in on us with a burning, smarting certainty that something is more to us than Christ. As C.T. Studd once said about his own early period of backsliding: “You can always tell where a man’s heart is. What moves the heart, wags the tongue! I used to take every opportunity I could to speak of Christ. Then cricket came into the foreground, and Christ in the back-ground, and I was talking cricket.” Idolatry. And we doubt whether there is a single soul who walks the pilgrim way with God but the same discovery comes to him with devastating effect at some time or other; the precious citadel of his heart has opened its gates to someone, something, other than God. A usurper reigns there, be it as sacred a person as mother, sweetheart, husband, wife: and the idol must be cast down and cast out.
A ruthless struggle ensues. Every subtle argument is used to justify the retention of both. A share of the throne for Christ and a share for that other. But “My glory will I not give to another.” Thank God, He will take no compromise. Thank God, He is jealous, as well as patient. He will be Lord of all or not Lord at all. And the reason is easy to see, after the battle is won and the surrender made, though not at all obvious to the storm-tossed soul in the throes of its life and death wrestling. What holds the heart absorbs and occupies all the energies of a man. Around that thing he thinks, enthuses, has his daydreams, plans and acts. Again we hear the word of Solomon: “Keep thy heart with all diligence.” If, therefore, the heart is set on something selfish, limited, local, all man’s God-endowed energies are centred round that temporal, trivial, personal interest. But God has made man to be universal, to have all things, to love all things, to serve all things. He is to be as wide in his outreach, in his sympathies, in his activities, as his Saviour. Is he not joint heir with Christ, the heir of all things? Are not all things his: the world, life, things present and things to come? Is he not even to judge angels? Can such a one be parochially minded? Firmly, faithfully, must his grip be released from all inordinate affections; from too strong loves for special men and things, from every neatly disguised idol.
That he might be crippled, dispossessed, stripped? Does God delight in limitations, suppressions, negations? No, indeed, but that he might be filled with all the fullness of God, by having God alone in the centre of this heart, Christ only as his master-passion, and then, possessing God, he possesses all things. Does he regain what he lost? Let the poet answer: “All which I took from thee I did but take, not for thy harms, but just that thou mightest seek it in My arms. All which they child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home. Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”