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THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF JOHN - Chapter 5 - Verse 21

Verse 21. Little children. This is a favourite mode of address with John, (See Barnes "1 Jo 2:1,) and it was proper to use it in giving his parting counsel; embracing, in fact, all that he had to say—that they should keep themselves from idols, and suffer nothing to alienate their affections from the true God. His great object had been to lead them to the knowledge and love of God, and all his counsels would be practically followed, if, amidst the temptations of idolatry, and the allurements of sin, nothing were allowed to estrange their hearts from him.

Keep yourselves from idols. From worshipping them; from all that would imply communion with them or their devotees. Compare See Barnes "1 Co 10:14".

The word rendered idols here (eidwlwn) means, properly, an image, spectre, shade—as of the dead; then any image or figure which would represent anything, particularly anything invisible; and hence anything designed to represent God, and that was set up with a view to be acknowledged as representing him, or to bring him, or his perfections, more vividly before the mind. The word is applicable to idol-gods—heathen deities, 1 Co 8:4,7; 10:19; Ro 2:22; 2 Co 6:16; 1 Th 1:9; but it would, also, be applicable to any image designed to represent the true God, and through or by which the true God was to be adored. The essential things in the word seem to be,

(a.) an image or representation of the Deity, and

(b.) the making of that an object of adoration instead of the true God. Since one of these things would be likely to lead to the other, both are forbidden in the prohibitions of idolatry, Ex 20:4,5. This would forbid all attempts to represent God by paintings or statuary; all idol-worship, or worship of heathen gods; all images and pictures that would be substituted in the place of God as objects of devotion, or that might transfer the homage from God to the image; and all giving of those affections to other beings or objects which are due to God. Why the apostle closed this epistle with this injunction he has not stated, and it may not be easy to determine. It may have been for such reasons as these:

(1.) Those to whom he wrote were surrounded by idolaters, and there was danger that they might fall into the prevailing sin, or in some way so act as to be understood to lend their sanction to idolatry.

(2.) In a world full of alluring objects, there was danger then, as there is at all times, that the affections should be fixed on other objects than the supreme God, and that what is due to him should be withheld. It may be added, in the conclusion of the exposition of this epistle, that the same caution is as needfull for us as it was for those to whom John wrote. We are not in danger, indeed, of bowing down to idols, or of engaging in the grossest forms of idol-worship. But we may be in no less danger than they to whom John wrote were, of substituting other things in our affections in the place of the true God, and of devoting to them the time and the affection which are due to him. Our children it is possible to love with such an attachment as shall effectually exclude the true God from the heart. The world —its wealth, and pleasures, and honours—we may love with a degree of attachment such as even an idolater would hardly show to his idol-gods; and all the time which he would take in performing his devotions in an idol-temple, we may devote with equal fervour to the service of the world. There is practical idolatry all over the world; in nominally Christian lands as well as among the heathen; in families that acknowledge no God but wealth and fashion; in the hearts of multitudes of individuals who would scorn the thought of worshipping at a pagan altar; and it is even to be found in the heart of many a one who professes to be acquainted with the true God, and to be an heir of heaven. God should have the supreme place in our affections. The love of everything else should be held in strict subordination to the love of him. He should reign in our hearts; be acknowledged in our closets, our families, and in the place of public worship; be submitted to at all times as having a right to command and control us; be obeyed in all the expressions of his will, by his word, by his providence, and by his Spirit; be so loved that we shall be willing to part without a murmur with the dearest object of affection when he takes it from us; and so that, with joy and triumph, we shall welcome his messenger, the angel of death, when he shall come to summon us into his presence. To all who may read these illustrations of the epistle of the "beloved disciple," may God grant this inestimable blessing and honour. AMEN.

{*} "Little children" "My children" {c} "idols" 1 Co 10:14

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