The attentive reader of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes cannot fail to notice that Solomon must have been very observant. He took careful note of how the children of men conducted themselves in the midst of the fleeting vanities of time. His wisdom, knowledge and experience made him a most competent judge of the views and attitudes of men when scrutinised in the light of what “man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man”. Sadly, even Solomon himself in his old age was carried away – “his wives turned away his heart after other gods” – but, being “beloved of his God”, his wandering out of “the way of understanding” was but temporary. Being granted repentance, his apostasy did not issue in his “remaining in the congregation of the dead” as is recorded of many others who turned aside to idolatry of one form or another. Instead he came to lament his folly and, for what remained of his life, he did all within his power to redeem the precious time misspent. The book of Ecclesiastes – where we hear “the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” – appears to be the last piece of writing from his hand. In it we find convincing evidence of the genuineness of his repentance while, as moved by the Spirit of God, he furnishes us with observations to which we do well to take heed. Among them we find: “Lo! this only have I found, that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions“.
Charles Bridges in his Commentary on Ecclesiastes says: “This is a most important verse. It opens to us a hidden mystery – man’s original state, and his awful apostasy from it – how man unmade himself. Lo! Thus the Preacher calls our attention to his humbling discovery. All his other discoveries were absorbed in this one. This only have I found. All the streams of wickedness were beyond the ken of his sight. But he saw enough to trace the direful fall as the fountain-head of corruption. . . . They have sought out many inventions to fall away from God. Man’s discontent with the happiness which God has provided for him – this was his first invention. Hence he fancied a higher perfection than that in which he had been confirmed. Hence he yielded to follow the new way, which Satan and his deceived heart had placed before him – despising his Creator’s law – suspecting His truth – nay, even aspiring to share His sovereignty. This first invention was the parent of the many – all marked by the same falsehood, folly and impiety – all flowing from the bottomless depths of the heart alienated from God, full of windings and turnings – turning every one to his own way.”
In his old age, Solomon, sadly, went after both Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the abomination of the Amorites. They were but fabulous inventions, skilfully fashioned and set in place by the working of Satan. He who is “the god of this world” knows full well that fallen man is still religious by nature and, instead of substituting a system of atheism in order to divert his attention from the truth concerning God, as taught by the light of nature and the visible creation, he cunningly provided as objects of worship and fear, false gods – “idols dumb, which blinded nations fear”, figments of man’s own vain imagination. Rome had its own gods and heathen temples in abundance, and the Greeks had their pantheon of gods whose seat was supposed to be on the summit of Mount Olympus. On his arrival in Athens, Paul’s spirit “was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry”, and at the beginning of his address on Mars’ hill he drew attention to the fact that he perceived that the Athenians were in all things “too superstitious”, that is, “extremely devout”, or “much given to religious worship”. But their devotion and worship were misdirected; they were actually taken up with “demon-fearing”, as J A Alexander points out.
Little wonder that the ambassadors of Christ, as they progressively preached “repentance and remission of sins among all nations”, encountered Satanic-inspired opposition. The blinding of the minds of “them which believe not” was the aim of the “god of this world”. But Christ, to whom “all power” was given, commissioned His ambassadors to go into all the world with His gospel with a view to opening men’s eyes and turning them “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God”. Soon there would be saints even in Caesar’s household, and under the very shadow of Mount Olympus there would be found the Thessalonian Church, where the gospel came “in power and in the Holy Ghost”. From it the word of the Lord was sounding forth to other regions; heathen temples were forsaken of their worshippers; and the religions practised within their precincts came to be recognised for what they really were – “cunningly devised fables”.
But Satan is never more dangerous than when he comes as an “angel of light”! The most cunning invention of all – his “masterpiece” – was to be set in place in Rome with all “deceivableness of unrighteousness”. That system remains in place to this day and, even after the lapse of centuries, it is still as potent as ever in furthering the interests of the kingdom of darkness. In the grip of this “strong delusion”, myriads of souls have passed from time to eternity, to that sphere of existence where they are lost forever. That heresy which reared its head in the Galatian Churches, and upon which Paul pronounced his anathema, is what we find, in its most refined and deadly form, propagated by the Papal Church of Rome. It is what we have come to know as Arminianism, defined by Principal Cunningham as “the partitioning of salvation”, an invention by which man himself can merit salvation. That doctrine has spread like a plague and has affected, to a greater or lesser degree, most of the Churches of Christendom. It is, in terms of Solomon’s dictum, one of the principal inventions sought out by man; it was given legitimacy in the Free Church of Scotland as a result of the passing of the 1892 Declaratory Act and the Assembly’s subsequent failure to repeal it in 1893.
We have now, in the year 2002, come to the stage where, more than ever, we find professing Christians openly rejecting the authority, inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Perilous times are upon us; men will not now endure sound doctrine; they have “itching ears” and desire to hear – if they are inclined to hear at all – only what will give them pleasure; they do not want to be offended by hearing truths which grate on their ears. Why not map our own way to heaven, invent our own religion? – is fast becoming the popular and up-to-date attitude.
Earlier this year, a Church of England minister drew attention in a newspaper article to the decline in his denomination. What he refers to, however, is common beyond the bounds of that Church. “People”, he wrote, “are astonishingly ignorant of Christian teachings and regard themselves competent to define religious positions for themselves, based on their supposed emotional needs, and without any reference to long-established traditions of thought and practice.” How true! When this columnist points out that the Church of England “has never been notable for a very precise understanding of its own teachings”, he is but stating what has been true of the way in which many other Churches also have treated their doctrinal standards. How many Protestant Churches, for instance, now accept the whole doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith? It is clear that many so-called ministers of Christ fail, out of fear of offending their hearers, to preach a full-orbed gospel. Even if they were disposed to do so, they fear that to declare all the counsel of God would make them unpopular, and on grounds of expediency they preach what they think the people want to hear, what will make their hearers feel good and allay any fears of coming short of heaven at last. Self-denial and cross-bearing are not so much as mentioned. Many are being persuaded that being kind and neighbourly is all that is necessary. Divine sovereignty must give way to personal sovereignty. And it matters not what particular “faith” one espouses.
The author of the article just quoted states that “the clergy are trained, not to instruct their people in the faith, but to discuss, and then put together, an interpretation of Christianity tailored either to individual needs or to the great issues of material welfare that excite the secular intelligence of the age. . . . The eclectic popular religion of the present is welcomed by demoralised clergy, anxious to clutch at any straw, too terrified to tell the aspirants to Christianity that their invented religiosity is really not Christianity at all. For it is a religion of therapy, a religion not formulated as a response to the demands of God, but a vapour rising from untutored individual need. It is, in short, derived from human vanity.”
“There is,” wrote Solomon, “no new thing under the sun”, and what we really have in 2002 are old heresies appearing in another form. Cain, long ago, invented a religious rite which was tailored to his supposed individual need as “a tiller of the ground” but, alas for him, unlike his brother’s sacrifice, it was not what God had commanded. Thus “the Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.”