Soul Idolatry Excludes Men Out of Heaven


Timothy Keller, during his recent 2009 Gospel Coalition message on idolatry (The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and Idolatry), said the following,

If you want a far better version of the message your getting from me right now, you might want to look up an old worthy Puritan named David Clarkson whose three volume set of works was published by the Banner of Truth a long time ago. In the second volume Clarkson has an unbelievably thorough, typically Puritan, sermon called “Soul Idolatry Excludes Men out of Heaven.”…He says, honestly, physical idolatry, bowing down with your body to a physical image, is not really all that different, and a lot less prevalent, than the real sin which is what he calls “soul idolatry”—bowing down to some thing that probably doesn’t have a physical image, in your heart. In other words you can make anything into an idol—anything at all. Doesn’t have to be a statue. It almost never is.

When I returned home from the conference I pulled Clarkson’s sermon from his works (which are still in print and available for a paltry $42). Here is the full sermon for download:

Soul Idolatry Excludes Men Out of Heaven (37 pages, PDF, 11.4 MB).


In the detailed sermon, Clarkson labels 13 manifestations of “soul idolatry.” He argues that secret and inner idolatry is equally sinful as physical and open idolatry. Clarkson writes, “He that serves his [inner] lusts is as incapable of heaven as he that serves and worships idols of wood or stone” and later writes, “there are thirteen acts of soul worship; and to give any one of them to anything besides the God of heaven is plain idolatry, and those idolaters that so give it.”

But Clarkson is quick to remind believers of the soul idolatry that remains in us. “Those natures that are most sanctified on earth are still a seminary of sin; there is in them the roots, the seeds of atheism, blasphemy, murder, adultery, apostasy, and idolatry.”

He then presents a list of 13 “soul idols”:

1. Esteem. That which we most highly value we make our God. For estimation is an act of soul worship.

2. Mindfulness. That which we are most mindful of we make our God. To be most remembered, to be most minded, is an act of worship which is proper to God, and which he requires as due to himself alone.

3. Intention. That which we most intend we make our god; for to be most intended is an act of worship due only to the true God; for he being the chief good must be the last end.

4. Resolution. What we are most resolved for we worship as God.

5. Love. That which we must love we worship as our God; for love is an act of soul-worship.

6. Trust. That which we most trust we make our god; for confidence and dependence is an act of worship which the Lord calls for as due only to himself.

7. Fear. That which we most fear we worship as our god; for fear is an act of worship.

8. Hope. That which we make our hope we worship as God; for hope is an act of worship.

9. Desire. That which we most desire we worship as our god; for that which is chiefly desired, is the chief good in his account who so desires it; and what he counts his chief good, that he makes his god.

10. Delight. That which we most delight and rejoice in, that we worship as God; for transcendent delight is an act of worship due only to God; and this affection, in its height and elevation, is called glorying.

11. Zeal. That for which we are more zealous we worship as god; for such a zeal is an act of worship due only to God ; therefore it is idolatrous to be more zealous for our own things than for the things of God; to be eager in our own cause, and careless in the cause of God; to be more vehement for our own credit, interests, advantages, than for the truths, ways, honour of God; to be fervent in spirit, in following our own business, promoting our designs, but lukewarm and indifferent in the service of God; to count it intolerable for ourselves to be reproached, slandered, reviled, but manifest no indignation when God is dishonoured, his name, worship, profaned; his truths, ways, people, reviled.

12. Gratitude. That to which we are most grateful, that we worship as God; for gratitude is an act of worship.

13. When our care and industry is more for other things than for God. We cannot serve God and mammon, God and our lusts too, because this service of ourselves, of the world, takes up that care, that industry, those endeavours, which the Lord must have of necessity, if we will serve him as God; and when these are laid out upon the world and our lusts, we serve them as the Lord ought to be served, and so make them our gods.

But this is only a brief summary of about a quarter of Clarkson’s message. I entrust to you the entire sermon.

10 thoughts on “Soul Idolatry Excludes Men Out of Heaven

  1. Thanks for this, Tony. Wouldn’t it be great if an entire new generation discovers the likes of Clarkson. I was so glad when Tim referenced him. And I just happen to know that there’s well over 100 sets of Clarkson’s works just taking up space in the Banner of Truth U.S. warehouse, just waiting for a good home.
    Good to see you in Chicago, brother. Are we ever going to get time to sit down with one another again?

  2. Hi Tony,

    I noticed that had what looks like an abridgment of this message up right after Dr. Keller’s message as well. Thanks for the whole thing and the tip on the books.

  3. As well as examining myself to see where these idols lurk in me; this list would also be useful, positively, as a structured method of prayer that God would be preeminent in each of these categories.

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