Stand on the shoulders of giants

May 3, 2010

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to his rival, Robert Hooke. George Herbert, the English poet of the 17th century, used the same phrase a few years later, writing, “a dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees farther of the two.” In the first example, the word “further” is used because it means, “to a greater extent.” Herbert used the word “farther” which means “to a greater distance.” In either case, the meaning is the same: We are wise if we listen to those who have gone before us, if we learn from their successes and failures, if we stand on their shoulders. Not only that, we owe a great debt of gratitude to those who have gone before us and plowed the field, gotten the rocks out, exposing the fertile soil from which we are blessed to reap a harvest.
Here is a case in point. John Calvin wrote in the 1500’s, “The human heart is a factory of idols … Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” He was standing on the shoulders of the biblical author James, the brother of Jesus, who in his classic work had written, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1). John Calvin had also rested one foot, perhaps, on the shoulders of the apostle John, who wrote, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
An idol, according to Ken Sande, is anything we love and pursue in place of God.
Many have written and spoken on what John Calvin said and what James and John wrote. This past year, however, I have been introduced to a series of teachings that has, as one lady in the church put it, “rocked our world.” I want to tell you about it so you can go and listen to it for yourself.
CJ Mahaney pastored Covenant Life church in Maryland for 27 years and now leads Sovereign Grace Ministries, whose mission is to establish and support churches. A few years ago he stood on the shoulders of men of old like John Calvin, John Owens, Fenelon, Blaise Pascal, and Jonathan Edwards. He also peered from atop works by contemporaries like David Powlison, Jerry Bridges, and Os Guinness. The result is a powerhouse of instruction entitled “The Idol Factory” that, as I told my congregation, should be required listening for every Christian.
A beginning quote from Os Guinness and John Seel: “Idolatry is the most discussed problem in the Bible and one of the most powerful spiritual and intellectual concepts in the believer’s arsenal. Yet for Christians today it is one of the least meaningful notions and is surrounded with ironies. Perhaps this is why many evangelicals are ignorant of the idols in their lives … Contemporary evangelicals are little better at recognizing and resisting idols than modern secular people are … There can be no believing communities without an unswerving eye to the detection and destruction of idols.”
Get this series and listen to it. Then listen to it and again and take notes. Then listen to it again and ask the Lord to help you apply the principles from his Word to your own life. Then share it with others.
The good news is that this teaching can be downloaded for free. Simply go to www. and search for “The Idol Factory.” Then climb onto the giants’ shoulders so you can see further. You will not be sorry.