An Insidious Form of Idolatry

Educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Stephen Charnock (1628 – 1680) gained a reputation for preaching in the years following his 1656 appointment as chaplain to Henry Cromwell, the governor of Ireland. Having previously ministered in Southwark, Charnock returned to London in retirement only to take up preaching again at Bishopgate Street Presbyterian Church as joint pastor with Thomas Watson.1 Though most of his sermons were published after his death, his greatest written work is entitled The Existence and Attributes of God. In this excerpt from his work, Charnock declares that the human will in opposition to God’s will is, in fact, practical atheism.

We make an idol of our own wills, and as much as self is exalted, God is deposed; the more we esteem our own wills, the more we endeavor to annihilate the will of God; account nothing of him, the more we account of ourselves, and endeavor to render ourselves his superiors, by exalting our own wills . . . To make ourselves our own rule, and the object of our chiefest love, is atheism. If self-denial be the greatest part of godliness, the great letter in the alphabet of religion; self-love is the great letter in the alphabet of practical atheism. Self is the great antichrist and the anti-God in the world, that sets up itself above all that is called God; self-love . . . sits in the temple of God, and would be adored as God.2


1 William Symington, “Life and Character of Charnock,” in Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 5-22.

2 Charnock, 121

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