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What some orthodox Councils, Confessions, Ministers and Theologians Have said About the Second Commandment in Relation to humanity and person of Jesus Christ
Compiled by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
“There is no such thing as an innocent religious image,” – John Calvin (Institutes 2.8.17)
“Take heed of all occasions of idolatry, for idolatry is devil worship.” – Thomas Watson (The Ten Commandments, p. 63)
Deut. 4:15, “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire), lest you corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image…”
John 12:20-21, “Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus…But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” (Jesus did not show him “himself” but preached his death when they wanted to “see him.”)
Exodus 20:4-6, “” You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (cf. Deut. 5:8-10)
Lev. 26:1, “You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.”
Psalm 115:1-8, “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, “So where is their God?” But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, The work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell; They have hands, but they do not handle; Feet they have, but they do not walk; Nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.”
Isaiah 2:8, “Their land is also full of idols; They worship the work of their own hands, That which their own fingers have made.”
Isaiah 40:18-20, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? The workman molds an image, The goldsmith overspreads it with gold, And the silversmith casts silver chains. Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution Chooses a tree that will not rot; He seeks for himself a skillful workman To prepare a carved image that will not totter.”
Isaiah 41:21-29, “Present your case,” says the LORD. “Bring forth your strong reasons,” says the King of Jacob. “Let them bring forth and show us what will happen; Let them show the former things, what they were, That we may consider them, And know the latter end of them; Or declare to us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, That we may know that you are gods; Yes, do good or do evil, That we may be dismayed and see it together. Indeed you are nothing, And your work is nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination. ” I have raised up one from the north, And he shall come; From the rising of the sun he shall call on My name; And he shall come against princes as though mortar, As the potter treads clay. Who has declared from the beginning, that we may know? And former times, that we may say, ‘He is righteous’? Surely there is no one who shows, Surely there is no one who declares, Surely there is no one who hears your words. The first time I said to Zion, ‘Look, there they are!’ And I will give to Jerusalem one who brings good tidings. For I looked, and there was no man; I looked among them, but there was no counselor, Who, when I asked of them, could answer a word. Indeed they are all worthless; Their works are nothing; Their molded images are wind and confusion.”
Isaiah 46:5-7, “To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal And compare Me, that we should be alike? They lavish gold out of the bag, And weigh silver on the scales; They hire a goldsmith, and he makes it a god; They prostrate themselves, yes, they worship. They bear it on the shoulder, they carry it And set it in its place, and it stands; From its place it shall not move. Though one cries out to it, yet it cannot answer Nor save him out of his trouble.”
Jeremiah 10:1-5, “Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; They fasten it with nails and hammers So that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, For they cannot do evil, Nor can they do any good.””
Hosea 13:2, “Now they sin more and more, And have made for themselves molded images, Idols of their silver, according to their skill; All of it is the work of craftsmen. They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!””
Amos 5:26-27, “You also carried Sikkuth your king And Chiun, your idols, The star of your gods, Which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus,” Says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.”
Acts 17:24-25, 29, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things…Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.”
Romans 1:22-25, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen”
1 John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
The Church Fathers and Councils
Augustine of Hippo
“Thus, they erred, who sought Christ and his apostles not in the sacred writings, but on painted walls.” (Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels, 1.10 [NPNF1, 6:83; PL 34.1049])
Council of Elibertine
“Pictures ought not to be in churches, nor any object of adoration or praise be painted on the walls.”
Synod of Constantinople
(Hieria, 753 AD) condemned images of Christ. Indeed, the Synod explicitly rejected the argument – one we often hear today – that such images represented only the flesh of Christ. It was argued that such a separation of the Christ’s human nature from His divine nature is the heresy of Nestorianism. Nestorianism did not deny the two natures of Christ, but it failed to see them as a unity, constituting a single Person. Over against Nestorianism – and pictures of Jesus – the human nature of Christ cannot be separated and represented apart from His divine nature. According to the Synod, the only admissible figure of Christ’s humanity is the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. For more details of this significant decision, see John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 54-55.
Synod of Elvira
The 36th canon of the Synod of Elvira (in Spain between 300 and 303) prohibited images as a hindrance to the spiritual worship of God.
Clement of Alexandria
“It is with a different kind of spell that art deludes you…. It leads you to pay religious honor and worship to images and pictures.” (Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 195).
“Ages before, Moses expressly commanded that neither a carved, nor molten, nor molded, nor painted likeness should be made. This was so that we would not cling to things of sense, but pass to spiritual objects. For familiarity with the sense of sight disparages the reverence of what is divine” (Clement of Alexandria).
“The likeness of a man appears to be necessary at that time when he is far away. But it will become unnecessary when he is at hand. However, in the case of God, whose spirit and influence are diffused everywhere, and can never be absent, it is plain that an image is always unnecessary” (Lactantius A.D. 313).
Constantinople (A. D. 754)
The counsel, appealing to the second commandment and other scripture passages denouncing idolatry (Rom. 1:23, 25; John 4:24), and opinions of the Fathers (Epiphanius, Eusebius, Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, etc.), condemned and forbade the public and private worship of sacred images on pain of deposition and excommunication…. It denounced all religious representations by painter or sculptor as presumptuous, pagan and idolatrous. Those who make pictures of the Savior, who is God as well as man in one inseparable person, either limit the incomprehensible Godhead to the bounds of created flesh, or confound his two natures like Eutyches, or separate them, like Nestorius, or deny his Godhead, like Arius; and those who worship such a picture are guilty of the same heresy and blasphemy.” Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987 ), 4:457-458
” The Church Father Irenaeus, writing towards the end of the second century, comments on pictures of Jesus as being a peculiarity of the Gnostics at that time (Against Heresies 1.25.6). Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 315-403) describes how he came across a curtain with an image of Christ or one of the saints, hanging on the doors of a certain church. Epiphanius tore the curtain assunder, lest an image of man be hung up in the church, “contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures.” They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown those images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world; that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle and the rest. They also have modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.” Irenaeus – Against Heresies I.xxv.6 (ca. 182-188 AD (NB: Irenaeus regarded the possession of images to be a Gnostic peculiarity.)
Notation: Purpose of the Westminster Assembly in terms of the Regulative Principle
Definition of the Regulative Principle
“The regulative principle of worship states that the only way to worship God is in the manner that He has commanded in the Holy Scripture; all additions to or subtractions from this manner are forbidden. This is an application of the view that the Bible is sufficient for all good works, and that it is the only judge in spiritual matters, as expressed in Chapter 1 and 31:3 of the Confession.
“That we shall…endeavour…the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship , discipline, and government, according to the word of God, and example of the best reformed churches.” (Westminster Assembly of Divines. The Confession of Faith the Larger and Shorter Catechisms with the Scripture Proofs at Large Together with the Sum of Saving Knowledge (N.P.: The Publications Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1967), 358–59.)
The Westminster Assembly Followed Calvin and Jerome Zanchi for support on the Regulative Principle. (George Gillespie, A Dispvte against the English-Popish Ceremonies, Obtrvded vpon the Chvrch of Scotland. Wherein Not Only Our Owne Arguments against the Same Are Strongly Confirmed, But Likewise the Answeres and Defense of Our Opposites, Svch As Hooker, Mortovne, Bvrges, Sprint, Paybody, Andrewes, Saravia, Tilen, Spotswood, Lindsey, Forbesse, &c Particularly Confuted (n.p.: n.p., 1637), pt. 3, pp. 93, 121-22. )
[One] proof is from the second commandment’s prohibition against idols. The Westminster Assembly’s position that the second commandment taught the regulative principle is taught in the Westminster Larger Catechism , questions 107–110 with their scriptural proofs. (See appendix for text of these questions.) These questions and answers show that the Westminster Assembly believed the second commandment taught the regulative principle of worship. (John Allen Dilevuk, WTJ 58:2 (Fall 96) p. 245)
Westminster Larger Catechism.
Q109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A109: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
1. Num. 15:39
2. Deut. 13:6-8
3. Hosea 5:11; Micah 6:16
4. I Kings 11:33; 12:33
5. Deut. 12:30-32
6. Deut. 13:6-12; Zech. 13:2-3; Rev. 2:2, 14-15, 20, Rev. 17:12, 16-17
7. Deut. 4:15-19; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:21-23, 25
8. Dan. 3:18; Gal. 4:8
9. Exod. 32:5
10. Exod. 32:8
11. I Kings 18:26, 28; Isa. 65:11
12. Acts 17:22; Col. 2:21-23
13. Mal. 1:7-8, 14
14. Deut. 4:2
15. Psa. 106:39
16. Matt. 15:9
17. I Peter 1:18
18. Jer. 44:17
19. Isa. 65:3-5; Gal. 1:13-14
20. I Sam. 13:11-12; 15:21
21. Acts 8:18
22. Rom. 2:22; Mal. 3:8
23. Exod. 4:24-26
24. Matt. 22:5; Mal. 1:7, 13
25. Matt. 23:13
26. Acts 13:44-45; I Thess. 2:15-16
Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q49: Which is the Second Commandment?
A49: The Second Commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep my commandments.
1. Exod. 20:3-6
Q50: What is required in the Second Commandment?
A50: The Second Commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in His Word.
1. Deut. 32:46; Matt. 28:20
2. Deut. 12:32
Q51: What is forbidden in the Second Commandment?
A51: The Second Commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His Word.
1. Deut. 4:15-16
2. Col. 2:18
Q52: What are the reasons annexed to the Second Commandment?
A52: The reasons annexed to the Second Commandment are, God’s sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal He hath to His own worship.
1. Psa. 95:2-3
2. Psa. 45:11
3. Exod. 34:14
The Heidelberg Catechism
Lord’s Day 35
Q96: What does God require in the second Commandment?
A96: That we in no way make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.
1. Deut. 4:15-19; Isa. 40:18, 25; Rom. 1:22-24; Acts 17:29
2. I Sam. 15:23; Deut. 4:23-24; 12:30-32; Matt. 15:9; John 4:24
Q97: May we not make any image at all?
A97: God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping of any likeness of them, either to worship them or to serve God by them.
1. Exod. 23:24-25; 34:13-14; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 16:22; II Kings 18:4; John 1:18
Q98: But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?
A98: No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols, but by the lively preaching of His Word.
1. Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18-19
2. II Peter 1:19; II Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 10:17
The Second Helvetic Confession – Chapter IV
Of Idols or Images of God, Christ and The Saints
Images of God. Since God as Spirit is in essence invisible and immense, he cannot really be expressed by any art or image. For this reason we have no fear pronouncing with Scripture that images of God are mere lies. Therefore we reject not only the idols of the Gentiles, but also the images of Christians. Although Christ assumed human nature, yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters. He denied that he had come to abolish the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). But images are forbidden by the law and the prophets (Deut. 4:15; Isa. 44:9). He denied that his bodily presence would be profitable for the Church, and promised that he would be near us by his Spirit forever (John 16:7). Who, therefore, would believe that a shadow or likeness of his body would contribute any benefit to the pious? (II Cor. 5:5). Since he abides in us by his Spirit, we are therefore the temple of God (II Cor. 3:16). But what agreement has the temple of God with idols? (II Cor. 6:16).
Images of Saints. And since the blessed spirits and saints in heaven, while they lived here on earth, rejected all worship of themselves (Acts 3:12f.; 14:11ff.; Rev. 14:7; 22:9) and condemned images, shall anyone find it likely that the heavenly saints and angels are pleased with their own images before which men kneel, uncover their heads, and bestow other honors? But in fact in order to instruct men in religion and to remind them of divine things and of their salvation, the Lord commanded the preaching of the Gospel (Mark 16:15) – not to paint and to teach the laity by means of pictures. Moreover, he instituted sacraments, but nowhere did he set up images.
The Scriptures of the Laity. Furthermore, wherever we turn our eyes, we see the living and true creatures of God which, if they be observed, as is proper, make a much more vivid impression on the beholders than all the images or vain, motionless, feeble and dead pictures made by men, of which the prophet truly said: They have eyes, but do not see (Psa. 115:5).
Therefore we approved the judgment of Lactantius, an ancient writer, who says: “Undoubtedly no religion exists where there is an image.”
Epiphanius and Augustine.
We also assert that the blessed bishop Epiphanius did right when, finding on the doors of a church a veil on which was painted a picture supposedly of Christ or some saint, he ripped it down and took it away, because to see a picture of a man hanging in the Church of Christ was contrary to the authority of Scripture. Wherefore he charged that from henceforth no such veils, which were contrary to our religion, should be hung in the Church of Christ, and that rather such questionable things, unworthy of the Church of Christ and the faithful people, should be removed. Moreover, we approve of this opinion of St. Augustine concerning true religion: “Let not the worship of the works of men be a religion for us. For the artists themselves who make such things are better; yet we ought not to worship them” (De Vera Religione, cap. 55).
“Although, in fact, Christ assumed human nature, He did not, assume it for this reason, that he might display a figure for the making of statues or even for the making of pictures…” (Henrich Bullinger, Commentary on the Second Helvetic Confession.)
“Images are the books of the ignorant…images are not really worshipped, only the subjects they represtn are worshipped.” This demonstrates the fallacy of the high thoughts given to icons and images. (Henrich Bullinger, De origine erroris, Chapter 13, Page 108ff.)
Images are forbidden by the first and second commandments because they always lead to idolatry…that to set up images in churches was to invite idolatry. God is to be worshipped spiritually, not through images, and that the true Christian should pay not attention to created things…images are evil and they make God angry.” (Martin Bucer, Das Einigerlei Bild bei den Gotglaubigen an Orten da Sie Verehrt, Nit Mogen Geduldet Werden” (1530, DS, Volume IV, Page 167)
Jacques Lefevere d’Etaples
“The Word of God suffices [Verbum Dei Sufficit]. This alone is enough to effect life everlasting. This rule is the guide to eternal life. All else, on which the Word of God does not shine, is as unnecessary as it is undoubtedly superfluous. Nor should such be reckoned with the Gospel as far as the purity of the pious worship and the integrity of faith are concerned, for it is not the creation of God.” (Jacques Lefevere d’Etaples, Preface to the Commentary of the Four Gospels,’ Rice, Prefatory Epistles, Page 436)
“The superstitious have images of gold and silver, works of the hands of men which have a mouth but will not speak, eyes and will not see. All images appear to be prohibited by the apostle of the spirit, those worshiped by the gentiles at home, in the fora, harbors, temples, groves, or elsewhere as well as those which in the future might be worshiped through the custom of the pagans as a result of declining faith. By this prohibitory exhortation [I John 5:11), John forbids anything to be worshiped that is not God, for whom no image can be set up.” (Jacques Lefevere d’Etaples, Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, trans. by Henry Heller, “Evangelicism,” p. 72.)
In the Lectures on Romans (1515-16), Luther criticized the cost of church decoration and called material objects of worship, “mere shadows and tokens of reality” and “childish things.” (Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, Luther’s Works, Volume 25, 157-159, 164-65, 192.)
In terms of those who adore images, and use them in worship, Luther says they are “truly idolatrous images and the devil’s hospices.” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Volume 40, 85.)
“There is no painter that with his colors can so lively set out Christ unto you, as I have painted him out by my preaching, and yet, notwithstanding ye still remain most miserably bewitched.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Cambridge, reprinted 1972, Page 196).
“1) God our Father and Spouse forbids us to make images, 2) God intends to destroy images as weak as those who posses them ad honor them, 3) the deed of those who have done away with images and idols will be praised and glorified.” (Ludwig Haetzer, A Judgment of God Our Spouse Concerning How One Should Regard All Idols and Images, Zurich, 1523.)
“They are not believers who go to anyone else for help other than to the one true God. For thus are the believers differentiated from the unbelievers in that the believers, or those whoa re trusting, go to God alone; but the unbelievers go to the created.” (Ulrich Zwingli, Works, Volume 4, An Answer to Valentin Compar, Zurich, 1525, Page 88.) This work was Zwingli’s “theology of idolatry.”
“Our hope reposes in the true cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, not in that image. Therefore I must admit that I thoroughly detest the image of the crucifix…[and] cannot endure it”. Beza, it should be noted, exercised a very strong influence upon the Puritans.”
John Calvin and the Institutes:
Calvin forbids “making” or “having” them (Inst. 1.11.13).
“Every figurative representation of God contradicts His being” (1.11.2)
“Even direct signs of the divine Presence give no justification for images” (1..11.3)
“Images and pictures are contrary to Scripture” (1.11.4)
It is not just the use of images for “impious superstition” that is forbidden, but the use of pictures to educate the unlearned, in place of books which tell about the Word of God (1.11.5)
“Christ is depicted before the eyes as crucified by the true preaching of the Gospel (Gal.3:1; Inst.1.11.7).
“Any use of images leads to idolatry” (1.11.9).
“It seems to me unworthy of their [the Churches’] holiness…to take on images other than those living and symbolical ones which the Lord has consecrated by His Word:…Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” (1.11.13).
“In the Law, accordingly, after God had claimed the glory of divinity for himself alone, when he comes to show what kind of worship he approves and rejects, he immediately adds, ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth,’ (Exodus 20: 4). By these words he curbs any licentious attempt we might make to represent him by a visible shape, and briefly enumerates all the forms by which superstition had begun, even long before, to turn his truth into a lie. For we know that the Sun was worshipped by the Persian. As many stars as the foolish nations saw in the sky, so many gods they imagined them to be. Then to the Egyptians, every animal was a figure of God. The Greeks, again, plumed themselves on their superior wisdom in worshipping God under the human form, (Maximum Tyrius Platonic. Serm. 38). But God makes no comparison between images, as if one were more, and another less befitting; he rejects, without exception, all shapes and pictures, and other symbols by which the superstitious imagine they can bring him near to them. By these words he curbs any licentious attempt we might make to represent him by a visible shape, and briefly enumerates all the forms by which superstition had begun, even long before, to turn his truth into a lie.” (1.11.1)
“Hence, again, it is obvious, that the defenders of images resort to a paltry quibbling evasion, when they pretend that the Jews were forbidden to use them on account of their proneness to superstition; as if a prohibition which the Lord founds on his own eternal essences and the uniform course of nature, could be restricted to a single nation. Besides, when Paul refuted the error of giving a bodily shape to God, he was addressing not Jews, but Athenians.” (1.11.2)
“That images are not suited to represent God’s mysteries. For they had been formed to this end, that veiling the mercy seat with their wings they might bar not only human eyes but all the senses from beholding God, and thus correct men’s rashness. (Calvin, Institutes, 1:11:3)
“It is true that the Lord occasionally manifested his presence by certain signs, so that he was said to be seen face to face; but all the signs he ever employed were in apt accordance with the scheme of doctrine, and, at the same time, gave plain intimation of his incomprehensible essence. For the cloud, and smoke, and flame, though they were symbols of heavenly glory, (Deuteronomy 4:11,) curbed men’s minds as with a bridle, that they might not attempt to penetrate farther. Therefore, even Moses (to whom, of all men, God manifested himself most familiarly) was not permitted though he prayed for it, to behold that face, but received for answer, that the refulgence was too great for man, (Exodus 33:20.)” (1.11.3)
“The Holy Spirit appeared under the form of a dove, but as it instantly vanished, who does not see that in this symbol of a moment, the faithful were admonished to regard the Spirit as invisible, to be contented with his power and grace, and not call for any external figure? God sometimes appeared in the form of a man, but this was in anticipation of the future revelation in Christ, and, therefore, did not give the Jews the least pretext for setting up a symbol of Deity under the human form. ” (1.11.3)
“It is, moreover, to be observed, that by the mode of expression which is employed, every form of superstition is denounced. Being works of men, they have no authority from God, (Isaiah 2:8, 31:7; Hosea. 14:3; Micah. 5:13;) and, therefore, it must be regarded as a fixed principle, that all modes of worship devised by man are detestable.” (1.11.4)
“And it is to be observed, that the thing forbidden is likeness, whether sculptured or otherwise. This disposes of the frivolous precaution taken by the Greek Church. They think they do admirably, because they have no sculptured shape of Deity, while none go greater lengths in the licentious use of pictures. The Lord, however, not only forbids any image of himself to be erected by a statuary, but to be formed by any artist whatever, because every such image is sinful and insulting to his majesty.” (1.11.4)
“This at least I maintain, that when we teach that all human attempts to give a visible shape to God are vanity and lies, we do nothing more than state verbatim what the prophets taught.” (1.11.5)
“For when Jeremiah declares that ‘the stock is a doctrine of vanities,’ (Jeremiah 10:8,) and Habakkuk, ‘that the molten image’ is ‘a teacher of lies,’ the general doctrine to be inferred certainly is, that every thing respecting God which is learned from images is futile and false. If it is objected that the censure of the prophets is directed against those who perverted images to purposes of impious superstition, I admit it to be so; but I add, (what must be obvious to all,) that the prophets utterly condemn what the Papists hold to be an undoubted axiom, viz., that images are substitutes for books.” (Institutes 1.11.5)
“The truth of this latter remark I wish we did not so thoroughly experience. Whosoever, therefore, is desirous of being instructed in the true knowledge of God must apply to some other teacher than images.” (1.11.6)
“The simple reason why those who had the charge of churches resigned the office of teaching to idols was, because they themselves were dumb. Paul declares, that by the true preaching of the gospel Christ is portrayed and in a manner crucified before our eyes, (Gal. 3:1.) Of what use, then, were the erection in churches of so many crosses of wood and stone, silver and gold, if this doctrine were faithfully and honestly preached, viz., Christ died that he might bear our curse upon the tree, that he might expiate our sins by the sacrifice of his body, wash them in his blood, and, in short, reconcile us to God the Father? From this one doctrine the people would learn more than from a thousand crosses of wood and stone. As for crosses of gold and silver, it may be true that the avaricious give their eyes and minds to them more eagerly than to any heavenly instructor.” (1.11.7)
“It makes no difference whether they worship the idol simply, or God in the idol; it is always idolatry when divine honors are paid to an idol, be the color what it may. And because God wills not to be worshipped superstitiously whatever is bestowed upon idols is so much robbed from him.” (1.11.9)
“They say, we do not call them our gods. Nor did either the Jews or Gentiles of old so call them; and yet the prophets never ceased to charge them with their adulteries with wood and stone for the very acts which are daily done by those who would be deemed Christians, namely, for worshipping God carnally in wood and stone.” (1.11.10)
“For as a murderer or an adulterer will not escape conviction by giving some adventitious name to his crime, so it is absurd for them to expect that the subtle device of a name will exculpate them, if they, in fact, differ in nothing from idolaters whom they themselves are forced to condemn. But so far are they from proving that their case is different, that the source of the whole evil consists in a preposterous rivalship with them, while they with their minds devise, and with their hands execute, symbolical shapes of God.” (1.11.11)
“First, then, if we attach any weight to the authority of the ancient Church, let us remember, that for five hundred years, during which religion was in a more prosperous condition, and a purer doctrine flourished, Christian churches were completely free from visible representations, (see Preface, and Book 4, c. 9 s. 9.) Hence their first admission as an ornament to churches took place after the purity of the ministry had somewhat degenerated. I will not dispute as to the rationality of the grounds on which the first introduction of them proceeded, but if you compare the two periods, you will find that the latter had greatly declined from the purity of the times when images were unknown.” (1.11.13)
“And from the fearful infatuation under which the world has hitherto labored, almost to the entire destruction of piety, we know too well from experience that the moment images appear in churches, idolatry has as it were raised its banner; because the folly of manhood cannot moderate itself, but forthwith falls away to superstitious worship. Even were the danger less imminent, still, when I consider the proper end for which churches are erected, it appears to me more unbecoming their sacredness than I well can tell, to admit any other images than those living symbols which the Lord has consecrated by his own word: I mean Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, with the other ceremonies. ” (1.11.13)
“The majesty of God is defiled by an absurd and indecorous fiction, when he who is incorporeal is assimilated to corporeal matter; he who is invisible to a visible image; he who is spirit to an inanimate object; and he who fills all space to a bit of paltry wood, or stone, or gold…. Hence it is manifest, that whatever statues are set up or pictures painted to represent God, are utterly displeasing to him, as a kind of insult to his majesty” (1:11. pp. 91-92).
Calvin’s Commentaries on the Second Commandment
“In the First Commandment, after He had taught who was the true God, He commanded that he alone should be worshipped; and now He defines what is His legitimate worship. Now, since these are two distinct things, we conclude that the commandments are also distinct, in which different things are treated of. The former indeed proceeds in order, viz, that believers are to be contented with one God; but it would not be sufficient for us to be instructed to worship Him alone, unless we also knew the manner in which He would be worshipped. The sum is, that the worship of God must be spiritual, in order that it may correspond with His nature. For although Moses only speaks of idolatry, yet there is no doubt but that by synecdoche, as in all the rest of the law, he condemns all fictitious services which men in their ingenuity have invented.” Comment on Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10, Harmony of the Last Four Books of Moses, Vol. II, p. 107.
“There is no need of refuting the foolish fancy of some, that all sculptures and pictures are here condemned by Moses, for he had no other object than to rescue God’s glory from all the imaginations which tend to corrupt it…. Some expound the words, ‘Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, which thou mayest adore;’ as if it were allowable to make a visible image of God, provided it be not adored; but the expositions which will follow will easilty refute their error. Meanwhile, I do not deny that these things are to be taken connectedly, since superstitious worship is hardly ever separated from the preceding error; for as soon as any one has permitted himself to devise an image of God, he immediately falls into false worship.” Comment on Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10, Harmony of the Last Four Books of Moses, Vol. II, p. 108.
“The word matzebhah is sometimes used in a good sense; whence it follows, that no other statues are here condemned, except those which are erected as representations of God.” Comment on Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10, Harmony of the Last Four Books of Moses, Vol. II, p. 117.
“Whence it appears that this insane lust (of idolatry) is not to be repressed by ordinary means. With the same object he says that they are ‘corrupted, or corrupt themselves,’ who make any similitude of God. Thus Paul also declares that in this way the truth is changed into a lie, (Romans 1:25) and Jeremiah and Habakkuk condemn images for their falsehood (Jeremiah 10:14; Habakkuk 2:18). No wonder, then, that an idol should be called the ‘corruption’ of men, since it adulterates the worship of God; and it is a most just recompense to those who pollute the pure and perfect knowledge of God, that they should be thence infected with a rottenness which consumes their souls.” Comment on Deut. 4:12ff., Harmony of the Last Four Books of Moses, Vol. II, p. 121.
“Now we must remark, that there are two parts in the Commandment – the first forbids the erection of a graven image, or any likeness; the second prohibits the transferring of the worship which God claims for Himself alone, to any of these phantoms or delusive shows. Therefore, to devise any image of God, is in itself impious; because by this corruption His Majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than he is. There is no need of refuting the foolish fancy of some, that all sculptures and pictures are here condemned by Moses, for he had no other object than to rescue God’s glory from all the imaginations which tend to corrupt it.” Comment on Deut. 4:12ff., Harmony of the Last Four Books of Moses, Vol. II, p. 108.
“For unbelievers have never been carried away to such an extent of folly as to adore mere statues or pictures; they have always alleged the same pretext which now-a-days is rife in the mouths of Papists, viz., that not the image itself was actually worshipped, but that which it represented.” Comment on Deut. 4:12ff., Harmony of the Last Four Books of Moses, Vol. II, p. 109.
John Calvin, Treatise on Relics
“As soon as anyone has devised an image of God, they have instituted false worship. The object of Moses is to restrain the rashness of men, lest they should travesty God’s glory by their imaginations.”
The church in the beginning tolerated these abuses, as a temporary evil, but was afterwards unable to remove them; and they became so strong, particularly during the prevailing ignorance of the middle ages, that the church ended by legalizing, through her decrees, that at which she did nothing but wink at first. I shall endeavor to give my readers a rapid sketch of the rise, progress, and final establishment of the Pagan practices which not only continue to prevail in the Western as well as in the Eastern church, but have been of late, notwithstanding the boasted progress of intellect in our days, manifested in as bold as successful a manner. (Page 8)
It appears, however, that the use of pictures was creeping into the church already in the third century, because the council of Elvira in Spain, held in 305, especially forbids to have any picture in the Christian churches. (Page 11)
Such a practice was, however, fraught with the greatest danger, as experience has but too much proved. It was replacing intellect by sight. Instead of elevating man towards God, it was bringing down the Deity to the level of his finite intellect, and it could not but powerfully contribute to the rapid spread of a pagan anthropomorphism in the church. (Page 11)
Now, the origin and root of this evil, has been, that, instead of discerning Jesus Christ in his Word, his Sacraments, and his Spiritual Graces, the world has, according to its ‘custom, amused itself with his clothes, shirts, and sheets, leaving thus the principal to follow the accessory. (Page 133)
I know well that there is a certain appearance of real devotion and zeal in the allegation, that the relics of Jesus Christ are preserved on account of the honor that is rendered to him, and in order the better to preserve his memory. But it is necessary to consider what St Paul says, that every service of God invented by man, whatever appearance of wisdom it may have, is nothing better than vanity and foolishness, if it has no other foundation than our own devising. (Page 133)
Fisher’s Catechism (Question 51). Written in 1753 by the three founders of the Associate Presbytery in Scotland: James Fisher, Ralph Erskine and Ebenezer Erskine. “Question. -Why then ought all pictures of Christ to be abominated by Christians? Answer – Because they are downright lies, representing no more than the picture of a mere man; whereas the true Christ is God-man; Immanuel, God with us.”
“Any religious worship should not be paid to images; thinking piously before an image is forbidden. We condemn here the treatment of sacred or religious images that are supposed to contribute something to the excitement of religious feeling. God forbids the making of them and the worship of them.” (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2, P&R Publishing Company, Ninth Question, Page 51ff).
“When the apostle says that “Jesus Christ had been evidently set forth before the eyes of the Galatians, crucified among them (Gal. 3:1), he does not speak of fashioning of images of the crucifix 9which were made either by the brush of the painter or the chisel of the sculptor), but of the preaching of the Gospel, by which he is exhibited to us as crucified…the honor fo the image does not pass over to the prototype and exemplar, unless he himself (whi cis the exemplar) has so willed or ordained. But if on the contrary he has prohibited any image of himself to be made or to be honored, he is treated injuriously if anyone goes against his will.” (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2, P&R Publishing Company, Ninth Question, Page 61ff).
“Whether not only the worship but also the formation and use of religious images in sacred places is prohibited by the second commandment? We affirm against the Lutherans. We do not condemn historical representations of events or of great men. Either symbolical…or political…But here we treat of sacred and religious images which are supposed to contribute something to the excitation of religious feeling. God expressly forbids this in the second commandment…images are prohibited not only inasmuch as they are the object or the means of worship, but inasmuch as they are made simply for the sake of religion or are set up in sacred places…from the mental image to a sculpted or painted image, the consequence does not hold good. Hence it is falsity asserted that it is no less a sin to present images of certain things tot eh mind or commit them to writing and exhibit them to be read, than to present them to the view when painted. For there is a wide difference between these things. (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2, P&R Publishing Company, Ninth Question, Page 65).
1. We simply condemn any delineating of God, or the Godhead, or Trinity; such as some have upon their buildings, or books, like a sun shining with beams, and the Lord’s name, Jehovah, in it or any other way….
2. All representing of the persons as distinct, as to set out the Father (personally considered) by the image of an old man, as if he were a creature, the Son under the image of a lamb or young man, the Holy Ghost under the image of a dove, all which wrongeth the Godhead exceedingly. [James Durham, The Law Unsealed: or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments. With a Resolution of Several Momentous Questions and Cases of Conscience (Edinburgh: D. Schaw, 1802) 67. Thomas Boston says the exact same thing in The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston, Ettrick (ed. Samuel M’ Millan; 12 vols.; London: William Tegg and Co., 1853; reprinted Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts, 1980) 2.150.]
“And if it be said man’s soul cannot be painted, but his body may, and yet that picture representeth a man; I answer, it cloth so, because he has but one nature, and what representeth that representeth the person; but it is not so with Christ: his Godhead is not a distinct part of the human nature, as the soul of man is (which is necessarily supposed in every living man), but a distinct nature, only united with the manhood in that one person, Christ, who has no fellow; therefore what representeth him must not represent a man only, but must represent Christ, Immanuel, God-man, otherwise it is not his image.” (James Durham, The Law Unsealed: or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments. With a Resolution of Several Momentous Questions and Cases of Conscience (Edinburgh: D. Schaw, 1802) 68.)
“There should not be in us any carnal apprehensions of God, as if he were like any thing that we could imagine.” James Durham, The Law Unsealed: or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments. With a Resolution of Several Momentous Questions and Cases of Conscience (Edinburgh: D. Schaw, 1802) 64.
“It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ…because, if it does not stir up devotion, it is in vain, if it does stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment.” (James Durham, The Law Unsealed: or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments. With a Resolution of Several Momentous Questions and Cases of Conscience (Edinburgh: D. Schaw, 1802) 64.)
“The images or pictures of God are an abomination and utterly unlawful, because they do debase God, and may be the cause of idolatrous worship. It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because his divine nature cannot be pictured at all, and because his body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is; and because, if it do not stir up devotion, it is in vain; if it do stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment.” (Thomas Vincent, An Explanation of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, n.d.) 162.)
“When they have in their worship carnal imaginations, and representations of God in their minds, as if he were an old man sitting in heaven, or the like.” Thomas Vincent, Explanation , 161.
“We offend and sin against the second commandment not only by idolatry and superstition, but also when we are not zealous for pure worship, according to God’s institution…according to the pattern of the Word.” (Thomas Vincent, The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture, Banner of Truth Trust, Page 128)
“The sins forbidden in [the second commandment] are two: Contempt of the worship of God; and Superstition in performing it…Idolatry is a part and species of superstition…they [idolaters] pretend to worship the true God by an image…[it] is gross idolatry. (Ezekiel Hopkins, Works, volume 1, Soli Deo Gloria, Page 329, 330.)
“Are men permitted to make images of God – that is, of the Father, Son or the Holy Spirit? We declare that the making of images of the Trinity is absolutely forbidden…it is vanity to make an image and say that is Christ. We may not honor Christ…in this manner. Objection…the images of God are of educational value…Answer: God has nevertheless forbidden this. This is pagan thinking and we should not pretend it to be beneficial, since it is forbidden.” (Wilhemus a’Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Volume 3, Soli Deo Gloria, Page 108, 109, 110)
“And then again, idolatry frameth base conceits of God. Whereas, on the contrary, we should elevate and raise up our hearts unto him ; idolatry pulls him down, and conforms him to our base conceits. Were it not a wrong to man to make him like a swine, or an ape, or some such ridiculous creature ? Who, in this case, would think himself well used? There is not such disproportion betwixt any creature and man as there is betwixt the great God of heaven and earth, and the best creature that can be made to resemble him. Therefore, it is an abominable abuse and dishonour to the great majesty of God to be represented any kind of way.
Again, consider the opposition between any representation of God, and God. They are corruptible things ; God is incorruptible. They are visible; God is invisible. They are vain and nothing; God a being of himself, who giveth being unto all things. God is the living God, and the cause of all life. To be brief: the Scripture, to shew God’s hatred of them, calleth them dunghill-gods, and Abel, as it is in this book, vanity, nothing, a name to alienate the affections from them.
Yea, further, because God is a jealous Grid, Exod. xxxiv. 14, and will not give his glory to another. Ephraim, therefore, as soon as he cometh to know God, he hateth idols ; because he knows God, being a jealous God, could not endure them, Isa. xlii. 8. Now, idolatry is committed when either we set up false gods in place of the true God, or when we worship the true God in a false manner.” (Richard Sibbes, Works, Volume 2, Banner of Truth Trust, Page 378.)
“Idolatry then, according to the true and generally received definition of it, is a religious worship, given either to that which is not the true God, or to the true God himself, but otherwise than he hath prescribed in his word. From hence we plainly see that worship may be idolatrous two ways; (1.) In respect of the object: if it have any thing besides the true God for its object, it is gross idolatry; such as the first commandment condemns. Pagan idolatry, which the light of the gospel hath long since profligated and expelled out of these parts of the world. Or, (2.) In respect of the manner, when we worship the true God, but in a way and manner which he hath not prescribed in his word, but is invented and devised by ourselves; and this is condemned as idolatry in the second commandment; Thou shalt not [make to thyself] (i.e. out of thine own brain), or of thine own head, any [graven image;} under which title all human inventions, corrupting the pure and ample worship of God, are prohibited as idolatrous… This inventing or making to ourselves, is that which makes it idolatry, Amos v. 26. Numb. xv. 89. Hence the molten calf became an idol to the Israelites, not because it was the object of their worship; for it is plain, it was Jehovah, the true God, they intended to worship by it; appears from Exod. xxxii. 4, 5. ” To-morrow is a feast to the Lord.” And, as Dr. Willet observes, it had been impossible, that so good a man. as Aaron, would have yielded to them, if they had intended to worship it as a god: But yet it being’ a way or manner of worshipping the true God, which was of their own devising, it became idolatry. And this worship of God, in ways of our own invention becomes idolatrous upon a double ground: (1.) As it is will worship; i.e. such worship as hath no other ground or warrant but the will of man;-, Col. ii. 23. and so dethrones God, by setting up the will of the creature above his, and bestowing the peculiar honour, and incommunicable sovereignty and glory of the blessed God upon the creatures; for the absolute sovereignty of God, which is his glory, 1 Tim. vi. 15. is manifested in two things especially ; in his decrees, Rom. ix. 20. and in his laws, Isa. xxxiii. 22. James iv. 12. The Lord is our King, and Lawgiver; and there is one Lawgiver. Now, by prescribing any thing by our own authority in the worship of God, the commands of God are made void. Mat. xv. 6. his royal law is slighted, the throne of God invaded by the creatures, who will be a lawgiver too, which can no more be borne, than the heavens can bear two suns; and. God is hereby forgotten, as Hos. viii. 14. ” Israel hath forgotten ” his Maker, and builded temples;” i. e. by building [temples] when God had appointed but one temple. (John Flavel, Works, Volume 4, Banner of Truth Trust, Page 522-523)
“Though God is pleased to stoop to our weak capacities, and set himself out in scripture by eyes, to signify his omnisciency; and hands to signify his power; yet it is very absurd, from metaphors and figurative expressions, to bring an argument for images and pictures; for, by that rule, God may be pictured by the sun and the element of fire, and by a rock; for God is set forth by these metaphors in scripture; and sure the papists themselves would not like to have such images made of God.” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Practical Divinity, Consisting of above One Hundred and Seventy Six-Sermons on the Shorter Catechism (Berwick: W. Gracie, 1806) 389.)
“All ideas, portraitures, shapes, images of God, whether by effigies or pictures, are here forbidden.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth, 1965 [1692, 1890]), Page 59)
“Romanists make images of God the Father, painting him in their church windows as an old man; and an image of Christ on the crucifix; and, because it is against the letter of this commandment, they sacrilegiously blot it out of their catechism, and divide the tenth commandment into two.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth, 1965 [1692, 1890]), Page 61.)
“If it be not lawful to make the image of God the Father, yet may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of man? NO! Epiphanius, seeing an image of Christ hanging in a church, brake it in pieces. It is Christ’s Godhead, united to his manhood, that makes him to be Crhsit; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half Christ – we separate what God has joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing which makes him to be Christ.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth, 1965 [1692, 1890]), Page 62.)
“Doth not the carnal mind naturally strive to grasp spiritual things in imagination, as if the soul were quite immersed in flesh and blood, and would turn everything into its own shape? Let men who are used to the forming of the most abstract notions, look into their own souls, and they will find this bias in their minds; whereof the idolotry [sic] which did of old, and still doth, so much prevail in the world, is an incontestable evidence: for it plainly shews, that men naturally would have a visible deity, and see what they worship…. The reformation of these nations, blessed be the Lord for it, has banished idolatry, and images too, out of our churches; but heart-reformation only can break down mental idolatry, and banish the more subtile and refined image worship, and representations of the Deity, out of the minds of men. The world, in the time of its darkness, was never more prone to the former, than the unsanctified mind is to the latter. Hence are horrible, monstrous, and misshapen thoughts of God, Christ, the glory above, and all spiritual things.” Thomas Boston, Works, 8:49.
“If a man shall frame an imaginary idea of a woman in his mind, to lust after her, it is mental adultery. Even so it is mental idolatry, to form a picture of Christ’s human nature in our mind by an imaginary idea of it; and so to make that the object of faith or worship…. Indeed I know not who can justify themselves, and say, they are free of this sin in some measure. It is too natural to every man.” Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy, Page 49.
“The image then…must either represent a human person, or a divine one, If the image of Jesus Christ he speaks of, represent a human person, then it is not the true image of Christ, who never had, and never was a human person; and so it conveys nothing but lies and falsehoods. If the image of Christ he allows of, represents a divine person, then it is the image of God; for Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the glorious Trinity: And, consequently, whether Mr. Robe will or not, it is but an idolatrous picture of him who is God, expressly forbidden in the second command.” Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy, Page 51.
During the Evangelical Awakening some opponents of the revival insist that mental images of Christ can only come from the Devil. According to James Fisher of Glasgow, “The Seat of the Operations of the Holy Spirit, is the superior Powers of the Soul. SATAN has easy Access to the Imagination: All horrible or pleasing visionary Representations that are form’d there, are from him only, 2 Thess. ii. 9 , 10 , 11 .” James Fisher, A Review of the Preface to a Narrative of the Extraordinary Work at Kilsyth, and Other Congregations in the Neighborhood (2nd ed.; Glasgow: Printed for John Newlands, 1743) 25, body.
“The like might we see among ourselves in Poperie, no wall, or window, or house or Church, , which was not full of images for when God withdrew the light of His Word and Spirit for a while, all was overwhelmed with idolatrie, so prone is our nature to spiritual whoredom…it is a most blasphemous debasing to His majesty. But can we make an image of Christ unless we leave out the chief part of Him which is his divinity? For it is the Godhood united to his manhood that makes him to be Christ…therefore it is absurd to make an image of Christ… look upon him in the Word and sacraments…let us know it is a wicked thing to make and image of Christ.” John Dod, The Ten Commandments, (London,1604), Page 58.
“1. Instituted worship is the means ordained by the will of God, to exercise and further natural worship. 2. All such like means ordained of God are declared in the second commandment, by forbidding all contrary means of worship devised by men, under the title of graven and image: which seeing they were of old the chief inventions of men corrupting the worship of God, they are most fitly (by a synecdoche frequent in the Decalogue) put instead of all devises of man’s wit pertaining to worship.” William Ames, Marrow of Theology, Page 46
On the Second Commandment – Ussher said the command’s meaning and purpose was,“To binde all men to that solemne forme of religious Worship which God himselfe in his Word prescribeth, that we serve him, not according to our fancies, but according to his owne will, Deut 12.32.” James Ussher, A Body of Divinitie, or the Svmme and Svbstance of Christian Religion (London: Tho: Dovvnes and Geo: Badger, 1645), 222.
“The devil, Christ’s great enemy, hath done much to darken and disgrace this way to the world; on the one hand, by the gross idolatry of Antichrist, wherein a vain show is made, by images of Christ, and of his flesh, and sufferings in it; all obscuring and perverting of Christ as the ordinance of God for our salvation.” Robert Trail, The Lord’s Prayer, Sermon 10.
“Our religious worship must be governed by the power of faith, not by the power of imagination. Idolatry is spiritual adultery.”
“The first commandment concerns the object of our worship, Jehovah, and him only (v3). . . The second commandment concerns the ordinances of worship, or the way in which God will be worshipped, which it is fit that he himself should have the appointing of. It is certain that it [second commandment – RB] forbids making any image of God (for to whom can we liken him? Is. Xl.18, 15), or the image of any creature for a religious use. It is called the changing of the truth of God into a lie (Romans. 1.25), for an image is a teacher of lies; it insinuates to us that God has a body, whereas he is an infinite spirit, Hab. 2.18. It also forbids us to make images of God in our fancies, as if he were a man as we are. Our religious worship must be governed by the power of faith, not by the power of imagination.” Works of Matthew Henry, Volume I, Pages 358-59.
“The first commandment respects the object of worship; the second, the manner in which it is to be performed…; the latter obliges us to worship God, in such a way as he has prescribed, in opposition to that which takes its rise from our own invention.” Thomas Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, Volume II. Pages 328-335.
Samuel Rutherford, one of the Scottish delegates at the Westminster Assembly, caught the essence of L.C. 109 when he wrote: “Wee are forbiddin ether to mak or to worship ane image representing God, or to give ether inward or outward worship, ether with heart or knee or bodie to any creature or image.” (E. Morris, Theology of the Westminster Symbols., p. 135)
“And these fine discourses of the “actuosity of the eye above the ear,” and its faculty of administering to the fancy, are but pitiful, weak attempts, for men that have no less work in hand than to set up their own wisdom in the room of and above the wisdom of God.” (John Owen, Works of Owen, Volume 14, Page 149)
“Besides, who appointed them to be made? As I take it, it was God himself, who did therein no more contradict himself than he did when he commanded his people to spoil the Egyptians, having yet forbid all men to steal. His own special dispensation of a law constitutes no general rule; so that (whoever are blind or fools) it is certain that the making of images for religious veneration is expressly forbidden of God unto the sons of men. But, alas! “They were foreign images, the ugly faces of Moloch, Dagon, Ashtaroth; he forbade not his own.” Yea, but they are images or likenesses of himself that, in the first place and principally, he forbids them to make; and he en-forceth his command upon them from hence, that when he spake unto them in Horeb they “saw no manner of similitude,” (John Owen, Works of Owen, Volume 14, Page 150)
“So do the Papists delude themselves. Their carnal affections are excited by their outward senses to delight in images of Christ, — in his sufferings, his resurrection, and glory above. Hereon they satisfy themselves that they behold the glory of Christ himself and that with love and great delight. But whereas there is not the least true representation made of the Lord Christ or his glory in these things, — that being confined absolutely unto the gospel alone, and this way of attempting it being laid under a severe interdict, — they do but sport themselves with their own deceivings.” (John Owen, Works of Owen, Volume 1, Page 372)
“This, therefore, is evident, that the introduction of this abomination, in principle and practice destructive unto the souls of men, took its rise from the loss of an experience of the representation of Christ in the gospel, and the transforming power in the minds of men which it is accompanied with, in them that believe. We may have seen hence the vanity as well as the idolatry of them who would represent Christ in glory as the object of our adoration in pictures and images. They fashion wood or stone into a like ness of a man. They adorn it with colors and flourishes of art, to set it forth unto the senses and fancie3s of superstitious person as having a resemblance of glory. And when they have done, the lavish gold out of the bag, ad the prophets speaks, and so propose it as an image or resemblance of Christ in glory. But what is there in it that hath the least respect thereunto, – the least likeness of it?, nay, is it not the most effectual means that can be derived to divert the mind of men from true and real apprehensions of it? Doth it teach anything of the subsistence of the human nature of Christ in the person of the Son of God? Nay, it doth it obliterate all thought of it! What is represented thereby of the union of it unto God, and the immediate communications of God unto it? Doth it declare the manifestation of all the glorious properties of the divine nature in him? Persons who know not what it is to live by faith may be pleased for a time, and ruined for ever, by these delusions. Those who have real faith in Christ, and love unto him, have a more glorious object for their exercise.” (John Owen, Works of Owen, Volume 8, Sermon 15, Page 649) (cf. Owen, Volume 1, Page 244)
“Instead of acknowledging the one only true God, they have made a multitude of deities. Instead of worshipping a God, who is an almighty, infinite, all-wise, and holy Spirit, they have worshipped the hosts of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars; and the works of their own hands, images of gold and silver, brass and iron, wood and stone; gods that can neither hear, nor see, nor walk, nor speak, nor do, nor know anything. Some in the shape of men, others in the shape of oxen and calves; some in the shape of serpents, others of fishes, etc.” (Jonathan Edwards, Works, Man’s Natural Blindness in the Things of Religion, Banner of Truth Trust)
“No image of God was to be made at all, since no similitude was ever seen of Him, or any likeness could be conceived; and it must be a piece of gross ignorance, madness and impudence to pretend to make one; and great impiety to worship it.” (John Gill, Complete Body of Divinity, Baptist Standard Bearer)
A. A. Hodge
(4) The worship of images, or of God, Christ, or saints by images, is forbidden in the Second Commandment. ( Ex. 20:4 , 5 .)
(5) The distinctions they make between the different degrees of worship due to God and to holy creatures, and between the indirect worship which terminates upon the image or picture and the direct worship which terminates upon the person represented by it, are not their peculiar property, but, as every missionary to the heathen knows, are common to them with the educated class among all idolaters. If the Romanists be not idolaters, the sins forbidden in the First and Second Commandments have never been committed. (A. A. Hodge, Commentary On The Westminster Confession Of Faith, second commandment)
“As the first commandment fixes the object, so the second fixes the mode of religious worship. Under that most extreme corruption of mode which consists in image worship, all erroneous modes of homage to the true God even, are prohibited. It may be said in general, that this commandment requires those acts and modes of worship for the true God which He hath required of us in His word, and prohibits all others. What Protestants call will worship is forbidden, on these obvious grounds: God is infinite, and, in large part, inscrutable to creature minds. It is His prerogative to reveal Himself to us, as He has done. If we form surmises how He is to be honored, they will be partially erroneous; for error belongs to man. Hence (as experience too fully confirms, the offering of worship of human invention to God has always dishonored Him, and corrupted the worshipers. Our Savior, therefore, expressly condemns it. Matt. 15:9” (Robert L. Dabney, Systematic Theology, The Ten Commandments)
Do you see what true faith is? What this true looking is? It’s not looking at a crucifix. It’s not looking at a surrealistic painting of Salvador Dali, Christ on the Cross, way up in the air. Christ on the Cross, way up in the air. No, that’s not faith. You may have some kind of emotional experience. You might even come out with a flood of tears, but that’s not faith. And neither is it faith when at Whitefield’s preaching in the revival at Cambusland near Glasgow in Scotland, some people had mental images of Christ crucified. A mental image of a man on the cross is not saving faith in the crucified one. And this phenomenon gave occasion to Ralph Erskine to write his great book, Faith No Fancy, in which he goes into the error that supposing that all of our thoughts and particularly faith with regard to invisible things are based upon mental images and on reproductions of sensation. But over against that error in theory, and over against the practical emotionalism that may accompany even a true work of the Spirit of God in the awakening and reviving of souls, over against that, saving faith is the result of a supernatural act of the Spirit of God.” (William Young, The Puritan Principle of Worship, page 6.)
“No, God has not given us a long list of every possible thing he would forbid in His worship. If God had done that, the Bible would be so big no one could read it all. What God has done is to give us a simple principle. And by this principle we know that what He commands is sufficient, and that what He does not command is therefore forbidden.” (G.I. Williamson, Commentary on the Shorter Catechism, Pages 22-23.)
“We are not to make use of visual or pictorial representations of the Triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship.” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God)
“Secondly, pictures of Christ are in principle a violation of the second commandment. A picture of Christ, if it serves any useful purpose, must evoke some thought or feeling respecting him and, in view of what he is, this thought or feeling will be worshipful. We cannot avoid making the picture a medium of worship. But since the materials for this medium of worship are not derived from the only revelation we possess respecting Jesus, namely, Scripture, the worship is constrained by a creation of the human mind that has no revelatory warrant. This is will-worship. For the principle of the second commandment is that we are to worship God only in ways prescribed and authorized by him. It is a grievous sin to have worship constrained by a human figment, and that is what a picture of the Saviour involves.” (John Murray, Reformed Herald, vol. XVI, no. 9, February 1961.)
“The question is really that of ‘Spiritual worship,’ worship authorized by the Holy Spirit, constrained by the Holy Spirit, offered in the Holy Spirit. And so we must ask: Where does the Holy Spirit give us direction respecting that which he approves and leads us to render? The answer is: only in the Scripture as the Word which he has inspired. This simply means that for all the modes and elements of worship there must be authorization from the Word of God. The Reformed principle is that the acceptable way of worshipping God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his revealed will that he may not be worshipped in any other way than that prescribed in the Holy Scripture, that what is not commanded is forbidden. This is in contrast with the view that what is not forbidden is permitted.” (John Murray, Collected Writings, I.167-68.)
“The person who adopts a creed and subscribes to it is never justified in doing so merely on the authority of the Church or simply because it is the creed of the Church to which he belongs. Creedal adoption or subscription must always proceed from the conviction that the creed is in accord with Scripture and declares its truth. The person adopting can never pass on the responsibility for such personal and individual conviction to the Church and its official action. The moment acceptance is conceded on the basis that it is the interpretation and formulation of the Church rather than on the basis of consonance with Scripture, in that moment the church is accorded the place of God and the authority of the Church is substituted for the authority of God’s word. The gravity of such a spiritual catastrophe cannot be measured. For in principle the idolatry perpetrated by Rome has been conceded and the basis laid for the gross impieties and tyrannies that have followed the career of the Romish church. We need to guard jealously the position so eloquently expressed in the Westminster Confession: ‘God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to his word; or beside it, if matters of faith or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also’ (XX.2). So, also, I.6, ‘The whole counsel of God…or traditions of men.’” (John Murray, Collected Writings, IV.272-73.)
“Closely akin to the use of images is that of pictures of Christ. And these, we are sorry to say, are often found in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches. But nowhere in the Bible, in either the Old or New Testament, is there a description of Christ’s physical features. No picture of Him was painted during His earthly ministry. The church had no pictures of Him during the first four centuries. The so-called pictures of Christ, like those of Mary and the saints, are merely the product of the artist’s imagination. That is why there are so many different ones. It is simply an untruth to say that any one of them is a picture of Christ. All that we know about His physical features is that He was of Jewish nationality. Yet He more often is represented as having light features, even as an Aryan with golden hair. How would you like it if someone who had never seen you and who knew nothing at all about your physical features, resorted to his imagination and, drawing on the features of his own nationality, painted a picture and told everyone that it was a picture of you? Such a picture would be fraudulent. Certainly you would resent it. And certainly Christ must resent all these counterfeit pictures of him. He was the truth; and we can be sure that He would not approve of any form of false teaching. No picture can do justice to His personality, for He was not only human but divine. And no picture can portray His deity. All such pictures are therefore fatally defective. Like the grave of Moses, the physical features of Christ were intended to be kept beyond the reach of idolatry. For most people the so-called pictures of Christ are not an aid to worship, but rather a hindrance, and for many they present a temptation to that very idolatry against which the Scriptures warn so clearly.” (Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, p. 284.)
“Neither the prophets nor the historiographers clearly distinguish between the violation of the first and second commandments. Perhaps this reflects the fact that much of the idolatry practiced in Israel and Judah resulted from the influence of foreigners with whom Israel came in contact and thus would involve the use of images. Perhaps it reflects the idea that an image of Yahweh would not be Yahweh, and any worship of a Yahweh image was then by definition the worship of other gods. For the Biblical authors the fact was that Yahweh could not be worshiped by means of an image. The pragmatic reality was that the worship of other gods involved the use of images, and the worship of images (even an image of Yahweh) was the worship of other gods. Exod 23:31-33; Judg 2:24, 11-12. Jezebel promoted the worship of Baal in Israel, and this was brought into Judah through the marriage of Jezebel’s daughter Athaliah to Jehoram of Judah. (The Evangelical Theological Society. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 28, Vol. 28, Page 281, The Evangelical Theological Society, 1985;2002.)
John K. La Shell
Theological, Scriptural, and historical considerations are presented by Reformed authors as evidence that pictures of Christ are idolatrous.( John K. La Shell, Imagination and Idol: A Puritan Tension, Westminster Theological Journal Volume 49, Vol. 49, Page 312, 1987;2002.)
The Westminster Assembly’s position that the second commandment taught the regulative principle is taught in the Westminster Larger Catechism , questions 107–110 with their scriptural proofs. (See appendix for text of these questions.) These questions and answers show that the Westminster Assembly believed the second commandment taught the regulative principle of worship.
(Craig Troxel, Westminster Theological Journal Volume 58, Page 244, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1996, (Fall 96) p. 245.)
Johannes G. Vos,
“Perhaps more people living today have derived their ideas of Jesus Christ from these typically ‘liberal’ pictures of Jesus than have derived their ideas of Jesus from the Bible itself. Such people inevitably think of Jesus as a human person, rather than thinking of him according to the biblical teaching as a divine person with a human nature. The inevitable effect of the popular acceptance of pictures of Jesus is to overemphasize his humanity and to forget or neglect his deity (which of course no picture can portray).” (Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 292.)
“The Protestant creeds, from that of Augsburg and the Articles of Smalcald down to the Scotch Confession and the 39 Articles, are united and most positive in their hostility to such image-worship in whatever variety” (E. Morris, Theology of the Westminster Symbols, p. 135).
Carlos M.N. Eire
“Erasmusinsists that religion is best when it doe snoty depeend on visible things.” He said it would be “the ruin of all Christendom” to follow after images. (AS I, Page 206, “hunc errorem communem esse pestem totius Christianismi.”) (Carlos M.N. Eire, War against the Idols, University of Cambridge Press, Page 36.)
“Since God is spirit (John 4:24) and hence invisible (1 Timothy 1:17), a physical representation of Him is impossible…the point remains: Christ has come in the flesh, but we have no real idea what he looked like. The Holy spirit has not told us whether Christ was short or tall, solid or slender, with blue eyes or brown, dark hair or fair; such things are not number among those needed to make us “wise unto salvation.” It is thus incontestable that all pictures of Christ are inaccurate and that we have no way of knowing how accurate…” (Peter Barnes, Seeing Jesus: The Case Against Pictures of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA: 1990, Page 2).