THE SECOND COMMANDMENT.
THIRTY-FIFTH LORD’S DAY.
Question 98. But may not images be tolerated in the churches, as books to the laity?
Answer. No; for we must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have hie people taught not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of his word.
This is the objection of those, who grant, indeed, that images and statues of God and the saints are not to be worshipped, but maintain that they should be tolerated in the churches of Christians, as books to the laity, and for other causes, if only they be not worshipped. We must, however, maintain the opposite, which is, that images and likenesses of God, or of the saints, are not to be tolerated in Christian churches, but abolished and removed from the sight of men, whether they be worshipped, or not.
The reasons on account of which images and statues are not to be tolerated in our churches, but removed, are principally these:
1. Because it is contrary to the express command of God, that images should be made and set up m churches. “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is,” &c. Seeing, now, that God will not allow images to be made, by which he is to be represented, or at which he is to be worshipped, he, m like manner, will not permit those which are made by others, to be tolerated, or retained.
2. Because they have been the occasion, and means of horrible idolatry in the Papal Church.
3. Because God expressly commanded that idols should be removed, as well as every corruption of the true doctrine and worship of God, that he may in this way declare his displeasure against idolatry. (Ex. 33:24; 34:13. Num.33:52.)
4. For our confession of the sincere worship, and our hatred to idolatry, which confession consists not only in words, but also in outward actions, appearance and signs. “Ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art an holy people to the Lord thy God.” “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” viz, in heart, in profession and signs. (Deut. 7:5. 1 John 5:21.)
5. Because the Scriptures speak in commendation of certain pious kings, such as Asa, Jehu, Hezekiah, Josiah, &c., for having destroyed the images and idols which had been set up. (1 Kings 15:13. 2 Kings 10:30: 18:4; 23:24.)
6. For the purpose of avoiding offence and preventing superstition and idolatry, so that, by not tolerating ancient images or substituting new ones, the church and ignorant souls may be preserved from the danger and sin which formerly fell upon our fore-fathers, for countenancing idols.
7. That the enemies of the church may not by this spectacle, which looks so very much like idolatry, be driven farther from a profession of the truth and be led to cast reproach upon it. God speaks of this in the following language: “Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” (Judges 2:3.) So the Jews, when they see statues and images in the churches of those who profess Christianity, are so much offended at the sight that they are led to hate more inveterately the Christian religion.
8. Lastly, images have never resulted in any good to those who have had them. The people of God, the Jews, were for the most part seduced by them, as sacred history abundantly testifies, especially in the books of the Judges, Kings, and Prophets. We are, therefore, prone by nature to the sin of idolatry, which is followed by those dreadful punishments which God in many instances threatened through Moses. “I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.” (Lev. 26:30.) The angel of the Lord, in reproving the Israelites, because they had made a league with the Canaanites, said: “Wherefore I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” (Judges 2: 3.) For these reasons, therefore, images and statues are not to be tolerated in the churches of those who profess Christianity, but they must be removed, even though they be not adored.
Two things must be carefully observed in removing images — 1. That the doctrine concerning the true worship of God be preached before the idols and images are removed. It was in this way that Josiah proceeded. He first commanded the law of God to be read to all the people, and then proceeded to remove and destroy the images which had been set up. A change in external matters, without showing and explaining the causes, on account of which it is effected, will either lead to hypocrisy, or else it will excite and alienate the minds of the people from those who effect this change. Let the true doctrine of God's word, therefore, he preached, and the idols will fall to the ground of their own accord.
2. Images and their altars, and all that pertains to idolatry, must be removed, not by private individuals, but by public authority; whether of the magistrates, or of the people, if they have the sovereign power, and in those places in which the church holds the chief sway. It was in this way that God commanded the children of Israel to proceed in reference to this matter; and so we read that they and their pious kings acted. Paul, on the other hand, being only a private individual, seeing and disapproving of the idols of the Athenians, Ephesians and others, did not himself break them down, nor did he exhort Christians to do so, but to flee from and avoid them. The reason why the Apostle acted thus arose, no doubt, from the fact that he himself was no magistrate, and that the church had not in those places the chief sway. He, therefore, gives this rule: “What have I to o to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without, God judgeth.”(1 Cor. 5:12, 13.)
Obj. 1. But books are retained in the churches and are useful to the laity. Images and statues are books to the laity. Therefore they may be retained in the churches with profit. Ans. Such books only are useful to laymen, which God has delivered to them. But God has prohibited images. We also deny the minor proposition; for the prophets teach very differently. “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image and a teacher of lies?” “The idols have spoken vanity.” (Heb. 2:18. Zech. 10:2.) We may deduce this argument from what has now been said: We ought not to speak vain things of God, nor to he of him, either in word or deed. But wood or graven images are lies of God, seeing that they cannot represent God; yea, by as much as they depart from God, and at the same time lead us from him, by so much is their figure unlike God, and as a matter of consequence they bring it to pass, that we he concerning God. If we would not, therefore, lie, it is necessary that we should neither make, nor have graven images by which to represent God: for as Jeremiah saith, “The stock is a doctrine of vanities.” (Jer. 10: 8.) In this sense, now, we grant that images and pictures are books for the laity; viz., that they partly teach and signify what is not true of God, and partly because by reverencing the thing signified, and the place, when they stand in the church and elsewhere, they easily lead some to superstition and teach the people idolatry, as experience abundantly testifies. We also deny the consequence of the above syllogism, because, although images might teach the unlearned, yet it does not follow from this, that they should be retained in the churches as books that are useful; for God will have his people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of his word. Neither does faith come from the sight of images, but by the hearing of the word of God.
Obj. 2. The command which respects the abolishing of images, is ceremonial. Therefore it does not pertain to Christians, but only to Jews. Ans. We deny the antecedent: for it is no ceremonial requirement to abolish those things which are the instruments, occasions and signs of idolatry. Nor are the causes on account of which this commandment was formerly given altered, so that the glory of God should not be vindicated against idolaters and enemies of the church, and that he should be tempted by our giving to those who are weak and ignorant occasions and inducements to superstition and idolatry to which they are naturally inclined. This commandment, therefore, which forbids our not having images, is moral and of perpetual force.
Obj. 3. Solomon, by the command of God, placed in the temple images of cherubim, lions, oxen, palm-trees, &c. Therefore images may also be tolerated in the church. Ans. The cases are not similar. 1. The figures of the various things and living creatures, such as oxen, lions, palm-trees, cherubims and such like, which Solomon caused to be placed in the temple, were ordered by the special command of God. The case, however, is different with images which are set up in the church at the present day. 2. The images which Solomon had placed in the temple were of such a character that they could not easily lead to superstitious practices; but images of God and the saints may not only lead to superstition, but alas! they have hitherto been the cause of most shameful idolatry in the Papal church. 3. The reason on account of which God commanded Solomon to have the images here alluded to in the temple, was that they might be types of spiritual things; but this cause is now done away with in Christ. Hence images which are now set up in the churches cannot be defended by this example; and it becomes us to obey the general commandment which forbids us to have, and to set up in such places images which are offensive either to the members, or the enemies of the church.
Obj. 4. But pictures and images are not worshipped in the Reformed churches. Therefore they may be tolerated. Ans. 1. God does not only forbid images to be worshipped; but also forbids them from being made, and to have them when made. Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, &c. They are always an occasion of superstition and idolatry to the ignorant, as the experience of the past and present abundantly testifies. 3. They give to the Jews, Turks, Pagans, and other enemies of the church occasion of offence and matter for blaspheming the gospel.
Obj. 5. Images and statues are ornaments in our churches. Therefore they may be tolerated. Ans. 1. The best and true ornament of our churches is the pure and unadulterated doctrine of the gospel, the lawful use of the sacraments, true prayer and worship in accordance with the word of God. 2. Churches have been built, that lively images of God may be seen in them, and not that they should be made the abode of idols and dumb images. 3. The ornament of the church ought not to be contrary to the command of God. 4. It must neither be ensnaring to the members, nor offensive to the enemies of the church.
But some one may perhaps reply; the thing itself and the lawful use of it, must not be taken away merely because it may be abused. Images are ensnaring and offensive merely by accident. Therefore they are not to be removed from the churches. Ans. The first proposition is true, provided the thing be good in its own nature, and the use of it be lawful, and the accident inseparably connected with it, be not condemned of God. If this be not the case, the thing and the use of it, are both unlawful, and therefore to be avoided. But the images of God and the saints, which are placed in our churches for the sake of religion, are neither good, nor is the use of them lawful, but expressly forbidden by the command of God. And not only so, but the accident which is superstition, or idolatry, invariably accompanies the use of these images (notwithstanding the vain pretences of those who are more fully established, and of their knowledge,) and is equally condemned by the commandment of God.
Obj. 6. All that is necessary is, that men should not, by the preaching of the gospel, have images in their hearts. Therefore it is not necessary that they should be removed from our churches. Ans. We deny the antetedent; because God not only forbids us to have idols in our hearts; but also before our eyes, seeing that he does not merely desire us to be no idolaters, but to avoid even the appearance of idolatry, according as it is said; “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”(1 Thes. 5:22.) Again, such is the depravity of the human heart and its propensity to idolatry, that idols well-polished and adorned, being left before the eyes of men, very soon and readily become seated in the heart, and lead to false notions of religion, whatever may be said by some to the contrary. We may, therefore invert the argument, and reason thus: Images are to be rooted out of the hearts of men by the preaching of the gospel. Therefore they are also to be cast out of our churches: for the doctrine revealed to us from heaven does not merely command us not to worship and adore them, but likewise not to make, or have them. So much concerning the commandment itself.
The exhortation added to this commandment, for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon Hie children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me, and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments, contains five attributes of God which ought to constrain us to render obedience to him.
1. He calls himself our God, that is, our creator and preserver—the giver of all the good things which we have enjoyed. In this way he would teach us what base ingratitude it is not to render obedience to him, our benefactor, and what an aggravated thing it is to fall from him into idolatry.
2. He calls himself a mighty God—one that is able to punish the wicked, as well as to reward the obedient. He is, therefore, to be feared and worshipped above all others.
3. A jealous God, that is, a most rigid defender, and vindicator of his honor, terribly displeased with those who depart from him, or infringe upon his honor, or worship. Inasmuch now as jealousy, or indignation on account of an injury, or baseness, proceeds from love on the part of him, who is injured, God here signifies how ardently he loves those that are his.
4. A God that visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate him. In these words God reveals the greatness of his wrath and punishment, in that he threatens unto the children and the grand children, and the great grand-children's children of his enemies, to punish in them the sins of their fathers, in case they also imitate and approve of the sins of their fathers by committing them over again.
Obj. But it is said, Ez. 18, that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father. Ans. It is, however, also said in the 14th verse of the same chapter, by way of reconciliation, “That if a wicked man beget a son that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and doeth not such like; he shall surely live. ”Hence God threatens that he will punish the sins of the fathers in their children, meaning those who persevere in the sins of their fathers, whom it is just and proper should be made partakers of their punishment. Should any one reply; That in this way, posterity do not suffer for the sins of their fathers, but only for their own, we answer nay; for there may be many impelling, moving causes of the same effect, and the cause of one punishment may be many sins, and these of different individuals besides those who bear the punishment. And if some one should object still further and say; That the sins of the fathers are not punished in their children, because the punishment which the children suffer, does not reach to the sins of their fathers, we reply, the children are a part of their fathers, so that they feel in themselves, as it were in some part of themselves, what their children suffer.
5. He declares that he is a God, who sheweth mercy unto thousands of them that love him and keep his commandments. By this promise, God would magnify his mercy, that so he might the more strongly invite us to obedience by a consideration of the greatness of his mercy and by the desire of our own salvation, and that of our children. And whereas he threatened punishment only to the fourth generation, he here extends his mercy to thousands, that so he might declare that he is more inclined to shew mercy than wrath, and in this way constrain us to love him.
Obj. 1. But the children of many pious persons perish. Ans. The promise is conditional: for God declares in the 18th chapter of Ez., that he will be merciful to the children of the godly if they persevere in the obedience of their fathers, and that he will punish them if they turn away from it. If any one should ask, Why does God not convert all the children of the godly, since they cannot follow the holy example of their fathers without his mercy, we reply, that he will not bind or restrict his mercy to any single individuals included among the posterity of the righteous; but will reserve his election free to himself, that as he converts and saves some from the posterity of the wicked, so he will leave some of the
Posterity of the righteous in their natural corruption and misery which all deserve by nature, and this he does, that he may show that his own mercy is free, as well in choosing the posterity of the godly as the posterity of the wicked. Again: God does not convert all the posterity of the godly, because he has not bound himself to bestow mercy on all, or the same benefits on all the posterity of the godly. He, therefore, makes good this promise when he bestows temporal blessings upon the wicked descendants of the godly. Lastly: God does not convert all the children of the godly, because he promises this happiness to those who diligently keep his commandments, or to those who are truly godly. But inasmuch as the love of God and the obedience which is in the most holy, are imperfect in this life, the reward which is promised to them is also imperfect, and joined with the cross and chastisements, among which the wickedness and unhappiness of their posterity is not the least, as may be seen in David, Solomon and Josiah.
Obj. 2. Those who keep the commandments of God, obtain mercy. Therefore, we merit something from God by our obedience. Ans. The contrary follows. God says, I will shew mercy unto them. Therefore, it is not according to merit; for that which is done out of mercy is not of merit; and contrariwise. The argument is, therefore, false, in assigning that for a cause, which is none.
Obj. 3. This promise and threatening belongs to the whole Decalogue; why is it, therefore, annexed to this commandment? Ans. It is joined to the second commandment, not that it belongs to it alone, but that we may know that the first and second commandments are the foundation of all the others; and that God might declare that he is especially displeased with those who corrupt his worship, and that he will punish this kind of sin both in them and their posterity , and, on the other hand, that he will also bless the posterity of them, who keep his religion pure and undefiled.
Copyright © 2008 [www.seeking4truth.com]. All rights reserved .Revised: 05/17/2009