Mark Jones has a new post at Reformation21 titled Pictures of Christ & The Beatific Vision. This helpful article makes some points not usually made, and that answer questions or objections that seem to be in people's minds.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Saturday, December 20, 2014
'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 ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image,' Deut. iv. 15, 16.
Here Jehovah urges his own conduct as a dissuasive to all idolatry and image worship. When God gave the law on mount Horeb, the people heard the voice of words, but they saw no similitude, no manner of similitude. Indeed what representation can God give of himself, or of any spiritual intelligence to creatures encompassed with sense? How is it possible that what is purely spiritual, and therefore not visible by the eye of sense, can be represented by any thing that is sensible? 'No man hath seen God at any time: he dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen or can see. To whom then can ye liken God, or what likeness will ye compare unto him?' Although Moses was favoured with a fuller revelation of God's will, and held more intimate communion with him than any other man or prophet, still it was spiritual communications that he enjoyed; and when this eminent servant of the Lord, longing for closer access to Deity, more bright and engaging displays of the divine perfections, and a stronger pledge of divine favour, earnestly said, 'I beseech thee, show me thy glory,' what did Jehovah say? 'Thou canst not see my face, for there shall no man see me and live.' No where, but as reflected in his works, or revealed in his word, can we, in this world, see the glory of God. To see him as he is, is reserved for the beatific vision in the world of spirits.
Although the people of Israel were solemnly warned never to forget the awful solemnities they witnessed on mount Sinai, to take heed lest they should allow to depart from their hearts the things which they had seen all the days of their life, yet we find that with equal solemnity, and in words nearly similar, they are warned and interdicted against fashioning any graven image, or the similitude of any thing whatever, such as the carnal fancy might suggest, through the medium, or by the aid of which they might offer homage to the great Majesty of heaven and earth. 'Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image.'
It is often urged in vindication of this practice by those who countenance the monstrous absurdities of the church of Rome, that these images are not worshipped, but that the ceremonies and representations in use are employed as helps, that they are fitted to make divine worship more intelligible and pleasing to the young, more impressive to the common people, and more attractive to all. Under this impression they have acted; and thus, as has been stated by an eloquent writer, do they foolishly imagine that the more pomp they can lavish on the rites of worship the more is their devotion to God manifested; and by engaging the outward senses the homage of the heart is gained. But what is the meaning of such language and conduct? Why, it is just this, that the great God hast not been sufficiently explicit and full in revealing his will to his creatures, in declaring how he is to be worshipped; that man is to utter what God has left untold, and to eke out what is defective in the divine communications. In every thing relative to divine worship, God alone must dictate; we are not left to our own views of expediency in subjects of this nature, and we call upon any one to examine carefully the multiplied and varied declarations of the Almighty here and elsewhere, and to say what verdict he can bring in regard to the usages and worship of the popish church, but that it is guilty of the grossest idolatry. No one can reconcile their practices with the plain and unambiguous language of the word of God. The words of the Eternal are peculiarly solemn and emphatic, 'Take good heed lest ye corrupt yourselves.'
Could a greater insult be offered to God, or more daring impiety be manifested by man, than when the Israelites fashioned the golden calf, prostrated themselves before it, sacrificed unto it, and said, 'These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt?' Yet not more daring, not more profane was the conduct of Israel then, or in her times of grossest idolatry, than is that of our modern Christian idolaters. It is not merely a setting aside the positive, the unalterable command of God, but it is an extinction of that light that the Almighty Creator has kindled in the bosom of those whom he formed after his own image. How grievously have they corrupted and defiled themselves; they have changed the glory of God into an image made like unto corruptible man. No wonder that ignorance, and profligacy, and vice prevail to such a degree in those countries that are purely popish; no wonder that vital godliness has decayed, and that morality is at the lowest ebb. They have dishonoured their God and Redeemer, they have corrupted themselves. 'O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united!'
In meditating on the words of this text, to use the words of a late writer, 'let us guard against every corruption and neglect in God's worship; against yielding to the spirit of the world, the influence of fancy, the power of superstition in religion. Let us guard against a blind veneration for what is old, a childish fondness for what is splendid, a restless pursuit of what is new. Let us continue steadfast in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Let us stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel. Let us take heed to the things which we have heard, and beware lest our minds should be drawn away, or corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.'
Ever let us distrust our own vain reasonings, and our gross imaginations in regard to the divine nature and worship. By faith and prayer let us draw our knowledge from revelation alone. And in our acts of worship let us ever draw near through Christ, and trust in his blood, and derive from his fulness the wisdom, the grace, and the strength that are needful.
'The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God,' Deut. vii. 25.
How very jealous is God of his own honour and glory, and especially in what regards the worship he demands of his creatures. In reading the books of Moses and the prophets, one cannot fail to notice how the sin of idolatry is singled out, forbidden, denounced, threatened, and punished. It is compared to spiritual adultery, by which the marriage covenant is violated, and that love and faith which unite parties is extinguished and broken. One would almost say from what is recorded respecting it, that it is the sin of sins, a sin above all others, and the sin which above all others God abhors.
Israel had lived amongst idolaters in Egypt, and they were soon to be brought into contact with idolaters in Canaan. Their passion for idolatry had been already felt and manifested, and therefore it was to be feared that when they entered Canaan, unless they exercised the strictest vigilance over their own hearts, they might be induced to follow the abominable practices of that idolatrous country. The Lord, therefore, in mercy cautions them and charges them. They were to be the executioners of the divine vengeance against the inhabitants of that land, because of their gross wickedness, and they are peremptorily commanded, not merely to destroy the people of Canaan, but to destroy their graven images-to abhor and put away from them the precious metals of which they were fashioned, and not to allow the smallest vestige of idolatry to be admitted into their dwellings, lest they should be contaminated thereby.
The images of the heathen deities were made of the most costly and valuable materials-nothing was reckoned too precious for their adornment; and the temples of modern idolatry are adorned in the same manner. The whole aim of popery, the whole tendency of its worship, is to fascinate the outward man, to please the eye, and to gratify the ear. It endeavours to strike the senses, it appeals to the imagination in every possible way; but alas! alas! all that is spiritual, godly, and sanctifying is neglected. When and where does it appeal to and let in light to the understanding? When and how does it captivate and purify the heart? 'The church of the Escurial,' says an eloquent writer, 'is one mass of marble, gold, and precious stones, relieved by admirable pictures, and rendered holy by the presence of some four or five hundred vases, containing relics of every possible saint or saintly object. The rapacity of the French disturbed the identity of these fancied treasures, for while they carried off many of the golden vases, they scattered their unlabelled contents in confusion on the ground, to the great perplexity of the blinded devotees. How long will men worship the offal of the charnel house?'
Can there be life and spirituality in that church, which, in defiance of God's word, in contempt of all that God can promise or threaten, pretends to worship a pure and holy Being by such abominations? Can there be vitality in that church, which in its worship degrades the ever blessed Redeemer, the Emmanuel, God with us, by ranking him in his mediatorial character and advocateship with the very creatures of his own power; yea, in the court of heaven advancing the influence of saints above that of the Lord Jesus Christ?
While God has most unequivocally prohibited, and by his denunciations testified his displeasure against idolatry in every form, he has also most signally punished it. Israel was taught what a bitter thing it was, in the judgments, which, by their own hands, were executed on the Canaanites. Themselves, though the covenant people of God, suffered most grievously on account of this sin, and the heaviest visitations of Heaven that overtook them were for their idolatry. And God will not allow this sin to remain, this engine of Satan to be employed for ever in any church, or in any quarter of the globe-the curse of God rests upon it, and the blight of heaven shall fall upon it. What measures God in his providence may take for its subversion-when or how it shall be finally overthrown, he alone to whom all time is alike, knows; but overthrown it shall be, uprooted it shall be. 'The Lord shall consume it with the Spirit of his mouth, he shall destroy it with the brightness of his coming.' In surveying the hideous mass of heathen idolatry, and popish superstition that overspreads such a vast portion of the globe, the heart may well sicken, and in anguish of spirit we may bewail the fearful desolation, but there is no room for despair. God shall send forth the rod of his strength out of Zion, the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and the triumphant shout shall be raised, 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen.' Yes, every stronghold of Satan shall be overthrown-the idolatry of benighted Gentile nations, the impositions of the false prophet in the East, and the corruptions of the man of sin in the West, shall all be subverted and fall before the light of truth. Aye, the churches of the Reformation, many of which retain still some of the rubbish of popery, and all of which retain less or more of the rust of corruption that adheres to every institution that is human, shall be purged. It may be by a fiery trial, it may be by severe judgments, by the fan in the Almighty's hand, for Zion has invariably been redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness; but it shall be accomplished, and they shall be stripped of the garment spotted by the flesh. Oh that our own church, the church of our fathers, which has much to bewail on account of past unfruitfulness, barrenness, and apostasy, may in God's good time be delivered from all her difficulties, purified from all her defilement, and be rendered more eminently instrumental in advancing the Redeemer's kingdom and plucking brands from the burning.
In meditating on these words, let us regard them as a warning against spiritual idolatry, against every thing that would displace the Almighty from the throne of our affections. An image for worship we are not likely to fashion; before an image, however costly, we are not likely to fall prostrate: but is it not possible to transfer our affections from the Creator to the creature; may we not be ambitious to 'lay up silver as the dust, to make gold our hope, and to say to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence.' Covetousness is idolatry-and that man who is the slave of this world, who is fired with the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eye, and makes the world his portion, is as much an object of aversion to the pure mind of Jehovah-is as far from the kingdom of heaven as is the vilest idolater: the blind deluded worshipper of a false God.
Can that be any part of the object of faith which is perceptible by the fancy of every man, and is obvious to natural discerning? While the Spirit of God says, The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; because they are foolishness unto him: neither can they know them; for they are spiritually discerned, 1 Cor. ii. 14. The things of man are known by the spirit of man; but the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Nay, the things of God that are taught by the word and Spirit of God, are indeed the objects of faith; but the things of man, which a natural man can receive, and carnal man can discern, are the objects of sense, and of vain unprofitable imagination. As faith looks through the history of the gospel to the mystery of it, so does it through the material flesh of Christ to the mystery of God incarnate. Though we are to believe that Christ is flesh of our flesh, yet the flesh or humanity of Christ is only the glass or veil through which we behold the glory of God. The fancy that terminates on the flesh, is not only vain and unprofitable, but pernicious and prejudicial to the faith that is of God’s operation; which, coming from God, leads to God, and cannot terminate upon Christ himself, but upon God in Christ. Hence the object of saving faith is no image of Christ, seen by fancy, or imaginary idea; but Christ, who is, and as he is the image of the invisible God: and faith’s acting upon this object, is a seeing of him that is invisible, and no sight of him visibly by the bodily eye, or perceptible by natural fancy and imagination. To make faith then include any carnal conception of Christ’s humanity, is a deep deceit and delusion, and as remote from saving faith, as the image one in this part of the earth may frame in his head of the emperor of China. That part of Christ that is visible, was the object of sense on earth, and is the object of vision in heaven, and may be the object of any man’s fancy or imagination; but never was, nor ever will be the object of faith, but as the invisible God is seen therein and thereby. Nothing sensible, nothing corporeal, nothing visible can properly be the object of that faith which is the evidence of things not seen, Heb. xi. 1. and looks not to the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen, 2 Cor. iv. 18. Hence our believing on Christ, a visible Christ present or absent, is not faith, but fancy, if we believe not on the invisible God that sent him, John xii. 44. Jesus cried and said, he that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And verse 45. He that seeth me, seeth him that sent me. And chap. xiv. 9. He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father. Matth. x. 40. He that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. Mark ix. 37. Whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me."~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy
"As the intellectual powers of nature can no more bring any man to the saving knowledge of God, than imaginary ideas can bring him to the right knowledge of Christ’s human nature; so this human nature of Christ was never seen or known to any saving advantage, but by the same supernatural powers and spiritual faculties whereby we see him to be God, and to be God-man in one person: For it is not in one light we see Christ as man; and in another as God; and in a third as God-man in one person; but in one and the same light we see the glorious person of our Immanuel God-man, when God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, shines into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face, or person of Christ. 2 Cor. iv. 6. Gal. i. 16. John i. 14."~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy
“The human nature of Christ is the object of faith, in so far as the invisible God is to be seen in the marvelous and preternatural conception and birth of it. And so it is proposed to our faith, Luke i. 35. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: Therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. Faith looks to the testimony of God in his promise of this wonderful birth, Gen. iii. 15. Isa. vii. 14. and in his word declaring the accomplishment of that promise, as he does in the gospels writ by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and the glory of God’s faithfulness, power and pity, manifested therein. In these respects it is the object of faith, and not at all the object of sense and fancy. The imaginary idea of a natural birth cannot help us to believe so much as the truth of the fact, That to us a child is born, whose name is, The Mighty God: Nay it cannot help to believe, that in such a place a woman brought forth a child. It is true, as the imaginary doctrine says, none can believe it without the imaginary idea of a woman and a child: Yet one’s having the idea of both these can no more help him to believe any remarkable story of a woman that brought forth a child, than a man’s having the idea both of a mountain and a moon, would help him to believe that a mountain brought forth a moon. Nay such ideas help people only to know the materials that are the objects of sense. And this knowledge all mankind have, that are in their wits, and have common sense. But this ideal and imaginary knowledge cannot help them to believe any proposition relating to these materials to be a truth or falsehood, a thing credible or incredible. The formal object of the human faith of this, That a woman brought forth a child, is some human testimony asserting it as a truth. And the object of divine faith relating to this mystery, the incarnation of Christ, or his human nature, its conception and birth, is the divine testimony, asserting this truth, That a virgin did conceive and bring forth a son, whose name is called Immanuel, God with us. Of this blessed wonderful incarnation of the Son of God, and the design of it, some of the ancient fathers write very sweetly; whose words quoted by Davenant in Col. p. 250 may be thus translated from the Latin. Irenaeus says, “How can the Ebionites be saved, if he be not God who wrought their salvation on the earth? And how shall man come to God, if God do not come to man?” Athanasius says, “If Christ had not been the true Son of God, man had not firmly been united to God: for what a mere man has got, may be lost, as it fell out in Adam. But, that the grace and gift might remain firm, God put on our flesh, that through this might be given to us all spiritual good things in sure possession.” Cyrillus speaks thus: “The Word is made flesh, that in him, and in him alone, the nature of man, being crowned with the praise and glory of innocency, might be enriched with the Holy Spirit, never to depart thence now, as it fell out with Adam, but to abide therein for ever.” The Son of God was incarnate, that human nature, being pulled away from God by sin, and alienated from the life and fellowship of God, might this way be most fitly restored to communion with God, and most firmly preserved therein; and that, as Athanasius said, our flesh, being of earth, might not go to earth, but being joined to heaven by the Word that was made flesh, might by him be brought to heaven. This mysterious birth and incarnation of Christ, and the glorious rays of divine power, wisdom, and grace thus shining therein, is indeed a sweet object of faith: But there is no footing for fancy here, nor for imaginary ideas.”~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy
"That imaginary idea that cannot think of him justly, but only of the flesh that profiteth nothing, must be a very ill neighbor, yea a neck-break to faith; which will have nothing to do with a half Christ, but conceives of, receives and matches with the whole person of our Immanuel."~Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy
"O seek, my friends, to be delivered from the strange delusions, the strange deities, the strange gods of the time wherein you live. Besides, the evident errors of the time, some that profess to be contending against errors, which is so far right and well done; yet are plunged over head and ears, in the gulf of new imaginary doctrines of their own; particularly, that strange doctrine of imaginary ideas of Christ as man. O beware, beware, of an imaginary idea of Christ as man, and of reckoning this to be knowledge or faith! For, that is nothing but a dead image of Christ in the brain, and is no part of rational knowledge, far less of revealed religion. As long as you have but an imaginary idea of Christ, as man, you have no view of the person Jesus Christ; for Christ, as man, was never a person; the eternal Son of God, in our nature, is the person of our Immanuel. While you look to a Christ painted in the fancy, as man, his voice will never quicken your dead souls; but when, by faith, you look to the man Christ, as Immanuel, God-man, and listen to his voice, as it is the voice of the Son of God, then the dead shall hear, and hearing, shall live."~Ralph Erskine, CHRIST's Quickening Voice
Now, let us understand what this idolatry really is. I have met with this objection —"Oh, but you do not know what idolatry is entertained. You suppose these people worship stocks and stones; and I assure you that you are mistaken." I am quite aware of this argument; and I will tell you how the matter stands. The Hindoo does not, I admit, worship a mere stock or stone in the sense of saying, "This is my God, and I worship it." I remember very well—my friend Dr. Watson will remember—that in the very first Hindoo temple which we entered with an intelligent interpreter, when we put the question, the priest said, "Certainly not; I worship the God in the stone." "What was the stone before the God came into it?" we next asked. "It was a stone," he said, smiling. "And what brought the God into it?" "It was the prayer of the priest, and we worship the God in it." Of course, I have proofs of this. I have here, for example, extracted from a pamphlet I have, a lecture given in the Benares Institute, in splendid English, by a man who defends Hindoo idolatry, quoting the poet Cowper, and quoting also from Sir William Hamilton and other metaphysicians, in speaking about the impossibility of forming any idea of the unseen God, and the necessity of haring it symbolized—quoting Cowper's beautiful lines to his mother's portrait, and how this portrait recalled the past. You are quite familiar with the argument. It is the argument constantly applied to the Mass and the worship of pictures—that it is not the bread and wine or the pictures which are worshipped, but the unseen Christ in the bread and wine, or the person represented. This is the argument you hear in Hindostan in regard to idolatry. But what I want you to notice is this that there never was any kind of idolatry except this which was absolutely condemned and cursed by Almighty God. Do not suppose that this refined view, as you may take it, of idolatry, is anything different from that idolatry which, throughout the Old Testament dispensation, is condemned by God. The idolatry condemned is seeking to make symbols of the living God, which, instead of elevating God, degrades Him—which, instead of opening men's eyes to the invisible, becomes a means of clouding men's eyes to the invisible, so that they lose the spiritual power of comprehending the unseen object. I make this assertion, that the idolatry that is comprehended in the most philosophic system of the Hindoos is neither more nor less than the idolatry against which the living God lifted up His voice—on account of which, the people of Israel were cleared out of their land and sent to Babylon in order to be purified.—Rev. Dr. Macleod.
Monday, December 1, 2014
It is true that God was pleased to have an extraordinary visible presence of the Person of the Holy Spirit at Jesus' baptism; however, the rule of our actions is the word of God.
We are commanded not to make any images of the Lord: "so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, [...] the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky" (Deuteronomy 4:16-17) cf. "And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to ... birds" (Romans 1:23)
One author, Stephen Jenner, notes that people convert the visible sign of the Holy Spirit at Jesus' baptism to certify to a fact into astanding idol-in violation of the letter, if not of the spirit, of the Second Commandment. George Wotherspoon points out that, "It is surely a species of mad idolatry to form a graven image or a painting of a pigeon, and call it by the name of the Holy Spirit of God." Grace Family Baptist Church (the church Voddie Baucham ministers) also comments "Likewise, to portray the Holy Spirit as a dove is idolatrous, it is impiety and madness for man to create images of them – those which are unseen and unseeable. That the Spirit is portrayed as dove in the gospels no more give man warrant to do so than if we were to make an image of God the Father because we find Scripture telling us of His hands, arms, wings, and the like. Calvary Chapel uses a dove as its logo."
It is also a sad observation of one of my friends that "The custom of representing the Holy Spirit in human form had become rather common during the time of the humanistic movement."
This is also observed in the footnotes of the selection above by John Woolley:
"One of the earliest and most celebrated examples of the Holy Ghost made man by the power of art, is mentioned in an English manuscript, attributed to St. Dunstan, who died in 988, and was Archbishop of Canterbury. In this curious volume, the three Divine Persons are all represented in the human form. The Father is drawn as an emperor, and aged; the Son as Christ, and holding His cross, is younger, and may,perhaps, be thirty years of age; the Holy Ghost, who has no distinguishing attribute, is young and almost beardless. From the fourteenth century to the sixteenth representations of the Holy Ghost abound, and considering the Holy Ghost, with reference to age alone, we find figures of Him in the human form, varying from the tenderest infancy, some months only, or a few years of age, up to an advanced period of old age. In a manuscript of the fifteenth century, He is exhibited floating upon the waters, at the moment when God is creating the heaven and the earth. The Holy Ghost is extended upon the waves, which are slightly agitated; He is a naked infant just born."
Very sad that some professing Christians view the Holy Spirit in this way and even more monstrous views e.g. Jenn Johnson of Bethel Redding views the Holy Spirit “like the genie from Aladdin. And He’s blue. And He’s funny. And He’s sneaky.”
"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Corinthians 3:17) May the Lord free us from our idolatrous thoughts of Him, to the true knowledge of Him as revealed in His word.
Westminster Larger Catechism:
"Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
Answer: [...] the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in anykind of image or likeness of any creature: Whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; [...]"