Thursday, July 3, 2014

J. Vernon McGee on Pictures of Jesus and Idolatry

McGee on Deuteronomy 4:12,
The Lord Jesus stated it very clearly: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). People were never to have any likeness of God whatsoever. The Lord Jesus became a man, but the Bible does not give us any physical description of Him. Now you will probably think I am picayunish, if you haven't already come to that conclusion, but I do not believe in pictures of Jesus. I know that many lovely people feel that a picture of Jesus helps them to worship Him. Let me tell you what was said by an old Scottish commentator: "Men never paint a picture of Jesus until they have lost the presence of Him in their hearts." We need Him in our hearts today, not in color on a canvas. These are tremendous and eternal truths which God is giving us in this chapter. The instructions which were given to Israel in that day are great principles for us to carry over for ourselves today, because truth is eternal.
Download the audio of McGee's commentary on Deuteronomy 4:12-29 here.

The Scottish commentator McGee has in mind is Thomas Carlyle, who turned from the faith; Carlyle's observation is still perceptive though. From a footnote from a biography on Thomas Carlyle by John Morrow (Hambledon & London, 2006):
After viewing Holman Hunt's Life of Christ, Carlyle commented that he disliked 'all pictures of Christ: you will find that men never thought of painting Christ till they began to lose the impression of him in their hearts'; The Life of Thomas Carlyle (1881), p. 15.
Carlyle on the face of Christ as 'The Light of the World' by Holman Hunt (The London Quarterly and Holborn Review, Volume 105, p. 218):
Thomas Carlyle expressed his views with his usual frankness. 'You call that thing, I ween, a picture of Jesus Christ. It is a poor misshaped presentation of the noblest, the brotherliest, and the most heroic-minded Being that ever walked God's earth. Do you suppose that Jesus ever walked about bedizened in priestly robes and a crown, and with yon jewels on His breast, and a gilt aureole round His head? Ne'er crown nor pontifical robe did the world e'er give to such as Him.' Carlyle said he had a screen at home on which he had put the best portraits he could find of 'all the men that ever were on earth who have helped to make us something better than wild beasts of rapine and havoc; but that grandest of all beings, that Jesus of heavenly omens, I have no means whatever of raising up to my sight with any accredited form.'
McGee on Isaiah 40:18 (he uses Carlyle's observation again),
You and I know very little. All we know is what He has revealed in the Word of God, and I don't think He has told us everything. To begin with, we can't even comprehend what He has told us.

Isaiah is contrasting God to idols. "To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?" Look around you at the pictures of Him. Personally, I don't care for any pictures of Jesus because they are not pictures of Jesus. I don't become very popular when I say this. Stores that sell such pictures and people who are rather sentimental think I am terrible. But, my friend, we don't need pictures of Him. I agree with the old Scottish philosopher who said years ago, "Men never thought of painting a picture of Jesus until they had lost His presence in their hearts."
Download the audio of McGee's commentary on Isaiah 40:12-26 here.

McGee's sermon "What Does God Look Like?" (a slightly different text of the same sermon is available here) uses Carlyle's name this time. Also, McGee is quite clear in his denunciation of purported pictures of Christ, which, as McGee explains, is something hard to hear for modern "Protestants". Below is my transcript of the audio from the sermon:
May I say to you, God's warning is repeated again and again to His own people and He forbids us today to make an image. That is the thing that Paul said to the Athenians: God is not like these things made of silver and gold; He doesn't look like that at all. God is Spirit. God is Spirit and any likeness or representation of Him is wrong, whether it be a totem pole, an idol of Baal, or a statue of Zeus, or a sitting Buddha, or icons, or a plaster-of-paris saint. Those things are wrong! God says, "Make nothing that represents God."

Nineteen-hundred years ago God broke through into human history; He took upon Himself human flesh. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."

Have you noticed? I cannot find in any one of the Gospels that there was born to Mary a nine-pound baby boy with blue eyes and light hair or brown eyes and dark hair. I can't find it. Pictures of Christ are not accurate. Oh, I know, Sallman's Head of Christ is a beautiful thing, the only thing is Christ didn't look like that.

Thomas Carlyle, that Scottish philosopher, said when men lose the image of Christ on their hearts, they start painting His picture! I'm sorry today—I'm not really being ugly. Now, I know that this won't go over with a great many people—especially if you run a Gospel bookstore—you won't like me now. I think it's wrong to use pictures of Christ today. "Oh," somebody says, "But, you know, I have a little altar and I've put a picture of Jesus up there, and I like to go and bow down before it." You're nothing in the world but an idolater. "Oh, yeah, but, I need that to help me." If you know Him as Saviour, you do not need that to help you. Now, I know that's not popular today. I was interested back at Winona Lake—I watched the bookstore there—I watched them 'cause they was selling my books. And I watch people, when they came in—you think they bought my books? Well they bought 'em—they bought all they had there. But the thing was that they bought twice as many of these little plaster-of-paris pictures of Christ. Some of them had mottos on them—some didn't. "But, oh, you've just gotta have a picture of Jesus!" How did He look? Would you tell me?

Isn't it interesting that nothing that was physical that was connected with Him has survived? God saw to that! I just well get it all off my chest this morning. Let me say something else. Somebody told me, said, you know, said "I went to Palestine and I went down there to the Garden Tomb, and it was so wonderful, I just got down on my knees and had a wonderful prayer." You mean you had to make a trip to Palestine to have a wonderful prayer? Now how do you know that's the spot? I'm not willing to take the word of another Church that 'here's where He was crucified' and 'here's where He was buried'—I don't think they know. The Lord got rid of all of that stuff! And I'm waiting today for a personally conducted tour! And my Lord is going to take me over there someday! And He says "Here McGee is where I was crucified! And here is where I was buried!" I'm waiting for that tour. I've lost your friendship now, haven't I?

Well, somebody needs to say these things today. We're developing a group of Protestants today that are running around looking for sacred spots and pictures and that sort of thing. Have you lost the Saviour?! Why do you have to have these things today? God is Spirit!
McGee on Romans 1:21-23,
Actually, idolatry is a cartoon of God; it is a slander and a slur against Him. Personally, I do not like to see pictures of Jesus, as Paul said that we know Him no longer after the flesh (see 2 Corinthians 5:16). He is the glorified Christ. He is not that picture you have hanging on your wall, my friend. If He came into your room, you would fall on your face before Him. He is the glorified Christ today. Don't slur our God by having a picture of Him!
Download the audio of McGee's commentary on Romans 1:21-23 here.

McGee against the effeminate Jesus of the Liberals (my transcription from his sermon The Eyes of Jesus):
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and he began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And he would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

He said this temple. We gave it to you in order that the nations of the world might come here and worship God. And what have you done? You've made it a regular counting house, you've made it a marketplace, you've made it a bazaar—that place that should be holy. And He drove 'em out. Why do you think they got out? Don't give me the ole' adage that they got out because of the fact that He said for them to get out. My beloved, they didn't leave their place of business that easy. They got out because, when they looked at Him, they knew He could put 'em out. And He could. And He did. O, if you could only have seen His eyes. May I say to you, He had eyes of compassion for the sinner. But I tell you He had eyes of condemnation for that which was phony and that which was false and that which was sham. And I think when we see this it will deliver us from thinking of Him in terms of weakness. Many pictures today reveal Jesus as rather effeminate. And the liberals today have touched up the picture. They've made him a real sissy. If I may use the common colloquialism of the street—I say to you this morning He was no milquetoast—He was no first century Ghandi. These pictures today and the way the liberal speaks of Him drips with honey and saccharin sweetness. And may I say to you, that kind of cheap sentimentality it's shabby, it's shoddy, it's shaggy, it's shallow, it's shifty, it's sloppy, it's slobbery, it's slimy, it's shady, and it's sickly. And if there are any other adjectives you can put them with it too, because I want to tell you—this One had eyes that could burn with anger for that which was wrong. We need that today. In Matthew 23, the harshest language that's recorded in the Bible is our Lord's condemnation of the religious rulers:

Ye Pharisees! Ye Scribes! Ye Hypocrites! Ye blind leaders of the blind! Ye generation of vipers! You make the outside of the cup clean, but inside you haven't even washed it. You're like a sepulcher white-stone and monument on the outside, but inside dead man's bones.

May I say, those are fightin' words! And you may be sure the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the Scribes just didn't like it. Fact of the matter is, they finally nailed Him to the cross, because they did not like that. But may I say that even the glorified Saviour—and this is the thing that's the carryover—He still has eyes that are like a flame of fire. And when John who had reclined upon His bosom, John who had been so familiar with Him, John saw the glorified Christ on the Isle of Patmos. And among the tremendous pictures that we have of Him, one is His head and his hairs were white like wool—as white as snow—and His eyes were as a flame of fire. That's the picture of Him. His eyes are as a flame of fire. And you know where that picture is? That is the picture of Him walking among the lampstands—walking in the Church today. We got a lot of believers today that think—that is if they are believers—think they're getting by with it. My friend, you're getting by with nothing! He sees you! My God seeth me. And He sees you. And His eyes are as a flame of fire. When He's speaking to that church in Thyatira that had departed from Him in Revelation 2:18, He says:

And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;

That's His picture today. That doesn't end it all. That's for the saved, if you please. He intends to judge His own—not for salvation, but He intends to judge His own. Paul was disturbed about it. Very few believers are disturbed today. Paul says:

I'm afraid that when I preach to others I might be disapproved and, therefore, I discipline myself.

How many Christians make it a real business? It's a sideline with us today! If we feel just right and if the weather is just right, we'll go to church. But we never make a sacrifice for Him! I tell you, He sees you today! You think He is dead? O, what a surprise you gonna' have someday, when you're brought into His presence.
From McGee's book Love, Liberation & the Law:
Is God being unfair? Will He punish the children of sinning parents? Dr. G. Campbell Morgan gives a fine interpretation of this:
To pass on to children a wrong conception of God . . . is the most awful thing a man can do . . . When a man puts something, as the object of his worship, in the place of God, he passes on the same practice to his offspring. What a terrible heritage he is thus handing down to the child!
But notice the gracious promise standing side by side with the warning: . . . "Showing mercy unto a thousand generations of them that love Me, and keep My commandments."... Here is a remarkable comparison-God visits the iniquity to the third and fourth generation; but He shows mercy unto the thousandth generation! If a man will commit to his posterity a worship which is true, strong, whole-hearted, and pure, and will sweep away all that interferes between himself and God, he is more likely to influence for good the thousandth generation that follows him than a man of the opposite character is to touch that generation with evil.... Whenever a man stops short of that face-to-face worship of the Eternal God, he is working ruin to his own character, because he is breaking the commandment of God. (Morgan, The Ten Commandments, pp. 34, 35)
There are too may folk today who are supposed to be Bible teachers and preachers and witnesses for Him, even among the laity, who do not know the Word of God. I am sorry to say that, but it happens to be true. As a result of not knowing the Word of God, they don't really know God. It is necessary to know the Word of God in order to know Him.
From McGee's Questions and Answers program (link):
Q: How Did God Speak to Moses?
A: In the formulation of the canon of Scripture, God spoke in many ways. He spoke sometimes through an angel. He actually spoke sometimes through dreams; He spoke to Joseph by dreams. And sometimes He spoke audibly to the individual. I believe that on the top of Mount Sinai God spoke audibly to Moses. Moses couldn’t see anyone – God is a spirit, as you know. In fact, Moses finally asked! And when anyone says that Moses saw God, all he saw was the glory of God. God manifested His glory, and that glory was visible in the tabernacle. Those were the only people that ever have had a visible presence of God. Now the church does not have a visible presence. The Lord Jesus drew down the curtain on that. When He came, He laid aside His glory. When they talk about what it was the Lord Jesus emptied Himself of, it wasn’t His deity but His glory. The glory was not manifested at all. A lady told me recently she had a dream and the Lord Jesus stood at the foot of her bed and talked to her. I suggested to her that she probably ought to pay attention to what she had for dinner the night before, because He didn’t speak to her. I asked her, “What did He look like?” And she said, “Just like He does in all His pictures!” But the pictures we have of Jesus are not of Him but of some Italian in the Middle Ages who posed for the picture. Today God is speaking in His Word. But then He spoke many ways in getting His Word through to man, and one of them was to speak audibly as He did to Moses.

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