Download and read Thomas Vincent's An Explicatory Catechism: Or an Explanation of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism here. Below is the section from Vincents explicatory, which answers questions about what is forbidden in the Second Commandment.
Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.
Q. 1. What is the first great sin forbidden in the second commandment ?
A. The first great sin forbidden in the second commandment, is the sin of idolatry.
Q. 2. How doth the idolatry forbidden in the first commandment, differ from the idolatry forbidden in the second commandment ?
A. The idolatry forbidden in the first commandment, hath a respect unto the object, when we give that worship and honour which is due only to God, unto another : the idolatry forbidden in the second commandment, hath a respect unto the means, when we worship God by images.
Q. 3. How many ways fnay persons be guilty of idolatry in thtir woishipping of God by images?
A. Persons are guilty of idolatry in worshipping of God by images, 1. When they worship feigned afid false gods (apprehending them to be true) by images and representations. Such was the heathens' idolatry in worshipping Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Diana, and other feigned gods and goddesses, by their images, in their idola.- 'trous temples. 2. When they worship the true God, in or by any image or representation of him whether it be by any thing in heaven, or the earth, or the waters, as in the commandment: Thou shall not make -to thyself any graven image, or the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shall not boto down to them, nor serve them. Deut. iv. 15, 16, Take ye heed therefore to yourselves (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image. Exod. xxxii. 8, Xhey have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it ; and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, these be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 3. 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.
Q. 4. Why may we not make use of images for a help in our worship of God ?
A. 1. Because God hath absolutely forbidden it. 2. Because images are not a real help, but a hindrance of devotion, they tending to lessen God in our esteem, who being the living God, and superlatively excellent, and infinitely removed above all his creatures, cannot, without great reflection of dishonour upon him, be represented by a dead image.
Q. 5. Is it not lawful to have images or pictures of God by us, so we do not worship them, nor God by them ?
A. The images or pictures of God are an abomination, and utterly unlawful, because they do debase God, and may be a cause of idolatrous worship.
Q. 6. Is it not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, he being a man as well as God?
A. 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 tho- second commandment.
Q 7. What is the second great sin against this second commandment ?
A. The second great sin against this second commandment, is superstition.
Q 8. What is the superstition forbidden in the second commandment ?
A. The superstiuon forbidden in the second commandment, is the worshipping of God in any other way, or by any other means, than what he hath appointed in his word, and thus adding human inventions unto God's institutions, which is will-worship, and condemned by the apostle. Col. ii. 20, 23, Why as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances (touch not, taste not, handle not, which all are to perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men ? which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship. Q. 9. May nothing be added in the worship of God' but what is prescribed in the word of God ? A. Nothing may be added in the worship of God, as parts of worship, but what is prescribed or appointed in the word of God : because without divine institution, it is but vain worship, neither pleasing to God, nor profitable unto them that worship. Matth. xv. 9, But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men;
Q 10. Are not significant ceremonies allowable, that the dull minds of men may be quickened unto the more devotion?
A. 1. The ceremonies which God himself did appoint under the law, are not lawful, much less the ceremonies of men's appointment, which are parts of worship. 2. Significant teaching ceremonies, were they appointed by God, would be the parts of true worship ; therefore such significant teaching ceremonies as are not appointed by God, are parts of false worship, or of worship so far cor* rupted as they are used. 3. The significancy of teach* ing ceremonies without God's institution, which carrieth with it God's blessing, is insignificant and ineffectual, to convey and confer any grace.
Q. 11. May not the church, by virtue of that command 1 Cor. xiv. 40, Let all things be done decently and in order, appoint ceremonies for decency and order's sake?
A. The church may and ought, by virtue of this command, see that there be no indecency and disorder in the worship of God ; that is, they may order, that things appointed by God be done decently and in order, in reference toconveniency of time and place, and the like, which the word of God doth virtually include in appointing worship itself, which without such circumstances, cannot be performed : but here is no liberty given unto the church, to introduce and appoint new parts of worship, as significant teaching ceremonies are proved to be; neither may such things be called decent in God's worship, which the idolatrous Church of Rome use without any warrant from the word of God.
Q. 12. What is the idolatry and superstition of the Church of Rome in the worship of God?
A. The idolatry and superstition of the church of Rome in the worship of God, is their idolatrous kneeling at the sacrament, asserting that the bread is turned into the real body of Christ ; their idolatrous worshipping of Christ by the crucifix ; their idolatrous pictures and images of God which they bow before; their idolatrous bowing at the altars, and towards the east; their idolatrous praying to angels and saints, especially to the Virgin Mary ; their offering up the unbloody sacrifice of the host ; their superstinous fastings, and abstaining from flesh in Lent; their superstitious holy-days; their superstitious priest's surplice; their adding cream, oil, and spittle to the water, and signing with the cross in -baptism ; their baptising of bells : their praying upon beads ; and many more superstitious customs, for which there is not the least command in scripture.
Q. 13. How may we further offend and sin against the second commandment?
A. 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, not endeavouring what in us lieth, in our places, the reformation of worship, according to the pattern in the word; also when we disuse and neglect, espcially when we contemn, and oppose any of those ordinances which God hath appointed to be the meansof worship. John ii. 17, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. Heb. x. 25, Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is. Matth. xxiii. 13, Wo unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men : for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 1 Thess. ii. 16, Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles, that they may be saved, filling up their sins alway. Acts xiii. 44, 45, 46, And the next Sabbath tlay came almost the whole city together, to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes they were filled with' envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you : but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.