THE SECOND COMMANDMENT.
Thou shalt make thee no image, or any similitude of things in heaven above, in earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not worship nor honour them: for I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, punishing the iniquity of the fathers in the children that hate me, in the third and fourth generation.
IN the first commandment we learned that God is the only and sole God, and that we should not think nor feign any other besides him. Further, that commandment expresseth, what this our one God is, and how affectionated or minded towards us, full of mercy, and ready always to succour and aid both soul and body in all affliction: sheweth us further, how we should honour and reverence this our almighty and merciful God: so that the end and whole sum of the first commandment is, that only God would be known of his people to be God and honoured as God. So doth God first instruct the mind and soul of man, before he require any outward work or external reverence; or else all together were hypocrisy, whatsoever shew or perfection it seemeth to have in the eye of the world. He layeth therefore the first commandment as a foundation of all true religion, as the original and spring of all virtue, and openeth the well and fountain of all mischief and abomination in these words: "Thou shalt have no strange gods before my face." This second precept, and the two other that follow in the first table, teacheth us how to honour God in external religion or outward works, and to shew the fear, faith, and love, that we bear unto God in our hearts unto the world.
Two of these last commandments sheweth what we should do; and the third, which I now expound, what we should not do. The purpose, end, and will of this second commandment is, that God's pleasure is unto us, that we should not profane or dishonour the true religion or honour of God with superstitious ceremonies or rites, not commanded by him. Wherefore, by this second commandment he calleth man from all gross and carnal opinions or judgments of God, the which the foolish and ignorant prudence and wit of man conceiveth, where as it judgeth without the scripture; and forbiddeth external idolatry, as in the first internal.
This commandment hath three parts. The first taketh from us all liberty and licence, that we in no case represent or manifest the God invisible and incomprehensible with any figure or image; or represent him unto our senses, that cannot be comprehended by the wit of man nor angel.
The second part forbiddeth to honour any image.
The third part sheweth us, that it is no need to represent God unto us by any image.
Moses, Deut. iv. giveth a reason of the first part, why no image should be made: "Remember," saith he to the people, "that the Lord spake to thee in the vale of Oreb. Thou heardest a voice, but sawest no manner similitude, but only a voice heardest thou." Esay, cap. 40, 41, 45, 46. diligently sheweth what an absurdity and undecent thing it is, to profane the majesty of God incomprehensible with a little block or stone; a spirit with an image. The same doth Paul, Acts xvii. The text therefore forbiddeth all manners of images, that are made to express or represent Almighty God.
The second part forbiddeth to honour any image made.
The first word, "honour," signifieth to bow head, leg, knee, or any part of the body unto them, as all those do that say they may with good conscience be suffered in the church of Christ. To serve them is to do somewhat for their sakes, as to cense them with incense, to gild, to run on pilgrimage to them, to kneel or pray before them, to be more affectionate to one than to the other, to set lights before them, with such-like supersition and idolatry. God be praised! I may be short or write nothing at all in this matter, because such as I write unto, my countrymen, be persuaded already aright in this commandment.
The second part sheweth us, how idolatry proceedeth and taketh place in men's conscience. The mind of man, when it is not illuminated with the Spirit of God, nor governed by the scripture, it imagineth and feigneth God to be like unto the imagination and conceit of his mind, and not as the scripture teacheth. When this vanity or fond imagination is conceived in the mind, there followeth a further success of the ill. He purposeth to express by some figure or image God in the same form and similitude that his imagination hath first printed in his mind; so that the mind conceiveth the idol, and afterward the hand worketh and representeth the same unto the senses.
Therefore God first forbiddeth this inward and spiritual idolatry of the mind, when he saith, "Thou shalt have no strange gods before my face." If the mind be corrupted, and not persuaded aright, then followeth the making of images, and after the honouring of them. The cause therefore of external idolatry is internal and inward ignorance of God and his word, as Lactantius writeth in his book of the Original of Error. As it cannot be otherwise, but where as the air is corrupted, there must follow pestilence and infection of the blood, Galen. Lib. I. De Diff. feb. cap. 5.; so where the mind is not purely persuaded of God, must follow this gross and sensible idolatry, that would honour God in an idol.
The original cause why they are made, is that man thinketh God would not be present to help him, except he be presented someways unto their carnal eyes; as the example of the Israelites declareth, that required Aaron to make them gods that might lead them in their journey. They knew right well that there was but one God, whom they knew by the miracles that he wrought among them; but they thought he would not be present and at hand with them, except they might see him in some corporal figure and image, and that the image might be a testimony of his presence. So see we, that no man falleth into this gross idolatry, but such as be first infected with a false opinion of God and his word; then, say they, they worship not the image, but the thing represented by the image. Against whom writeth Sain Augustine, in Psalm cxviii. and cxiii., in the 4th book of the City of God, cap. 5, that "images take away fear from men, and bring them into error. The ancient Romans more religiously," saith he, "honoured their gods without images."
Seeing there is no commandment in any of the both testaments to have images, but, as ye see, the contrary; and likewise the universal catholic and holy church never used images, as the writings of the apostles and prophets testify: it is but an ethnick verity and gentiles' idolatry to say God and his saints be honoured in them, when that all histories testify, that in manner for the space of five hundred years after Christ's ascension, when the doctrine of the gospel was most sincerely preached, was no image used. Would to God the church were now as purely and well instructed, as it was before these avaricious ministers and dumb doctors of the lay people were made preachers in the church of God! Read Augustine, Epist. xlix. et Psal. cxiii. Therefore Saint John biddeth us not only beware of honouring of images, but of the images' selves.
Thou shalt find the original of images in no part of God's word, but in the writings of the gentiles and infidels, or in such that more followed their own opinion and superstitious imaginations than the authority of God's word. Herodotus Lib. II. saith, that "the Egyptians were the first that made images to represent their gods." And as the gentiles fashioned their gods with what figures they listed so doth the Christians. To declare God to be strong, they made him the form of a lion; to be vigilant and diligent, the form of a dog; and, as Herodotus saith, Lib. II., Mendesii formed their god Pana with a goat's face and goat's legs, and thought they ddi their god great honour, because among them the herdmen of goats were had in most estimation.
So doth those, that would be accounted Christians, paint God and his saints with such pictures as they imagine in their fantasies: God, like an old man with a hoary head, as though his youth were past, which hath neither beginning nor ending; Saint George, with a long spear upon a jolly hackney, that gave the dragon his death-wound, as the painters say, in the throat; Saint White, with as many round cheeses as may be painted about his tabernacle. No difference at all between a christian man and gentile in this idolatry, saving only the name. For they thought not their images to be God, but supposed that their gods would be honoured that ways, as the Christians doth.
I write these things rather in a contempt and hatred of this abominable idolatry, than to learn any Englishman the truth. For my belief and hope is, that every man in England knoweth praying to saints and kneeling before images is idolatry, and instruments of the devil to lead men from the commandments of God; and that they are appointed in many places to be as doctors to teach the people: these doctors and doctrine the bishops and pastors shall bewail before the judgment-seat of God at the hour of death; and likewise the princes of the world, whose office is daily to read and learn the scripture, that they themselves might be able to judge the bishops' doctrine, and also see them apply the vocation they are called unto. It is not only a shame and an undecent thing for a prince to be ignorant, what curates his subjects hath through all his realm; but also a thing so contrary unto the word of God, that nothing provoketh more the ire of God against him and his realm, than such a contempt of God's commandment.
The third part declareth, that it is no need to shew God unto us by images, and proveth the same wit hthree reasons. First, "I am the Lord thy God," that loveth thee, helpeth thee, defendeth thee, is present with thee: believe and love me, so shalt thou have no need to seek me and my favourable presence in any image.
The second reason, "I am a jealous God," and cannot suffer thee to love any thing but in me and for me. When we two were married and knit together, for the love that I bore unto thee I gave thee certain rules and precepts, how in all things thou mayst keep my love and good-will towards thee; and thou promisedst me obedience unto my commandments. Exod. xix. So honour me and love me, as it standeth written in the writings and indentures written between us both. I cannot suffer to be otherwise honoured than I have taught in my tables and testament.
The their reason is, that God revengeth the profanation of his divine majesty, if it be transcribed to any creature or image; and that not only in him that committeth the idolatry, but also in his posterity in the third and fourth generation, if they follow their father's idolatry; as I "give mercy into the thousandth generation," when the children follow their father's virtue. Then to avoid the ire of God, and to obtain his favour, we must use no images to honour him withal. This ye may read, Num. xii. Jer. xxxii. and Esa. xxxix., how king Hezekiah's sons lost their father's kingdom, and were carried into captivity for their father's sin. Read the xiii. xiv. and xvth chapters of Deuteronomy, and see how Moses interpretateth this second commandment more at large.
God's laws expulseth and putteth images out of the church, Exod. xx. Deut. v.: then no man's laws should bring them in. As for their doctrine they teach the unlearned, it is a weak reason to stablish them withal. A man may learn more of a live ape than of a dead image, if both should be brought into the school to teach.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Pictures of Christ and the Second Commandment
John Murray (1898-1975)
The question of the propriety of pictorial representations of the Saviour is one that merits examination. It must be granted that the worship of Christ is central in our holy faith, and the thought of the Saviour must in every instance be accompanied with that reverence which belongs to his worship. We cannot think of him without the apprehension of the majesty that is his. If we do not entertain the sense of his majesty, then we are guilty of impiety and we dishonor him.
It will also be granted that the only purpose that could properly be served by a pictorial representation is that it would convey to us some thought or lesson representing him, consonant with truth and promotive of worship. Hence the question is inescapable: is a pictorial representation a legitimate way of conveying truth regarding him and of contributing to the worship which this truth should evoke?
We are all aware of the influence exerted on the mind and heart by pictures. Pictures are powerful media of communication. How suggestive they are for good or for evil and all the more so when accompanied by the comment of the spoken or written word! It is futile, therefore, to deny the influence exerted upon mind and heart by a picture of Christ. And if such is legitimate, the influence exerted should be one constraining to worship and adoration. To claim any lower aim as that served by a picture of the Saviour would be contradiction of the place which he must occupy in thought, affection, and honour.
The plea for the propriety of pictures of Christ is based on the fact that he was truly man, that he had a human body, that he was visible in his human nature to the physical senses, and that a picture assists us to take in the stupendous reality of his incarnation, in a word, that he was made in the likeness of men and was found in fashion as a man.
Our Lord had a true body. He could have been photographed. A portrait could have been made of him and, if a good portrait, it would have reproduced his likeness.
Without doubt the disciples in the days of his flesh had a vivid mental image of Jesus' appearance and they could not but have retained that recollection to the end of their days. They could never have entertained the thought of him as he had sojourned with them without something of that mental image and they could not have entertained it without adoration and worship. The very features which they remembered would have been part and parcel of their conception of him and reminiscent of what he had been to them in his humiliation and in the glory of his resurrection appearance. Much more might be said regarding the significance for the disciples of Jesus' physical features.
Jesus is also glorified in the body and that body is visible. It will also become visible to us at his glorious appearing "he will be seen the second time without sin by those who look for him unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28).
What then are we to say of pictures of Christ? First of all, it must be said that we have no data whatsoever on the basis of which to make a pictorial representation; we have no descriptions of his physical features which would enable even the most accomplished artist to make an approximate portrait. In view of the profound influence exerted by a picture, especially on the minds of young people, we should perceive the peril involved in a portrayal for which there is no warrant, a portrayal which is the creation of pure imagination. It may help to point up the folly to ask: what would be the reaction of a disciple, who had actually seen the Lord in the days of his flesh, to a portrait which would be the work of imagination on the part of one who had never seen the Saviour? We can readily detect what his recoil would be.
No impression we have of Jesus should be created without the proper revelatory data, and every impression, every thought, should evoke worship. Hence, since we possess no revelatory data for a picture or portrait in the proper sense of the term, we are precluded from making one or using any that have been made.
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.
Thirdly, the second commandment forbids bowing down to an image or likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. A picture of the Saviour purports to be a representation or likeness of him who is now in heaven or, at least, of him when he sojourned upon the earth. It is plainly forbidden, therefore, to bow down in worship before such a representation or likeness. This exposes the iniquity involved in the practice of exhibiting pictorial representations of the Saviour in places of worship. When we worship before a picture of our Lord, whether it be in the form of a mural, or on canvas, or in stained glass, we are doing what the second commandment expressly forbids. This is rendered all the more apparent when we bear in mind that the only reason why a picture of him should be exhibited in a place is the supposition that it contributes to the worship of him who is our Lord. The practice only demonstrates how insensitive we readily become to the commandments of God and to the inroads of idolatry. May the Churches of Christ be awake to the deceptive expedients by which the archenemy ever seeks to corrupt the worship of the Saviour.
In summary, what is at stake in this question is the unique place which Jesus Christ as the God-man occupies in our faith and worship and the unique place which the Scripture occupies as the only revelation, the only medium of communication, respecting him whom we worship as Lord and Saviour. The incarnate Word and the written Word are correlative. We dare not use other media of impression or of sentiment but those of his institution and prescription. Every thought and impression of him should evoke worship. We worship him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God. To use a likeness of Christ as an aid to worship is forbidden by the second commandment as much in his case as in that of the Father and Spirit.
Reprinted from the Reformed Herald, February, 1961.