Monday, December 3, 2012

"No Graven Images" A Sermon By Dr. Alan Cairns

Download and listen to "No Graven Images" (a sermon by Alan Cairns) here. Also, here is a my transcription of part of the sermon:
Rome's idolatry is in every hand. Her crucifixes are breaches of the Second Commandment. Her 'holy pictures' are breaches of the Second Commandment. Her images of saints and of Mary and, most blasphemous of all, even of the blessed Son of God Himself are breaches of the Second Commandment. Though She denies it, there is no escape.

But even Protestants are far from guiltless. What shall we say of all those crosses? Look around you. As long as I'm the minister here, you'll see no popish cross. Look around you coming up to this Easter time, and look at your Baptist churches, and your Presbyterian churches, and various other supposedly Protestant churches. The Good Friday they have a cross, with a black veil, and on Easter Sunday a cross with a white veil. What are these crosses? What are these 'holy pictures'? Of Jesus... of angels... Most ludicrous man! The Devil must be laughing! Most ludicrous when the mighty angels of God are painted as nude little babies, with dimpled cheeks and fat buttocks. An insult to God! What are these things? What are the manger scenes? Sheer rank, rampant idolatry.

Now, I'm a Puritan. I suppose if I had lived in ancient times I would have been an iconoclast. It's a big word for those who believed you go in and you destroy out of your churches all of the remnants of popish idolatry. I do believe that 'religious art' has the freedom to represent many scenes from Scripture. As I pointed out, this is not a prohibition of all sculpture, all painting, all art. It is no such prohibition. Were I an artist, I would see no grave, or indeed no real difficulty at all in my representing Moses leading the children of Israel, or Elijah on Mount Carmel, or some such thing. Though I think it would be better kept out of Church, given the propensity of man to turn anything artistic into more than it ever should be allowed to become. So then, let's grant, let's grant, that 'religious art' may represent many scenes from Biblical history.

Let me ask a question: Can a Christian look on any representation of His Lord, in His birth, in His death, in His resurrection, in His ascension, or in His return? Can he look at any representation of His Lord without reference to worship? Can a Christian think of Christ apart from all context of worship? Indeed, should a Christian ever be invited to think of Christ apart from any context of worship! And I would defy any man to take God's Word... And remember what I said about will-worship? Let's keep it in mind now. I would defy any man to take God's Word and find me the slightest evidence from Scripture that I am ever meant to contemplate Christ apart from worshiping Him! When God brought His Son into the world He said even to the angels 'Worship Him!' How could we do less? When you have a picture of Jesus Christ... And I don't care who the artist is or who the sculptor is... When you have a representation of Jesus Christ, you have an object, not only the statement of a man's opinion, but you have an object that is deliberately intended to bring your mind into the channels of worship. And, in this connection, God has said, no matter what the logic of man says, no matter what the value of the artwork may be, God says 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any image, male or female, in heaven, earth, or under earth.' Any image! No images, pictures, or icons, of any place in the public or private worship of the people of God.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Catharine Evans and Sarah Cheevers against idols

Once, on a first day of the week, the friars came, and commanded them to kneel down with them to prayer. They signified they could not pray but as they were moved by the Lord. Then the friars commanded them the second time, and kneeled down by their bed-side, and prayed after this manner; which being done they said to the women, 'We have tried your spirits; now we know what spirit ye are of.' But they told them they could not know that, unless their minds were turned to the light of Christ in their consciences. The English friar then growing angry, showed them his crucifix, and bade them look on it. But they told him the Lord saith, "Thou shalt not make to thyself the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth ; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them ; but I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." The friar seeing Sarah speak so boldly to him, called for the irons to chain her. She then bowed her head, and said to him, 'Not only my hands and feet, but my neck also for the testimony of Jesus.' The friar seeming appeased, said he would do them any good he could; for he saw what they did was not in malice. And the friars came often, and said to them, 'If ye would but do a little ye should be set at liberty; but you will do nothing at all, but are against every thing.' To which they returned, that they would do any thing that might tend to God's glory.
She [Catharine] then asking what kind of charity this was, since he kept her in prison; the friar said, it was for the good of their souls he kept them in prison; farther adding, 'If you had not been going to preach, ye might have gone where ye would.' She returned; 'Our souls are out of the inquisitor's reach. Why should your love extend more to us than to your own family: for they commit all manner of sin, which you cannot charge us with. Why do not ye put them into the inquisition, and bid them turn?' He then said, 'You have not the true faith;' and showing her his crucifix, asked her, if she thought he did worship that: and she asked him, what then did he with it: to which he answered, it was a representation. And she replied, it did not represent Christ, for he was the express image of his Father's glory, which is light and life. 'But,' continued she, 'if thou canst put any life in any of thy images, then bring them to me. What representation had Daniel in the lion's den, or Jonah in the whale's belly? They cried unto the Lord, and he delivered them.' The friar, who could not abide to hear her speak so much against idols, said she talked like a mad woman, adding, 'I will give you to the devil.' She not fearing this, said, 'Give thy own, I am the Lord's.' He then stood up, and said, 'I will do to you as the apostles did to Ananias and Sapphira.' She then standing up also, said, 'I deny thee in the name of the Lord the living God, thou hast no power over me.'
They [Catharine Evans and Sarah Cheevers] were assaulted both from abroad, and within doors from the friars, who fiercely threatened them for their bold testimony against idolatry. Once when they showed Sarah the Virgin Mary and her babe pictured against a wall, and would have her look upon it, she, to show her zeal against idol-worship, stamped with her foot, and said, 'Cursed are all images, and image makers, and those that fall down to worship them.'

—William Sewel, The history of the rise, increase, and progress of the Christian people, called Quakers [The whole story about Catharine Evans and Sarah Cheevers starts on p. 495]

"Jesus grew up. He is no longer in a manger. And He will not return to a manger."

Many people like the image of Baby Jesus the best.

From that perspective Jesus in a manger is safe. Jesus as a baby is harmless. He is simply a cuddly infant to gawk over. He will not arise from the manger and ask for our devotion or life. He is simply a cute baby.

But this is not the image of Jesus presented in the Gospels. Even when Jesus was a baby, the magi (wise men) did not come to play. They came to worship (Matt. 2:11). They did not come to gawk. They came to fall facedown before God.

Jesus grew up. He is no longer in a manger. And He will not return to a manger. He is God. He is not merely a cute baby we pick up and play with. He is to be worshiped and feared.

—Eric Geiger, Identity: Who You Are in Christ

Dr. Alan Cairns Rejects Every Portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ

Christians tend to be gullible. They are so used to Hollywood and the other major media forces openly attacking them that when someone comes along with a film that treats a religious subject sympathetically they jump on the bandwagon. Thus many Christians were delighted with the film The Nativity Story. I am not going to say very much on the fundamental problem of all such artistic efforts but I will repeat a point I have made before in these commentaries: I reject (and I believe that all Christians should reject) every portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ, whether as a baby or as a man, by any actor or artist. My reasoning is simple. Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh. This is the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity, as 1 Timothy 3:16 makes clear. Now the Bible is adamant that we are to make no physical representation of God. God Himself has banned it. Holy pictures, icons, statues, and images are outlawed by divine command. And the same goes for any stage portrayal of Christ. In fact this last could be the worst breach of God’s law on the matter of them all, for in it a depraved creature assumes that he can with some honesty and reality portray the actions and attitudes of the sinless Son of God. The thought of a drunken, swearing, licentious actor portraying the Holy One of Israel is terrible indeed. And yet many Christians condone it and flock to see their productions. Enough said.

Now to return to The Nativity Story. The part of the Virgin Mary is played by a 16 year-old up-and-coming Australian actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes. But producers ran into a problem. Castle-Hughes was pregnant out of wedlock as she played the part of the Virgin Mary. Evidently the father of her child is her boyfriend of three years (remember she is now only sixteen—perhaps police should be investigating him as a possible child molester). At once Hollywood’s spin doctors went to work. They were afraid that usually gullible Christians would be disgusted at the thought of a pregnant fornicator playing the part of the Virgin Mary and not go to see the movie. They were already counting their lost revenue. So they had to do something about it. Castle-Hughes was, according to them, to be admired because she put the life of her baby above her own blossoming career. She did not have an abortion. So while Christians may be disappointed in her pregnancy they should not be so judgmental as to boycott the movie.

Now let’s be clear. Castle-Hughes is to be commended for not going the abortion route. To add the murder of an unborn infant to her immorality would have made matters so much worse. And let it be clear that her sin is not the unpardonable sin. There is grace for her as there is for every sinner. The girl needs to be saved and the best thing Christians can do for her is to cry to God to have mercy on her. Christians cannot put the clock back for unwed mothers and therefore should extend to them the kindness and grace that the Lord has extended to them.

But can you imagine a bigger slap in the face to the memory of the Virgin Mary than to cast a pregnant teen to play her? Yet, many Christians were determined to be gullible or “not too judgmental.” Quite simply, they wanted to go to the movie. Sorry, Mary! This is, after all, what media critic Bernie Goldberg called “The United States of Entertainment” where Hollywood profits trump holy purity any day.

—Dr. Alan Cairns, Teen Fornicator Acts the Virgin Mary in The Nativity Story

Also see "No Graven Images" A Sermon By Dr. Alan Cairns

Sunday, August 26, 2012

“Christians in our own time and country who employ pictures and statuary to-day as helps to devotion have mutilated the ten commandments."

All around us are children who as they study the Sunday School lessons from the gospels, feel their tender hearts drawn out to love Jesus, to confide in him, to follow him though unseen. And for us all, however mature and instructed, it would assuredly be the best fruit of the historical spirit, the summit of true philosophy, the crown of all culture, to read afresh these gospel records with the simplicity of a little child, and learn to love and confide in Jesus.
—John Broadus

There are some things that look as if they were necessary, are very often recommended as helpful, and often employed as helps, that turn out to be dangerous and erroneous. Why can't we use pictures and statuary as helps to devotion? Why can't we employ them as proper means of making the thought of our Saviour near and dear to us? Well, in all the ages of the world, the heathen have tried this. An educated young Hindoo, some years ago, educated in England, wrote an essay in which he complained bitterly that the Hindoos were accused of worshipping images, and quoted Cowper's beautiful poem entitled, "My Mother's Picture":
“O, that those lips had language!
Years have passed since thee I saw." 
And he says, the picture of the poet's mother brought close and made real the thought of one long dead. That is the way, he said, that we use images. But that is not the way that the great mass of men use images in worship. They have often meant that at the outset; but how soon it degenerated and was degraded, and these things that were meant as helps to worship dragged down the aspirations of human hearts, instead of lifting them up! But, it seems to me, if I were to employ such helps in our time, persuading myself that they would be good, that I should feel it was wise to go back to the old ten commandments that we teach our children to repeat, and cut out the second commandment, that expressly forbids the use of graven images, because it necessarily leads to idolatry. I should cut that out. You can inquire, if you are curious to do so—and I say it in no unkindness—you can inquire whether those Christians in our own time and country who employ pictures and statuary to-day as helps to devotion have mutilated the ten commandments. They were obliged to leave out that which their little children would say was forbidding what they do. 
Aye, the world has tried that experiment widely and in every way, and it is found that though you might think that pictures and statuary would be helps to devotion, they turn out to be hurtful. They may help a few; they harm many. They may do a little good; they do much evil.
—John Broadus

The “new school" of Protestantism justifying idolatry

If the Almighty, in the most solemn display of His presence ever given to man-the descent on Sinai-has forbidden the making of an image, not only of Himself, but of anything in heaven or earth, for worship of any kind; if He has declared that such worship is equivalent to hating Him; and if He has ordered that no toleration of variety of opinion on the subject, or scepticism whatever, should be permitted to the Jew-the Jewish idolater being put to death as a heathen and a rebel-how can man suffer himself to conceive that this guilty, irreverent, and irrational practice is not equally forbidden to the Christian, or that its performance does not virtually exclude man from Christianity, as much as once it would have excluded him from Judaism? If the Ten Commandments are the universal law of duty to God and man, under what pretext can this direct insult to the Second Commandment be sustained? The pretext of images being merely for the purpose of reviving the idea of Deity, finds no allowance in the Decalogue. All images for worship of any kind are forbidden. The pretext that the Papist does not worship the wooden block before him, is answered at once by the sight of the worship. What are incense, genuflections, and bowings down to an image, but image-worship? If the Deity himself stood upon the altar, what more palpable worship could be offered to him? 
Yet, at this moment, in Protestant England and Wales, the number of Popish places for image-worship has grown, from 60 at the beginning of the century to no less than ten times the number-610! Even in Protestant Scotland, the number of chapels is already 98, besides 40 stations at which mass is performed-the actual number of Popish chapels in Great Britain being 708-to say nothing of Popish colleges, which in England are 10-of monasteries, which are 17-and of convents, which are 62; and under all those seven hundred roofs, men and women bow down to images! Is not this enough to make a Christian clergy explain with the prophet,-"Oh that mine eyes were fountains of tears"? 
The pretext of the "new school" of Protestantism, that since the Incarnation, images of Christ are justifiable, is answered by St Paul: "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now know we him no more;" his presence and his worship being altogether spiritual. He also pronounces image-worship "the worship of demons." But who ever made an image of Christ in his lifetime? or which of the apostles ever made an image of him after his death? Who ever heard of any Christian image before the fourth century, when the Church was palpably falling into corruption? Yet Protestant Britain has at this hour 708 chapels in which incense is offered to images. Protestantism abhors persecution; but has it not the weapons of Scripture, of reasoning, and of common sense, to beat down this dangerous and desperate abomination? Shall all be silence?—shall the clergy of both England and Scotland look on without a feeling of solemn responsibility for themselves, and of Christian terror for their fellow-men, thus rushing by tens of thousands to spiritual ruin?
William Blackwood, Blackwood's magazine, Volume 72

None like Christ, and none but Christ

The excellencies of Christ are hidden excellencies from the men of the world, and no eye can see them but the eye of faith; there must be a light shining in the heart to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, 2 Cor. 4:6. When faith is wrought, then a light is wrought to see the beauties of Christ, the beauty of his person, the beauty of his Offices, the beauty of his Love, of his Death, of his Righteousness, of his Holiness, of his Peace, &c. the veil is removed, and we do with open face as in a glass behold the glory of the Lord, 2 Cor. 3 &c. So that none like Christ, he is the Pearle of great price; and nothing like Christ, no love like his, no enjoyment like the enjoyment of him, &c.
In true Faith the whole heart or soul is carried out unto Christ: True believing is a believing with all the heart; the whole heart yields unto Jesus Christ, the understanding admires at the glory, and at the kindness, and goodness, and love of Christ; the judgement is filled with choicest thoughts, and highest estimations of Christ, None like Christ, and none but Christ; the will falls in with Christ freely, readily, fully; O Christ, thou art my chiefest good and blessedness; and Christ hath all the affections of desire, love, delight, and joy; these are taken up and filled with Christ, &c. Faith brings in all to Christ.
—Obadiah Sedgwick

A Matchless Esteem of Matchless Christ

"Esteem you not your idols more matchless than Christ, and more of worth than he? It is impossible that there can be any lively exercise of faith and not esteem Christ matchless."—Andrew Gray

"Think ye that these hands, that have been the instruments of so much mischief, and committed so much iniquity, shall ever infold that matchless Object who sits upon the throne? O! what will you do, when you get Christ first in your arms? I confess, I know not well, if the first day of your being in heaven, sirs, be the pleasantest day; I think not-even though you never saw your husband before, the longer ye be there, ye will love him the better. What shall I say there is in heaven? There is no outcast in heaven, between Christ and the saints; there is no desertion, no unbelief, no misconstruction of Christ, no debating of his wisdom; in a manner, when we go through the gates of the New Jerusalem, there is the grave of desertion, and the grave of jealousy, and the grave of our misbelief, and the grave of all our idols, and we shall never follow them any more."—Andrew Gray

"Hast thou a matchless esteem of matchless Christ, the Saviour of the world? That is a speaking evidence unto thee, that thou art a partaker of the great salvation."—Andrew Gray

“The most perfect beauty in the creatures, beneath or above, is blackness and deformity, in comparison with Christ"

Consider the glory and dignity of the person of Christ; he is the Son of God by nature, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, Heb. 1:3. "He is the Prince of the kings of the earth," Rev. 1:5. The most glorious monarch that ever swayed a sceptre over men, is but as a worm of the earth, or as a despicable insect in the air, compared with Solomon in his glory; the most perfect beauty in the creatures, beneath or above, is blackness and deformity, in comparison with Christ: The beauty of roses, lilies, sun, stars, angels, is not worthy to be mentioned in comparison with Christ: "Thou art fairer (faith his spouse) than the sons of men." None ever saw him savingly by the eye of faith, but were charmed into his bosom by love. The facial vision of Christ is the feast of blessed souls above. 
The king of glory makes suit for your hearts this day; he woos for your consent; he passed by apostate angels, not once making them a tender of reconciliation or union, but comes to you in his red garments, glorious in his apparel: he shed his invaluable blood to redeem you to God; he loved you, and gave himself for you: if there be a drop of love in your hearts, methinks the excellency of Christ should extract and engage it. Write that man a beast, a senseless stock, that hath no love for Christ.
—John Flavel

Saturday, July 21, 2012

“We have made Jesus a celluloid version of our own image."

American Jesus films also invite us to use our imagination, even a sanctified imagination, to add to the biblical text. This furthers the trajectory that began in the nineteenth century in which the biblical accounts failed to address contemporary readers’ and viewers’ needs, which in turn legitimized the action of adding to the text (see chap. 3). The additions tend to have a strongly emotional appeal, embedding one’s encounter with Christ in experience, an experience limited by one’s cultural horizons. The Jesus of Scripture comes from outside, not from within, our cultural horizons, standing above, over and even, at times, against those horizons as the Lord and Savior. 
The Jesus of American film, however, looks more like a homegrown action hero. At least that’s the conclusion of Stephenson Humphries-Brooks. He sees America’s fixation “to identify with, cast itself as, and become a hero in its own view” as underlying the development of Jesus as the action hero in this wave of Jesus films. Even Gibson’s The Passion speaks to ‘America’s preferred view of itself as a suffering hero.’ This leads Humphries-Brooks to pose the question, ‘Where is the real Jesus? For Hollywood he is no longer to be found in the gospel tradition.’ He continues with an explanation of why the Jesus of the Gospels no longer suffices, ‘We seem to desire a new kind of more heroic and more reassuring Savior,’ adding, ‘Hollywood certainly seems willing to create and to market him to us.’ In the turning from the Christ of Scripture to the cinematic savior, ‘we have lost those limits and questions posed by the individual Gospel portraits of Jesus that have from time to time ameliorated the tendency of all readers, the faithful and the not-so faithful, to see in him what they want to see.’ We have made Jesus a celluloid version of our own image. Maybe, at the end of the day, that is the true controversy of Jesus films.
—Stephen J. Nichols, Jesus Made In America, pp. 171-172

Monday, April 9, 2012


"Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips: therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever."—Psalm xlv. 2.
The subject of the forty-fifth Psalm is the King. "I speak," says the writer, "of the things which I have made touching the King." But what King? We are left to gather who He is from the substance of what is said regarding Him. And looking at the terms applied to Him, it is manifest that there is only one of whom they can properly be used. At the sixth verse the name of God is given to Him, and His throne is said to be "for ever and ever." No earthly king could be spoken of thus, so that we are bound to look up to heaven for the Person whose glory we are here called upon to celebrate. It is the King Messiah, the Lord our Redeemer, whom the Spirit of inspiration presents in this place to our view,—an interpretation the truth of which is placed beyond a doubt by what is said in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where this psalm is expressly quoted as descriptive of the Son of God, our Saviour.
Throughout the psalm He is represented under the figure of a Bridegroom, His Church being the Bride,—a figure under which He is set forth in other parts of Scripture. He is first praised for His matchless beauty and excellency. "Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips: therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever." It is here implied that there are none like Him upon the earth— none so fair; that the utterance of His lips especially shows Him to be full of grace; and that God has in consequence bestowed upon Him an everlasting blessing. This is He in whom all on earth have the deepest interest. This is He to whom all ought to be won and wedded in bonds that shall never be broken. This is He after whom all Christians are named. Shall we not delight, therefore, to contemplate the beauty of Him to whom we are so intimately and permanently bound? Earthly unions are but for a season; our union with Him is for ever. 
In what, then, does His beauty consist? Why is it said of Him, "Thou art fairer than the children of men"? We call those fair whose outward form and appearance please the bodily eye. There is an external grace which it is very gratifying to behold, not only in man, but also in the lower creatures, both animate and inanimate. The birds of the air and the beasts of the fields, the trees and flowers which deck the face of nature, are many of them so exquisitely formed as to fill us with admiration. But it is not this outward beauty which shines with so pre-eminent lustre in the King whose glory is celebrated in the psalm before us. When He was upon the earth in human likeness, there was nothing in His bodily appearance to distinguish Him from other men. There was no extraordinary attractiveness in His countenance or figure, so as to draw all eyes upon Him. Indeed those who expected to find any such remarkable beauty in Him when He appeared, were told beforehand that they should be disappointed. That same Spirit of inspiration who said of Him, "Thou art fairer than the children of men," said also by the prophet Isaiah, "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." In as far as regards mere outward comeliness, we are taught to believe that the ordinary share of it which He had was sadly marred by the influences to which, in this world, He was exposed. We know what a withering effect grief and pain have upon the aspect of those who are appointed to endure them; and He, above all men, was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Accordingly, we find Him thus depicted in the book of prophecy: "His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men." 
Yet our King is a Person of matchless beauty. "He is the chiefest among ten thousand: He is altogether lovely." But it is evident that we must look deeper for His beauty than the bodily eye can see. In vain do men make pictures of Him, and set up images to represent Him, with the view of thereby having their souls drawn out to love and to honour Him. It is not by the help of those means that His true worth can possibly be discerned. Such false expedients serve only to hide Him from us instead of helping us really to behold Him. Where, then, is His beauty to be seen? It is not far to seek. Open the inspired records of His life on earth, at any page, and read of Him. You cannot follow the sacred narrative with an intelligent mind and a believing heart, and not feel a growing admiration. You see in every paragraph enough to make you pause and wonder. And what is it which thus stands forth from the sacred page to arrest you? It is not a painting of His bodily form which is gradually filled in and perfected till your imagination holds Him, as it were, lifelike before its gaze. No; you may go through the Gospel records from beginning to end without having any idea of the aspect which He presented to those who beheld Him in the flesh. Yet those records are full of Him,—full of His beauty. It is His wondrous character which shines there with the brightness of the sun. 
If you admire wisdom, listen to His discourses, and you will be constrained to say, "Never man spake like this man." If you admire purity of conduct, observe Him closely from His birth to His death, and you will be constrained to say of Him what could be said of no other that ever lived on earth, "He was without sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." If you admire a life dedicated to a noble purpose, consider attentively the end for which He lived and died, and you will be constrained to say that every other life that was ever spent on earth, even the brightest and the noblest, fades into darkness when compared with His. "He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." If you admire condescension, behold the Lord of glory, whom the highest angels adored, taking upon Him the form of a servant, that He might do for us sinners a hard and painful work, which no inferior person could possibly have done, and without the accomplishment of which we must have perished for ever. If you admire love which is willing to give up all for the object it loves, contemplate the love of Christ, who, though possessed of all things in heaven and on earth, made Himself poor,—who, though honoured with divine honours, submitted to be despised and mocked,— who, though far removed above the reach of pain and woe, was pleased to endure the bitterest anguish and the accursed death of the cross, that He might redeem us, on whom His love was set, from guilt and misery, and might raise us to honour and glory for ever. 
It was not the splendour of His earthly dwelling-place that made Him attractive; for, that He might go about continually doing good, He had given up any fixed abode of His own, and could say with truth, "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head." It was not the imposing grandeur of His retinue which made Him appear great; for He was pleased to take as His constant companions and friends a few poor fishermen, and others in similar condition. It was not the array of His earthly honours that exalted Him; for the only robe of high rank which was ever placed upon His shoulders was one which was thrown around Him in mockery by His enemies, and the only crown ever set on His head was a crown of thorns. Yet who could command like Him? The voice of the mightiest monarch that ever sat upon a throne was feeble compared with His. By a word He made the dumb to speak, the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the lame to walk, the sick to rise from their beds, and the dead to come forth from their tombs. At His command the storm ceased and the raging waves were still. At His command the burden fell from many an afflicted body and from many a troubled spirit. He made the mourners sing for joy, and the broken in heart rejoice and be exceeding glad. 
There is an excellence here to which there is not only no equal among men, but which it far surpasses the power of man to express. And it was not a thing of a day. It lasts for ever. All earthly beauty is fading, but the beauty of Christ is unfading. All earthly glory is transitory, but the glory of Christ is eternal. 
He died, but rose again, and lives for evermore. What He was manifested to be when He appeared on earth in human form, He is now and shall continue to be throughout eternity. We can no more picture to ourselves the outward appearance which He presents, now that He is exalted to the heavens, than we can picture to ourselves the appearance which He presented when He trod this vale of tears. His mere external form, either in His humiliation or in His glory, has not been revealed, so that that is not what we are to contemplate—that is not what is intended to awaken our admiration. But His wonderful character, which we see depicted in the facts recorded regarding Him in the Holy Scriptures, is still the same. Throughout every age He is unceasingly acting in the manner there set forth. His presence with His people is no less certain now because it is unseen. "Lo, I am with you alway," He says. "Where two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." These are not words without meaning. They are not promises without substance. We do not require to go far to seek Him. We do not require to look away to some distant world to behold Him. He is really present with us every moment. He has told us so; and though our bodily eyes discern Him not, yet we believe His Word. We see him by faith. "Yet a little while," He said to His disciples, "and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me." And how did they see Him when He was withdrawn from the sight of the world? Not with their bodily eyes, but by faith. They perceived that He was still in reality with them, as He had been before. In the same sense He has been with His people ever since. And He has not ceased to do good. He is still the wise, the holy, the condescending, the loving, the mighty One. He still delights to bend His ear to the humblest of the children of men, to hearken to the cry of the destitute, to heal the broken-hearted, to counsel the erring, to comfort the mourners, to pardon the guilty, to cleanse the polluted, to save the lost. If there is a soul on earth at this moment that has true peace —peace that shall abide for ever,—and we may safely say that there are tens of thousands that are so blessed,—that blessing is the gift of the Lord Jesus, the purchase of His death. If there is a soul in the world at this hour that has a good hope of entering into heaven—and we may safely say that there are tens of thousands— that hope rests on Christ; for "there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." If there is one soul of those who have passed hence into eternity now in glory everlasting—and we may safely say that there is a multitude which no man can number—that glory is due entirely to Christ, without whose grace no sinner could ever have appeared in the bright mansions above. 
Who is there, then, that can be compared with Him? When we consider His wonderful character, when we look at what He has done, is now doing, and will yet do—when we hear His gracious words and witness His mighty acts—we cannot but feel that He is to be admired above all others; we are prepared to say to Him with all our hearts, "Thou art fairer than the children of men." 
And why is it that His matchless beauty has thus been set forth to us? Why is it that He has taken such pains to prove and to declare the surpassing greatness of the love He bears to us? Why is it that He has come to us, pressing on patiently and undauntedly along a hard and toilsome road—through sorrows and sufferings, through tears and blood? Why is it that He is now at the door of our hearts, pointing to all He has done for us, and pleading for acceptance? Why is it that this Person of matchless beauty is so condescending and so urgent with each of us, and so anxious that we should consider aright His claims and His worth? It is that He may win us to Himself, and make us partakers of His grace. He sees how miserable we are; and He would make us happy. He sees how poor we have made ourselves; and He would make us rich. He sees how hard the masters are to whom we have sold ourselves; and He would make us free. He sees how wretched our prospects are for eternity; and He would make them bright and glorious. He would not lose one of us; and He sees no good reason why any one of us should be lost. "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?" He says. "Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live." It would grieve Him if even a single soul among us were left behind to perish. Therefore He is so winning. Therefore He would engage us by the sight of His beauty to love and to follow Him. 
Such is the attitude which Christ has taken up with respect to each one of us—not now for the first time, but ever since He made known His name to us. From our very childhood He has sought to endear Himself to our hearts. Are we dutiful to Him? Are we returning His love? Is His Word our law? Is His honour dear to us? Is His presence our delight? Are His enemies our enemies? Are His friends our friends? Are His riches the riches we live for? Is His home the home in which we hope to dwell for ever? 
The cause of all our misery is, that we are not true to Him. We turn our backs upon Him. We forget Him. We despise His warnings, and give heed to the enticements of sin. Matchless as He is, how ready are we to dishonour Him! Perfect as He is in wisdom, how ready are we to act as if we were wiser than He! Rich beyond all comparison as are the rewards He promises to them that are faithful unto Him, how ready are we to wander from His footsteps after empty pleasures, which last but for a moment and then vanish for ever! How imperfectly is He appreciated by even the best of men on earth! How poor a return is made to Him for His amazing condescension and love! Common as it is to have His name and words upon their lips, how little are either the rulers of the world or the humblest of the people acting as if they really felt that the King of kings was knocking at their doors, and calling upon them to hear and to obey Him! No wonder that confusion, and trouble, and perplexity vex the nations from year to year and from age to age, as long as He whose right it is to reign over all is so little regarded—as long as His will is so little consulted, and His law, which is above all other laws, is so generally trampled under foot. But His ultimate prosperity is sure to be realised. The progress of His kingdom no power can finally prevent. Though the nations may long persist in casting Him off, and in conducting themselves as if they said in their hearts, "We will not have this man to reign over us," yet the day will come when it shall be declared that all the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of His Anointed. Though Jesus has long been despised and rejected of men, yet the time is drawing nigh when "all kings shall fall down before Him, and all nations shall serve Him."

—George S. Smith

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

“The same faith that takes hold of an unseen, risen Saviour, takes hold of every other truth in the gospel."—Richard Cecil

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
—John 20:29
But why specially blessed? Because the Holy Spirit hath wrought this faith in their hearts. They are blessed in having a believing heart; they are blessed in the instrument of their belief; blessed in having an evidence that they are passed from death unto life: "whom, having not seen, ye love." It is more blessed to believe than to see, because it puts more honor upon God's word. It is more blessed, because it presents us with a more invariable object. He that can trust an unseen Saviour may trust him in all circumstances: shut him up in a dungeon, separate from all sight and light, it matters not; for he has always a heart to believe unto righteousness, and his soul rests upon a rock that shall never be moved. The same faith that takes hold of an unseen, risen Saviour, takes hold of every other truth in the gospel.
—Richard Cecil

“The same faith that takes hold of an unseen, risen Saviour, takes hold of every other truth in the gospel."—Richard Cecil

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
—John 20:29
But why specially blessed? Because the Holy Spirit hath wrought this faith in their hearts. They are blessed in having a believing heart; they are blessed in the instrument of their belief; blessed in having an evidence that they are passed from death unto life: "whom, having not seen, ye love." It is more blessed to believe than to see, because it puts more honor upon God's word. It is more blessed, because it presents us with a more invariable object. He that can trust an unseen Saviour may trust him in all circumstances: shut him up in a dungeon, separate from all sight and light, it matters not; for he has always a heart to believe unto righteousness, and his soul rests upon a rock that shall never be moved. The same faith that takes hold of an unseen, risen Saviour, takes hold of every other truth in the gospel.
—Richard Cecil

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Images of God are Idols

Idols.—Idol, in Greek, signifies a resemblance or representation, and differs not from image in Latin; both at first taken in a good sense, but the corruption of times hath bred a corruption of words, and idol is now only taken for the image of a false god. Every idol is an image, but every image is not an idol; but every image made and used for religious purposes is an idol. The images of God are idols, wherewith Popery abounds. An old man, sitting in a chair, with a triple crown on his head, and pontifical robes on his back, a dove hanging at his beard, and a crucifix in his arms, is their image of the Trinity. This picture sometime serves them for a god in their churches, and sometime for a sign at their taphouses; so that it is a common saying in many of their cities, ' Such a gentleman lies at the Trinity, and his servants at God's Head.' This they seem to do as if they would in some sort requite their Maker: because God made man according to his image, therefore they, by way of recompense, will make God according to man's image. But this certainly they durst not do, without putting the second commandment out of their catechisms, and the whole decalogue out of their consciences. 
I intend no polemical discourse of this point, by examining their arguments: that business is fitter for the school than the pulpit. And, O God ! that either school or pulpit in Christendom should be troubled about it!—that any man should dare to make that a question which the Lord hath so plainly and punctually forbidden! Beside the iniquity, how grievous is the absurdity! How is a body without a spirit like to a spirit without a body? a visible picture like an invisible nature? How would the king take it in scorn to have his picture made like a weasel or a hedge-hog! and yet the difference betwixt the greatest monarch and the least emmet is nothing to the distance betwixt a finite and an infinite. If they allege, with the Anthropomorphites, that the Scripture attributes to God hands and feet and eyes, why therefore may they not represent him in the same forma? But we say, the Scripture also speaks of his covering us with the shadow of his wings; why therefore do they not paint him like a bird with feathers? If they say that he appeared to Daniel in this form, because he is there called the 'Ancient of days;' we answer, that God's commandments, and not his apparitions, be rules to us: by the former we shall be judged, and not by the latter. It is mad religion to neglect what he bids us do, and to imitate what he hath done: as if we should despise his laws, and go about to counterfeit his thunder. God is too infinite for the comprehension of our souls, why should we then labour to bring him into the narrow compass of boards and stones? Certainly, that should not be imaged which cannot be imagined. But Christ was a man, why may not his image be made? Some answer, that no man can make an image of Christ without leaving out the chief part of him, which is his divinity. It was the Godhead united to the manhood that makes him Christ: sure this cannot be painted. But why should we make Christ's image without Christ's warrant? The Lord hath forbidden the making of any image, whether of things in heaven, where Christ is, or of things on earth, where Christ was, to worship them. Now, till God revoke that precept, what can authorise this practice?
The images of the saints, employed to such religious purposes, make them no less than idolaters. It is a silly shift to say, the honour done to the images reflects upon the represented saints. When they clothe an image, is the saint ever the gayer or warmer? When they offer to an image, is the saint ever the richer? When they kneel to an image, the saint esteems himself no more worshipped than the king holds himself honoured when a man speaks to his picture before his face. Therefore some of them are driven to confess plainly, that the image is worshipped for itself. But could the saints in heaven be heard speak upon earth, they would disclaim that honour which is prejudicial to their Maker. As Calvin is not afraid to say of the blessed Virgin, that she would hold it less despite done to her, if they should pull her by the hair of the head, or trample her in the dirt, than to set her in rivality with her Son, and God, and Saviour. But they tell us that they worship not the images of false gods, as did the pagans, but only the images of God's own servants and choice friends. But will the jealous God endure this, that his honour be taken from him upon condition it be not bestowed upon his enemies, but upon his friends? Idolatry is called adultery in the Scriptures; and shall a woman quit herself from offence because, though she do commit adultery, yet it is with none but her husband's friends? Is this done in a good meaning, or in love to Christ? It is but a bad excuse of a wife to say that she exceedingly loves her husband, therefore must have some other man to kiss and embrace in his absence, and all this in love to her husband. 
We are all by nature prone to idolatry : when we were little children, we loved babies; and being grown men, we are apt to love images. And as babies be children's idols, so idols and images be men's babies. It seems that idols are fittest for babes, therefore so the Apostle fits his caution: 'Babes, keep yourselves from idols,' 1 John v. 21. As all our knowledge comes by sense, so we naturally desire a sensible object of devotion; finding it easier to see pictures than to comprehend doctrines, and to form prayers to the images of men, than to form man to the image of God.
Nor can they excuse themselves from idolatry by saying they put their confidence in God, not in the images of God. For when the Israelites had made their golden calf, and danced about it,—one calf about another,—they were not such beasts as to think that beast their God. But so can superstition besot the mind that it makes us not men, before it can make us idolaters. What do they say? 'Make us gods, that shall go before us,' Exod. xxxii. 1. Every word is wicked, absurd, senseless. They had seen the power of God in many miraculous deliverances before their eyes; the voice of God had scarce yet done thundering in their ears: he had said, 'I am Jehovah, thou shalt have no other gods;' and this they, trembling, heard him speak out of the midst of the flames, and yet they dare speak of 'another god.' The singular number would not serve them : make us 'gods.' How many gods would they have? Is there any more than one? 'Make' us gods; and were not they strange gods that could be made? Instead of acknowledging God their Maker, they command the making of gods. This charge they put upon Aaron, as if he were able to make a god. Aaron might help to spoil a man, either himself or them, but he could not make a man, not one hair of a man, much less a god; and yet they say to him, 'Make us gods.' And what should these gods do? 'Go before us.' Alas! how should they go that were not able to stand? how go before others that could not move themselves? Oh the blockishness of men, that make blocks to worship! Otherwise, how could they that are the images of God fall down before the images of creatures? 'For health, they call upon that which is weak; for life, they pray to that which is dead; and a prosperous journey they beg of that which cannot set a foot forward,' Wisd. yiii. 18. 
Yet, as their sin was bad enough, let not our uncharitableness make it worse. Let us not think them so unreasonable as to think that calf a god; or that the idol which they made to-day did bring them out of Egypt three months before. It was the true God they meant to worship in the calf; and yet, at the best, even that idolatry was damnable. So charity bids us hope of the Papists that they do not take that board or stone for their god; yet withal we find that God doth take them for idolaters. They tell us, with a new distinction, that they forbid the people to give divine worship to images; but we say, they had better forbid the people to have images. A block lies in the highway, and a watchman is set by it to warn the passengers: 'Take heed, here is a block.' But how if the watchman fall asleep? Whether is the safer course, quite to remove the block out of the way, or to trust the passengers' safety upon the watchman's vigilance? As for their watchmen, commonly they are as very images as the images themselves; and how should one block remove another? When Jeroboam had set up his two idols in Israel, he rakes up his priests out of the common kennel; the basest of the people were good enough for such a bastard devotion : wooden priests were fit enough to wait upon golden deities. So when Micah had made him a costly idol, he hires him a beggarly Levite. No otherwise did the painter excuse himself for drawing the images of Peter and Paul too ruddy and highcoloured in the face, that howsoever they were while they lived, pale with fasting and preaching, yet now they must heeds become red with blushing at the errors and ignorance of their successors; for such with a loud noise they give themselves out to be. 
To conclude; if it were as easy to convince idolaters as it is to confound and tread down their idols, this labour of confutation had been well spared, or were soon ended. But if nothing can reclaim them from this superstitious practice, let them read their fearful sentence: Their place shall be 'without, among the dogs,' Rev. xxii 18, and those desperate sinners uncapable of forgiveness. 'The strong,' the idol which they made their strength, 'shall be as tow, and the maker,' or worshipper, 'thereof as a spark, and they shall both burn together' in everlasting fire, 'and none shall quench them,' Isa. i. 31. Now the Lord open their eyes to see, and sanctify their hearts to yield, that 'there is no agreement betwixt the temple of God and idols;' which is the next point whereof I shall speak, with what brevity I can, and with what fidelity I ought.
No agreement.—There be some points which the wrangling passions of men have left further asunder than they found them, about which there needed not have been such a noise. But things that are in their own natures contrary, and opposed by the ordinance of God, can never be reconciled. An enemy may bo made a friend, but enmity can never be made friendship. The air that is now light may become dark, but light can never become darkness. Contraries in the abstract are out of all composition. The sick body may be recovered to health, but health can never be sickness. The sinner may be made righteous, but sin can never become righteousness. Fire and water, peace and war, love and hatred, truth and falsehood, faith and infidelity, religion and idolatry, can never be made friends; there can be ' no agreement betwixt the temple of God and idols.' 
God is ens entium, all in all; an 'idol is nothing in the world,' saith the Apostle. Now all and nothing are most contrary. Idolatry quite takes away faith, a fundamental part of Christian religion; for an idol is a thing visible, but 'faith is of things invisible,' Heb. xi. 1. The idol is a false evidence of things seen, faith is a true evidence of things not seen. Besides, God can defend himself, save his friends, plague his enemies; but idols nec hostes abscindere possunt quasi dii, nec se abscondere quasi homines,* [*Hierom.]—they can neither revenge themselves on provokers, like gods; nor hide themselves from injurers, like men. 
The foolish Philistines thought that the same house could hold both the ark and Dagon, 1 Sam. v. 3; as if an insensible statue were a fit companion for the living God. In the morning they come to thank Dagon for the victory, and to fall down before him before whom they thought the God of Israel was fallen; and lo, now they find the keeper flat on his face before the prisoner. Had they formerly of their own accord, with awful reverence, laid him in this posture of a humble prostration, yet God would not have brooked the indignity of such an entertainment. But seeing they durst set up their idol cheek by cheek with their Maker, let them go read their folly in the temple floor, and confess that he which did cast their god so low, could cast them lower. Such a shame doth the Lord owe all them which will be making matches betwixt him and Belial. Yet they consider not, How should this god raise us, who is not able to stand or rise himself? Strange they must confess it, that whereas Dagon was wont to stand, and themselves to fall down; now Dagon was fallen down, and themselves stood, and must help up with their own god. Yea, their god seems to worship them on his face, and to crave that succour from them which he was never able to give them. Yet in his place they set him again; and now lift up those hands to him which helped to lift him up, and prostrate those faces to him before whom he lay prostrate. So can idolatry turn men into the stocks and stones which they worship:' They that make them are like unto them.' But will the Lord put it up thus? No, the next fall shall burst it to pieces; that they may sensibly perceive how God scorns a competitor, and that there is no agreement betwixt him and idols. Now, what is the difference betwixt the Philistines and Papists? The Philistines would set God in the temple of idols; the Papists would set idols in the temple of God. Both agree in this, that they would make God and idols agree together. But Manasseh found to his cost that an idol might not be endured in the house of God, 2 Chron. xxxiii. 7. 
How vain, then, are the endeavours to reconcile our church with that of Rome, when God hath interposed this bar, there is no agreement betwixt him and idols! Either they must receive the temple without idols, or we must admit idols with the temple, or this composition cannot be. There is a contention betwixt Spain and the Netherlanders concerning the right of that country; but should not the inhabitants well fortify the coasts, the raging sea would soon determine the controversy, and by force of her waves take it from them both. There is a contestation betwixt us and the pontificians, which is the true church; but should not we, in meantime, carefully defend the faith of Christ against idols, superstition would quickly decide the business, and take the possession of truth from us both. A proud and perverse stomach keeps them from yielding to us, God and his holy word forbids our yielding to them; they will have idols or no temple, we will have the temple and no idols: now till the agreement be made betwixt the temple and idols, no atonement can be hoped betwixt us and them. 
'I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing,' Gal. v. 2. He that would not endure a little leaven in the lump, what would he have said of a little poison? If Moses joined with Christ, the ceremonial law with the gospel, were so offensive to him, how would he have brooked Christ and Belial, light and darkness, righteousness and unrighteousness, the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils, the table of the Lord and the table of devils, the temple of God and idols? In the tuning of an instrument, those strings that be right we meddle not with, but set the rest higher or lower, so as they make a proportion and harmony with the former. The same God, who, of his gracious mercy, hath put us in the right and unjarring harmony of truth, bring them home in true consent to us, but never suffer us to fall back unto them! Hitherto the contention between us hath not been for circumstance, but substance; not for the bounds, but for the whole inheritance: whether God or man, grace or nature, the blood of Christ or the milk of Mary, the written canon or unwritten tradition, God's ordinance in establishing kings, or the Pope's usurpation in deposing them, shall take place in our consciences, and be the rule of our faiths and lives. 
We have but one foundation, the infallible word of God ; they have a new foundation, the voice of their church, which they equalise in presumption of certainty with the other. We have but one head, that is Christ; they have gotten a new head, and dare not but believe him, whatsoever Christ says. Sponsus ecclesia nostrae Christus,—Christ is our husband; they have a new husband. While Rome was a holy church, she had a holy husband; but now, as Christ said to the woman of Samaria, 'He whom thou now hast is not thine husband,' John iv. 18: so he whom the Romanists have now got is an adulterer, he is no husband. So that here is foundation against foundation, head against head, husband against adulterer, doctrine against doctrine, faith against unbelief, religion against superstition, the temple of God against idols; and all these so diametrally opposed, that the two poles shall sooner meet than these be reconciled. Michael and the dragon cannot agree in one heaven, nor the ark and Dagon in one house, nor Jacob and Esau in one womb, nor John and Cerinthus in one bath, nor the clean and the leprous in one camp, nor truth and falsehood in one mouth, nor the Lord and Mammon in one heart, nor religion and superstition in one kingdom, nor God and idols in one temple. The silly old hermit was sorry that God and the devil should be at such odds, and he would undertake to make them friends; but the devil bade him even spare his labour, for they two were everlastingly fallen out. No less vain a business doth that man attempt that would work an agreement betwixt the temple of God and idols. 
I take leave of this point with a caution. Fly the places of infection, come not within the smoke of idols, lest it smother the zeal of God's temple in your hearts. Revolting Israel calls for gods; but why should this god of theirs be fashioned like a calf? What may be the reason of this shape? Whence had they the original of such an idol? Most likely in Egypt; they had seen a black calf with white spots worshipped there This image still ran in then- minds, and stole their hearts, and now they long to have it set up before their eyes. Egypt will not out of their fancies : when they wanted meat, they thought of the Egyptian flesh-pots; now they want Moses, they think of the Egyptian idols. They brought gold out of Egypt; that very gold was contagious: the very ear-rings and jewels of Egypt are fit to make idols. The Egyptian burdens made them run to the true God, the Egyptian examples led them to a false god. What mean our wanderers by running to Rome, and such superstitious places, unless they were weary of the church of God, and would fetch home idols? If it were granted that there is some little truth among them, yet who is so simple as to seek his corn among a great heap of chaff, and that far off, who may have it at home, winnowed and cleansed to his hand? 
The very sight of evil is dangerous, and they be rare eyes that do not convey this poison to our hearts. I have heard of some, that even by labouring in the Spanish galleys, have come home the slaves of their superstitions. Egypt was always an unlucky place for Israel, as Rome is for England. The people sojourned there, and they brought home one calf; Jeroboam sojourned there, Judg. xvii., and he brought home two calves; an old woman (in all likelihood) had sojourned there, and she brought home a great many. The Romish idols have not the shape of calves, they have the sense and meaning of those calves; and to fill the temple full of calves, what is it but to make religion guilty of bulls?* [* Nonsense.] 
Consider it well, ye that make no scruple of superstitious assemblies: it will be hard for you to dwell in a temple of idols untainted. Not to sin the sins of the place we live in, is as strange as for pure liquor tunned up in a musty vessel not to smell of the cask. Egypt will teach even a Joseph to swear: a Peter will learn to curse in the high priest's hall. If we be not scorched with the fire of bad company, we shall be sure to be blacked with the smoke. The soundest body that is may be infected with a contagious air. Indeed a man may travel through Ethiopia unchanged, but he cannot dwell there without a complexion discoloured. How hath the common practice of others brought men to the devilish fashion of swearing, or to the brutish habit of drinking, by their own confessions! Superstition, if it have once got a secret liking of the heart, like the plague, will hang in the very clothes, and after long concealment, break forth in an unlooked-for infection. The Israelites, after all their airing in the wilderness, will still smell of Egypt. We read God saying, 'Out of Egypt have I called my Son,' Matt ii. 15. That God did call his Son out of Egypt, it is no wonder: the wonder is that he did call him into Egypt. It is true, that Egypt could not hurt Christ; the king doth not follow the court, the court waits upon the king: wheresoever Christ was, there was the church. But be our Israelites so sure of their sons, when they send them into Egypt, or any superstitious places? It was their presumption to send them in; let it be their repentance to call them out. 
The familiar society of orthodox Christians with misbelievers hath by God ever been most strictly forbidden; and the nearer this conjunction, the more dangerous and displeasing to the forbidder. No man, can choose a worse friend than one whom God holds his enemy. When religion and superstition meet in one bed, they commonly produce a mongrel generation. If David marry Maacah, their issue proves an Absalom, 2 Sam. iii. 3. If Solomon love idolatrous women, here is enough to overthrow him with all his wisdom. Other strange women only tempt to lust, these to misreligion; and by joining his heart to theirs, he shall disjoin it from God. One religion matching with another not seldom breed an atheist, one of no religion at all. I do not say this is a sufficient cause of divorce after it is done, but of restraint before it is done. They may be 'one flesh,' though they be not 'one spirit.' The difference of religion or virtue makes no divorce here; the great Judge's sentence shall do that hereafter. And the believing husband is never the further from heaven, though he cannot bring his unbelieving wife along with him. The better shall not carry up the worse to heaven, nor the worse pull down the better to hell. Quod fieri non debuit, factum valet. But now, is there uo tree in the garden but the forbidden? None for me to love but one that hates the truth? Yes, let us say to them in plain fidelity, as the sons of Jacob did to the Shechemites in dissembling policy, 'We cannot give our sister to a man that is uncircumcised,' Gen. xxxiv. 14: either consent you to us in the truth of our religion, or we will not consent to you in the league of our communion. 
St. Chrysostom calls this a plain denial of Christ. He that eateth of the meat offered to idols gustu neyavit Christum,—hath denied Christ with his tasting. If he but handle those things with delight, tactu negavit Christum, —he hath denied Christ with his touching. Though he touch not, taste not, yet if he stand to look upon the idolatry with patience, visu negavit Christum,—he hath denied Christ with his eyes. If he listen to those execrable charms, auditu negavit Christum,—he hath denied Christ with his ears. Omitting all these, if he do but smell to the incense with pleasure, odoratu negavit Christum,—he hath denied Christ with his smelling. It is said of the Israelites, Commisti sunt inter yentes,—' They were mingled among the heathen,' Ps. cvi. 35. What followed? Presently 'they learned their works.' The reason why the raven returned not to Noah's ark is given by some, because it met with a dead carcase by the way. Why do we pray, 'Deliver us from evil,' but that we imply (besides all other mischiefs) there is an infectious power in it to make us evil? Let us do that we pray, and pray that we may do it. Yea, Lord, free us from Egypt, estrange us from Rome, separate us from idols, deliver us from evil; 'for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.'
Thomas Adams, a selection from his sermon THE TEMPLE.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Charles Spurgeon on Revelation 1:17

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
—Revelation 1:17-18

John writes, "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead." 
The beloved disciple was favored with an unusual vision of his glorified Lord. In the blaze of that revelation even his eagle eye was dimmed and his holy soul was overwhelmed. He was overpowered, but not with ecstacy. At first sight it would have seemed certain that excess of delight would have been John's most prominent feeling; it would appear certain that to see his long lost Master, whom he had so dearly loved, would have caused a rush of joy to John's soul, and that if overpowered at all, it would have been with ecstatic bliss. That it was not so is clear from the fact that our Lord said to him, "Fear not." Fear was far more in the ascendant than holy joy. I will not say that John was unhappy, but, certainly, it was not delight which prostrated him at the Savior's feet; and I gather from this that if we, in our present embodied state, were favored with an unveiled vision of Christ, it would not make a heaven for us; we may think it would, but we know not what spirit we are of. Such new wine, if put into these old bottles, would cause them to burst. Not heaven but deadly faintness would be the result of the beatific vision, if granted to these earthly eyes. We should not say, if we could behold the King in his beauty as we now are, "I gazed upon him, and my heart leaped for joy," but like John we should have to confess, "When I saw him I fell at his feet as dead." There is a time for everything, and this period of our sojourn in flesh and blood is not the season for seeing the Redeemer face to face: that vision will be ours when we are fully prepared for it. We are as yet too feeble to bear the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. I do not say but what we are so prepared by his grace that, if now he took us away from this body, we should be able to bear the splendor of his face; but, I do say, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and that when, as an exception to the rule, a mortal man is permitted to behold his Lord, his flesh and blood are made to feel the sentence of death within themselves, and to fall as if slain by the revelation of the Lord. We ought, therefore, to thank God that "he holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it." That face which shines as the sun in its strength, manifests its love by wearing as yet a concealing veil. Be grateful, that while you are to be here to serve him, and to do his will in suffering for him, he does not deprive you of your power to serve or suffer, by overwhelming you with excessive revelations. It is an instance of the glory of God's grace that he conceals his majesty from his people, and wraps clouds and darkness round about him; this he does not to deny his saints a bliss which they might covet, but to preserve them from an unseasonable joy, which, as yet, they are not capable of bearing. We shall see him as he is, when we shall be like him, but not till then. That for a while we may be able to perform the duties of this mortal life, and not lie perpetually stretched like dead men at his feet, he doth not manifest himself to us in the clear light which shone upon the seer of Patmos.

I beg you to notice with care this beloved disciple in his fainting fit, and note first, the occasion of it. He says, "I saw him." This it was that made him faint with fear. "I saw HIM." He had seen him on earth, but not in his full glory as the first begotten from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. When our Savior dwelt among men, in order to their redemption, he made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant; for this reason he restrained the flashings of his Deity, and the godhead shone through the manhood with occasional and softened rays. But now, Jesus was resplendent as the ancient of days, girt with a golden girdle, with a countenance outshining the sun in its strength, and this even the best beloved apostle could not endure. He could gaze with dauntless eye upon the throne of jasper and the rainbow of emerald, he could view with rapture the sea of glass like unto crystal, and the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, but the vision of the Lord himself was too much for him. He who quailed not when the doors of both heaven and hell were opened to him in vision, yet fell lifeless when he saw the Lord. None either in earth or heaven can compare with Jesus in glory. Oh for the day when we shall gaze upon his glory and partake in it. Such is his sacred will concerning us. "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." To bear that sight we shall need to be purified and strengthened. God himself must enlarge and strengthen our faculties, for as yet, like the disciples upon labor, we should be bewildered by the brightness.

Here was the occasion of his faintness. But what was the reason why a sight of Christ so overcame Him? I take it we have the reason in the text, it was partly fear. But, why fear? Was not John beloved of the Lord Jesus? Did he not also know the Savior's love to him? Yes, but for all that, he was afraid, or else the Master would not have said to him, "Fear not." That fear originated partly in a sense of his own weakness and insignificance in the presence of the divine strength and greatness. How shall an insect live in the furnace of the sun? How can mortal eye behold unquenched the light of Deity, or mortal ear hear that voice which is as many waters? We are such infirmity, folly and nothingness, that, if we have but a glimpse of omnipotence, awe and reverence prostrate us to the earth. Daniel tells us that when he saw the great vision by the river Hiddekel, there remained no strength in him, for his comeliness was turned in on him into corruption, and he fell into a deep sleep upon his face. John, also, at that time, perhaps, perceived more impressively than ever the purity and immaculate boldness of Christ: and, being conscious of his own imperfection, he felt like Isaiah when he cried "Woe is me, I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the Lord of Hosts." Even his faith, though fixed upon the Lord, our righteousness, was not able to bear him up under the first surprising view of uncreated holiness. Methinks his feelings severe like those of the patriarch of Uz, when he says, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." The most spiritual and sanctified minds, when they fully perceive the majesty and holiness of God, are so greatly conscious of the great disproportion between themselves and the Lord, that they are humbled and filled with holy awe, and even with dread and alarm. The reverence which is commendable is pushed by the infirmity of our nature into a fear which is excessive, and that which is good in itself is made deadly unto us; so prone are we to err on the one side or the other.

There is no doubt, too, that a part of the fear which caused John to swoon arose from a partial ignorance or forgetfulness of his Lord. Shall we charge this upon one who wrote one of the gospels, and three choice epistles? Yes, it was doubtless so, because the Master went on to instruct and teach him in order to remove his fear. He needed fresh knowledge or old truths brought home with renewed power, in order to cure his dread. As soon as he knew his Lord he recovered his strength. The wonderful person who then stood before him bade him know that he was the first and the last, the ever living and Almighty Lord. The knowledge of Jesus is the best remedy for fears: when we are better acquainted with our Lord we part company with half our doubts—these bats and owls cannot bear the sun. Jesus in his person, work, offices, and relations, is a mine of consolation; every truth which is connected with him is an argument against fear: when our heart shall be filled with perfect love to him fear will be cast out, as Satan was cast down from heaven. Study then your Lord. Make it your life's object to know him. Seek the Holy Spirit's illumination, and the choice privilege of fellowship, and your despondency and distress will vanish as night birds fly to hide themselves when the day breaketh. It is folly to walk in sorrow when we might constantly rejoice. We do not read that John was any more afraid after the Lord had discoursed lovingly upon his own glorious person and character. That divine enlightenment which was given to his mind, purged from it any secret mistake and misjudgment which had created excessive fear.

But, while we thus notice the occasion and the reasons, we must not forget the extent to which John was overpowered. He says, "I fell at his feet as dead;" He does not say in a partial swoon, or overcome with amazement: he uses a very strong description, "I fell at his feet as dead." He was not dead, but he was "as dead;" that is to say, he could see no more, the blaze of Jesus' face had blinded him; he could hear no more, the voice like the sound of many waters had stunned his ear; no bodily faculty retained its power. His soul, too, had lost consciousness under the pressure put upon it; he was unable to think much less to act. He was stripped not only of self-glory and strength, but almost of life itself. This is by no means a desirable natural condition, but it is much to be coveted spiritually. It is an infinite blessing to us to be utterly emptied, stripped, spoiled, and slain before the Lord. Our strength is our weakness, our life is our death, and when both are entirely gone, we begin to be strong and in very deed to live. To lie at Jesus' feet is a right experience; to lie there as sick and wounded is better, but to lie there as dead is best of all; a man is taught in the mysteries of the kingdom, who comes to that. Moses with dim legal light needs to be told to put off his shoe from off his foot in the presence of the Lord of Hosts, but John is manifestly far in advance of him, because he lies lower, and is like a dead man before the Infinite Majesty. How blessed a death is death in Christ! How divine a thing is life in him. If I might see Christ at this moment upon the terms of instant death, I would joyfully accept the offer, the bliss would far exceed the penalty. But as for the death of all within us, that is of the flesh and of fallen nature, it is beyond measure desirable, and if for nothing else; my soul would pant more and more to see Jesus. May that two-edged sword which cometh out of his mouth smite all my besetting sins; may the brightness of his countenance scorch and burn up in me the very roots of evil: may he mount his white horse and ride through my soul conquering, and to conquer, casting out of me all that is of the old dragon and his inventions, and bringing every thought into subjection to himself. There would I lie at his dear conquering feet, slain by his mighty grace.

Only one other reflection while we look at this fainting apostle, observe well the place where he was overpowered. Oh, lovely thought. "I fell as dead;" but where? "I fell at his feet as dead." It matters not what aileth us if we lie at Jesus' feet. Better be dead there than alive anywhere else. He is ever gentle and tender, never breaking the bruised reed or quenching the smoking flax. In proportion as he perceives that our weakness is manifest to us, in that degree will he display his tenderness. He carrieth the lambs in his bosom, and doth gently lead those that are with young; feebleness wins on him. When he sees a dear disciple prostrate at his feet, he is ready at once to touch him with the hand of his familiar love, and to revive him by his own strength. "He restoreth my soul." "He giveth power unto the faint." He saith unto our pitiful weakness, "Fear not, I am the first and the last." To be as dead were not desirable, but to be as dead at Jesus' feet is safe and profitable. Well doth our poet say, when expressing his desire to escape from all worldly bonds. 
"But oh, for this, no strength have I,
My strength is at his feet to lie."
—Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Continual Remembrance of Christ

Christians ought to have a continual remembrance of Christ; but what way shall we obtain it? Why, set up images and pictures of him in every corner of the house and chapel, that is to bring Christ to remembrance; that way carnal men take for this purpose. But the way believers have to bring Christ to remembrance is by the Spirit of Christ working through the word. We have no image of Christ but the word; and the Spirit represents Christ to us thereby, wherein he is evidently crucified before our eyes.
—John Owen

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thomas Scott on the Second Commandment

The second commandment. Verse 4. This commandment requires us to render to the Lord our God a worship and service, suited to his perfections, and honorable to his name. His incomprehensible nature cannot be represented by any similitude.—The most exquisite painting or sculpture can only give an external resemblance of a man: even animal life, with its several functions, cannot be thus exhibited, much less can a likeness be made of the soul and its operations. How dishonorable then must be every attempt to represent the infinite God, 'by silver or gold, graven by art and man's device!' The general disposition of mankind to form image's of the Deity, proves that low apprehensions of Him are congenial to our fallen nature; and the practice has exceedingly increased the grossness of men's conceptions concerning Him. The more stupid of the heathen alone worshipped the picture or image itself; others used it as a visible representation of the invisible Numen, or Deity: and all that ingenious papists have urged, in behalf of their images, is equally applicable to Israel's worship of the golden calves, or to that rendered by the Ephesians to 'the image of Diana which fell down from Jupiter.'—A material image of the Deity is likewise an affront to the Person of Christ, the only adequate 'Image of the invisible God:' and the worship of saints and angels, as mediators and present deities, by images, in every respect robs Him of his mediatorial glory.—The commandment does not prohibit the making of images and pictures, for other purposes, as some have ignorantly supposed: for God commanded several of these to be made even in the construction of the tabernacle: but the making of them, in order to men's bowing down before them, and worshipping them; and, in this case, both the maker and the worshipper of the image are involved In the guilt. The prohibition Includes every kind of creature, because all are utterly unfit to represent the infinite Creator: and there are some devices common among us, as emblematic of the Trinity, which do not accord to the strictness of this injunction.—But the spiritual import of the commandment reaches much further. Superstition of every kind is an evident violation of its spirit and intent: and so are all human appointments in religious worship, when at all relied on as acceptable with God. The use of things indifferent in religion, without command from God, leads men's minds to gross conceptions of Him; as if He delighted in that outward splendor, or those external forms, which excite in them lively but false affections, that are often mistaken for devotion: and it is commonly connected with a false dependence; it substitutes something else in the place of the appointments of God, and it tends to the usurpation of authority over men's consciences.—But, many circumstances of worship must be regulated by human discretion: every man therefore should judge for himself, which regulations lend to these evils, and which do not; and be candid in judging such as differ from him.— Hypocrisy and formality, arising from unworthy apprehensions of God, together with all unscriptural delineations of the divine character, are certainly here prohibited: for men, forsaking the light of revelation, and 'not liking to retain God in their knowledge,' frame notions of a deity according to their own opinions of excellence, warped by their predominant vicious inclinations , and then dignify this creature of their fancy with the title of the Supreme Being. But this object of their love and worship, is altogether unlike 'the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;' especially in respect of justice and holiness, being in general deemed so clement that He cannot hate or punish sin.—The Jews of old supposed they worshipped the God of their fathers, yet they were declared by our Lord neither to have known nor loved Him; nay, in 'hating the Son, to have hated the Father that sent Him:' and it will at lust be proved in this case also, that the worshippers of these ideal deities were as real idolaters, as they who adored the work of their own hands. In short, the second commandment requites us to conceive of God, in all respects, as far as we are able, according to the revelation which He has made of Himself to us: to realize his glorious presence to our minds, by faith, not by fancy: and to worship Him as a Spirit 'in spirit and truth;' not with corporeal representations of Him before our eyes, or low conceptions of Him in our minds; but sincerely, inwardly, with the most fervent affections, and profound reverence of his infinite majesty; in all his appointed ordinances, and in them alone; and with constancy and frequency, as performing a service reasonable in itself, and most pleasant to our own souls, as well as most honorable to his great name.
Thomas Scott (1747-1821)

Monday, January 9, 2012

William Fenner on the Second Commandment

Q. 66. What art thou commanded in the second Commandment? 
A. Not to serve God with will-worship, though it seem never so wise and humble, and mortifying, Colos. 2, 23. To abhor all gross thoughts of God, Acts 17.19. as that he is such a one, as mens selves do think him to be, Psal. 50. 21. Not to make any Image, Deut. 5. 8. unless God should reveal a new Commandment, as once he did for Cherubims in the sanctuary, Exod. 25. 18. and the brazen Serpent in the wilderness, Numb. 21, 8. or unless it be in a civil use, Math. 22. 10. To abhor images of Idolaters, either to worship God before them, 2 Chron. 25.14. or in them, as the Jews did God in Baal, Hos. 2. 16. or to be put in mind of God by them, vers. 17. or being at Mass or communion of Service with them, 1 Cor. 10, 21. or housing them, 2 Joh. 10. or bidding them God speed ver. 11. or learning any of their devises or customs of them, Deut. 12, 30. or familiar reading their Books, Acts 19, 19. Unless it be to confute them by their own writers, Acts 17, 28. and to upbraid carnal Professors with their strictness in their kinds, Rom. 2. 14, 15, 16, 17, &c. 
Q. 67. What else art thou commanded in the Second Commandment? 
A. Not to lean to mine own knowledge, Prov. 3, 5. nor to serve God by the precepts of Men, Isa. 29, 13. nor as men bid me, Mark 7, 6. Nor according to the Traditions and customs of the lives of our Fore-fathers, 1 Pet. 1, 18. I am commanded to do, not only in matter what, but also in manner, as the Lord commandeth, Gen. 6, 22. For otherwise my prayers and services that I do unto God, and all my sacrifices and oblations are no better then murder, or a Dog's neck, or Swines blood, or Idolatry; so indeed it is, if I serve him after my own ways, Isa. 66, 3. not only sticks and stones are Idols, Levit. 26, 1. but carnal fancies, imaginations, dulness, deadness, luke-warmness; for there be idols in the heart, Ezek. 14. 3, 4. Covetousness is Idolatry, Col. 3. 5. Stubbronness is as idolatry, 1 Sam. 15, 23. A careless Christian is an Idol, there is an idol Professor, an idol Christian, an idol Shepherd Zach. 11, 17.
—William Fenner (1600–1640)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An Idol is accounted God

An Idol is accounted God, who is the highest and infinitely the most perfect being, when as in truth, it hath no being at all, or is as the Apostle speaketh nothing in the world.
—Joseph Caryl

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thomas Shepard: Labor for more of such a Christ as the word holds forth

Some seek for more of Christ, but it is of an idol Christ, not as manifesting himself in and by a word. For look as any act of obedience is an act,of will-worship and imagery, that we have not a particular demand for, or is not directly deducted from rule in the word; so that act of faith is an act of will-worship, which sees and chooses Christ as his own, when he has not a particular promise for it; it is an imagination of Christ, not Christ; and you have more of your own imagination, not more of the Lord Jesus. 1 Pet. i. 25. Monks had sublime contemplations of God. Luther calls them such as looked upon a Deus et Christibus absolutus, not beholding the beams of his love and glory in the word. O, therefore, labor for more of such a Christ as the word holds forth. 
Thomas Shepard