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.