From The Christian Daily Companion, presenting an entire View of Divine Truth, in a Series of Meditations for every Morning and Evening throughout the year. By Thirty-one Clergymen of the Church of Scotland:
'Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire,) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image,' Deut. iv. 15, 16.
Here Jehovah urges his own conduct as a dissuasive to all idolatry and image worship. When God gave the law on mount Horeb, the people heard the voice of words, but they saw no similitude, no manner of similitude. Indeed what representation can God give of himself, or of any spiritual intelligence to creatures encompassed with sense? How is it possible that what is purely spiritual, and therefore not visible by the eye of sense, can be represented by any thing that is sensible? 'No man hath seen God at any time: he dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen or can see. To whom then can ye liken God, or what likeness will ye compare unto him?' Although Moses was favoured with a fuller revelation of God's will, and held more intimate communion with him than any other man or prophet, still it was spiritual communications that he enjoyed; and when this eminent servant of the Lord, longing for closer access to Deity, more bright and engaging displays of the divine perfections, and a stronger pledge of divine favour, earnestly said, 'I beseech thee, show me thy glory,' what did Jehovah say? 'Thou canst not see my face, for there shall no man see me and live.' No where, but as reflected in his works, or revealed in his word, can we, in this world, see the glory of God. To see him as he is, is reserved for the beatific vision in the world of spirits.
Although the people of Israel were solemnly warned never to forget the awful solemnities they witnessed on mount Sinai, to take heed lest they should allow to depart from their hearts the things which they had seen all the days of their life, yet we find that with equal solemnity, and in words nearly similar, they are warned and interdicted against fashioning any graven image, or the similitude of any thing whatever, such as the carnal fancy might suggest, through the medium, or by the aid of which they might offer homage to the great Majesty of heaven and earth. 'Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image.'
It is often urged in vindication of this practice by those who countenance the monstrous absurdities of the church of Rome, that these images are not worshipped, but that the ceremonies and representations in use are employed as helps, that they are fitted to make divine worship more intelligible and pleasing to the young, more impressive to the common people, and more attractive to all. Under this impression they have acted; and thus, as has been stated by an eloquent writer, do they foolishly imagine that the more pomp they can lavish on the rites of worship the more is their devotion to God manifested; and by engaging the outward senses the homage of the heart is gained. But what is the meaning of such language and conduct? Why, it is just this, that the great God hast not been sufficiently explicit and full in revealing his will to his creatures, in declaring how he is to be worshipped; that man is to utter what God has left untold, and to eke out what is defective in the divine communications. In every thing relative to divine worship, God alone must dictate; we are not left to our own views of expediency in subjects of this nature, and we call upon any one to examine carefully the multiplied and varied declarations of the Almighty here and elsewhere, and to say what verdict he can bring in regard to the usages and worship of the popish church, but that it is guilty of the grossest idolatry. No one can reconcile their practices with the plain and unambiguous language of the word of God. The words of the Eternal are peculiarly solemn and emphatic, 'Take good heed lest ye corrupt yourselves.'
Could a greater insult be offered to God, or more daring impiety be manifested by man, than when the Israelites fashioned the golden calf, prostrated themselves before it, sacrificed unto it, and said, 'These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt?' Yet not more daring, not more profane was the conduct of Israel then, or in her times of grossest idolatry, than is that of our modern Christian idolaters. It is not merely a setting aside the positive, the unalterable command of God, but it is an extinction of that light that the Almighty Creator has kindled in the bosom of those whom he formed after his own image. How grievously have they corrupted and defiled themselves; they have changed the glory of God into an image made like unto corruptible man. No wonder that ignorance, and profligacy, and vice prevail to such a degree in those countries that are purely popish; no wonder that vital godliness has decayed, and that morality is at the lowest ebb. They have dishonoured their God and Redeemer, they have corrupted themselves. 'O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united!'
In meditating on the words of this text, to use the words of a late writer, 'let us guard against every corruption and neglect in God's worship; against yielding to the spirit of the world, the influence of fancy, the power of superstition in religion. Let us guard against a blind veneration for what is old, a childish fondness for what is splendid, a restless pursuit of what is new. Let us continue steadfast in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Let us stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel. Let us take heed to the things which we have heard, and beware lest our minds should be drawn away, or corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.'
Ever let us distrust our own vain reasonings, and our gross imaginations in regard to the divine nature and worship. By faith and prayer let us draw our knowledge from revelation alone. And in our acts of worship let us ever draw near through Christ, and trust in his blood, and derive from his fulness the wisdom, the grace, and the strength that are needful.
'The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God,' Deut. vii. 25.
How very jealous is God of his own honour and glory, and especially in what regards the worship he demands of his creatures. In reading the books of Moses and the prophets, one cannot fail to notice how the sin of idolatry is singled out, forbidden, denounced, threatened, and punished. It is compared to spiritual adultery, by which the marriage covenant is violated, and that love and faith which unite parties is extinguished and broken. One would almost say from what is recorded respecting it, that it is the sin of sins, a sin above all others, and the sin which above all others God abhors.
Israel had lived amongst idolaters in Egypt, and they were soon to be brought into contact with idolaters in Canaan. Their passion for idolatry had been already felt and manifested, and therefore it was to be feared that when they entered Canaan, unless they exercised the strictest vigilance over their own hearts, they might be induced to follow the abominable practices of that idolatrous country. The Lord, therefore, in mercy cautions them and charges them. They were to be the executioners of the divine vengeance against the inhabitants of that land, because of their gross wickedness, and they are peremptorily commanded, not merely to destroy the people of Canaan, but to destroy their graven images-to abhor and put away from them the precious metals of which they were fashioned, and not to allow the smallest vestige of idolatry to be admitted into their dwellings, lest they should be contaminated thereby.
The images of the heathen deities were made of the most costly and valuable materials-nothing was reckoned too precious for their adornment; and the temples of modern idolatry are adorned in the same manner. The whole aim of popery, the whole tendency of its worship, is to fascinate the outward man, to please the eye, and to gratify the ear. It endeavours to strike the senses, it appeals to the imagination in every possible way; but alas! alas! all that is spiritual, godly, and sanctifying is neglected. When and where does it appeal to and let in light to the understanding? When and how does it captivate and purify the heart? 'The church of the Escurial,' says an eloquent writer, 'is one mass of marble, gold, and precious stones, relieved by admirable pictures, and rendered holy by the presence of some four or five hundred vases, containing relics of every possible saint or saintly object. The rapacity of the French disturbed the identity of these fancied treasures, for while they carried off many of the golden vases, they scattered their unlabelled contents in confusion on the ground, to the great perplexity of the blinded devotees. How long will men worship the offal of the charnel house?'
Can there be life and spirituality in that church, which, in defiance of God's word, in contempt of all that God can promise or threaten, pretends to worship a pure and holy Being by such abominations? Can there be vitality in that church, which in its worship degrades the ever blessed Redeemer, the Emmanuel, God with us, by ranking him in his mediatorial character and advocateship with the very creatures of his own power; yea, in the court of heaven advancing the influence of saints above that of the Lord Jesus Christ?
While God has most unequivocally prohibited, and by his denunciations testified his displeasure against idolatry in every form, he has also most signally punished it. Israel was taught what a bitter thing it was, in the judgments, which, by their own hands, were executed on the Canaanites. Themselves, though the covenant people of God, suffered most grievously on account of this sin, and the heaviest visitations of Heaven that overtook them were for their idolatry. And God will not allow this sin to remain, this engine of Satan to be employed for ever in any church, or in any quarter of the globe-the curse of God rests upon it, and the blight of heaven shall fall upon it. What measures God in his providence may take for its subversion-when or how it shall be finally overthrown, he alone to whom all time is alike, knows; but overthrown it shall be, uprooted it shall be. 'The Lord shall consume it with the Spirit of his mouth, he shall destroy it with the brightness of his coming.' In surveying the hideous mass of heathen idolatry, and popish superstition that overspreads such a vast portion of the globe, the heart may well sicken, and in anguish of spirit we may bewail the fearful desolation, but there is no room for despair. God shall send forth the rod of his strength out of Zion, the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and the triumphant shout shall be raised, 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen.' Yes, every stronghold of Satan shall be overthrown-the idolatry of benighted Gentile nations, the impositions of the false prophet in the East, and the corruptions of the man of sin in the West, shall all be subverted and fall before the light of truth. Aye, the churches of the Reformation, many of which retain still some of the rubbish of popery, and all of which retain less or more of the rust of corruption that adheres to every institution that is human, shall be purged. It may be by a fiery trial, it may be by severe judgments, by the fan in the Almighty's hand, for Zion has invariably been redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness; but it shall be accomplished, and they shall be stripped of the garment spotted by the flesh. Oh that our own church, the church of our fathers, which has much to bewail on account of past unfruitfulness, barrenness, and apostasy, may in God's good time be delivered from all her difficulties, purified from all her defilement, and be rendered more eminently instrumental in advancing the Redeemer's kingdom and plucking brands from the burning.
In meditating on these words, let us regard them as a warning against spiritual idolatry, against every thing that would displace the Almighty from the throne of our affections. An image for worship we are not likely to fashion; before an image, however costly, we are not likely to fall prostrate: but is it not possible to transfer our affections from the Creator to the creature; may we not be ambitious to 'lay up silver as the dust, to make gold our hope, and to say to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence.' Covetousness is idolatry-and that man who is the slave of this world, who is fired with the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eye, and makes the world his portion, is as much an object of aversion to the pure mind of Jehovah-is as far from the kingdom of heaven as is the vilest idolater: the blind deluded worshipper of a false God.