Monday, 28 September 2009

Don't make images (in any size, colour, shape or medium) for use in your worship of God

A sermon on the 2nd Commandment by Thomas Watson [part 1]
(I have tried to edit it so as to be a bit more readable ... though I have left the 'old' language in)

In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in this (second commandment), worshipping the true God in a false manner.

'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.'
This forbids not making an image for civil use (cf. Matt 22: 20, 2I) but the commandment forbids setting up an image for religious use or worship.

'Nor the likeness of any thing,' &c.
All ideas, portraitures, shapes, images of God, whether by effigies or pictures, are here forbidden.

'Thou shalt not bow down to them.'
The intent of making images and pictures is to worship them.

To set up an image to represent God, is debasing him. If any one should make images of snakes or spiders, saying he did it to represent his prince, would not the prince take it in disdain? What greater disparagement to the infinite God than to represent him by that which is finite; the living God, by that which is without life; and the Maker of all by a thing which is made?

[1] To make a true image of God is impossible. God is a spiritual essence and, being a Spirit, he is invisible.(John 4: 24, Deut 4: 15). How can any paint the Deity? Can they make an image of that which they never saw?
[2] To worship God by an image, is both absurd and unlawful.

  1. It is absurd and irrational
    Is it not an absurd thing to bow down to the king's picture, when the king himself is present? It is more so to bow down to an image of God, when God himself is everywhere present.

  2. It is unlawful
    Image-worship is expressly against the letter of Scripture. 'Ye shall make no graven image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone to bow down unto it.' Lev 26: 1. 'Neither shalt thou set up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth.' Deut 16: 22. 'Confounded be all they that serve graven images.' Psa 97: 7. Do we think to please God by doing that which is contrary to his mind, and that which he has expressly forbidden?

[3] Image worship is against the practice of the saints of old.
Josiah, that renowned king, destroyed the groves and images. 2 Kings 23: 6, 24. Constantine abrogated the images set up in temples.

1st Application of this:
The Church of Rome is reproved and condemned, which, from the Alpha of its religion to the Omega, is wholly idolatrous. Romanists make images of God the Father, painting him in their church windows as an old man; and an image of Christ on the crucifix; and, because it is against the letter of this commandment, they sacrilegiously blot it out of their catechism, and divide the tenth commandment into two.
(1) Where has God bidden them worship him by an effigy or image? 'Who has required this at your hands?' Isa 1: 12.
(2) The heathen bring the same argument for their gross idolatry, as the Papists do for their image-worship. What heathen has been so simple as to think gold or silver, or the figure of an ox or elephant, was God? These were emblems and hieroglyphics only to represent him. They worshipped an invisible God by such visible things. To worship God by an image, God takes as done to the image itself.

  • But, say the Papists, images are laymen's books, and they are good to put them in mind of God.
  • 'What profiteth the graven image, the molten image, and a teacher of lies.' Hab 2: 18.
    Is an image a layman's book? Then see what lessons this book teaches. It teaches lies; it represents God in a visible shape, who is invisible. For Papists to say they make use of an image to put them in mind of God, is as if a woman should say she keeps company with another man to put her in mind of her husband.

  • But did not Moses make the image of a brazen serpent? Why, then, may not images be set tip?
  • That was done by God's special command. 'Make thee a brazen serpent.' Numb 21: 8.

  • But is not God represented as having hands, and eyes, and ears? Why nay we not, then, make an image to represent him, and help our devotion?
  • Though God is pleased to stoop to our weak capacities, and set himself out in Scripture by eyes, to signify his omniscience, and hands to signify his power, yet it is absurd, from such metaphors and figurative expressions, to bring an argument for images and pictures; for, by that rule, God may be pictured by the sun and the element of fire, and by a rock; for he is set forth by these metaphors in Scripture; and, sure, the Papists themselves would not like to have such images made of God.

  • If it be not lawful to make the image of God the Father, yet may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of man?
  • No! It is Christ's Godhead, united to his manhood, that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be but half Christ - we separate what God has joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing which makes him to be Christ.

But how shall we conceive of God aright, if we may not make any image or resemblance of him?

We must conceive of God spiritually.
(1) In his attributes - his holiness, justice, goodness - which are the beams by which his divine nature shines forth.
(2) We must conceive of him as he is in Christ. Christ is the 'Image of the invisible God' as in the wax we see the print of the seal. Col 1: 15. Set the eyes of your faith on Christ-God-man. 'He that has seen me, has seen the Father.' John 14: 9.

2nd Application of this:
Our nature is prone to this sin as dry wood to take fire. It concerns us, therefore, to resist this sin. Where the tide is apt to run with greater force, there we had need to make the banks higher and stronger. The plague of idolatry is very infectious. This is my advice to you, to avoid all occasions of this sin:
(1) Come not into the company of idolatrous Papists.
(2) Go not into their chapels to see their crucifixes, or hear mass. As looking on a harlot draws to adultery, so looking on the popish gilded picture may draw to idolatry.
(3) Dare not join in marriage with image-worshippers. Mingle wine and vinegar, the vinegar will sooner sour the wine, than the wine will sweeten the vinegar.
(4) Avoid superstition. Superstition is bringing any ceremony, fancy, or innovation into God's worship, which he never appointed. It is provoking God, because it reflects much upon his honour, as if he were not wise enough to appoint the manner of his own worship.

3rd Application of this:
So that you may be preserved from idolatry and image-worship:
(1) Get good principles, that you may be able to oppose the gainsayer. Whence does the popish religion get ground? Not from the goodness of their cause, but from the ignorance of their people. (2) Get love to God. The wife that loves her husband is safe from the adulterer; and the soul that loves Christ is safe from the idolater.
(3) Pray that God will keep you. Pray, 'Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.' Psa 119: 117. Lord, let me neither mistake my way for want of light, nor leave the true way for want of courage.
(4) Let us bless God who has given us the knowledge of his truth, that we have tasted the honey of his word, and our eyes are enlightened. Let us bless him that he has shown us the pattern of his house, the right mode of worship; that he has discovered to us the forgery and blasphemy of the Romish religion. Let us pray that God will preserve pure ordinances and powerful preaching among us. Idolatry came in at first by the want of good preaching. The people began to have golden images when they had wooden priests.

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