Images of the Godhead and the Second Commandment, Part 4

We have taken a look at what the consensus of the Magisterial Reformers were concerning images of the Godhead and the Second Commandment now we will read some quotations from the Westminster Divines and of the Puritan writers to see how the ideology moved through time. After this our next look will be at Old Princeton.

John Owen, from: The Glory of Christ

In this way Roman Catholics are deceived. They delight outwardly in images of Christ depicting his sufferings, resurrection and glory. By these images they think their love for him grows more and more strong. But no man-made image can truly represent the person of Christ and his glory. Only the gospel can do that.

John writes not only of himself but of his fellow apostles also, ‘We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). Now what was his glory of Christ which they saw, and how did they see it?

It was not the glory of Christ’s outward condition for he had no earthly glory or grandeur. He kept no court, nor did he entertain people to parties in a great house. He had nowhere to lay his head, even though he created all things. There was nothing about his outward appearance that would attract the eys of the world (Isa. 53:14; 53:2-3). He appeared to others as a ‘man or sorrows’.

Neither was it the eternal essential glory of his divine nature that is meant, for this no man can see while in this world. What we shall see in heaven we cannot conceive.

What the apostles witnessed was the glory of ‘grace and truth’. They saw the glory of Christ’s person and office in the administration of grace and truth. And how did they see this glory? It was by faith and in no other way, for this privilege was given only to those who ‘received him’ and believe on his name (John 1:12). This was the glory which the Baptist saw when he pointed to Christ and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29).

So, let no one decieve himself. He that has no sight of Christ’s glory here shall never see it hereafter. The beholding of Christ’s glory is too high, glorious and marvellous for us in our present condition. The splendour of Christ’s glory is too much for our physical eyes just as is the sun shining in all its strength. So while we are here on earth we can behold his glory only by faith.

Also from The Glory of Christ

No man ought to look for anything in heaven if he has not by faith first had some experience of it in this life. If men were convinced of this, they would spend more time in the exercise of faith and love about heavenly things than they usually do. At present they do not know what they enjoy, so they do not know what to expect. This is why men who are complete strangers to seeing the person and glory of Christ by faith have turned to images, pictures and music to help them in their worship.


Thomas Boston
, Of the Second Commandment

1. Graven images are forbidden particularly, that is, images cut or carved in wood, stone, or the like, called statues. These are particularly expressed, not only because they were the chief among idolaters, but because they do so lively represent men, beasts, &c. in all their parts and members, that nothing seems to be wanting in them but life; and so people are most ready to be deceived by them. But that we may see it is not these only that are abominable to our God.

2. Every similitude whatsoever for religious use and service is forbidden, whether it is done by casting in a mould, painting, weaving, or made any way whatsoever, though it be merely by the imagination, and not by the hand; for the words are universal, any likeness. How particular is this command in things themselves, whereof idolaters would have the images.

1st, No graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, must be made for religious worship. By the heavens above, is meant the air, and all to the starry heavens, and the seat of the blessed. In the visible heavens are the birds, sun, moon, and stars. No likeness of these is to be made; and therefore, to paint the Holy Spirit as a dove is idolatrous. In the seat of the blessed are God himself, angels, and saints, i.e. the spirits of just men made perfect, all invisible; so that it is impiety, yea, and madness, to frame images of them.

2dly, No graven image or likeness of any thing that is in the earth beneath is to be made for religious service, whether they be on the surface, or in the bowels of the earth. Now, in the earth are men, beasts, trees, plants, the dead bodies of men, &c. No likeness of these is to be made for religious worship.

3dly, No graven image, or likeness of any thing that is in the water under the earth, is to be made. Now, these are fishes whatsoever the rivers and seas do produce. But no likeness of these is to be made for religious service.

Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments


I. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in this, 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. ‘Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, It is Caesar’s.’ 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. ‘Take heed lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make the similitude of any figure.’ Deut 4: 15, 16. God is to be adored in the heart, not painted to the eye. ‘Thou shalt not bow down to them.’ The intent of making images and pictures is to worship them. No sooner was Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image set up, but all the people fell down and worshiped it. Dan 3: 7. God forbids such prostrating ourselves before an idol. The thing prohibited in this commandment is image-worship. 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 unite; 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. ‘Ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake with you out of the midst of the fire.’ Deut 4: 15. How can any paint the Deity? Can they make an image of that which they never saw? Quod invisibile est, pingi non potest [There is no depicting the invisible]. Ambrose. ‘Ye saw no similitude.’ It is impossible to make a picture of the soul, or to paint the angels, because they are of a spiritual nature; much less can we paint God by an image, who is an infinite, untreated Spirit.

[2] To worship God by an image, is both absurd and unlawful.

(1) It is absurd and irrational; for, ‘the workman is better than the work,’ ‘He who has builded the house has more honour than the house.’ Heb 3: 3. If the workman be better than the work, and none bow to the workman, how absurd, then, is it to bow to the work of his hands! 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 to worship God by an image; for it is against the homily of the church, which runs thus: ‘The images of God, our Saviour, the Virgin Mary, are of all others the most dangerous; therefore the greatest care ought to be had that they stand not in temples and churches.’ So that image-worship is contrary to our own homilies, and affronts the authority of the Church of England. 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. The Christians destroyed images at Baste, Zürich, and Bohemia. When the Roman emperors would have thrust images upon them, they chose rather to die than deflower their virgin profession by idolatry; they refused to admit any painter or carver into their society, because they would not have any carved state or image of God. When Seraphion bowed to an idol, the Christians excommunicated him, and delivered him up to Satan.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Images of the Godhead and the Second Commandment, Part 4

  1. Not to second guess John Owen but could not John’s comment also refer to the transfiguration? I agree that we can never adequately or even partially come close to a representation of the glory and wonder of God. I also know that to see God is to die because His holiness is to great for me to behold. I also know that when a depiction becomes an object of worship it is a clear violation of the letter and spirit of God’s commandments.

    I just don’t believe that the command disallows all images. In the profession of preaching we are called to present a picture of God’s grace and mercy with words. Is allowable to draw such images? Would this prohibition apply equally to the careful formation of sentences, arguments and the like in which we attempt to share the Love of God?

    I don’t have an answer just a thought.

    Alan

  2. Alan,

    The Second Commandment cannot imply “word pictures” or anything of the sort since Scripture itself is a “word picture” of God’s character. Also one can point to any number of verses that call us to speak the Word as preachers (cf. Romans 10:14-17).

  3. I think one needs to understand the biblical connotation of the word ‘image’. If we take ‘spirit’ of the commandements into consideration it can not only mean a ‘physical object’ wrongly representing the Creator but ‘a false mental picture’ that falsely represent God. The great Evangelical mystic of the past century Tozer once said to the extent that to have a ‘false idea’ of God is the essence of idolatry.

    The point is clear: whether it is a word picture or a mental picture, our ‘idea’ of God must be derived from and based on the revelation of God. Thus revelation precedes worship. Hadn’t God disclosed Himself to us true worship would not have been possible.

    Hence, 1. We cannot and must not represent God who is Infinite, Eternal, Spiritual, Personal and Transcendent in physical terms.
    2. We are not supposed to own any ideas and opinions regarding God apart from the revealed Scriptures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s