“Consider the entertainment which he meets with when he comes to teach men outwardly by his word. His written word, the Bible, is slighted. Christ has left it to us, as the book of our instruction, to show us what way we must steer our course, if we would go to Immanuel’s land. It is a lamp to light us through a dark world, to eternal light. And he has enjoined us, to search it with that diligence wherewith men dig into mines for silver and gold, John 5:39. But, ah! how is this sacred treasure profaned by many! They ridicule that holy word, by which they must be judged at the last day; and will rather lose their souls than their jest, dressing up the conceits of their wanton wits in scripture phrases.
Many exhaust their spirits in reading romances, and their minds pursue them, as the flame does the dry stubble; while they have no heart for, nor relish to, the holy word; and therefore seldom take a Bible in their hands. What is agreeable to the vanity of their minds, is pleasant and exciting; but what recommends holiness to their unholy hearts, makes their spirits dull and flat. What pleasure they find in reading a profane ballad, or story-book, to whom the Bible is entirely tasteless! Many lay by their Bibles with their sabbath-day’s clothes; and whatever use they have for their clothes, they have none for their Bibles, until the return of the Sabbath. Alas! the dust on your Bibles is a witness now, and will, at the last day, be a witness of the enmity of your hearts against Christ as a Prophet.” – Thomas Boston Human Nature in its Fourfold State pg. 47
“What pain and difficulty do men often find in bringing their hearts to pious duties! and what a task is it to the carnal heart to abide at them! It is a pain to it–to leave the world but a little to come before God. It is not easy to borrow time from the many things–to spend it upon the one thing needful. Men often go to God in duties, with their faces towards the world; and when their bodies are on the mount of ordinances, their hearts will be found at the foot of the hill “going after their covetousness,” Ezek. 33:31.
They are soon wearied of well-doing; for holy duties are not agreeable to their corrupt nature. Take notice of them at their worldly business, set them down with their carnal company, or let them be enjoying a lust; time seems to them to fly, and drive furiously, so that it is gone before they are aware. But how heavily does it pass, while a prayer, a sermon, or a Sabbath lasts! The Lord’s day is the longest day of all the week, with many; therefore, they must sleep longer that morning, and go sooner to bed that night, than ordinarily they do; that the day may be made of a tolerable length—for their hearts say within them, “When will the Sabbath be gone?” Amos 8:5. The hours of worship are the longest hours of that day—hence, when duty is over, they are like men eased of a burden; and when sermon is ended, many have neither the grace nor the good manners to stay until the blessing is pronounced—but, like the beasts, their head is away, as soon as a man puts his hand to loose them; and why? because, while they are at ordinances, they are, as Doeg, “detained before the Lord,” 1 Sam. 22:7.” — Thomas Boston Human Nature in its Fourfold State pg. 41
Continuing the post below looking at Hezekiah’s reforms as a good analogy for today’s problems with the 2nd Commandment we see that Hezekiah does not hesitate to return Judah to proper worship of God. While we unfortunately in my view neither have the ability to in a manner of speaking direct the worship of an entire nation as Hezekiah did nor do we have the right to go around smashing idols like our Orange brethren at Utrecht we do have the duty to make sure our Evangelical brothers and sisters know how they are defaming the Word of God by trying to picture him in any way (including injection-mold, heat transfer, or screen printing ChipB). And especially since most representations do not do proper justice to the ethnic origins of Jesus of Nazareth let alone his majesty and holiness. So we must ask ourselves at this point having shown that images of the Godhead do not do justice to the plain reading of the 2nd Commandment and cannot be tolerated in any Orthodox manner or setting how do we go about directing the proper worship of Christ so that it is compatible in this regard to the 2nd Commandment? Do we have “Idolatry Awareness Month” or “2nd Commandment Sunday”? Do we write polemics and browbeat?
Well what say you?
One more from the “experts” on the Pictorial imagery of the Godhead then I’ll post my thoughts. Article can be found here.
Pictures of Christ
By John Murray
The question of the propriety of pictorial representations of the Saviour is one that merits examination. It must be granted that the worship of Christ is central in our holy faith, and the thought of the Saviour must in every instance be accompanied with that reverence which belongs to his worship. We cannot think of him without the apprehension of the majesty that is his. If we do not entertain the sense of his majesty, then we are guilty of impiety and we dishonor him.
It will also be granted that the only purpose that could properly be served by a pictorial representation is that it would convey to us some thought or lesson representing him, consonant with truth and promotive of worship. Hence the question is inescapable: is a pictorial representation a legitimate way of conveying truth regarding him and of contributing to the worship which this truth should evoke?
We are all aware of the influence exerted on the mind and heart by pictures. Pictures are powerful media of communication. How suggestive they are for good or for evil and all the more so when accompanied by the comment of the spoken or written word! It is futile, therefore, to deny the influence exerted upon mind and heart by a picture of Christ. And if such is legitimate, the influence exerted should be one constraining to worship and adoration. To claim any lower aim as that served by a picture of the Saviour would be contradiction of the place which he must occupy in thought, affection, and honour.
The plea for the propriety of pictures of Christ is based on the fact that he was truly man, that he had a human body, that he was visible in his human nature to the physical senses, and that a picture assists us to take in the stupendous reality of his incarnation, in a word, that he was made in the likeness of men and was found in fashion as a man.
Our Lord had a true body. He could have been photographed. A portrait could have been made of him and, if a good portrait, it would have reproduced his likeness.
Without doubt the disciples in the days of his flesh had a vivid mental image of Jesus’ appearance and they could not but have retained that recollection to the end of their days. They could never have entertained the thought of him as he had sojourned with them without something of that mental image and they could not have entertained it without adoration and worship. The very features which they remembered would have been part and parcel of their conception of him and reminiscent of what he had been to them in his humiliation and in the glory of his resurrection appearance. Much more might be said regarding the significance for the disciples of Jesus’ physical features.
Jesus is also glorified in the body and that body is visible. It will also become visible to us at his glorious appearing “he will be seen the second time without sin by those who look for him unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
What then are we to say of pictures of Christ? First of all, it must be said that we have no data whatsoever on the basis of which to make a pictorial representation; we have no descriptions of his physical features which would enable even the most accomplished artist to make an approximate portrait. In view of the profound influence exerted by a picture, especially on the minds of young people, we should perceive the peril involved in a portrayal for which there is no warrant, a portrayal which is the creation of pure imagination. It may help to point up the folly to ask: what would be the reaction of a disciple, who had actually seen the Lord in the days of his flesh, to a portrait which would be the work of imagination on the part of one who had never seen the Saviour? We can readily detect what his recoil would be.
No impression we have of Jesus should be created without the proper revelatory data, and every impression, every thought, should evoke worship. Hence, since we possess no revelatory data for a picture or portrait in the proper sense of the term, we are precluded from making one or using any that have been made.
Secondly, pictures of Christ are in principle a violation of the second commandment. A picture of Christ, if it serves any useful purpose, must evoke some thought or feeling respecting him and, in view of what he is, this thought or feeling will be worshipful. We cannot avoid making the picture a medium of worship. But since the materials for this medium of worship are not derived from the only revelation we possess respecting Jesus, namely, Scripture, the worship is constrained by a creation of the human mind that has no revelatory warrant. This is will worship. For the principle of the second commandment is that we are to worship God only in ways prescribed and authorized by him. It is a grievous sin to have worship constrained by a human figment, and that is what a picture of the Saviour involves.
Thirdly, the second commandment forbids bowing down to an image or likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. A picture of the Saviour purports to be a representation or likeness of him who is now in heaven or, at least, of him when he sojourned upon the earth. It is plainly forbidden, therefore, to bow down in worship before such a representation or likeness. This exposes the iniquity involved in the practice of exhibiting pictorial representations of the Saviour in places of worship. When we worship before a picture of our Lord, whether it be in the form of a mural, or on canvas, or in stained glass, we are doing what the second commandment expressly forbids. This is rendered all the more apparent when we bear in mind that the only reason why a picture of him should be exhibited in a place is the supposition that it contributes to the worship of him who is our Lord. The practice only demonstrates how insensitive we readily become to the commandments of God and to the inroads of idolatry. May the Churches of Christ be awake to the deceptive expedients by which the archenemy ever seeks to corrupt the worship of the Saviour.
In summary, what is at stake in this question is the unique place which Jesus Christ as the God-man occupies in our faith and worship and the unique place which the Scripture occupies as the only revelation, the only medium of communication, respecting him whom we worship as Lord and Saviour. The incarnate Word and the written Word are correlative. We dare not use other media of impression or of sentiment but those of his institution and prescription. Every thought and impression of him should evoke worship. We worship him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God. To use a likeness of Christ as an aid to worship is forbidden by the second commandment as much in his case as in that of the Father and Spirit.
John Murray (1898-1975) is Former Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary.
(I had a much better and longer post but I somehow deleted it so this is the cliff notes version as I do not have time to rewrite the 1500 words I had finished)
We have moved from the 16th to 17th to the 19th centuries and have watched how the unanimous voices of Reformed orthodoxy in the past have spoken against the construction (or injection-molding, chipb) of images of the entire Godhead. In this part we will look at the modern effects on how we view not just the Decalogue but the Mosaic Law in general. How is it that now one cannot go 10 feet without seeing the Scandinavian-“Jesus” plastered on everything from T-shirts to Billboards? Well Greg Bahnsen in his work on Post-Millennialism entitled Victory in Jesus (published post-mortem) has a very good short section on the three things plaguing not just the rampant violation of the second commandment but other problems encroaching on orthodox Reformed Christianity in the West. While his focus is presenting a case for Post-Millennialism and why it has fallen out of favor he is correct in identifying the three major issues confronting orthodoxy in general. Two of these three movements would not even consider the Second commandments words on imagery binding today but it is their influence in the minds of those who may that bring them into this discussion.
Bahnsen begins by identifying firstly Liberalism. By Liberalism Bahnsen means to direct his words to the movement that began under the influence of men like Hermann Samuel Reimarus and Heinrich Paulus who were the forerunners of and greatly influenced 19th century Historical Jesus research. Also understood in this section is the work by Immanuel Kant whose philosophy continues to undergird nearly all persons in the West. Included in this is the work of higher critics like Julius Wellhausen and David Strauss. However for Americans the greatest influence was brought forth by Friedrich Schleiermacher whose thoughts and ideas are still taught in every mainline seminary. The effect these men had on the subject of this essay is in the way we now approach the Scriptures in the West. Out of all of their criticisms of the Biblical text the most divisive has been the hatchet job done on the Pentateuch especially on the Mosaic Law. If the law was not received by Moses in toto (as Scripture testifies it did, Ex. 20-23) then what bearing does it have on us today? How can a collection of separate instructions hold any weight for today’s Christian? These are serious questions that cannot be answered by simply dismissing these ungodly men and their followers away by wrote. They must be challenged and confronted in a manner that does not cause their descendants to shun orthodoxy.
The Second influence recognized by Bahnsen is the work of Evolutionary Progressivism. One may look at the title and wonder “How does that differ from Liberalism?” Well to answer the question a person needs to understand that their is a difference between what most people refer to in contemporary times as Liberalism and what academically should be referred to as Liberalism. This second part is what we would identify with the modern usage of the word. This movement led by men such as Charles Darwin and Walter Rauschenbusch delivered a focus that moved Christianity away from its foundation in the Older Testament to a purely New Testament focus, a recurrence of Marcionism. Also another thing that distinguishes it from Liberalism as defined above is its belief that man is is generally good and has evolved past the Mosaic prohibitions to a new era of life that looks not upon the strictures but upon the liberty brought by Christ. Hence the term “Evolutionary”. In other words Christianity no longer needs to worry about offending God by their actions as long as they do so with a kind heart and a loving mind. Therefore in regards to the Second Commandment the Evolutionary Progressivist has moved on from the old covenant completely and any attempt to use it in discussion is Pharisaical.
Thirdly in Bahnsen’s hypothesis is the effect of Dispensationalism on the mind of today’s Evangelical. Mostly brought to the forefront of Christianity in America by the work of Cyrus Scofield and his reference Bible and the writings of John Nelson Darby. The greatest effect Dispensationalism has had for this discussion is its emphasis on the distinctions between the New Testament Church and ancient Israel of the Old Testament. Scofield believed that between creation and the final judgment there were seven distinct eras of God’s dealing with man and that these eras were a framework around which the message of the Bible could be explained. Therefore the words of the second commandment can be properly explained as belonging to a prior dispensation and no longer applicable in there literal sense to today’s Christian.
Cumulatively these three positions have effected the way in which most in the Reformed camp come to the Decalogue and the Case Law of Moses imparticular. With a Hermeneutic of Suspicion the Second commandment (and its spiritual brother, the 4th commandment as we saw here in J.C. Ryle’s thought) is cast in a light of a “Canon within a Canon” as it passed over, with rest of the first table, in our times for all the reasons the three positions of Liberalism, Evolutionary Progressivism, and Dispensationalism have provided.
In the final part of this 7 part series on the Second Commandment I will present a Biblical and Systematic argument showing why it is not only unlawful according to the Older Testament but also in the New Covenant to picture the Godhead in physical form.
1. What do the Magisterial Reformers Have to Say Concerning Images? (Cont.)
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. II, 11th Topic. 10th Question, Sect. II,III, V, VI, and VII
II. The question is not whether all images of whatever kind they may be are prohibited by God . Although this was the opinion of the ancients, Jews as well as Christians (as appears from many passages of Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and others who thought that all use of images should be absolutely interdicted…)
III. The question is not whether it is lawful to represent creatures and to exhibit with the pencil historical events for this no one denies. Rather the question is whether it is lawful to represent God himself and the persons of the Trinity by any image; if not by an immediate and proper similitude to set forth a perfect image of the nature of God (which the Papists acknowledge cannot be done), at least by analogy or metaphorical and mystical significations…
V. The reasons are: First, God expressly forbids this in the second commandment, where two things, both the making of images for worship and the worshiping of them…Hence the Israelites representing God by the image of a calf were sharply rebuked and heavily punished (Ex. 32). Pious kings of the Jews no less than heathen removed idols, even as God had laid both commands upon his people that they should demolish the altars of the Canaanites , break the statues and not make molten gods for themselves (ex. 34:13,17)…
VI. Second, God, being boundless (apeiros) and invisible (aoratos), can be represented by no image. Is. 40:18, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?”. Paul refers to this in Acts 17:29, “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.”…
VII. Third, that ought to be distant from sacred places which does not belong to the worship of God and is joined with danger of idolatry…For men (especially uneducated men prone by their nature to superstition) are moved to the worship of [images of God] by their very reverencefor the place, as experience shows…
1. What do the Magisterial Reformers Have to Say Concerning Images?
1. As Scripture, in accommodation to the rude and gross intellect of man, usually speaks in popular terms, so whenever its object is to discriminate between the true God and false deities, it opposes him in particular to idols; not that it approves of what is taught more elegantly and subtilely by philosophers, but that it may the better expose the folly, nay, madness of the world in its inquiries after God, so long as every one clings to his own speculations…But God makes no comparison between images, as if one were more, and another less befitting; he rejects, without exception, all shapes and pictures, and other symbols by which the superstitious imagine they can bring him near to them. 2. This may easily be inferred from the reasons which he annexes to his prohibition. First, it is said in the books of Moses (Deut. 4:15), “Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude in 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, the similitude of any figure,” &c. We see how plainly God declares against all figures, to make us aware that all longing after such visible shapes is rebellion against him. Of the prophets, it will be sufficient to mention Isaiah, who is the most copious on this subjects (Isaiah 40:18; 41:7, 29; 45:9; 46:5), in order to show how the majesty of God is defiled by an absurd and indecorous fiction, when he who is incorporeal is assimilated to corporeal matter; he who is invisible to a visible image; he who is a spirit to an inanimate object; and he who fills all space to a bit of paltry wood, or stone, or gold. Paul, too, reasons in the same way, “Forasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device,” (Acts 17:29). Hence it is manifest, that whatever statues are set up or pictures painted to represent God, are utterly displeasing to him, as a kind of insults to his majesty. And is it strange that the Holy Spirit thunders such responses from heaven, when he compels even blind and miserable idolaters to make a similar confession on the earth?
We think it unlawful to give a visible shape to God, because God himself has forbidden it, and because it cannot be done without, in some degree, tarnishing his glory. And lest any should think that we are singular in this opinion, those acquainted with the productions of sound divines will find that they have always disapproved of it. If it be unlawful to make any corporeal representation of God, still more unlawful must it be to worship such a representation instead of God, or to worship God in it. The only things, therefore, which ought to be painted or sculptured, are things which can be presented to the eye; the majesty of God, which is far beyond the reach of any eye, must not be dishonored by unbecoming representations. Visible representations are of two classes—viz. historical, which give a representation of events, and pictorial, which merely exhibit bodily shapes and figures. The former are of some use for instruction or admonition. The latter, so far as I can see, are only fitted for amusement. And yet it is certain, that the latter are almost the only kind which have hitherto been exhibited in churches. Hence we may infer, that the exhibition was not the result of judicious selection, but of a foolish and inconsiderate longing. I say nothing as to the improper and unbecoming form in which they are presented, or the wanton license in which sculptors and painters have here indulged (a point to which I alluded a little ago, supra, s. 7). I only say, that though they were otherwise faultless, they could not be of any utility in teaching…
11. I am not ignorant, however, and I have no wish to disguise the fact, that they endeavor to evade the charge by means of a more subtle distinction, which shall afterwards be fully considered (see infra, s. 16, and chap. 12 s. 2). The worship which they pay to their images they cloak with the name of εἰδωλοδυλεία (ιδολοδυλια), and deny to be εἰδωλολατρεία (ιδολατρια). So they speaks holding that the worship which they call δυλια may, without insult to God, be paid to statues and pictures. Hence, they think themselves blameless if they are only the servants, and not the worshipers, of idols; as if it were not a lighter matter to worship than to serve. And yet, 100 while they take refuge in a Greek term, they very childishly contradict themselves. For the Greek word λατρεύειν having no other meaning than to worship, what they say is just the same as if they were to confess that they worship their images without worshipping them. They cannot object that I am quibbling upon words. The fact is, that they only betray their ignorance while they attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the simple. But how eloquent soever they may be, they will never prove by their eloquence that one and the same thing makes two. Let them show how the things differ if they would be thought different from ancient idolaters. For as a murderer or an adulterer will not escape conviction by giving some adventitious name to his crime, so it is absurd for them to expect that the subtle device of a name will exculpate them, if they, in fact, differ in nothing from idolaters whom they themselves are forced to condemn. But so far are they from proving that their case is different, that the source of the whole evil consists in a preposterous rivalship with them, while they with their minds devise, and with their hands execute, symbolical shapes of God.
Here is my much promised series of posts on Images and the Godhead that has been promised for some time.
I want to begin by forcing our eyes upon the truth that there is a not-so-latent Anti-Nomianism running around in most circles today in both Liberal and Evangelical worlds. The difference being that either side argues around various parts of God’s Law so as to establish a defense against the enforcement of the part of God’s Law that they would like to see abrogated. I could spend time now describing where this is true but that would an entirely different post. For the purpose of this post I just want to put us in the mind that the idolatry we are going to discuss has in the background the Anti-Nomian milieu of which we belong. This Anti-Nomianism is part passive ignorance and part active disobedience on the behalf of those who practice it. For instance go to your general “Reformed” pastor and talk to him about this issue. I am positive within the first 5 words will be either the word “legalism” or the term “Pharisaical” and this is primarily the problem in todays church in regards to issues of following the Law of God in the Covenant of Grace. Whenever one begins to speak about keeping the Law of God in sight of our call to righteousness (cf: Calvin’s Three-fold use of the Law: to convince of sin, to restrain sin, and to provide guidelines for living the Christian life) we are told by most that any act on the understanding that looking to the judicial law at all on this issue is legalist and part of the work I am going to do on the idolatry of images is to answer this problem through the discussion.
Tomorrow we will look at the Primary Reformers thoughts and conflate them with current practice in “Reformed” churches.