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We are now come to the Second Commandment, which the Church of Rome would persuade men is only part of the first. But they plainly relate to different things. The first appoints, that the object of our worship be only the true God; the next that we worship him not under any visible resemblance or form. And besides, if we join these two in one, there will be no tenth left; though the Scripture itself hath called them ten :1 to avoid which absurdity, the Romanists have committed another, by dividing the tenth into two. And they might as well have divided it into six or seven; as I shall show you in discoursing upon it. For these reasons, the oldest and most considerable, both of the Jewish and Christian writers, who distinguish the Commandments by their number, distinguish them in the same manner that we do. Perhaps it may seem of small consequence, how that before us is counted, provided it be not omitted. And we must own, that some persons before the rise of Popery, and some Protestants since the Reformation, have, without any ill design, reckoned it as the Papists do. But what both the former have done by mere mistake, these last endeavour to defend out of policy; well knowing, that when once they have got the second to be considered as only a part of the first, they can much more easily pass it over, as a part of no great separate meaning, or importance, than if it were thought a distinct precept. And, accordingly, in some of their small books of devotion, they pass
(1) Exod. xxxiv. 28. Deut. iv. 13. x. 4.
it over, and leave it out entirely. But it deserves, as I shall now show you, another sort of regard.
The Prophet Isaiah very justly put the ques tion: "To whom will ye liken God? or what "likeness will ye compare unto him?" He is an invisible spirit; therefore representing him in a visible shape, is representing him to be such as he is not. He is every where present; therefore a figure, confined by its nature to a particular place, must incline persons to a wrong conception of him. He is the living, wise, and powerful governor of the world; therefore to express him by a dead lump of matter, must be doing him dishonour. We are unable indeed, at best, to speak or think worthily of him; and we cannot well avoid using some of the same phrases, concerning him and his actions, which we do concerning the parts and motions of our own bodies. But we can very well avoid making visible images of him; and the plainest reason teaches, that we ought to avoid it; because they lower and debase men's notions of God; lead the weaker sort into supersitious and foolish apprehensions and practices; and provoke those of better abilities, from a contempt of such childish representations, to disregard and ridicule the religion into which they are adopted.
Therefore, in the early ages of the world, many of the heathens themselves had no images of the Deity. Particularly, the ancient Persians had none. Nor had the first Romans; Numa, their second king, having, as the philosopher Plutarch, himself a Roman magistrate, though a Greek by birth, tells us," forbidden them to represent God “in the form, either of a man or any other animal.
(2) This they do in the Latin office of the Virgin, and in some of their English devotional books. Indeed there they omit likewise all but the first sentence of our fourth Commandment, and the promise in our fifth; perhaps to palliate their preceding omission. (3) Isaiah xl. 18. (4) Herodot. lib. 1. § 131.
"And accordingly, (he saith,) they had neither any "painted or engraved figure of him for one hun"dred and seventy years; but temples, void of any image of any shape; thinking it impious to "liken a superior nature to inferior ones; and "impossible to attain the notion of God otherwise "than by understanding." And Varro, one of the most learned of their own authors, after acknowledging, that "during more than one hundred "and seventy years they worshipped the gods "without any visible representation," added, that "had they never had any, their religion had been "the purer; for which opinion, amongst other "evidences, he brought that of the Jewish people: " and scrupled not to say in conclusion, that they "who first set up images of gods in the several "nations, lessened the reverence of their countrymen towards them, and introduced error concerning them." So much wiser were these heathen Romans in this point, than the Christian Romans are now.
But when some of the eastern kingdoms had fallen into this corruption, particularly the Egyptians, who claimed the invention as an honour,7 the great care of God was to preserve or free his own people from it. The words of this Commandment express that purpose very strongly; and very clearly forbid not only making and worshipping representations of false gods, but any representa tion of God at all. And to show yet more fully that even those of the true God are prohibited by
(5) Plut. in Num. page 65. Ed. Par. 1624
(6) Aug. de Civ. Dei, lib. 4. c. 31. Dionysius Halicarnassensis indeed saith, lib. 2. c. 15. p. 87, that Romulus erected images. But as he mentioned them no otherwise than incidentally amongst the provisions made by that Prince for divine worship, his assertion is not so much to be regarded, as the two contrary more formal ones. Or we may suppose, that Numa took them down.
(7) Herodot. lib. 2. § 4.
it, Moses, in Deuteronomy, immediately after mentioning the delivery of the Ten Commandments, adds with respect to the second: "Take therefore good heed unto yourselves: for ye saw no man"ner 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 the "similitude of any figure." And when the Israelites made a golden calf in the wilderness, though evidently their design was to represent by it, not a false object of worship, but the Lord (in the original it is Jehovah) who brought them out of the land of Egypt; yet they were charged with it, and punished for it, as a breach of their covenant with God; and Moses accordingly broke, on that occasion, the two tables of the Commandments, which were, on their part, the condition of that covenant.” Again, in after-times, when the kings of Israel set up the same representation of the same true God at Dan and Bethel; the Scripture constantly speaks of it, as the leading sin from which all the rest of their idolatries, and at last their utter destruction proceeded. For, from worshipping the true God by an image, they soon came to worship the images of false gods too; and from thence fell into all sorts of superstition, and all sorts of wickedness.
Yet the Church of Rome will have it, that we may now very lawfully and commendably practise what the Jews were forbidden. But observe, not only the Jews, but the Heathens also, who never were subject to the law of Moses, are condemned in Scripture for this mode of worship. For St. Paul's accusation against them is, that when they "knew God, they glorified him not as God; but "became vain in their imaginations; and changed "the glory of the incorruptible God into an image,
(8) Deut. iv. 12, 15, 16.
(9) Exod. xxxii,
"made like to corruptible man." And in another place he argues with the Athenians thus: "For
asmuch 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. And the times of this ignorance God "winked at; but now commandeth all men every "where to repent."2
Where then is, or can be, the allowance of that image worship in the Bible, for which multitudes of the Romish communion are as earnest, as if it was commanded there? Nor is antiquity more favourable to it, than Scripture. For the primitive Christians abhorred the very mention of images; holding even the trade of making them to be utterly unlawful. And indeed pretending to frame a likeness of God the Father Almighty, "whom no man ever hath seen or can see,' 773 some of that Church have done, without any censure from the rulers of it, liberal as they are of censures on other occasions, is both a palpable and a heinous breach of this Commandment. For, though we find in the Old Testament, than an angel hath sometimes appeared, representing his person, as an ambassador doth that of his prince; and though, in a vision of " the Ancient of days, "his garment was white as snow, and the hair of "his head like pure wool;" yet these things gave the Jews no right then, and therefore can give us none now, to make other, or even the like, representations of him, contrary to his express order.
Our blessed Saviour indeed existed in a human form. But we have not the least knowledge of any other part or feature of his person. And therefore all attempts of exhibiting a likeness of him are utterly vain. Besides, he hath appointed
(1) Rom. i. 21, 23. (2) Acts xvii. 29, 30. (3) 1 Tim. vi. 16. (4) Dan. vii. 9.