God is Not to Be Worshipped as Represented by an Image by Benjamin Needler (1620-1682)Articles on Puritan Worship and the Regulative Principle
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REV. BENJAMIN NEEDLER, B. C. L. SOMETIME FELLOW OF ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, OXFORD
IT IS NOT LAWFUL TO GIVE RELIGIOUS WORSHIP TO ANY CREATURE WHATSOEVER IT IS NOT LAWFUL TO MAKE AN IMAGE OF GOD. IT IS NOT LAWFUL TO WORSHIP GOD AS REPRESENTED BY AN IMAGE, OR TO DIRECT OUR WORSHIP OF HIM TO AN IMAGE. IT IS NOT LAWFUL TO WORSHIP IMAGES, BY DOING IT CORPORALLY, AS IDOLATERS DO, THOUGH WE PRETEND TO KEEP OUR HEARTS TO GOD. THE PAPISTS PRESUMPTUOUSLY LEAVE THE SECOND COMMANDMENT OUT OF THE DECALOGUE.
GOD NOT TO BE WORSHIPPED AS REPRESENTED BY AN IMAGE
Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.—Matthew 4:10.
THE first eleven verses of this chapter contain the history of the combat, or conflict, between Christ and Satan; and in it you may take notice of these particulars:—
(I.) You have the preparation to the combat: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.” (Verses 1, 2.) “Then,” that is, immediately after Christ had been baptized in an extraordinary manner, and solemnly declared by “a voice from heaven,” that he was “the beloved Son of God, in whom he was well pleased;” and after “the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him,” (Matt. 3:16, 17,) and was “full of the Holy Ghost,” as St. Luke records it; (Luke 4:1;)—“then,” that is, immediately after this, “he was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” We should have thought that the next news might have been of his taking a solemn journey to Jerusalem, and in the temple there publicly to have declared, that he was the great doctor and prophet of his church, and that they were accordingly to hear him. But God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts: the text tells you, “Then,” that is, immediately upon this, “he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
(II.) You have the combat or conflict itself, from the third verse to the eleventh: the devil takes an occasion hereupon to set upon him, and to assault him with these dreadful temptations. The First temptation or assault you have in verse 3: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” As if he had said, “There was a voice pretendedly from heaven, that thou art God’s ‘beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased;’ but if so, is it likely that God should take no further care of his own Son whom he loved, than to expose him to the want even of necessaries for the present life? So that, either thou art not the Son of God, and that pretended voice from heaven is but a delusion; or if thou beest so, let it appear by working of this miracle,—‘command that these stones be made bread.’ ” The reply or answer made by our Saviour to this temptation you have in verse 4: “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God;” where our Saviour shows, that this was a notorious imposture, and a fallacious way of reasoning,—that either he must perish in the wilderness with famine, or else he must prove himself to be the Son of God by working a miracle, and commanding stones to be made bread: “for it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
This temptation not taking effect, and the devil [being] foiled and nonplussed by the force and dint of the scripture, he makes a Second assault upon him: “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” (Verses 5, 6.) I know that St. Luke observes not the same order in the recording of these temptations as St. Matthew doth; but it is likely that was the third and last temptation, when Satan had that rebuke given him by our Saviour: “Get thee hence, Satan;” for immediately upon this “the devil leaveth him, and angels came and ministered unto him;” (verse 11;) and therefore I call this the second assault or temptation.
The Third and the last temptation or assault, which seems to be most dangerous, you have in verses 8, 9: “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” In St. Luke, he pretends a reason for it: “And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.” And, “If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.” (Luke 4:6, 7.) But the devil was a liar from the beginning; and there were three notorious lies in this pretence of the devil’s:—1. “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them;” whereas he had no such power or glory to bestow. 2. The second was, “For that is delivered unto me;” but God never made the devil the heir of all things, but his own Son: “He hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things.” (Heb. 1:2.) 3. The third was, “To whomsoever I will I give it:” as if Satan could give the kingdoms of the world to whom he pleased; a power which God hath reserved for himself, and hath not conferred on any creature whatsoever: “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings.” (Dan. 2:20, 21.) We read that Satan is sometimes transformed into an angel of light; (2 Cor. 11:14;) but here he would be transformed into God himself; as also in that which follows, namely, that he would be adored and worshipped: “If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine,” or, as you have it in the text, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
Now in these words you have the reply or answer that our Saviour makes to this temptation: “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;” where you have two things considerable.
1. You have something premised, or something prefatory unto Christ’s answer: “Get thee hence, Satan;” which may be understood two ways:—
(1.) Either as vox detestantis, “a note of abhorrence and detestation,” of the devil’s horrible impudence and blasphemy, in that he would have Christ to fall down and worship him; or,
(2.) As vox imperantis, “a word of power and authority,” commanding him out of his presence: “Get thee hence, Satan;” and thereby sufficiently declaring himself to be the Son of God; which was the thing in question. The devil had twice put an “if” upon his sonship: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread;” (verse 3;) and, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down.” (Verse 6.) Now our Saviour will have this to be out of question, and therefore commands him to be gone: “Get thee hence, Satan;” and the next news is, “Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” (Verse 11.)
2. You have the answer itself: “For it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;” where again you have two things to be taken into consideration:—
(1.) You have our Saviour’s urging scripture in the case: “It is written.”—The word of God is armour of proof against Satan and his temptations; and hence the apostle makes it one main part of the Christian armour: “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;” (Eph. 6:17;) and our Saviour makes use of this sword in the text: “It is written.” But where? See Deut. 6:13: “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him;” and Deut. 10:20: “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave.” Where I would note, that our Saviour doth not quote the very words that are in Deuteronomy: it is said there, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him;” our Saviour says, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve:” and yet notwithstanding, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” And I would the rather take notice of this, because there is a generation of men amongst us that tell us, upon occasion, that we do not speak scripture-language; and their reason is, because we do not speak scripture-words. But, friends, take this for a principle: If we speak scripture-sense, though not the very words of scripture, yet we may be said to speak scripture-language. Thus our Saviour here, speaking scripture-sense, speaks scripture-language: “It is written.” “Fear” is a word of great latitude and extent, and comprehends in itself that homage and honour and reverence that we owe to God; and therefore our Saviour calls it “worship,” and says, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God,” &c. Thus it is also in the like case: if the word “person” be scripture-sense, it is scripture-language; if the word “sacrament” be scripture-sense, it is scripture-language.
(2.) You have the scripture that is urged, in these words, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”—Satan would have our Saviour to fall down and worship him; our Saviour replies, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve:” And the meaning and import of it is this: That which is proper and peculiar unto God, ought not to be given unto any creature whatsoever: But worship is so: And therefore ought not to be given to any creature whatsoever. Satan is a creature; and if there were no more in the case than that, even that is reason sufficient why he ought not to be worshipped: “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
Thus I have given you an account both of the preparation to the combat or conflict between Christ and Satan, as also of the combat or conflict itself.
(III.) Thirdly. You have the issue of the whole transaction between Christ and Satan: “Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” (Verse 11.)
My text contains the answer, or the repulse, that was given by our Saviour unto Satan’s third and last assault: “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
The proposition that I would commend unto your consideration from the words, is this, that religious worship ought not to be given to any creature whatsoever; or thus: God alone is and ought to be the object of religious worship. I say, “God alone is and ought to be the object of religious worship.” Honour and worship is God’s due and right, and irreligion is a piece of wrong and injustice: and, indeed, if divine honour was not given to God as his due and right, worship would be a piece of benevolence from the creature unto God.
In the prosecution of this point, I shall, by God’s assistance, observe this method:—
I. I shall give you a brief description of worship, and show you what worship is.
II. I shall lay down some distinctions for the due stating, and the right understanding, of this proposition.
III. I shall endeavour to prove the proposition; namely, that “religious worship ought not to be given to any creatures whatsoever;” or, that “God alone is and ought to be the object of religious worship.”
IV. And the fourth particular shall be the use and application.
I. For the first of these, I shall endeavour to dispatch in a few words; namely, to give you a brief description of worship, and show you what worship is.
Worship is that honour or reverence that we give unto a person or being, regard being had to the dignity and excellency of that person or being that is to be worshipped; and it consists of three acts:—
1. An act of the mind, whereby we rightly conceive of the dignity and excellency of that person or being that we worship.
2. An act of the will, whereby, upon occasion, we are ready and willing to pay all offices of respect to that person or being.
3. An act of the body, whereby we express that respect or honour that is in our minds, unto that person or being, by some outward bodily act; as prostration, uncovering of the head, bowing the knee, or the like.
And this is all I shall say to the first particular, what worship is.
II. Our next work is, to lay down some distinctions for the due stating and right understanding of this proposition; namely, that “religious worship ought not to be given to any creature whatsoever;” or, that “God alone is and ought to be the object of religious worship:” as,
1. We must distinguish between civil worship and religious worship.—Now although religious worship ought to be given to God alone, yet civil worship may and ought to be given unto creatures. This is a duty from inferiors to their superiors, from children to their parents, from servants to their masters, from subjects to kings and magistrates: these “gods” (Psalm 82:6) must have civil worship. Thus it is said of Judah, when Jacob, on his death-bed, blessed the twelve tribes: “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.” (Gen. 49:8.) Judah’s honour was to wield the sceptre; and therefore the rest of the tribes, his “father’s children,” in a civil sense, were to worship him, and bow down before him. Thus, when Joseph came into the presence of Jacob his father, it is said, that “he bowed himself with his face to the earth;” (Gen. 48:12;) this was civil worship.
And, indeed, this worship, considered apart and in a separate way, seems to be proper unto the creature, and so not fit to be given unto God. If any should say, “But is not God to receive all honour, and glory, and worship? and if so, why should civil worship be excluded?” I answer: Because this is not the way to honour God. If we should worship God no otherwise than as we worship a creature, this would be to blaspheme him, under a pretence of giving him that honour that we owe him. We may observe even amongst the creatures, that the homage or honour that we give unto the creature hath always respect unto the greatest excellency of that creature: as, suppose a king were present, a duke, or a marquess, or an earl also; if a man should give him only that respect that is due unto a duke, or a marquess, or an earl, this were, in effect, to degrade him of his kingly power. If we give only the honour unto God that a creature may challenge as his due, this strikes at the very Godhead itself, and we do what lies in us to degrade him of his supremacy and transcendent glory.
2. We must distinguish between inward worship and outward worship.—There is inward worship in faith, and love, and hope, and fear, and other elicit acts of the mind; this is the inward homage that we owe unto God. And then there is outward worship, which consists in the outward expression of that inward homage and subjection that we owe to God; which is done, as you heard before, by some outward bodily act; as, prostration, uncovering of the head, bowing of the knee, and the like.
Now, though the worship of God consists mainly and principally in the former, (for there may be a pretence of outward homage and reverence, and yet nothing of worship; as, the soldiers bowed the knee to Christ, and yet mocked him, Matt. 27:29,) yet outward worship is necessary: inward and outward worship do mutually depend upon each other: he that doth not pray, nor read, nor hear, nor receive sacraments, doth neither love God, nor fear him, nor trust in him. And, besides, outward worship is a most effectual help and assistance unto the principle of inward worship, strengthening the habit of it and exciting of it unto all suitable actions: for though “bodily exercise,” as it is single, and divided from the heart, doth, as the apostle saith, “profit little;” (1 Tim. 4:8;) yet when it joins with it, it profits much, and makes us far more lively in the service of God than otherwise we should be. And we may find by experience, that when we pray only inwardly in our spirits, we have not that life and enlargement in our minds and affections as when we also pray outwardly with the voice. And, upon these and such-like grounds, it is advised by some, that prayer, though secret, should be vocal, because it excites affection, and quickens devotion. Thus, though inward worship be the main of worship, and that which may most properly be called “worship,” yet outward worship is necessary. The second commandment hath a special respect unto outward worship; namely, that we perform unto God that outward worship which he hath appointed in his word. And that which the devil would have of our Saviour here is outward worship: “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” If any shall pretend that it is external veneration that they give unto other things beside God, whereas that which is inward, and which may most properly be called “worship,” they reserve for God; the vanity of such a pretence will appear, if we consider, that it is not a necessary requisite unto false and idolatrous worship that the inward devotion of the mind should accompany the external adoration of the body: for if so, it will follow, that a man, being commanded under a severe penalty, might give outward adoration to any image, either of the true [God] or false gods, and yet be guiltless: and who durst ever say so?
III. We will take it for granted, that religious worship admits of degrees; namely, that there is religious worship in a higher degree, and religious worship in a lower and inferior degree. (For, I suppose, that the veneration and adoration that our adversaries of the church of Rome give unto images and relics, and things of that nature, is not civil, but religious, though in a lower and an inferior degree.) Now this being taken for granted, I affirm, that “God, and God alone, is and ought to be the object of religious worship,” in the latitude of it; and that “religious worship,” in the lowest and most inferior degree, “ought not to be given unto any creature whatsoever;” and that will appear from these following considerations:—
1. It appears from the words of the text, “Thou shall worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”—Now, if we are to worship God alone, and serve God alone, then “God, and God alone, is and ought to be the object of religious worship, and religious worship ought not to be given unto any creature whatsoever.” If it be objected, that “the text doth not say, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God only,’ but, ‘Him only shalt thou serve;’ ” that “there is indeed an honour and a service that is due unto God alone, which to give unto any creature would be idolatry: ‘Him only shalt thou serve;’ but there is a worship which is due unto the creatures according to their respective excellences: as, to saints, holy things, and holy places; and we may worship them, though we may not serve them:” But if this were the sense of this scripture, the devil might have excepted against the answer made by our Saviour as insufficient; he might have said, “Thou mayest worship me, though thou mayest not serve me;” and that this scripture did not forbid all worship; yea, that some religious worship might be given to a creature in a lower and inferior degree, though the supreme worship might not; and all that he desired of our Saviour was, that he would “fall down and worship him.” That it was inferior worship, though religious, which the devil required of Christ, is plain; for he acknowledges God at the same time to be his superior, and the giver of that power which he laid claim to: “And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and unto whomsoever I will I give it.” (Luke 4:6.) And yet that is the worship which, Christ saith, God hath forbidden to be given unto any creature; and our Saviour discovers his abhorrence and detestation of any thing of that nature: “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Nor was it the scope of our Saviour to give countenance to any such distinction as this, as appears from that place of scripture which is here quoted: “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;” (Deut. 6:13, 14;) where Moses doth not distinguish between the worship that is due to God, and that worship which may be given unto the creature; but describes the worship which ought to be given unto God, and to God alone, and which ought not to be given unto the gods of the Gentiles. And, besides, this ought to be taken into consideration,—we do not find the word “only” in Deuteronomy annexed either to the fear of God, or to the service of God. Now, would it have been fairly and ingenuously done by any that lived under the Old-Testament dispensation, to make this gloss upon the text?—“It is true, we must fear the Lord our God, but not him only; and serve him, but not serve him only.” So that our Saviour adds the word “only” for explication’s sake. And, indeed, if God be to be worshipped at all, and served at all, for the same reason he only is to be worshipped, and he only is to be served. So that our Saviour doth not only recite this text in Deuteronomy, but he doth it with advantage, when he tells Satan, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
Worship is called “religious,” because it binds us to God, and to God alone: and wherever in scripture it is said we must worship God, we must always understand it thus,—we must worship him alone. Thus the angel, in the Revelation, chap. 19:10, where he tells John, that he must “worship God;” the meaning is, that he must worship God alone. “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;” and then it follows, by way of explication, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2.) It is said of Job, that he “arose, and rent his mantle, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped.” (Job 1:20.) Nothing is said of the object unto whom he did direct his worship; the object of his worship is not expressed, but understood, and presupposed: if he fell down and worshipped in a religious manner, it is to be taken for granted that he worshipped God.
2. It appears yet further, that “God, and God alone, is and ought to be the object of religious worship,” and that “religious worship ought not to be given unto any creature whatsoever,” because God hath expressly forbidden us in scripture the worshipping of angels.—“Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.” (Col. 2:18.) The apostle’s scope in this chapter is to dispute against those corruptions that were creeping into the Christian worship. These sometimes he calls “the traditions of men,” “the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ,” (verse 8,) and “the commandments and doctrines of men:” (verse 22:) and, amongst other corruptions, he cautions them against “worshipping of angels.” Now if religious worship might be given to a creature, then to these glorious creatures; but this, according to the apostle’s sense, is superstition and will-worship. So, verse 23: “Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship.” Now the church of Rome owns and avouches the worshipping of angels, which the apostle forbids. It is true, indeed, the Papists, in their worshipping of saints and angels, give the saints the pre-eminence: “It is by their means,” say they, “that indulgences are given out of the church’s treasury,” or rather put to sale; “they having not only merited their own salvation, but, some of them at least, super-erogated for the good of others, in that they have done more and greater things than are enjoined in God’s word.” And this is an honour that, according to their principles, is not, nor ought to be, given to the blessed angels.
But how extravagant soever the fancies of these men are, or may be, yet I shall aver, that if religious worship might be given to any creature, then unto these glorious creatures; and that not only because they never sinned against God, as the saints have done, but also because unto their care and tutelage are committed God’s holy ones, and they are “sent forth to minister for them that are heirs of salvation.” (Heb. 1:14.) But we read not of any such employ assigned by God unto the saints departed.
If any should say, “The worship of angels forbidden in the scripture is the supreme worship that is proper unto God alone: and to give this indeed unto the angels would be superstition and will-worship; but not religious worship in an inferior degree:” what a horrible, bold perverting of scripture is this! And who can reasonably imagine, that the apostle Paul, when he knew that the worshipping of angels was not only good and lawful, but highly commendable, should yet in the general condemn the worshipping of angels, without any distinction at all made in the case?
And whereas it may be said, that “St. Paul doth not in the general condemn the worshipping of angels, but the worshipping of angels as mediators, so as to exclude Christ; for the apostle adds, ‘And not holding the Head:’ ” (verse 19:) it is true, the apostle doth so; but then we must know, that religious worship, though in an inferior degree, given to an angel, is inconsistent with holding the Head, Christ: as a wife that gives the honour of her husband’s bed unto another, (and all religious and divine respect is no less,) denies him to be what she calls him, though she call him “husband” never so much. The reason urged in the second commandment against false worship, is, that “God is a jealous God.” Now we must understand it thus: He is jealous not only lest he should not be honoured as God, but he is also jealous lest he should not be honoured as one God; for as by the worshipping of him we acknowledge him to be God, so by the incommunicableness of that worship to any creature we acknowledge him to be one God.
And yet, that there may be no mistake in this matter, we deny not but that good men, when angels have appeared unto them in a visible shape, even when they have known that they have been angels, have given honour to them, and, it may be, bowed down before them. But then it is granted on all hands, that the same external gesture may be adapted and fitted to the worship that is civil and that which is religious; and it lies upon our adversaries to prove, that the honour or worship given unto them was religious, and of the very same kind that we give unto God, but in an inferior and lower degree. We read of Abraham, that “he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent-door, and bowed himself toward the ground;” (Gen. 18:2;) but that this was a civil, not a religious, respect, appears by the entertainment that he offers to make for them: “Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: and I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts.” (Verses 4, 5.) Indeed, afterwards he knew one of them to be the Angel of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is called “Jehovan” in that chapter, and might worship him with religious worship. But this doth not in the least contradict our principles nor the text; for God must and ought to be worshipped, though we must “worship the Lord our God, and him only must we serve.” Unto which I might add, that the servants of God under the law had a fair occasion offered them to invoke and worship angels, which we have not under the gospel; because they frequently then appeared unto them in the likeness of men, which they do not to us; and yet we never read that the people of God under the legal dispensation did invoke them, or pay any religious respect to them. David “saw the angel that smote the people;” yet did he not in the least apply himself to the angel, or worship him, but made his address unto God: “David spake unto the Lord, when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned: but these sheep, what have they done?” (2 Sam. 24:17.)
3. It appears yet further, that “God alone is, and ought to be, the object of religious worship,” and that “religious worship ought not to be given to any creature whatsoever,” because religious worship, though in the lowest and most inferior degree, is such that neither saints nor angels durst own or receive.—We read how that the devil would be worshipped, but saints and good angels would not. And I shall give you two instances for this: the first, of a saint; and the second, of an angel.
(1.) The first instance I shall give you is of a saint; namely, that of Peter: “As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.” (Acts 10:25, 26.) The argument is this: “No man is to be worshipped: But I am a man: Therefore I am not to be worshipped.” Nor is it reasonable to believe, that Cornelius would give religious worship in the highest degree, which our adversaries say is proper unto God alone, unto St. Peter; for it is said, that Cornelius was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, and one that prayed to God alway.” (Verse 2.) Nor can it justly be imagined that a devout man, and one that feared God, and one that prayed unto God alway, should give religious worship in the highest degree, which they call latriam, unto St. Peter, when he knew he was God’s minister, and not God.
(2.) The second instance that I shall give you is of an angel: “I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant.” (Rev. 19:10.) “See thou do it not:” hereby is signified unto us the heinousness of this sin: as if he had said, “Beware what thou doest; God forbid that a creature should join in co-partnership with God in his worship: ‘worship God.’ ” “See thou do it not;” a speech something like that in Jer. 44:4: “O, do not this abominable thing that I hate.” “They went to burn incense, and to serve other gods, whom they knew not;” (verse 3;) and God cried out, as it were, with a shriek, “O, do not this abominable thing that I hate!” Thus in the like case, when John fell down at the feet of the angel to worship him, the angel refuses it with abhorrence and detestation: “See thou do it not:” and he gives this reason for it: “I am thy fellow-servant.” And the argument is this: No servant of Christ ought to be worshipped: But an angel is a servant of Christ: Therefore an angel is not to be worshipped. “Worship God:” as if he had said, “God, and God alone, is the object of religious worship; and ‘I am thy fellow-servant: worship God.’ ” The angel in this seems to point at that worship which is called dulia: “Why should dulia be given to him that is δουλος [‘a servant’]? It is a horrible wickedness to serve and worship thy fellow-servant in a religious manner: ‘I am thy fellow-servant: worship God.’ ”
See again, to this purpose, Rev. 22:8, 9: “I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow-servant,” &c.: “worship God.” And whereas some pretend that St. John took the angel to be God, and would have worshipped him with latria, which is proper to God alone; and therefore the angel says, “See thou do it not:” this is a mere groundless fancy of their own, and not to be made out by the least iota or tittle in the text. And, besides, it is very much that St. John should be mistaken twice in the case; for he was twice repulsed by the angel: and St. John calls him expressly “an angel:” “I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel:” (verse 8:) and the angel bids him “worship God.” (Verse 9.) By which is intimated, that St. John’s mistake was not in the person, but in the worshipping of the person; for that religious worship, though in the lowest and most inferior degree, is such, that neither saint nor angel durst own or receive.
4. It appears yet further, that “God, and God alone, is and ought to be the object of religious worship,” and that “religious worship ought not to be given to any creature whatsoever,” from the consideration of the nature of worship itself, together with that God that is to be worshipped.—Religious worship in solidum, “as well in one degree as another,” is due to God, and proper only unto him. As there is no proportion between God and a creature, because there is an infinite distance between the one and the other; so it follows, that, if it were possible, there should be an infinite disproportion between the honour that we give to God, and the honour that we give unto a creature. And since the Divine Excellency doth differ in kind from that which is, or can possibly be, in any creature, it necessarily follows, that the worship and honour that is given unto God ought to differ in kind from that worship and honour that we give unto the creature; so that to give the same worship unto God and to the creature, differing only in degree, is in effect to say, that the creature is but in a degree inferior unto God. Unto which I might add,
5. In the fifth place, that if idolatry consists only in giving religious worship in the highest degree unto a creature, then the Arians are falsely charged with idolatry by ancient and modern divines, for giving religious worship unto Christ, who, they say, is but a creature, though the best of creatures.—I suppose that even our adversaries themselves make no scruple to charge Arians with idolatry. Now it is not easily to be imagined how the Arians should give latriam, or religious worship in the highest degree, unto Christ, whom they profess to be a creature, and not God; and if religious worship in an inferior degree may be given unto a creature, why then are they charged with idolatry?
6. Unto which I might also add, that this will justify at least many of the best and wisest of the Heathens in their superstitious and idolatrous practices, many of the Heathens worshipping the true God by false mediums.—For instance, the men of Athens: “As I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you;” (Acts 17:23;) and yet the apostle charges them with superstition: “I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious:” (verse 22;) the altar was dedicated unto the same God that Paul preached, and yet even in this they were “too superstitious.”
Thus I have endeavoured to clear this great truth unto you, that “God, and God alone, is and ought to be the object of religious worship,” and that “religious worship ought not to be given unto any creature whatsoever.” If it be said, that “religious worship upon occasion hath been given unto a creature; as, for instance, upon God’s appearing unto Moses in the burning bush: God said unto Moses, ‘Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ (Exod. 3:5.) And thus the Israelites were to worship before the ark, even by the appointment of God himself: ‘Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.’ (Psalm 99:5.) Now if so, how is this a truth, that ‘God, and God alone, is the object of religious worship;’ and that ‘religious worship ought not to be given unto any creature whatsoever?’ ” For the removing of this difficulty, I shall say two things.
1. That in whatever place God is pleased to manifest his special and extraordinary presence, that place, during that time, may be said to be holy, or to be sanctified; and thus it was in the case of the holy ground.—“The Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire, out of the midst of a bush.” (Exod. 3:2.) Now, that this Angel of the Lord was. God himself, appears from verse 4: “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush:” upon this the Lord said, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Verse 5.) And so also as for the ark: God had promised his special presence there, and to “commune” with his people “from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubims which were upon the ark of the testimony.” (Exod. 25:22.) And hence God is said to dwell between the cherubims: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.” (Psalm 80:1.) And hence the shewbread that was placed upon a table before the ark is said to be set before God: “Thou shalt set upon the table shewbread before me alway;” (Exod. 25:30;) and this bread was therefore called panis facierum, “the bread of faces,” and panis propositionis, because it was “placed before” the ark. But I shall add, that there is no place under the gospel that can be said to be holy upon the account of God’s special and extraordinary presence. If there be any such, let our adversaries show us where it is, and give us sufficient proof of it; and we will frankly comply with them, and grant that place to be holy and sanctified.
2. The second thing that I say is this: that although Moses was to put off his shoes because the place whereon he stood was holy ground, yea, and that respect was given to the ground because of God’s special and extraordinary presence in that place, which was signified by putting off the shoes; (take this for granted;) yet how doth it appear that the respect given to the ground was religious, or that religious worship was given to the ground?—“O,” say our adversaries, “because it was holy.” Grant it, the ground was holy; but must it therefore be worshipped religiously? If you form this into an argument, it runs thus: Whatever is holy, ought to be worshipped religiously: But the Lord tells you the ground was holy: Therefore it ought to be worshipped religiously. But who sees not the weakness of the first proposition, namely, that “whatever is holy ought to be worshipped religiously?” Aaron was holy, and the priests under the law were holy; but yet we read not that they were worshipped religiously, or with religious worship, either living or dead; much less did they worship their garments, though they also were holy. We have, or at least we ought to have, a respect for the people of God, as such, as they are religious and holy persons; and yet it doth not follow from hence, that therefore they are religiously to be worshipped. Yea, the people of God are holy, if compared with the holy ground itself, in an eminent and transcendent manner; for “after God,” that is, after the image of God, they are “created in righteousness and true holiness.” The ground was only capable of relative holiness; but the people of God are enriched and beautified with inherent holiness; and are sanctified, not only in a way of external relation, as the ground was, but inwardly and inherently in their hearts; they are sanctified throughout, both in body, soul, and spirit; and yet they are not to be worshipped with religious worship.
As for that instance concerning the ark, that also is called “holy:” “Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy,” (Psalm 99:5,) so our translation renders it; or, as it is in the margin of the Bible, “for it is holy:” which way soever you render the words, it is much at one to our purpose; for although the Jews worshipped God at his footstool, or before the ark, which was his footstool, yet it doth not appear that they worshipped his footstool, no, not with religious worship in a lesser or inferior degree. The Israelites might worship God before the ark, and yet not worship the ark. Thus the wise men worshipped Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger; but yet they did not worship either the clothes or the manger. (Matt. 2:11.) Thus those that sang “Hosanna to the Son of David,” “Hosanna in the highest,” worshipped Christ riding upon an ass; but they did not worship the ass itself. (Matt. 21:9.) Whatever respect therefore was given to the ground, or to the ark, it doth not appear that it was religious. If any be offended with the word “civil,” and take it to be too low a word in a case of this nature, by my consent we will not be angry about words; let them call it, if they please, super-civilis; or if they will but acknowledge that it was not the same worship for kind that we give unto God, the strife, as far as this goes, shall be at an end, and we shall be beholden to them for a better word, when they shall be at leisure to furnish us therewith.
USE I. We may take notice from hence of the superstition and idolatry of the church of Rome, in giving that worship that is proper unto God, and unto him alone, unto other things.—And here I shall not speak to the idolatry of the church of Rome in the latitude of it; but take occasion to make mention of their worshipping of saints, and their worshipping of images.
(I.) Their worshipping of saints.—Our adversaries tell us, that we do them wrong when we say that they give that worship unto the creature that is proper unto God; and do frankly acknowledge that if they did so, they should make a creature a god, and, by consequence, be guilty of idolatry. But how they will or can acquit themselves in this particular, for my part, I cannot understand: for actions, or gestures, or words, directed to any creature, that do imply that creature to have any of God’s incommunicable attributes and divine perfections, do questionless give that honour to the creature which is proper unto God; and this is done by those of the church of Rome. For instance: when thousands of Papists in thousands of places at one and the same time pray unto saints, and in particular to the Virgin Mary, doth not this suppose the saints, and in particular the Virgin Mary, to be omniscient and omnipresent? And are not these some of God’s incommunicable attributes and divine perfections? And is not the omniscience and omnipresence of God one main ground of religious worship? And is not God to be invoked every where, because he sees and hears whatsoever is done upon the earth, and is present in all places? “I will,” saith the apostle, “that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” (1 Tim. 2:8.) We have no reason to lift up holy hands to a saint, unless that saint was every where. And whereas some pretend that the saints may see all things in God, in speculo Deitatis, “in the glass of the Deity,” this glass hath long since been broken by the hand of the learned; nor is there any thing else likely to be seen by it but the rashness of some bold persons, who dare to sport with divine things, and aspire unto a wisdom above that which is written, the scripture not in the least making mention of any such thing. Yea, the humanity of Christ himself, though personally united unto the divine nature, did not pretend to it; for our Saviour, speaking of the day of judgment, doth freely and openly declare to all the world, “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32.) Nor can the meaning be that the Son knew not of the day of judgment in this sense, namely, so as to make it known unto the world; for in that sense the Father himself may be said to know nothing of that day and hour, when he is plainly excepted in the case: “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” And seeing operari sequitur esse, and “every being doth exercise its operations in such a way as is suitable to its nature and essence,” it is a hard matter to conceive that a finite creature can be capable of infinite knowledge, and exercise it accordingly. But I shall not insist upon this, because it is to be managed by another hand; however, I shall take my liberty to add hereunto two considerations, and so pass on:—
1. We Protestants acknowledge that we have an honour for the blessed apostles, and martyrs, and saints, and upon occasion give them their due praises, and celebrate their memorials; but those of the church of Rome, whilst they would most superstitiously give them that honour that is due to God, most unrighteously deny them that honour that is due unto themselves. Is it an honour to the prophets, evangelists, and apostles, to suppress what they wrote, said, and did, from the greatest part of the Christian world, when our Saviour says, upon occasion of a woman’s bringing a box of precious ointment, and pouring it upon his head as he sat at meat, that “wheresoever this gospel should be preached, there should also this that this woman had done, be told for a memorial of her?” (Matt. 26:7–13.) The apostle’s counsel is, “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.” (James 5:10.) Now is it an honour to the prophets for the generality of the people to be kept in such gross ignorance of the holy scriptures, that it is a wonder if millions of them know what kind of persons the prophets were, and whether there were such that ever lived in the world? Is it an honour to the saints departed to aver, that, for some time at least, and it is hard to know how long, they suffer the same pains and torments for substance that the damned suffer in hell, and that all this time they are deprived of the beatifical vision of God’s blessed presence in the other world? Absalom had rather die, than to live in exile, and not see the king’s face: “Let me see the king’s face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me.” (2 Sam. 14:32.) And is it a small matter for the saints for many generations to be shut out of the presence of their Heavenly Father, and banished from his sight, who is the “King of kings, and Lord of lords?” (Rev. 19:16.) Thus the pretended honour that the Papists say they give unto the saints vanishes into air and smoke.
2. That although we have an honour for the blessed apostles, saints, and martyrs, yet we dare not give them religious honour, no, not in any degree whatsoever; for this is due to God, and proper to him alone: when we attribute that to a creature which is proper and peculiar unto God, we make that a god. Thus Jacob to Rachel, importunately desiring children: “Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” (Gen. 30:2.) Thus also when Naaman was sent into Samaria to be cured of his leprosy, and brought a letter to the king of Israel from the king of Syria to that purpose, “saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. It came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?” (2 Kings 5:6, 7.) Thus it is also in the case of worship; if we give that worship to a creature that is proper unto God, we make it a god: “Thou shalt worship no other god;” and the reason rendered is this: “For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exod. 34:14.) God’s name is Jealous: and why is his name so? why is his name Jealous? Because, as men are made known and distinguished by their names from other men, so God is made known by his name Jealous, and distinguished from other gods, from false gods. False gods were not jealous, though their lovers and worshippers went a-whoring after other gods: if they worshipped them, and served them, all was well enough, they were not jealous. But the Lord our God is a jealous God, and will not admit of any co-partner or rival in his love, in his worship: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Thus much for their worshipping of saints.
(II.) The second thing I shall mention is their worshipping of images.—This is expressly forbidden by the second commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” (Exod. 20:4, 5.) That God had a special regard to religion in this commandment, is plain,
1. Because it is said, we are not to bow down ourselves to them, nor serve them.
2. Because this commandment belongs to the first table, which concerns God’s worship and service: and the Papists are transgressors of this commandment; for they make unto themselves images, and fall down and worship them.
And whereas it is urged, that, “suppose the worship of the true God by an image were forbidden by the second commandment, it would follow indeed from hence, that it was unlawful to worship God by an image; but not that it was idolatry:” this is but a pretence; for to give religious respect to any creature whatsoever is idolatry. Now, that the worship given by Papists unto images is religious, appears, because they tell us, that the worship of an image stays not there, but is referred or carried to the prototype, or thing represented by it; and therefore must of necessity be the same in kind that is given to God himself. For he that tells you that he doeth it but improperly, indirectly, in this or that manner, acknowledges he doeth the thing, and only tells you the manner how; and if the manner doth not destroy the thing, then it remains still the same kind of worship, and, for all these distinctions, it is idolatry. And, besides, to comply with any way of worship which is not of divine appointment and institution is not only a transgression of the second commandment, but ought to be accounted one kind of idolatry; and the reason is this, because hereby we give the honour unto a creature which is proper only unto God; for as God alone is to be worshipped, so again he alone can appoint the way or means whereby he will be worshipped. And this is so signally a part of his sovereignty and authority over his creature, that implicitly, and by way of interpretation, we make them our god unto whom we submit in any way or kind of worship which is not of divine institution. And hence the Israelites are said to worship devils: “They shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a-whoring.” (Lev. 17:7.) Not that the devil was, at least directly, the object of their worship, but because he hath a great stroke in bringing into the world all kind of false worship; and men in conformity hereunto pay him that observance and homage that is proper unto God, and in that respect may be said to worship the devil.
Our adversaries plead for themselves, that they worship not a false god, nor the image of any false god, but the sacred images of saints and angels, and the blessed Virgin Mary, and the like; and that adoration must and ought to be given to those, and that for their sakes whom they represent. But if religious respect or honour be given to an image for the sake of him whom it represents, this is an unquestionable argument against the worshipping of images; for, seeing it is certain that no religious worship is due unto the saints themselves, much less may it be given to an image for their sakes.
And here I shall take an occasion to give you an account of what the council of Trent says concerning images: “That the images of Christ, and of the blessed Virgin-mother of God, and other saints, are to be kept and reserved, especially in churches, and due honour and veneration to be given to them;” (by “honour and veneration” I suppose they mean more than civil;) “not for that any divinity or virtue is believed to be in them, for which they are to be worshipped, or that any thing is to be asked of them, or any confidence to be placed in them, as was anciently done by the Heathens, who put their trust in idols; but because the honour which is exhibited to images is referred to the prototype, or thing represented by them; so that by the image which we kiss, and before which we kneel or put off our hats, we adore Christ, and reverence his saints, whom the said images represent.” (Sess. 25.) Thus that council. Now let us see whether the Jews might not have had the same or the like plea for the purging of themselves from idolatry in their worshipping [of] the brasen serpent in Hezekiah’s time. When the brasen serpent had not that healing virtue unto which it was designed by God at first, might not they have said that they gave due honour and veneration to the brasen serpent, not for that any divinity or virtue was believed to be in it, or that any thing was to be asked of it, or any confidence to be placed in it; but in memory of those great and wonderful cures that had formerly been wrought by it, and that by the appointment and institution of God himself; and what they did was rather in honour to God, than unto it; and whatever veneration was given to the brasen serpent, it was for God’s sake, and was ultimately to be resolved upon him? Let the Papists look to it whether they have a better plea for themselves, in their pretended due honour and veneration that they give unto images, than the Jews had for their idolatrous practices.
If any should say, “But doth not nature teach us, that the honour or dishonour done to a picture or image, reflects upon the person represented by it? Is it not an honour to a prince to kiss his picture, and a dishonour to abuse it, or deface it? And therefore is it not an honour to God to do the like, and to give due veneration and adoration unto his image?” For answer to this, take into your consideration these following particulars:—
That it is supposed by this querist, that an image or picture may be made of God; which ought to be denied, and not taken for granted: “All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” (Isai. 40:17.) And it follows: “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” (Verse 18.) And why should we make an image of God that is not like him? But our adversaries tell us, that images or pictures made with reference unto God, may be considered two ways: in a proper sense: as if a man should conceive God to have eyes, and ears, and hands, and other bodily parts, as we have, and represent him accordingly by an image. And this our adversaries themselves acknowledge to be an infinite disparagement unto the divine nature; because God, being infinite and invisible, can by no means be represented as he is in himself by any corporeal likeness or figure. Or in a metaphorical and allusive sense: as representing such things as bear a certain analogy or proportion to some divine properties, and thereupon are apt to raise our minds to the knowledge and contemplation of the perfections themselves: as, when God appeared to Daniel as “the Ancient of days,” this was to manifest his wisdom and eternity; (Dan. 7:9;) and the Holy Ghost as a dove, this was to signify his purity and simplicity. (Matt. 3:16.) “Now,” say they, “to make an image of God in this sense, is no way dishonourable to him, because it is not made to represent the divine nature by an immediate or proper similitude; but by analogy only, or metaphorical signification; and these images are usually called, by way of distinction, ‘symbolical images of God.’ ” Unto which we say,
1. That the making of any image of God is forbidden in scripture.—“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, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female:” (Deut. 4:15, 16:) where God did not forbid them the making of the images of false gods, or that any veneration or worship should be given unto them. This is plain from the text: “Ye saw no manner of similitude;” the meaning is not that they saw no similitude of any false god, but of the God that spake to them in Horeb. Whereupon the Lord gives them this caution: “Take ye therefore good heed to yourselves, lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure,” &c.
If it be said, that “they were to take heed lest they corrupted themselves by making an image of God in a proper sense, as is before explained, but they were not forbidden to make a symbolical image of God,” it is replied,
(1.) I demand where there is any ground in that text for such a distinction between a proper and a symbolical image of God. The words of the law are comprehensive and general: “Take heed, lest you corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure:” and the reason rendered by God is, “For ye saw no manner of similitude in the day the Lord spake to you in Horeb.” Mark! “no manner of similitude,” no, not so much as symbolical.
(2.) Such an image of God is forbidden, that we are to take great heed to ourselves lest we corrupt ourselves in the making of it. Now there is no such great danger for a man to represent God to himself by an image in a proper sense, as if God had eyes, and hands, and feet, as we have; at least, such are not in danger that are any thing acquainted with the holy scriptures, which expressly tell us, that “God is a Spirit,” and that he will be worshipped “in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24.) It is to be feared, indeed, that the poor ignorant laity amongst the Papists may be in some danger by this means: but knowing persons amongst the Protestants, even those of the laity, are not. If it be said, “It is true, the people of Israel saw no similitude on the day that God spake to them in Horeb; but afterwards God made himself known to them by outward figures and similitudes: to Daniel, as the Ancient of days; (Dan. 7:9;) to our Saviour, in the shape of a dove: (Matt. 3:16:) and, besides, the parts and members of man’s body are sometimes in scripture ascribed unto God, as eyes, and hands, and feet, &c.: and why may not we represent God as he hath been pleased to represent himself?” to this it is replied, that God may, as he pleaseth, make known himself unto his people by some visible tokens of his extraordinary presence; but then consider,
(i.) That which God was pleased to do sometimes for holy reasons best known unto himself is not the rule of our actions: the word of God is a sufficient rule, and the only rule; and if we would know what sin is, and what duty is, we must take our measures from thence. That in matters of worship we may sin, in imitating God himself otherwise than he hath commanded in his word; we have a famous instance for this in Jeroboam: “Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah;” (1 Kings 12:32;) and yet you see he is branded for this by the Spirit of God in the scriptures.
(ii.) We never read that Moses and the prophets took care that any figure or image should be made of God, no, not a symbolical image; and it is very strange that they should be so much wanting to themselves, and to the generation wherein they lived, if they were such excellent helps to devotion as some pretend.
(iii.) Though God sometimes by outward figures and similitudes gave notice of his extraordinary presence, yet it was to persons eminent for holiness, and of great and singular wisdom in divine things; as Abraham, Moses, Daniel, and such-like worthies, and such as were able to give a right judgment of things of this nature: but when God spake unto the people in Horeb out of the midst of the fire, they saw no manner of similitude, lest they might corrupt themselves in the making of a graven image, and might have gross and carnal notions concerning God. And, indeed, I cannot but wonder at our adversaries, when they call images “laymen’s books,” or “the books of the unlearned.” Had the use of images been appropriated to the more knowing and learned persons, it would have been more tolerable; there might be some pretence that such persons might from sensible and material representations be raised up to divine and heavenly meditation, even of things surpassing sense: but to conceive that the vulgar and ignorant sort of people, (and the generality of people are so, and ought to be so according to the Popish principles,)—I say, to think that they who are in a manner made up altogether of sense should be taught to worship an infinite, spiritual, invisible Being, by fixing their eyes upon finite, corporeal objects of sense, seems to me to be the first-born of incredibilities.
And whereas it is said that we cannot conceive of God but by forming ideas of him in our minds, which are so many pictures and representations of God: this is true; but then withal we must consider, that these forms and representations of God in our fancies arise from our natural constitution, from our finite and corporeal nature, and ought to be bewailed; and therefore [this] is no argument for worshipping God in any corporeal form; for this may betray us so much the more to gross and undue notions and conceptions concerning God. Nor are our imaginations to guide our understanding; but our understandings must rectify and regulate our imaginations.
(iv.) These outward figures and signs of God’s special and extraordinary presence continued only for a time, and for some extraordinary service for which God had designed them, and then disappeared; and it is absurd for any to think that which was by peculiar and extraordinary dispensation should become a constant and ordinary rule unto all generations.
(v.) It is true, that the parts and members of man’s body are sometimes ascribed unto God in scripture, as eyes, and hands, and feet, &c.; but it is ridiculous from tropes and metaphors and figurative expressions to form an argument for pictures and images. For if so, we may represent God as the sun, as a fountain, as fire, as a rock; and Christ as a hen, with chickens under his wings; for these are ascribed to God and Christ in scripture; and yet I conceive that Papists themselves would not give any countenance to pictures of this nature. Unto which might be added, that it is not likely that we should be misled into error by such passages as those, when the scripture elsewhere tells us expressly that “God is a Spirit:” but these pretended images of God speak not, nor give us any notice of our danger. Yea, in those very places of scripture, at least some of them, where eyes and hands and feet are ascribed unto God, we may find enough to prove that God is infinite and incomprehensible. For instance: when it is said that heaven is God’s throne, and the earth his footstool; (Isai. 66:1;) where at first view it seems to be insinuated, as if God had feet, and made use of the earth as his footstool; yet if we seriously consider the whole as it is ascribed unto God, we shall find that it plainly enough speaks God to be an infinite Being. For when it is said, that the whole heaven is God’s throne, and the whole earth his footstool, it would not only be absurd, but monstrously ridiculous, for any to conceive that a body like unto man’s should be capable of such qualifications, as at the same time to make heaven its throne, and the earth its footstool. So when God is said to deliver Israel by a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm, there is no man can understand it thus, as if God stretched forth his arm out of heaven upon the earth for the deliverance of his people; but that by God’s “arm” is meant God’s “power,” and that it is called his “hand” or “arm” improperly and after the manner of men. Thus the holy scriptures have well provided for the people of God against errors and mistakes concerning God. But how the pretended images of God may acquit themselves in this particular, our adversaries should do well to advise. And therefore let me caution you in God’s name, lest you corrupt yourselves in making any graven image of God; and I do it so much the rather, because men have a great fancy to have a god that they may see with their eyes, or at least some visible representations of God; for they think, if he should be out of sight, he would be out of mind also. And hence Papists, and Popishly-affected persons, are more for being at Mass, than for hearing of a sermon; they had rather see their God, than hear another speak eloquently of him: and therefore take heed, lest ye corrupt yourselves in this kind.
And this is the first thing that I would say to this inquiry,—whether it be not an honour to God that due veneration and adoration be given to his image or picture; namely, that this supposes that an image or picture may be made of God, which we deny.
2. The second thing that I would say by way of reply to this inquiry, is this: that civil honour may be paid to the images of kings and princes; but it doth not follow from hence, that the images of Christ and of the saints may have a religious respect paid to them.—The images of kings and princes are civil things, and therefore may have civil honour. If the images of Christ and the saints were sacred, as the other are civil, there might be some colour for what they say; but that they are sacred or holy is to be proved, and till then we leave it to our adversaries to take it into consideration.
3. That it is granted that the abuse or the defacing of the image of a prince redounds to the dishonour of that prince whom it represents; but I hope no indignity is offered to a prince by breaking a-pieces those pictures that he had expressly forbidden should be graven, or painted, or made, and that under a severe penalty.—Indeed the abuse of those things that are of divine institution, as of the elements in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, or the water in baptism, doth redound unto God himself; but what is this to an image of man’s devising, and that not only without any warrant from God, but expressly against his will and commandments? If a man should break a-pieces or throw into the fire the coin that comes into his hands that is false or counterfeit, though it had the prince’s image or stamp upon it, yet it would be no dishonour to the prince to deal so by it, but rather a piece of homage and reverence to his authority.
For the further clearing of this matter in controversy between us and our adversaries of Rome, concerning the veneration and adoration that they say may be given to images, we will consider that images may be worshipped two manner of ways.
1. Terminativè; that is, when people “terminate” their worship on an image, as if it were God, without looking any further than it. And this is likely to be the sin of the more brutish sort of the blind Heathens, and of many ignorant Papists to this day. And this kind of idolatry is forbidden by the first commandment. This is plain upon this ground: if the first commandment expressly enjoins us to have no other gods but Jehovah, then to worship an image as God is forbidden by this commandment: so that by “making a graven image,” in the second commandment, and “falling down before it,” and worshipping of it, something else must be understood than the worshipping of it terminativè as God; and therefore,
2. Images may be worshipped relativè, and “with respect” to the true God; and in this sense our adversaries of the church of Rome would maintain their worship of images. Now this also is unlawful, and forbidden by the second commandment. In this sense the Papists in our days are guilty of idolatry, and the Jews of old were guilty of idolatry; for the Jews, at least many of them, did not worship the images themselves, but the true God by them; and this will appear by instances out of the sacred scripture.
(1.) The first instance that I shall give you shall be that of the golden calf, of which we read in Exod. 32. That the worshipping of the calf was idolatry, is plain: “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play;” (1 Cor. 10:7;) where the apostle refers to the people’s worshipping of the calf: “They rose early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play;” (Exod. 32:6;) and yet the Israelites did not fall into the heathenish idolatry by so doing, that is, they did not worship the calf as God, but worshipped the true God by the calf. I know, the Papists with great bitterness inveigh against the Protestants for teaching of this doctrine; nor do I wonder at it; for what is likely to become of the Popish darling principle of worshipping the true God by an image, if the Israelites, for doing the same thing, according to the judgment of God himself, were idolaters? Now therefore that which will be proved is this, that the Israelites did not worship the calf as God, but the true God by the calf; and that will appear by these following considerations:—
(i.) Because the calf was dedicated and consecrated to the service of the true God, as appears by what Aaron said and did in that case: “When Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To-morrow is a feast to the Lord,” or “unto Jehovah;” (Exod. 32:5;) and Aaron useth the name Jehovah, that he might make the best of a bad matter, that the people might not terminate their worship on the idol, but on the true God. And our adversaries seem to yield to the force of this scripture, when they do acknowledge, that Aaron perhaps, and some of the wiser amongst the Israelites, might not be so sottish as to worship the calf as God. But they should consider also, that Aaron did not speak so much his own sense, but by this means would give notice to the people how to regulate and order their devotion; and if they would be so mad as to worship the calf, in so doing they should have respect unto the true God, unto Jehovah, and worship him by it; and accordingly he makes “proclamation,” and says, “To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah.”
If it be said, “The idol was called by the name Jehovah, and therefore they worshipped that as God;” we reply, that this is gratis dictum, “said, but not proved:” for Aaron doth not say, “To-morrow is a feast to the calf Jehovah,” but, “To-morrow is a feast to Jehovah.” And suppose it were so, that the calf was called Jehovah, this may be understood of that religious worship and honour which they gave unto the calf, which is so proper and peculiar unto God, that either that is God which we thus worship, or else we make it so. In Psalm 106:19, 20, it is said of Israel, “They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image. Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass.” The meaning is not, that the Israelites thought that God in his nature and being was like unto an ox; but by giving the calf religious honour, by worshipping the graven image, by giving that glory which is due to God unto an ox, they did, in a sense, “change their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass.” Thus when Israel is charged with “saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth,” (Jer. 2:27,) this is not to be understood strictly: surely, they had been grosser stocks than those that they worshipped, if it entered into their thoughts that a stock made them, or was their father, or a stone brought them forth; but because they gave some religious respect to those stocks and stones, they did in a sense change the glory of God into a stock, and into a stone; and, by interpretation, say “to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth.”
(ii.) It further appears, that the Israelites did not worship the calf itself as God, but the true God by the calf, as by what Aaron said, so by what the people said: “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 32:4.) Now though they say “gods,” because the word in the Hebrew is in the plural number; yet, according to the usage of the word in other places of scripture, we must understand by it “one God;” and so the scripture expounds it elsewhere: “This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt.” (Neh. 9:18.) They called the calf “God” by an usual metonymy, by giving of the name of the thing signified unto the sign; as the images of the cherubims are called “cherubims,” (Exod. 25:18,) and the images of oxen are called “oxen.” (1 Kings 7:25.) So then the meaning of this scripture is this: “These be thy gods, O Israel;” that is to say, “This is the sign and token of the presence of thy God, O Israel, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” And, indeed, had the calf been God, according to the notion of the idolatrous Heathens, the calf would rather have kept them in Egypt, than have brought them out of Egypt. For look: as those of the church of Rome have their tutelar saints, some to preside over some countries, and some over others; some to be helpful and assistant in one case, and some in another; so the Heathens had their tutelar and topical gods. The gods of Egypt themselves would not stir out of Egypt; much less were they likely to bring Israel from thence. The Heathens thought that the whole world was of too large a compass for one god to take care of; and therefore their notion was, that several countries had several gods; yea, several places, it may be, in one and the same country, had several gods. “Their gods,” say the Syrians of the Israelites, “are gods of the hills,” (possibly collecting the same from the Jews’ usual sacrificing in high places,) and not the god of the plain; “let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” (1 Kings 20:23.) “It is likely that one god cannot be the god of the hills, and the god of the plain.” And hence it is that the people that the king of Assyria sent to the cities of Samaria, and placed there, are said not to know the manner of the God of the land, that is, the God of Israel, as distinct from the God of Judah. (2 Kings 17:26.) These were the notions that the Heathens had of their gods; and therefore if the Israelites were such gross idolaters as our adversaries pretend they were, how could they say?—“These are thy gods, O Israel, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”
(iii.) It appears yet further, that the Israelites did not worship the calf itself as God, but the true God by the calf, from that text of scripture: “They made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven.” (Acts 7:41, 42.) It is said, that sacrifice notes the highest piece of worship and devotion; this is said; but it is more than evident that the Israelites had a respect to the true God, even when they offered sacrifice unto the idol: for it is said, when the Israelites offered sacrifice unto the calf, that “God gave them up to worship the host of heaven.” Now if their idolatry had consisted in worshipping the calf as God, it will be found to be more gross and absurd than to worship the host of heaven; at least, it could not have been an aggravation of their sin that they worshipped the host of heaven above their worshipping of the calf, which is St. Stephen’s scope in this place. The meaning therefore of this scripture is this,—that because they corrupted the worship of the true God in worshipping of the calf, contrary to his command, therefore God in judgment gave them up to the worshipping of those that were not gods, namely, the host of heaven.
“But is it not said that ‘they forgat God their Saviour?’ (Psalm 106:21.) And doth not this imply that they had renounced the worship of the true God, and worshipped the calf as God?” I answer, No; this must not be understood as if they did not remember God at all; no, nor yet the great things which he had done in Egypt: but they are said to forget him, because they were not mindful of his precepts, and had no regard unto his laws; and particularly that law, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image.” They who do not obey God, do not, as they ought, remember God; and in this sense the Israelites are said to forget God, not because they worshipped the calf as a false god, but transgressed, in worshipping of the calf, the law of the true God.
“But what need had the Israelites of the calf, as a sign of God’s presence going before them, when they had already the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, designed by God for this very end?” But what trifling is this! What need had they to long after the garlic and onions of Egypt, when God had provided for them manna, the food of angels, bread from heaven? What need had David to contrive the death of his good subject Uriah, and after this to marry Bathsheba his wife? Yea, what need have the Papists themselves of crucifixes, when they have the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, memoirs, of divine appointment and institution, of Christ’s death and passion? Would it not be ridiculous to say?—“They had no need to do it; therefore they did it not.”
And supposing that the people should be so stupid, as some pretend they were, as to think that there was a divine virtue inherent in the calf; yet this doth not prove that they worshipped the calf as God: for if so, the Jews might conclude that the hem of Christ’s garment, and the handkerchief and shadow of the apostles, were gods, because a divine virtue seemed to go forth from them; yea, and the brasen serpent might be thought to have been God, because the stung Israelite was healed by looking up to the brasen serpent.
And whereas it is urged that “the Israelites served the gods of the Egyptians whilst they were in Egypt: ‘Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt;’ (Joshua 24:14;) and the scripture, speaking of Israel, tells us, ‘They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image;’ ” (Psalm 106:19;) in answer to this, we say, that it is not unusual for God to charge a people going on in ways of wickedness and disobedience with that which is suitable enough with what they do and the intention of the work, though far enough off from the design and intention of the worker. Thus the apostle tells us, that covetousness is idolatry, and that there are some that make their belly their god; and yet the persons concerned [are] far enough off either from professing or designing any thing of this nature. Thus the Israelites “made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image,” because they gave religious worship to it; though their design and intention was far different from the idolatry of the Heathens, that worshipped idols, or false gods. Thus I have endeavoured to clear the first instance that may be given of the Jews’ committing idolatry by their worshipping of images, though they did not worship the images themselves, but the true God by them; and having been so large in this, there needs but a few words to be spoken to the rest.
(2.) A second instance may be that of Jeroboam, in his infamous sin in setting up calves at Dan and Bethel, whereby he made Israel to sin. Now it was not Jeroboam’s design to withdraw the people altogether from the worship of the true God, or the worshipping of those calves as gods; but to worship the true God by them: and that for these reasons:—
(i.) The great design of Jeroboam in this was, that he might secure the ten tribes unto himself, so that they might not think of returning to unite themselves any more to the house of David, which might possibly come to pass by their going up to Jerusalem; as appears from 1 Kings 12:26, 27: “And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people return again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah:” and hence that saying of his: “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem;” (verse 28;) as if he should say, “Ye may worship God nearer home.”
(ii.) That it was not Jeroboam’s design to withdraw the people altogether from the worship of the true God will further appear, because the idolatry of Jeroboam is distinguished from the idolatry of the Heathens abroad that worshipped false gods; yea, from the idolatry of their idolatrous kings at home, as that of Ahab: “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him:” (1 Kings 16:30:) so that Ahab’s idolatry was more heinous than Jeroboam’s. And what other reason can likely be rendered for it than this, namely, Ahab’s setting up of false gods? For whereas it is pretended that “Ahab’s sin was greater than Jeroboam’s, because Ahab’s sin was the worshipping of many gods, whereas Jeroboam’s sin was worshipping the calf; as he is a greater and more heinous sinner that commits adultery with many, than he that commits it but with one:” this is but a pretence; for it remains to be proved, that the Israelites did at any time, yea, in the worst of times, altogether renounce the true and living God; but, in their conceit, yea, in their profession, [did] acknowledge the true God still. And hence it is that you shall read, that Ahab’s prophets, that were the prophets of Baal, did yet prophesy in the name of the Lord: “And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the Lord, With these shalt thou push the Syrians until thou have consumed them. And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramoth-Gilead, and prosper; for the Lord will deliver it into the king’s hand.” (1 Kings 22:11, 12.) So that the difference between Jeroboam’s and Ahab’s idolatry lay here: Jeroboam’s idolatry consisted in worshipping of the true God by an image; but Ahab’s idolatry was not only in worshipping the true God by an image, as Jeroboam’s did, but in worshipping other gods beside him, namely, Baal-gods.
(3.) A third instance might be that of Micah and his mother. (Judges 17) Though his mother made a graven image, yet that it was for the worshipping of the God of Israel appears by the whole story. She professes, in verse 3, that she had wholly dedicated the silver that was to make a graven image and a molten image unto the Lord; and Micah himself consecrates a Levite for his priest, that is, seeming thereby to have respect to the true God in the worship he had designed; and when he had done so, he professes, “Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest:” (verse 13:) yet upon this account his mother and himself also were idolaters.
USE II. As we may take notice of the superstition and idolatry, so of the fraud and treachery, of the church of Rome, in leaving the second commandment, or at least the far greatest part of it, out of some of their books.—For this I shall mention their “Roman Catechism,” authorized by the council of Trent, and published by the edict of pope Pius V.; where, speaking of the first commandment, (for Papists make first and second to be but one,) they recite it thus, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me: Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image,” and supply the rest with an “&c.” As also a book called Manipulus Curatorum, containing in brief the offices of priests, according to the order of seven sacraments, by Guido de Monte, written A. D. 1333, where the second commandment is wholly omitted. As also a book called Opusculum tripartitum, de Præceptis Decalogi, de Confessione, et Arte Moriendi, by John Gerson, chancellor of Paris. Now this is a horrible piece of fraud and treachery, and accordingly disowned and decried by the Reformed churches.
Now, for the further clearing and more distinct understanding of this matter, it will become us to take into consideration, that this is granted on all hands,—that there are ten commandments of the moral law, called therefore “the Decalogue;” and that these ten commandments are divided into two tables: but how many belong unto the first table, and how many unto the second,—that indeed is a question. The Protestants, or those that may be called Calvinists, in opposition to the Lutherans, ascribe four commandments to the first table, and six to the second. The Papists and Lutherans, making the first and second commandment to be but one, ascribe three commandments to the first table, and seven to the second; and, to make up the number of ten, divide that which we call the tenth commandment into two,—the one, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house;” and the other, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant,” &c. Now this distinction of the commandments, together with their presumptuous leaving out of the second commandment out of the Decalogue, is not allowed by the churches called “Reformed,” for these reasons:—
1. Because by this means they sacrilegiously take away a commandment of God relating to his worship and service.—For as by the first commandment we are forbidden to worship false gods, or the images of false gods; so by the second commandment we are forbidden to worship the true God in a false way, or after a false manner; and in particular the worshipping of images, or the worshipping of the true God by an image. Now they of the church of Rome, being aware of this, and that they might have a covert for their idolatrous worship, make the first and second commandment to be but one, and presumptuously leave the second commandment out of the Decalogue.
2. That supposing the second commandment (for so we say it is) was only an appendix to the first, and an explication of it, yet it is a horrible presumption to leave this explication out of their books, and particularly out of their Catechism.—The law of God ought to be made known unto the people perfect and entire, as it was delivered by God himself: surely God hath not given to any, no, not to the best and wisest amongst the sons of men, the power of a Deleatur [“Let it be blotted out”] with reference to his holy and blessed law. And if that which we say is the second commandment may be rased out of our books because it is an explication of the first, by the same reason we may blot out the whole tenth commandment out of the Decalogue, because it is an explication of the whole moral law, and especially of the second table, according to the notice given us by Christ himself: “I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28.)
And whereas it is urged, that “in the rehearsal of the commandments, our Saviour himself doth not keep exactly to the words and syllables as you have them upon record in Exod. 20, nor to the same order: as, when one came to Christ, and said to him, ‘Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ our Saviour answers him, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments;’ and when he saith unto him, ‘Which?’ Christ answers, ‘Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, and, Honour thy father and thy mother.’ (Matt. 19:16–19.) And thus Moses, reciting the commandments, interserts something when he speaks of the fourth commandment: ‘Keep the sabbath-day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee,’ &c. ‘And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand, and by a stretched-out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath-day.’ ” (Deut. 5:12–15.) All this must be acknowledged; but then there is a difference between doing this sometimes and upon occasion, and to do it frequently and designedly; and where there are but ten commandments, most sacrilegiously and irreverently to deprive the people of one of them.
3. No sufficient reason can be rendered why that which we say is the tenth commandment should be divided into two; but rather that it is one, and no more, and that the purport and scope of this commandment is, to forbid the coveting of any thing that is our neighbour’s.—And if we may take the boldness to make the coveting of our neighbour’s house one commandment, and the coveting of our neighbour’s wife another, we may, by the same reason, make another of coveting our neighbour’s servant, and another of coveting his ox, or his ass, and so make twelve or thirteen commandments, or rather as many commandments as the things are that we covet. In a word: the Papists’ wilful declining the printing and publishing [of] the second commandment for the people’s use doth give any impartial observer sufficient cause to suspect that they themselves take it to be against their cause. And supposing that it should be granted, that three commandments belong to the first table, and seven to the second, yet it looks like a piece of fraud and unfaithfulness to suppress any thing of the law, concerning which our Saviour tells us, that not one iota or tittle of it shall fall to the ground.
USE III. is this. Learn from hence that there is a sweet harmony and suitableness and correspondency between divine truths delivered unto us in the Old Testament and in the New.—Moses, in Deuteronomy, teacheth us, to fear the Lord our God, and serve him; our Saviour, in St. Matthew, teaches us, that we must worship the Lord our God, and him only must we serve. Take the word of God; whether you consider the Old Testament or the New, the incomparable fitness and proportion of the truths and doctrines contained in them one unto another is one great character of the divinity of the scriptures; and therefore those doctrines that are urged as matters of faith, and yet have no suitableness and correspondency with those principles which are owned and acknowledged to be divine truths, but justle with them, and may be considered apart and in a separate way from them, are to be suspected for delusions and mistakes. I shall take my liberty here (though not designed for the management of that subject) to instance in the doctrine of transubstantiation. We tell our adversaries, that if we deny our senses in those things wherein it is proper for them to give a judgment, (as we must, in case we believe that the sacramental elements, after consecration, are transubstantiated into the very body and blood of Christ,) then all religion will fall to the ground; we cannot certainly know either what we read or what we hear; nor could they that lived in our Saviour’s time certainly know that there was such a person living upon the earth; and all the miracles that he wrought, for aught they knew, might be delusions, and a mere deception of their senses: so that if sense was not to be believed, Christianity itself must have fallen to the ground. This cannot be denied. But then they say that this one instance of transubstantiation ought to be excepted from the general rule, and ought to have its place apart, and in this particular case our senses ought to be over-ruled. Now this, amongst other things, makes the doctrine of transubstantiation to be suspected, because it hath not a suitableness to other matters, whereby the verity of Christian religion was proved and made good unto the world. Look as it is in other cases: consider the works of God; there appears a marvellous correspondence between them: the world hath its parts so united one to another, that neither the heaven, nor the earth, nor any of the elements, can be taken away without the ruin of the whole. And thus it is with the principles of Christian religion, and especially the great truths of Christianity; take away one, and you in a manner take away all the rest. For instance: the doctrine of the Trinity hath many principles of Christianity that fall-in with it: the incarnation of the Son of God falls-in with it; the death and passion of the Son of God fall-in with it; the satisfaction of the Son of God made unto divine justice falls-in with it. But you may take away the doctrine of transubstantiation, and all the principles of Christian religion will remain unshaken, yea, untouched, the doctrine of the sacraments not excepted: the sacrament of baptism will not suffer in the least by it; no, nor the sacrament of the Lord’s supper itself: for if baptism be a sacrament without transubstantiation, why may not the Lord’s supper also? But this I take notice of only in transitu and “by the way,” and so pass on.
USE IV. Let this caution us against superstition and all false worship.—It is the great interest and concern of the church of Christ, to keep the worship of God pure and uncorrupt. It is to be acknowledged that Satan is a great enemy to the truths of God, as well as to the worship of God; yet his design is rather that the worship of God be corrupted, than the truths of God be perverted: for he knows that it is possible for religion to be depraved in some points, and yet many may keep themselves from defilement, and may not be tainted with the errors of the place where they live, or the church unto which they do belong, provided the worship of God be kept pure and uncorrupt; but if once the worship of God be publicly corrupted by superstition and idolatry, it is next to an impossibility if the infection do not spread over the face of the whole church, and by consequence there can be no communion with that church without sin: and hence the great business of Popery is, coming to Mass. It may be, some Papists, at least such as are moderate, may allow you to adhere to some Protestant principles, if you will come to the Mass; but that is indispensable.
USE V. As this should caution us against false worship in the general, so against worshipping of God by an image in particular.—God is very jealous lest his worship should be given unto images; and hence none of the commandments are grounded upon his jealousy but the second, which is against images; and we are very prone to superstition and will-worship in this kind. God expresseth himself most largely in the second and fourth commandments, because men are more than ordinarily inclinable to be transgressors of these two. A man is easily counselled that he must not kill, that he must not steal; but that God is to be worshipped only in that way which he hath prescribed in his word, and that the Lord’s day, the Christian sabbath, is to be kept holy,—this must be enforced upon us, and we had need of “line upon line” to further us in these duties; as where the tide is wont to run and bear up with greater force and violence than is usual in other places, the banks that are made for the preventing of the breaking-in of the water, had need to be made so much the higher and the stronger. And whereas it is said that idols may not be worshipped, but images may; it is high presumption to distinguish where God hath not. The second commandment tells us, that we are not to make to ourselves “any graven image, or the likeness of any thing;” and it expressly forbids us to “fall down before it, and worship it:” and surely it must needs be of dangerous consequence, in things that concern God’s worship and service, to endeavour to elude the force and power of any law of God by a distinction of our own devising.
USE VI. is to counsel you to keep yourselves from idols.—Thus St. John: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21.) Idols! what are they? Some will tell you, that there is this difference between an image and an idol: “An image,” say they, “is a representation of something that hath a real being and existence; an idol, of something that is feigned, and hath no being but in the minds and fancies of men: and that is the meaning,” say they, “of that place of scripture: ‘We know that an idol is nothing in the world.’ ” (1 Cor. 8:4.) But this is a strange mistake! It is true, the apostle says, “An idol is nothing:” but how? Not in respect of the matter of it; for so it is something, gold, or silver, or stone: no, nor in regard of the thing represented by it; for an idol doth not always represent things feigned, and such as have no existence but in the imaginations of men, as sphinxes, tritons, centaurs, and the like; but many times things that are real, things that are in heaven, and things that are on earth, as they are mentioned in the second commandment. Nor is it to be imagined, amongst those multitudes of images which were worshipped by the Heathens, but that some of them at least might represent such things as had a real being and existence. And yet all such as were worshipped by them, are expressly by the apostle called “idols:” “Ye know that by were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” (1 Cor. 12:2.) But the meaning of the apostle is this: An idol is nothing in point of virtue and efficacy; nothing at all conducing unto salvation; and, in particular, that it hath no power at all either to sanctify or to pollute those meats which were offered unto them, of which the apostle speaks in that chapter. An idol is said to be nothing in the same sense as circumcision is said to be nothing, and uncircumcision nothing; (1 Cor. 7:19;) that is, in point of virtue and efficacy: and so the apostle explains himself elsewhere: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith that worketh by love.” (Gal. 5:6.) The τοformale [“formality”] of an idol consists in this, that it is religiously worshipped; insomuch [that] that which was no idol before, immediately upon its being worshipped becomes an idol: thus the brasen serpent, that was no idol before, upon its being worshipped became an idol; thus it was with the sun, and moon, and stars, when the people worshipped them, and burnt incense to them, they became idols.
Now the counsel that I give you, or rather St. John [gives you], is this: “Keep yourselves from idols:” they that would not be idolaters, must keep themselves from idols, from all things that may be enticements to that sin: in the commandments where a sin is forbidden, all enticements and provocations to that sin are also forbidden. When God says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” the meaning of this commandment, according to the exposition that our Saviour himself makes of it, is, that we must not “look upon a woman to lust after her.” And Solomon, speaking of a harlot, gives this counsel: “Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house.” (Prov. 5:8.) And holy Job “made a covenant with his eyes,” not to “think upon a maid.” (Job 31:1.) When God would forbid the sin of injustice, see how he expresses it: “Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.” (Deut. 25:13.) It was a sin for a man to have a great and a small weight in his bag: and why so? Suppose a great and a small weight were found in a man’s bag, he might say, “How doth it appear that I have sold wares by one weight, and taken up wares by another?” But God would not have them lay such a snare before themselves; and therefore forbids them to have in their bags “divers weights, a great and a small.” So it is in this case, when we have a caution given us against idols: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols;” the Holy Ghost seems to meet with a secret objection that might be made by some: “We hate idolatry: but yet to have images to put us in mind of God, and to quicken our devotion, provided we give them not religious worship, as others do,—we hope there is no harm in this.” Yes, there is. You must not only keep yourselves from idolatry, but you must “keep yourselves from idols.” Those of the church of Rome charge Protestants as if they had a mind to abolish and root out of the minds of men the memory of the blessed apostles, confessors, and martyrs, by inveighing against sacred images and holy relics; but this is just as if a man should take upon him the boldness to say, that because God buried the body of Moses “in a valley in the land of Moab, and no man knoweth of his sepulchre to this day,” (Deut. 34:6,) God’s design in all this was to blot out the memorials of Moses from the face of the whole earth.
USE VII. Let us pray unto God, that he would famish all the gods of the earth.—Famishing of idols is a scripture-phrase: “The Lord will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him.” (Zeph. 2:11.) The Psalmist, speaking of God’s providence over his creatures, tells us: “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season:” (Psalm 145:15:) but an idol is none of God’s creatures: an idol hath eyes and sees not, ears and hears not, mouth and tastes not. But you will say, “How then can God famish them?” Thus: if we would know what it is to famish the gods of the earth, then we must consider what their meat is: their meat is that worship, and service, and honour, which is given them by the sons of men. Now, when God is made the sole object of religious worship, when men turn from dumb idols to serve the living God, and him only, then God famishes the gods of the earth, takes away their meat from them, and then men shall worship him: and let all good people say, “Amen. So be it.”
Taken from Nichols, J. (1981). Puritan Sermons (Vol. 6, pp. 267–297). Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers.