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Imagination and Idol: A Puritan Tension - by John K. La Shell

The Era of the Puritans (1559-1662, or thereabouts)

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

I do not agree with everything in this article, and I believe he makes some false conclusions about Calvin, but otherwise it is helpful.


The Puritans were recipients of a diverse heritage. From Calvin and the Reformed tradition they learned an abhorrence of idolatry. Images of God were strictly forbidden. But Puritan psychology also kept its strong Scholastic roots. Although the seventeenth century witnessed important developments in the theory of perception, significant terms often continued to be understood in much the same way as formerly. One such term was “Imagination,” a word which designated the image-making and image-storing faculty of the mind.

Tension between Reformed iconoclasm and Scholastic psychology was not immediately apparent, but during the Evangelical Awakening of the 1740s it became acute. The problem may be stated concisely: If mental images are natural products of the imagination, how can a mental image of Christ be condemned as idolatrous? Does not this impugn the character of God who gave the mind its capacity for forming images? The following study examines the Puritan definition of the imagination, then turns to the Puritan understanding of the second commandment. It concludes with the controversy which erupted in Scotland when Jonathan Edwards defended the psychological neutrality of “Imaginary ideas of Christ.”

I. Puritans and the Imagination

Ever since Perry Miller’s masterful study of New England thought, there has been a tendency to view Puritan psychology as a monolithic intellectual structure. 1 As Richard Baxter notes, that is not quite accurate:

But in these things even Christian philosophers differ. 1. Some think, man hath three distinct souls, intellectual, sensitive and vegetative. 2. Some that he hath two, intellectual and sensitive; and that the vegetative is a part of the body. 3. Some, that he hath but one, with these three faculties. 4. Some, that he hath but one, with these two faculties, intellectual and sensitive. 5. Some that he hath but one, with the faculty of intellection and will; and that the sensitive is corporeal. 2

Baxter is inclined toward the fourth option, but he confesses great uncertainty in the matter.

Baxter’s summary makes it clear that Puritans generally distinguish between the rational and sensitive aspects of human nature. Though there are differences of opinion, most hold that man’s sensitive soul (which includes the faculties of common sense, imagination, and memory) has a kinship with the animals. His intellectual soul is made in the image of God and includes such faculties as reason, will, and conscience. 3 According to Puritan psychology “External objects produce images, or phantasms, of themselves in the five exterior senses-sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.” After the phantasms have been examined by the “common sense” they pass to the imagination (also called “fancy” or “fantasy”) which stores them for later recollection or for use by the reason. 4 Three observations regarding this general scheme may be made:

1. Scholastic Background

The Puritans derived their psychology from the complicated view of perception developed by the Scholastics. According to this system the essential form of a material object is transmitted through some medium to make an impression on the sense organ.

The Scholastics then require that the phantasm formed by Imagination contain as abstractable the essential form of the intelligible species of the thing known. For the Scholastics, what is known is not something which simply belongs to the knower; the intelligible species is the essential form of the thing known shared by the knower…. [U]pon the Scholastic account of perception the significance of the maxim, Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu [Nothing is in the intellect which has not first been in the senses], is apparent. If material things did not act through a medium upon the sense organs, nothing would be known. 5

By the early decades of the eighteenth century few Europeans were taking the old Scholastic epistemology seriously. Locke, Newton, and a host of others had made radical changes in man’s comprehension of the universe. However, the old Scholastic dictum could still be defended on the grounds of the newer empiricism which was taking shape. On the other hand, some philosophers in an attempt to salvage the insights of Descartes were willing to divorce knowledge entirely from the senses, thus depriving the imagination of any role in the apprehension of truth. 6 It is against this background that the evangelical controversy over mental images must be seen.

2. Continuity of Definition

In spite of the tremendous changes which were taking place in man’s understanding of man, it is important to remember that the Scholastic definition of “imagination” remained normative for Jonathan Edwards and the Scottish theologians who debated his ideas. 7 Edwards’ own treatment of the term is unambiguous. “The imagination,” he writes,

is that power of the mind, whereby it can have a conception, or idea of things of an external or outward nature (that is, of such sort of things as are the objects of the outward senses), when those things are not present, and be not perceived by the senses. It is called imagination from the word “image”; because thereby a person can have an image of some external thing in his mind, when that thing is not present in reality, nor anything like it. All such kind of things as we perceive by our five external senses, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling are external things; and when a person has an idea, or image of any of these sorts of things in his mind, when they are not there, and when he don’t really see, hear, smell, taste, nor feel them; that is to have an imagination of them, and these ideas are imaginary ideas; and when such kind of ideas are strongly impressed upon the mind, and the image of them in the mind is very lively, almost as if one saw them, or heard them, etc. that is called an impression on the imagination. 8

Because the imagination is not bound by objects immediately before the senses it is the freest of all the faculties. Its constructions need not correspond to the real world. Therein lies its danger.

3. The Danger of the Imagination

The third observation regarding the imagination is that Puritans view it as the primary inlet for error and temptation. The imagination often deludes men by casting up deceptive illusions of happiness or horror. “Furthermore, it is dangerous because Satan, retaining his angelic incorporeality, can insert images into it without any agency of the senses, thus tempting the will with imaginations of such vices as could never have been conceived merely from experience.” 9 Warnings against basing spiritual experiences on the imagination are common. Edwards, for example, reminds himself in his “Directions for judging of Persons’ Experiences,” to take care “That their discoveries and illuminations and experiences in general, are not superficial pangs, flashes, imaginations, freaks, but solid, substantial, deep inwrought into the frame and temper of their minds, and discovered to have respect to practice.” 10

During the Evangelical Awakening some opponents of the revival insist that mental images of Christ can only come from the Devil. According to James Fisher of Glasgow, “The Seat of the Operations of the Holy Spirit, is the superior Powers of the Soul. SATAN has easy Access to the Imagination: All horrible or pleasing visionary Representations that are form’d there, are from him only, 2 Thess. ii. 9 , 10 , 11 .” 11 One reply to this assertion comes from John Willison, the respected minister of Dundee. He sees no reason to restrict the influence of the Holy Spirit to the higher faculties or to confine the Devil to deceiving the imagination. He asks indignantly, “Do you think God hath created the Imagination , or any inferior Faculty of the Soul, merely for the Devil’s Use? Hath he not access to the Imagination himself when he will?” 12

On one issue, at any rate, all are agreed. Satan has a ready entrance to the imagination “and never any one questioned it who believed there was a devil, that had any agency with mankind.” 13 It is not so clear whether God has any use for the imagination. Those who answer in the affirmative eventually find themselves running against the bedrock of Puritan conviction regarding the second commandment.

II. Images and Idols

Following Calvin and the Reformed tradition, Puritan exegesis insists that the first commandment fixes Jehovah alone as the object of worship. The second establishes the proper means of worship. Consequently, the prohibition of idols applies both to images of other gods and to images of the true God. 14 Images of the Lord are rejected because they obscure the spirituality, sovereignty, and glory of God. They also minimize the value of his word. 15

The kinds of images rejected by Puritan exegetes are summarized by James Durham.

1. We simply condemn any delineating of God, or the Godhead, or Trinity; such as some have upon their buildings, or books, like a sun shining with beams, and the Lord’s name, Jehovah, in it or any other way….
2. All representing of the persons as distinct, as to set out the Father (personally considered) by the image of an old man, as if he were a creature, the Son under the image of a lamb or young man, the Holy Ghost under the image of a dove, all which wrongeth the Godhead exceedingly. 16

Durham’s list is given in almost the same words by Thomas Boston, 17 and elements of it appear in other works. The list suggests at least two particularly significant applications of the second commandment in Puritan thought: (1) to Christ; (2) to types and symbols. In addition, another must be added, (3) to mental images.

1. Images of Christ

Although images are forbidden in the OT, it might be argued that they are now acceptable because of the incarnation. Surely now that the Lord has taken on a body, his human form may be pictured. As plausible as this argument seems, it is consistently rejected by the Puritans. Because the point is so important, it bears some repetition:

It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because his divine nature cannot be pictured at all, and because his body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is; and because, if it do not stir up devotion, it is in vain; if it do stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment. 18

And if it be said man’s soul cannot be painted, but his body may, and yet that picture representeth a man; I answer, it cloth so, because he has but one nature, and what representeth that representeth the person; but it is not so with Christ: his Godhead is not a distinct part of the human nature, as the soul of man is (which is necessarily supposed in every living man), but a distinct nature, only united with the manhood in that one person, Christ, who has no fellow; therefore what representeth him must not represent a man only, but must represent Christ, Immanuel, God-man, otherwise it is not his image. Beside, there is no warrant for representing him in his manhood; nor any colourable possibility of it, but as men fancy; and shall that be called Christ’s portraiture? would that be called any other man’s portraiture which were drawn at men’s pleasure, without regard to the pattern? Again, there is no use of it; for either that image behoved to have but common estimation with other images, and that would wrong Christ, or a peculiar respect and reverence, and so it sinneth against this commandment that forbiddeth all religious reverence to images, but he being God and so the object of worship, we must either divide his natures, or say, that image or picture representeth not Christ. 19

It is noteworthy that Scripture condemns “an image made like to corruptible man” along with other kinds of images ( Rom 1:23 ), and that the apostle makes no mention of a change in principle based on the incarnation. As a matter of fact, images would appear to be a gross form of the fleshly estimation of Christ rejected elsewhere by Paul ( 2 Cor 5:16 ). Paul’s attitude parallels the utter disregard for Christ’s physical appearance which is evident in the Gospels and which continues on into the early church. Calvin notes that images in churches are rejected by the Council of Elvira in Spain (ca. AD 305), by Augustine, and in general during the first five hundred years of the Christian era. 20

Thus, theological, Scriptural, and historical considerations are presented by Reformed authors as evidence that pictures of Christ are idolatrous. During the Evangelical Awakening some pastors who accept many of these principles also wish to make room for mental images of Christ as man. It remains to be asked whether their approach can be justified on the basis of Scripture or Puritan precedent. In order to do that it is necessary to examine other applications of the second commandment and then to inquire whether there are any legitimate exceptions.

2. Types and Symbols

James Durham’s references to the sun and to a lamb raise the issue of metaphors. Even if images in human shape are rejected, perhaps pictures based on biblical metaphors may be used to represent God in a more remotely symbolic fashion.

Thomas Watson, however, suggests that the same principles apply in both cases:

Though God is pleased to stoop to our weak capacities, and set himself out in scripture by eyes, to signify his omnisciency; and hands to signify his power; yet it is very absurd, from metaphors and figurative expressions, to bring an argument for images and pictures; for, by that rule, God may be pictured by the sun and the element of fire, and by a rock; for God is set forth by these metaphors in scripture; and sure the papists themselves would not like to have such images made of God. 21

After all, if the heathen use natural objects to symbolize their deities, how can Christians claim to be any different if they follow the same practices.

Even though God himself may not be represented by any created thing, there is an occasional grudging admission that visible symbols may be used to convey spiritual truth. The cherubim found in the tabernacle and temple form an interesting case study. Calvin calls them “paltry little images” whose sole purpose is to show

that images are not suited to represent God’s mysteries. For they had been formed to this end, that veiling the mercy seat with their wings they might bar not only human eyes but all the senses from beholding God, and thus correct men’s rashness. 22

Owen insists that they are not images of angels since angels are spirits and do not really look like winged creatures. He calls them “mere hieroglyphics, to represent the constant tender love and watchfulness of God over the ark of his covenant and the people that kept it, and had nothing of the nature of images in them.” 23 Durham seems even more uncomfortable over the problem posed by the cherubim. He would like to ban representations of angels altogether, but he hesitates to take too firm a stand:

From this ground also it would seem, that painting of angels might be condemned, as a thing impossible, they being spirits which no corporeal thing can represent, beside that the representing of them has some hazard with it: and for those cherubims that were made by God’s direction under the Old Testament, they were rather some emblem of the nature and service of angels, as being full of zeal, and always (as it were) upon wing read to obey God’s will, than any likeness of themselves. 24

The bronze serpent made by Moses is clearly a happier example. The worship of this “Nehushtan” by later generations demonstrates how easily even lawful images may be abused. 25

3. Mental Images

Not only does the standard Puritan position reject any images of the Divine Being and look askance at visible symbols of spiritual truth, but it also clearly warns of the danger of mental idolatry. Since the imagination is the repository of images from the external world, it is chiefly responsible for man’s propensity to create idols. The “vain imaginations” of the heathen are the source of images in the form of “corruptible man, and…birds and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” ( Rom 1:21–23 ). As Calvin notes, man’s mind, “so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols,” so that “it dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” 26

Puritan authors generally keep within the tradition of the Westminster Assembly. Question 109 of the Larger Catechism lists among the sins forbidden by the second commandment “the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever.” Vincent insists that idolatry occurs not only when people worship external images, but also “When they have in their worship carnal imaginations, and representations of God in their minds, as if he were an old man sitting in heaven, or the like.” 27 According to Durham, “There should not be in us any carnal apprehensions of God, as if he were like any thing that we could imagine.” 28 Thomas Boston states the issues most emphatically:

Doth not the carnal mind naturally strive to grasp spiritual things in imagination, as if the soul were quite immersed in flesh and blood, and would turn everything into its own shape? Let men who are used to the forming of the most abstract notions, look into their own souls, and they will find this bias in their minds; whereof the idolotry [sic] which did of old, and still doth, so much prevail in the world, is an incontestable evidence: for it plainly shews, that men naturally would have a visible deity, and see what they worship…. The reformation of these nations, blessed be the Lord for it, has banished idolatry, and images too, out of our churches; but heart-reformation only can break down mental idolatry, and banish the more subtile and refined image worship, and representations of the Deity, out of the minds of men. The world, in the time of its darkness, was never more prone to the former, than the unsanctified mind is to the latter. Hence are horrible, monstrous, and misshapen thoughts of God, Christ, the glory above, and all spiritual things. 29

In these warnings concerning mental idolatry, two principles are operative. First, the imagination is the root of all idolatry because of its power freely to fashion images which are not in accord with reality. Second, it is generally assumed that the kinds of images which are forbidden to be made by the hands are also prohibited in the mind. It is this second assumption which comes under attack during the Scottish revival of 1742. Even if mental images of Christ may be idolatrous or delusions of Satan, are there legitimate exceptions?

III. Historical Perspectives

In the preceding pages there have been several references to the Scottish controversy over mental images which developed during the Evangelical Awakening. It has also been suggested that the controversy was made possible because of an inherent tension in the Puritan tradition. 30 It is now time to outline the historical development of that conflict in the Kirk.

Puritan assessment of the religious use of the imagination was never entirely uniform. Differences may be discerned even among highly esteemed authors within that tradition. Although negative evaluations are the norm, consider this remarkable selection from Isaac Andrews:

O but my Jesus was crowned with thorns, and sceptred with a reed, and that reed was taken out of his hands to beat the crown of thorns into his head; and, besides, my Jesus was whipped with cords, and rods, and little chains of iron; that from his shoulders to the soles of his feet, there was no part free, and being now in this plight, thou art called on to “Behold the man:” Dost thou see him? Is thy imagination strong? Canst thou consider him at present, as if thou hadst a view of this very man! 31

This example is particularly notable for two reasons. First, it occurs in a very popular work which was frequently reprinted from the mid-seventeenth century through the nineteenth century. Second, it was the strongest evidence of Puritan precedent cited by the pro-revival party during the Scottish controversy over mental images. 32

The tension felt by many Puritans before the outbreak of specific controversy is well summarized in the Morning Exercise Against Popery:

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. 33

Notice the uneasy tension which this solution entails. If mental images of God are the result of the fall, they can be soundly condemned. But if they “arise from our natural constitution, it is difficult to see why they “ought to be bewailed.”

Jonathan Edwards clearly recognizes this dilemma, and he deals with it in several of his works on the revival phenomena in America. The most important for this study is found in his sermon, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God Edwards argues that genuine converts may experience impressions on the imagination:

Such is our nature, that we cannot think of things invisible, without a degree of imagination. I dare appeal to any man, of the greatest powers of mind, whether he is able to fix his thoughts on God, or Christ, or the things of another world, without imaginary ideas attending his meditations? And the more engaged the mind is, and the more intense the contemplation and affection, still the more lively and strong the imaginary idea will ordinarily be; especially when attended with surprise….

As God has given us such a faculty as the imagination and so made us that we cannot think of things spiritual and invisible, without some exercise of this faculty; so, it appears to me, that such is our state and nature, that this faculty is really subservient and helpful to the other faculties of the mind, when a proper use is made of it; though oftentimes, when the imagination is too strong, and the other faculties weak, it overhears, and disturbs them in their exercise. It appears to me manifest, in many instances with which I have been acquainted, that God has really made use of this faculty to truly divine purposes; especially in some that are more ignorant. God seems to condescend to their circumstances, and deal with them as babes; as of old he instructed his church, whilst in a state of ignorance and minority, by types and outward representations….

Some are ready to interpret such things wrong, and to lay too much weight on them, as prophetical visions, divine revelations, and sometimes significations from heaven of what shall come to pass; which the issue, in some instances I have known, has shown to be otherwise. But yet it appears to me that such things are evidently sometimes from the Spirit of God, though indirectly; that is, their extraordinary frame of mind, and that strong and lively sense of divine things which is the occasion of them, is from his Spirit; and also as the mind continues in its holy frame, and retains a divine sense of the excellency of spiritual things even in its rapture; which holy frame and sense is from the Spirit of God, though the imaginations that attend it are but accidental, and therefore there is commonly something or other in them that is confused, improper, and false. 34

Several aspects of Edwards’ analysis need to be noted. First, visions and other productions of the imagination are a natural result of raised affections. Second, it is not always necessary to resort to Satanic agency to explain them. Third, the imagination may be carried away to error by extreme emotionalism. Finally, God may use imaginary ideas to point to spiritual truth, much as he used types in the OT dispensation.

Edwards’ sermon produced a significant impact in Scotland. In response to a suggestion from George Whitefield, a Scottish edition was printed in 1742 with a preface by John Willison. Revival ministers James Robe and Alexander Webster warmly commended the work, but it was sternly denounced by Adam Gib and James Fisher, leaders in the Secession Church. 35 A vigorous pamphlet warfare over imaginary ideas of Christ quickly ensued during which Robe published four letters to Fisher. The last of these letters provoked the lengthiest (and final) production on the subject during the controversy. It was Ralph Erskine’s Faith No Fancy: Or, a Treatise of Mental Images, Discovering the Vain Philosophy and Vile Divinity of a Late Pamphlet, Intitled, Mr. Robe’s Fourth Letter to Mr. Fisher. 36 These two pieces form the most convenient basis for examining the theological dimensions of the controversy.

IV. Theological Arguments

In order for meaningful discussion of any issue to take place, the disputants must occupy some common ground. James Robe and Ralph Erskine are Presbyterian ministers who are orthodox in doctrine, evangelical in practice, and who honor their common Puritan heritage. Beyond this they are in agreement on several crucial issues.

First, they hold that the visions of Christ reported by some were not actual appearances of the Savior. Since Christ’s body is in heaven, he cannot be seen with the physical eye. Therefore, purported visions are only ideas in the imagination. 37

Second, although Robe’s terminology is sometimes imprecise, he and Erskine agree that an imaginary idea of Christ only pictures what may be seen with the eyes. It relates only to externals. A corollary to this assessment provides the third area of agreement. Imaginary ideas are not essentially different from actual sight. Both belong to the sphere of sense. Therefore, the epistemological significance of sight and imagination is virtually the same. 38 Fourth, imaginary ideas of mental images may be vivid and clear pictures in the mind, but that is not necessary for the argument of either Erskine or Robe. An imaginary idea of Christ as man may entail only the most general conception of a human body “consisting of all its essential Parts, abstractly from any particular Form and Likeness.” 39 Finally, Erskine and Robe agree that any images of God are idolatrous. Therefore, a mental image of Christ as God is condemned by both. 40 The controversy concerns only mental images of the human body of Christ.

It will be necessary to keep this common ground in mind during the following discussion of differences between Robe and Erskine. The conclusions of Robe and Erskine may be summarized simply. Robe considers an imaginary idea of Christ as man to be necessary for faith; Erskine believes that such an idea is inherently idolatrous. These two perspectives will be examined in turn.

1. James Robe

Robe outlines his defense of imaginary ideas of Christ under three headings. First, he writes, “We may warrantably have an Idea or Conception of either of the Natures of Christ, and think upon either of them, without thinking upon, or having an Idea of the other at the same Time.” 41 In the same way, it is possible to think of God’s eternity without a simultaneous conception of his omnipotence. Such a separation of ideas does not divide God into distinct parts, and it is not sinful. It is merely a natural consequence of human finitude that we cannot think of many different things at the same time. Second, thinking of Christ’s manhood by means of an imaginary idea does not exclude a belief in his being more than man. 42

Robe’s third heading is slightly more complex. He attempts to prove that imaginary ideas of Christ are definitely helpful to faith. His major thesis is that a true idea of the Mediator is a complex idea consisting of three distinct ideas—an idea of him as man, an idea of him as God, and an idea of him as God and man together. An idea of Christ’s deity is formed in the understanding without any assistance from the imagination. An idea of Christ’s humanity, however, includes an idea of his body, and no one can have an idea of Christ’s human body without forming an imaginary idea of it. He illustrates his meaning with a “Similie.”

Man consists of Soul and Body,—the Soul, being a spiritual Substance, is not conceived by any imaginary Idea; but the Understanding must conceive of it by a simple and pure Act of its own:—But the same Understanding conceives of the Body, when out of Sight by an imaginary Idea, which cannot extend unto the Soul; and yet that imaginary Idea, tho’ it can extend no further than the Body, is not only helpful, but necessary to think upon any particular Man; because we can have no Idea of the whole Man without it. 43

In other words, an imaginary idea of Christ as man is a psychological necessity based on the way human beings think. If we cannot think of the humanity of Christ without forming at least a vague imaginary idea of his body, then an imaginary idea is necessary to faith. In addition, there is no difference except in vividness between the kinds of imaginary ideas which occur in normal thought and the vivid experiences of some converts. Therefore, mental images of Christ which occur during conviction and conversion may be positive helps to faith.

2. Ralph Erskine

Erskine argues his case on grounds which parallel the standard Puritan arguments against idolatry. Mental idolatry is just as real a threat as mental adultery.

If a man shall frame an imaginary idea of a woman in his mind, to lust after her, it is mental adultery. Even so it is mental idolatry, to form a picture of Christ’s human nature in our mind by an imaginary idea of it; and so to make that the object of faith or worship…. Indeed I know not who can justify themselves, and say, they are free of this sin in some measure. It is too natural to every man. 44

Erskine’s analysis of mental idolatry attempts to be thorough. His position may be arranged in a logical sequence from basic premises to a strong conclusion.

Erskine’s fundamental proposition is that “God only is the proper object of faith and worship. The human nature of Christ is not God. Therefore, the human nature of Christ in itself, is not the proper object of faith and worship.” 45 Much less can an imaginary idea of Christ’s body be the object of faith or worship, since it is not even the whole of his human nature. However, Robe makes the imaginary idea of Christ as man to be necessary to faith. In order to undermine Robe’s position Erskine must demonstrate that an imaginary idea of Christ is not necessary to faith and then show that it is positively dangerous to faith.

Consider first whether imaginary ideas are necessary to faith. Robe admits that the understanding conceives of God without utilizing an imaginary idea of him. Moreover, the complex idea of Christ as the God-man is formed in the understanding rather than in the fancy. 46

But if, when the understanding comes, it can conceive justly enough of Christ as God-man in one person, which is a whole Christ, why must he still discredit his understanding, as if it could not manage that matter without the help of that ignorant act, which is destitute of understanding, and can help no farther than to present the picture of a man in the head, under the name of Christ. 47

Consequently, Erskine maintains (in opposition to Robe) that imaginary ideas are under the control of the will. Robe urges that pictures and statues are voluntary creations, but that an imaginary idea of Christ as man is an involuntary production of the imagination whenever the mind is meditating on the historical accounts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. 48 Erskine, however, insists that the imagination forms images passively only during dreams and under exceptionally strong motions of the “animal spirits.” Otherwise its image-forming ability is active and is governed by the will. Therefore, “vain imaginations” of God or Christ can be and are expressly forbidden in Scripture, and imaginary ideas are not necessary to a believing apprehension of Christ. 49

The next logical stage of Erskine’s argument is to demonstrate that imaginary ideas of Christ as man are dangerous. Any picture of a man, whether external or internal, necessarily supposes a human person as the subject of the image. Therefore, Robe is guilty of encouraging Nestorianism, or the doctrine that Christ has two persons (human and divine) as well as two natures. 50 As Erskine summarizes the issues:

The image then…must either represent a human person, or a divine one, If the image of Jesus Christ he speaks of, represent a human person, then it is not the true image of Christ, who never had, and never was a human person; and so it conveys nothing but lies and falshoods. If the image of Christ he allows of, represents a divine person, then it is the image of God; for Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the glorious Trinity: And, consequently, whether Mr. Robe will or not, it is but an idolatrous picture of him who is God, expressly forbidden in the second command. 51

The final stage of Erskine’s argument is to demonstrate how Christ’s human nature may be the object of faith without involving an imaginary idea of him as man. His answer is “that the human nature of Christ is the object of faith in all the properties of it, as they are recorded and asserted in the word.” 52 Propositional truths are not the objects of fancy, so these may be believed without an imaginary idea of Christ as man. Erskine gives a number of examples of the kind of truths which he intends, including: Christ’s miraculous birth, the purity and holiness of his human nature, the union of the divine and human natures in one person, the anointing of the humanity of Christ with the Holy Spirit, and the exaltation of the man, Christ Jesus. 53 Prior to this Erskine has argued that imaginary ideas are voluntary, unnecessary, and harmful to faith. In showing how faith in Christ’s human nature may exist without them, he believes he has justified his claim that mental images of Christ are idolatrous. They are not God’s appointed means for apprehending the humanity of the Savior.

Are imaginary ideas of Christ’s human body necessary for faith, or are they idolatrous? The answers given by Robe and Erskine depend on their conception of the relationship between the senses and faith.

V. Epistemological Arguments

During the early part of the eighteenth century empiricism was in the air. John Locke published his famous Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1690, but his was by no means the only influence in that direction. As noted earlier, the Scholastic psychology inherited by the Puritans contained a number of empirical features.

Robe’s epistemology is basically empirical. He insists that “all the Knowledge of God, his Nature and Perfections, we have by the outward Means of his Works and Word, which the Holy Spirit makes effectual, is attained by the Intervention of our Senses and Imagination.” 54 His explanation of this process is in keeping with traditional terminology:

… accurately speaking, an imaginary Idea, is that Idea which the Understanding formeth of corporeal Things absent from us, by the Help of the Imagination presenting the Species, or Image of these corporeal Things received and laid up in the Imagination:—For as it is not our Senses that apprehend corporeal Things present, but our Souls, by the Intervention of our Senses;—so it is not the Imagination that hath what we call the Idea of any corporeal Object absent, but the Soul and Understanding, by the Intervention of the Imagination; according to that Rule, Oportel intelligentem phantasmata speculari [To perceive phantasms is necessary for understanding]. 55

Thus, Robe’s defense of imaginary ideas rests on a Scholastic description of perception. Mental images of Christ have exactly the same function as images formed in the imagination by contact with the visible world. Both are necessary for the functioning of the understanding. Once the understanding has grasped a concept, then the Holy Spirit is able to make use of that idea for more spiritual purposes.

Ralph Erskine vigorously rejects Robe’s epistemology, and in the process develops an interesting variety of philosophical occasionalism. In contradistinction of Robe’s rule, he proposes one of his own : “Oportet intelligentem phantasmata supprimere, subvertere, subruere [To suppress, overthrow and tear down phantasms is necessary for understanding].” 56 How does Erskine arrive at his conclusion? He argues that the senses are: (1) radically separated from understanding and faith; (2) hindrances rather than helps to understanding and faith; and (3) merely occasions for evoking understanding and faith.

1. Separation of the Faculties

It has been noted that most Puritans distinguish between the rational and sensitive aspects of human nature. Erskine continues that tradition by making the following distinctions:

When we behold the sun with open eyes, then external sense is manifest; when we shut our eyes, and think upon the sun, then internal sense or imagination is manifest. But, when we consider the apparent distance, and compare the apparent magnitude or bulk of the sun, with what must be the real distance and real bulk of it, then understanding is manifested…. Sense, reason and faith are powers and faculties that act in their own proper spheres…. Sense, whether external or internal,…hath for its object things corporeal; reason, properly things intellectual; and faith, things spiritual and supernatural. 57

However, Erskine goes quite beyond most of his Puritan predecessors when he concludes that if the faculties are separate, they cannot relate to each other. He reinforces his principle of radical separation with a quaint illustration.

The body is helpful in its own place for bodily things; but not properly for spiritual. Our feet, for example, are greatly helpful to our walking upon the earth; but are not therefore greatly helpful for walking upon the sea. If a man, by a miraculous power, were enabled, with Peter, to walk upon the water, surely he could not do so without feet; because, whatever element one may be said to walk upon, suppose fire, water, earth or air, while we are in the body, we cannot walk otherwise but with our feet: But will it follow therefore, that our feet are great helps to us to walk upon the water; because, properly speaking we cannot walk at all without feet, but, go where we will in the body, must take our feet along with us. Even so our bodily senses and imaginations attend our most spiritual actings; but they can no more help us to walk in these spiritual paths, or help us to saving knowledge and faith, than our feet can help us to walk on the face of the deep, on the head of a cloud, or on the top of a rainbow. 58

Erskine offers several proofs for the separation of the imagination from the reason. 59 At most, he succeeds in demonstrating that these are differing functions of the mind. However, his proof that the natural faculties are not helpful to the soul’s knowledge of God sounds more plausible.

That though God’s people were blind and deaf, and destitute of other bodily senses, and of the imaginative faculty of fancying and framing images of bodies; yet they would know God much better without these bodily organs, as it is with departed souls, than if they had them all, and yet wanted rational souls; as it is with brute beasts. 60

The body is a burden to the soul, and Scripture teaches that it is far better to depart these houses of clay and to be with Christ. Unfortunately, Erskine seems to be evaluating the body more from a Greek than a biblical perspective. This formulation of the body’s relationship to the soul leads him to make other extravagant statements.

2. The Hindrance of the Senses

Erskine teaches that the senses and imagination by themselves “are only helpful for furthering mens ignorance of God.” 61 He reinforces this doctrine with two examples.

First, the physical presence of Christ on earth was a hindrance to faith. Erskine does not mean this in an absolute sense, and he certainly does not imply that the incarnation was unnecessary. Although his statements could be interpreted as having docetic tendencies, they are extreme primarily because of the heat of the controversy. What Erskine apparently means is that without divine illumination any physical perception of the Lord can only produce counterfeit faith which is the enemy of saving faith. Note the following:

The absence of Christ as to his human nature is no hinderance, but rather a furtherance to faith; because the person of Christ, the God-man, is as much present to faith, as if his human body were on earth, in our sight and in our arms; in which case, we might be ready to mistake, and think we saw and embraced the person, while, instead thereof, we would only see and hug the human body of Christ by sense. 62

Second, Erskine says that the knowledge of God supplied by creation is smothered and imprisoned by sinful men so that they turn to vain and idolatrous imaginations. By itself, this is not a novel interpretation of Rom 1:18–23 . However, Erskine further concludes that superstition and idolatry is “all the Knowledge of God their Senses and Imagination, in the Contemplation of the Creature, helped them unto.” 63 This is surely unwarranted. Natural revelation does not “help” men toward idolatry. Rather, idolatry arises from the corruption of the human heart in spite of natural revelation. The proper tendency of the creation is to reveal the Creator.

Erskine’s negative evaluation of the senses is only preparatory to his final explanation of their proper function. He does admit that they are “helpful to the knowledge of visible and corporeal things: These only are within that sphere.” 64 However, the relationship of the senses to spiritual and invisible things is quite different.

3. Occasionalism

Erskine’s solution to the epistemological problem is known as occasionalism. The senses are so separated from the understanding and from faith that they hinder rather than help these faculties. However, “the rational soul can scarcely think of any thing, unless the forming of the conception be occasioned by some sensation.” 65 Sensation is frequently used by God to evoke the innate knowledge of the soul.

In order properly to understand Erskine’s doctrine it is necessary to distinguish between innate ideas (which he disallows) and innate knowledge, which is essential for knowing God or the world. Innate ideas, as explained by the Cartesians and the Platonists, consist of “images, representations, intelligible species of all things, in the mind” which are “divinely ingenerate in us; as if whatsoever is in this life learned more perfectly, were but a certain mere remembrance of or calling to mind what was once in the mind before.” 66 In order to illustrate and prove his doctrine of innate knowledge, as distinct from innate ideas, Erskine turns to the father of the human race. For Erskine, as for most Puritans, the clearest proof of Adam’s innate knowledge is seen in his naming the creatures. 67 In addition, Adam

knew God in his relative being, as his God and friend; otherwise he would never have fled away from him with shame, when the friendship was broken by his sin. He knew God before ever he knew the creatures, for he was created after God’s image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures. He knew God in these things of God which the creatures could not teach him, namely, the mind and will of God as to his duty; for he had the perfect knowledge of the law of God, which was written on his mind, and concreated with him. 68

If innate knowledge does not consist of images of all things in the subconscious mind, what is it? Erskine is not completely clear on this subject, but his best illustration compares the feeble remnants of innate knowledge to

the tender smoke of a candle, when both flame and fire is extinguished; yet the remaining fume or smoke when brought within the reach of any other fire or flame, doth natively catch it, even at some distance; so as to set it a-burning and flaming again; which it could not do, if there were no remains at all of the fire and flame about it. Such is the native power and aptitude of that remaining heat and smoke to exert itself, as long as the igneous particles have life and motion, which, whatever fire approaches, is naturally prompt and ready to receive it. Thus it is here: So low and deeply buried under the rubbish of corruption our natural knowledge of God is, that this candle of the Lord within us is, as it were, quite extinguished both as to the fire and flame, and nothing remains but some little heat and smoke; which yet has so much of the nature of knowledge as to be capable, or apt to receive and take hold of the light that approaches to it. This I call innate, and suppose to be so much the root and source of acquired knowledge, that none at all could be acquired without it. And, to ascribe knowledge to external causes, without this presupposed, to me, appears a denying, so far, the divine original of the light of nature. 69

Actually Erskine distinguishes between several kinds of innate knowledge. The most basic is innate knowledge of the creature. Without this the senses could not provide occasions for knowledge of the world. Second, God implants a natural knowledge of himself in the human heart “which, as Mastricht says, arises from the very Being of God coexistent with the understanding .” Such knowledge must be distinguished from the natural knowledge of God which is occasioned by observation of nature. However, none of this encompasses the saving knowledge of God. The reason is that all natural knowledge is contained in the intellectual faculty. In order to go beyond this there must be a new kind of innate knowledge implanted in the soul, a new faculty to receive a new kind of knowledge. The same principle holds both in nature and in grace. “If God should manifest himself to us, before we have his image restored, we could not know him: He must first give us an understanding to know himself , I John v. 20 .” 70

Erskine’s refutation of Robe is now complete. Against Robe’s declaration that the senses and imagination are helpful to faith, he argues that the faculties are so separate that an apprehension of corporeal objects cannot assist and may hinder apprehension of Christian truth. The true source of actual knowledge, whether in nature or in grace, is innate knowledge implanted directly by God. The senses may give occasion for the development of understanding and faith, but that is all.

VI. Evaluation

The Scottish controversy over mental images of Christ needs to be evaluated on two levels. First, it is necessary to appraise the relative merits of the arguments offered by Erskine and Robe. Second, the tension between the naturalness and the sinfulness of certain mental images calls for a resolution.

1. Erskine and Robe

The pamphlet warfare between these two defenders of the faith never came to a satisfactory conclusion. It simply burned itself out. In lieu of an obvious victor in the struggle, two general observations seem to be warranted. It appears that Robe is weakest when he deals with the charge of mental idolatry. Erskine, on the other hand, fails to make a convincing case for his epistemology.

Robe’s doctrine would be more defensible if he were content to state that imaginary ideas of Christ are completely neutral events with purely psychological explanations. His insistence that imaginary ideas of Christ’s human body are helpful and necessary to faith places the matter in a far more unfavorable light from the traditional Puritan perspective. In order to provide a better defense of his orthodoxy, Robe should state clearly when, if ever, a mental image of Christ would be idolatrous. Since the visions which Robe allows include pathetic images of a crucified Savior and beautiful images of a glorified Savior, it is difficult to conceive what kind of mental picture would be considered inevitably idolatrous. His own account of his pastoral dealings in such cases demonstrates that he discouraged any reliance on imaginary ideas, but it also suggests that he may not have warned his people of the danger of mental idolatry at the same time.

Robe’s argument amounts to an assertion that there are exceptions to the general prohibition of mental images of God. Can that position be sustained? According to Puritan theology images of Christ are forbidden because his divine nature cannot be pictured; a picture can only represent his human nature which is but half a Christ. If it stirs up devotion, that is idolatrous worship; if it does not, the picture serves no useful purpose. To present the mind’s eye with half a Christ is heresy at best, or idolatry at worst. Robe’s response is that it is not heretical to think of the humanity of Christ apart from his deity. Therefore, it is permissible to have an imaginary idea of his human body. Such an idea does not preclude a simultaneous realization of his deity. In fact, an imaginary idea of Christ as man must be combined with an intellectual comprehension of his deity in order to arrive at a true and complete conception of the Mediator.

Robe’s position implies conclusions which he might well have rejected. Erskine charges Robe with teaching that external images of Christ are also lawful. 71 The accusation is based on an inaccurate reading of one sentence in Robe’s Fourth Letter. 72 Nevertheless, the connection between mental and external images does seem to be very close. If meditation involving a mental image does not blasphemously divide the natures of Christ, why should meditation stimulated by a picture of the Lord be subject to that charge?

On the other hand, Erskine’s epistemology is open to serious objections. First of all, occasionalism is by no means an obvious conclusion either from Scripture or from observation. Its various forms proved to be short-lived and philosophically unstable. Second, Erskine’s epistemology appears to encourage a species of practical docetism. Although he clearly holds an orthodox doctrine of the incarnation, he sees little value in the physical presence of Christ on earth for coming to the knowledge of God. Seeing Christ in the flesh was more a hindrance than a help to faith for the contemporaries of Christ, and present-day believers are hindered in their faith if they apply their imaginations to the Lord’s life upon the earth. Similar problems have been noted in Erskine’s deprecation of the bodily senses and in his attitude toward the testimony of creation.

Finally, Erskine’s declaration that propositional truths are not the objects of fancy is open to serious question. He believes he has found a way to conceive of Christ as man without the aid of imaginary ideas of corporeal objects. However, it is difficult to think of the virgin birth without imagining a woman and a baby. Even a notion of the purity and holiness of Christ’s human nature depends on physical analogies. To think of purity usually involves the recollection of other things which are “pure”—the whiteness of snow or the brightness of sunlight, for example. True, such images do not constitute idolatry; they are not representations of the Divine Being. However, Erskine is not willing to grant the senses so large a role in man’s knowledge of God. In his eagerness to destroy Robe’s reliance on the fancy, he also undermines the notion that men frequently think by means of symbols. However, he does not seem to be aware of this problem. Perhaps his rejection of all imagery in thinking of spiritual objects is a case of philosophical overkill.

2. Easing the Tension

One approach to the problem is suggested by the fact that symbolic representations of spiritual truth or of God’s attributes are occasionally allowed by Puritan theology. Robe specifically defends mental images representing God and based on biblical types and metaphors. He says that the imagination helps the superior faculties to conceive of God by presenting to them images of sensible objects which are used as symbols of spiritual truth. 73 The brazen serpent was a type of Christ which only became sinful when it was worshiped. In the same fashion the Israelites held an imaginary idea of the high priest in their minds when he went behind the veil on the day of atonement. In this way they were led toward a deeper spiritual realization of Christ’s office as mediator. “They behoved indeed, by the Exercise of their Imagination, when the Situation of the Types required it, to form an idea of the Type, that their Understanding and judgment might be instructed in the Knowledge of the Antitype.” 74 Furthermore, Robe complains that James Fisher wholly misunderstands the usefulness of types when he writes that “the great design of all the types” was to “lead the people off from these figures that were the objects of their external senses.” 75 If that is the case, argues Robe, “it had been better not to have instituted these Types…, being if they had not been instituted, they would have been in no danger from them. 76

Ralph Erskine, like James Fisher and many of the Puritans, is uncomfortable with the visual symbols of God’s work and attributes displayed in Solomon’s temple. These artistic productions are excused because they were commanded by God. Besides, they have since then been abolished. 77 Such discomfort with the Word of God indicates a perspective which is askew. This suggests that Erskine and Fisher are wrong in assuming that symbols of the divine attributes and works are dangerous and frequently idolatrous.

The first conclusion, therefore, which may be proposed is this. Although God himself may not be pictured, symbols of his attributes and works are legitimate subjects for art or mental imagery. A mental impression of a bright light may accompany a spiritual realization of God’s majesty. The brightness, in that case, may be taken as a symbol of the glory of God. It need not represent the divine essence or any of the persons of the Godhead directly. Other examples come readily to mind. A picture of rock, for instance, may symbolize the faithfulness and stability of the Lord.

A more difficult problem arises when the mental image represents the Lord Jesus Christ. A possibility which offers some promise is based on the recognition that pictures of historical events are permitted by God. Calvin appears to have pushed the door ajar for lawful images of Christ to enter (though it was certainly not shoved open by his Puritan successors). Consider the following:

But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each…. We believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he himself has forbidden it [ Exod 20:4 ] and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory…. Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing…. Within this class some are histories and events, some are images and forms of bodies without any depicting of past events. The former have some use in teaching or admonition; as for the latter, I do not see what they can afford other than pleasure. And yet it is clear that almost all the images that until now have stood in churches were of this sort. From this, one may judge that these images had been called forth not out of judgment or selection but of foolish and thoughtless craving. 78

It is not clear whether Calvin intends to allow for historical pictures which include a likeness of the Savior. However, such an interpretation seems at least plausible. At any rate, he does suggest a valuable distinction between portraits and depictions of Gospel history.

In order to see the significance of such a distinction, consider the manner in which Jesus Christ revealed God. The apostles did not recognize him as the Son of God because of his countenance but on the basis of his words and deeds. The signs which Jesus performed were the evidence to which the apostle John pointed as proof of the deity of Christ ( John 20:30–31 ). Indeed, our Lord himself said:

Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself; but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake. [ John 14:10–11 ]

If Puritan interpretation of the second commandment is basically correct (as the present author believes it is), then any attempt to depict the person of Christ by a portrait must fail. His deity cannot be pictured at all, and his character can only be suggested. What is often produced is the image of a divinized man, which Christ most certainly is not. However, visible representations of events may convey the message of the deity of Christ, not by portraying his person in a certain fashion, but by setting forth his divine works. Obviously, there is sometimes a fine line dividing the two kinds of art. Some paintings of historical events contain virtual portraits of Christ, so that the focus of attention is drawn to his countenance rather than to his activity. Nevertheless, the general distinction seems to be clear enough.

One final question remains. How should involuntary mental portraits of Christ be treated by those who experience them? That is the problem which confronted revival leaders in the eighteenth century. Erskine’s comparison of mental idolatry with mental adultery suggests some important clues. A man cannot always avoid seeing a beautiful woman or being attracted to her. Mental adultery does not consist in physical sight, but in cultivating the mental image of that woman for the purpose of sexual stimulation. In the same way, it is possible to walk past a portrait of Christ in a museum without yielding to any temptation to meditate on God through its instrumentality. Even if the picture is sinful, the viewer need not sin. When a mental image comes into the mind without a deliberate volition, its content must be evaluated. If it is symbolic of God’s attributes or if it represents an event in the life of the Lord Jesus, it may be entertained with caution. If it consists of a virtual portrait of the Savior, it ought to be rejected rather than fondled. These suggestions may not commend themselves to all students, but to the present author they seem to strike a scriptural balance between the important psychological insights of James Robe (and, incidentally, of Jonathan Edwards before him) and the equally important cautions of Ralph Erskine.

A more extensive discussion of the concepts covered in this article may be found in the author’s unpublished Master’s thesis, “Images of the Lord: A Travesty of Deity” (Talbot Seminary, 1976) and his “Imaginary Ideas of Christ: A Scottish-American Debate” (Ph.D. dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985), available from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Taken from Westminster Theological Journal Volume 49:2 (Fall 1987)


1 Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Boston: Beacon, 1961), esp. pp. 239-55.
2 Cited by Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy: Or, a Treatise of Mental Images (Edinburgh: W. and T. Ruddimans, 1745) 7.
3 Elizabeth Flower and Murray G. Murphey, A History of Philosophy in America (2 vols.; New York: Capricorn Books and G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1977) 1.71.
4 Ibid., 1.41–42.
5 Richard Watson, The Downfall of Cartesianism, 1673–1712: A Study of Epistemological Issues in Late 17th Century Cartesianism (International Archives of the History of Ideas II; The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966) 7. Samuel Maresius, a French Calvinist immigrant to the Netherlands, “defends the proposition Quod non est in sensu, non est in intellectu even with respect to the doctrine of God” (Ernst Bizer, “Reformed Orthodoxy and Cartesianism, “ JTC 2 [New York: Harper and Row, 1965] 20–82, esp. p. 67).
6 The French philosopher, Nicholas de Malebranche, is one notable example. He developed a philosophical system known as occasionalism which teaches that the senses are merely used by God as occasions for immediately imparting ideas to the mind. Cf. Richard Watson, p. 99 and Jerome Shafer, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy , s.v. “Mind-Body Problem.” The occasionalism of Ralph Erskine described below does not seem to be dependent on Malebranche (La Shell, “Imaginary Ideas,” 141–54).
7 Recently there has been an unfortunate tendency to discuss Edwards’ concept of beauty in terms of a sanctified or regenerate imagination which discovers the glory of God (Paul David Johnson, “Jonathan Edwards’s ‘Sweet Conjunction,’ “ Early American Literature 16 [1981-82] 271–81, esp. pp. 27980 nn. 2-3; also Harold Simonson, “Jonathan Edwards and the Imagination,” ANQ 16 [No. 2, November 1975] 109–19, esp. pp. 116-17). Such a use of “imagination” is dependent on a more modern definition of the word and is contrary to Edwards’ insistence that the imagination is a purely natural faculty.
8 Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (vol. 2 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John E. Smith; New Haven: Yale University, 1959) 210–11.
9 Miller, Seventeenth Century, 257.
10 Jonathan Edwards, Selections from the Unpublished Writings of Jonathan Edwards, of America (ed. Alexander B. Grosart; Edinburgh: Privately Printed, 1865) 184.
11 James Fisher, A Review of the Preface to a Narrative of the Extraordinary Work at Kilsyth, and Other Congregations in the Neighborhood (2nd ed.; Glasgow: Printed for John Newlands, 1743) 25, body.
12 John Willison, A Letter from Mr. John Willison Minister at Dundee, to Mr. James Fisher Minister at Glasgow (Edinburgh: T. Lumisden and J. Robertson, 1743) 10
13 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (ed. Edward Hickman; 2 vols., 1834; reprinted Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974) 1.269.
14 Cf. Calvin, Institutes 1.11–12 ; Heidelberg Catechism , questions 96–98; Westminster Larger Catechism , questions 103–10. For a modern presentation see J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973) 38–44. Lutheran and Roman Catholic exposition of the commandments numbers them differently. For historical background on this difference see C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949) on Exod 20:1 .
15 La Shell, “Imaginary Ideas,” 178–200.
16 James Durham, The Law Unsealed: or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Com mandments. With a Resolution of Several Momentous Questions and Cases of Conscience (Edinburgh: D. Schaw, 1802) 67.
17 Thomas Boston, The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston, Ettrick (ed. Samuel M’ Millan; 12 vols.; London: William Tegg and Co., 1853; reprinted Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts, 1980) 2.150.
18 Thomas Vincent, An Explanation of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, n.d.) 162.
19 Durham, Law Unsealed, 68.
20 Institutes 1.11.6,9, 13. For similar surveys of the historical situation see John Owen, The Works of John Owen (ed. William H. Goold, Johnstone and Hunter, 1850–53; 16 vols. reprinted Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965–1968) 14.427-38, and James Nichols, ed., Puritan Sermons 1659–1689 Being the Morning Exercises at Croplegate, St. Giles in the Fields, And in Southwark by Seventy-Ministers of the Gospel (6 vols., Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981) 6.63-69.
21 Thomas Watson, A Body of Practical Divinity, Consisting of above One Hundred and Seventy Six-Sermons on the Shorter Catechism (Berwick: W. Gracie, 1806) 389.
22 Institutes 1.11.3.
23 Owen, Works 14.446.
24 Durham, Law Unseated, 68–69.
25 Cf. ibid., 69; Boston, Works 2.151; Watson, Body of Divinity , 388-89.
26 Institutes 1.11.8.
27 Vincent, Explanation , 161.
28 Durham, Law Unsealed , 64.
29 Boston, Works 8.49.
30 It is probable, however, that no dispute over mental images of Christ would have arisen except for the bitterness which already existed between the established church of Scotland and the Associate Presbytery, or Secession Church. The revival served to intensify hostilities. Although ministers of the Associate Presbytery were godly men, they opposed the revival largely because it served to strengthen evangelical congregations in the national church. For an excellent study see Arthur Fawcett, The Cambuslang Revival: The Scottish Evangelical Revival of the Eighteenth Century (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1971).
31 Isaac Ambrose, Looking unto Jesus: A View of the Everlasting Gospel; or, The Soul’s Eyeing of Jesus (2 vols.; Berwick: H. Richardson, 1819) 2.83. The words I have italicized are omitted from at least one later edition.
32 Cited by James Robe, Mr. Robe’s Fourth Letter to Mr. Fisher Wherein His Preface to a 2d Edit. of His Review Is Considered (Edinburgh: R. Fleming and Company, 1743) 45.
33 Nichols, Morning Exercises 6.285-86.
34 Edwards, Works (ed. Hickman) 2.263.
35 James Robe, Narratives of the Extraordinary Work of the Spirit of God at Cambuslang, Kilsyth, &c . (Glasgow: David Niven, 1790) 46; Alexander Webster, Divine Influence the True Spring of the Extraordinary Work at Cambuslang and Other Places in the West of Scotland (Edinburgh: T. Lumisden and J. Robertson, 1742) 37; Adam Gib, A Warning against Countenancing the Ministrations of Mr. George Whitefield, Published in the New Church at Bristow (Edinburgh: Printed for David Duncan, 1742) 60; Fisher, Review , 10-11, body.
36 Published in 1745, Edinburgh: W. and T. Ruddimans.
37 Robe, Narratives, 200.
38 Erskine, Faith , 10.
39 James Robe, Mr. Robe’s Fourth Letter to Mr. Fisher, Wherein His Prefice to a 2d Edit. of His Review Is Considered … As Also, The Fraud and Falshood of the Reverend Mr. Ralph Erskine’s Appendix to His Fraud and Falshood, &c. Is Laid Open (Edinburgh: R. Fleming and Company, 1745) 40.
40 Ibid., 30.
41 Ibid., 53.
42 Ibid., 53-54.
43 Ibid., 55.
44 Erskine, Faith, 49.
45 Ibid., 48.
46 Robe, Fourth Letter , 54.
47 Erskine, Faith, 196.
48 Robe, Fourth Letter , 45.
49 Erskine, Faith , 158.
50 Ibid., 46.
51 Ibid., 155-56.
52 Ibid., 304.
53 Ibid., 297-312.
54 Robe, Fourth Letter , 63 .
55 Ibid., 33.
56 Erskine, Faith , 128.
57 Ibid., 10.
58 Ibid., 256.
59 Ibid., especially pp. 68-74.
60 Ibid., 259; see also 260.
61 Ibid., xxvi.
62 Ibid., 226.
63 Ibid., xxvi.
64 Ibid., 232.
65 Ibid., 266.
66 Ibid., 272, 276.
67 Ibid., 276.
68 Ibid., 273.
69 Ibid., 114-15.
70 Ibid., 278-79.
71 Ibid., 155.
72 Robe, Fourth Letter , 44.
73 Ibid., 9-13.
74 Ibid., 13.
75 Fisher, Review , 6, preface.
76 Robe, Fourth Letter , 12.
77 Erskine, Faith , 155.
78 Calvin, Institutes, 1.11.12.

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