« AnteriorContinuar »
L E C T U R E
U R E. XIX.
E are now come to the second Commandment:
which the Church of Rome would persuade Men is only Part of the first. But they plainly relate to different Things. The first appoints, that the Object of our Worship be only the true God: the next, that we worship noi him under any visible Resemblance or Form. And besides, if we join these two into one, there will be no tenth left; though the Scripture itself hath called them ten2: to avoid which Absurdity, the Reo manists have committed another, by dividing the tenth into two.
And they inight as well have divided it into fix or seven; as I shall Thew you, in discourfing upon it. For these Reasons, the oldest and most considerable, both of the Jewish and Christian Writers, who distinguish the Commandments by their Number, distinguish them in the same Manner, that we do. Perhaps it may seem of small Consequence, how that before us is counted, provided it be not omitted. And we must own, that Some Persons before the Rise of Popery, and some Protestants since the Reformation, have, without any ill Defign, reckoned it as the Papists do. But what bosh the former have done by mere Mistake, these last. endeavour to defend out of Policy: well knowing, that when once they have got the second to be considered as. only a Part of the first, they can much more easily pass it over, as a Part of no great separate Meaning or İm: portance, than if it.. were thought a distinct Precept
2 Exod. xxxiv, 28. Duut, iv. 53. X. 41
And accordingly, in some of their small Books of Devotion, they pass it over, and leave it out entirely b. But it deserves, as I shall now shew you, another Sort of Regard.
The Prophet Haiah very juftly puts the Queftion: To whom will ge liken God? Or what Likeness will ye compare unto him ? He is an invisible Spirit: therefore representing him in a visible Shape, is representing him to be fuch as he is not. He is every where present: therefore a Figure, confined by its Nature to a particuJar Place, must incline Persons to a wrong Conception of him. He is the living, wise, and powerful Governor of the World: therefore to express him by a dead Lump of Matter must be doing him Dishonour. We are unable indeed, at best, to speak or think worthily of him: and we cannot well avoid using some of the same Phrases, concerning him and his Actions, which we do concerning the Parts and Motions of our own Bodies. But we can very well avoid making visible Images of him: and the plainest Reason teaches, that we ought to avoid it; because they lower and debase Mens Notions of God; lead the weaker Sort into fuperftitious and foolish Apprehensions and Practices; and provoke those of better Abilities, from a Contempt of such childish Representations, to disregard and ridicule the Religion, into which they are adopted.
Therefore, in the early Ages of the World, many of the Heathens themselves had no Images of the Deity. Particularly, the ancient Persians had noned. Nor had the firft Romans; Numa, their second King, having, as the Philosopher Plutarch, himself a Roman Magiftrate, though a Greek by Birth, tells us, forbidden them to reprefent God in the Form, either of a Man or any other Animal. And accordingly, he faith, they had neither any painted
• This they do in the Latin Office of the Virgin, and in some of their English devotional Books. Indeed there they omit likewise all but the first Sentence of our fourth Commandment, and the Promise in our fifth : perhaps to palliate their preceding Omiffion. Isa. xl. 18.
* Herodot, do 1. S. 131.
nor engraved Figure of him for 170 Years; but Temples, void of any Image of any Shape : thinking it impious to liken a fuperior Nature to inferior ones; and impossible to attain thé Notion of God other wise, than by the Understanding e And Varro, one of the most learned of their own Authors, after acknowledging, that during more than 170 Years they worshipped the Gods without any visible Representation, added, that had they never had any, their Religion had been the purer : for which Opinion, among A other Evidences, he brought that of the Jewish People ; and scrupled not to say in Conclusion, that they who fir set up Images of the Gods in the several Nations, lessened the Reverence of their Countrymen towards them, and introduced Error concerning theme. So much wiser were these Heathen Romans in this Point, than the Christian Romans are now.
But when some of the Eastern Kingdoms had fallen into this Corruption ; particularly the Egyptians, who claimed the Invention as an Honour, the great Care of God was to preserve or free his own People from it. The Words of this Commandment express that Purpose very strongly: and very clearly forbid not only making and worshipping Representations of false Gods, but any Representation of Göd at all. And to thew yet more fully, that even those of the true God are prohibited by it, Moses, in Deuteronomy, immediately after mentioning the Delivery of the ten Commandments, adds with respect to the fecond : Take therefore good Heed unto yourselves : for ye faw no Manner of Similitude, on the Day that the Lord Spake unto you in Horeb, out of the Midf of the Fire : leji ye corrupt yourselves, and make you the Similitude of any Figure And when the Israelites made a golden Calf in the Wilderness, though evidently their Defign was
• Plut. in Num. F. 65. Ed. Par. 1624.
Aug. de Civ. Dei, 1. 4. c. 31. Dionysius Halicarnassenfis indeed faith, 1. 2. c. 15. p. 87, that Rumulus erected Images. But as he mentions them. no oiherwise iban incidentally, an ongst the Provisions made by that Prince for divine Worship, his Affertion is not so much to be regarded, as the two contrary more formal ones. Or we may suppose, that Numa took them down. i Herodot, l. 2. g.. 46 a Deut. iv, 12---15, 16.
to represent by it, not a false Object of Worship, but the Lord (in the Original it is Jehovah) who brought them out of the Land of Egypt; yet they were charged with it, and punished for it, as a Breach of their Covenant with God: and Moles accordingly broke, on that Occasion, the two Tables of the Commandments, which were, on their Part, the Conditions of that Covenanti Again, in After-times, when the Kings of Israel set up the same Representation of the same true God at Dan and Bethel; the Scripture constantly speaks of it, as the leading Sin, from which all the rest of their Idolatries, and at last their utter Destruction proceeded. For, from worshipping the true God by an image, they soon came to worship the Images of false Gods too; and from thence fell into all Sorts of Superstition, and all Sorts of Wickedness.
Yet the Church of Rome will have it, that we may now very lawfully and commendably practise what the Jews were forbidden. But observe : not only the Jews, but the Heathens also, who never were subject to the Law of Moses, are condemned in Scripture for this Mode of Worship. For St. Paul's Accufation against them is, that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God; but became vain in their Imaginations; and changed the Glory of the incorruptible God into an Image, made like to corruptible Mank. And in another Place he argues with the Athenians thus. Forasmuch as we are the Offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto Gold or Silver or Stone, graven by Art and Man's Device. And the Times of this Ignorance God winked at: but now commandeth ali Min every where to repent'.
Where then is, or can be, the Allowance of that Image Worship in the Bible, for which Multitudes of the Romilh Communion are as earnest, as if it was commanded there ? Nor is Antiquity more favourable to it, than Scripture. For the primitive Christians abhorred the very Mention of Images: holding even the
* Rom. i. 23, 23.
1 Acts xvii. 29, 304
Trade of making them to be utterly unlawful. And indeed pretending to frame a Likeness of God the Father Almighty, whom no Man ever hath feen or can feem, as some of that Church have done, without any Censure from the Rulers of it, liberal' as they are of Censures on other Occasions, is both a palpable and a heinous Breach of this Commandment. For, though we find in the Old Testament, that an Angel hath sometimes appeared, representing his Person, as an Ambassador doth that of his Prince; and though, in a Vision of the Ancient of Days, his Garment was white as Snow, and the Hair of his Head like pure Wool"; yet these Things gave the Jews no Right then, and therefore can give us none now, to make other, or even the like, Representations of him, contrary to his express Order.
Our blessed Saviour indeed existed in a human Form. But we have not the least Knowledge of any one Part or Feature of his Person. And therefore all Attempts of exhibiting a Likeness of him are utterly vain. Befides, he hath appointed a very different Memorial of himself, the Sacrament of his Body and Blood : and we ought to think that a sufficient one. These others can serve no good Purpose, but what, by due Meditation, may be attained as well without them. And there is great and evident Danger of Evil in them, from that unhappy Proneness of Mankind to fix their Thoughts and Affections on sensible Objects, instead of raising them higher; which if any one doth not feel in himself, he must however see in others. But particularly in this Case, long Experience hath given sad Proof, that from setting up Images of our gracious Redeemer, the holy Virgin, and other Saints, to remind Persons of them and their Virtues, the World hath run on to pay such imprudent and extravagant Honours to the Figures themselves, as by Degrees have arisen to the groffest Idolatry