The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
The Second Commandment
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of
anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You
shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a
jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third
and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand
generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." Exodus 20:4-6
God never gave a command more solemn in its terms, or in
the sanction connected with it. Nor are we left in doubt respecting the vast
importance of this precept. On this point other parts of God's word are full
and urgent. Let us first consider the sanction annexed to it. It is very
weighty. The words in which it is delivered seem to have been chosen for the
purpose of striking terror into the hearts of the rebellious, and of giving
the highest encouragement to the obedient.
1. We have an assertion of God's rightful authority and
sovereignty: for I the Lord your God, etc. The phrase
rendered the Lord your God is precisely the same as found in the preface to
the commandments, already considered. It points to the foundation of all
religious obligation. It is commonly thought to be a fair mode of estimating
the importance of a principle by the frequency with which it is stated in
Scripture. Applying this rule to the present case, there is no more
important truth than this, I am the Lord your God. "He is your Lord, and
worship you him." "Come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before
the Lord our maker. For he is our God." Psalm 45:11; 95:6, 7.
From the fact that the Scriptures frequently compare
idolatry to whoredom, some suppose that the phrase your God, has special
reference, not only to a covenant relation in general, but to a covenant
relation well represented by that of marriage; and so Isaiah says: "Your
Maker is your husband; the Lord Almighty is his name; and your Redeemer, the
Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called." Is.
54:5. See also Rev. 15:3, 4. There can be no true religion, except as the
doctrine of God's sovereign and rightful authority over us is received.
2. As the human mind is exceedingly prone to practical
atheism, and to idolatry also, God takes pains to inform us respecting his
nature. He says, I am a JEALOUS God. The word here
rendered God is not Elohim, but El. This latter word rendered God, when used
as an adjective, signifies strong or mighty; and when used as an abstract
term, it signifies might or power. As a name of God, standing alone, it is
chiefly found in the poetic parts of Scripture. It occurs about two hundred
and forty times in the Hebrew Bible, and in a majority of cases refers to
the true God. Whether we render it here God or strong, the sense is the
same, for the Lord is mighty, nor can any number of people or nations resist
his omnipotence. He is able to punish any insult that is offered him by any
of his creatures. He is strong and jealous, too.
The same thing is repeatedly declared in Scripture. "You
shall worship no other God; for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a
jealous God. Ex. 34:14. Compare Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15. The word rendered
jealous could not be better translated. Elsewhere the corresponding noun is
used to express the strongest passion of man towards man: Num. 5:14, 15, 18,
25, 29, 30. It is several times rendered zeal; 2 Kings 19:31; Psalm 69:9;
Isa. 9:7; 37:32; 59:17. A like, word is used, Numbers 25:13, where it is
said, that Phinehas was zealous for his God. So here the meaning is, that
God has a zeal for his own honor and glory. The special reference here is
doubtless to the intense emotions of men respecting their domestic peace.
Hopkins: "Jealousy is an affection or passion of the
mind, by which we are stirred up and provoked against whatever hinders the
enjoyment of that which we love and desire. The cause and origin of it is
love; the effect of it is revenge." In its very nature it is apprehensive of
worship. A sovereign is jealous of his authority. Freemen are jealous of
their rights. The term always expresses exceedingly strong disapprobation
and indignation against the withholding of that which is our due,
particularly in the marriage relation. Jealousy is never satisfied except
with perfect fidelity. No compliments, no services however beautiful in
themselves, and no rewards, can quiet its imperious demands. "Neither their
silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's
wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy, for
he shall make even a speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land."
Zeph. 1:18. No virtuous husband will rest satisfied with less than the love
and fidelity of his wife. Nor will a holy God be content with less than the
heart, the homage, and the holy living of his people. So he has said: "I
have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken
unto you: they have well said all that they have spoken. Oh, that there were
such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments
always, that it might be well with them and their children forever." Deut.
Nor will jealousy ever rest satisfied until its doubts
are removed. It is exceedingly eager in its pursuit of what it supposes to
be evidence calculated to put an end to all uncertainty. God indeed is never
in doubt about the state of our minds; for he searches the heart. "God is
light; and in him is no darkness at all." 1 John 1:5. His searching will
therefore tear away every disguise, and bring out the whole truth. Men are
never more determined to risk everything than in securing and guarding the
sanctity of their own marriage. Nor does their indignation ever rise higher
than against any crime, which destroys their domestic peace. "Jealousy is
cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which has a most
vehement flame." Jealousy is indeed "the rage of a man; therefore he will
not spare in the day of vengeance." Cant. 8:6; Prov. 6:34. So the Almighty
threatens: "The Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord and his
jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written
in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from
under heaven." Deut. 29:20.
3. God declares that, as Governor of the world, he is not
indifferent to the sins of men; but that he visits iniquity. The
word visits is used in Scripture both in a good and in a bad sense.
It is found in a good sense in Gen. 21:1, 1. 24; Ex. 13:19; Psalm 80:14;
Luke 1:68, 78, 7:16; Acts 15:14. It is found in a bad sense in the following
passages. Psalm 59:5; Jer. 5:9, 29; Jer. 9:9; Isa. 23:17. 1 Sam. 7:16.
To visit iniquity, to visit transgression and to visit
sins are phrases which always threaten punishment. The meaning, therefore,
is, that God will terribly and condignly punish infractions of this
4. The Lord declares that his jealousy is such that he
visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and
fourth generation of those who hate him. This declaration is
repeated in so many words in Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9. Nor is there
any doubt respecting the genuineness of the text, or the fairness of the
translation. The following passages of Scripture are supposed to be to a
considerable extent parallel or explanatory. "I remember that which Amalek
did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he, came up from
Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and
spare them not." 1 Sam. 15:2, 3. This command was given to Saul, nearly four
hundred years after the Israelites had entered Canaan. So that not a single
man who had opposed Israel in the march to Canaan was then living; but only
the descendants of such. Again: "Because Ahab humbled himself before God,
the Lord brought not the evil upon his house in his days, but in his son's
days." 1 Kings 21:29. In a time of great public calamity, when the heathen
had come into God's inheritance and had defiled the holy temple, Asaph
prayed, "O remember not against us former iniquities." Psalm 79:8. When
Belshazzar was suddenly cut down, a part of the song sung by the children of
Israel was in these solemn words: "The seed of evildoers shall never be
renowned. Prepare slaughter for his children, for the iniquity of their
father; that they do not rise, nor possess the land." Isa. 14:20, 21. Again:
"You show loving-kindness unto thousands, and recompense the iniquity of the
fathers into the bosom of their children after them." Jer. 32:18. Again:
"That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from
the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias,
whom you slew between the temple and the altar." Matt. 23:35.
Thus it appears that whatever God intended to teach us by
such language, he designed deeply to impress it on our minds, because he
repeats it very often. The following additional remarks on the threatening
contained in the second commandment are here offered.
1. Candor requires the admission that it is an
exceedingly solemn threatening, and well suited to make men stop and think,
and fear before the Lord. All threatenings to visit iniquity are alarming,
because they are declarations of the inflexible justice of God. But when God
declares that our moral conduct shall have a bearing on our posterity for
generations, surely none but the desperately hardened can be insensible.
2. Candor no less requires the admission that this
threatening is not of easy explication. The difficulty arises principally on
three accounts. 1. It seems to be counter to the sense of justice and equity
felt by men generally. But we should not forget that man is not a competent
judge of the best rules for conducting a moral government; and that,
therefore, any objection arising from his views of things ought to be stated
with great modesty. He ought to be willing patiently to wait and carefully
consider the whole case. Many things seem harsh or unfair, until the
principles, on which they are founded, are well understood.
2. Another source of difficulty arises from the fact that
in organizing the Jewish commonwealth under the theocracy, and in providing
for the administration of penal justice, God expressly ordained that "the
fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the
children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death
for his own sin.' Deut. 24:16. This statute was observed in Israel in their
generations; 2 Chron. 25:3, 4. So that in the threatening connected with the
second commandment, there is involved no principle which ought to make our
laws harsh to the descendants of wrongdoers. God himself thus teaches.
3. A still greater difficulty arises from the
declarations of God made elsewhere. In Jeremiah 31:29, 30, God says, "In
those days people will no longer say, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
and the children's teeth are set on edge.' Instead, everyone will die for
his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes--his own teeth will be set on edge."
"Those days" here mentioned are shown by the context to refer especially to
gospel times, when the Mosaic dispensation should be fully ended. See verses
31-34. We have a like declaration, but much more extended, in the prophecy
of Ezekiel, (18:2-28.)
Whatever may be the import of the threatening in the
second commandment, or of these declarations by the prophets, we are certain
that they would entirely harmonize if we correctly understood them. The
right course, therefore, for us to pursue, is to receive them all, as they
are indeed, the word of God, and reverently study to find out what they
teach. It is not right to array one of these passages or classes of texts of
Scripture against the other. No man is at liberty to receive one or more of
them more fully or cordially than the others.
3. The evil threatened in the second commandment is said
to extend to the third and fourth generation. This is the fundamental
passage on the subject; and yet in Jeremiah 32:18, there is no such
limitation, but the prophet declares that God "recompenses the iniquity of
the fathers into the bosom of the children after them." And in some other
passages already cited, it appears that the curse extended beyond the fourth
generation. So also in the punishment of the ten tribes, the evil
consequences were felt far beyond four generations. The third and fourth
generation are particularly mentioned, "partly, because a parent may live so
long, and see the dreadful effects of his sin in his children's children;
partly, because so far the memory of a father may extend, and be matter of
imitation to his children; and partly, to show the difference between his
exercise of justice and mercy, as appeals by comparing the next verse."
4. Some have supposed that we find an explanation of the
whole principle here involved in the ruin of our race by the sin of Adam.
But this cannot be admitted. Adam was a public person, the federal head and
representative of his posterity. Had he stood his probation without sinning,
they all would have been forever confirmed in holiness and in the favor of
God. But he sinned and cut off from all possibility of standing accepted on
the ground of the covenant of works everyone who descended from him by
ordinary generation. No man is now so the representative of his posterity as
that they will be lost for his sin alone; or that they will be saved on the
ground of his piety.
5. Some have thought that the threatening here contained
has exclusive reference to idolaters. No doubt idolatry is exceedingly
offensive to God. So much is God incensed at it that he directed the
inhabitants of idolatrous cities in Palestine to be exterminated. Deut.
13:12-17. And it is true that the most terrible denunciations of Heaven's
wrath, made in Scripture, or executed in providence, are against idolatry
and kindred sins. Maimonides confines the curse in the second commandment to
idolaters, because, he says, they are haters of God; and it cannot be denied
that wherever God specifies the particular class of sinners, against whose
posterity he threatens evil for the sins of their ancestry, idolaters,
persecutors, bloody men, or other atrocious offenders are the subjects of
consideration. There seems to be something exceedingly dreadful in the
operation of idolatry on communities. It strikes so deep into the very
essence of moral character, that to root it out from among a people, where
it has once obtained acceptance, seems to be all but impossible. Jer. 2:11.
Even after it is driven from street and temple, it lurks in families and
chambers; and images are often carried concealed under the vestments. Thus
it is apt to be perpetuated from generation to generation."
While we may admit as much as the foregoing, it is not
true that the curse is confined to idolaters. All the unregenerate hate God.
Romans 8:7. Atheists, infidels, all willful violators of any of the
commandments, and all rejecters of the gospel of Jesus Christ are the
enemies of God by wicked works. The special reason of speaking of idolaters
as those that hate God is not merely to express that simple truth, but to
cut off all pretext and pretense of love to him on the part of those who
essentially corrupt his worship.
6. It cannot be denied that temporal calamities have been
sent and are still sent on children in consequence of the wickedness of
their ancestry. We see this principle carried out in all countries, whatever
may be the form of government. The children of the thief, of the drunkard,
and of the flagrant wrongdoer—do always commence life under great
disadvantages. The grace of God, leading to uprightness, may enable them to
overcome all these. But in some cases vice transmits diseases or entails
poverty, from the effects of which, no virtuous living on the part of the
children relieves them. Moreover, the Scriptures record instances of
temporal suffering in children, even where the damning guilt of the parents'
sin has been forgiven: "And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against
the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also has put away your sin;
you shall not die. Howbeit, because by this deed you have given great
occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is
born unto you shall surely die." 2 Sam. 12:13, 14. The evil here threatened
is exclusively temporal. So David understood it; for after his child was
dead, he expressed strong confidence not only that his child was immortal
and happy in heaven, but that he should soon join him. See verse 23.
Poole thinks that all the evil threatened in the second
commandment relates to temporal punishments. But this cannot be proven any
more than that all the mercy promised in the next verse relates to temporal
7. While for the glory of his justice, the honor of his
kingdom, and the good of his chosen—the Lord may afflict even the godly
children of idolaters and of other great offenders with temporal calamities,
for the sins of their ancestors—yet none of the pains of eternal death shall
fall on the humble, penitent believer, either for his own sins, the sins of
his immediate progenitors, or for the first sin of his representative Adam;
just as the Most High grants eternal mercies to none of the children of
those who love him, if they forsake the God of their fathers, and walk on in
sin. So he clearly declares, "When the son has done that which is lawful and
right, and has kept all my statutes and has done them, he shall surely
live;" and, "When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and
commits iniquity and dies in them; for his iniquity that he has done shall
he die." Ezek. 18:19, 26.
Thus, individual responsibility is fully retained; and a
door of mercy is opened wide to all who, forsaking the evil practices of
their ancestors, renouncing the works of the devil, and fleeing for refuge
to the hope set before them in the gospel, accept the grace that is in
Christ Jesus. Thus Hezekiah, though the son of wicked Ahaz, who had greatly
defiled the house of God, was a truly pious man. walked with God, had great
temporal prosperity, and died in faith.
8. Where children walk in the footsteps of their wicked
ancestors and thus justify all their wickedness, as the descendants of
idolaters and of other heinous violators of God's law are very apt to do,
there is no difficulty in perceiving at once the perfect justice of the evil
here threatened. Psalm 49:13. That indeed is visiting the iniquity of the
fathers upon the children in the most terrible form. Spiritual judgments are
the most terrific of all judgments. To be given over on any account,
particularly in imitation of the wickedness of our forefathers, to work
iniquity with greediness, is the heaviest of Heaven's curses.
9. It would probably quiet some of our rebellious
thoughts respecting the evil here threatened, if we would duly remember the
1. Sin is a horrible evil. It deserves God's wrath and
curse both in this life and that which is to come. God has never punished it
excessively. He never will punish it more than it deserves.
2. We are all "by nature the children of wrath." None of
us are in ourselves innocent. As we come into the world, we are under the
just curse of the covenant of works.
3. It is of God's mere grace, that kindness is shown to
any of our race. No man deserves mercy at the hand of God, either for
himself or his posterity.
10. Let us for a moment suppose that there was no such
principle as social liability incorporated into the government of the world;
that the husband could not be made to pay the fines imposed upon his wife;
that wives and children were subjected to no inconveniences on account of
the criminal conduct of husbands and fathers; would we thus be led
reasonably to expect an improved state of morality? Lord Bacon says, "He who
marries gives pledges to society." That is, he gives additional pledges of
his good behavior as a citizen. So also the father has motives for good
behavior, which can never be felt by the childless. The love of our
offspring is not only natural, but exceedingly strong. Even infidels, who
have lived and died reckless of their own spiritual interests, have been
known to exhort their dying children to believe in Christ; so mightily did
parental love, at least for the time, over-ride their skepticism and enmity.
But suppose when a man was tempted to do wrong, he could
truly say, "My evil conduct shall injuriously affect no one but myself,"
would not one of the strongest inducements to resist temptation, in many
cases, be quite taken away? Even a heathen said, "It is nothing strange and
absurd for the posterity of lewd and wicked men to suffer what belongs to
11. Hopkins: "God does not always observe this method of
revenging the offences of fathers upon their children in temporal
punishments. Neither does this threatening in the commandment oblige him to
do it, but only shows what their sins deserve, and what he might justly do,
if he pleased to use his power and prerogative... If children themselves be
pious and holy, this may be for their comfort, that whatever afflictions
they lie under, shall be for their benefit and advantage; and they are not
punishments to them, but only fatherly corrections and chastisements: for
the very things which they suffer may be intended by God as a punishment to
their ancestors, but a fatherly correction to themselves; and what to the
one is threatened as a curse, to the other may prove a blessing and an
advantage, as it gives them occasion of exercising more grace and so of
receiving the greater glory."
12. It may be well here to present the views of some of
the best commentators on this threatening.
Diodati: "As concerning eternal judgment upon the soul,
everyone dies for his own iniquity. Jer. 31:30. But for the father's sins,
the children are often punished in body, in goods, and other things, which
they hold, and derive from their fathers. Num. 14:33; 2 Sam. 12:11, 21:5,
14. And besides, God oftentimes curses the generation of the wicked,
withdrawing his grace and Spirit from it, whereby imitating their parents'
wickedness, they are punished in the same manner." 1 Sam. 15:2; Matt. 23:32,
Thomas Boston: "Not that God properly punishes one for
another's sin; but that from the parents' sin, he often takes occasion to
punish children for their own sins, and such their parents' sins ofttimes
are by imitation, or some way approving of them."
Ridgley has three remarks on the threatening contained in
the second commandment:
1. "That though God does not punish children with eternal
destruction for the sins of their immediate parents, yet these oftentimes
bring temporal judgments on families.
2. These judgments fall heavier on those children that
make their parents' sins their own, by approving them and committing the
3. Whatever temporal judgments may be inflicted on
children for their parents' sins, shall be sanctified and redound to their
spiritual advantage, as well as end in their everlasting happiness, if they
do not follow their bad example."
Scott: "If Israel, or any Israelites, revolted to
idolatry, they would be deemed haters of God; (as the wife would be supposed
to hate her husband, when she preferred every worthless stranger to him,)
and the national covenant, with its peculiar blessings, being forfeited, the
sins of the parents would involve their offspring in the punishment, even to
the third and fourth generation."
Stowell gives much the same explanation. He says, "God's
dealing with the seed of Abraham must be examined on the principles of that
national covenant into which he entered with that people."
13. There is nothing in this threatening, which goes
counter to the exceeding great and precious principle laid down by the
apostle. (1 Cor. 7:14.) "The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife,
and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else were your
children unclean, but now are they holy." So that the wickedness of one
parent can never make null and void the covenant of God with the other
believing parent. In this case, as in many others, though sin abounds, grace
does much more abound. God, who would not have destroyed Sodom had there
been ten righteous people in it; God, who spares the world for the sake of
his elect that are in it—will never put beyond the reach of his grace, or
the pale of his covenant, the child, either of whose parents is found
faithful with God, except for the personal sins of such child.
14. It is an exceedingly great relief to a tender heart
to find this declaration of God's justice immediately followed by a promise
unspeakably more large and glorious, namely: "showing mercy unto thousands
of those who love me and keep my commandments." So that even here at the
foot of Sinai, "mercy rejoices over judgment," triumphing over it. James
2:13. Compare Ezek. 33:11. The chief difficulty respecting this promise is
in bringing our hearts to understand and embrace the exceeding riches of the
grace here offered. The thousands here spoken of are not thousands of people
merely, but thousands of generations. The context teaches as much, and this
is the interpretation approved by a great body of the soundest expositors,
among them John Calvin. The promise will stand forever good: "I will be a
God unto you, and to your seed after you." Gen. 17:7. And Solomon says, "The
children of a just man are blessed after him." Prov. 20:7. "This," says
Calvin, "is not only the effect of a religious education, which is of no
small importance, but it is also in consequence of the blessing promised in
the covenant, that the grace of God shall perpetually remain in the families
of the pious." So that if any of the effects of divine wrath are felt to the
third and fourth generation of gross offenders, mercy is shown to thousands
of generations of the truly pious. If God is glorious in holiness, and
terrible in justice; he is matchless in loving-kindness, and unparalleled in
tender mercy. And that we may labor under no misapprehension as to the
infallible proof of love to God, it is stated in the same connection that it
is evinced by keeping his commandments. Jesus himself repeated the same
truth: "He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me."
Under the influence of the due consideration of these
1. I am Jehovah;
2. I am your God, and
3. I am a jealous God; and
4. of the alarming threatening of visiting iniquity,
5. of the very glorious promise of showing mercy.
1. What the second commandment
The first commandment clearly points out the one,
glorious, exclusive object of religious worship. The second commandment
chiefly relates to the manner in which such worship is to be offered to
him. The word, worship, either means civil respect, or religious
reverence. It is in the latter sense that it is here employed. The worship
of God consists, says Buck, "in paying a due respect, veneration, and homage
to the Deity under a sense of religious obligation to him." Fisher says,
"Religious worship is that homage and respect we owe to a gracious God, as a
God of infinite perfections, by which we profess subjection to, and
confidence in him—as our God in Christ, for the supply of all our needs; and
ascribe the praise and glory that is due to him, as our chief good, and only
Hopkins: "The true and spiritual worship of God in
general is an action of a pious soul, wrought and excited in us by the Holy
Spirit; whereby, with godly love and fear, we serve God acceptably according
to his will revealed in his word; by faith embracing his promises, and in
obedience performing his commands; to his glory, the edification of others,
and our own eternal salvation."
One of these definitions may be more full than another;
but they are all right as far as they go. While the second commandment, no
less than all the other precepts of the decalogue, should be regarded as
designed to regulate our tempers, it no doubt has special reference to the
external worship of God. The things forbidden in it relate to outward acts.
It is true the most gross form of violating God's worship is mentioned, just
as the most flagrant form of sinning against our neighbor's life, and peace,
and property are mentioned in the sixth, seventh and eighth commandments.
1. Let us then consider God's worship.
Whenever worship is acceptable to God, it must have the following
1. It must be SINCERE and genuine. Hypocrisy is
odious to all right-minded men; to God it is detestable. Without this
heartiness in God's service, it is impossible to "worship the Lord in the
beauty of holiness." I Chron. 16:29. An attempt to serve him without
sincerity calls in question the Divine Omniscience, and is a gross insult to
his infinite purity and majesty. Of course true worship will be cheerful,
free from moroseness, and from sanctimonious grimace. It never teaches men
to disfigure their faces. It abhors whining cant. In all approaches to God,
let the oil of gladness run through our souls.
2. It must be marked by solemnity and REVERENCE,
excluding levity, vanity, and profaneness of mind in the worshiper.
Nothing can be more offensive to God than rushing thoughtlessly into his
presence. "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to
listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that
they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your
heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth,
so let your words be few." Eccles. 5:1, 2. "God is greatly to be feared in
the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence by all those who are
about him." Psalm 89:7.
3. All worship offered to God must be HUMBLE. It is
with the lowly that he takes up his abode; while the proud he sends empty
away. The great difference between the Pharisee and Publican in the temple
was, that the former was bloated with self-conceit, while the latter was
bowed down in deep self-abasement. "God resists the proud, but gives grace
unto the humble."
4. God's worship must be INTELLIGENT. If it may be
truly said to us as to the Samaritans, "You worship you know not what," our
service is utterly worthless. Charnock: "Worship is the fruit of
knowledge.... There is no worship acceptable to God without the knowledge of
Christ..... Without this knowledge of God, we could never worship him in a
right manner..... Whatever the principle of the worship is, it must have
knowledge for the foundation. Without a knowledge of God we cannot regard
him; without a strong knowledge, we cannot love him ardently.... When we
understand not his justice, we shall presume upon him; when we are ignorant
of his glorious majesty, we shall be crude with him; unless we understand
his holiness, we shall leap out of sin to duty; and the risings of our lusts
will be as nimble as the desires of our souls. If we are ignorant of his
excellency, we shall lack humility before him; if we have not a deep sense
of his omniscience, we shall be careless in his presence."
Ignorance of the true God will clearly lead to atheism or
to the worship of false gods; while a true saving knowledge of him will
surely preserve us from so great sins. Gal. 4:8. Dan. 3:18.
5. Our worship of God must be SPIRITUAL. Its seat
must be in the soul. So taught Christ himself: "The hour comes, and now is,
when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth;
for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a spirit; and those who
worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:23, 24.
6. Our worship must be according to DIVINE DIRECTIONS.
Every sovereign, as every court, has a right to regulate the manner in which
petitioners shall approach. Nothing more effectually destroys all
acceptableness in worship, than that our fear towards God be taught by the
precept of men. Isa. 29:13. Compare Matt. 15:9.
Acceptable worship is therefore pure and simple, and free
from superstition, pomp, and idle ceremony. All will-worship and all
displays of magnificence invented by man are an offence to God. True
worship, like real "beauty, when unadorned is adorned the most." We may not,
therefore devise any false worship, Num. 15:37-40; nor recommend it to
others, Deut. 13:6, 7, 8; nor enjoin it upon others, Hosea 5:11; nor use it
ourselves, 1 Kings 11:33; nor in any way countenance it. Rev. 2:14.
7. All acceptable worship must be offered in true FAITH.
"Without faith it is impossible to please him; for he who comes to God must
believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek
him." Heb. 11:6. Mason: "There lacks nothing but a believing prayer—to turn
every promise into a performance." Unless we have this faith, the most
appropriate public worship will soon become a burden, and we shall cry out,
"What a weariness is it!" Mal. 1:13. Then we may indeed draw near to God
with our mouth and honor him with our lips, but our hearts will be far from
him. Matt. 15:8.
8. All acceptable worship must be offered to God BY AND
THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, the only Mediator. "Hitherto have you asked
nothing in my name; ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full."
John 16:24. "If you shall ask anything in my name, I will do it." John
14:14. The Savior takes our imperfect services, puts them into his golden
censer, sprinkles them with his own most precious blood and presents them
before God for a sweet-smelling savor.
Worship is either internal or external. Internal worship
consists in right thoughts and intentions, right views and desires, humility
of soul united with warm and tender affections towards God. This is the
fountain of all religious service, pleasing to the Most High. It is of great
price in the sight of him who knows our thoughts afar off. When some one
spoke to Leighton of his very valuable library, he said, "One devout thought
is worth it all." But there is no contrariety between internal and external
worship. The former naturally leads to the latter. In external worship, we
use words and actions expressive of inward emotions. That worship exercising
both soul and body is proper, can be made manifest in many ways.
1. We have the examples of good men recorded in Scripture
and of the Savior himself.
2. External worship is specially ordained in many parts
of Scripture. Time would fail us to cite all the texts pertinent.
3. Just so sure as we feel aright towards God, our pious
affections will seek suitable modes of outward expression. Matt. 12:35; Luke
6:45; Romans 10:10.
4. Our bodies are no less redeemed than our souls. If the
soul shall be glorified, so shall the body; if the soul shall be lost, so
shall the body. The law is explicit: "Glorify God in your body and in our
spirit, which are God's." 1 Cor. 6:20. Compare Matt. 16:24.
5. Suitable outward worship greatly aids the spirit of
devotion and cultivates pious affections. Many Scriptures say as much.
In some things in external worship, God has left us free
to do that which seems to us most becoming and convenient. But he has
prescribed the entire matter, and motive, and spirit with which he will be
Worship is again distinguished into that which is taught
us both by the light of nature; and that which is taught us by revelation
alone. There is nothing in nature to suggest that the offering of bloody
sacrifices would be acceptable to God. That was learned by revelation alone.
The same is true of the sacraments instituted by Christ. On the other hand,
prayer and thanksgiving seem to be taught by the light of nature. At least
all nations have practiced them.
But enough of distinctions. The Westminster Assembly thus
sums up the requirements of this precept: "The duties required in the second
commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all
such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his word;
particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading,
preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration and receiving of the
sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance
thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God; and vowing unto
him; as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and,
according to each one's place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of
idolatry." This general view of what is required in this commandment must
for the present suffice.
As the commandment itself is in the negative form, it
will be most convenient to consider the various topics in detail, when we
shall speak of—
1. What the second commandment FORBIDS.
1. How the Church of Rome breaks this commandment by
idolatry. The church of Rome has long found this a very
troublesome commandment. Her devices for evading its force are many.
Every kind of representation of the object of worship by
casting melted metals, by carving, and by painting, is here forbidden. The
graven images were worshiped as the representation or habitation of some
deity. They presented to the eye of the worshiper something claiming
religious veneration. So that any representation of the true God or of a
false God would have been an idol. It was an image used in religious
The last general council of that corrupt church, the
Council of Trent, says, "Let them [i.e. all bishops, and others who have the
care and charge of teaching] teach that the images of Christ, of the Virgin,
Mother of God, and of other saints, are to be had and retained, especially
in churches, and due honor and veneration paid to them." None will deny that
in all countries, where worship is conducted by ministers of the church of
Rome images do abound, and that the devotees do bow down before them, and
kiss them, as Trent directs. All this is directly in the teeth of the second
commandment. That the church of Rome authorizes a like use of pictures is
evident from her uniform usage, and from the decrees of the same council of
Trent: "Let the Bishops teach further, that by the records of the mysteries
of our redemption, expressed in pictures or other similitudes, men are
instructed and confirmed in those articles of faith which are especially to
be remembered and cherished; and that great advantages are derived from all
sacred images, not only because the people are thus reminded of the benefits
and gifts which are bestowed upon them by Christ, but also because the
divine miracles performed by the saints, and their salutary examples, are
thus placed before the eyes of the faithful, that they may give thanks to
God for them, order their lives and manners in imitation of the saints, and
be excited to adore and love God, and cultivate piety. Whoever shall teach
or think in opposition to these decrees, let him be accursed."
That in practice the Romish church does carry out this
decree, none will deny. That she goes still further, and represents the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit in pictures, is also matter of notoriety. In one
of the public buildings of the Jesuit College at Georgetown, D. C. was, and
perhaps still is, a picture representing the Trinity. A draft of the picture
and certificates of its existence have been before the public for more than
twenty years. They are now in the author's possession, and have been seen by
many. That all this is according to the teaching of the doctrines of the
Romish church, none will deny. That all this is directly contrary to the
express teaching of God's word may be learned by a reference to its earliest
Thus says Moses: "The Lord spoke unto you out of the
midst of the fire: you heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude;
only you heard a voice. Take you therefore good heed unto yourselves; for
you saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spoke unto you in
Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest you corrupt yourselves, and make
you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or
female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any
winged fowl that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on
the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the
earth. Take heed unto yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord
your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the
likeness of anything, which the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the
Lord your God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God." Deut. 4:12, 15-18,
It is doubtless on this ground that Isaiah utters the
fearful challenge: "To whom then will you liken God? or what likeness will
you compare unto him?" Isa. 40:18. Verily men are fearfully blind when they
can "change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to
corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things."
The same Council of Trent says: "They are to be wholly
condemned, as the church has long before condemned them, and now repeats the
sentence—who affirm that veneration and honor are not due to the relics of
the saints, or that it is a useless thing that the faithful should honor
these and other sacred monuments, and that the memorials of the saints are
in vain frequented, to obtain their help and assistance."
Some plea, if possible, must be set up for this species
of idolatry. In his "Defense of Catholic Principles," Gallitzin says: "The
Israelites venerated the brazen serpent, a type or figure of Christ." Num.
This indeed is as good authority as can be brought for
this purpose. How God regarded this veneration shown to the serpent appears
from the record of Scripture itself. Good king Hezekiah, who "did that which
was right in the sight of the Lord," and who was a great reformer in the
church of God, "destroyed the high places, and broke the statues in pieces,
and cut down the groves, and broke the brazen serpent, which Moses had made:
for until that time the children of Israel burnt incense to it: and he
called its name Nohestan." Gallitzin says, that in all this worship of
images, pictures, and relics, there "is nothing but what every Christian
must approve as conformable to the word of God and to reason. St. John the
Baptist venerated the very latchets of our Savior's shoes." Mark 1:7.
Truly these are slender foundations on which to rear the
immense fabric of Popish idolatry. John expresses no veneration for Christ's
shoes, but simply declares that he himself was not worthy to perform the
humblest office of kindness to the Savior. As if to cut off all occasion for
this species of idolatry, our blessed Savior left no keepsakes among his
disciples. It was his executioners who divided his raiment and cast lots
upon his vesture.
2. Idolatry is Absurd and Criminal. Idolatry,
in all its forms, is a sin so gross, and expressive of so much folly and
stupidity, that it is bewildering that men should ever commit it. To
inspired writers it is a theme of just and severe ridicule, not the less
pungent because a simple statement of its grossness is all that is required
to show its absurdity. The Psalmist says, "Our God is in heaven and does
whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears,
but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throats. Those
who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them." Psalm
In like manner Isaiah ridicules at length the whole
process of making and worshiping idols: "Is there any God besides me? No,
there is no other Rock; I know not one. All who make idols are nothing, and
the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them
are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts
an idol, which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame;
craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their
stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy. The blacksmith takes
a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he
forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and
makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it
with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress
or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and
the rain made it grow. It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and
warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god
and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he
burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats
his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire."
From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He
prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god." They know nothing, they
understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and
their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one
has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I
even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a
detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" He
feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or
say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?" Isaiah 44:8-20.
In like manner Elijah mocked the priests of Baal: "At
noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a
god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is
sleeping and must be awakened." So they shouted louder and slashed
themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood
flowed." 1 Kings 18:27, 28.
In all this ridicule there is no caricature, no
exaggeration. It is all fair, because it is simple truth. Yet, absurd as
idolatry is, there is no science, literature, philosophy, civilization,
which can show its silliness so plainly, as to banish it from among men. As
Athens rose in eloquence and philosophy, so did she rise in her devotion to
false gods, until in the days of Paul, besides hosts of idols famous in
Greece, she had her altar erected to the Unknown God, and was, as the
Scriptures testify, wholly given to idolatry—she was "full of idols." Acts
The very word in Hebrew, which we render idol,
means a vanity, nothing, naught. In Jeremiah (14:14,) the same word
is rendered "a thing of nothing." The man of Uz says to his friends, "You
are all physicians of no value," literally, idol or vain
physicians. Job 13:4. The "idol shepherd" of Zechariah (11:17,) is a
worthless shepherd, whose care of the flock amounts to nothing. It may be to
this signification of the word, as well as to the futility of all idol
worship, that Paul alludes when he says: "What say I then? that the idol is
anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is anything?"
Again: "We know that an idol is nothing in the world." 1 Cor. 8:4, 10:19.
Men never do a more vain and empty thing than when they make or serve an
idol. It is as foolish and as unproductive of good, as when one beats the
Idols themselves and the worship of them are in Scripture
often styled an abomination. Ex. 8:26; Deut. 7:26; 1 Kings 11:7, 14:24; 2
Chron. 15:8; Isa. 44:19; Ezek. 18:12. Some also explain Daniel 11:31, as
referring to the images carried by the Romans, and to the pictures on the
Roman standard, which were an abomination to the Jews, who after the
captivity fell no more into the worship of either images or pictures, but
all such things were an abomination to them.
That idolatry is the abhorrence of God and of godly men,
is evident from the New Testament. 1 Peter 4:3 speaks of "abominable
idolatries." So carefully did God guard his ancient people against idolatry,
that he would not permit them to bring home with them as trophies, the idols
of the nations whom they conquered in war. He required all such images to be
at once burnt with fire. Nay more, he would not permit them to strip the
idol of its rich ornaments, before they destroyed it, "lest they should be
snared therein." The reason he assigns is, that "it is an abomination to the
Lord your God." Deut. 7:25.
How often and earnestly God condemns all idolatry may be
seen in many Scriptures. The following are mere samples of what he often
says: "Do not make idols or set up carved images, sacred pillars, or shaped
stones to be worshiped in your land. I, the Lord, am your God." Lev. 26:1.
Compare Deut. 4:15, 12:2, 3, 32:16-20; Josh. 24:20, 23. By David God clearly
declares a fact, which ought never to be forgotten, as it can never be
safely denied, namely: that idolatry is productive of untold miseries, even
in this life: "Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another
God." Psalm 16:4. See also Jer. 9:14, 15, 44:2-9; Ezek. 20:18-26; Acts
17:29; 1 Cor. 10:14, 12:2; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 John 5:21; Rev. 9:20.
If any doubt the horrible wretchedness of ancient
heathenism, let him read the writings of the early fathers of the church,
who had been converted from Gentilism. They often write like men, who had
escaped from horrors, of which those who had been born in Christian lands,
can hardly form a conception. And if any suppose that modern heathenism is a
whit better, let him hear the testimony of many, who have been eye-witnesses
of its cruelties. The whole process of consecrating a heathen idol has in no
important particular probably varied for thousands of years. The present
mode of dedicating an idol is described by the prophet Daniel, five hundred
and eighty years before Christ. Dan. 3:5-7. The following passages of
Scripture condemning idolatry can be added to those already cited. They are
all from the New Testament. 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 5:5; 1 Thess. 1:9;
Rev. 21:8, 22:15.
3. The words of prohibition explained.
Let us revert for a little time to the words of the
second commandment. One would think their import unmistakable. They
positively forbid the making of images or likenesses for any religious use.
The prohibition is clear against making images and against bowing down to
images, and against serving them. The prohibition to make idols, is repeated
in Lev. 26:1, and Deut. 5:8.
That the second commandment does not forbid the
cultivation of the fine arts, is generally agreed. But making any images or
likenesses for religious service is forbidden.
The terms of prohibition are very comprehensive. The
image or likeness is not to be of anything in HEAVEN above. According to the
Jews there were three heavens.
1. The aerial or atmospheric. No image or likeness
of any flying bird or fowl may therefore be made for religious service, even
though it be a dove.
2. The Jews spoke of the starry heavens. As we are
forbidden to worship the sun, moon, and stars, so are we forbidden to make
images of them for worship.
3. The Jews spoke of the third heaven, or heaven
of heavens, the abode of God, the residence of saints and angels. No image
or likeness of any inhabitant of this celestial city is to be made.
Then the commandment forbids the making of any image or
likeness of anything that is in the EARTH beneath. These are men, animals,
trees, plants, crosses, bodies of men, living or dead, etc.
Then we are forbidden to make an image or likeness of
anything that is in the WATER under the earth, such as of fishes of almost
countless varieties and creatures of the deep. Of none of these may we make
any representation for religious service. We are not only forbidden to make
them—but to bow down to them. We may not bow the head, or the knee, or the
whole body to them, nor uncover the head to them, nor kiss the hand to them,
nor kiss them. Josh. 23:16; Judges 2:17; 1 Kings 19:18; Job 31:26, 27; Hos.
13:2. Nor may we show them the least token of respect, nor make to them any
manner of obeisance. Nor may we serve them, either as God's people serve
him, or as the heathen serve their false gods by praising them, praying to
them, building houses, or altars for their worship, carrying them in
processions, or in any manner whatever commending them.
The reasons why this precept is so often repeated and so
much insisted on, are that God has a great zeal for the purity of his
worship; that man is very gross and corrupt in his conceptions of God; that
he has a peculiar dislike to spiritual worship: that all history shows his
special liability to fall into idolatry; that the least corruption of
worship, however well intended, is sure in the end to mislead many; and that
men who fall into errors in worship, especially into any form of idolatry,
are full of all bitterness and horrible malice in promoting at all costs
their abominable practices. Matt. 15:9; Isa. 42:8; Romans 1:23, 28; Ex.
32:1-8; Jer. 2:11; 1 Kings 18:28; Psalm 10636-38.
The world furnishes not a single instance of an
idolatrous people, who were not a bitterly persecuting people.
4. Examples of corrupted worship. The
Scriptures record four cases of introducing human inventions into the
worship of Jehovah. Every one of them proved a snare to men's souls, and was
an offence to the Most High.
1. The first was the making of
the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai. The whole account is
given in the thirty-second chapter of Exodus. That this was a professed
attempt to honor the God of heaven seems evident from the record itself, as
well as from the circumstances of the case. Indeed, Aaron said, "Tomorrow is
a feast to the Lord;" the original word is Jehovah. Israel could hardly have
sunk so low as now to admit that the idols of Egypt, or rather, that a calf
not made until they reached Horeb had delivered them. But they attempted
to worship Jehovah under this sacred sign of the Egyptians. And yet, no
sooner had they made the calf—than down went all their conceptions of a
spiritual God, and they cried, "These are your gods, O Israel, which brought
you up out of the land of Egypt." They wanted some visible object to "go
before them;" and in this they committed great sin. God himself says, "They
have corrupted themselves." 5:7. And Moses says, "Oh this people have sinned
a great sin," and Paul says, that they were idolaters. 1 Cor. 10:7. Compare
Ex. 32:6. And Stephen, in his last address says, "They made a calf in those
days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of
their own hands." Acts 7:41.
Kurtz: "The stringency and exclusiveness of the Mosaic
monotheism, and the earnestness with which it held fast to the notion of the
absolute spirituality of God, required that the worship of Jehovah by
images and symbols should be held up as equally reprehensible with actual
idolatry, that both should be punished as rebellion against Jehovah; in
fact, that both should be represented under exactly the same point of view.
It is easy enough to distinguish them in theory; but in practice the limits
drawn by theory are quickly disregarded and overstepped. Hence they had
rejected the God who had gone before them in the pillar of cloud and fire,
and demanded to be led in a different way; they wanted a God to go before
them in a more tangible form, and not enveloped in the pillar of cloud.
They probably had no intention of rejecting and denying their God, Jehovah,
for they said: 'This is the God who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,'
(Ex. 32:8,) but they merely retained the name of Jehovah, and substituted a
different idea. The Jehovah worshiped by the people in the form of the
golden calf was as much an idol as Apis, Moloch, and Dagon; and the people
acted in violation of the command in Ex. 20:3-4."
2. The next case in point of time of an attempt to
worship Jehovah by symbolical representations was that of
Micah and his mother, recorded in the
seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of Judges. His mother blessed Micah in
the name of Jehovah, (17:3.) She said, "I had wholly dedicated the silver
unto the Lord (Hebrew, Jehovah) from my hand for my son, to make a graven
image and a molten image." When Micah had done so, a Levite came to Mount
Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and Micah said to him, "Dwell with me, and
be unto me a father and a priest." When he had secured the services of this
man, he said, "Now know I that the Lord (Jehovah) will do me good, seeing I
have a Levite as my priest." (17:13.) When the Danites came and found this
priest, he said to them, "Before the Lord (Jehovah) is your way wherein you
go." (18:6.) And yet, by confession of all, this entire worship was gross
3. The next case is that of
Jeroboam, who made and set up the calves to be worshiped by the
people. There is hardly a doubt that he intended these images as
representations of the true God. His object is generally thought not to have
been to withdraw Israel from the worship of Jehovah, but to prevent the
kingdom from returning to the house of David. So he distinctly avows. He
wanted a worship which would as well satisfy the ten tribes as the splendid
service in Jerusalem. One of the calves he put in Bethel, and the other in
Dan. He wanted some sensible signs that would fill their imaginations with
the belief that Jehovah was present there as well as at Jerusalem. That he
did not design the introduction of the worship of new gods, seems to be
evident from a declaration in 1 Kings 16:31, where God says of Ahab
that "it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in
the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat,.. and went and served Baal and
worshiped him." And yet God says to Jeroboam, "You have done evil above all
that were before you: for you have gone and made you other gods, and molten
images, to provoke me to anger, and have cast me behind your back."
For this sin, Jehovah threatened the extinction of all
the males of Jeroboam's family; and in due time he did "burn up the house of
Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone." 1 Kings 14:10. The
destruction of this race became a by-word in Israel. I Kings 16:3. And long
after the death of Jeroboam, this sin of his is mentioned to his disgrace;
for thus he "made Israel to sin."
Kurtz, having spoken of the idolatry respecting Aaron's
calf, says: "In the same way may Jeroboam have set up the bulls at Dan and
Bethel as images of Jehovah, but in practice the people were not able to
make so nice a distinction as he. Now, such dangerous distinctions as these,
the law would at once cut up by the root, if it placed the false worship
of Jehovah in precisely the same category as the worship of idols—and
this it has done. For it is a false idea to suppose that Ex. 20:4, refers to
symbolical images of God alone, and not to idolatrous images also."
However Jeroboam refined, the people came right out and
said, "Behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of
Egypt." 1 Kings 12:28; or, "Behold your God, O Israel," etc.
4. The fourth kind of human invention leading to
idolatry, was the use of groves and high places
in the worship of Jehovah. God claimed the right of fixing the
place, as well as the manner of his worship. Deut. 18:12:5. He
solemnly declared against these imitations of heathen worship, while the
people were yet at the foot of Sinai. Yet so firmly rooted was the devotion
of Eastern nations to this mode of worship, that it required a long time and
the judgments of Heaven, and the zeal of great reforming kings wholly to
abolish it. See 2 Chron. 33:17; 2 Kings 23:13, 14, and many other places.
Solomon himself fell into this sin. 1 Kings 3:3. The Assyrians were by sore
judgments brought so far to confess Jehovah that they worshiped him in the
same manner. 2 Kings 17:24-33. See, also, 2 Chron. 14:4.
When great reformers were raised up, they found it
necessary to cut down the groves and utterly to demolish the apparatus of
worship in high places. So dangerous is it to tamper with the worship of God
instituted by himself. Men always err when they revise the wisdom of
Omniscience, particularly so in matters of worship.
5. Vain pleas for breaking the second commandment.
The plea of modern idolaters that they do not worship the
image, but God by the image; that the material effigy is nothing but a sign
used to help devotion; and that it cannot be unlawful to make an image of
God somewhat resembling the figure of a man, because God made man in his own
image, were given by the heathen long ago, in vindication of their idolatry.
If God has said that the use of the cross in baptism is a part of the
ordinance, then we are bound to use it. If he has said no such thing, we are
not only at liberty to reject it, but we are bound to do so, as often as men
or churches attempt to make it obligatory upon our consciences. The same is
true of immersion and of triune-immersion, and of sprinkling, and pouring.
So in respect of kneeling at the Lord's supper. If any choose in a spirit of
devotion to Christ then to kneel, they are at liberty to do so. But if men
refuse us the elements unless we will perform this gesture before them, we
may not yield to their invention.
The same is true respecting days of Fasting or of
Thanksgiving, resting solely upon human authority. Each man must be his own
judge whether the providence of God calls him or not to such a service. The
same is true of festival-days in the church of God. All the religious
liberty that is now upon earth is the fruit of resistance to attempts on the
part of churches and civil authorities to bind men's consciences where God
has left them free. Human ingenuity is great, but it is expressly forbidden
to bring its inventions into God's worship: "You are not to do as we are
doing here today; everyone is doing whatever seems right in his own eyes."
Deut. 12:8. Compare Deut. 12:29-32.
We do then grossly violate this commandment when we make
any representation of the Most High God, or of any of his perfections either
by image or painting; when we make an image of any creature or thing for
religious use; when we worship the true God in the use of images, or by
adopting any of the practices of idolaters; when we believe the Most High is
peculiarly present in any one place, house, statue, painting or relic; when
any reverence due to God alone is given to any creature, as when the
inhabitants of Lystra brought oxen and garlands to sacrifice to Paul and
Barnabas. Acts 14:11-15. It was idolatry in Cornelius to worship Peter, and
would have been highly criminal had he persisted in it, when warned not to
do it. Acts 10:25, 26. It would have been idolatry in John had he worshiped
the angel, when told that he was a creature. Rev. 22:8, 9.
It cannot be innocent, therefore, for European Christians
to make images of Hindu and Chinese gods, and transport them as articles of
merchandise, to be dedicated and worshiped in Eastern countries; nor for any
one to represent the Omniscience of God by a huge eye, sometimes denominated
the All-seeing Eye. We are no more at liberty to worship the true God in
a false way—than we are to worship false gods.
6. Violation of this precept in doctrine. We
do this when we entertain carnal views and gross apprehensions of God, Acts
17:29; when we give heed to the doctrine of devils, 1 Tim. 4:1; when we are
carried about with strange doctrines, Heb. 13:9; when we are unwilling to
hear sound doctrine, 2 Tim. 4:3; or do not relish that which is according to
godliness, 1 Tim. 6:3; when we are not nourished in the words of good
doctrine, 1 Tim. 4:6; when we do not obey the form of doctrine delivered to
us in the Scriptures, Romans 6:17; when we are carried about with every wind
of doctrine, Eph. 4:14; when we do not honestly inquire after the truth,
Acts 17:5; when we are not willing to practice what we do know, John 7:17;
when we are not on our guard against self-righteous teachings and against
loose and Antinomian opinions. Matt. 16:6, Rev. 2:14, 15.
There is not a truth of Scripture which is not
"profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness." 2 Tim. 3:16. We are no more at liberty to entertain loose
opinions, however popular or plausible, than we are to indulge in loose
practices, because they are common or agreeable. We have no more right
to modify or alter the principles of church government, as learned from the
revealed will of God, than we have to change the objects of religious
worship. The Bible tells what elements shall be used both in baptism and the
Lord's supper. It has declared one day in seven to be holy time; and all
attempts to introduce into the church more holy days, or more elements in
the sacraments, are as truly offensive to God as idol worship itself. The
same is true of all attempts to make canonical, books which are apocryphal.
All this is taught by God's word. Deut. 4:3, Rev. 22:18, 19. It is sad
indeed, because it is sinful, when we introduce will-worship into God's
service. Col. 2:18-23. If penances, pilgrimages, postures in worship, days
and times are laid before us as matters to be conscientiously observed, it
is mere superstition to yield to such demands.
7. The second commandment is often broken in PRAYER.
There is no form of religion upon earth which does not include prayer. It is
noticed in the Scriptures more than five hundred times. No duty is more
clearly enjoined. Were it possible to find a man giving all the other
evidences of piety and yet leading a prayerless life—that one fact would
sufficiently show the vanity of his professions. We are never in
circumstances of joy or sorrow, sickness or health, where, if opportunity
offered, the truly devout would not love to pray. No official station, no
excellence of gifts, no experience in grace, can put us beyond the need of
prayer, until we enter the heavenly Jerusalem. Jesus Christ has left us two
parables to encourage importunity in prayer.
Nothing more effectually destroys the life of prayer than
secret sin. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."
Psalm 66:18. Prayer is either secret or public. Secret prayer should,
as far as possible, be secluded from the eyes of men. A church,
street-corner, or a market is no fit place to offer our personal devotions.
In the sermon on the mount, our Lord puts this matter beyond all doubt: "And
when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray
standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may
be seen of men. Truly I say unto you, They have their reward. But you, when
you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to
your Father which is in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, shall
reward you openly." Matt. 6:5, 6.
Public prayer may be in the hearing of two or three
friends, in a family, in a large company, or in the great congregation. Let
us notice some particulars.
1. There are some things which never affect the efficacy
of prayer. One of these is the posture. Standing,
kneeling, and prostration are all sanctioned in Scripture. Let no man judge
his brother in this matter. Church history informs us that in early times,
the whole congregation stood with hands uplifted towards heaven. Another
non-essential is the use or disuse of written or printed forms. There
is not much room for doubt that extemporaneous prayer, if the heart is
rightly affected, is the most edifying. But in either method, wickedness,
pride, and unbelief may reign—or love, faith, and confidence in God may
prevail. Nor does the prevalence of prayer depend on the language
employed. In public prayer, the words used should commonly be plain and
simple. A scriptural phraseology is usually the best. But God looks beyond
the words to the heart. His ears are never charmed with any sounds, however
melodious, if the heart is lacking. Neither is he ever offended at our
language, because it is broken, or crude, if it engages the pious
affections. Nor does fluency, or the lack of it cause God either to
hear or to reject our petitions. He cares nothing for eloquence. He knows
the meaning of a sigh—the language of a groan—the pleading of a tear. Nor
does the length of a prayer determine its character. The thief on the
cross used a prayer of less than ten words and obtained all he asked. David
prayed all night for the life of his child, and in the morning it died. The
publican's prayer consisted of one short sentence, and was heard; the
Pharisee's was long, and wordy, and worthless. Scriptural example seems to
favor brevity. We are not heard for our much speaking.
2. But there are some things which greatly hinder our
prayers. When we do not really desire what we ask for, God is
offended at our cries. Augustine says, that in the days of his unregeneracy,
he "prayed for chastity and morality—but not yet." All such prayer is a
mockery of God. And how many, too, are heedless respecting the answer to
their petitions Men leave their prayer, as the ostrich does her egg—in the
sand, to care for itself. It is well, when in our pious fervor, we cry out,
"O Lord, how long?" When we ask God to gratify our wicked desires, or
accomplish our evil purposes, we may know that he will be offended with us.
If our reason for desiring personal usefulness is that we may be
conspicuous, it is a mercy in God to deny us our request. Men may pray for
zeal, or gifts in God's cause—that they may be set on high. Our prayers are
always wrong, when we do not, in our measure, exercise towards men the
sentiments which we ask God to show, without measure, towards us. If any ask
for mercy, let him be careful to show it. If any prays for comforts, let him
do what he can to make all happy around him. If he desires God not to mark
iniquity in him, let him beware lest severity of judgment form a part of his
own character. "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you
again." Matt. 7:2. If we pray with a right spirit, we will gladly use the
right means, and be willing that God should employ the right measures to
secure us an answer. If one asks for an abundant harvest, let him be careful
to cultivate his crops, and let him not find fault with God for sending
soaking rains. If one prays that he may be made a "workman, who needs not to
be ashamed," let him not refuse the course of study, discipline, and prayer,
requisite to make him such.
Some fail to secure an answer in peace, because they are
impatient. "Blessed are all those who wait for him." Isa. 30:18. "They shall
not be ashamed that wait for me." Isa. 49:23. "I waited patiently for the
Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry." Psalm 90:1. Impatience is
the offspring of turbulence, rebellion, and unbelief. Impatience is apt to
lead to the forsaking of prayer. Nor can we expect cold, heartless prayers
to prevail. "Elijah's prayer brought fire down from heaven, because, being
fervent, it carried fire up to heaven."
3. We all ought to pray more. As every faculty
of body and mind, so every grace of the soul is improved by exercise. Prayer
exercises all our graces. If we do not love to pray, we have no genuine
piety. None of God's children are born dumb. They can all, at least, cry.
Our pious comfort materially depends upon our having much of the spirit of
prayer. Our usefulness is also thereby greatly affected.
Moreover the Scriptures settle the question that prayer
has powerful efficacy. The Bible, and all church history abound in records
of its prevalence. Christ himself prayed much. "During His earthly life, He
offered prayers and appeals, with loud cries and tears, to the One who was
able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence."
4. We do, therefore, greatly sin against God's ordinance
of prayer when we lightly esteem it, in secret, in the family, or
in the public assembly, Matt. 6:6; Jer. 10:25; Acts 2:42; Mal. 3:14; when we
do not seek the Spirit's aid in prayer, Romans 8:26; when we make light of
those who are much exercised in this duty, 1 Sam. 1:14; when we are not
constantly in possession of the spirit of prayer, 1 Thes. 5:17; when our
hearts are reluctant to this duty, Job 15:4; when we do not shake off our
sluggishness, and stir up ourselves to this duty, Isa. 64:7; when we are
impatient of God's delays in answering our prayers, Psalm 40:1; when we do
not prepare our hearts to this exercise, 1 Sam. 7:3; when our prayers are
full of words—and not of desires, Eccles. 10:14; when our thoughts are like
the fool's eyes, wandering everywhere, Prov. 17:24; when we do not earnestly
desire to know what we ought to pray for, Romans 8:26; when we are satisfied
with the gift—without the grace of prayer, Matt. 15:8; when we
offer up our prayers without any lively faith, Heb. 11:6; when we do not
unite watching with prayer, Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33; when we are not
burdened with a due sense of the sins which we confess before God; when we
limit God's power to grant us things lawful, Psalm 78:41; 2 Kings 7:2; when
our prayers are chiefly for ourselves, and do not embrace all sorts and
conditions of men, even those who are malignant towards us, 1 Tim. 2:1-4;
when we desire our petitions rather for our own advantage—than for the glory
of God, I Cor. 6:20; James 4:3; when we are satisfied with the act of
devotion without the presence and blessing of God; when we use vain
repetitions; though all repetitions are not vain, for Augustine spent a
whole night in offering up this one short prayer: Grant that I may know you,
O Lord, and that I may know myself. We also sin when our prayers are
self-righteous; when, another leading our devotions, we do not heartily say,
Amen, to all proper petitions, 1 Cor. 14:16; when we are not duly thankful
for gracious answers; when we are not duly humble for the defects in our
prayers, and when we do not flee continually to the blood of Christ for
cleansing from the sins of our holy things.
8. We break this commandment in the manner of PRAISING
God. Praise is offered to God for
what he is, and for what he does. In the latter case it is commonly called
thanksgiving. Both Scripture and providence frequently summon us to this
duty. If it is a mark of bad manners not to thank men for acts of kindness;
surely it is a mark of a bad heart not to thank the Lord for his boundless
goodness. Like prayer, praise is mentioned several hundred times in the
Scriptures. It seems to be taught by natural religion. Even the heathen
praise their gods. Judg. 16:23, 24; Dan. 5:4. Let us notice several
1. Our great error respecting this duty is, that we do
not engage in it with sufficient frequency or fervency. If we
were more thankful for the mercies we receive, we would doubtless receive
more mercies to be thankful for. As God's nature is unchangeable and his
compassions infinite—it is impossible for us to praise him too much. It is
much to be lamented that the children of sorrow should ever feel themselves
exempt from the obligations of this duty. The most afflicted of mere men in
the depth of his sorrows, cried out, "Blessed be the name of the Lord!" Job
1:21. It should greatly commend this duty to as, that it is very delightful
and refreshing to a contrite heart; and that if through grace, we shall ever
reach the kingdom of God—praise will be our employment forever. No soul,
that has been washed in atoning blood, shall, in passing Jordan, lose its
harp. No! on the other side of "the river that has no bridge," the hand that
had on earth touched its strings but feebly and awkwardly, shall strike them
with a vigor and accuracy that shall entrance itself, and shall be
well-pleasing to God.
Paul says love is greater than faith or hope, not because
it is more necessary here, but because it shall last forever. By parity of
reasoning, praise is greater than prayer or fasting. Psalm 104:33, 146:2.
The chief revenue God gathers from our lost world, is from the praises of
his loving, penitent people. Can it be doubted that many of the dismal fears
and terrible misgivings of God's children would vanish, if they did properly
abound in this duty? "Whoever offers praise glorifies me: and to him that
orders his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God." "Is any
merry? Let him sing psalms."
2. Some seem to have the impression that under the old
dispensation, abundant praise was more required than under the new.
But that is surely a mistake. "Be anxious for nothing: but in
everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests
be made known unto God." Phil. 4:6. "Be filled with the Spirit: speaking to
yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making
melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto
God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Eph. 5:18-20. If
Old Testament saints had much cause for abounding in praise and
thanksgiving, as none but the wicked will deny—surely New Testament saints
have much greater cause for doing the same. "For if the ministry of
condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even
more glory. If that which was done away was glorious, much more that which
remains is glorious." 2 Cor. 3:9, 11. And if we are thus surrounded by the
"glory that excels," we ought to say so in praises, and thanksgivings, and
3. We sin against the ordinance of praise and
thanksgiving when we reject it altogether, either from public or
private worship, Psalm 1:23; when we do not abound in it, Psalm 53:9; when
we engage in it in a frivolous spirit, Psalm 4:4; when neither our
understandings nor our hearts are truly engaged in the work, 1 Cor. 14:15;
when we waver in this duty; when we look upon it as a task, Mal. 1:13; when
we go from this duty and are no more thoughtful or watchful than we were
before, Haggai 1:5-7; when we are willing the work of praise should be
performed in an unedifying manner, 2 Chron. 29:11; when we enter into this
service with malignant hearts, Luke 6:37; when without sufficient cause, we
excuse ourselves from uniting our voices with God's people in this service,
Psalm 16:9, 30:12, 53:8; when in our praises we have not a due reference to
the mediation of Jesus Christ, Heb. 13:15; when we hinder or discourage
others from engaging in this duty; and when this part of divine worship is
performed in any way contrary to the requirements of God in all acts of
worship previously stated.
9. We break the second commandment when we do not rightly
use God's WORD. Revealed truth is to be read, preached, heard,
and meditated upon. This was true even under a darker dispensation. That
none is exempt from the study of God's word, is manifest from the
Scriptures. John 5:39; Acts 15:21; 2 Tim, 4:2. The Lord gave it for a
eperpetal statute respecting the man who should be king over his people:
"When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a
scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.
It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that
he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words
of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his
brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his
descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel." Deuteronomy
17:18-20. No cares of state, no engagedness in any office, can exempt its
king from the obligation of making himself acquainted with the word of life;
and this with devout reverence and all the attributes of religious worship.
In the council at Jerusalem, James declared, "Moses of
old time has in every city them that preach him, being read in the
synagogues every Sabbath day." Acts 15:21. And Jesus Christ has instituted a
permanent gospel ministry, the great object of whose appointment is to
proclaim salvation, and cause the people to understand the word of the Lord.
Romans 10:15; Eph. 4:11, 12; Neh. 8:7, 8, 13. So important is this ministry
that God has ordained that it shall be supported at the charge of the
people, 1 Cor. 9:14; 1 Tim. 5:18; and that all who are inducted into the
sacred office shall be first proven to be fit and capable men. 1 Tim. 3:6.
All to whom the truth is preached are required to receive with meekness the
engrafted word, which is able to save their souls, and to be doers of the
word, and not hearers only, deceiving themselves. James 1:21, 22. We are
bound carefully to guard the word of God against all corruption in doctrine
We do not give good heed to the second commandment when
we read or hear God's word in a prayerless temper, 2 Thess. 3:1; when we do
not labor to attend upon the word without distraction, 1 Cor. 7:35; when we
are not thankful for the privilege of hearing God's word, Psalm 103:2; Heb.
13:15; when we do not, as new-born babes, desire the pure word of God, 1
Peter 2:2; when we read or hear with our minds full of prejudice, 1 Kings
22:8; when we are actuated by no regard to God, but are merely following a
custom, being satisfied with a decent appearance, Ezek. 33:31; when we do
not earnestly lay hold of divine truth, Heb. 2:1; when we do not believe the
truth read or heard, Heb. 4:2; when we soon forget the truth, or fail to
practice it, James 1:22-25; when we do not tremble at God's word, Isa. 56:2;
when from mere sluggishness of mind, we sleep when we should be all
attention; Romans 11:8; when we are offended at the truth, Acts vil. 54;
when we have itching ears, 2 Tim. 4:3; when we are satisfied with the gifts
of the preacher, though there be no growth of grace in our own hearts; when
we go to the house of God rather to see and be seen, to notice and be
noticed—than to hear what God the Lord will say; when we are more pleased
with enticing words of man's wisdom—than with the words and wisdom of the
Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 2:1-5; when we do not set our hearts as a fair mark for
the arrows of truth; when we dislike clear, discriminating, searching
sermons; when we are more anxious after the curious than the
profitable; when we do not embrace the promises of God; when we believe that
we have little more to do with God's word than to hear it and criticize the
preacher; when we irreverently treat any sacred truth; when we have little
or no love to the truth as it is in Jesus; when slight excuses hinder us
from hearing God's word; and when we put a low estimate upon the gospel
10. We may break the second commandment in regard to the
ORDINANCES. Christ has instituted two sacraments in his house.
Some corrupt communions have added four or five more without the slightest
authority from Heaven. The sacraments of the Christian church are baptism
and the Lord's Supper. Respecting these, we offend against God when we
despise or neglect them; when we do not regard them both as signs and seals
of the righteousness which is by faith; when we do not observe them under
the binding force of Christ's authority; when we observe them merely in
conformity to custom, general usage, or the persuasion of others; when we
expect salvation by the sacraments themselves; when we exalt them to the
place assigned to the Savior himself; when we observe them in a
superstitious frame of mind; when we are more eager after the sign in the
sacraments, than after the things signified thereby; when we put a higher
estimate on sacramental observances than on faith, justice, mercy or the
love of God; when we add to the Scriptural mode of their administration;
when we do not duly prepare our hearts by prayer and self-examination, 1
Cor. 11:28; when we rush thoughtlessly to the celebration of either of them,
or needlessly delay their observance; when we go from their celebration and
become careless or carnal in our affections; when we do not endeavor to have
an abiding sense of the solemnity of sacramental acts; when we do not duly
lament our imperfections and the low esteem in which the sacraments are
held; when we do not earnestly desire our own edification and the glory of
God in these ordinances; when we indulge in censorious and uncharitable
tempers toward fellow-professors, refusing Christian communion with those
whose profession and practice require the judgment of charity in their
favor; when we wish the sacraments, which are holy things, to be given unto
the dogs; or, when our observance of the sacred rites is marked by any of
the deficiencies more particularly noticed in acts of worship discussed in
11. Another duty respecting which we have full
instructions and many warnings in God's Word is that of FASTING.
This maybe either of people, as in the case of the great prophet of the
captivity, Dan. 9:3; or of families, as with Queen Esther and her maidens,
Esther. 4:16; or of churches, Acts 13:2, 3; or of citie(s, as of Nineveh,
Jonah 3:5; or of nations, Judg. 20:26. Christ instituted no stated fast, or
fasts to be observed by individuals, families, churches or communities. But
he declared for the reasonableness of fasting under the gospel. He said,
"How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time
will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will
fast." Matt. 9:15. We have also apostolic example for fasting; and in
every age, "Christians of the finer mold have had their private fasts." It
is worthy of notice that fasting is a branch of worship in every system of
religion now upon earth. From this some have inferred, perhaps not
illogically, that it is a duty of natural religion. The Jews had but one
annual fast, prescribed by the Lord. Lev. 23:27-32. From this they could not
plead exemption. The Pharisee, mentioned in the 18th chapter of Luke,
regarded himself as pre-eminently pious, because he added one hundred and
three days of fasting over and above all that was required by that
dispensation. Note these particulars.
1. In fasting, abstinence from food is to be either total
or partial so long as the fast lasts. Daniel says, "I ate no
pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I
anoint myself at all." Dan. 10:3. This was his mode of observing a fast
which lasted three whole weeks. Where the fast is of short duration, the
abstinence from food is total. Some say that all the fasting required under
the gospel is, that we abstain from sin. But this we should do every day and
all our lives. A Christian may indeed observe a day of penitence and
humiliation without fasting. But if he would observe a fast, let him abstain
from all food or from pleasant food. It is but mocking God to eat, as
some do, very heartily just before a fast, and very greedily just
afterwards. Epicures themselves sometimes do as much as that, in order
to increase their relish for food. The fast of Moses, of Elijah, and of our
Savior, each lasting forty days (Ex. 34:28, 1 Kings 19:8, Matt. 4:2) are no
patterns to us. They ate no food, but were miraculously sustained.
2. Others sin in the matter of fasting, because although
they themselves abstain from labor, they relieve not those who are in their
service. God charges it upon the Jews, that on their fast-days,
they "exacted all their labors." They did not "undo the heavy burdens," they
did not "let the oppressed go free," they did not "break every yoke." Isaiah
58:3, 6. Some are as severe and uncharitable on a fast-day as any other. At
such a time, the wealthier should deal their bread to the hungry, and bring
the poor that are cast out to their houses; when they see the naked they
should cover them. Isa. 58:7. If we can do no more, we can at least give the
value of the food we would that day have eaten to such as really need it.
3. A real fast calls for humiliation and repentance
before God. Sorrow for sin should be deep and personal, Zech.
12:9-14. The miserable substitute offered for this consists in bowing the
head as a bulrush, Isa. 58:5; in disfiguring the face, Matt. 6:16; and
putting on sanctimonious grimaces. Such arts are hateful to all right-minded
men. How God abhors them, the Scriptures fully declare.
4. To all right fasting, prayer should be added.
So teach the Scriptures in many places.
5. Some spoil their fasting by making it a cloak of
maliciousness, 1 Pet. 2:16. To such God says, "Behold you fast
for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness." Isa. 58:4.
If our fasting make us ill-natured, fretful, irritable or stubborn—surely it
has done us no good. True fasting does not convert men into wild beasts. It
does not make them resemble a bear robbed of her whelps. It does not foster
anger, jealousy, discontent or suspicion; but it makes men kind, gentle, and
charitable in their thoughts, words, and deeds.
6. We always abuse a fast when we pervert it to
self-righteousness as did the Pharisees; when we fast for human
admiration, Matt. 6:16; when we have no solemn reference to God's authority
and honor, Zech. 7:5, 6; when we fast for a pretense, Mark 12:40; when on a
fast day, we find our own pleasure, Isa. 58:3; when we become weary of it,
Amos 8:5; when we do not earnestly address ourselves to this solemn duty;
and when in general we observe it in violation of any Scripture principle
respecting God's worship. Although the subjects of oaths, vows, and lots,
are naturally suggested in this connection, they may perhaps as well be
considered when we come to the third commandment.
12. Let us briefly consider church government and
discipline. These are expressly
instituted by Christ himself, Matt. 16:19; Matt. 18:15-20. Nor are we at
liberty to invest particular people with power over their brethren in the
ministry of the gospel. Matt. 20:25-28. God has appointed all the officers
who shall bear rule in his house, both ordinary and extraordinary. 1 Cor.
12:28; Eph. 4:11. The use of discipline and the general principles by which
it is to be administered are alike determined by the word of God. Matt.
18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:4, 5; 1 Tim. 5:20. While it is sinful, therefore, to
oppose church discipline in any of its proper ends, we are not at liberty,
on the other hand, to make men lords of our faith. God's genuine
servants disclaim all dominion in his house in this matter. 1 Cor. 3:5; 2
Cor. 1:24; 1 Pet. 5:3. Nor are we at liberty to yield, even for an hour, to
those who would usurp such lordship over us. Gal. 2:5.
13. How the church of Rome breaks this commandment by
SUPERSTITION. Johnson defines superstition to be "Unnecessary
fear or scruples in religion; observance of unnecessary or uncommanded rites
or practices; religion without morality." Brown defines it to be "Excessive
exactness or rigor in religious opinions or practice: extreme and
unnecessary scruples in the observance of religious rites not commanded, or
of points of minor importance; excess or extravagance in religion; the doing
of things not required by God, or abstaining from things not forbidden; or
the belief of what is absurd, or belief without evidence." Perhaps a still
more exact definition is "The observance of unnecessary and uncommanded
rites in religion; reverence for objects not fit for worship; scruples about
matters lawful or indifferent; and extravagant devotions." Superstition is
almost always connected with a strange credulity on some points, and a
singular incredulity on others. It is often solemn respecting what is
unimportant or even ludicrous, and is yet
irreverent and frivolous on at least some solemn subjects
and occasions. It is exceedingly dangerous.
Robert Hall: "Enthusiasm is an evil much less to be
dreaded than superstition. Superstition is the disease of nations;
enthusiasm that of individuals; the former grows inveterate by time, the
latter is cured by it." John Owen: "As superstition is an undue fear of the
divine nature, will, and operations, built on false notions and
apprehensions of them, it may befall the minds of men in all religions, true
and false. It is an internal vice of the mind." All superstition is based
upon ignorance more or less gross. Minds not capable of close and just
discrimination are peculiarly liable to it. A carnal state of the heart
works up the imagination, and the fleshly mind seizes with great vigor upon
its own conceptions. When one has not been made wise by God's word, and the
affections become highly excited, plausible pretenses are sufficient to
mislead. Once enlisted in the cause of superstition, self-love causes
persistence in it. Having some persuasion that holiness is essential, and
the natural heart rising in opposition to the requirements of God's law, the
excited mind perversely seeks out some method whereby to delude itself into
the persuasion that it is holy. The growth of superstition is by a very
gradual process. Its whole history is written in three words—little by
The only sure defense against superstition is the true
knowledge and genuine love of God, accompanied by a firm determination to do
what he commands in his word, to worship as he directs, and to follow human
devisings in nothing. "This is the fountain and principle of all error, that
men think that those modes of worship which please them, must please God;
and what displeases them, must also displease him." Surely these principles
are clear; God alone has a right to state how he will be worshiped; his word
is the only means by which we can know his will; his word clearly forbids
all attempts to alter his worship, Ex. 23:13; Deut. 4:2; Gal. 4:10, 11; and
the great business of God's church is to defend his truth and service, from
all corruption, Phil. 1:7, 17; Jude 3; Rev. 3:10. Let the church do her
Having previously noticed the breaking of the second
commandment by the church of Rome through her idolatry, let us now see how
she breaks it by her superstition. There is superstition in all idolatry;
but there is not necessarily idolatry in all superstition.
1. The Romish church is guilty of superstition in
conducting her worship in Latin, an unknown tongue. In Italy, in Spain,
in France, in England, in China, among the Indians of North America, indeed
wherever her priests are found, they offer public devotions in Latin, which
is now nowhere a living language. Even in Rome, it is no better understood
by the common people than it is in America. It is mere mummery to pretend to
worship God by the use of words which convey no idea whatever to the mind of
the assembly. If I render to God a service which I do not understand, how
can it be a reasonable service? If it is not intelligent, how does it differ
from the unmeaning chattering of swallows, or a cawing of crows? The Bible
has settled this question. Paul insists upon it that the edification of the
church requires that the language used in her worship should be understood.
"Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds,
such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played
unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not
sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless
you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you
are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are
all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If
then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner
to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me." 1 Corinthians 14:7-11. In this
passage, it is shown that a religious service, conducted either in speaking,
singing, or praying, in a language not understood by the congregation, is to
be avoided, and that God's servants must earnestly desire gifts whereby they
may edify the people.
2. The use of relics in the church of Rome clearly
proves the power and extent of superstition in that communion. Until of
late, relics made but little noise in the United States. But no doubt we
shall hear very soon and commonly of wonders performed by means of some old
rag, or tooth, or bone, said once to have belonged to some now esteemed a
saint. In Rome itself, "they show the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul,
encased in silver busts, set with jewels; a lock of the Virgin Mary's hair,
a vial of her tears, a piece of her green petticoat, a robe of Jesus Christ
sprinkled with his blood, some drops of his blood in a bottle, some of the
water which flowed out of the wound in his side, some of the sponge, a large
piece of the cross, all the nails used in the crucifixion, a piece of the
stone of the sepulcher on which the angel sat, the identical pillar on which
the cock perched when he crowed after Peter denied Christ, the rods of Moses
and Aaron, and two pieces of the real ark of the covenant." Volumes might be
filled with similar statements.
In the Mass House at Dobborane, in Mechlenburg, they show
the following relics: 1. Flax for spinning, which belonged to the Virgin
2. Hay, which the wise men had for their camels and left
behind them at Bethlehem.
3. A piece of the garment of Lazarus.
4. A piece of linen worn by the Virgin Mary.
5. A piece of the head of Tobit's fish.
6. A part of Judas' bowels which fell out.
7. The scissors with which Delilah cut off Samson's hair.
8. A piece of the apron which the butcher wore when he
killed the fatted calf for the feast of the prodigal son.
9. One of the five stones which David put in his sling
when he went out to meet Goliath.
10. The branch of the tree on which Absalom hung by the
11. A part of Peter's fishing net.
12. The heads of the apostles Thomas, Peter, and Paul.
3. In like manner one might refer to the superstitious
use of charms, by which the Romish church leads those in her
communion to expect to avoid or expel certain natural evils, asserting her
authority over noxious insects by means of holy water and certain other
superstitious acts and doings.
4. The Romish church makes also high, though false
pretenses to the power of working miracles. The Catholic Herald, of
Feb. 1, 1844, intimated an expectation that some miracles might before long
be wrought at the graves of two deceased Roman bishops in this country. How
perfectly idle all these claims are—it is not necessary here to discuss. Not
one of them is accompanied by such evidences as to satisfy a reasonable
spirit of inquiry.
5. Nor are the self-inflicted tortures by members
of the Romish church less superstitious. But enough of these disgusting