THE

SHORTER CATECHISM

EXPLAINED


QUESTION 51. What is forbidden in the Second Commandment?

ANSWER: The Second Commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.


Q. 1. What are the leading sins forbidden in this commandment?

A. Idolatry and will-worship.

Q. 2. What is the idolatry here condemned?

A. The worshipping of God by images: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," &c.

Q. 3. What is an image?

A. It is a statue, picture, or likeness of any creature whatever.

Q. 4. Is it lawful to have images or pictures of mere creatures?

A. Yes, provided they be only for ornament; or the design be merely historical, to transmit the memory of persons and their actions to posterity.

Q. 5. Can any image or representation be made of God?

A. No; it is absolutely impossible; he being an infinite, incomprehensible Spirit, Isa. 40:18 -- "To whom will ye liken God? or, what likeness will ye compare unto him?" If we cannot delineate our own souls, much less the infinite God; Acts 17:29 -- "We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device."

Q. 6. What judgment should we form of those who have devised images of God, or of the persons of the adorable Trinity?

A. We should adjudge their practice to be both unlawful and abominable.

Q. 7. Why unlawful?

A. Because directly contrary to the express letter of the law in this commandment, and many other scriptures, such as, Jer. 10:14, 15; Hos. 13:2, and particularly Deut. 4:15-19, 23 -- "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, (for ye saw NO MANNER of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire,) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female," &c.

Q. 8. How is it abominable?

A. As debasing the Creator of heaven and earth to the rank of his own creatures; and a practical denial of all his infinite perfections, Psalm 50:21.

Q. 9. May we not have a picture of Christ, who has a true body?

A. By no means; because, though he has a true body and a reasonable soul, John 1:14, yet his human nature subsists in his divine person, which no picture can represent, Psalm 45:2.

Q. 10. Why ought all pictures of Christ to be abominated by Christians?

A. Because they are downright lies, representing no more than the picture of a mere man: whereas, the true Christ is God-man; "Immanuel, God with us," 1 Tim. 3:16; Matt. 1:23.

Q. 11. Is it lawful to form any inward representation of God, or of Christ, upon our fancy, bearing a resemblance to any creature whatever?

A. By no means; because this is the very inlet to gross outward idolatry: for, when once the Heathens "became vain in their imaginations, they presently changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things," Rom. 1:21, 23.

Q. 12. What is it to worship God by images, according to the idolatrous practice of Papists?

A. It is either to make use of images, as pretended helps to devotion; or, to worship God before the images of saints, as intercessors with him.

Q. 13. Can any feigned image of God, or of Christ, be helpful in devotion?

A. No; it is the Spirit only who helpeth our infirmities in all acts of spiritual devotion, Rom. 8:26; and that faith which is necessary for acceptance in duty, fixes upon the word of the living God, as its sole foundation, and not upon dead images, Luke 16:31.

Q. 14. Will it excuse any from the charge of idolatry, that they pretend to worship the true God before images, or by them, as means of worship, and not the very images themselves?

A. Not at all; because this is a mean of worship expressly forbidden in this commandment, which prohibits all bowing down before images, upon whatever pretext it be -- "Thou shalt not BOW DOWN thyself to them, nor serve them."

Q. 15. Do they worship images who bow down before them, even though it be the true God they intend to worship by them?

A. In scripture reckoning they do; Isa. 2:8, 9 -- "Their land is full of idols: they worship the work of their own hands. The mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself."

Q. 16. Was it the ultimate intention of the Israelites in the wilderness to pay divine worship to the golden calf itself; or, to JEHOVAH, by it, and before it?

A. It was undoubtedly their ultimate intention to worship JEHOVAH, the true God, before that image; as appears from Ex. 32:5 -- "When Aaron saw it, he built an altar BEFORE IT; -- and said, "To-morrow is a feast to the Lord," (or JEHOVAH, as it is in the original.) And yet, because they did this, so directly contrary to the very letter of this commandment, they are charged with worshipping the image itself, verse 8:-- "They have made them a golden calf, and have worshipped IT," &c.

Q. 17. Do not they who honour the picture of a prince, honour the prince himself?

A. If the prince forbid the making of his picture, it is a contempt of his authority to have it. God has strictly prohibited all images for religious purposes, and therefore it is impious to have or use them for these ends, Lev. 26:1, 30.

Q. 18. May images be worshipped at all, upon their own account?

A. No; because they are the work of man's hands: far inferior in dignity to man himself, Isa. 45:9-18.

Q. 19. May they be worshipped on account of their ORIGINALS; or those whom they are designed to represent?

A. They may not; whether designed to represent God, or the saints.

Q. 20. Why may they not be worshipped as they are designed to represent God?

A. Because he never put his name in them; but declares his greatest hatred and detestation of them, Jer. 44:2-9.

Q. 21. Why may they not be worshipped as they are designed to represent eminent saints?

A. Because saints, however eminent, are only mere creatures; and therefore cannot be the objects of worship, either in themselves, or by their images, Acts 14:14, 15.

Q. 22. Can saints in heaven be intercessors for sinners on earth?

A. No; because intercession being founded on satisfaction, none but CHRIST can be the intercessor, as none but he is the propitiation for our sins, 1 John 2:1, 2.

Q. 23. Is it lawful, as some plead, to have images or pictures in churches, though not for worship, yet for instruction, and raising the affections?

A. No; because God has expressly prohibited not only the worshipping but the MAKING of any image whatever on a religious account; and the setting them up in churches, cannot but have a natural tendency to beget a sacred veneration for them; and therefore ought to be abstained from, as having at least an "appearance of evil," Isa. 45:9-18. 1 Thess. 5:22.

Q. 24. May they not be placed in churches for beauty and ornament?

A. No; the proper ornament of churches is the sound preaching of the gospel, and the pure dispensation of the sacraments, and other ordinances of divine institution.

Q. 25. Were not the images of the cherubims placed in the tabernacle and temple, by the command of God himself?

A. Yes; but out of all hazard of any abuse, being placed in the holy of holies, where none of the people ever came: they were instituted by God himself, which images are not; and they belonged to the typical and ceremonial worship, which is now quite abolished.

Q. 26. Are our forefathers to be blamed for pulling down altars, images, and other monuments of idolatry, from places of public worship at the Reformation?

A. No; they had Scripture precept and warrant for what they did, Num. 33:52, and Deut. 7:5 -- "Ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire."

Q. 27. What do you understand by will-worship, the other leading sin forbidden in this command?

A. It is the worshipping God in any other way not appointed in his word.

Q. 28. Should there be an express appointment in the word for every part of divine worship in which we engage?

A. Undoubtedly there should; otherwise we are guilty of innovating upon the worship of God, and prescribing rules to the Almighty, which is both displeasing to him, and unprofitable to ourselves, Matt. 15:9.

Q. 29. Who are they that are guilty of innovating upon the worship of God?

A. All they who presumptuously annex their own superstitious inventions to the divine institutions, under pretence of their being teaching significant ceremonies; as they of the Popish and Episcopal persuasions do.

Q. 30. What are these significant ceremonies which they add to the instituted ordinances of God's worship?

A. The sign of the cross in baptism; kneeling at receiving the sacrament of the supper; erecting altars in churches; and bowing at the name of Jesus, are a few of many.

Q. 31. Why may not such ceremonies be used, when they are designed for exciting devotion, and beautifying the worship of God?

A. Because God has expressly forbidden the least addition to or abatement from the order and directions he himself has given in his word concerning his own worship, Deut. 12:30-32 -- "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not ADD thereunto, nor DIMINISH from it."

Q. 32. Were there not significant ceremonies in the Jewish worship, under the Old Testament?

A. Yes; but they were of express divine appointment; and by the same appointment abolished in the death and resurrection of Christ, Heb. 9:1-15.

Q. 33. May not significant ceremonies be founded on 1 Cor. 14:40 -- "Let all things be done decently and in order?"

A. No; because that text speaks only of the decent and orderly observance of the ordinances of God already instituted, and not in the least of any thing new to be added as a part of worship.

Q. 34. Is reading of sermons or discourses from the pulpit an ordinance of God appointed in his word?

A. So far from it, that we find the contrary practised by our Lord while he was here upon earth, Luke 4:16, 23; where, after reading his text out of the prophet Esaias, it is said, he CLOSED the book, and "began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears," &c.

Q. 35. How may we be further guilty of a breach of his commandment, than by idolatry and will-worship?

A. When we neglect, Heb. 10:25, contemn, Matt. 22:5, hinder, chap. 23:13, or oppose the worship and ordinances which God has appointed in his word, 1 Thess. 2:16; or tolerate those who publish and maintain erroneous opinions or practices, Rev. 2:14, 15, 20.

Q. 36. What is the doctrine of our Confession concerning the tolerating of those who publish and maintain erroneous opinions or practices?

A. That "for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or the known principles of Christianity, whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation, or to the power of godliness, they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the church, and by the power of the civil magistrates."[64]


[64] See Confession of Faith, chapter 20 ยง 4, and the Scriptures there quoted.
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