Just as God’s self-revelation in the First Commandment teaches us that we must “have” Him alone as our God to worship and serve in all our thoughts, words, and deeds, so also God’s revelation of Himself in the Second Commandment teaches ushow we must worship Him. From the examples of Cain and Uzzah we have seen the importance of understanding and keeping the Second Commandment, and to those examples we might add that of the two sons of Aaron (Lev. 10:1-7). The manner of our worship is so serious, a matter of life and death, exactly because it is God Who must be worshiped. And the Second Commandment reveals Him to us in all His infinite and transcendent glory as the One Who dwells in unapproachable light, a Spirit Who is not and cannot be seen by the creature.
It is in harmony with this revelation of God that the Second Commandment forbids the use of images in the worship of God. It does not forbid images, pictures, statues, or other figures as such, either in art or for other purposes, but it forbids any representation of God or the likeness of any creature which is to be used in worshiping God, as the Israelites used the likeness of a calf to worship Him. That images themselves are not wrong is obvious from one look at Solomon’s temple, which was covered on the inside with graven figures of cherubim, palm trees, and flowers, and which had in it the ark of the covenant crowned with two great images of cherubim (I Kings 6:23-29).
It is important that we remember this. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, claims (though this is a lie) that it does not actually teach the people to worship its numerous pictures, statues, and other images, and even claims (and this too is a lie) to offer a different kind of worship to the saints and to Mary and to the angels, but insists that all these things are only a means to worship God Himself. Nevertheless, they grossly transgress the Second Commandment and trample underfoot the glory of the invisible God.
Even greater than Rome’s shame, however, is the shame of those Protestant churches who have once again adopted these Romish practices. Many pictures in Protestant churches and Bibles violate this Commandment, especially when they represent one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, and when they are used to teach God’s people the glory of God. I have seen in quite a number of Protestant churches, for example, images of God the Holy Spirit in which He is represented by a dove. Not only is this in direct violation of the Second Commandment, but it is not even in harmony with Scripture which compares Hisdescent at the baptism of Jesus and not His Person to a dove. The Holy Spirit also is the One True God, Whose glory is unsearchable, and He may neither be represented nor worshiped by means of an image.
Something not so clearly understood is the question concerning pictures of Jesus. The argument is that we can make pictures of Him because He took upon Himself our human nature. We may not forget, though, that His human nature is inseparably united to the divine, and now glorified besides, so that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him (Col. 2:9). Thus a picture in which we see only His human nature, even if it is accurately represented, is a lie, and perpetuates the great lie of apostate Christianity, which glorifies the humanity of Christ at the expense of His divinity. Furthermore, what picture can ever show us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (II Cor. 5:19)? And it is a fact that all the pictures of Christ commonly displayed present such a Christ of man’s imagination, in Whom is found only love and tenderness, and none of the fierce, burning wrath of God against sins. Even the cross is deprived of its glory and its power by such representations and becomes only an object of sympathy and sentiment, rather than of deepest shame and humiliation. So awful was the mystery of His suffering and death that even the event itself was hidden from human eyes in a cloak of darkness. That, then, is the reason why Jesus emphasizes again and again in John 14-16 that it is the Spirit, and He alone, Who teaches us all things concerning Christ, our Lord.
Nor may we forget that “graven” images are not the only kind of images that we can make. The Second Commandment forbids all visible and tactile images and pictures in the worship of God, but it also forbids all mental images of God—the kind of images we carry and hide in our hearts. In Acts 17, after Paul has declared the glory of God as One Who does not dwell in temples made with hands and Who is not worshiped with men’s hands, he also reminds the Athenians and us that we ought not even “to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (Acts 17:24-29). So also the Psalmist prays in harmony with the great glory of God and the Second Commandment when he asks, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).
It is in this connection that we are able to see that, fundamentally, all false doctrine is a violation of the Second Commandment, for it sets up an image of the great Creator and worships and says, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” A god who loves all men or who is gracious to the reprobate, or who is dependent on the will of the sinner, is an image of man’s devising, when it is claimed that such a god is the God of Heaven.
We make these images ourselves when we in our foolishness imagine that God does not see or deal with our sins, or when we come to Him and worship Him only in times of great trouble as though in all His glory He exists only for our benefit. When we are beset by doubts and fears, then we have “graven” an image of God as one who is weak and helpless and whose arm is short. When we complain of our afflictions and trials, then we have forgotten the transcendent glory of God as the One Who governs and controls all things and turns them to our advantage. Even when we seek to worship God in the company of saints and in the presence of Christ without putting away all malice and envy and evil-speaking against our brethren, then we are worshiping according to our own imaginations and not according to God’s revelation of His glory in Scripture.
Here too we see the close connection that exists between image worship and idolatry. Image worship is always the beginning of idolatry, for just as the “Whom” of our worship determines the “how,” so also the “how” has a profound effect upon the “Whom.” When we set up images of Jehovah then we not only set aside the proper worship of Jehovah, but we have begun to set aside God Himself. That is clear from the example of Jeroboam. He led the Ten Tribes into the sin of image worship because he himself had already set aside God in his own heart. But it was not long before Israel had also done the same and had begun to worship other gods, notably the idol Baal, god of the Sidonians (compare I Kings 12:25-33 and I Kings 16:29-33). The same is true of Jehu. Jehu, though he destroyed the worship of Baal, sowed the wind in Israel when he continued in the sin of Jeroboam, and in the days of Hosea, four generations later, Israel once again began to reap the whirlwind of God’s wrath for her worship of Baa1 (cf. II Kings 10:29-31, 17:6-18, and Hosea 2:13).
This too stands as a warning to us. These sins must be confessed and repented lest we find that we are no longer worshiping the God of heaven at all, but altogether another god. Then we too shall come under the fierce wrath of Jehovah of Hosts.
The positive requirement of the Second Commandment is found in John 4:24: “They that worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” This is found in the context of the question of the Samaritan woman concerning the worship of her people. They did not worship God in Jerusalem according to the regulations of the Law, but on their own Mount Gerizim. It is striking that Jesus not only told her that she and her people worshiped in the wrong place, but He cited this as the evidence that they did not even know whom they worshiped (John 4:22).
Thus Jesus instructs her and us concerning the proper manner of worshiping God when He says “in spirit” and “in truth.” To worship “in spirit” means that our worship must be spiritual and not carnal. Even in our worship and in all its parts there must be a tacit acknowledgement that our God is not as the gods of the heathen, and that His glory is so great that He must be worshiped in an entirely different way than such gods. And in refraining from the use of images we do confess this. Always I in teaching we find that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” except in teaching the knowledge of God; and that in itself sets the knowledge of God far above all other knowledge before our own minds and before the minds of our children.
To worship “in spirit” is to worship God not through what we can see or touch, but through our spirits as they are moved and directed by the Spirit of God. That worship is a worship of faith (Heb. 11:6), and of humility (James 5:10), which is offered only in the way of repentance, that is, with a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Ps. 51:16, 17). Such a worship is full of true spiritual joy (Luke 1:47), and is brought willingly and obediently (Ex. 35:21).
But a worship which is “in spirit” is also of necessity a worship that is “in truth.” This is only to say, first of all, that there is but one standard for our worship, and that is the Word of God in the Scriptures. The Word of God alone tells us what belongs in our worship, and all else is excluded. In the Old Testament this was laid out in great detail, so that? as Jesus reminded the woman at Jacob’s well, even the place of worship was prescribed. In the New Testament there is much more freedom, but we still may not think that we have license to worship as we please. Now also we are bound by the regulations of the Word as given in the teaching and examples of our Lord and His Apostles. And, as we have seen, those regulations are not arbitrary, but founded in God’s revelation of Himself as the transcendentally glorious God.
That we worship in truth means also that the Word of God is the content of worship. Thus it is the preaching, though despised, must continue to have the central place in the worship of the church. To replace the preaching with various forms of entertainment is to deny that God is a Spirit, and that they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. But whether we are preaching, singing, or confessing our faith, God’s Word is the only word which we may take upon our lips. This is also the great argument of the church, in so far as she still remains Reformed, for singing nothing else in her worship but the Word of God, especially as found in the 150 Psalms of David.
All this is something that our flesh rejects. All of the hypocrisy that passes under the name of worship and all our own false pretenses are stripped bare by this revelation of Himself that God gives us in the Second Commandment. Only in Christ can we receive and obey this Word of God. Only in Christ and by His Spirit can we worship God in spirit and in truth, for only through His redeeming work do we receive the glorious light of the truth in our hearts (II Cor. 4:6). As Jesus Himself says, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). And why? Jesus answers that too when He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He alone gives us the truth in the midst of our life of lies, and only He gives also the life that is necessary to receive the truth. Thus He is the way to the Father Whom we worship and adore.
Let us, therefore, make use of the sword of the Spirit which is the Word and revelation of God to fight thebattle of faith on the battlefield of the Second Commandment:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
In that way we confess His glory in true gratitude as the One Who has saved our spirits and bodies from eternal damnation, and given to us the glorious light of the truth in Christ, His Son and our Lord.