Upon first impression, when reading this theme, we might think that “Idolatry” and “Image-Worship” are one and the same thing. This however is not the case. Surely there is close connection, even as there is close connection between, all the commandments of God, yea, of the entire word of God. Even as God is one, so His entire revelation one. Yet there is a great distinction, also between Idolatry and Image-worship, which becomes apparent immediately upon reading of the two commandments in the table of the Law of God. The very fact that God has commanded first of all: “Thou shalt have no other Gods besides Me”, and then the other command: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, etc.,” already reveals to us, that God Himself willed the distinction and commanded two distinct laws under Israel to be heeded by the people of the Lord. If both idolatry and image-worship were one and the same, He would not have distinguished between them. Also in the commandment prohibiting image-worship, the Lord adds something that is not found in the first commandment, n.l., “for I the Lord am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep my commandments”. Very evident from God’s Word therefore that in this essay we deal with two distinct sins.
The first question of course naturally arises: “What then is the distinction between Idolatry and Image-worship?” This question we would answer first of all by pointing to the essential nature of the first commandment, to have NO OTHER GODS BESIDES Him. This command is so essential that without it there would be no other commandments. It brings to our mind the fact that there is but ONE, ONLY, TRUE GOD. And any transgression of the command to serve, only, true God, would naturally bring automatic transgression against all other commandments which the Lord God gives. In other words, if we transgress this first commandment, we have no longer the one, only, true God left. We have rejected the source and essence of all religion. Then there is really no true religion left. O surely we would then serve other gods. We would then place our trust in any other thing, but not in God. Therefore the command to “have no other Gods besides Me”, brings to our mind and consciousness the fact that to have anything or anyone else besides the one, only true God, is idolatry. The supposition in this first commandment is plainly that if you do not serve the one, only true God, and Him alone, then you are automatically already serving an idol. If you do not have God, who is God, then you are an idolatrous person.
This brings us to the second point we wish to make plain, namely, that since the rejection of God in Paradise by the representative head of all mankind, Adam, every man born of woman, actually does serve an idol. Not merely among a few of the heathen peoples, such as in dark Africa or Asia, or among the Philistines or Babylonians, but also among the so-called civilized countries and the tribes of Israel. Man is by nature an idolater. He cannot possibly withdraw from idolatry and be neutral. He cannot reject idolatry, and decide to have no religion. He cannot be an atheist. There is no real atheist anywhere. For man cannot escape himself. And himself is so formed and created that he is adapted to serve, trust and obey. This is indelibly impressed upon man, who is created in God’s image. So that man’s whole nature continually cries out for and seeks and finds one in whom he can place his trust and thus serve such a one. Therefore man, directly upon leaving the service of and trust in God, seeks another god. Besides, not only does his nature cry out for a god to serve, but all things also proclaim to him that he must trust in God. Everywhere man goes or lives, he is reminded of his dependent condition, as creature. The whole world about him tells him that he is not its creator, nor its sustainer. Man is dependent on rain and sunshine, on health and strength, electricity and power, heat and cold, yea the very ether waves in the air to carry his voice to his fellow man. All this impresses on him the undeniable fact that he is a dependent creature and not the creator of things. Finally also many things proclaim to him the curse under which he labors and must work to gain his daily bread. Pestilence and illness, destruction and storm and wind and hail, yea death itself are revealed daily to man. Then in the feeling of his helplessness, he automatically turns for help to another.
In consequence of this all, man serves the idol, which is not first of all the shaping of an image, but is the acknowledgement of some power within me or outside of me, on which I would then rely and trust, either absolutely or next to the only, true, living God. This sin may and usually does develop into the shaping of an image that can be seen with the eye, and which man then calls his god, but it need not necessarily be thus- Even without the shaping of the image, man can and is a worshipper of idols. We cannot always see the idols. It is always first in the heart of man. The trust and dependence in another power, other than God, is spiritual idolatry. It is the denial of the only, true and living God.
Image-worship, in distinction now from idolatry, deals with Gods revelation, and is positively the construing of a false conception of God. Let us attempt to make this plain. As was said, idolatry is the placing of trust and confidence in, and service of, some power, other than God, but image-worship construes an IMAGE of that power, which is derived from the creature. That creature may be a creature in heaven, or on earth or under the earth, nevertheless it answers to the conception of that power which man serves. And this image is worshipped, and is therefore called image-worship. An image worshipper then has a creature for his god, a creature he can see and speak to, a creature like unto himself, for himself is also a creature. He has then a creaturely god, whom he can shape and form as he pleases. In other words he has a god who is dependent on man, conforms to man, pleases that man, and in reality is subservient to man. This of course deprives God who is God, of all His attributes. This image-god, or imagined god, is not Eternal, Wise, Good, Righteous, Omnipresent, nor Omniscient. He is simply a creature-god, essentially like all creatures. And this image worshipper does not know, and hence refuses to know, trust, love or obey the living God. Because of this image-worship, God, who is God, punishes this sin, according to Romans one, with even greater sin, and brings to light the absolute foolishness of the image worshipper. The latter begins to fall down, in worship, before all manner of beasts and creeping things. His mind is darkened and he is completely closed to the knowledge of the only, true God. Thus this wicked man is not even scientist anymore. He cannot search for true wisdom and knowledge. He cannot analyze the beginning and end of things and judge of them in their true worth. Nothing (except grace) will bring him to the knowledge of the truth of God. His wisdom is but foolishness to God. He has rejected God, and substituted another in His place, which is but an idol, and now he also conceives of his own god, in a creaturely way and as a creature, and worships the image. Whether we see therefore the golden calf of our Israel, or the forms that haunted the Greek Olympus or the half beastial shapes of Egyptian mythology, or even the silver dollar of America with its inscription: ‘In God we Trust’, all of these are but images served, when man does not serve the one and only true God of heaven and earth.
From this description of idolatry and image-worship, it becomes evident that the only deliverance from both, is to know the only true God rightly and serve Him according to His Own revelation of Himself. To know the only true God rightly is to know that He alone is God and there is no God below, above, or besides Him. He alone is God, the Eternal, Self-sufficient, Alone Wise, Good and Righteous One. Therefore it is the height of sin and foolishness to trust any other. He alone must be trusted and served. To Him alone must submission be made and to no other. Glory can and may be given only to that rightly known God. And this all must be done of course, with the whole heart, mind, soul and body of man. There may be no division in the life of the creature. He may not nor can serve that only true God partly and also serve any other power partly. He may not serve God on Sundays and serve another god during the work week. But completely man must serve that only true God. This he must also do antithetically, that is, opposing all other worship that militates against and is not in harmony with the service of that only true God. This of course can only be accomplished in Christ Jesus, Who did RIGHTLY KNOW THE ONE TRUE GOD, TRUSTED IN HIM ALONE AND SUBMITED TO HIM TO GLORIFY HIM PERFECTLY, with all His mind and body, soul and strength, and that continually. He who is implanted into Him becomes in principle again a worshipper of God and not of the idol.
Secondly, image-worship can only be rejected when we recognize and acknowledge God’s own revelation of Himself. Surely, no one can determine how God is except God Himself. The finite and creaturely mind of man cannot reach up and search out the invisible God and all His glories. Therefore it must needs recognize and acknowledge the revelation of God. Wherever God reveals Himself, whether in the Scriptures or in nature or in the history of all things, man must acknowledge that God is revealing Himself. For this one only true God HAS revealed Himself, by speaking of Himself in all things. He speaks in nature and that Divine speech created and upholds and sustains all things, even today. Also God has spoken of Himself directly, in language that is plainly (intelligently) a revelation of Himself in the Scriptures, And this Scripture centrally speaks of the Christ, the Only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. To that revelation of God, centrally in Christ the Son, man’s mind must be submissive and man’s will must be in subjection. Then the man of knowledge and of science opens his mind to the truth of God, which reveals the marvelous things of God and His work to him, and he becomes truly a scientist. This too, by the way, only makes of a School, a CHRISTIAN School, and only makes of a union, a CHRISTIAN union. All other schools or unions are idolatrous and worship the image of the creature. Then also does man’s will become submissive to that revelation of God, centrally in Christ, and he will exclaim: “Not my will, but Thine be done”. He will then deny himself, take up the cross and follow humbly the Christ of God, and in doing this he will be humbly doing the will of God, who alone is God.
This all of course, is done merely of grace, never of ourselves. Ourselves remain, outside of grace, proud and exalting ourselves in maintaining our foolishness over against the revelation of the only Wise God. We remain idolaters and image-worshippers. Hence we must keep His commandments alone and though we now see Him and worship Him as in a glass darkly, and that glass is His Word of Revelation, yet bye and bye we shall see Him face to face and know Him as we are known, in Christ Jesus the Lord.