The Logic and Purpose of the Second Commandment
This week as we spend time on the negative thou shalt nots of the Second Commandment we will gain a better perspective on how this portion of God’s word applies to us today, not only as the church, but as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, before we get into specific applications we need to deal with the question as to why it (and the Fourth Commandment) receives the most pushback from those within the camp.
An unfortunate reality of the world in which we live is that we have been taught that anything that tells you no is necessarily restraining your libertarian freedom. The ethos of the day bites against the bridle. It wants to be free to order life in accordance with what we think makes us happy, and what we think works. Utilitarian libertinism is the philosophy of America. While it has had its blessings in providing the courage to settle the West and motivate the minds of our most famous inventors as those under the mercy of the King of Kings we need to remember sometimes that God loves us and has in His grace ordered all things in accordance with His wisdom and purpose. When Jehovah gives us a warning, a Thou Shalt Not, we are to humbly see that the goal of our Father is not to handcuff us, but to help His covenant people live in a way that leads to flourishing strength.
Our hearts are to be knit to the law written therein and keeping the statutes of God in their proper perspective helps us to be encouraged by Him.
Let’s go ahead and get to the Q/A’s:
Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, or whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
Q. 110. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it?
A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it, contained in these words, For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God’s sovereignty over us, propriety in us, his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his and revengeful indignation against all false worship, as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations.
The first sentence of Q. 109 is a wonderful summary of the second commandment. One of the outgrowths of the first commandment (and the first shorter catechism question which we all know) is that everything that we do as redeemed Christians is to be done in thankful response to what the Lord has not only accomplished on our behalf in His work of salvation, but in our creation itself. While it may seem out of left field the doctrine which is most important in our keeping of the second commandment is the doctrine of adoption. We who have been elected by the God of grace and brought out of the family of the Devil and granted the privileges of the house of the One who made the Heavens and the Earth, not merely as those living on the grounds, but as sons of the table of plenty we have responsibilities because of this wonderful gift.
As children of the living God we are called, as Romans 12:1-2 makes clear, to be conformed to His image, and with that being the case we are to love what He loves. So if our Creator says we are to not make images of the Godhead then we are to give honor to whom honor is due and not then go ahead and create pictures, paintings, statues, stained-glass, or anime of either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. A key thing to remember here is that any image we would make is necessarily false, and why would we want any Christian, especially covenant children, to have in their mind something which is not true of God? We should be in the business of making sure our young people have a right understanding of their Lord, Jesus especially. More time could be spent on this, but one detail which is common is enough to prove the point. We know for a fact that Jewish men of His day would have been scandalized to have long hair, likewise we of course know that He as a Jewish man would have not had blue eyes and blonde locks. We must be careful and wise in rightly developing a proper conception of our Savior, to be better worship and adore Him.
Thomas Vincent in his commentary on the shorter catechism says it best:
“It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because His divine nature cannot be pictured at all; and because His body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is; and because, if it does not stir up devotion, it is in vain—if it does stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment.”
In closing, a clause from Q. 109 is especially helpful here, “. . . though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever”. Much of our love of images are based on nostalgia, cuteness, and out of a right and proper desire to help. These cannot overwhelm the clear teaching of the commandment.
Consider this matter.
Here is one more word, in video form, from a fellow ARP pastor:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church