Thomas Ridgley on the Second Commandment

The following is an excerpt from Thomas Ridgley’s, “A Body of Divinity, wherein the doctrines of the Christian religion are explained and defended: being the substance of several lectures on the Assembly’s Larger catechism” (pp. 328-335 of Volume 2 of the 1855 edition)


Question CVII. Which is the second commandment?

Answer. The second commandment is, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them; 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 showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.”

Question CVIII. What are the duties required in the second commandment?

Answer. The duties required in the second commandment are the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religions worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in bis 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.

Question CIX. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

Answer. The sins forbidden in the second commandment, are all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any ways 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, taking from it, 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 pretence whatsoever, simony, sacrilege, all neglect, contempt, hindering and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

Question CX. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment the more to enforce it?

Answer. 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 iniquities of the fathers upon 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,” are, besides God’s sovereignty over us, and propriety in us, his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his 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.

Difference between the First and the Second Commandment.

Before we proceed to consider the matter of this commandment, we shall premise something, in general, concerning the difference between it and the first commandment. The first commandment respects the object of worship; the second, the manner in which it is to be performed. Accordingly, the former forbids our not owning God to be such an one as he has revealed himself to be in his word, and also the substituting of any creature in his room, or acknowledging it, either directly or by consequence, to be our chief good and happiness; the latter obliges us to worship God, in such a way as he has prescribed, in opposition to that which takes its rise from our own invention. These two commandments, therefore, being so distinct, we cannot but think the Papists to be chargeable with a very great absurdity, in making the second to be only an appendix to the first, or an explanation of it. The design of their doing so seems to be, that they may exculpate themselves from the charge of idolatry, in setting up image-worship, which they think to be no crime; because they are not so stupid as to style the image a god, or make it a supreme object of worship. This commandment, however, in forbidding false worship, is directly contrary to their practice of worshiping God by images.

The method in which this commandment is laid down, is the same with that of several others; we have an account of the duties required, the sins forbidden, and the reasons annexed to enforce it.

The Duties Enjoined in the Second Commandment.

We shall first consider the duties commanded. These are contained in two Heads.

1. We are under an obligation to observe, or attend upon, such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed. Religious worship is that whereby we address ourselves to God, as a God of infinite perfection; profess an entire subjection and devotedness to him as our God; put our trust in him for a supply of all our wants; and ascribe to him that praise and glory which is his due, as our chief good, most bountiful benefactor, and only portion and happiness. As for the ordinances, our attendance on them depends on a divine command, to which God has annexed a promise of his gracious presence, whereby our expectations are raised that we shall obtain some blessings from him, when we engage in them in a right manner. In this respect they are instituted means of grace, and pledges of that special favor which he designs to bestow on his people. This is that which more especially renders a duty enjoined an ordinance. Accordingly, our Savior says, ‘ Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ [Matthew 18:20] Now, these ordinances are either solitary or social; such as we are obliged to perform, either in our closets, [Matthew 6:6] in our families, or in those public assemblies where God is worshiped. They are particularly mentioned in this Answer; and they are prayer, thanksgiving, reading, preaching and hearing the word, the administration and receiving of the sacraments, to which we may add, praising God by singing. All these will be insisted on in a following Answer, and therefore we pass by them at present.

Now, as these are duties which are daily incumbent on us, so there are other duties or ordinances, which are to be performed only as the necessity of affairs requires. One of these is religious fasting, whereby we express public tokens of mourning and humiliation, and perform other duties corresponding with these, when God is provoked by crying sins, or when his judgments are upon us and our families, or the church of God in general. Thus the prophet Joel, when speaking concerning several desolating judgments to which Israel was exposed, commands them ‘to sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly; and to weep between the porch and the altar; and say, Spare thy people, 0 Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach.’ [Joel 2: 15, 17] This is not to be done at all times; but only when the providence of God calls for it. Hence, we have no warrant for the observance of annual fasts, when that which was the first occasion of them is removed; much less for those weeks of fasting which the Papists observe, which they call Lent. No sufficient reason can be assigned why Lent should be observed at the season fixed on by the Papists, rather than at any other time of the year. Nor can their fasting on certain days of the week be vindicated, much less their doing so without joining other religious duties to it; or their abstaining from some kinds of food, while they indulge themselves in eating others which are equally grateful to the appetite. This is a ludicrous and superstitious way of fasting.—Again, another occasional duty or ordinance, is our setting apart time for thanksgiving to God for deliverances from public or national calamities, or those which more immediately respect ourselves and families. In observing this ordinance, those religious duties are to be performed which tend to express our spiritual joy and thankfulness to God, who is the Author of our deliverances; and, at the same time, we are to pray that he would enable us to walk as those who are hereby laid under renewed engagements to be his. Thus the Jews observed some days of thanksgiving for their deliverance from Haman’s conspiracy. [Esther 9:20, et seq.] Such public thanksgiving for providential deliverances, is to be religiously observed ; and so it differs from that carnal joy which is generally expressed by those who receive mercies, but do not give glory to God, the sole author of them.

But besides these occasional ordinances, there is another mentioned in this Answer, namely, vowing to God. Thus the psalmist says, ‘ Vow and pay unto the Lord.’ [Psalm 76:11] This language either, more especially, respects God’s ancient people entering into a solemn obligation or promise to give something which was to be applied to the support of the public and costly worship which was performed under the ceremonial law, on which account it is said, in the following words,’ Bring presents unto him;’ or it may be considered as to the moral reason of the tiling, as including our resolution to set apart or apply some portion of our worldly substance, as God has prospered us in our secular affairs, to the maintaining and promoting of his cause and interest in the world. But we ought, at the same time, to devote ourselves to him, whereby we acknowledge his right to us, and all that we have. Thus the apostle says, concerning the churches of Macedonia, not only that they devoted their substance to God, but that they ‘ gave themselves’ also ‘unto the Lord.'[2 Corinthians 8:5] This duty does not include our resolving to do those things which are out of our own power, or that we will exercise those graces which are the special gift of the Spirit of God; but it is rather a dedication of ourselves to him, in hope of obtaining that grace from him which will enable us to perform those duties which are indispensably necessary to salvation, and inseparably connected with it. This is such a vowing to God, as will not have a tendency to ensnare our consciences, or detract from his glory who is alone the Author of all grace. Nor does it contain the least instance of presumption; but is a duty which we ought to perform by faith, to his glory and our own edification.

We might notice another ordinance, mentioned in this Answer; namely, swearing by the name of God. This, as we have elsewhere expressed it, includes a swearing fealty to him, and our consecrating and devoting ourselves to him. [See more of this in the Section ‘The Covenant of Grace as made with Man,’ under Question 31] As to swearing, as a religious duty to be performed in subservience to civil duties, we shall have occasion to speak of it under the third commandment; and therefore we pass it over at present.

2. We proceed to observe that the religious duties or ordinances which we have noticed, and all others which God has enjoined, are to be kept pure and entire. As we are not to cast off the ordinances of God in general, so we must take heed that we do not, while we perform some, live in the neglect of others; for that is not to keep them entire. Thus private duties are not to shut out those which are social in our families or the public assemblies, nor intrench on that time which ought to be allotted for them; and, on the other hand, it is not sufficient for us to worship God in public, and, at the same time, cast off all secret duties. This reproves the practice of some modern enthusiasts, who pray not, unless moved by the Spirit, as they pretend; and deny their obligation to observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Moreover, as we are to keep the ordinances of God entire, we are also to keep them pure, that is, to allow, or practice nothing but what is warranted by the rules which God has given us in his word; in opposition to those who corrupt his worship, by intruding those ordinances into it which are of their own invention, and pretending that, though God has not commanded these, yet the service which we perform, which can be no other than will-worship, will be acceptable to him.

The Sins Forbidden in the Second Commandment.

We now proceed to consider the sins forbidden in this commandment. The general scope and design of the commandment, as to the negative part of it, is God’s prohibiting all false worship, either in our hearts, or in our outward actions or gestures, whereby we adhere to our own imaginations rather than his revealed will, which is the only rule of instituted worship. The things forbidden in this commandment may be reduced to three Heads.

1. A not attending on the ordinances of God with that holy, humble, and becoming frame of spirit which the solemnity of the duties themselves, or the authority of God enjoining them, or the advantages which we may expect to receive by them, call for. When we do not seriously think what we are going about before we engage in holy duties, or watch over our hearts and affections, or when we worship God in a careless and indifferent manner; we may be said to draw nigh to him with our lips, while our hearts are far from him.

2. We farther break this commandment, when we invent ordinances which God has nowhere in his word commanded; or think to recommend ourselves to him by gestures, or modes of worship, which we have no precedent or example for in the New Testament. This is what is generally called superstition and will-worship. Thus we read in the degenerate age of the church, that ‘ the statutes of Omri were kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab; [Micah 6:16] referring to that false worship which was practiced by them. Here we cannot but observe, that there are many things in which the Papists are chargeable with superstition and will-worship, if not with idolatry. For example, they worship the bread in the sacrament, supposing it to be the real body and blood of Christ, and not merely the sign of him. They understand the words of our Savior when instituting this ordinance, ‘This is my body,’ [Matthew 26:26] in a literal sense, though they ought to be understood in a figurative sense.—Again, they lift up the bread in the sacrament, pretending that their doing so is a real offering of Christ; and, at the same time, the people are obliged to show all possible marks of sorrow, such as beating their breasts, shaking their heads, &c, as though they really saw Christ on the cross. But it is a profaning of the Lord’s supper, to say that Christ is really and visibly offered in it by the hands of the priest; and is contrary to what the apostle says of his having been but ‘once offered to bear the sins of many.’ [Hebrews 10:28] —Moreover, they use several superstitious ceremonies in baptism, which have, indeed, a show of religion, but want a divine sanction, and are no other than an addition to Christ’s institution. Thus they use spittle, salt, and cream, besides the water with which the child is to be baptized; and anoint it with oil, and use exorcism, commanding the unclean spirit to depart out of it, and signing it with the sign of the cross; at which they suppose the devil to be so terrified, that he is obliged to leave it, being by this means, as it were, frightened away. The principal reason, however, which they give for their adding this ceremony to Christ’s institution, is to signify that the child is hereby obliged to fight manfully under Christ’s banner. But this ceremony neither increases nor diminishes the child’s obligation; and it is a sign which Christ makes no mention of.—We may mention also their frequent crossing of themselves, as a preservative against sin, and as a means to keep them from the power of the devil, and to render their prayers acceptable in the sight of God; the splendor and magnificence of their churches, and especially the shape and figure of them, as accommodated to that of Solomon’s temple, and their situation east and west; also their bowing to the altar, which is placed in the east,—a practice for which there is not the least shadow of argument in scripture, or example in the purest ages of the Church; the ludicrous and unwarrantable ceremonies used in the consecration of churches, and the reverence which every one must show to places thus consecrated, even at other times than that of divine worship. We may add, that there are many superstitious ceremonies in consecrating all the vessels and utensils which are used in their churches. Yea, the very bells are baptized, or, as they express it, consecrated, in order that the devil may be afraid of the sound of them, and keep his distance from those places of worship in which they are fixed. But such charms can be reckoned only the sport of the powers of darkness, or looked on by them with contempt.—Again, the Papists ascribe a divine, yea, a meritorious virtue, to the frequent repeating of the Lord’s prayer in Latin, commonly called ‘ Pater noster,’ and the angel’s salutation of the Virgin Mary, [Mentioned in Luke 1:28] called ‘Ave Maria.’ The words of this salutation they put a corrupt sense upon, contrary to their proper meaning and the recitation of them; and whether they be understood or not, it is reckoned acceptable service.—We may mention likewise the distinction of garments, and the relative holiness of the persons who wear them, as signified by that distinction. We may mention, too, the canonical hours which are appointed for the performing of divine service; especially if we consider the reason which they allege for the practice, namely, that there was something remarkable done or suffered by Christ at those hours in the day. These things argue them guilty of superstition.—We might take notice also of the many things which they make merchandise of, as consecrated bread, wax-candles, &c. They ascribe to these a spiritual virtue, or some advantage to be received by those who purchase them; and so they advance the price of them. There are also the relics which they call the church’s treasure, or those rarities which they purchase at a great rate; though some of the wiser Papists have made but a jest of them.— We pass by, for brevity’s sake, many other superstitious ceremonies used by them, and observe only their bowing at the name of Jesus. This practice can hardly be vindicated from the charge of superstition, especially as no extraordinary expression of reverence is made at the mention of those incommunicable attributes of God which are ascribed to him; nor, indeed, do they bow the knee at the mentioning of the word ‘Savior,’ ‘Christ,’ or ‘Emmanuel,’ or when any other divine characters are given him. The only scripture they make use of to vindicate this practice, is Philippians 2:10, ‘That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.’ But it is plain that this ‘bowing the knee’ does not signify a bodily gesture, but only a subjection of soul to Christ, as ‘angels, authorities, and powers’ are said to be ‘made subject unto him.’ [1 Peter 3:22] These, indeed, are a very considerable part of the inhabitants of heaven, but they have no knees to bow; and as for ‘things under the earth,’ that is, the powers of darkness, they do not bow to him in a way of worship, but are subjected to him as conquered enemies.

3. We now proceed to consider that they are guilty of the breach of this commandment, who frame an image of any of the persons of the Godhead, or of any creature in heaven or earth, as a means or help made use of in order to their worshiping God. Here it must be inquired whether the making of images, absolutely or in all respects, be unlawful. It is generally answered that, if pictures representing creatures, either in heaven or earth, be made with no other design but, in an historical way, to propagate the memory of persons and their actions to posterity, the making of them seems not to be a breach of this commandment. But the sin forbidden in it, expressed in those words, ‘Making to ourselves the image or likeness of creatures in heaven or earth,’ is committed when we design to worship God by the images. Accordingly, the using of bodily gestures to them, such as those which were used in the worship of God, as bowing, uncovering the head, &c, wherein a person designs an act of worship, is idolatry. Even if nothing else is intended but the worshiping of God by the images, the use of them can hardly be excused from at least the appearance of idolatry; so that, according to one of the rules before laid down for understanding the ten commandments, it is to be reckoned a breach of the second commandment; which is what we are now considering. [see page 312] —Again, it must be inquired whether it be unlawful to represent any of the persons in the Godhead, by pictures or carved images? We answer, that, God being infinite and incomprehensible, it is impossible to frame any image like him. [Isaiah 40:18; 46:5; Acts 17:29] Moreover, he assigns as a reason why Israel should make no image of him, that ‘they saw no manner of similitude when he spake to them in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire;’ and adds, ‘lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image.’ [Deuteronomy 4:15, 16] And the apostle styles the representing of God by an image, an offering the highest affront to him, when he speaks of some who ‘changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man.’ [Romans 1:23] But there are some who, though they do not much care to defend the practice of making pictures of God, yet plead for describing an emblem of the Trinity, such as a triangle, with the name Jehovah in the midst of it. Now, I would observe concerning this practice, that if the design of it be to worship God by the emblem, it is idolatry; but if not, it is unwarrantable, and, indeed, unnecessary; since a Trinity of persons in the unity of the divine essence, is to be understood as revealed in scripture, and not brought to our remembrance by an emblem, which is an ordinance of our own invention. It is farther inquired whether we may not describe our Saviour, as he sometimes is by the Papists, in those things which respect his human nature? whether we may not portray him as an infant in his mother’s arms, or as conversing on earth, or hanging on the cross? The Papists not only describe him thus, but adore the image or representation of Christ crucified, which they call a crucifix. But whatever of Christ comes within the reach of the art of man to delineate or describe, is only his human nature, which is not the object of divine adoration; so that the practice of describing him in the way mentioned tends rather to debase, than to give us raised and becoming conceptions of him as such.

As God is sometimes represented as having a body or bodily parts, and as the prophet Daniel describes God the Father as ‘the Ancient of days;’ [Daniel 7:9] some suppose that it is not unlawful for them to make such representations of him by images. But God’s being described by the parts of human bodies, is in condescension to the weakness of our capacities, or agreeable to human modes of speaking; according to which the eye signifies wisdom, the arm power, the heart love, &c. We are, notwithstanding these modes of expression, to abstract, in our thoughts, every thing which is carnal or applicable to the creature, when conceiving of God; and therefore not to give occasion to any to think that he is like ourselves, by describing him in such a way. The Papists not only plead for making such images, but set them up in churches, calling them the laymen’s books, with a design to instruct them in those things which the images represent. But such a method of instruction is without any warrant from scripture, as well as contrary to the practice of the purest ages of the church; who always thought that the word of God was sufficient to lead them into the knowledge of himself, without making use of a picture for that purpose.— Yet though this color is put on the practice of setting up such images in churches, there are some of the Papists who plead for the worship of images only with this distinction, that it is a subordinate or a relative worship which they give to them, while, at the same time, the highest worship is given to God only. But they cannot thus exculpate themselves from the charge of idolatry. Indeed, in some of their books of devotion, we find the same expressions used when they address themselves to the creature, as if they were paying divine adoration to God; particularly in the book, which is well known among them, called the Virgin Mary’s Psalter, in which her name is often inserted instead of the name of God, which is the highest strain of blasphemy. Thus when it is said,’O come let us kneel before the Lord our Maker,’ [Psalm 95:6] instead of ‘the Lord,’ they put ‘the Virgin Mary;’ and when it is said, ‘Have mercy upon me, 0 God,’ [Psalm 51:1] they pray, ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lady,’ &c. These expressions cannot be read without detestation ; and there are in that book many more of a similar kind. When this has been objected against them as a specimen of their idolatry, all the reply they make is, that the book was written by a private person as an help to devotion, but not established by the authority of the church, which is not to be charged with every absurdity which some of their communion may advance. We reply, that the church of Rome has been very ready to condemn better books, written by those who were not in her communion; while she has never publicly condemned this book, but rather commended it as written with a good design. Besides, there are many blasphemous expressions given to the Virgin Mary, in their Breviaries and Missals, which are used by public authority. Thus she is often addressed in such characters as these,—’the mother of mercy,’ ‘the gate of heaven,’ ‘the queen of heaven,’ ‘the empress of the world;’ and sometimes she is desired not only to pray her son to help them, but, by the authority of a mother, to command him to do it. At other times, they desire her to help and save them herself; and accordingly they give her the title of Redeemer and Savior, as well as our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes also they profess to put their trust and confidence in her. Now, if this be not idolatry, where is there any to be found in the world?

We may notice, likewise, that idolatry which is practiced by them in their devotion to the images of other saints. Every saint in their calendar is called upon in his turn. Among those, indeed, some were good men, as the martyrs, who refused to be worshiped while on earth; how much soever the Papists worship them now that they are in heaven. But there are others whom the Popes have canonized as saints, who were little better than devils incarnate, while they were upon earth; and others were rebels and traitors to their king and country, and suffered the just reward of their wickedness. Such as these are found among those whom they pay this worship to. There are also others whom they worship as saints, concerning whom it may be much questioned whether there ever were such persons in the world. These may be called fabulous saints; yet images are made to their honor, and prayers directed to them. There are also things worshiped by them which never had life, as the picture of the cross, and many pretended relics of the saints. Upon the whole, therefore, we cannot but think that we have, in this mode of worship, a notorious instance of the breach of the second commandment; and we cannot but conclude that, in rendering this worship, they have apostatized or turned aside from the purity of the gospel.

It may be observed, that the church, for the first three hundred years after Christ, had comparatively but little superstition and no idolatry. But in the fourth century, superstition began to insinuate itself into it. Then it was that the pictures of the martyrs, who had suffered in Christ’s cause, were first set up in churches, though without any design of worshiping them; and the setting of them up was not universally approved of. As for image-worship, it was not brought into the church till above seven hundred years after Christ; and then there was a considerable opposition made to it by some. This kind of worship was set up in one reign, and prohibited in another; but afterwards it universally prevailed in the Romish church, when arrived at that height of impiety and idolatry, without opposition, which it maintains at this day.

The Reasons annexed to the Second Commandment.

We now proceed to observe the reasons annexed to this Commandment. These are taken from the consideration of what God is in himself: ‘I am the Lord,’ or ‘Jehovah.’ This being a name never given to any creature, is expressive of all his divine perfections, which render him the object of worship, and oblige us to perform that worship which he requires, in such a way as is agreeable to his character. He also styles himself a God to his people: ‘I am thy God.’ Hence, to set up strange gods, or to worship him in a way not prescribed by him, is a violation of his covenant, as well as not performing the duty we owe to him, and would render us unfit to be owned by him as his people. Moreover, they who thus corrupt themselves, and pervert his worship, are styled haters of him, and therefore can expect nothing but to be dealt with as enemies. This he gives them to understand, in his styling himself ‘a jealous,’ or sin-revenging God, ‘visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children.’ For understanding this language, let it be considered that, though God does not punish children with eternal destruction for the sins of their immediate parents, yet these often bring temporal judgments on families. Thus all the children of Israel who murmured and despised the good land, so far bare their fathers’ iniquity, that they wandered in the wilderness nearly forty years. Again, these judgments fall more heavily on those children who make their parents’ sins their own. This was the case of the Jews. Hence, our Savior tells them that ‘all the blood that was shed upon the earth, should come upon them, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, whom they slew between the temple and the altar.’ [Matthew 23:35] They approved and committed the same sins which their fathers were guilty of, and consequently are said to have ‘filled up the measure of their sins.’ Hence, the judgments of God which they exposed themselves to, were most terrible. Further, whatever temporal judgments may bo 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. Accordingly, it is farther observed that God ‘shows mercy unto thousands of them that love him and keep his commandments.’ These are very great motives and inducements to enforce the observance of all God’s commandments, and this in particular.

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