Thomas Adam on Idols and Idolatry

The following is an excerpt from a sermon by Thomas Adam:

Idols.—Idol, in Greek, signifies a resemblance or representation, and differs not from image in Latin; both at first taken in a good sense, but the corruption of times hath bred a corruption of words, and idol is now only taken for the image of a false god. Every idol is an image, but every image is not an idol; but every image made and used for religious purposes is an idol . The images of God are idols, wherewith Popery abounds. An old man, sitting in a chair, with a triple crown on his head, and pontifical robes on his back, a dove hanging at his beard, and a crucifix in his arms, is their image of the Trinity. This picture sometime serves them for a god in their churches, and sometime for a sign at their taphouses; so that it is a common saying in many of their cities, ‘ Such a gentleman lies at the Trinity, and his servants at God’s Head.’ This they seem to do as if they would in some sort requite their Maker: because God made man according to his image, therefore they, by way of recompense, will make God according to man’s image. But this certainly they durst not do, without putting the second commandment out of their catechisms, and the whole decalogue out of their consciences.

I intend no polemical discourse of this point, by examining their arguments: that business is fitter for the school than the pulpit. And, O God ! that either school or pulpit in Christendom should be troubled about it!—that any man should dare to make that a question which the Lord hath so plainly and punctually forbidden! Beside the iniquity, how grievous is the absurdity! How is a body without a spirit like to a spirit without a body? a visible picture like an invisible nature? How would the king take it in scorn to have his picture made like a weasel or a hedge-hog! and yet the difference betwixt the greatest monarch and the least emmet is nothing to the distance betwixt a finite and an infinite. If they allege, with the Anthropomorphites, that the Scripture attributes to God hands and feet and eyes, why therefore may they not represent him in the same forma? But we say, the Scripture also speaks of his covering us with the shadow of his wings; why therefore do they not paint him like a bird with feathers? If they say that he appeared to Daniel in this form, because he is there called the ‘Ancient of days;’ we answer, that God’s commandments, and not his apparitions, be rules to us: by the former we shall be judged, and not by the latter. It is mad religion to neglect what he bids us do, and to imitate what he hath done: as if we should despise his laws, and go about to counterfeit his thunder. God is too infinite for the comprehension of our souls, why should we then labour to bring him into the narrow compass of boards and stones? Certainly, that should not be imaged which cannot be imagined. But Christ was a man, why may not his image be made? Some answer, that no man can make an image of Christ without leaving out the chief part of him, which is his divinity. It was the Godhead united to the manhood that makes him Christ: sure this cannot be painted. But why should we make Christ’s image without Christ’s warrant? The Lord hath forbidden the making of any image, whether of things in heaven, where Christ is, or of things on earth, where Christ was, to worship them. Now, till God revoke that precept, what can authorise this practice?

(Thanks to Matthew Lankford for bringing this to my attention.)

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