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Francis R. Beattie on the Second Commandment

August 18, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Francis R. Beattie’s, “The Presbyterian Standards,” chapter 23: “The Means of Grace: the Word: the First Table” (1896).

II. The Second Commandment.
This command is much longer in its terms than the first, and has some important reasons attached to it. It is as follows: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything 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 thyself 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.”

It will be observed that this command indicates the true mode of worship, just as the first pointed out the only object of worship. The right manner in which the true God is to be properly worshipped is a matter of much importance, for many who believe in the one true God err in the mode in which they worship him. This command, therefore, is of much practical value.

1. The Duties Required. In general, this command requires us to receive, observe, and keep pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed in his word. The Larger Catechism says, further, that particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ, the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word and the administration of the sacraments, are to be regarded as parts of worship. Under this command, also, the observance of the government and discipline of the church, and the maintenance of the ministry thereof, are said to be required by this command. Religious fasting, swearing by the name of God, and making lawful vows to God, are also to be approved. All false modes of worship are to be disapproved, detested, and opposed by the requirements of this command. And all monuments of idolatry are to be removed as far as possible. Here the sphere of foreign missions is open before our eyes.

2. The Sins Forbidden. In a general way, this command forbids the worshipping of God by images, or in any other way not appointed in his word. The Larger Catechism further explains this to include the forbidding of the devising, using, or approving in any way, any religious worship not instituted by God himself. So, also, the making of any representations of God, or of any of the persons of the Trinity, either in the mind or by any outward image or likeness of any creature whatever, and the worshipping of such image as God, or worshipping God by means of it, is condemned. The making of any false deities, and all worship or service of them, is forbidden also. Further, all corruption of worship of the true God by superstitious devices, all human additions to the worship of God, or the omission of what is enjoined in the Scriptures by God, whether invented by ourselves or received by tradition from others, no matter how ancient or widely observed, are condemned by this command. Finally, in connection with the mode of worship, all simony and sacrilege, all neglect and contempt for the worship and ordinances required by God’s word, are equally forbidden by the scope of this commandment.

It will be seen that the exposition given in the Standards, both of this command and of the first, is pointed against the doctrines of Rome. The first is directed against its idolatry, and the second against the use of images, and its unscriptural additions to religious worship. But the Standards do not enter into any controversy upon these questions, so that the present explanation need only point out the fact above indicated in regard to the attitude of the Standards in relation to Rome.

3. The Reasons Attached to this Command.
These reasons are found in the latter part of the command, and are summed up under three heads in the Catechisms.

First, There is God’s sovereignty over us. He is our creator, and we are dependent upon him for our being, and all our blessings. He is also our moral governor, and has a right to require of us whatever is in harmony with the conditions of the moral government under which we are placed. That we should worship him in the way he appoints, and in no other, naturally follows from this. Secondly, God has propriety in us. He has made us with the moral nature which we possess; and, having giving it to us, it is proper that the return of homage and service which that nature can make should be given to him. This divine ownership of us is a strong reason for the claim which God makes upon us for worship. And, Thirdly, God has a zeal for his own proper worship. This being the case, all false worship, or anything which does not honor the requirements of God, as to worship, must be distasteful to him, who will have no other to even share the homage which he alone claims exclusively for himself. And he will surely punish those who hate and dishonor him, and richly reward those who love and worship and serve him aright.

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