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.
The second commandment has today become a matter of controversy within modern Evangelicalism, with some conceding to their carnal sensory desires and permitting the making of images of the most holy and incorruptible God. This practice has been legitimised by adopting papist reasoning and limiting the second commandment to no more than the first. Yet the second commandment plainly forbids making any image of God for the purpose of: (a) worshipping God; OR (b) representing God. And further still forbids that any images should be made to thyself ("unto thee") i.e. without command from God.
To understand this commandment aright we must first remember that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments and that we are to be obedient to the revealed will of God.
The moral law teaches us how we ought to think and act with regard to God. It should therefore be no small matter to any Christian to ensure that he is obedient to holy writ and that he thinks upon God as God himself commands.
The second commandment is not limited to corporate worship, but relates to all our thoughts of God. It tells us we must not think to represent God to our minds by any image visible or even conceivable. So images are expressly prohibited for not only the purpose of worshipping God BUT ALSO for representing or imaging God. Ursinus in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism proves this as follows:
1. From the Nature of God.
God is incorporeal and infinite it is impossible that he should be expressed or represented by an image which is corporeal and finite, without detracting from his divine majesty:
This is clearly taught in scripture:
Is. 40:12,18,25 "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?....To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?...To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One."
Rom 1:23 "And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things."
It is quite plain here that the sin is in both making a representation of God and worshiping it.
2. From the Design of the Commandment.
The design is the preservation of the worship of God in purity (that is how we think upon God, worship him formally and how we approach him).
3. From the command of God.
Deut. 4:15,16 "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female,"
God plainly teaches the Jews not to make images of Him because it is impossible and that it leads to idolatry.
4. The cause of this Prohibition,
The cause being that these images do not only profit nothing, but injure men greatly, being the occasion and cause of idolatry and punishment.
In short God should not be represented by any graven image because he does not will it, it is impossible to do, it does not profit anything, and it causes and leads to idolatry.
The answers to the usual objections and reasonings of Rome can be found elsewhere on Reasonable Religion especially in On Images in William Perkins's A Reformed Catholic, for the arguments presented by those in Reformed churches today are no different to those advanced previously by Rome.
With regard to the objection that Christ was also man so we may make an image of Him, this is plainly contrary to the Gospel and is ably answered by John Owen in his Sermon, The Chamber of Imagery in the Church of Rome Laid Open or an Antidote Against Popery:
I"t is a general notion of truth, that the Lord Christ, in his person and grace, is to be proposed and represented unto man as the principal object of their faith and love. He himself, and his Divine Person, is absolutely invisible unto us; and, as to his human nature, absent from us; for the heaven must receive him "until the time of restitution of all things." There must, therefore, an image of a representation of him be made unto our minds, or he cannot be the proper object of our faith, trust, love, and delight. This is done in the gospel, and the preaching of it; for therein he is, "evidently set forth" before our eyes, as "crucified amongst us," Gal 3:1. So, also, are all the other concerns of his person and offices therein clearly proposed unto us; yea, this is the principal end of the gospel, – namely, to make a due representation of the person, offices, grace, and glory of Christ unto the souls of men, that they may believe in him, and "believing, have eternal life", John 20:31"
Neither can the Church Fathers be advanced in defence of images for Archbishop Ussher, that great gift to the Church, has already demonstrated that such idolatry was not accepted by the early Church any more than we are prepared to accept it today.
Archbishop Ussher & The Church Fathers
The Church historian Eusebius who lived in the fourth century declared himself in the strongest manner against images of Christ in a letter to Empress Constantia who asked him for such an image. Amongst other things Eusebius wrote:
“Who can therefore counterfeit by dead and insensible colors, by vain shadowing painter’s art, the bright and shining glistering of such His glory? Whereas His holy disciples were not able to behold the same in the mountain; who therefore, falling on their faces, acknowledged they were not able to behold such a sight.”
Eusebius has taken away from a lady an image of Christ. Lest it should be seen as if Christians, like idolaters, carried their God about in images... "believers ought rather to fix their mental eye, above all, upon the divinity of Christ, and, for this purpose to purify their hearts; since only the pure in heart shall see God."
In Harduin, Collect. council. tom. iv. pg. 406.
Clement of Alexandria
"We are plainly forbidden to exercise that deceitful art. For the Prophet saith, Thou shalt not make the likeness of any thing, either in heaven or in the earth beneath." Clement of Alexandria, Protreptic. ad Gentes.
"Moses commandeth men to make no image that should represent God by art"
Paedagog. lib. iii. cap. 2
"For in truth an image is a dead matter, formed by the hand of an artificer. But we have no sensible image made of any sensible matter, but such an image as is to be conceived with the understanding."
Id. in Protreptic.
Origen writing against Celsius the philosopher: "Who having his right wits will not laugh at him who, after such great philosophical discourses of God or gods, doth look on images, and either presents his prayer to them, or by the sight thereof offers it to him who is conceived thereby, unto whom he imagineth that he ought to ascend from that which is seen, and is but a sign or symbol of him?"
Origen, Contra Cels. lib. vii. P. 373
"[Christians]... did not esteem these to be divine images, who used not to describe any figure of God, who was invisible and without all bodily shape;"
Origen, Contra Cels. lib. vii. P. 373
When the Gentiles demanded of the ancient Christians "Why they had no known images?" Minucius Felix answered: "What image shall I make to God, when man himself, if thou rightly judge, is God's image?"
Minuc. Felix in Octavio.
"Wherefore there is no doubt, that there is no religion wheresoever there is an image. For seeing religion consists of divine things, nothing divine is to be found but in heavenly things, images therefore are void of religion; because nothing that is heavenly can be in that which is made of earth."
Lactant. Divin. Institut. lib. ii cap. 18
"the Church knoweth no vain ideas and divers figures of images, but knoweth the true substance of the Trinity."
Ambros. in de. Fuga Seculi, cap. 5.
"We worship one image, which is the image of the invisible omnipotent God."
Dei. Hieronym. lib. iv. in Ezec. cap. xvi.
"Have this in mind, beloved sons, not to bring images into the church nor even an ordinary house; always carry about the remembrance of God in your hearts: for it is not lawful for a Christian man to be carried in suspense by his eyes and the wandering of his mind;"
Epiphanius rending the veil that hung in the church Anablatha:
"I find there a veil hanging at the door of the church, dyed and painted, and had an image as it were of Christ or some saint; for I do not well remember whose image it was. When, therefore, I saw this, that contrary to the authority of the Scriptures the image of a man was hung up in the church of Christ, I cut it, and gave council to the keepers of the place that they should rather wrap and bury some poor dead man in it."