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"A Reformed Catholic", William Perkins (9) Of Images.

When God delivered the law and the very words of the second commandment he used a voice only (ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice, Deut 4:12) and did not show himself in any visible form because it was not his pleasure to be worshipped in any such form. And yet again on this matter we have a further point of controversy with the Church of Rome.

In this chapter of A Reformed Catholic William Perkins addresses the second commandment showing Rome's error in the very foundation of religion, making an idol of the true God, and continuing in heathen idolatry. For it was the idolatry of the heathen in worshipping the Creator in visible fashions that was condemned by Paul in Romans with God giving them up to vile affections because "...they changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man."


Our Consent with Rome

Conclusion I.

We acknowledge the civil use of images as freely and truly as the Church of Rome does. By civil use I understand, that use which is made of them in the common societies of men, out of the appointed places of the solemn worship of God. And this to be lawful, it appears: because the arts of painting and graving are the ordinance of God: and to be skilful in them is the gift of God, as the example of Bezaleel, and Aholiab declare, Exod. 35. 30. This use of Images may be in sundry things. I. In the adorning and setting forth of buildings: thus Solomon beautified his throne with the image of lions. And the Lord commanded his temple to be adorned with the images of palm trees, of pomegranates, of bulls, cherubs, and such like. II. It serves for the distinction of coins: according to the practise of Emperors and Princes of all nations. When Christ was asked, Matt. 22. whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar or no? he called for a penny and said, whose image or superscription is this, they said, Caesar's: he then said, give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; not condemning but approving the stamp or image upon his coin. And though the Jews were forbidden to make images in way of representation, or worship of the true god: yet the cycle of the sanctuary, which they used, specially after the time of Moses, was stamped with the image of the almond tree, and the pot of Manna. III. Images serve to keep in memory friends deceased whom we reverence. And it is like, that hence came one occasion of the images that are now in use in the Roman Church. For in the days after the Apostles men used privately to keep the pictures of their friends departed: and this practise after crept into the open congregation; and at last, superstition getting head, images began to be worshipped.

Conclusion II.

We hold the historical use of images to be good and lawful: and that is, to represent to the eye the acts of histories, whether they be human, or divine and thus we think the histories of the Bible may be painted in private places.

Conclusion III.

In one case it is lawfull to make an image to testify the presence or the effects of the majesty of God, namely when God himself gives any special commandment so to do. In this case Moses made and erected a brazen serpent, to be a type, sign, or image to represent Christ crucified. John 3. 14. And the Cherubs over the mercy seat served to represent the majesty of God, to whom the angels are subject. And in the second commandment it is not simply said, Thou shalt not make a graven image: but with limitation, Thou shalt not make to thy self, that is, on thine own head upon thine own will and pleasure.

Conclusion IV.

The right images of the New Testament, which we hold and acknowledge, are the doctrine and preaching of the gospel, and all things that by the Word of God pertains thereto. Gal. 3. Who hath be witched you that ye should not obey the truth to whom Jesus Christ was before DECSRIBED IN YOUR SIGHT AND AMONG YOU CRUCIFIED. Hence it follows, that the preaching of the Word, is as a most excellent picture in which Christ with his benefits are lively represented unto us. And we dissent not from Origen (contra Cels. lib. 8) who says, We have no images framed by any base workmen, but such as are brought forth and framed by the word of God, namely patterns of virtue, and frames resembling Christians. He means that Christians themselves are the images of Christians.

The Difference with Rome

Our dissent from them touching images stands in three points:

The First Difference

The Church of Rome holds it lawful for them to make images to resemble God, though not in respect of his divine nature; yet in respect of some properties and actions. We on the contrary, hold it unlawful for us to make any image, any way to represent the true God: or, to make an image of any thing in way of religion, to worship God, much less the creature thereby. For the second commandment says plainly, Exod. 20. 4. Thou shalt not make to thy self any graven image, or the likeness of anything in heaven, &c. The Papists say the commandment is meant of the images of false gods. But, will they nill they, it must be understood of the images of the true Jehovah: and it forbids us to resemble God, either in his nature, properties, or works, or to use any resemblance of him for any sacred use; as to help the memory, when we are about to worship God. Thus much the Holy Ghost who is the best expounder of himself, teaches most plainly, Deut. 4. 15, 16. Thou sawest no image at all (either of false or true god) and therfore thou shalt not make any likeness of any thing. And again the Prophet Isaiah 40. 18. reproving idolaters, asks to whom they will liken God, or, what similitude will they set upon him. And v. 21. Know ye nothing? have you not heard? hath it not been TOLD you FROM THE BEGINNING? as if he should say, have ye forgotten the second commandment, that God gave unto your fathers? And thus he flatly reproves all them that resemble the true God in images.

But they say further, that by images in the second commandment are meant idols, that is (say they) such things as men worship for gods. We answer, if it were so, we should confound the first and second commandments. For the first, Thou shalt have no other gods before my face, forbids all false gods, which man wickedly frames unto himself, by giving his heart and the principal affections thereof, to them: and therefore idols also are here forbidden, when they are esteemed as gods. And the distinction they make that an image is the representation of true things, an idol of things supposed, is false. Ancient Divines accord with all this which I have said::

Tertullian says that every form or representation is to be termed an idol. (de Idol. Lib 3)

Isidore says, that the heathen used the names of image and idol indifferently in one and the same signification. ( Etym. l. 8.).

St. Steven in his apology, Act. 7. 41. calls the golden calf an idol.

Jerome says, that idols are images of dead men. (on Isa. 37)

Lactantius says, Inst. lib. 2. cap. 19. Where images are for religions sake, there is no religion.

The Councel of Elibera, can. 36. decreed, that nothing should be painted on the walls of churches, which is adored of the people.

Origen says We suffer not any to worship Jesus at altars, images, and temples: BECAUSE IT IS WRITTEN, Thou shalt have none other gods. (contra Celsum. lib. 7)

And Epiphanius says, It is against the authority of the Scriptures to see the image of Christ, or of any Saints hanging in the Church. In the seventh Council of Constantinople these words of Epiphanius are cited against the Encratitae. Be mindful beloved children not to bring images into the Church, nor set them in the places where the Saints are buried, BUT ALWAYS CARRY GOD IN YOUR HE ARTS: neither let them be suffered in any common house: for it is not meet that a Christian should be occupied by the eyes but by the meditation of the mind. (Epist. ad Joh. Heirs)

Arguments of the Papists

The reasons which they use to defend their opinions are these.

Objection I

In Solomon's temple were erected Cherubims, which were images of angels, on the Mercy Seat where God was worshipped: and thereby was resembled the majesty of God, therefore it is lawful to make images to resemble God.


They were erected by special commandment from God. who prescribed the very form of them and the place where they must be set: and thereby Moses had a warrant to make them; otherwise he had sinned: let them show the like warrant for their images if they can. Secondly the Cherubim were placed in the holy of holies in the most inward place of the Temple, and consequently were removed from the sight of the people, who only heard of them and none but the high priest saw them, and that but once a year. And the Cherubim without the vail though they were to be seen, yet were they not to be worshipped. Exo. 20. 4. Therefore they serve nothing at all to justify the images of the Church of Rome.

Objection II

God appeared in the form of a man to Abraham, Gen. 18. and to Daniel, who saw the ancient of days sitting on a throne, Dan. 9. Now as God appeared, so may he be resembled: therefore (say they) it is lawful to resemble God in the form of a man or any like image in which he showed himself to men.


In this reason the proposition is false, for God may appear in whatsoever form it pleases his majesty; yet does it not follow, that man should therefore resemble God in those forms: man having no liberty to resemble him in any form at all: unless he be commanded so to do. Again, when God appeared in the form of a man, that form was a sign of God's presence only for the time when God appeared and no longer: as the bread and wine in the sacrament are signs of Christ's body and blood, not for ever but for the time of administration: for afterward they become again, as common bread and wine. And when the Holy Ghost appeared in the likeness of a dove, that likeness was a sign of his presence no longer then the Holy Ghost so appeared. And therefore he that would in these forms represent the Trinity, does greatly dishonour God, and do that for which he has no warrant.

Objection III

Man is the image of God, but it is lawful to paint a man, and therefore to make the image of God.


A very cavil: for first a man cannot be painted, as he is the image of God, which stands in the spiritual gifts of righteousness and true holiness. Again, the image of a man may be painted for civil or historical use, but to paint any man for this end to represent God, or in the way of religion, that we may the better remember and worship God, it is unlawful. Other reasons which they use, are of small moment, and therefore I omit them.


The Second Difference

They teach and maintain, that images of God and of Saints may be worshipped with religious worship, specially the crucifix. For Thomas of Watering says, Seeing the cross doth represent Christ, who died upon a cross, and is to be worshipped with divine honour: it followeth that the crosse is to be worshipped so too. (Summ. part 3. quest. 5. art. 3).

We on the contrary, hold they may not. Our principal ground is the second commandment, which contains two parts: the first forbids the making of images to resemble the true God: the second forbids the worshipping of them, or God in them; in these words. Thou shalt not bow down to them. Now, there can be no worship done to any thing less then the bending of the knee. Again the brazen serpent was a type or image of Christ crucified John 3. 14, appointed by God himself: yet when the peo∣ple burned incense to it, 2. King. 18. 4. Hezekiah brake it in pieces, and is therefore commended. And when the devil bade our Saviour Christ, but to bow down the knee unto him, and he would give him the whole world: Christ rejects his offer, saying, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve, Matt. 4. 10. Again it is lawful for one man to worship another with civil worship, but to worship man with religious honour is unlawful. For all religious worship is prescribed in the first table: and the honour due to man is only prescribed in the second table and the first commandment thereof, Honour thy father; which honour is therefore civil and not religious. Now the meanest man that can be, is a more excellent image of God, than all the images of God or of Saints that are devised by men. Augustine, and long after him Gregory, in plain terms deny images to be adored.(de morib. Eccles cap. 35. lib. 9. epist. 9)

Arguments of the Papists

The Papists defend their opinions by these reasons.

Objection I.

Psal. 99. 5. Cast down yourselves before his foot stool.


The words are thus to be read: Bow at his foot stool; that is, at the Ark and Mercy Seat, for there he has made a promise of his presence: the words therefore say not, bow to the Ark, but to God at the Ark.

Objection. II.

Exod. 3. 5. God said to Moses, Stand a far off and put off thy shoes, for the place is holy. Now if holy places must be reverenced, then much more holy images, as the cross of Christ, and such like.


God commanded the ceremony of putting off the shoes, that he might thereby strike Moses with a religious reverence, not of the place but of his own majesty, whose presence made the place holy. Let them show the like warrant for images.

Objection III

It is lawful to kneel down to a chair of estate in the absence of the King or Queen: therefore much more to the images of God and of Saints in heaven glorified, being absent from us.


To kneel to the chair of estate, is no more but a civil testimony, or sign of civil reverence, by which all good subjects when occasion is offered, show their loyalty and subjection to their lawful princes. And this kneeling being on this manner, and to no other end, has sufficient warrant in the word of God. But knee∣ling to the image of any Saint departed, is religious and consequently more than civil worship, as the Papists themselves confess. The argument then proves nothing, unless they will keep themselves to one and the same kind of worship.


The Third Difference

The Papists also teach, that God may be lawfully worshipped in images, in which he has appeared unto them: as the Father, in the image of an old man: the Son in the image of a man crucified: and the Holy Ghost in the likeness of a dove, &c. But we hold it unlawful to worship God in, by, or at any image: for this is the thing which (as I have proved before) the second commandment forbids. And the fact of the Israelites, Exod. 32. in worshipping the go∣den calf is condemned as flat idolatry; albeit they worshipped not the calf but God in the calf: for v. 5. Aaron says, Tomorrow shall be the solemnity of Jehovah: whereby he does give us to understand, that the calf was but a sign of Jehovah whom they worshipped.

Arguments of the Papists


It seems the Israelites worshipped the calf. For Aaron says, vers. 4. These be thy gods (O Israel) that brought thee out of Egypt.


Aaron's meaning is nothing else, but that the golden calf, was a sign of the presence of the true God. And the name of the thing signified is given to the sign, as upon a stage he is cal∣led a King that represents the King. And Augustine says, that images are wont to be called by the names of things whereof they are images, as the counterfeit of Samuel is called Samuel. And we must not esteem them all as mad men to think that a calf made of their earrings, being but one or two days old, should be the God that brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand many days before.


And these are the points of difference touching Images wherein we must stand at variance forever with the Church of Rome. For they err in the foundation of religion, making indeed an idol of the true God, and worshipping another Christ than we do, under new terms, maintaining the idolatry of the heathen. And therefore have we departed from them: and so must we still do because they are Idolaters; as I have proved.

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