The Second Commandment

Question 96 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What doth God require in the second commandment?” Answer “That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word”.

How we are to serve him is the instruction we find here. Now don’t say right off, “Oh, but I don’t transgress that commandment; maybe the 3rd, 5th or some of the others, but not the 2nd. I don’t have any images which I serve in the place of God.” Let’s look at the 2nd commandment and its implications and see if we violate it in our actions and thoughts. “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or 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.” A graven image is an object of worship. This is not to be confused with a bust of a person, as maybe you have seen at the entrance of a park, or of President Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D. C. There is no harm in these images of man. But when the image is to be used for the worship of God, it becomes a heinous sin, for we cannot make a likeness of God. John 4:24, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spir­it and in truth.” How can we possibly make an image of a spirit? Well, we do that in our imagi­nation, for one. We imagine what God would look like and then we worship that thought. Or, per­haps you have seen a “religious” calendar with pictures of some of the Saints, of Moses as he descended from Mount Sinai, or other, of the Babe in Bethlehem. These are nothing more than the imagination of men to be used as images. We are taught to worship God through the lively preaching of His Word.

There is another way in which we make an image of God. This is through the corruption of His Word. We may not make a physical image of Him, but when we distort the Scriptures, we make an image and worship something other than God. God wants all men to be saved? God is merciful to all? God created all things over a period of time? Or, worse yet. He permitted all things to evolve? And God is not our Father, as scripture abundantly states, but He is an IT? These are all images which man worships to his destruction. I don’t believe it can be said better than by quoting Rev. H. Hoeksema in Triple Knowledge, Lord’s Day XXXV, Chapter 2, Image Worship, “Nor must we imagine that this sin is committed only by pagans, and that it is incon­ceivable in the civilized, Christian world. Fact is that this sin is deeply ingrained in our sinful nature. By nature, we are all image worshippers. We are always inclined to lie about God, and to deprive Him of His glorious attributes. No, indeed, we do not carve or chisel a representa­tion of God in wood or stone, in gold or silver, as do the heathen. But we do make images of Him in our mind, in our false conceptions of Him. Many are the images of the living God formed by modern theology and philosophy. Whenever we form a conception of God that is not according to his own revelation in the Holy Scriptures, we lie about God and make an image of Him. When we conceive of God as a Being that is so filled with love that He condones sin, we deny His righ­teousness and make an image of Him. When we imagine a God that is so merciful that He cannot possibly cast the sinner into eternal desolation as punishment for his sin, we deprive Him of the glory of His immutable justice, and form an image of Him in our mind. When, in our prayers we attempt to approach God without seeking for­giveness in the blood of Christ Jesus our Lord, we are worshiping an image just as really as the Israelites at Horeb worshiped the golden calf. When we conceive of God as a sort of a Santa Claus, that exists to bestow all kinds of good things upon us, to fight our wars and give us our victories, as a God that must solve the problems we create in our sinful world, as One to whom we cry when we are in trouble, but for the rest forget Him, Whom we do not care to glorify and in Whose way we do not care to walk, we simply worship an image of our own making. When we deny the Scriptural truth of election and repro­bation, deny that He is merciful to whom He will be merciful and whom He will He hardens; when we represent God as, in saving the sinner, being dependent on the will of man, so that the latter must open the door of his heart before God can enter; or when we conceive of Him as being gra­cious, in the preaching of the gospel, to all that hear, head for head, and soul for soul, we deny His absolute sovereignty, and fashion an image of God just as really as the pagans carve one in wood or chisel one in stone. If we entertain the dualistic notion that God is the Lord of all good but not of evil; that He sends us health, but not sickness, prosperity but not adversity, peace but not war, plenty of work but not times of depres­sion, life but not death; we deny that God is the Lord of all the earth, and we worship our own lie.”

Our calling, very clearly, is to serve God through His Spirit in Jesus Christ our Lord, Who died on the cross to also remove our sins of image worship, let us, also as young peo­ple, serve God with the whole law, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image . . . Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them, for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God . . . .”