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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism
of the Westminster Assembly
Explained and Proved
from Scripture

Thomas Vincent

LI. Quest. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed ill his word.

Q. 1. What is the first great sin forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The first great sin forbidden in the second commandment, is the sin of idolatry

Q. 2. How doth the idolatry forbidden in the first commandment differ from the idolatry forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The idolatry forbidden in the first commandment hath a respect to the object, when we give that worship and honour, which arc due only to God, unto another; the idolatry forbidden in the second commandment hath a respect unto the means, when we worship God by images.

Q. 3. How many ways may persons be guilty of idolatry in their worshipping of God by images?
A. Persons are guilty of idolatry in worshipping of God by images— 1. When they worship feigned and false gods (apprehending them to be true) by images and representations. Such was the heathen's idolatry in worshipping Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Diana, and other feigned gods and goddesses, by their images in their idolatrous temples. 2. When they worship the true God in or by any image or representation of him, whether it be any thing in heaven, or the earth, or the waters, as in the commandment: "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, or the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them." "Take ye heed, therefore, to yourselves (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb), lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image." — Deut 4:15, 16. "They have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it; and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."— Exod. 32:8. 3. When they have in their worship carnal imaginations, and representations of God in their minds; as if he were an old man sitting in heaven, or the like.

Q. 4. Why may we not make use of images for a help in our worship of God?
A. 1. Because God has absolutely forbidden it. 2. Because images are not a real help, but a hindrance of devotion, they tending to lessen God in our esteem, who, being the living God, and superlatively excellent, and infinitely removed above all his creatures, cannot, without great reflection of dishonour upon him, be represented by a dead image.

Q. 5. Is it not lawful to have images or pictures of God by us, so we do not worship them, nor God by them?
A. The images or pictures of God are an abomination, and utterly unlawful, because they do debase God, and may be a cause of idolatrous worship.

Q. 6. Is it not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, he being a man as well as God?
A. It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because his divine nature cannot be pictured at all; and because his body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is; and because, if it do not stir up devotion, it is in vain—if it do stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment.

Q. 7. What is the second great sin against this second commandment?
A. The second great sin against this second commandment is superstition.

Q. 8. What is the superstition forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The superstition forbidden in the second commandment, is the worshipping of God in any other way, or by any other means, than what he hath appointed in his Word, and thus adding human inventions unto God's institutions; which is will-worship, and condemned by the apostle. "Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances (touch not, taste not, handle not, which all are to perish with the using), after the commandments and doctrines of men? which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship."— Col. 2:20-23.

Q. 9. May nothing be added in the worship of God but what is prescribed in the Word of God?
A. Nothing may be added in the worship of God, as parts of worship, but what is prescribed or appointed in the Word of God; because, without divine institution, it is but vain worship, neither pleasing to God nor profitable unto them that worship. "But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." — Matt. 15:9.

Q. 10. Are not significant ceremonies allowable, that the dull minds of men may be quickened unto the more devotion?
A. 1. The ceremonies which God himself did appoint under the law are not lawful, much less the ceremonies of men's appointment, which are parts of worship. 2. Significant teaching ceremonies, were they appointed by God, would be the parts of true worship therefore, such significant teaching ceremonies as are not appointed by God are parts of false worship, or of worship so far corrupted as they are used. 3. The significancy of teaching ceremonies without God's institution, which carrieth with it God's blessing, is insignificant and ineffectual to convey and confer any grace.

Q. 11. May not the Church, by virtue of that command, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40), appoint ceremonies for decency and order's sake?
A. The Church may and ought, by virtue of this command; to see that there is no indecency and disorder in the worship of God; that is, they may order that things appointed by God be done decently and in order, in reference to conveniency of time and place, and the like, which the Word of God doth virtually include in appointing worship itself, which, without such circumstances, cannot be performed; but here is no liberty given unto the Church to introduce and appoint new parts of worship, as significant teaching ceremonies are proved to be; neither may such things be called decent in God's worship which the idolatrous Church of Rome use, without any warrant from the Word of God.

Q. 12. What is the idolatry and superstition of the Church of Rome in the worship of God?
A. The idolatry and superstition of the Church of Rome in the worship of God, is their idolatrous kneeling at the sacrament, asserting that the bread is turned into the real body of Christ; their idolatrous worshipping of Christ by the crucifix; their idolatrous pictures and images of God, which they bow before; their idolatrous bowing at the altars and towards the east; their idolatrous praying to angels and saints, especially to the Virgin Mary; their offering up the unbloody sacrifice of the host; their superstitious fastings and abstaining from flesh in Lent; their superstitious holidays; their superstitious priests' surplice.; their adding cream, oil, and spittle to the wafer, and signing with the cross in baptism; their baptizing of bells; their praying upon beads; and many more superstitious customs, for which there is not the least command in the Scripture.

Q. 13. How may we further offend and sin against the second commandment?
A. We offend and sin against the second commandment, not only by idolatry and superstition, but also when we are not zealous for pure worship, according to God's institution, not endeavouring what in us lieth, in our places, the reformation of worship, according to the pattern in the Word; as also, when we disuse and neglect, especially when we contemn and oppose, any of those ordinances which God hath appointed to be the means of worship. "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." — John 11.17. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is."— Heb. 10:25. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites I for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven a ainst men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in."— Matt. 23:13. "Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles, that they may be saved, filling up their sins alway." — 1 Thess. 2:16. "And the next Sabbath-day came almost the whole city together, to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Palil and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles."— Acts 13:44-46.

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