IV. How and by whom are images to be abolished?
Two things must be carefully observed in removing images —

1. That the doctrine concerning the true worship of God be preached before the idols and images are removed. It was in this way that Josiah proceeded. He first commanded the law of God to be read to all the people, and then proceeded to remove and destroy the images which had been set up. A change in external matters, without showing and explaining the causes, on account of which it is effected, will either lead to hypocrisy, or else it will excite and alienate the minds of the people from those who effect this change. Let the true doctrine of God's word, therefore, be preached, and the idols will fall to the ground of their own accord.

2. Images and their altars, and all that pertains to idolatry, must be removed, not by private individuals, but by public authority; whether of the magistrates, or of the people, if they have the sovereign power, and in those places in which the church holds the chief sway. It was in this way that God commanded the children of Israel to proceed in reference to this matter; and so we read that they and their pious kings acted. Paul, on the other hand, being only a private individual, seeing and disapproving of the idols of the Athenians, Ephesians and others, did not himself break them down, nor did he exhort Christians to do so, but to flee from and avoid them. The reason why the Apostle acted thus arose, no doubt, from the fact that he himself was no magistrate, and that the church had not in those places the chief sway. He therefore gives this rule: “What have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without, God judgeth.”(1 Cor. 5:12, 13.)

Obj. 1. But books are retained in the churches and are useful to the laity. Images and statues are books to the laity. Therefore they may be retained in the churches with profit. Ans. Such books only are useful to laymen, which God has delivered to them. But God has prohibited images. We also deny the minor proposition; for the prophets teach very differently. “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image and a teacher of lies?” “The idols have spoken vanity.” (Heb. 2:18. Zech. 10:2.) We may deduce this argument from what has now been said: We ought not to speak vain things of God, nor to he of him, either in word or deed. But wood or graven images are lies of God, seeing that they cannot represent God; yea, by as much as they depart from God, and at the same time lead us from him, by so much is their figure unlike God, and as a matter of consequence they bring it to pass, that we he concerning God. If we would not, therefore, lie, it is necessary that we should neither make, nor have graven images by which to represent God: for as Jeremiah saith, “The stock is a doctrine of vanities.” (Jer. 10: 8.) In this sense, now, we grant that images and pictures are books for the laity; viz., that they partly teach and signify what is not true of God, and partly because by reverencing the thing signified, and the place, when they stand in the church and elsewhere, they easily lead some to superstition and teach the people idolatry, as experience abundantly testifies. We also deny the consequence of the above syllogism, because, although images might teach the unlearned, yet it does not follow from this, that they should be retained in the churches as books that are useful; for God will have his people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of his word. Neither does faith come from the sight of images, but by the hearing of the word of God.
Obj. 2. The command which respects the abolishing of images, is ceremonial. Therefore it does not pertain to Christians, but only to Jews. Ans. We deny the antecedent: for it is no ceremonial requirement to abolish those things which are the instruments, occasions and signs of idolatry. Nor are the causes on account of which this commandment was formerly given altered, so that the glory of God should not be vindicated against idolaters and enemies of the church, and that he should be tempted by our giving to those who are weak and ignorant occasions and inducements to superstition and idolatry to which they are naturally inclined. This commandment, therefore, which forbids our not having images, is moral and of perpetual force.

Obj. 3. Solomon, by the command of God, placed in the temple images of cherubim, lions, oxen, palm-trees, &c. Therefore images may also be tolerated in the church. Ans. The cases are not similar. 1. The figures of the various things and living creatures, such as oxen, lions, palm-trees, cherubims and such like, which Solomon caused to be placed in the temple, were ordered by the special command of God. The case, however, is different with images which are set up in the church at the present day. 2. The images which Solomon had placed in the temple were of such a character that they could not easily lead to superstitious practices; but images of God and the saints may not only lead to superstition, but alas! they have hitherto been the cause of most shameful idolatry in the Papal church. 3. The reason on account of which God commanded Solomon to have the images here alluded to in the temple, was that they might be types of spiritual things; but this cause is now done away with in Christ. Hence images which are now set up in the churches cannot be defended by this example; and it becomes us to obey the general commandment which forbids us to have, and to set up in such places images which are offensive either to the members, or the enemies of the church.

Obj. 4. But pictures and images are not worshipped in the Reformed churches. Therefore they may be tolerated. Ans. 1. God does not only forbid images to be worshipped; but also forbids them from being made, and to have them when made. Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, &c. 2. They are always an occasion of superstition and idolatry to the ignorant, as the experience of the past and present abundantly testifies. 3. They give to the Jews, Turks, Pagans, and other enemies of the church occasion of offence and matter for blaspheming the gospel.

Obj. 5. Images and statues are ornaments in our churches. Therefore they may be tolerated. Ans. 1. The best and true ornament of our churches is the pure and unadulterated doctrine of the gospel, the lawful use of the sacraments, true prayer and worship in accordance with the word of God. 2. Churches have been built, that lively images of God may be seen in them, and not that they should be made the abode of idols and dumb images. 3. The ornament of the church ought not to be contrary to the command of God. 4. It must neither be ensnaring to the members, nor offensive to the enemies of the church.

But someone may perhaps reply; the thing itself and the lawful use of it, must not be taken away merely because it may be abused. Images are ensnaring and offensive merely by accident. Therefore they are not to be removed from the churches. Ans. The first proposition is true, provided the thing be good in its own nature, and the use of it be lawful, and the accident inseparably connected with it, be not condemned of God. If this be not the case, the thing and the use of it, are both unlawful, and therefore to be avoided. But the images of God and the saints, which are placed in our churches for the sake of religion, are neither good, nor is the use of them lawful, but expressly forbidden by the command of God. And not only so, but the accident which is superstition, or idolatry, invariably accompanies the use of these images (notwithstanding the vain pretences of those who are more fully established, and of their knowledge,) and is equally condemned by the commandment of God.

Obj. 6. All that is necessary is that men should not, by the preaching of the gospel, have images in their hearts. Therefore it is not necessary that they should be removed from our churches. Ans. We deny the antecedent; because God not only forbids us to have idols in our hearts; but also before our eyes, seeing that he does not merely desire us to be no idolaters, but to avoid even the appearance of idolatry, according as it is said; “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”(1 Thes. 5:22.) Again, such is the depravity of the human heart and its propensity to idolatry, that idols well-polished and adorned, being left before the eyes of men, very soon and readily become seated in the heart, and lead to false notions of religion, whatever may be said by some to the contrary. We may, therefore invert the argument, and reason thus: Images are to be rooted out of the hearts of men by the preaching of the gospel. Therefore they are also to be cast out of our churches: for the doctrine revealed to us from heaven does not merely command us not to worship and adore them, but likewise not to make, or have them. So much concerning the commandment itself.