Monuments of Idolatry | George Gillespie


Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. The duties required in the second commandment are…the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship (Acts 17:16-17; Ps. 16:4); and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry (Deut. 7:5; Isa. 30:22).

George Gillespie, Popish Ceremonies are Proved to be Idolatrous Because They are Monuments of Past Idolatry, from Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies, book III, ch. 2, pp. 150-155.

Ceremonies are unlawful, because they are monuments of by-past idolatry, which not being necessary to be retained, should be utterly abolished, because of their idolatrous abuse… All things and rites, which have been notoriously abused to idolatry, if they be not such, as either God or nature hath made to be of a necessary use, should be utterly abolished and purged away from Divine worship, in such sort that they may not be accounted nor used by us, as sacred things, or rites pertaining to the same…

As for the proposition I shall first explain it, and then prove it. I say, all things and rites, for they are alike forbidden, as I shall show. I say, which have been notoriously abused to idolatry, because if the abuse is not known, we are blameless for retaining the things and rites which have been abused. I say, if they are not such as either God or nature has made to be of a necessary use, because if they are of a necessary use, either through God’s institution, as the sacraments, or through nature’s law, as the opening of our mouths to speak (for when I am to preach or pray publicly, nature makes it necessary that I open my mouth to speak audibly and articularly), then the abuse cannot take away the use. I say, they may not be used by us as sacred things, rites pertaining to divine worship, because without the compass of worship they may be used to a natural or civil purpose. If I could get no other meat to eat than the consecrated host, which Papists idolatrise [idolize] in the circumgestation of it, I might lawfully eat it; and if I could get no other clothes to put on than the holy garments wherein a priest has said mass, I might lawfully wear them. Things abused to idolatry are only then unlawful when they are used no otherwise than religiously, and as things sacred.

The proposition thus explained is confirmed by these five proofs:

1. God’s own precept, “Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornaments of thy molten images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth, thou shalt say unto it; Get thee hence” (Isa. 30:22). The covering of the idol here spoken of, Caspar Sanctius rightly understands to be that, with which either likenesses of Gentile ceremony were put on, or gold-leaf with which images of wood were overlaid, or with which men about to sacrifice to idols were clothed; so that the least appurtenances [accessories] of idols are to be avoided. When the apostle Jude (Jude 23) would have us to hate garments spotted with the flesh, his meaning is, The very appearance either of evil or of sin, as he seems to hint by calling it by the name `garment,’ as our own Rollock has observed. If the very covering of an idol is forbidden, what shall be thought of other things which are not only spotted, but irrecoverably polluted with idols? Many such precepts were given to Israel, as “Ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves” (Ex. 34:13). “The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver nor gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God” (Deut. 7:25, 26). Read to the same purpose, Num. 33:52; Deut. 7:5; 12:2, 3.

2. Secondly, God has not only by his precepts commanded us to abolish all the relics of idolatry, but by his promises also manifested unto us how acceptable service this should be to him. There is a command, that the Israelites should destroy the Canaanites (Num. 33:52),and destroy all the idolatrous material of those people, to which commandment, says Junius, he subordinates his promise, namely, that the Lord would give them the promised land, and they should dispossess the inhabitants thereof (v. 53). Yea, there is a promise of remission and reconciliation to this work: “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up” (Isa. 27:9).

3. Thirdly, the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira are reproved for suffering the use of idolothites (Rev. 2:14-20), where the eating of things sacrificed to idols is condemned as idolatry and spiritual adultery, as Perkins notes. Paybody, therefore, is greatly mistaken when he thinks that meats sacrificed to idols, being the good creatures of God, were allowed by the Lord, out of the case of scandal, notwithstanding of idolatrous pollution; for the eating of things sacrificed to idols is reproved as idolatry (Rev. 2); and the eating of such things is condemned as a fellowship with devils (1 Cor. 10:20).

Now idolatry and fellowship with devils, I suppose, are unlawful, though no scandal should follow upon them. And whereas he thinks meats sacrificed to idols to be lawful enough out of the case of scandal, for this reason, because they are the good creatures of God, he should have considered better the Apostle’s mind concerning such idolothites; which Zanchius sets down thus: It is true, in themselves these are nothing; but they are something with respect to those for whom they are sacrificed, since we unite ourselves with those for whom they are sacrificed. Who are such? The demons!

For our better understanding of this matter, we must distinguish two sorts of idolothites, both which we find [in] 1 Cor. 10. Of the one, the Apostle speaks from the 14th verse of that chapter to the 23rd; of the other, from the 23rd verse to the end. This is Beza’s distinction in his Annotations on that chapter. Of the first sort, he delivers the Apostle’s mind thus: That as Christians have their holy banquets, which are badges of their communion both with Christ and among themselves; and as the Israelites, by their sacrifices, did seal their copulation [union] in the same religion, so also idolaters, join with their idols, or rather demons, in their religious banquets. So that this sort of idolothites were eaten in temples, and public solemn banquets, which were dedicated to the honor of idols (1 Cor. 8:10).

Cartwright shows that the Apostle is comparing the table of the Lord with the table of idolaters; whereupon it follows, that as we use the Lord’s table religiously, so that table of idolaters of which the Apostle speaks, had state in the idolatrous worship like that feast (Num. 25:3); which was celebrated in honor of God, says Calvin. This first sort of idolothites Pæreus calls the sacrifices of idols; and from such, he says, the Apostle dissuades [exhorts] by this argument, to take part in the banquets of idols is idolatry.

Of the second sort of idolothites, the Apostle begins to speak in verse 23. The Corinthians moved a question, `Whether they might lawfully eat things sacrificed to idols? at private dinners, says Pæreus. The Apostle resolves them that in a private banquet at home, they might eat them, except it were in the case of scandal; thus Beza. The first sort of idolothites are meant of [in] Rev. 2, as Beza there notes; and of this sort must we understand Augustine to mean whilst he says, that it were better to die of hunger, than to eat food sacrificed to idols. These sorts are simply and in themselves unlawful. And if meats sacrificed to idols be so unlawful, then much more such things and rites as have not only been sacrificed and destinated to the honor of idols (for this is but one kind of idolatrous abuse), but also of a long time publicly and solemnly employed in the worshipping of idols, and deeply defiled with idolatry; much more, I say, are they unlawful to be applied to God’s most pure and holy worship, and therein used by us publicly and solemnly, so that the world may see us conforming and joining ourselves unto idolaters

4. Fourthly, I fortify my proposition by approved examples. And, first, we find that Jacob (Gen. 35:4), did not only abolish out of his house the idols, but their ear-rings also, because they were superstitionis insignia [signs of superstition], as Calvin; res ad idololatriam pertinentes[pertaining to idolatry], as Junius; monilia idolis consecrata [necklaces consecrated to idols], as Pæreus calls them; all writing upon that place. We have also the example of Elijah (1 Kings 18:30): he would by no means offer upon Baal’s altar, but would needs repair the Lord’s altar, though this should hold the people the longer in expectation. This he did, in P. Martyr’s judgment, because he thought it a great indignity to offer sacrifice to the Lord upon the altar of Baal; whereupon Martyr reprehends those who in administering the true supper of the Lord, wish to use Papist garments and apparatus. Further, we have the example of Jehu, who is commended for the destroying of Baal out of Israel, with his image, his house, and his very vestments (2 Kings 10:22-28).

And what example more considerable than that of Hezekiah, who not only abolished such monuments of idolatry as at their first institution were but men’s invention, but broke down also the brazen serpent (though originally set up at God’s own command), when once he saw it abused to idolatry (2 Kings 18:4)? This deed of Hezekiah Pope Steven does greatly praise, and professes that it is set before us for our imitation, that when our predecessors have wrought some things which might have been without fault in their time, and afterward they are converted into error and superstition, they may be quickly destroyed by us who come after them. Farellus says, that princes and magistrates should learn by this example of Hezekiah what they should do with those significant rites of men’s devising which have turned to superstition. Yea, the Bishop of Winchester acknowledges, that whatsoever is taken up at the injunction of men, when it is drawn to superstition, comes under the compass of the brazen serpent, and is to be abolished; and he excepts nothing from this example but only things of God’s own prescribing.

Moreover, we have the example of good Josiah (2 Kings 23), for he did not only destroy the houses, and the high places of Baal, but his vessels also, and his grove, and his altars; yea, the horses and chariots which had been given to the sun. The example also of penitent Manasseh, who not only overthrew the strange gods, but their altars too (2 Chron. 23:15). And of Moses, the man of God, who was not content to execute vengeance on the idolatrous Israelites, except he should also utterly destroy the monument of their idolatry (Ex. 32:17-20). Lastly, we have the example of Daniel, who would not defile himself with a portion of the king’s meat (Dan. 1:8); because, says Junius, it was converted in idolatrous use; for at the banquets of the Babylonians and other Gentiles, there were first-fruits or `advance’ offerings which were offered to the deities; they used to consecrate their meat and drink to idols, and to invocate the names of their idols upon the same, so that their meat and drink fell under the prohibition of idolothites. This is the reason which is given by the most part of the interpreters for Daniel’s fearing to pollute himself with the king’s meat and wine; and it has also the approbation of a Papist.

5. Fifthly, our proposition is backed with a twofold reason, for things which have been notoriously abused to idolatry should be abolished: (1) Quia monent [That they remind]. (2) Quia movent [That they move]. First, then, they are monitory [admonitory], and preserve the memory of idols; monumentum [a memorial] in good things is both monimentum [record of admonition] and munimentum [fortification]; but monumentum in evil things (such as idolatry) is only monimentum, which monetmentem [warns the mind], to remember upon such things as ought not to be once named among saints, but should lie buried in the eternal darkness of silent oblivion. Those relics therefore of idolatry, by which succeeding generations, as though by a memorial, may be warned (as Wolphius rightly says), are to be quite defaced and destroyed, because they serve to honor the memory of cursed idols.

God would not have so much as the name of an idol to be remembered among his people, but commanded to destroy their names as well as themselves (Ex. 23:13; Deut. 12:3; Josh. 23:7); whereby we are admonished, as Calvin says, how detestable idolatry is before God, whose memory a repentant man wants to be erased so no trace of it may be seen afterward. Yea, he requires, that the memory be erased of all those things which were at anytime consecrated to idols. If Mordecai would not give his countenance (Esth. 3:2), nor do any reverence to a living monument of that nation whose name God had ordained to be blotted out from under heaven, much less should we give connivance, and far less countenance, but least of all reverence (Deut. 25:19), to the dead and dumb monuments of those idols which God has devoted to utter destruction, with all their naughty [bad, wicked] appurtenances, so that he will not have their names to be once mentioned or remembered again.

But, secondly, movent [they move] too; such idolotrous remainders move us to turn back to idolatry. For we have experience of their use, even after the superstitions might have been cast out, if there were left any reminder of them, not only would the memory of those very superstitions continue among men, but in the end to effect that they would resume that practice, says Wolphius; who hereupon thinks it behoveful [necessary] to destroy funditus [utterly] such vestiges of superstition, for this cause, if there were no more: so that both for those aspiring to resume idolatry, hope may be diminished, and for those attempting new things the opportunity and material may be forestalled.

God would have Israel to overthrow all idolatrous monuments, lest thereby they should be snared (Deut. 7:25; 12:30). And if the law command to cover a pit, lest an ox or an ass should fall therein (Ex. 21:33), shall we suffer a pit to be open wherein the precious souls of men and women, which all the world cannot ransom, are likely to fall? Did God command to make a battlement for the roof of a house, and that for the safety of men’s bodies (Dt. 22:8), and shall we not only not put up a battlement, or object some bar for the safety of men’s souls, but also leave the way slippery and full of snares? Read we not that the Lord, who knew what was in man, and saw how propense he was to idolatry, did not only remove out of his people’s way all such things as might any way allure or induce them to idolatry (even to the cutting off the names of the idols out of the land (Zec. 13:2)), but also hedge up their way with thorns that they might not find their paths, nor overtake their idol gods, when they should seek after them (Hos. 2:6, 7)? And shall we by the very contrary course not only not hedge up the way of idolatry with thorns, which may stop and stay such as have an inclination aiming forward, but also lay before them the inciting and enticing occasions which add to their own propension, such delectation as spurs forward with a swift facility?


8 thoughts on “Monuments of Idolatry | George Gillespie

  1. Samuel Rutherford’s reply to the objection that the names of the days of the week are also monuments of idolatry:

    “The names of dayes to signifie civill times and things, out of a religious state is necessary now: and the Holy Ghost doth use for civill signification such termes, as Mars-street to signifie civill and meerely historically such a place. And the Ship whose signe is Castor & Pollux, yet these were heathen names, and most superstitious, and cannot be used in a religious state. I grant, we may not term our Jehovah, Jupiter or Baal; nor Christ, Mercurius, though he be the word of Gods mind to us, for God teacheth us other words and language in his Word. The truth is, that a learned noble Lord said well and judiciously, ‘all the indifference (in the world) lyeth in our understandings, and the darkenesse thereof—but there is none in the things themselves, or actions, which are still either unlawfull or necessarie.’ And this is most true in actions morall and humane.”

    The Divine Right of Church Government, “A Dispute Touching Scandal and Christian Liberty” p. 54.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] All relics and monuments of idols; for these, after the idols themselves are once abolished, must be erased out of all memory. “Ye shall make no mention of the name of other gods, neither shall it be heard out of thy mouth” (Ex. 23:13). “And ye shall pollute the covering of the images of silver, and the rich ornament of the images of gold, and cast them away as a menstruous cloth, and thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence” (Isa. 30:22).  […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s