Pictures and Images of Christ

From the Study:

The tendency of the human heart to represent God by something that appeals to the senses is the origin of all idolatry. It leads directly to image-worship. At first there may be no desire to worship the thing itself, but it inevitably ends in that. As Dr. MacLaren says: “Enlisting the senses as allies of the spirit is risky work. They are apt to fight for their own band when they once begin, and the history of all symbolical and ceremonial worship shows that the experiment is much more likely to end in sensualizing religion than in spiritualizing sense.”

But some one says — “I find pictures are a great help to me, and images. I know that they are not themselves sacred, but they help me in my devotions to fix my thoughts on God.”

When Dr. Trumbull was in Northfield, he used an illustration that is a good answer to this. He said, “Suppose a young man were watching from a window for his absent mother’s return, with a wish to catch the first glimpse of her approaching face. Would he be wise or foolish in putting up a photograph of her on the window-frame before him, as a help to bear her in as he looks for her coming? As there can be no doubt about the answer to that question, so there can be no doubt that we can best come into communion with God by closing our eyes to everything that can be seen with the natural eye, and opening the eyes of our spirit to the sight of God the Spirit.”

I would a great deal sooner have five minutes communion with Christ than spend years before pictures and images of Him. Whatever comes between my soul and my Maker is not a help to me, but a hindrance. God has given different means of grace by which we can approach Him. Let us use these, and not seek for other things that He has distinctly forbidden.

Dr. Dale says that in his college days he had an engraving of our Lord hanging over his mantlepiece. “The calmness, the dignity, the gentleness, and the sadness of the face represented the highest conceptions which I had in those days of the human presence of Christ. I often looked at it, and seldom without being touched by it. I discovered in the course of a few mouths that the superstitious sentiments were gradually clustering about it, which are always created by the visible representations of the Divine. The engraving was becoming to me the shrine of God manifest in the flesh, and I understood the growth of idolatry. The visible symbol is at first a symbol and nothing more; it assists thought; it stirs passion. At last it is identified with the God whom it represents. If, every day, I bow before a crucifix in prayer, if I address it as though it were Christ, though I know it is not, I shall come to feel for it a reverence and love which are of the very essence of idolatry.”

Did you ever stop to think that the world has not a single picture of Christ that has been handed down to us from His disciples? Who knows what He was like? The Bible does not tell us how He looked, except in one or two isolated general expressions as when it says — “His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” We don’t know anything definite about His features, the color of His hair and eyes, and the other details that would help to give a true representation. What artist can tell us? He left no keepsakes to His disciples. His clothes were seized by the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. Not a solitary thing was left to be handed down among His followers. Doesn’t it look as if Christ left no relics lest they should be held sacred and worshipped?

History tells us further that the early Christians shrank from making pictures and statues of any kind of Christ. They knew Him as they had seen Him after His resurrection, and had promises of His continued presence that pictures could not make any more real.

I have seen very few pictures of Christ that do not repel me more or less. I sometimes think that it is wrong to have pictures of Him at all.

Speaking of the crucifix Dr. Dale says; “It makes our worship and prayer unreal. We are adoring a Christ who does not exist. He is not on the cross now, but on the throne. His agonies are passed forever. He has risen from the dead. He is at the right hand of God. If we pray to a dying Christ, we are praying not to Christ Himself, but to a mere remembrance of Him. The injury which the crucifix has inflicted on the religious life of Christendom, in encouraging a morbid and unreal devotion, is absolutely incalculable. It has given us a dying Christ instead of a living Christ, a Christ separated from us by many centuries instead of a Christ nigh at hand.”


“You cannot see Him through chinks of ceremonialism; or through the blind eyes of erring man; or by images graven with art and man’s device; or in cunningly devised fables of artificial and perverted theology. Nay, seek Him in His own Word, in the revelation of Himself which He gives to all who walk in His ways. So you will be able to keep that admonition of the last word of all the New Testament revelation: ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols.'”

From this article:

But whilst not a few of the Christians were beginning to adopt some of the trivial rites of paganism, they continued firmly to protest against its more flagrant corruptions. They did not hesitate to assail its gross idolatry with bold and biting sarcasms. “Stone, or wood, or silver,” said they, “becomes a god when man chooses that it should, and dedicates it to that end. With how much more truth do dumb animals, such as mice, swallows, and kites, judge of your gods? They know that your gods feel nothing; they gnaw them, they trample and sit on them; and if you did not drive them away, they would make their nests in the very mouth of your deity.” [319:1] The Church of the first three centuries rejected the use of images in worship, and no pictorial representations of the Saviour were to be found even in the dwellings of the Christians. They conceived that such visible memorials could convey no idea whatever of the ineffable glory of the Son of God; and they held that it is the duty of His servants to foster a spirit of devotion, not by the contemplation of His material form, but by meditating on His holy and divine attributes as they are exhibited in creation, providence, and redemption. So anxious were they to avoid even the appearance of anything like image-worship, that when they wished to mark articles of dress or furniture with an index of their religious profession, they employed the likeness of an anchor, or a dove, or a lamb, or a cross, or some other object of an emblematical character. [319:2] “We must not,” said they, “cling to the sensuous but rise to the spiritual. The familiarity of daily sight lowers the dignity of the divine, and to pretend to worship a spiritual essence through earthly matter, is to degrade that essence to the world of sense.” [319:3] Even so late as the beginning of the fourth century the practice of displaying paintings in places of worship was prohibited by ecclesiastical authority. A canon which bears upon this subject, and which was enacted by the Council of Elvira held about A.D.305, is more creditable to the pious zeal than to the literary ability of the assembled fathers. “We must not,” said they, “have pictures in the church, lest that which is worshipped and adored be painted on the walls.” [320:1]


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