IBL02: Second Commandment (Craig Press)
*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.
R.J. Rushdoony: 00:03 Exodus 20, verses one through six. We begin this morning the introduction to the Second Commandment, the lawful approach to God. Exodus 20:1-6. “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is 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.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 01:17 The First Commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” prohibits idolatry in the broad sense of the term. Idolatry is a very broad term and every commandment, in some sense, deals with idolatry. For example, “Honor thy father and thy mother” definitely means do not worship them, and ancestor worship was common in Moses’ day. “Thou shalt not covet.” Covetousness is defined by St. Paul in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 as idolatry. We can go on and cite the aspects of all Ten Commandments, which touch on idolatry.
R.J. Rushdoony: 02:10 The First Commandment, “None other Gods before me,” prohibits idolatry in the broad, general sense. In the Second Commandment, idolatry is specifically forbidden. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of any thing.” It is specifically forbidden with respect to worship.
R.J. Rushdoony: 02:41 Now, in analyzing the Second Commandment, in broad terms, before we go into the details of the laws with respect to it on subsequent weeks, we must say first of all that the liberal use of idols is strictly forbidden. This is emphatically stated not only in the commandment, but in parallel legislation: Leviticus 26:1-2, Leviticus 19:4, Exodus 20:22-26, Deuteronomy 4:15-24, Deuteronomy 11:16-17, Deuteronomy 20:7-15, and a number of other passages.
R.J. Rushdoony: 03:32 Now, this commandment does not forbid artwork within the church. Some have so read it, but it definitely does not. The priest’s garments, for example, had all kinds of embroidered work including the picturing of pomegranates. There were two cherubim of gold on the Ark and the Mercy Seat, and a variety of other things were depicted in the Tabernacle in the sanctuary. The point, however, is that while these were used to declare the glory of God, and that his sanctuary might have the beauty of holiness, these things cannot be used as a mediation or a way to God as helps to worship. Man needs no aid to worship other than God’s provision.
R.J. Rushdoony: 04:39 Now, the rationale of idolatry is a very logical one. For example, if we go to the exponents of Hinduism, we find a very rational and intelligent argument for idolatry. They will tell us, for example, that the idols or images in the Hindu temples that have six arms are depicting symbolically for the limited minds of the Hindu peasantry the omnipotence of God. Similarly, the idols which show several eyes or many eyes in the forehead of the image, show the omniscience of God, that God is all-seeing. And so on.
R.J. Rushdoony: 05:36 The rationale that is given by the Hindu philosophers of their idolatry is thoroughly intelligent and thoroughly logical, but it has one weakness. It is entirely contrary to the will of God, to the word of God. It is not permitted by his word. It constitutes man’s way to God, so it is a reversal of the entire point of worship, the entire point of our relationship to God. If man establishes the terms of his approach to God, then man is in a position to say the terms of which God is to bless him. He lays down the law then to God because he makes the way.
R.J. Rushdoony: 06:33 It is not surprising, therefore, that in Hinduism, where man says, “We will worship God according to our imagination in ways that we deem are intelligent and logical,” they end up also stating the terms of the morality in terms which they can please God. And so you have in Hinduism, equally acceptable, total sexual license, total immorality, as one way to God, and total asceticism as another way to God. In other words, every man can set his own pattern of worship and his own pattern of morality, and the result is practically moral anarchism. It is not surprising that India is a symbol of moral depravity. Its rationale is logical, but it is still totally false.
R.J. Rushdoony: 07:44 This, then, brings us to the second aspect of the Second Commandment. The lawful approach to God is entirely of God’s ordination because God is sovereign. He gives the terms of man’s approach for moral law, the ceremonial law. Every aspect of man’s approach to God is governed by God because God is sovereign. Man does not dictate the terms of their relationship. God does in its entirety. A third aspect of the Second Commandment is this that even as literal idolatry is forbidden. So when we see this commandment developed in detail in Leviticus 26, the entire chapter, literal blessings and curses ensue on obedience or disobedience. This means, therefore, that true religion cannot be simply a matter of voluntary choice for society. The life of the society rests upon its religion. Obedience is a question of life or death. Therefore, we must say in terms of Leviticus 26 that social health requires the prohibition of idolatry. According to the Bible, in Deuteronomy 17:2-7, it is a capital offense. It is treason. Idolatry was punishable by death.
R.J. Rushdoony: 09:50 Now, the laws of humanism, which ultimately say that man is the source of his own law, lead either to do what thou wilt, anarchism, or totalitarianism. When you deny an absolute law order and you refuse to affirm the religion which is the foundation of law order, then you are inviting moral and social anarchy.
R.J. Rushdoony: 10:24 I was interested yesterday to see a leaflet put out by the Peace and Freedom Party, the Riverside Country Branch, circulated widely on a campus of the University of California. The leaflet calls for voting for Eldridge Cleaver for President. Now, if the name Eldridge Cleaver is not familiar, it is because you’re not too well-acquainted with the leadership of the Black Panther Party. Now, in part, this leaflet reads, “Now, consider Eldridge Cleaver. His American history can be quickly told. First, he was invisible and irrelevant, a slum kid in Little Rock, a ghetto expendable in Watts. Then he was a local nuisance, in 1954, when he was busted for the first time, aged 18, for smoking pot. Then he became a savage menace. That was when he was jailed for the second time in 1958 for disturbing the beauty sleep of some suburban Los Angeles’ white goddesses. Later, when in his own beautiful way, and against incredible odds, he achieved his own distinctive manhood, what was he then? A political prisoner in a nation that pretends not even to know the meaning of these words. And today, today, he is a candidate for President of the United States.” And so on.
R.J. Rushdoony: 12:07 Now, notice the utter contempt with which his record of rape is cited, “disturbing the beauty sleep of some of suburban Los Angeles’ white goddesses.” How dare they complain? The total moral anarchism implicit in this leaflet, passed out by white intellectuals. Why not? If there is no absolute law, if there is no God, there is no right and wrong in any absolute sense. And who is a better candidate then for President than a man who defies totally in all his living God’s moral law? Moral anarchism is the consequence of idolatry. And so it is that we do have the society we have today.
R.J. Rushdoony: 13:07 A few years ago, one of England’s great jurists, in a lecture, made a number of very surprising statements, but indicative of the fact that this man was beginning to be seriously disturbed by the moral anarchy, which was overwhelming his country and the entire world. Sir Patrick Devlin, in his lecture on jurisprudence, declared, and I quote, “I think it is clear that the criminal law as we know it is based upon moral principle. In a number of crimes its function is simply to enforce a moral principle and nothing else. The law, both criminal and civil, claims to be able to speak about morality and immorality generally. Where does it get its authority to do this and how does it settle the moral principles which it enforces? Undoubtedly, as a matter of history, it derives both from Christian teaching. But I think that the strict logician is right when he says that the law can no longer rely on doctrines in which citizens are entitled to disbelieve. It is necessary therefore to look for some other source.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 14:27 What Devlin is saying is this that the law because it enunciates moral principles rests on religious doctrines. [inaudible 00:14:39] people can disbelieve the religious doctrines, if they are given legal freedom to disbelieve that, then they are actually given legal principles whereby to disbelieve the law because the law rests on these doctrines, and if the doctrines are not upheld by law, then the moral principles are not upheld. And what do you have? You have either moral anarchy, or the need to believe some other doctrine. The state then must say you must all believe in humanism, or you must all believe in Marxism, or Fabianism. Some new doctrine must be required by law then of everyone or you will have no law.
R.J. Rushdoony: 15:37 And so Devlin concludes, “A man who concedes that morality is necessary to society must support the use of those instruments without which morality cannot be maintained. The two instruments are those of teaching, which is doctrine, and of enforcement, which is the law. If morals could be taught simply on the basis that they are necessary to society, there would be no social need for religion. It could be left as a purely personal matter, but morality cannot be taught in that way. Loyalty is not taught in that way either. No society has yet solved the problem of how to teach morality without religion. So the law must base itself on Christian morals and to the limit of its ability enforce them, not simply because they are the morals of most of us, nor simply because they are the morals which are taught by the established church, on these points the law recognizes the right to dissent, but for the compelling reason that without the help of Christian teaching the law will fail.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 16:47 And so, Devlin says the matter is simply this. You must either teach the doctrine or you cannot enforce the law. You must therefore have a religious education of the people. They’ve got to believe the doctrine, or they cannot live the law. And if you want the old law, he says, you’ve got to teach Christian doctrine and require it, or else you’re going to end up with a new doctrine, which you’re going to require and teach because you cannot enforce the law otherwise.
R.J. Rushdoony: 17:29 Of course, this is exactly what we have done. Today, we are progressively teaching a new doctrine, humanism, in all the public schools. Increasingly, we are pushing out the old doctrine. It is banned. The Bible is banned from the public schools, and ultimately, it will be banned from the whole of society. After all, how can you have the new law, if you permit another law, the Christian law to be taught? If there is a law, the doctrine behind the law has to be required. This is the point Devlin is making, and this is the point he is saying of everything in modern society. It is not accidental, therefore, that the Bible is abolished from the schools, and any form of humanism, whether it be liberal humanism or Marxist humanism, is legal in the schools. It is the new doctrine. The new doctrine of the new law. It is mandatory in the schools and soon it will be mandatory in all of society, unless there is a change.
R.J. Rushdoony: 19:00 The laws of a society cannot raise a people above the level of its faith and morality. A people cannot legislate themselves above their own level. If their faith is humanism, they will reveal the law structure of humanism. Every man his own law, doing that which is right in his own eyes. If men hold to a Christian faith, then they can establish godly law and order.
R.J. Rushdoony: 19:38 Therefore, the question is basic. What constitutes treason in a society? What constitutes treason? Is it idolatry or is it disloyalty to the state? Now, this was a problem that concerned the founders of the Constitution and, therefore, they tried, far more than any other country, to define treason very narrowly, as giving aid and comfort to the enemy. But what happens even with this limited definition if the enemy, as is increasingly the state, becomes the federal government? Can you define treason then in terms of the state? Must not your definition of treason be basically theologically, both to protect the state and its law order? Thus idolatry is defined as treason by scripture.
R.J. Rushdoony: 20:59 Fifth, idolatry, however, is also broadly defined. This, I pointed out earlier when I cited Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 when it speaks of covetousness as idolatry. Idolatry involves any and every way by man to be guided by his own word rather than God’s law-word. So that whenever we try to approach God on our own terms, or to deal with God, to have a relationship with God on our own terms, we are guilty of idolatry. Now, we all do this very often piously and, we believe, very devoutly.
R.J. Rushdoony: 21:54 One of the most common ways this is done is by parents as they deal with wayward children, or husbands with wayward wives, and wives with wayward husbands, and they fail to move in terms of Godly law or discipline. I’ve heard many a parent or a spouse say, “I am praying for his conversion or for her conversion,” and, “All things are possible with God.” But what does that mean? All things, indeed, are possible with God, but we cannot move in terms of God’s possibilities, but in terms of the realities, in terms of God’s law. God does not ever tell us or give us permission to move in terms of what is possible with him, but always in terms of what his word requires, what his word declares. Only in terms of that, do we have permission to move.
R.J. Rushdoony: 23:04 To move in terms of our hopes is to substitute our hope for God’s word, and is to be rebellious. As Samuel said to Saul, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” The only lawful approach to God, the only way of having any relationship to God is the way he provides, and that way is summed up in the person of Jesus Christ, who kept the law-word of God in perfection, and upheld it, every jot and tittle of the law. Any other way is idolatry, even when it is presented in the name of the Lord.
R.J. Rushdoony: 24:13 “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” And that graven image we can make not only out of wood, stone, and gold, but out of our hopes and out of our dreams. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Man must live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
R.J. Rushdoony: 24:49 Let us pray.
R.J. Rushdoony: 24:49 Our Lord and our God, we give thee thanks that thou hast provided the lawful way. We thank thee, our Father, that by thy grace, thou hast summoned us to the way. We pray, our Father, that day by day we may worship thee, not in idolatry, but in faith and obedience. In Jesus Christ our Lord.
R.J. Rushdoony: 25:28 We pray, our Father, that thou wouldst use us to recall this nation to its foundations in thy word. That thou wouldst cleanse this people of idolatry and make us, again, a God-fearing land, a people responsible, godly, law-abiding, faithful unto thy word, and rejoicing in thy so great salvation. Bless us to this purpose in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.
Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder