Thomas Watson on the Image of God

“Watson was one of the most concise, racy, illustrative and suggestive of those eminent divines who made the Puritan age the Augustan period of evangelical literature. There is a happy union of sound doctrine, heart- searching experience and practical wisdom throughout all his works… His writings are his best memorial; perhaps he needed no other, and therefore providence forbade the superfluity.”

~Charles H. Spurgeon

The writings of Thomas Watson (1620-1686), a Puritan minister described as an “English nonconformist,” compiled and adapted by Patti M. Hummel in a devotional titled Glorifying God (2009) have served my soul well, feeding me what I could not have possibly prepared on my own.  Here, Watson writes on the image of God and calls into question our ability to and need for graven images of God.  He writes,

“As God is a (S)pirit, we are not to make graven images to represent Him.  ‘The Lord spake to you out of the midst of fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude’ (Deuteronomy 4.12).  God being a Spirit is imperceptible, so (God) cannot be discerned.  How then can there be any resemblance made of Him?  ‘To whom then will ye liken God?  Or what likeness will ye compare unto him’ (Isaiah 40.18)?  How can you paint the Deity?  Can we make an image of what we never saw?  Ye saw no similitude.  It is folly to endeavor to make a picture of the soul, because it is a spiritual thing or to paint angels because they are spirits. … God is also an omnipresent Spirit, present in all places.  Therefore, being everywhere present, it is abuse to worship Him by an image.  It is not a foolish thing to bow down to the king’s picture when the king is present?  So it is to worship God’s image when God Himself is present.”

Jesus the Christ is described in Colossians 1.15 as the “image of the invisible God” and yet the disciples did not spend time detailing his physical characteristics.  We do not know the height or weight of Christ, the facial features of Christ, the color of his eyes, the shape of his eyes.  Their writings do not include illustrations.  And though much has been assumed by and added to John the Revelator’s description of Jesus, all of the depictions are cultural and/ or racially motivated and do not depict the exact description given by him.  Johns says, “Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.  His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; white as snow; his eyes like a flame of fire; his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace and his voice was like the sound of many waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars and from his mouth came a sharp two- edged sword and his face was like the sun shining with full force(The Revelation 1.12-16, emphasis added).

We’ve been commanded not to make graven images of God and we do not have a description upon which to base our re-creations of God’s and likewise Christ’s image.  Watson has reminded us of the futility of attempting to create an image of an invisible God who is a Spirit.  So, who or what exactly are we attempting to worship and why?

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