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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 10:8

8. But they are altogether brutish and foolish; the stock is a doctrine of vanities.

8. Et in uno stulti sunt et fatui sunt; eruditio vanitatum lignum est.

The Prophet shews here, in one sentence, that the wisest in the whole world could be proved guilty of the greatest madness, or of a twofold folly, because they willingly worshipped the trunks of trees, and they worshipped stones; for Under one kind he includes the other. There is no one, he says, however intelligent, who does not approve of the superstitions of the people, who does not bend the knee before a wood or a stone. There have been, indeed, a few in the world who ridiculed such sottishhess, but no one dared openly to condemn it, and no one introduced anything better. And even the Platonics hold that the Greeks had not without reason invented gods like men; and they say that there was not so much judgment among the barbarians as to form such ideas of the gods as were suitable to their nature. However this may have been, it is evident that the grossest superstitions of the nations were ever approved by all their wise men.

The Prophet then shews that there was no need of a long discussion to discover the vanity of the wise; In one, in one thing, he says; and there is emphasis in this word, when he says, In one thing they are foolish and fatuitous; for there is to be understood a contrast, as though he had said, |I will not here join together many heads of accusation against them to expose their folly, one thing is sufficient; this one sentence is enough to condemn them, -- that wood is the teaching of vanities.| We have stated what the Prophet means,meven that all the wise, who together with the vulgar worshipped gods made of wood and stone, were very foolish: but we must notice the import of the expression, The teaching of vanities is the wood. It is, as we have said, an instance of a part being put for the whole; for under |wood| Jeremiah includes statues of stone, and others made of different materials; as though he had said, |Every form or effigy, representing a god, is the teaching of vanities.| He takes this as granted; and yet there had been, as we have lately stated, a great and fierce contention among the wise men on this subject; but the Prophet deigned not to contend or seriously to dispute with them, for the thing itself was sufficiently evident, that is, that nothing can be more absurd than to worship the trunk of a tree or a stone.

Now we may from this passage draw a general truth, -- that when men seek to represent God under any visible form, they give way to the delusions and impostures of Satan. Well known is that sentence of Gregory to Serenus, the Bishop of Marseilles, when that good man cast down the images which he saw led to ungodly worship, and purged the churches of Marseilles from such pollutions: Gregory, though a pious man, yet wrote very foolishly -- that Serenus acted rightly and wisely in forbidding images to be worshipped, but that he yet acted inconsiderately by emptying the churches of them; for |they are,| he said, |the books of the simple:| this is the conclusion of his epistle. And it is ever in the mouth of Papists -- that images are the books of the simple. At the same time I would they retained this truth avowed by Gregory, that they ought not to be worshipped. They worship and adore them, as it is well known, in the place of God. But as I have already said, that answer of Gregory was puerile and foolish: for we hear what the Prophet says, -- that in wood and stone and in every outward representation there is vanity, as Habakkuk also in the second chapter, where He speaks of idols, calls an idol the teacher of vanity. Every statue, every image, by which foolish men seek to represent God, is a teacher of falsehood. So our Prophet says, -- that the teaching of vanities is found in all statues, because God is thus misrepresented; for what can be in a wood or stone that is like the infinite power of God, or his incomprehensible essence and majesty? Men, therefore, offer a serious affront to God when they thus deform him, as Paul also in Romans 1:25, says, -- that the truth was thus changed into falsehood, that is, when he is supposed to have anything like to what external and dead figures have; as the same Paul further reasons in Acts 17:29, when he says, Do ye think that God is like to wood or stone, to silver or gold? And his argument was at that time suitable; for he had to do with heafilens: he did not refer to the law, though he might have quoted a passage in Deuteronomy, where God reminded the people that he so appeared to them that they saw no similitude; and he might have referred to the testimonies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and of the other Prophets; but as he addressed heathens, even the Athenians, he says, |One of your poets has said, that we are the offspring of God:| if we are then, He says, the offspring of God, do ye not draw God down from his celestial throne, when ye seek to delineate him according to your fancies, and suppose that he lies hid in wood or stone, in silver and gold? For some life appears at least in men, they are endued with mind and intelligence, and so far they bear some likeness to God: but a dead wood and stone, which are void of sense, -- gold also and silver, which are metals without reason, which have no life, -- what affinity, He says, can these have to God? This subject might be more copiously handled; but I merely explain what the Prophet means, and also shew the import of his doctrine, and how it may be applied for general instruction. It now follows --

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