18. They are vanity, the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish.
18. Vanitas ipsi, opus illusionum, tempore visitationis ipsorum peribunt.
As he had called idols a lie, so now in the same sense he declares that they were vanity, even because they were nothing real, but vain pomps, or phantoms, or masks; and he afterwards expresses himself more clearly by saying that they were the work of illusions. But he does not seem to take the word Myetet, toroim, in a passive but in an active sense. He then means that it was a deceptive work, which was a snare to men; as though he had said, that they were the work of imposture, or impostures.
This passage, and such as are like it, ought to be carefully noticed; because the Papists seem to themselves to find a way to escape when they confess their images are not to be worshipped, but that they are books for the unlearned. They who are moderate in their views have recourse to this evasion. This was once suggested by Gregory, but very foolishly; and they who wish to appear more enlightened than others under the papacy repeat the same saying, that images ought to be tolerated, because they are the books of the ignorant. But what does the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, declare here, and also by the Prophet Habakkuk? that they are the work of impostures, even mere snares or traps. (Habakkuk 2:18.) All, then, who seek instruction from statues or pictures gain nothing, but become entangled in the snares of Satan, and find nothing but impostures. And doubtless, whatever draws us away from the contemplation of the only true God, ought justly to be deemed an imposture or a deception; for who by the sight of a picture or a statue can form a right idea of the true God? Is not the truth respecting him thus turned into falsehood? and is not his glory thus debased? For we have then only the true knowledge of God, when we regard him to be God alone, when we ascribe to him an infinite essence which fills heaven and earth, when we acknowledge him to be a spirit, when, in short, we know that he alone, properly speaking, exists, and that heaven and earth, and everything they contain, exist through his power. Can a stone or wood teach us these things? No; but on the contrary, I am led by the stone to imagine that God is fixed and confined to a certain place. And then the life of God, does it appear in the stone or in the wood? Besides, what likeness has a body, and that lifeless, to an infinite spirit? It. is, then, not without reason that he complains, as it is recorded by Isaiah, that he is thus wholly degraded:
"To whom have ye made me like? for I contain the earth in my fist, and ye confine me to wood or stone." (Isaiah 40:12, 18)
If, in a word, the minds of men received no other error from idols than the thought that God is corporeal, what can be more preposterous?
We hence see that the Prophet does not here say without cause, that all idols are vanity, and the work of imposture or deception.
He lastly adds, that all fictitious gods would perish at the time of visitation. In this clause he exhorts the faithful to patience, and in a manner sustains their minds, that they might not despond; for it was not a small trial to see the monarchy of Babylon flourishing, when yet it had no other protection than that of idols. As, then, the Babylonians thought flint fictitious gods were the guardians and defenders of their safety, and that through them they had subdued all their neighbors, they became thus more and more addicted to their superstitions, the reward of which they regarded all their wealth and power. Inasmuch as the minds of the godly could not have been otherwise than shaken by such a trial, the Prophet here supports them, and reminds them to wait for the time of visitation when the idols were to perish. However, a reference may be intended to the Babylonians as well as to the idols, when he says, They shall perish at the time of their visitation, that is, when the Chaldeans shall be visited. But it is probable that the time of visitation refers here especially to idols, because the Prophet had spoken before of all the wicked and reprobate. However this may be, we understand that his object was to show that however prosperous idolaters might be for a time, yet the hand of God was to be patiently borne until the suitable time came, which is here called the time of visitation. And the metaphor refers to the notions of men, for we think that God dwells idly in heaven and turns away his eyes from us, while he spares the ungodly. Hence the Prophet calls the judgment of God a visitation, because he then shows really, by evident proofs, that he does not disregard the affairs of men. It now follows, --