Many of us do not realize what Sister White had to say about pictures (whether artwork or photos), particularly of Jesus and the things of heaven. Thus, we have largely failed to realize just how much we are sinning in this area. Satan’s deceptions are subtle, brethren. We need this inspired counsel to anoint our eyes with eye salve, that we may see clearly our danger. Especially in this season of repentance and revival do we need to recognize the little idols we still need to cast from our hearts to make room for God’s Spirit. So, without further ado, please carefully and prayerfully read these important quotes on why Jesus and heaven are best left undrawn.
Inspired Counsel Regarding the Use of Pictures
Our Books Should Be Free of Display
I have written something in regard to the matter of picture making, especially for our books. The large investment of means for this purpose has been decidedly wrong. It is not pictures that we should feel a burden to present to the people; it is the truth, the subject matter, that they need. The work of illustrating is a constant temptation to tie up money. The very ones who need the books and would appreciate them cannot obtain them because of their high price…
It is too late, altogether too late, to depend upon the expensive covers of a book, or its abundant illustrations, for its sale. It is enough, without any explanation, to say that God has not inspired this enthusiasm regarding illustrations. Had I the Desire of Ages to publish now, the showing would be entirely different. The books that the people need should be issued free from all display. The saving of the thousands of dollars expended in illustrations would make it possible for the books to be sold at a price that would enable many to obtain them. The Lord has not inspired this enthusiasm…
The illustrations will not and are not doing the great amount of good that it is represented they will do. There are some who would be attracted by a picture, but there are many who care naught for these things. The Lord calls upon His people to maintain their principles by issuing plain, inexpensive books, which contain the very choicest matter. Then the Lord will use His influence to place these books in the hands of those whom they will benefit.
More liberality must be shown in giving our publications to those who would not otherwise obtain them. Now as never before we should humble our hearts before God and come into the closest relationship with Jesus Christ. We should move and work understandingly. Make no large investments in illustrations and in expensive covers. Unless we work upon correct principles, the human plans that now appear so flattering to human minds in their estimation of success will, when presented before them in the books of heaven, show results which will surprise those who are now striving for the superiority in the appearance of their literature.
I have this to say: It is best to be as true as steel to pure, clean, holy principles, without thinking of the consequences as far as human calculations are concerned. The whole world is twisted and warped out of God’s order, and we must not consult the tastes, appetites, or the opinions of those who have not wisdom and judgment from on high, who cannot discern the binding claims of God’s holy law, who fail to see that it is for their present and eternal interest to honor God and keep His commandments.
We must not shape our work to meet the extravagance existing in the outlay of means for multitudinous illustrations which do not add to the sale of the book, as artists and canvassers would represent. It should be kept before all our publishing houses that God does not sanction such expenditure of means. We want to present the truth in humble simplicity, letting it bear its own savor of life unto life…
Let the divine Spirit work to produce the impression God would have made upon mind and heart. Christ is our efficiency. All the pictures of the greatest artist in the world can never, never do the work that needs to be done for the soul, the work of the Holy Spirit, which convinces of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
The Hebrew nation had before them the type of a Saviour, who was to be crucified for the sins of the world. Thus Christ was seen in figure as the great offering. But the need of this instruction ceased when type met antitype in the death of the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.
Christ ascended on high, to take His position as our Advocate in the heavenly courts. Having reached His throne, He sent His Holy Spirit, as He had promised, in response to the prayers of His disciples. The right impressions made on the human heart are made by this Spirit. The expensive covers on a book, or the expensive illustrations in it, do not accomplish the work in the conversion of souls that we are inclined to think they do. We must depend upon the working of the Holy Spirit upon human minds. Pictures are supposed to do this work, but those who think thus will be disappointed.
The Holy Spirit is to be prayed for, trusted in, believed in. Humble, fervent prayer will do more in behalf of the circulation of our books than all the expensive pictures in the world. More than this, God is dishonored by our putting trust in these things. The Lord would have His people come to their senses. The Holy Spirit will be poured upon the church in strong, heavenly currents if God’s people will believe, if they will turn their attention to that which is true, and living, and real…
God has great and grand resources for man to lay hold of, and in the most simple manner will be developed the working of the divine agencies. External exhibitions, such as pictures which show the skill of the artist, have become a snare to entrap publishers and authors. To use the money, which is so scarce at this time, in trying to portray sacred things of heaven in figure does not do the work. “No,” said the Great Teacher, “my Spirit alone is competent to teach and convict of sin. Externals only make a temporary impression upon human minds.” The only power that will succeed in transforming the soul is contact with the Holy Spirit. The heart must be convicted of sin. As never before men are to be co-laborers with Jesus Christ. He has all claim on the human heart.
Said the Advocate, In man’s behalf I will enforce truth on the conscience, and men shall be My witnesses, going into all the world, asserting My claims on his time, his money, his intellect. All these I purchased on the cross of Calvary. External representations, such as pictures, cannot do the work. Use My entrusted talents to proclaim the truth in its simplicity with pen and voice. TIME has been occupied and the light has been hindered from coming to the world, in the effort to make the simple but grand truths of the gospel more impressive. That is not the work of human agencies, but the work of the divine power. You place hindrances in the way by your elaborate preparations. Means thus used should be invested in sending the gospel to all parts of the world, awakening burdened souls to inquire, “What shall I do to be saved?”
There is no force which can compel the freedom of the mind. And yet the Holy Spirit has a compelling power through the convincing arguments of truth. Wherever the truth shall be proclaimed in the spirit of meekness, souls will repent and be converted to salvation.
The external advantages which should be secured are humble chapels, where the people can worship God in the beauty of holiness. The Lord calls for reforms. God’s wisdom is to be extolled, man’s wisdom laid in the dust.
— Letter 133, 1899
Mixing the Sacred with the Common
I seemed to be in an assembly where many things were being considered. By several who were present the question was asked, Why is there so little prosperity attending our institutions? Why is there such a great dearth of means?
Many resolutions had been made which had never been carried out, and there seemed to be a heavy burden upon us all. Then a voice said to us, “You have not obeyed the voice of God. In Leviticus you have Christ’s words recorded for your direction in various lines of work, but the principles of God’s Word have been disregarded.” To the ancient Israelites God said, “If thou make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not make it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.”
We are not to make things to represent heavenly things, for by so doing we mingle the sacred with the common. The Lord is not pleased with these things.
An extravagant outlay of means has been made for illustrations. Thousands of dollars have been expended which has not tended to glorify God. A large number of illustrations in a book will cause some persons to purchase it who would otherwise not take it; but the benefit derived is not equal to the disadvantages.
God can make pictures upon the mind’s eye more beautiful and correct than can be made by the greatest artist who has ever presented to the world a representation of heavenly things.
A strife for supremacy has come in the line of picture making. Men have crowded into books the productions of the human fancy which is of little worth. This state of things has been largely brought about by the canvassers’ representations. These many illustrations do not serve to convert souls but to feed the imagination with food that gives no real spirituality or life. Thousands of dollars have been expended for that which is not bread.
— Letter 137, 1899
Inspired Imagination Better than Illustrations
In order to reach unbelievers, a manifestation of outward display is seen among our people; but this display will not accomplish the good that is represented. Our books are being filled with expensive pictures, and this makes them too costly to give away, and too costly for those persons to buy who need them most. The matter of illustrating is being carried to extremes. The extra money put into the cover of a book, or into pictures, will not convert the soul to the truths that are contained in the book. That so much space should be occupied with pictures is not in the order of God. There have been long delays in the publication of our works, waiting for illustrations—delays that could be ill-afforded, and which have kept from the people the truths which they should have had.
The canvassers are not obtaining that healthful experience in their work which they should have. In their handling of the books they are being educated to present before the public the beautiful cover and many illustrations rather than the points of truth contained in the books. In doing this they are patterning after the world, and they fail to make God their dependence and trust. “What is the chaff to the wheat?” God asks.
The artist may do his best to represent the things his eyes have never seen, but his representations are so far beneath the reality that I am pained as I behold them.
Neither God nor heaven nor Christ, who is the image of the Father, can be truly represented by the art of man. If the Lord had thought it advisable to represent Christ in this way, His person would have been described in the writings of the apostle…
The Holy Spirit takes the most attractive excellencies of the One who is altogether lovely, and presents them in such a way as to engage the attention and receive the best attention of the renewed heart. God designs that the Holy Spirit shall keep before the mind’s eye scenes that will attract and absorb all there is of the new-born soul.
We need not any external representations of the person of Christ. The imagination must take in the only begotten of the Father, “full of grace and truth,” the One altogether lovely, and the chiefest among ten thousand.
I have been commissioned to say to you that the Holy Spirit will work your minds if you will let Him. You are in danger, my brethren and sisters. You are spending large sums of money for our books and papers, and in doing this you are on the wrong track. It is mere supposition that this abundance of illustrations will accomplish great good in the sale of the book. Your large investment of money for illustrations do not bear the credentials of heaven. God does not approve of them. Much has been said in favor of this elaborate work, but nevertheless, God is not pleased with it. The impression left upon human minds is not good. Even worldlings cannot understand why so much time and money and talent should be given to this class of work.
Our books can be tastefully prepared, as all books should be; but our publishing houses are making a mistake in departing from the simplicity of the gospel. We are using the Lord’s talent of means, and we must handle it wisely. The returns from this work of illustrating do not warrant such a large outlay of means. The income is not proportionate to the time and means spent in securing the cuts.
Every item in connection with this extravagant outlay was not presented before me. We must no longer consume the Lord’s capital in expensive book making. Whatever is presented in favor of this work, one objection remains which cannot be overcome—its influence upon the author, the publishing house, and the canvasser. The Lord has measured it all, and He is displeased with the showing…
Our book making business must be simplified. Trust in God, rather than go down to Egypt to consult IDOLATERS. God is not pleased with the way in which matters have been swayed. Expensive books are not to be brought out so freely as they have been. There are books which are not worthy of the consideration given them.
It is not the gilded leaves of a book, not the expensive covers, which testify to its value. It is the truth contained in it.
— Manuscript 131, 1899
God’s Law Better than Pictures on Our Walls
God’s law comes sounding down along the line to our time. If the words of this law were hung up in prominent places, as are the pictures on our walls, would they not have a more powerful influence for good than do these pictures? The words of God’s law could be printed on cards and hung up on the walls of your houses. The attention of some will be arrested as their eyes fall upon the ten commandments. Thus the Lord will impress hearts and minds. The law of the Lord is holy, just, and good, and it is of the greatest importance that men and women read and understand this law, God’s pledged word to all who dwell upon the earth.
The Lord has instructed me that the money expended in photographs might better be used in feeding the poor and clothing the naked. It might better be invested in buying pamphlets and books for those who cannot buy them for themselves. Can we not practice self-denial and self-sacrifice in regard to photographs? Would it not be pleasing to the Lord for us to make a covenant with Him by sacrifice, and cease to fill our what-nots and walls with multitudinous IDOLS, in placing the means thus saved where it will help to enlighten souls?
The salvation of men and women depend upon their obedience to every word of God. Then should not His commandments be made prominent? He declares, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters under the earth.”
Do we give these words the consideration they demand? Would it not be safe, wholly safe, for us to bind about our inclinations in regard to photographs, lest by our carelessness in regard to the Lord’s instruction we educate our children to desire only the pictures which will be consumed in the fire of the last day? In view of the plain, decided utterances of the Lord, would it not be well for us to bind about our desires?
We see a dearth of means in the Lord’s treasury. Our people have grown to be a large number, but this number would have been very much larger if there had been more loyalty, more willingness to obey the words of the Lord.
God’s people should carefully avoid every species of IDOLATRY. Take from your walls and shelves all that comes under the Lord’s instruction regarding images, all that is robbing Him of the honor you should give Him. Invest the money the Lord has given you in that which will abound to His glory.
The Lord said to Israel, “Ye shall observe to do therefore as the Lord your God hath commanded you; ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.” Are not these words spoken just as surely to us as to the children of Israel? Then let us take heed to the instruction given by Him who purchased the world with His own life.
The sixth chapter of Deuteronomy contains instruction which it is important for all to follow. “These are the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it…. Hear, therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the Lord God of your fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
“Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
Because the world is disloyal, because it refuses to walk in the way of life, shall those who claim to be the chosen of God become careless and regardless of His Word, turning to the right hand or to the left according to their own pleasure? There is need of a reformation in every church, in every family. We have no time to devote to pleasure-loving, no means to invest in buying the pictures of human faces.
Invest your means in the cause of God. Guard carefully your example. It is of the greatest consequence to every soul to love and fear God, to obey His commands. We all need to become better acquainted with the laws of God’s kingdom, lest we lose our life insurance policy and fail to find entrance into the city of God.
On many the Word of God has lost its impression because of the prevalence of the disregard of His law. As God’s chosen people we are to be in every sense what He desires us to be.
We are to render strict obedience to the law spoken by Christ from Sinai.
This law is God’s standard of character, and there can be no comparison between it and anything the human mind can frame. It is an unchangeable standard of absolute perfection, set up by the infinite God. Unaided, the human mind cannot comprehend it. An expression of the character of God, it is as high as heaven and beyond measurement in its power to sanctify.
— Manuscript 133, 1899
Warning Against Graven Images
A warning has been given me in regard to our people. I have been instructed that they are certainly in danger.
God declares, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything 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.”
Should we not make investigation in regard to the matter of illustrating our books so largely?
Would not the mind have a clearer, more perfect ideas of angels, of Christ, of all spiritual things, if no pictures were made to represent heavenly things?
Many of the pictures made are grossly false as far as truth is concerned. Do not pictures so far removed from the truth give voice to falsehoods? We want to be true in all our representations of Jesus Christ. But many of the miserable daubs put into our books and papers are an imposition on the public.
With this plain “Thus saith the Lord” before us, will we, claiming as we do to live by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God, be clear if we spend the Lord’s money in multiplying faces?
Some things have been presented to me which I must set right. In my own home, one after another, pictures have accumulated. I see the same in every home to which I go. Is the Lord in this matter? Does not the charge in the twentieth chapter of Exodus prohibit this multitudinous picture-making which will continue to increase unless there is a decided reform, unless the people of God shall see that they are becoming IDOLATERS? What shall be done in this matter?
I have light that to spend so much money in photographs is a species of idolatry. Thus means is consumed which should be used in missionary effort rather than in producing pictures which are not essential.
I take my position to no longer run the risk of displeasing God in this matter. I think that if in this our day of test and trial each one of us would study the words Moses was commanded to speak to the people, there would not be in the temple courts those who are in positions of sacred responsibility, yet are weaving into the web of sacred things threads of selfishness, using common fire in the place of the sacred fire of God’s own kindling. May the Lord’s Holy Spirit work upon human hearts and bring conviction to human minds. Those things of apparently little consequence attract the mind and eye, and absorb the attention at the very time when the attention should be given to God…
While angels are near, ready to make impressions of the highest value on minds, many, as they read on the Sabbath, are attracted by the pictures. They talk of the faces and the scenery. The mind is occupied by matters which are not of the least consequence in our service to God, which make impressions that close the door to spiritual things. We do not show, by keeping free from all cheap, common things, which cannot benefit our souls or the souls of others, that we realize that time is of the highest consequence to us. Too often our experience is of a character that renders it of no value. Man is dwarfed spiritually in proportion as he invents unimportant means and instrumentalities that occupy the time and the mind in carrying them out, making work and business in religious lines take the place of genuine devotion. The process is easy, but what have you? A religious theory, without the Saviour’s endorsement, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
— Letter 145, 1899
Make Books Less Expensive; Don’t Use Sales
I address the men in responsible position in the Review and Herald Office…
If you desire to place the work on a paying basis, do not lower the prices by special offers, which are called by my Instructor inducements, bribes.
God does not want you to do this. These methods He does not approve. Devise means to create a fund by which books can be placed in families who do not and cannot obtain them for themselves. The light given me is that our books are made too expensive. The covers should be strong, but not expensive. The elaborate illustrations in Desire of Ages I could not allow again in the books I shall make. I do not say I shall have none, but I shall not feel free to have so many illustrations that the reading matter which the people need they cannot obtain because the price of the book is so high.
— Letter 150, 1899
How to Tell If the Pictures Are Acceptable
The Lord desires His people to move understandingly and intelligently. They are not to create large expenses, yet everything is to be done in perfect order. Our books should be bound with good, durable covers. The sewing should be firm and strong. This should always be. But care should be exercised in the matter of illustrating. Much money should not be invested in this line. When there are lessons in the pictures which lead to a study of the book itself, it is well; but when the pictures draw the attention from the truth contained in the book to themselves, the effort to help the book by illustrations is a failure.
Poems and stories have been recommended in the columns of our papers in a way that seemed quite out of harmony with their value. The small storybooks that are being handled by our people, what are they? Many of them contain nothing of more value than can be obtained in any bookstore. We have books of great value, which should be recommended to the people; but it pains me to see our papers recommending and our people handling so many storybooks. These books may be excellent in some ways, but they do not contain the knowledge we should hunger and thirst to obtain in this period of the earth’s history.
— Letter 75, 1900
Idols on Our Walls
During the night I have been greatly distressed. A burden rested upon me. I was taken from house to house, through the homes of our people, and as we went from room to room, my Instructor said, “Behold the IDOLS that have accumulated.” I had been pleading with God to work in behalf of His people. My attention was called to the many photographs which have been produced by God’s entrusted capital. I was instructed that these pictures are as so many IDOLS, taking up the time and thought that should be sacredly devoted to God.
As I visit our schools and the homes of our people, I see that all the available space on tables, what-nots, and mantelpieces is filled up with photographs. On the right hand and left are seen the pictures of human faces. God desires this order of things to be changed. Were Christ on earth, He would say, “Take these things hence.”
These photographs cost money. Is it consistent for us, knowing the work that is to be done at this time, to spend God’s money in producing pictures of our own faces and the faces of our friends? Should not every dollar that we can spare be used in the upbuilding of the cause of God? These pictures take money that ought to be sacredly devoted to God’s service. They divert the mind from the truths of God’s Word.
This making and exchanging photographs is a species of IDOLATRY. Satan is doing all he can to eclipse heaven from our view. Let us not help him by making picture-IDOLS. We need to reach a higher standard than these human faces suggest. The Lord says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Those who claim to believe in Christ need to realize that they are to reflect His image. It is His likeness that is to be kept before the mind. The words that are spoken are to be freighted with heavenly inspiration.
After going from home to home, and seeing the many photographs, I was given the instruction I have given here. Christ looks upon the busy world, filled with the din of merchandise and trade, with the dishonesty and scheming of buyers and sellers. “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth”…
This much we can do for God. We can put these picture-IDOLS out of sight. They have no power for good, but interpose between God and the soul.
— Manuscript 63, 1901
This is Startling Counsel
We really felt rebuked by these words when we read them. This is just the thing we need as a people, though, for many compromises have crept in while we slept. It’s time to wake up and raise the standard! We took all the paintings down from our walls and are going to replace them with Scripture art (mostly of the Ten Commandments). What about you? Did these quotes make you weep for our people, or even for yourself? And what will you do in response to these instructions from God? Let us know in the comments below!