From those great original truths, That there is a God, and that there is but one God, arise those great fundamental laws, That that God is to be worshipped, and he only, and that therefore we are to have no other God before him: this is the first commandment, and the second is a guard upon it, or a hedge about it. To prevent a revolt to false gods, we are forbidden to worship the true God in such a way and manner as the false gods were worshipped in, and are commanded to observe the instituted ordinances of worship that we may adhere to the proper object of worship. For this reason Moses is very large in his exposition of the second commandment. What is contained in this and the four following chapters mostly refers to that. These are statutes and judgments which they must observe to do (Deut. 12:1), 1. In the days of their rest and prosperity, when they should be masters of Canaan. We must not think that our religion is instituted only to be our work in the years of our servitude, our entertainment in the places of our solitude, and our consolation in affliction; no, when we come to possess a good land, still we must keep up the worship of God in Canaan as well as in a wilderness, when we have grown up as well as when we are children, when we are full of business as well as when we have nothing else to do. 2. All the days, as long as you live upon the earth. While we are here in our state of trial, we must continue in our obedience, even to the end, and never leave our duty, nor grow weary of well-doing. Now,
I. They are here charged to abolish and extirpate all those things that the Canaanites had served their idol-gods with, Deut. 12:2, 3. Here is no mention of idol-temples, which countenances the opinion some have, that the tabernacle Moses reared in the wilderness was the first habitation that ever was made for religious uses, and that from it temples took their rise. But the places that had been used, and were now to be levelled, were enclosures for their worship on mountains and hills (as if the height of the ground would give advantage to the ascent of their devotions), and under green trees, either because pleasant or because awful: whatever makes the mind easy and reverent, contracts and composes it, was thought to befriend devotion. The solemn shade and silence of a grove are still admired by those that are disposed to contemplation. But the advantage which these retirements gave to the Gentiles in the worship of their idols was that they concealed those works of darkness which could not bear the light; and therefore they must all be destroyed, with the altars, pillars, and images, that had been used by the natives in the worship of their gods, so as that the very names of them might be buried in oblivion, and not only not be remembered with respect, but not remembered at all. They must thus consult, 1. The reputation of their land; let it never be said of this holy land that it had been thus polluted, but let all these dunghills be carried away, as things they were ashamed of. 2. The safety of their religion; let none be left remaining, lest profane unthinking people, especially in degenerate ages, should make use of them in the service of the God of Israel. Let these pest-houses be demolished, as things they were afraid of. He begins the statutes that relate to divine worship with this, because there must first be an abhorrence of that which is evil before there can be a steady adherence to that which is good, Rom. 12:9. The kingdom of God must be set up, both in persons and places, upon the ruins of the devil’s kingdom; for they cannot stand together, nor can there be any communion between Christ and Belial.
II. They are charged not to transfer the rites and usages of idolaters into he worship of God; no, not under colour of beautifying and improving it (Deut. 12:4): You shall not do so to the Lord your god, that is, “you must not think to do honour to him by offering sacrifices on mountains and hills, erecting pillars, planting groves, and setting up images; no, you must not indulge a luxurious fancy in your worship, nor think that whatever pleases that will please God: he is above all gods, and will not be worshipped as other gods are.”