2 THESS. ii. 7.
“The Mystery of Iniquity doth already work.”
In proof that popery is the Mystery of Iniquity, we have already adverted to the complication of evil which it embraces. This complication of evil has been viewed in relation to the glory of God—the honour of Christ—the holy scriptures—the salvation of men—the institution of religion—mental vigour—personal liberty—and practical morality. We invite attention to still further proof.
II. The policy with which popery has been framed and upheld, is sufficient to justify the application to it of the title, “Mystery of Iniquity.”
The ascendancy of the popish system is perhaps the most extraordinary fact in the history of nations. Nothing in the annals of Rome pagan, brilliant as were her victories, and extensive as was her dominion, can compare with it. “Her ancient records contain nothing equal to the stratagems, the achievements, and the unconquerable perseverance which elevated the popes to ecclesiastical sovereignty, and gave the ascendancy to papal Rome. The champions of the church have surpassed the heroes of the republic; the subtlety of the conclave has exceeded in depth and refinement that of the senate; the thunder of the Vatican has rolled more terribly than that of the capitol; and, though within a narrower boundary, the tyranny of the popes has been more despotic and intense than that of the proudest of the Caesars.” The beau ideal of popery comprehends so much that is contradictory and chimerical, as to cause the mere projection of the scheme appear a wild and capricious start of imagination; while its actual realisation seems a thing so unparalleled, so far
“Above all Greek, above all Roman fame,”
as to make us instinctively ask, by what means was it effected?
The history of its formation and progress is no secret. The rise of the papacy may be assigned to the seventh or eighth centuries, when claims of universal supremacy, civil as well as ecclesiastical, were put forth. The elements were in operation long before; but then it was that it became the popish system. Its nature was then unfolded—its principles developed—its plans arranged. From that period it continued to advance till it reached the maximum of its power and glory in the eleventh or twelfth centuries. The scheme itself was formed, and the height to which it reached was attained by a system of Machiavellian policy, even a slight acquaintance with which will go far to justify the application of the ignominious title of “the Mystery of Iniquity.”
The very first step was to have the understandings of men subjected, as far as possible, to human authority. Claims of absolute and universal supremacy were accordingly put forth on the part of the clergy over the people. And having once enslaved the minds of men by every wicked and artful contrivance, they were prepared to wield the unlimited power they had acquired at pleasure. The foundation of the whole gigantic fabric is laid deep in this one principle of unbounded and uncontrollable dominion.
The next thing was to captivate the imagination by an outward show of pomp and dignity and greatness. The places of worship—the forms of service—the dress of the priests—the order of processions and arrangement of ceremonies, were all, accordingly, calculated to allure and overawe the minds of the vulgar; while the immense revenues of the church were fitted to attract the avaricious and unprincipled among the rich, who sought nothing so much as aggrandisement. The aid of architects, painters, and sculptors, was called in; and the fine arts, of whose ennobling tendency we hear so much, became the handmaids of the most degrading superstition. To this part of her policy must be referred the massive porches, lofty domes, and pictorial decorations of her temples—the gorgeous apparel of her ecclesiastics—the voluptuous character of her music—the burning of incense—the lighting of candles in open day—the pompous processions on seasons of festivity; together with a multitude of other things, better calculated to strike the senses than to affect the heart, to glitter in the eye than to reach the conscience. In all these, it is not difficult to perceive a cunning adaptation of professedly christian principles to the rites and ceremonies of paganism, and to the carnal inclinations of fallen humanity. To such an extent has this spirit of criminal temporising been carried, that, in some instances, the worship of heathen idols, under the names of popish saints, has been sanctioned and encouraged. In short, popery is but “baptised paganism.”
Another cunning device of the framers of popery has been to overawe the minds of the people, by laying claim to miraculous powers; and to keep them at a distance by pretensions to a mysterious sanctity, well fitted to repel everything like an obtrusive spirit of investigation, which might not be always quite convenient for the purposes of the hierarchy. Tricks were accordingly played off, in great plenty, which had their desired effect on the weak, the ignorant, and the credulous; who, being denied the privilege of judging for themselves, had no course left them to pursue, but to wink hard, and swallow down, with true orthodox gullibility, whatever nostrums might be mixed up for them by their father confessors.
Nor was it less artfully contrived to relax the principles of morality, and throw down the barriers of real ecclesiastical discipline. Here was something exactly suited to corrupt human nature. The spirit of enmity to holiness, which might feel disposed, in reference to the precepts of Christ, to say “Let us break asunder his bands, and cast his cords from us,” could find an ample range of indulgence within the pale of the holy catholic church. A taste for luxury and effeminacy could meet with nothing to oppose its gratification, in a system which empowered its office-bearers to dispense, at pleasure, with any of the laws of the gospel;—nay, the emoluments of which office-bearers, were in no small degree to spring from the exercise of such dispensations, and whose interests, of course, lay in holding out every encouragement to sin.
The power being once gained by such means as we have described, other parts of the system were as wisely adapted to its maintenance and diffusion. The law of confession, for example, was admirably fitted for these ends;—by making the clergy acquainted with the inmost secrets of men’s hearts; by laying open to them the private history and peculiar circumstances of every person without exception; and thus enabling them to address to the failings or propensities of all, such motives as might best subserve their own selfish purposes. The property, the peace, the liberty, and even the persons of the community, were thus placed in the hands of a few interested individuals; nor are the instances either few or remote in which this dangerous power has been made use of for the basest of ends.
Perhaps no principle is better adapted for upholding the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy than that of clerical celibacy. It erects a barrier betwixt the ministers of religion and the people, which effectually prevents all proper reciprocity of feeling, or community of interest. All the tender endearments and exquisite enjoyments of domestic society are thus cut off from the former; a morose, contracted, and even cruel spirit is engendered and fostered; and, bound by no tie to the community at large, and free from all the charges of a family, the priests are converted into a close corporation, ever ready to promote the ambitious designs of the Romish See in any part of the world. Were they permitted to form matrimonial alliances, they would soon come to participate in the common feelings of the people; and, by learning to feel towards them as friends, would be rendered unfit to accomplish the purposes of papal ambition by treating them as servants or as slaves.—In the spirit of the same principle, has encouragement been given to monastic establishments, where, instead of shining as “lights in the world,” or mingling with society as the “salt of the earth,” persons are induced to betake themselves to a useless and selfish retirement; as if human beings could better serve the purposes of their existence by “chanting matins and vespers, and spending their time in drowsy meditations,” than by entering into the relations for which God has fitted them, and actively discharging the duties of life.
Notwithstanding all we have seen, the system should have been incomplete without an ample and permanent revenue. Nor has this been neglected. The subtle politicians of Rome, acting up to the letter—we say nothing of the spirit—of at least one scripture maxim—“Money answereth all things,”—have left no art untried, that could promise to aid the church’s exchequer. They seem to have been sufficiently aware of the folly of pretending to worldly dominion without possessing worldly riches. The cupidity of wealth was a natural and essential accompaniment of the lust of power. Hence the law of tithes, the appropriation of church-lands, the imposition of fines, the sale of indulgences, and the exaction of fees for every part of religious service performed by the priests. Everything the church had to bestow became an article of merchandise. A regular system of spiritual traffic and extortion was set on foot. Besides assessing the people for the support of public worship in general, regular charges were made for christening, churching, confession, confirmation, marriage, visitation of the sick, and burial. The spirit of popish avarice thus pursues its unhappy votaries from the cradle to the grave; ay, and beyond the grave, for it has invented what are called “Masses for the dead,” for which immense sums are wrung from the friends of persons deceased, under the pretence of rescuing them from purgatorian pains. To such a length of hard-hearted rigour are these various exactions pushed, that the priesthood, while holding the indispensable necessity of certain rites to salvation, cruelly refuse to administer them, even to the poorest, without payment of the money. Baptism, according to them, is essential to salvation; yet unless the wretched parents of a dying infant can produce the requisite fee, the tender-hearted priest will coolly suffer it to go into everlasting perdition! Surely the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. And what kind of a religion must that be, in which a dying sinner is directed to seek his consolations in the prospect of deliverance from the wrath to come, more from his temporal than from his spiritual riches; where the rich are sure to die happy, and the poor without comfort; and where the reason of damnation, in the majority of instances, may be, not the want of faith, but the want of gold?[See Note A.] But it is not so much our object here to expose, as to develop the system by which the papal treasury is replenished. In addition to the arts already enumerated, it is a common expedient to encourage free-will offerings to the church, by attaching to such benefactions expiatory and positive merit;—a measure borrowed from the priests of pagan Rome, who contrived to enrich themselves by inducing the people to leave legacies and bequests to their gods and goddesses. Hence the rich endowments of monasteries, etc.; of which we may form some idea from the single fact, that the wealth of those establishments, in our own country, which were suppressed by Henry VIII., is calculated to amount, at the present value of money, to six millions sterling per annum! And it may assist us in forming an estimate of the immense wealth which flowed from all quarters into the Romish treasury, to know, that the money collected in England alone, before the Reformation, under the name of Peter-pence, annates, and other pretences, amounted to two-thirds more than the produce of the royal treasury![See Note B.] Money, money, has ever been a darling object in the Church of Rome. She could never have existed without it. It is not more essential as a means of carnal pomp and indulgence, than as an instrument of bribery and corruption. “How lucrative to us,” said Pope Leo X., “this fable of Jesus Christ is!” In the same spirit of venal baseness, Pope Pius IV. boastingly exclaimed, as he pointed out the vast treasures of the church’s exchequer to Thomas Aquinas, “The church can no longer say, Silver and gold have I none:”—a remark which deserves to be recorded, not more for the proof it affords of the worldliness of popery, than for the admirable reply it received:—“Neither can she any longer say, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Rise up and walk!”
One more device served to perfect the cunning policy of Rome. Her various monastic orders have contributed not a little to her growth and stability. By means of these, her strength and majesty have been asserted, the number of her proselytes increased, and her influence powerfully upheld. It has been her study, of course, to encourage both their number and their variety. Hence the existence of monks, abbots, priors, canons, knights, mendicants, clerks,
“Eremites and friars,
White, black, and grey, with all their trumpery,”
who labour assiduously and incessantly to promote the interests of the church:—orders, on the recital of which, one can scarce help exclaiming, “Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are ye?” In critical periods, new orders were erected to meet the emergency of the demand; and when, at the Reformation, the whole fabric received such a shock as threatened its overthrow notwithstanding the numerous buttresses by which it was propped, a new order of prodigious strength was called into being. This was the order of the Jesuits, which, originating with Ignatius Loyola, a crafty Spanish soldier, surpassed every other in the depth of its cunning, the flexibility of its principles, the frenzy of its zeal, and its powers of insinuation. The hallowed name of Jesus became the watchword of a most unhallowed confederacy. The members, by means of arts peculiar to their order, sought to worm themselves into all the cabinets of Europe; and, catching the fire of missionary enterprise, all countries, christian as well as pagan, became the scenes of their strenuous efforts. This is not even excepting our own land, in which they have long had a footing; where they occasioned no little mischief during the struggle consequent on the Reformation; and in which they still exist in great numbers. Though suppressed by Pope Clement XIV., the order was revived by Pius VII., in order, as it would seem, that he might have it in his power to make some suitable return for being reinstated in his pontificate by British treasure and British blood, by overrunning our country with hordes of those miscreant emissaries:—a characteristic instance, it must be allowed, of papal gratitude! And, to this day, the activity of the order continues unrelaxed, as it was but lately that a party from France effected a landing on some of the South Sea Islands, and so far succeeded in insinuating themselves with some of the natives, as to induce them to submit to being baptised:—a consummation to which the tricks, practised on the unsuspecting inhabitants, by means of a powerful galvanic battery which they carried with them as a part of their missionary furniture, in no small degree contributed.
Here, then, is a system of the most deep-laid policy—a well-compacted scheme of manifold corruption—a device of immense skill, constructed on a thorough acquaintance with corrupt human nature, and most artfully adapted to subserve the ambitious project of a boundless temporal and spiritual dominion—in short, a Mystery Of Iniquity. And this is the secret of that unexampled, and apparently inexplicable success which formerly drew from us an expression of wonder.
III. The title in question is borne out by the artful intermixture of good and evil which popery exhibits.
Betwixt good and evil there is this distinction, that the power of the former is in proportion as it is pure and unmixed; the danger of the latter, in proportion as it is artfully intermingled with what is good. To the full moral influence of religion, it requires to be unadulterated; to the success of superstition, it must be combined with some of the qualities of pure religion. The counterfeit coin will not find a circulation, unless wearing the shape, and stamp, and appearance of what is genuine. The poisoned cup, to prevent its rejection, must contain a part of what is wholesome and savoury, that suspicion may be lulled asleep, and the potion swallowed before it is discovered to be impregnated with death.
Of this the framers of popery were fully aware. Of course, its name, its tenets, its institutions, and its forms, have all something that is good about them; yet are so connected with what is essentially bad, as to render them, on this very account, more fatally injurious. Error is so interwoven with truth—the sublime doctrines of faith so debased with puerile superstitions—and the simple institutions of divine worship so burdened with forms of human invention, as not only to nullify their beneficial tendency, but to invest them with a fearful power of mischief. The name of God is invoked in the Church of Rome; the doctrines of the Trinity, original sin, the sacrifice of Christ, the work of the Spirit, and a future state of happiness or misery, are all recognised; while preaching, prayer, praise, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are acknowledged as ordinances of divine institution. These things are so far good in themselves; but then, they are so adulterated by the intermixture of the basest materials, as greatly to neutralise their utility. It is well to invoke the name of God, and acknowledge the scripture doctrine of the Trinity; but when creatures and images are admitted to share in the adoration paid to the Great Supreme, and the inscrutable mystery of God's manner of subsistence is attempted to be explained by outward representations, the highest insult is offered to the Almighty. The divinity and offices of Christ are maintained; but then his character and mediatorship are alike degraded, by daring usurpations of his attributes and functions. The sinfulness of man is confessed; but then there are only some sins that are mortal, others are but venial. The merits and intercession of Jesus are useful; but so also are those of saints and of angels. Prayer is practised, but in public it must be in an unknown tongue; and in private, it must be addressed to the “Blessed Virgin,” as well as to the “Father who is in heaven.” Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacraments; but so also are penance, orders, confirmation, matrimony, and extreme unction. Water is employed in baptism, but it must be accompanied with salt, chrism, and the sign of the cross. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated; but the bread is transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Saviour; the cup is withheld from the laity; and the whole is transmuted into the unbloody sacrifice of the mass. The communion of saints is a part of the church’s creed; but it is a communion exclusively restricted to those within her own pale. The authority of the moral law is admitted; but, besides that its precepts are mutilated and abridged, others are added to them under the name of “the commandments of the church.” Belief in a resurrection, a judgment, and a future state, is professed; but so, also, is belief in the fable of purgatory.
Such is the mixture of good and evil the popish system exhibits; and all this is most artfully contrived to give it currency in the world. The evil so preponderates as to leave no room to doubt for what end the good is introduced. Pure unmixed evil would have excited disgust. Under the name and semblance of christianity, the antichristian system was fitted to attract and to enchant many who would have revolted at the naked form of paganism. The ‘man of sin,’ in his proper features, could command no homage; but, “seated in the temple of God,” multitudes will bow before him. A monster, “having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his head the names of blasphemy,” is fitted only to terrify; but let him show “his two horns, like a lamb,” and all the world will wonder after the Beast. The “mother of harlots,” if seen only as “full of names of blasphemy, abominations, and filthiness,” could awaken nothing but loathing; let her be arrayed, however, in “purple, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, and have in her hand a golden cup,” and speedily “the inhabitants of the earth will be made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” Simple “iniquity” will not serve the purpose; it must be a “mystery of iniquity.”
It is thus that popery is a system most iniquitous in itself, and possessed of an alarming power of mischief. It is, indeed, as has been said, “the masterpiece of Satan:” and the Evil One himself may well be held “incapable of such another contrivance.”
IV. The design of providence in permitting the existence of such a system of iniquity is mysterious.
God’s ways are not as our ways; his thoughts not as our thoughts. His ways, like his thoughts, are “a great deep.” “His way is in the sea, and his path in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known.” “So these are a part of his ways; and how little a portion is heard of him?” Such language is in strict accordance with the state of feeling which a contemplation of the works of the Almighty is fitted to inspire. Like a person stationed on the shore, we can only gaze, in silent admiration, on the immensity before us. No intellect, however vast, can pretend to explore the boundless field; and to account for all the doings of a wonder-working Deity, must baffle the keenest penetration of created skill.
Few, perhaps, of God’s providential dispensations are more inscrutably mysterious than the existence and continuance of the system of which we now speak. That, under the righteous government of God, a society, calling itself christian, and yet, in principle, worship, and practice, so thoroughly antichristian, should have been permitted to arise—to attain such a height of aggrandisement and influence—to spread over so large a portion of the earth—to enthrall so many of its inhabitants—and to continue for so long a time withal, must be allowed to be a difficulty of no trifling magnitude. “Righteousness and judgment,” we are bound to believe, are in this, as in every other case, “the habitation of his throne;” but surely “clouds and darkness are round about him.”
Not that no purposes of wisdom can be perceived to be served by the fact in question. It serves, for one thing, to show to what dreadful lengths the wickedness of the human heart will run, when not restrained by grace; and thus admonishes us at all times to submit to the guidance of the Almighty. It manifests how even the temple of God may become defiled, when the Spirit has forsaken it; and warns us to beware of such practices as may provoke him to withdraw his gracious presence from the church. It points out the danger of neglecting the word of truth, of invading the prerogatives of the Redeemer, or of interfering with the institutions of his house; and admonishes us to abstain from all such impiety. It confirms the truth of the christian record by a minute fulfilment of prophecy; and thus holds up an evidence in support of christianity which nothing but the hardihood of the most heaven-daring scepticism can gainsay or resist. It affords, moreover, a fine trial of the faith and purity and patience of the true saints who, during the reign of antichrist, are called to witness in sackcloth and ashes. And, in fine, its destined overthrow will form a noble triumph of truth and godliness over long-established and complicated iniquity, and a splendid manifestation of the power and grace of the Lord, who shall “consume that Wicked with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of his coming.”
These are, doubtless, some of the important purposes designed, by an infinitely wise God, to be subserved by the existence and maintenance of popery. But, after all, the subject is involved in much “mystery.” It partakes of the darkness which overhangs the great question of the permission of moral evil, as being itself a conspicuous branch of that perplexing subject. Somewhat of this darkness may be expected to be dispelled, when the system of iniquity shall be overthrown; but it may be doubted whether the measure will be fully unveiled before that great and awful day, when “the mystery of God shall be finished.”
Sufficient evidence has surely been adduced, in what has been said, to show how appropriately the popish system was characterised by the Spirit of God “The mystery of iniquity;” and how strikingly it contrasts in every point with what the same Spirit has designated “The mystery of godliness.” Here, meanwhile, let us pause and reflect with emotions of veneration and wonder on the doings of him whose “ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts,” in permitting, and so long tolerating, the existence of such a complicated system of iniquity.
Notes for Sermon II.
A. We sometimes hear the catholic clergy of Ireland commended for their zeal, in ministering to the spiritual wants of their people. A gentleman of that persuasion, who intruded himself into a meeting of the Irish Evangelical Society in Dublin, thus eulogised the ministers of that religion :—“They travel this country in the middle of the night, braving storm and rain, and even death itself, to administer comfort to the dying sinner.” The statement would have done something to prove their claim on our respect, had the gentleman been able to assure his audience that they were not well paid for every such sacrifice. But, seeing it is known that their emolument arises from these very offices individually, the performance of them can no more assert their right to the praise of pious disinterestedness, than the exertions of a merchant who exposes himself to hazards in disposing of his wares, or those of a quack in vending his nostrums.
B. [Archibald] Bruce’s Free Thoughts on Popery, etc., page 37—note.