2 THESS. ii. 7.
“The Mystery of Iniquity doth already work.”
Having in the preceding discourses vindicated the application of the ignominious title, Mystery of Iniquity, to the Romish system, we have still to animadvert on some of the pleas urged on behalf of popery, and to point out the duty of protestants in regard to it.
I. Consider the arguments on behalf of the popish system commonly urged by its friends or apologists.
1. It is asserted by papists, that theirs is the most ancient religion. This is, indeed, their grand bulwark—the very citadel of their strength, to which they betake whenever they are hard pushed by an opponent; and entrenched in which, they seem to reckon themselves secure, when they have been forced from every other retreat. It is a claim which, we are sorry, and even ashamed, to think, has been conceded by some professing protestants, who, borne away by a spirit of spurious liberality, have suffered themselves to be imposed upon by pretensions unblushingly put forth and incessantly reiterated.
There is a fallacy in the argument which ought not to pass unexposed. To exhibit a claim of antiquity, in proof of the genuineness of a church, is a mere begging of the question; for, as the church that is true must be built on the primitive model, genuineness and antiquity amount to the same thing.
Mere precedence in point of time, however, is in itself no evidence of truth; as novelty is no proof of error. Mohammedanism is as ancient as popery; and paganism is more ancient than either. Mohamed and the Pope are mere upstarts, compared with Fohi and Zoroaster. Christianity itself, in comparison of Judaism, is a novelty. Nor is there much that can lay claim to higher antiquity than Sin. Are we, then, to erect temples to the worship of heathen divinities, and to yield ourselves up to the service of our lusts?
But it may be said, popery is the most ancient christian church. Now, this we most pointedly deny. The distinguishing features of the system—which are essential to its existence, and constitute, in short, its essence,—did not even come into being till after the lapse of several centuries of the christian era. The pope’s headship over the church was, properly speaking, unknown till the year 606, when, by the decree of Phocas, the Roman pontiff was constituted universal bishop. Temporal supremacy originated so late as 756, in the grant of Pepin, King of France, afterwards confirmed and extended by his son Charlemagne. The worship of “the blessed virgin” was first mentioned by Peter Tullo, who lived at least 500 years after her death,—a neglect for which, to be sure, succeeding ages have made ample amends. Image worship is of a still later date, having been denounced by the fathers as paganism, and first authorised in the christian church by the second Council of Nice, in 787. The doctrine of seven sacraments was first taught by Hugo de St Victore, in the twelfth century. The clergy were first prohibited from marrying by Pope Hildebrand, or Gregory VII. in 1074, whose orders were afterwards confirmed by Pope Innocent II. in 1138. Private confession was first imposed by Pope Innocent III. in the fourth Council of Lateran, 1215 years after the death of Christ. And as for communicating in one kind, as it is called, though now the universal practice, no higher antiquity can be claimed for it than that of the Council of Constance, in 1415. Now, these are essential features of popery. Were she to renounce them all to-morrow, she would be no longer entitled to the name. And if she would not be popery, were they to be given up, are we not entitled to hold, that she was not such before they were assumed? So fares it with the boasted argument of antiquity.
Should her advocates seek refuge from the inference at which we have thus arrived, by abjuring the name of popery, and cleaving to that of the Church of Rome, what would it avail? From the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear, that many of the apostolic churches had an existence long prior to that of Rome. Churches were established at Jerusalem, Damascus, Antioch, and many other places in the east, before the gospel was even so much as preached in the western metropolis.
While denying the claim of primitive existence to the popish system, as a regularly organised church, it may safely be granted that the elements of the system had an existence as early as the age of the apostles. Considering this, we have sometimes wondered at the suicidal pertinacity with which her advocates have clung to the argument of antiquity. Might not the weapon be wrested from their hands, and pointed against themselves? Is not the apostle’s language “the Mystery of Iniquity doth already work?” It is curious to observe how the essential errors of the system had even then begun to discover themselves, though not collected and matured and organised into a scheme. Paul had already had occasion to tender the warning, “Dearly beloved, flee from idolatry;” (1 Cor. x. 14)—to caution the Colossians against being beguiled into the “worshipping of angels;” (1 Col. ii. 18)—to denounce such as “corrupt the word of God, handling it deceitfully;” (2 Cor. ii. 17)—to reprove the practice of “making a gain of godliness;” (1 Tim. vi. 5)—to condemn the superstitious observance of “days, and months, and times, and years;” (Gal. iv. 6)—and pointedly to warn those to whom he wrote, against giving heed to the “traditions, and commandments, and doctrines of men.” (Col. ii. 8, 22.) The elements, it thus appears, of the principal papal corruptions, had an early existence; and, so far, we willingly concede to the Church of Rome the claim of antiquity. But by so doing, we only identify her the more with that alluded to by the apostle, when he says, “the Mystery of Iniquity doth already work.”
2. Allied to the claim of antiquity is that of a pure apostolic succession. Taking popery as it is, with those principles and claims which constitute its essence and give it a distinctive character, in what can it he said to resemble the primitive churches? Where, in the inspired accounts of these simple establishments, have we anything resembling the hierarchy of Rome? Cardinals, archdeacons, deans, archbishops, primates, metropolitans, etc., are designations unknown in the New Testament. Where do you read of the invocation of the Virgin, prayers to saints, or the use of images, as helps to devotion? These will be sought for in vain in the bible; as indeed all the other peculiarities of the system.
Nor can anything be more unfortunate than the attempt to establish an uninterrupted succession from Peter, founded on our Lord’s address to that apostle: “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. xvi. 18.) The inculcation of silence regarding his Messiahship which immediately succeeds, fixes down the Saviour’s reference to the confession and not to the person of Peter. This opinion is supported by other passages of scripture, in which Jesus is spoken of as the “Rock” on which the church is built. The opposite sentiment is indeed utterly irreconcilable with the well-known instability of this apostle’s character, as well as with the circumstance of its being soon after debated, among the apostles, which of them was the greatest,—a question, for which it is impossible to account, on the supposition that the thing was settled in favour of Peter so short a time before. To this add the principle laid down by Christ himself, “Be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your Master, even Christ, and All Ye Are Brethren;”—the little ceremony with which Peter was treated by Paul, who “withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed;”—and the impossibility of showing that Peter ever visited Rome, much less was bishop of that city; and we shall see on what slender ground the ecclesiastical fable of succession rests.
There is a sense in which all ministers of Christ are successors of the apostles; that is, as the authorised dispensers of those ordinances which were first entrusted to these extraordinary office-bearers. But this is quite a different thing from a succession to all the powers of the apostles, as pretended to by the bishops of Rome. The apostolical office neither required nor admitted of existence beyond the primitive age of the church. It was altogether of an extraordinary, and, consequently, of a temporary character. One of its essential qualifications was, that the person holding it should have personally seen the Lord. But this, excepting by a series of preternatural appearances, as in the case of Saul of Tarsus—which it were unreasonable to expect, and which are not pretended to have occurred,—could not take place after his ascension. Moreover, the office of an apostle, and that of a bishop, are essentially distinct; the latter from its very nature implying residency, the former as necessarily supposing itinerancy; the one restricted to a particular district, the other having a range commensurate with the visible church. Nor is it a little against the claims of the Romish hierarchy to being true christian bishops, that, to a man, they are without what an inspired apostle specifies among the qualifications of such:—“a bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife.”
Such is the frail foundation on which the Church of Rome has reared the proudest pretensions; and, on account of which she has thought herself entitled to look down with disdain on the ministers of all other churches; nay, to deny the existence of any other true church, and insultingly to demand of protestants, “Where was your church before Luther?” It might be sufficient to retort on papists the question, “And where, pray, was your religion in the days of the apostles?” But it is not necessary to have recourse to this method of silencing our assailants. Though uttered in the spirit of a challenge, the question is one which no enlightened protestant need be afraid to meet. Even in the darkest period of the reign of antichrist, when her boundaries were most extended, and her dominion most absolute, there was still “a remnant according to the election of grace,”—“there were still a few names” of those who had not defiled themselves with her abominations. There were the famous Syrian churches, lately discovered by Dr Buchanan, in India. There were the primitive Waldenses, who, among the mountains of the Alps, escaped the ravages of that desolating extermination which swept the face of Europe. There were the ancient Culdees, who, uncontaminated by antichristian alliances, maintained their pure and simple forms of worship, safe amid the mists of our own Western Isles. And, supposing that none of these had existed, we should still have been able to give a satisfactory and triumphant reply to the question, “Where was your religion before Luther?” Our answer should have been—In The Bible. There it was found by Luther and Melancthon, by Calvin and by Knox. They went to the fountain-head, and drew their notions of doctrine, worship, and discipline, direct from this unpolluted source. We, therefore, utterly disclaim the pretensions of Rome to being our mother church; and, though our early Reformers were once members of her communion, she can no more, on that account, lay claim to the honour of the system which they founded, than the unregenerate nature of a convert to christianity can be reckoned the source of his regenerate state.
3. Uniformity of belief and worship is another stronghold of popery; and the schismatical spirit of protestantism is constantly urged as an unanswerable argument against it. We shall not go the length of some, and say that uniformity is not a desirable thing. But that it is, in itself, a criterion of truth, we deny. Men are as likely to be uniform in what is wrong, as in what is right. Mahomedans, it is presumed, are as distinguished as papists for the virtue in question. Nor, if the matter be fairly stated, have even protestants anything to fear from a comparison, in this respect, with the Church of Rome. Take, for example, any particular church, the Greek Church, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, or any other one denomination, and say whether it is not as uniform as is the Church of Rome. Nay, even putting protestants together, there is this marked distinction between them and papists, that the former differ, for the most part, only in matters of form, and agree in the grand essentials of the gospel; while the latter agree only in ceremonies, and differ in the principles of faith and morals. Then, after all, what is the nature and source of the boasted uniformity of the Church of Rome? Is it a real harmony of enlightened opinion? Is it not rather the mechanical result of tenets which require implicit faith to the dicta of the priests,—which deny to the people all right of judging for themselves,—trample under foot all the independent workings of the human mind,—and, by means of civil penalties and threats of excommunication and eternal damnation, oblige men to conceal the real sentiments of their hearts? It is an artificial uniformity, resembling more the stillness of fear or the silence of death, than the intellectual, moral, and spiritual unity inculcated in the word of God!
This all proceeds on the assumption that actual uniformity exists among papists. But we refuse such an admission. She is, in fact, the most schismatical church in existence. What is schism? Not the erection of separate communions, so much as the existence of party spirit in the same church. Now, in this respect, what is there that can be compared with popery? Who has not heard of the disputes between the Dominicans and the Franciscans, the Jansenists and the Jesuits? What are the ecclesiastical orders but so many different sects or factions, entertaining conflicting opinions in matters of faith, following diverse courses in worship and practice, and having no common feeling but that of mutual and cordial dislike?[See Note A.] Nay; is it not a fact that, up to the present moment, papists are not agreed as to the seat of infallibility, whether it rests with the pope alone, or with the cardinals alone, or with the pope and cardinals together?
It were easy, in pursuit of this topic, to confront bishop and bishop, doctor and doctor, council and council; for never were more conflicting sentiments uttered, than are to be found in the writings of popish dignitaries, and the solemn decrees of ecclesiastical councils. But all these may be passed over, for the purpose of attending to the edifying and undeniable fact of two anti-popes. This occurred during the fourteenth century, in the case of Urban VI. of Rome, and Clement VII. who fixed his seat at Avignon; whose rival claims served for fifty years to divide the opinions of men in the west. Each assumed the titles and discharged the functions of pontiff—creating cardinals, canonising saints, and issuing bulls in abundance. And, as was to be expected, they did not fail mutually to anathematise and excommunicate one another; each denouncing his competitor as antichrist, and his cardinals as incarnate devils; and absolving from their oath of allegiance the subjects of those princes who supported the claims of his rival. Nor has it, we believe, been ever yet ascertained which was the genuine vicar of Christ and successor of St Peter; and the consequence is, that the acts of both have been acknowledged, and the saints canonised by each admitted to a place in the calendar, notwithstanding their having been regularly and lawfully excommunicated by the rival patrons. A precious specimen this of ecclesiastical uniformity! Good right, in truth, have the adherents of such a church to brand all others with the reproach of schism!
4. It is commonly affirmed by the apologists of the Church of Rome, that whatever it may have been once, it is now quite changed. Such a favourite plea must not be passed over unnoticed. There is a sense in which it is admitted that popery is changed. She has no longer the power, the wealth, the extent she once possessed. “Its head is a disregarded and decrepit priest; its bulls, that once made monarchs tremble, are now issued only to add a clause to the index expurgatorius; and more than half of Europe has rejected its impositions, and defied its power. She was indeed a proud and glorious galley, the burthen and the terror of the great deep; but she lies on its waters now, a dismasted hulk; her pendant sweeps the seas no more; the strong blast of the Reformation hath rent away mast and mainsail, rope and rudder; the mighty rushing winds of heaven are abroad, and assail her from every point of the compass; England, Scotland, all the north, and half the east of Europe, hold her in chase, and every shot they send through her rotten timbers, threatens to make her a wreck.” All this is true; and we rejoice in its truth. But though changed in circumstances, is she not the same in nature, in essence, in spirit? She has not now a universal temporal power; but has she abandoned her claims to supremacy? Many of the sources of her enormous wealth have been drained off; but has the right to all she ever once had been abandoned? The same deeds of atrocious persecution are not now heard of; but may not this be ascribed to a want of power? The tiger in chains is as harmless as a lamb, and his confinement may even tame his spirit for a little; but let him once go free again, and snuff the air of his native forest, and who shall be security for his innocence?
Thus far, and no farther, are we prepared to admit the altered nature of popery. It is not a change of character, but of circumstances; not an alteration of spirit, but of power. Manners, customs, governments, exhibit constant mutations; and, since the See of Rome was at the zenith of its splendour, the changes that have taken place in the world, have been as numerous as the phases of the moon. Still, in essence and spirit, she has exhibited no symptom of improvement, however slight. If at the period of the Reformation any promise of a change to the better was given, it was but for a moment; it was but a gleam of light transmitted from an opening cloud, which instantly closed and settled down into a more dense and lowering mass than before, destined to burst, one other day, in “hailstones and coals of fire.” And in vindication of our right to hold her the same as she ever was, we appeal to her own plea of infallibility; what is infallible can never change, as change supposes either former or present imperfection; and until this claim is withdrawn, every pretension of change must be held as a sinister, hypocritical device. We appeal to the fact that she still teaches the same corrupt doctrines, still practises the same absurd ceremonies, and still breathes the same intolerant spirit. Who ever heard of a single tenet, rite, or pretension, having been laid aside? And, whether any alteration has taken place in her temper, may be guessed from the comparatively recent persecution of the protestants in France, and from the annotations of the new popish bible, published at Dublin in 1818, under the sanction of Dr Troy. In these it is maintained that, when it can be done without hazard, “heretics, (i.e., protestants,) may, and ought, by public authority, to be chastised or Executed;” the protestant clergy of all denominations are described as “thieves, murderers, and ministers of the devil;” and the protestant “heresy” is declared to be a “rebellion and damnable revolt against the priests of God’s church.” Such is popery, in a protestant country, and in modern times; and yet we shall be told that it is now changed. Changed! In what part of the scriptures, we demand, is the warrant given to expect that popery shall ever be reformed? Destroyed it shall be; reformed it never will—it never can. Amid the awful predictions with which the canon of inspiration closes, not a single ray of scriptural hope will be found to gild the destiny of papal Rome. A dense unbroken cloud of portentous judgment lowers upon the horizon of this devoted church. No other light meets the eye of the observer, than the glare of those awful lightnings which presage that tempest of wrath by which the mystical Babylon is to be irretrievably overwhelmed; nor does there any other sound break upon the ear, than that which announces its final doom,—“Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen.” The Lord shall “Consume” that wicked with the spirit of his mouth. The beast shall be cast “alive” into the lake of fire, burning with brimstone. Babylon shall be “Utterly Burned With Fire;” for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. With violence shall that great city be thrown down, and shall “Be Found No More At All.” These are the words of the Spirit of God; and such as have any respect for his authority will not easily be persuaded, in defiance of such unequivocal testimony to the contrary, that popery is changed.
II. It remains for us to speak of the duty of protestants in regard to popery.
1. Considering the iniquity of its nature, and the futility of every plea on its behalf, true-hearted protestants cannot but lament the existence and increasing influence of the popish system. Such a system must prove a curse wherever it exists; and we need only glance at the state of things in Portugal, Spain, France, Austria, Italy, and Ireland, to receive ample confirmation to the inference. From the nature of the system itself, the zeal of its friends, the influence of some of its professors, the indulgences it grants to corrupt gratifications, and withal the supineness of its professed enemies, there is reason to fear it may yet considerably increase both in extent and in power. Not that we expect it ever to regain its former proud ascendancy. The diffusion of light, both religious and literary, and the palpable absurdity, fraud, and falsehood of the system itself; its present poverty; the degradation it has already suffered, which, as in the case of the idol which was spit upon, must preclude its ever being viewed with the same sentiments of veneration; and, above all, the irreversible decrees of Heaven, may be regarded as ample security against any such event. Still, this is not inconsistent with its obtaining a partial revival. We have seen from scripture that the Beast is to be cast Alive into the pit: and even reason would lead us to conclude that a system which once possessed such amazing strength is not likely to expire without making some desperate struggle for existence. Facts harmonise with these observations. Popery is actually on the increase. Within the last thirty years, it is well known that 900 chapels,—as many nearly as all the parish churches in Scotland put together,—have been erected in England and Wales alone. Popish colleges, some of them largely endowed, exist in all the three kingdoms. Besides these, schools, newspapers, periodical publications, and all the machinery of conversion have been in active operation. What right-hearted protestant but must mourn such a state of things in these our covenanted lands![See Note B.]
2. Nor is the supineness of professing protestants less a ground of lamentation. The apathy complained of has seized on all classes—statesmen and even divines, as well as private individuals. In private circles there is a growing disposition to palliate, countenance, and excuse the abominations of Rome, which cannot but grieve the hearts of the godly. Among our statesmen, whether peers of the realm or representatives of the people, a growing leaning to what are called “Catholic Claims” is but too apparent. And even the ministers of religion, there is some reason to fear, have, many of them at least, ceased to bear the same public testimony they once did against the Man of Sin, in their public discourses and prayers. In former times, whatever wore the aspect of countenance to incomparably the most dreadful superstition that ever arrogated dominion over the conscience of man, was viewed with jealousy, grief, and distrust; while every symptom of its approaching overthrow was hailed with delight. But in these good easy times of ours, the fears and hopes of our ancestors are smiled at and talked of with contempt, as the feelings of “silly old women;” and events, for which millions of the wisest and devoutest and holiest of men that ever inhabited the earth ardently prayed, are reckoned, by their sapient descendants, scarce worthy of an effort being made to accomplish them.
3. Such persons, it might be deemed vain to exhort to gratitude for the Reformation. But all are not such. There is still, we believe, a large majority who feel towards popery as they ought; and to whom an exhortation to thankfulness for the inestimable blessings of the Reformation, will not appear an insult. The oppressions and corruptions of the popish system were not to be for ever endured. There is a point beyond which tyranny, whether civil or religious, cannot safely be pushed. To that point the Court of Rome carried her ungodly ambition. The latent spark of freedom, when just about to be extinguished, was by the breath of the Almighty, fanned into a flame. The Spirit of the living God breathed on the dry bones, and a noble band of champions arose, who, under the guidance of a Superior Power, achieved deeds of heroism and renown, which shall secure the transmission of their names to latest posterity, along with those of the best benefactors of our race. Foremost to break the yoke of papal domination, were the churches of Britain. Nor, in purity of reformation, boldness of enterprise, magnanimity in suffering, and steadfast perseverance, can any claim precedence of the Reformers of Scotland. Indefatigable in exposing the errors of popery, and in reviving the doctrines and institutions and order of primitive times, they established a claim on the respect, veneration, and affection of posterity, which none but the coldest and most ungrateful will refuse to acknowledge. No tribute to their memories can be regarded as sincere that is not accompanied by a wish to drink into their spirit, to adopt their principles, and to follow their example. And while the story of their deeds and their sufferings inflames the heart with the purest patriotism, let us not forget to give the praise and glory to Him, whose Spirit so clearly animated and sustained them in that illustrious struggle, in which, “against the multitudinous hosts and sanguinary assaults of papists, they presented their own bodies as a bulwark, and occupied, not in vain, the christian Thermopylae.”
4. While thus showing the value they are disposed to put on the blood-bought privileges of our land, let protestants remember, that in times like these, they have duties to perform to papists and to themselves, which demand their serious attention. Though with regard to popery, they are bound to oppose its tenets, to resist its claims, to seek its extermination from the earth as an accursed thing; papists, the deluded supporters of this devoted system, it becomes them to admit to a place in their pity and their prayers. Their ignorance and oppression give them strong claims on christian commiseration; and prayers for their illumination and conversion should never cease to be offered. With prayer there ought to be combined such mild, candid, conciliatory treatment, as may tend to disarm their prejudices, and lead to their salvation. It must not be forgotten, that, bad as is the system, it may embrace among its votaries not a few of the chosen people of God, whom it should be our concern to save, pulling them out of the fire. And even although we were assured that it contained not a single individual of this description, the religion we profess peremptorily requires of us to “love our enemies; to bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them who despitefully use us and persecute us.”
Moreover, with regard to ourselves, it becomes us to beware, lest, with the profession and the zeal of protestants, we be found to unite a resemblance to popery, in its very worst features. We may not dishonour God by the adoration of images; but by cherishing the idols of the heart, and worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, we may, nevertheless, rob him of his glory. By neglecting to improve, as well as by usurping, his offices, may we pour contempt on the blessed Saviour. The scriptures may be treated with disrespect many ways besides those chargeable on papists; and even by lending our countenance to corruptions of the word of life, we may be in danger of incurring guilt not unlike to theirs. The doctrine of human merit is not confined to the Church of Rome, but finds its strenuous supporters among many professing protestants, while its principles are responded to by every unregenerate heart. The institutions of Christ may be neglected and abused many ways by all. A spirit, hostile to the true liberty of the gospel, may be breathed by others besides the advocates of popish intolerance. And, even while denouncing the immoral tendency of many of the tenets and practices of this corrupt society, it is far from being impossible that we may cherish in our hearts sentiments, respecting the efficacy of religious forms or the virtue of charitable deeds, every whit as subversive of practical godliness, as the belief of the papists in the virtue of relics, sprinklings, and extreme unction. As there is reason to suppose that some, who have retained the name of papists, have drunk deeply into the spirit of protestantism; so ought we to bear in mind, that these may be nominal protestants who have imbibed the very essence of popery. We have need, therefore, to beware, lest “a deceived heart should turn us aside, that we cannot deliver our souls, nor say, Is there not a lie in our right hand?”
See to it, then, protestants, that your character and conduct correspond to your profession and privileges. By reverencing God—by cherishing a profound and hallowed respect for all the offices of Christ—by making a proper use of the holy scriptures, to which you have free access—by seeking, with eagerness, the eternal salvation of your souls—by maintaining personal piety and practical holiness, see that you make it appear that your religion is something more than a name. Expose not yourselves, by an opposite line of conduct, to the reproof, “What do ye more than others?” But recollecting that of those to whom much is given much shall be required, seek grace to enable you to act in conformity with your high and glorious distinctions.
5. Cultivate the qualities which, under God, may fit you to combat the errors and the power of Rome. There is nothing to assure you that the battle is over. You may have use yet for all your polemical skill, and for all your power of enduring hardships. The crowning victory is yet to be gained. These are not times for neutrality, or idleness, or soft and silken manners. No; extensive scriptural knowledge, manly boldness, unconquerable zeal, indomitable courage, exhaustless patience, firm decision, determined perseverance, are the mental properties it becomes the members of the church of Christ to seek and to cultivate, in this our day. Ask them of Him who giveth liberally and upbraideth not; and let them be consecrated to his service, in the sacred warfare you are required to wage against error and corruption.
6. Whatever may be the immediate result of contemplated measures, it becomes us to act faith in the predicted final overthrow of the antichristian system. We may not be able to see clearly through the mists by which her future history is obscured; nor is it necessary to our comfort as christians that we should. “The just shall live by faith;”—“we walk by faith, not by sight.” And with exhorting you to the exercise of believing joy in the ultimate issue, we take leave of the subject.
The revealed purposes of God are the ground of this exercise. “He Shall come to his end, and none shall help him. The Lord Shall consume that Wicked. And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory: and he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon The Great Is Fallen, Is Fallen!” Such is the language of God’s word on the subject. Any efforts that may be made to revive the power of Rome can only issue, at the most, in imparting “a kind of posthumous and galvanic existence to the cause of superstition;” and whatever struggles it may yet make, they can be regarded, at best, as but the mortal spasms of approaching dissolution. The doom of Babylon is sealed; whatever events may intervene, the hour is fixed when the seven-hilled city shall be tossed from its proud pre-eminence, and the triple cloud of blasphemy be prostrated in the dust; and the stone, cast by an angel’s might into the sea, never more to rise, is at once the emblem and the pledge of Babylon’s complete and everlasting destruction. The Lord of hosts hath purposed; and who shall disannul it? his hand is stretched out; and who shall turn it back?
Two questions of immense interest, connected with this issue, we have scarcely time to state:—How shall it be brought about? When shall these things be? As the antichristian system has a political character, it is far from improbable that temporal judgments,—wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, may be brought on many of its supporters. It is scarcely to be expected that a power of such extent will be overthrown without some tremendous agitations and convulsions. But the spiritual part of the system can only be destroyed by spiritual means; and as the great instrument of effecting this, prophecy leads us to look to the blessing of God on his word. Whether written or preached, this is that breath of the Lord’s mouth, by which the Wicked is to be consumed—that sword of the Spirit, quick and powerful, which is to dismember the complicated system of iniquity—that message with which the angel is to -fly to every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue that dwell on the earth, just before the fall of Babylon is sounded—that Sun of Righteousness, before whose radiance, the consummate scheme of Satanic device is to melt away and be dissolved. The process may go on gradually for a while; popery like the house of Saul becoming weaker and weaker, and the christian church, like that of David, waxing stronger and stronger. But the final overthrow, there is reason to think, will be sudden. “Her plagues shall come upon her in one day, death, and mourning, and famine.” Then shall He, whose right it is to rule, ascend his throne, and sway, undisputed, the sceptre of the world.
It is an issue to be contemplated with steadfast faith; to be prayed for with ardour; and to be anticipated with rapturous delight,—delight, untinctured by any of that pensive compassion which it is common for fallen greatness to excite. The men who have participated in her unholy traffic, may weep and wail, and cry, “Alas! alas! that great city!” But not a sigh or a tear shall the event call forth from the members of the true church. “REJOICE OVER HER, THOU HEAVEN, AND YE HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS; FOR GOD HATH AVENGED YOU ON HER.” Purity shall succeed to corruption, and an unprecedented blaze of gospel light follow the antichristian darkness. The church’s greatest enemy being slain, she shall have peace and unexampled success; the witnesses shall put off their sackcloth; the thousand years of splendour and glory shall succeed; and the very howlings which accompany the overthrow, shall mingle with the acclamations of joy and praise at the marriage supper of the Lamb having come.—“And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, and the four beasts, fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia. And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” To this encouraging prediction, we can only add the devout prayer:—“Arise, O Lord, Plead Thine Own Cause; Let Not Man PREVAIL.”
Notes for Sermon III.
A. “One says, I am of Benedict; another, I am of Francis; another, I am of Dominic; and another, I am of Jesus. These holy fraternities vilify and condemn one another; and when the mendicants of different orders used to meet on a begging expedition, they would hold a pitched battle like as many wild Irishmen on a holiday. This is an example of schism in the true sense of the word; and as nothing like this exists in protestant churches, we are entitled to call the Church of Rome the only schismatical church in the western world.”—Protestant, vol. iv., p. 311.
B. [This was written in 1829, since which time matters have become greatly worse, both in England and in Scotland—Note added by Wm. Symington, in 1850.]