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James Dodson


2 THESS. ii. 7.


“The Mystery of Iniquity doth already work.”

It is a common sentiment, that the ministers of religion ought to abstain from all party controversy whatever; and, by confining themselves to the establishment and application of what they conceive to be truth, tacitly to condemn and counteract the influence of error. This opinion is founded on a too narrow view of the duties of an advocate of divine truth; is quite unsupported by the conduct of mankind in other departments of learning; and is virtually condemned by the commands and examples of holy writ. “Prove all things,” says Paul, “hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess. v. 21.) “Beloved, believe not every spirit,” says John, “but try the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out of the world.” (1 John iv. 1.) The Saviour, too, not only condemned the erroneous sentiments entertained by those among whom he lived in the days of his flesh, but pointed out by name the persons who held them: “Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” (Matt. xvi. 6.) The apostle of the Gentiles acted on the same principle: “But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who, concerning the truth, have erred, saying, That the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” (2 Tim. ii. 16-19.) The Faithful and True Witness, writing to the church of Pergamos, has these words: “I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.” (Rev. ii. 14, 15.) And, applicable to every case, in every age of the church, is the solemn declaration of prophecy, “When The Enemy Shall Come In Like A Flood, The Spirit Of The Lord Shall Lift Up A Standard Against Him.” (Isa. lix. 19.) I feel, therefore, confident, that in acting on the principle of these precedents, I am not departing from the line of duty which a minister of religion ought to follow; but, on the contrary, discharging an imperious obligation laid on me by the signs of the times.

And, at the outset, I wish it to be distinctly understood that the task is undertaken from no liking to the controversy itself, nor from any feeling of personal hostility to the individuals on whose principles I shall feel called upon to animadvert. Far from it. Sincerely do I wish there were no need for agitating the question at present; and, so far as I know my own heart, I can freely declare, that I am conscious of no emotion of rancorous animosity or malicious hatred to the persons of any of those whose sentiments I condemn. It is the system to which they are attached that rouses my opposition; and while I wish to entertain towards it all the moral indignation it deserves, I would cherish towards its deluded votaries no other feelings than those of heartfelt compassion and christian good-will. If I saw a papist hungry, I would feed him; if I saw him thirsty, I would give him drink; if I saw him naked, I would clothe him; or if I knew him sick, or in prison, and were given to understand that my services would be acceptable, I would visit him as readily as I would any other person. In the sequel, therefore, while I shall speak of the system with all the freedom of truth, I shall study to avoid all bitter invective against its supporters, endeavouring, throughout, to

“Keep nothing back,

Nor ought set down in malice.”

Few parts of scripture have received more attention from commentators than Paul’s prediction respecting the Man of Sin and Mystery of Iniquity.—“Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the Mystery Of Iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way; and then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”—This prophecy has been differently explained, of course, according to the judgment, feelings, or prejudices of respective authors. Bishop [Thomas] Newton, in his excellent dissertation on the passage, enumerates and refutes eight different opinions respecting it, all of which have found their zealous supporters. These opinions are the following:—That it refers to—

1. The Emperor Caligula.—Opinion of [Hugo] Grotius.

2. Simon Magus and the Gnostics.—Dr [Henry] Hammond.

3. The revolt of the Jews from the Romans.—[Jean] Le Clerc.

4. The revolt of the Jews from the Romans, or from the faith.—Dr. [Daniel] Whitby.

5. Titus Vespasian, or the Flavian family.—Professor [Johann Jakob] Wettstein.

6. The impostor Mahomet.—Opinion of some Papists.

7. The Reformation.—Held by other Papists.

8. The apostasy which is to take place a short time before the general judgment.—Opinion of the greater number of the Romish Doctors.

In opposition to all these, the view of almost all protestant writers, and even of some popish ones, is that it refers to popery,—an opinion which is strongly corroborated by the similarity of this prediction to those of Daniel and John, in which the system in question is undoubtedly pointed out, and by the well-known character of the system itself. Let any one examine the features of the corruption here described by Paul, and say whether they do not agree, with marvellous exactness, to the Romish Church, as supported by the concurrent testimony of all history.

It is scarcely necessary to premise, that we do not understand the prediction as pointing out the Pope individually, or indeed any one part of the system, but the system itself. The corruption alluded to by Paul is spoken of as “a falling away;” and what is popery but an apostasy from the purity of the christian religion, in doctrine, worship, and practice? It is called “the Man of Sin,”—a title too well merited by the scandalous lives and abominable corruptions, maintained and sanctioned by the principal supporters of the system in question. It is styled “the Son of Perdition,”—a designation certainly not inapplicable to a religion which has been the cause of eternal destruction to so many thousands, and which is, itself, destined to a complete and final overthrow. It is added, “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped,”—a description which cannot fail to identify itself with a power which has claimed universal and absolute supremacy, not only over all ecclesiastical persons and affairs, but over magistrates, kings, and emperors. Its taking its rise and maintaining its place in the christian church, is plainly enough referred to in the expression, “Sitting in the temple of God;” while what follows, “showing himself that he is God,” is strikingly illustrative of the blasphemous titles assumed and divine prerogatives usurped by the Romish pontiffs. It is needless to pursue the parallel farther. These are sufficient to identify the object of the prediction. It may, with safety, be affirmed, that there is not another system in being to which the apostle's description will, in the same manner, apply.

We are thus warranted to assume, that it is the popish system of which it is said, “The Mystery of Iniquity doth already work.” The Thessalonians, to whom Paul had before spoken on the subject, had understood him to refer to the final judgment. To correct this mistake, he affirms that, although the complete development of the apostasy in question should not take place till some future time, the elements—the seeds, were already in operation.

A “mystery” signifies something hid, but afterwards revealed; or something complicated, involved, and difficult to be understood. The word, translated “iniquity,” means unlawfulness—whatever is opposed to the law of God; and, of course, embraces every kind of iniquity, doctrinal or practical. The term “mystery” is applied to the same system in the apocalyptic description of the woman arrayed in purple and scarlet colour: “Upon her forehead was written, Mystery, Babylon the Great.” The kind of mystery is pointed out in the phrase, “Mystery of Iniquity:” and the sad pre-eminence in complicated unlawfulness, of that system, is strongly marked by its being styled “The Mystery of Iniquity.”

In what follows, we shall attempt to verify the application of the ignominious title in question to popery;—animadvert on some of the pleas urged in its behalf by its friends and apologists;—and point out the duty of protestants, with reference to it, especially at the present crisis.

Meanwhile let us consider how applicable is the ignominious title, “Mystery of Iniquity,” to the popish system.

I. In speaking of Popery as a Mystery of Iniquity, the vast complication of evil which it embraces cannot fail to present itself to the mind. Here it will be necessary to enter somewhat into detail, and to view the system in a variety of bearings.

1. Contemplate then its bearing on the glory of God.—This, all are aware, is the high end which the Almighty proposed to himself in the creation of the universe; which is, consequently, designed to be promoted by all his works, material and immaterial, rational and irrational; and every encroachment on which he is represented as regarding with the utmost jealousy: “The Lord hath made all things for himself. I am the Lord, that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” (Prov. xvi. 4; Isa. xlii. 8.) Yet is the glory of God invaded in a multiplicity of ways in the Church of Rome; by idolatrous worship, blasphemous titles, arrogant claims, and presumptuous deeds.

The worship of angels, of saints, and of images, is a well known part of the popish system. Prayers are offered to departed spirits; and honours, nothing short of divine, paid to the crucifix. Whatever excuses may be made by papists for this part of their conduct, the fact, at least, is too notorious to admit of denial. Nor will the apology, that the worship is not offered to the image but to God through the image,—the latter being only used as a help to devotion,—be deemed of any weight by those who consider how unfit any representation whatever must be to convey an idea of the great Supreme; how much more fitted such a practice is to lower than to elevate our conceptions of God; how expressly “the making of any graven image” is forbidden in the second commandment; and how unequivocally the meaning of this commandment is settled by the following caution:—“Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire,) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure; the likeness of male or female; the likeness of any beast that is on the earth; the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air; the likeness of anything that creepeth on the ground; the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.” (Deut. iv. 15-19.) It is not necessary, it appears, to constitute idolatry, that the object of worship be understood to be God; it is enough if the service offered be such as is due only to Him. Thus it is that “the covetous man” is viewed as an “idolater,” (Eph. v. 5,) because the love and respect which he owes to God he gives to his riches; and thus, too, that the children of Israel were chargeable with “turning aside quickly out of the way which God commanded them,” when they made the golden calf, notwithstanding that they professed to regard it as a representation merely of the God “which brought them up out of the land of Egypt.” (Exod. xxxii. 1-8.) Jehovah is the sole object of religious adoration; and whatever worship, on whatever pretence, is paid to the creature or to images, is a direct infringement of the glory which he claims as his peculiar prerogative in the first two commandments of the decalogue, so admirably epitomised in these words of the Saviour, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him Only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. iv. 10.)

Those who can make free with the worship of God are not likely to be over-scrupulous about the honour connected with his titles. The titles which the Supreme Being claims for himself can apply only to him; and the ascription of these must be understood as an acknowledgment of his possessing what the titles themselves import. Whoever, then, usurps the peculiar designations of Deity may be regarded as guilty of sacrilegiously robbing him of the honour connected with the possession of them, and blasphemously transferring that honour to himself. And that such iniquity exists in the Church of Rome, is made too evident by the fact, that her pontiffs have assumed such divine appellations as the following:—“His Holiness”—“Holy Father”—“Our Lord God the Pope”—“Most Holy Lord”—“Another God upon earth.”

In harmony with these are the presumptuous claims of infallibility and supremacy, which are preferred by the pope. He lays claim to unlimited control over all persons and all affairs, both ecclesiastical and civil. The attribute of supremacy is ascribed to him in the standard works of the church; it is acknowledged by her members, and has been acted upon even to the extent of deposing, degrading, and creating kings and emperors at pleasure. This claim, it is scarcely necessary to remark, is condemned by what our Lord said to his disciples, when he found them disputing which of them should be the greatest: “Ye shall not be so, but he that is greatest among you let him be as the younger, and he that is chief as he that doth serve; neither be ye called masters, for one is your Master, even Christ.” (Luke xxii. 26 ; Matt, xxiii. 10.) No countenance to it can be derived from the institutions and practices of the primitive church; and when it is considered what difficulties attend the management even of an ordinary family, it will appear that a supremacy over the whole world is utterly incompatible with the attributes of humanity. Such a claim, therefore, includes in it all the iniquity of an invasion of a divine prerogative.—Nor can anything less be said of the claim of infallibility. There is no maxim supported by more general and unequivocal proof than that it is human to err. To claim exemption from this rule, then, is to usurp the prerogative of divinity. Indeed, of no finite creature in itself, however pure or exalted, can infallibility be predicated. Creatures there are who have never fallen, and shall never fall from the dignity of their primitive condition. But this is owing not so much to their nature, as to the support vouchsafed them by their Maker; the removal of which would render them as capable of declension as any of those who have proved their detectability by their history. The claim of infallibility, therefore, wherever it may be thought to reside,—whether in the person of the pope, in the cardinals, or in the collective body of the church,—is alike impious, blasphemous, unscriptural, and irrational.

The deeds of the Church of Rome are not at variance with her impious claims. She presumes to legislate for her members; to dispense with the laws of God, prohibiting what is allowed, as in the case of marriage, and commanding what is forbidden, as in the case of image-worship: nay, even to usurp the high prerogative of absolution from sin, in the face of those solemn words of Jehovah: “I, Even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” (Isa. xliii. 25.)

2. Closely allied to the glory of God, is the honour of Christ, which is introduced in scripture as an object of interest to men, to angels, and to the Deity himself. The saints are represented as singing, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. i. 5-6.) The angelic spirits, who surround the throne, cry with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” (Rev. v. 12.) And of God himself is it given as the will, “That all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father.” (John v. 23.) How far this object is respected by the Church of Rome, let the impartial judge. The Roman pontiffs have assumed the peculiar titles of the blessed Saviour, blasphemously styling themselves, “Head of the Church”—“Lion of the tribe of Judah”—“King of kings and Lord of lords.” Nor have they paid more respect to the honour attached to the offices of Christ;—that of his prophetical office is virtually nullified by enjoining ignorance, claiming for traditions equal authority with the word of God, and pretending to infallible interpretations;—that of his priestly office, by the doctrine of merit, the sacrifice of the mass, and the employing of created intercessors ;—that of his kingly office, by tyrannical usurpations over the persons and consciences of men, issuing authoritative decrees, and pretending to dispense forgiveness of sins. To be convinced of the “iniquity” of thus dishonouring the Saviour, we have only to reflect how peremptorily we are enjoined to “hear him in all things,” and how expressly we are told that “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified;” that there is but “one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus;” and that “Him hath God exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts iii. 22; Heb. x. 14; 1 Tim. ii. 5; Acts v. 31.)

3. The holy scriptures are a sacred deposit committed to the church to be employed for the purposes for which they are designed, to be treated with all possible respect, and their existence and purity watched over with pious sedulity. But the doctrines and practices of the Church of Rome are hostile alike to the perfection, authority, and use of the scriptures.

Although told that “the law of the Lord is perfect,” that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” (Psa. xix. 7; 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17,) she scruples not to give these plain declarations the lie, by elevating the apocryphal writings and oral traditions to equal authority with the Old and New Testaments, as if necessary to supply a deficiency in the latter. The books of the Apocrypha thus received, were written during the cessation of the prophetic spirit between the time of Malachi and John the Baptist; were never received into the sacred canon by the Jewish church; are never once quoted or alluded to by Christ or his apostles; contain many things fabulous, contradictory, unscriptural and untrue; and were not admitted into the canon of scripture during the first four centuries of the christian era. To them is added a vast lumber of oral traditions, purporting to be sayings of Christ and the apostles, collected by the early christians, and transmitted in all their original purity, and with all their primitive authority. But notwithstanding that many of them are contrary to the principles and practices of the church in the days of the apostles, and even to the acknowledged dictates of inspiration, the principle itself is directly subversive of the perfection of the word of God, as a complete standard of faith and duty. The sinner that is desirous of becoming acquainted with the way of salvation, the church that is contented with the simple institutions of Jesus, will find ample satisfaction in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, without having recourse to either oral traditions, or the books of the Apocrypha; but if it is wished to graft on the doctrines of Christ and the example of the apostles such tenets and practices as image-worship, the sacrifice of the mass, transubstantiation, the intercession of saints and angels, supererogation, and purgatory, we frankly admit the necessity of referring to some such spurious authorities; and we concede for once to the Church of Rome the praise of wisdom and candour, in seeking for her absurdities another foundation than that on which protestants exclusively rest their faith.

Nor, after presuming to add to the perfect law of God, will it surprise us to hear that the Church of Rome, in the plenitude of her arrogated power, has ventured to alter, mutilate, and retrench, the acknowledged canon of christian belief. The passage, “By faith Jacob worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff,” (Heb. xi. 21,) is, by way of furnishing some shadow of countenance to the worship of images, transmuted in the authorised Vulgate into, “worshipped the top of his staff.” The second commandment is, for a similar reason, expunged from the decalogue in her catechisms; and, to keep up the number, the tenth is divided into two. It is perfectly natural for such a church to employ degrading language in reference to the sacred volume, and to pronounce it, without foreign help, “a dead letter—an unintelligible record.” But we would seriously submit to the consideration of every candid person, whether the facts just now adduced do not establish her title to the fearful doom with which the canon of Revelation is closed:—“I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Rev. xxii. 18, 19.)

The Church of Rome is not less hostile to the authority than to the perfection of the scriptures. Apart from the claims of the bible itself, reason would seem to demand for it equal authority with that of its Author; but there is no tenet of popery more explicitly avowed than this, that the authority of the church is supreme in matters of faith. Her members are taught, instead of What saith the scriptures? to inquire What saith the church? The word of God is thus robbed of the honour to which its high origin entitles it; and, so far from being the ultimate standard to which everything in religion is to be referred, must itself be content to receive sanction from the church. The version to be used, and the sense to be attached to particular texts, must all be determined by the church. Yet, with marvellous inconsistency, the church professes to derive her authority from the word of God, and cites the scriptures in support of her claims. The absurdity of supposing the scriptures and the church mutually to confer authority upon, and derive authority from, each other—that is to say, that a thing whose authority is professedly derived should confer authority on the source from which it derived it,—is so glaringly monstrous, that it were a waste of words to attempt its exposure.[See Note A.]

The iniquity of thus elevating human above divine authority, of wresting the standard of religion from the hands of the people, and seeking to subjugate faith to the dictates of erring creatures, is only equalled by the conduct of the same church in reference to the use of the scriptures. It has long been a favourite maxim, that the scriptures ought not to be given to the laity. Their use is restricted to the clergy, and to such among the laity as are considered proof against being hurt by them; who, it is peculiarly worthy of notice, enjoy this distinctive privilege by express permission from the church, while it is absolutely forbidden to the people at large. The withholding of the bible from the laity on pretence of their liability to abuse it, is in direct opposition to the assertion, “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple,” (Psa. xix. 7 ;) is utterly at variance with the well-known commendation pronounced on the Bereans; and is contrary to the universally-approved maxim, that the abuse of a thing is no argument against its use. What is there, we may ask, that is not liable to abuse? Are not the best things often liable to the greatest abuse! Will the papist cut off his feet, because they may carry him into ways of wickedness; or amputate his hands, because they may lay hold on his neighbour’s property; or put out his eyes, because, perchance, he may be tempted to employ them in viewing vanity? Yet, on this hollow pretext—for it is nothing else than a pretext, the true reason is something widely different from what is avowed—on this hollow pretext are the holy scriptures, the word of eternal life, withheld from the poor and the young. Reading the scriptures has no place in the code of christian duty laid down in the catechisms of Romanists; and papal maledictions have been fulminated against those societies which have for their object the circulation of the pure words of eternal life in the vernacular language of every people under heaven. Tell us not of some individuals in the papal communion who have acted on different principles. The fact we most willingly admit; but does it prove anything more than there are some in that communion who act inconsistently with their profession by aiding the circulation of the word of God, as there are some among protestants who act equally inconsistently with theirs by opposing such circulation? This is all that can be legitimately concluded from the fact, while the truth of the charge remains untouched; in support of which we might refer to the decrees of councils—to the bulls of Roman pontiffs—to the time-immemorial practice of that church—to the history of the proceedings of the Hibernian Society for circulating the scriptures in Ireland—and to the fierce, outrageous, and unblushing attacks that have been lately made upon the bible cause in that unhappy country. Great, then, and complicated is the ‘iniquity’ of the popish system, even in the limited point of view we are now considering, namely, as respects its bearing on the scriptures of truth.

4. But all this is only introductory to its influence on the salvation of the soul and vital religion. The soul of man is of incalculable worth—worth to an adequate estimate of which, no earthly ideas, however vast, can assist us. Whatever affects its salvation on the one hand, or ruin on the other, must of course be considered as standing high in the scale of excellence or criminality. We would not go the length to say that in connection with the Church of Rome salvation is a thing impossible, as we read of some who are saved “being pulled out of the fire” and, moreover, we find the following address spoken in reference to Babylon, “Come out of her, my people.” (Rev. xviii. 4.) We, nevertheless, fearlessly avow it as our opinion, that the tendency of many of her tenets is directly injurious to the high object in question.

In what other light can her doctrine of human merit be viewed? We know not any propositions in the bible more unequivocally announced, and more unanswerably established, than these:—“By the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified.—If righteousness come by the law, then is Christ dead in vain.” (Rom. iii. 20; Gal. ii. 21.) Yet, in the face of these, and similar plain scripture declarations, does the Church of Rome maintain that good works are meritorious of salvation;—are calculated to diminish or remove altogether the future punishment of the sinner, and even to establish a claim to heaven. To save her character, to be sure, she makes some show of reference to Christ; but then all the place he is permitted to hold is, instead of the primary one of being “the only Saviour,” the subordinate one of having enabled man by what he has done to save himself. “If any one shall assert,” say the decrees of the Council of Trent, “that justifying faith is nothing else than a trust in the divine mercy, remitting sin for Christ’s sake; or that it is faith alone by which we are justified, let him be accursed.” And again, “If any one say that the righteousness received, in justification, is not preserved, and even increased before God by good works; and that these works are only fruits and signs of justification, not the cause of its being increased, let him be accursed.” Still further, “If any one say that the good works of a justified man are so the gifts of God, that they are not the meritorious good deeds of him who is justified, let him be accursed.”[See Note B.] Nay, not even satisfied with this, by her doctrine of supererogation she maintains that saints can do more than the law of God requires, and, after saving themselves, accumulate a treasury of surplus merit, whose exuberance may be retailed to such as have little or none of their own; as if sufficient disparagement were not shown to the Redeemer by representing his infinite merits as defective, unless a superabundant good were ascribed to the doings of worthless man. Oh! in what a perilous state are the souls of those who espouse such sentiments as these; and who that believes that “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ,” does not tremble for their salvation!

Nay more; to the establishment of “another foundation” she adds the cruel insult of maintaining that salvation is nowhere else to be obtained but in the bosom of the Catholic Mother Church. The members of all other churches are regularly and formally excommunicated, with anathemas and maledictions which would be dreadful did we not know that the spirit from which they proceed is as powerless as it is malicious. “And withal I condemn,”—such are the words of the oath prescribed by Pope Pius IV. to be taken by every lay convert to popery, and by every ecclesiastic,—“reject and accurse all things that are contrary thereunto, (obedience to the bishop of Rome,) and all heresies, whatsoever condemned, rejected, and accursed by the church. This true catholic faith, out of which no man can be saved,” etc.

Having laid claim to a monopoly of salvation, as if to make amends for the ungracious aspect which this part of the system bears toward other communities, she holds out, as a lure to enter her fellowship, the easy terms on which eternal salvation may be thus secured. Mere connection with church, and acting faithfully to its interests, are all that is necessary. Neither faith in the Redeemer, nor any other principle of difficult attainment or heavenly origin, is required, but only conformity to the rites of the church. These are all-efficacious, sufficient to secure a sinner from all possible hazard as to his eternal state. Baptism regenerates the nature; penance, confession, and the mass, purify the life; and the mystic ceremony of extreme unction affords the expiring soul an ample viaticum for heaven. All the while, faith in the atoning blood of the Lamb of God is left out of view: no mention is made of the Balm of Gilead or the Physician of value. The whole mystery is effected by a charm, the secret of which is in the full possession of the priesthood; and, should even the sinner be about to appear before God with the blood upon him of who-knows-how-many victims, remorselessly butchered for sordid gain, the officiating priest can have the effrontery to tell him, within hearing of protestant ministers, and before thousands of protestant people, “Say your creed now, and when you come to the words, Lord Jesus Christ, give the signal, and die with the name of the blessed Saviour in your mouth.”[See Note C.]

In such a church, and holding such tenets, where is there room for vital religion? If in any communion “the righteous scarcely be saved,” surely personal godliness must be in the Church of Rome a rare and difficult attainment. Like the ancient Pharisees—to whom, by the way, they bear a striking resemblance—her clergy exact “tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and omit the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” The commandments of God are made absolutely of no effect by the idle pageantry of superstition. Faith, repentance, humility, charity, and new obedience, cannot be essential constituents of popish devotion. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God;” but to the members of the Church of Rome the use of the word of God is forbidden. The faith she requires is not faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but faith in the priest. For the grace of repentance, she substitutes the sacrament of penance, not scrupling even to accommodate the Saviour’s well known declaration, on the subject of repentance, to her own wicked purpose: “Except ye do penance, ye shall all likewise perish.” In place of new obedience, she has invented an endless succession of rites and ceremonies, kneelings, crossings, counting of beads, lustral sprinklings, and mutterings of Ave Marias and Pater Nosters. Her charity is evinced in coolly devoting to perdition all who dispute her claims: and, as for her benevolence, it may be guessed from the frowning battlements, reverberated groans, and devouring flames of the Inquisition!

This, though not by any means the most prominent, is, out of sight, the most dangerous feature of popery. The salvation of the soul is everything to man. If it is lost, all is lost. The arrogant claims and bloody persecutions of the Church of Rome, which figure so conspicuously in history, affect but the goods or territory, or bodies of men; but the principles we have just been surveying affect their deathless spirits. In following up her decrees of extermination against heretics, many thousands of bodies has she slain, and awful must be her recompense when the Lord shall make inquisition for blood; but who shall estimate the guilt that cleaves to the spiritual Babylon for the many millions of souls that have been eternally ruined, by drinking of her deleterious, intoxicating, and maddening cup? On this ground it was that the first quarrel of the Reformers rested. It should never be forgotten that Luther commenced his bright career by denouncing the doctrine of human merit, and maintaining, as the essential article of a standing or falling church, that of justification by faith. Nor is it without special meaning, in connection with these remarks, that, in the apocalyptic inventory of Babylon’s merchandise, a prominent place is assigned to “the souls of men!”

5. The value and importance of the institutions of the christian religion will be admitted by all. By corrupting, diminishing, and adding to them, their beautiful simplicity has not been more defaced than their usefulness destroyed, in the Church of Rome. They are no longer what they were as given by their gracious Author—few, simple, easily practised, and possessed of a directly beneficial power;—but they are mutilated, dwarfed, debased, burdened with an intolerable load of difficult ceremonies; their fair proportion distorted by unsightly excrescences of human invention, and their tendency perverted to what is positively pernicious.

How is the simple and holy ordinance of Baptism corrupted by additions for which no divine warrant can be shown;—by sponsorship, exorcising, crossing, the use of salt, oil, and saliva! How different from the instituted right of sprinkling with pure water, in the name of the ever-blessed Trinity: to say nothing of its being most unwarrantably and dangerously represented as in itself, by virtue of the mere opus operatum,—the simple act of administration,—efficacious to regenerate the soul, and actually to purify it from all sin!—Nor is the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper less corrupted, by the mixture of superstitious ceremonies with its celebration; by the efficacy ascribed to the mere act of participation; by the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass; and by the monstrous absurdity of transubstantiation. All of these are highly derogatory to the merit of Christ’s “one sacrifice;” are in themselves irrational and palpably absurd; and in their tendency unspeakably pernicious, as calculated to induce low conceptions of the work of our great High Priest, and to divert the mind from scriptural views of the design and benefits of the ordinance.

By diminishing, as well as by corrupting, does popery interfere with the institutions of Christ. By “communion in one kind,” as it is called, the cup is denied to the laity, who are obliged to content themselves with a consecrated wafer, while the wine is reserved for the exclusive use of the priesthood. By this arbitrary law, which claims no higher antiquity than that of the Council of Constance in the beginning of the fifteenth century, the aggravated iniquity is committed of a presumptuous infringement of the Saviour’s authority, a wicked invasion of the rights of the christian people, and an entire subversion of the end and use of the ordinance; so much so, indeed, as fully to justify the assertion, that the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper has no existence in the Church of Rome. The plea set up for this departure from the original form and primitive custom, is as wicked as it is contradictory, and as weak as it is wicked. As the bread represents the body, and the body supposes blood, there is no need, it is alleged, for giving more than the bread: the one element represents the whole. Overlooking the impious reflection which such reasoning implies on the wisdom of the divine Institutor, whose superfluity of appointment, forsooth, called for the retrenching hand of a general council, it is surprising it should never have occurred to its authors, how easily the principle might be turned against themselves. Can there be anything more natural, than to ask,—if the case be as stated above,—why the use of the wine should not have been abolished among the priests as well as the people? for it can never surely be alleged, that the perceptions of the former are so much more dull than those of the latter, as to require the stimulus of an additional symbol to enable them to understand the “holy mystery.”

But if iniquity is committed by thus taking from the perfect institutions of the church’s Head, still greater guilt is contracted by adding to their number. According to the Church of Rome, the sacraments of the New Testament Church are seven in number, instead of two. Confirmation, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony, are added to those which are universally admitted. Of the three standing first in this enumeration, it is enough to say, that the scriptures are altogether silent; and of the remaining two, that there is nothing whatever sacramental in their character or manner of observance. We wait not to expose the weakness of the arguments by which these additions are supported; but we cannot omit taking notice of the glaring contradiction exhibited in exalting matrimony to the rank of a sacrament, and at the same time eulogising celibacy as meritorious and peremptorily enjoining it on all the clergy. A sacrament, of which it is flagrant iniquity for the ministers of religion to partake, is, we venture to say, an anomaly unparalleled in the history of ecclesiastical legislation! Nor can the virtue of abstinence from a sacramental institution of Christ be less a prodigy in the department of christian ethics.

Amid the contempt with which we cannot but regard such absurdity, and the pity we cannot but feel for those who embrace it, let us not overlook the daring wickedness of the system by which the arrogance it supposes is sanctioned. This wickedness is not confined to the sacraments. The practices of canonisation, auricular confession, prayer for the dead, and invocation of saints, are all additions, for which it will be equally difficult to adduce the sanction of “Thus saith the Lord.” In short, it is impossible to name an ordinance or doctrine of the christian religion, which popery has not either exploded, or corrupted, or perverted.

6. No feature of this corrupt system is more prominently developed than its hostility to personal liberty. The praises of freedom have been sounded by patriots, and sung by poets, in every age; and slavery, whether mental or bodily, has been ever an object of marked detestation. But this blessing, so naturally dear to the heart of man, popery seems most artfully contrived to defeat. Its spirit is that of an unmitigated despotism; being satisfied with nothing less than a complete ascendancy over the judgments, lives, consciences, and persons of men. Without being charged with entertaining exaggerated notions of human freedom, a liberty to do whatever the word of God permits or enjoins, may surely be claimed. Yet even this reasonable demand is denied. All right of private judgment is withheld; the church is infallible; the will of the priest is supreme; the part of the people is hence that of a mere passive credulity; the functions of understanding and judgment are superseded; and a disposition to inquire and judge for one’s self, lays open to a charge of insufferable heresy and rebellion against the infallibility of the church. The Bible says, “Try the spirits; prove all things;” but the system in question inculcates a different lesson; and, though its ministers lay claim to a pure succession from the apostles, there is one point of resemblance at least in which they will surely allow themselves to have failed: “We speak as unto wise men, judge ye what we say.” Can popish ecclesiastics adopt such an appeal?

The consequences of this slavish subjection of the judgment to priestly dictation, are fatal to mental vigour as well as independence. The mind, having no room for action, necessarily becomes paralysed. The result of the scriptures being prohibited to be used—of the services of public worship being stripped of everything like instruction, and converted into a show—of the public prayers being offered in an unknown tongue, must be a humiliating prostration of reason. The tendency of the doctrine of supremacy, is to induce a crouching timidity; of that of infallibility, to suspend all mental exertion; while the power claimed over the world to come, must necessarily engender a cowardly fear, directly injurious to mental greatness:—to say nothing of other tenets, in their very nature calculated to outrage reason, and put common sense to the blush. It were vain to expect vigour of intellect, or ardour of discovery, under the operation of a system which draws a mystic line, beyond which it is sinful to push inquiry; and which claims the right of dooming to the dungeons of the Inquisition,—as in the case of Galileo,—the unfortunate author of any innovation on the opinions of the church, however well supported by the light of revelation or the soundest philosophy. This part of her policy, one should suppose, Rome must have borrowed from the Philistines, who put out Samson’s eyes and bound him with fetters of brass, that he might more submissively grind in the prisonhouse. And though, among papists, there may exist individual minds of high talent and culture, it will often be found, it is presumed, that, in such instances, the slavish tenets of the system have been abjured; and, consequently, that the effect is to be ascribed to some other cause, which could not have had liberty to operate had the shackles not been thrown off. Besides, these are but exceptions—sparks of light amid a general gloom—straggling rays, breaking through a dense eclipse of intellect; while the great mass of every truly popish population exhibits a state of the most degraded mental vassalage. In protestant countries, papists cannot fail to be influenced, more or less, by the light with which they are surrounded. But in purely popish lands, as Spain, or Portugal, or Italy, where the natives are the born vassals of the deadliest despotism, they breathe not a single generous or lofty aspiration, and dare not even “call their souls their own.”

Its hostility to freedom is further apparent, in prohibiting the use of what God has most clearly permitted. Certain kinds of meats are forbidden, at particular times; in the face of the declaration, that “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” Marriage is strictly forbidden to the clergy, and celibacy encouraged in others, by the establishment of nunneries and monasteries, under pretence of superior sanctity; as if it had not been in reference to a state of innocence, that it was first said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh:”—to say nothing of the plain apostolic assertion, “Marriage is honourable in all.”

The sanguinary and persecuting spirit of this religion is too well known to need lengthened illustration here. Claiming a universal civil as well as ecclesiastical authority, the Roman pontiffs have sought to unite the imperial diadem with the sacerdotal mitre; and, grasping the sword of temporal power in addition to the keys of St Peter, have prostrated even monarchs at their feet. Is it then to be wondered at, that they should have made the most cruel and unjustifiable encroachments on the personal rights and liberties of such as ventured to decline their jurisdiction or differ from them in opinion? Not content with bitter invectives and spiritual maledictions,—by which they have attempted to overawe the conscience,—external violence, in every varied form of atrocious ingenuity, has been employed against the persons of men. The history of popery tells of crusades undertaken to extirpate infidelity—of swords unsheathed, and fires lighted up, to gratify the ambition of universal conquest—of inquisitions erected, with all their horrible instruments of torture, in order to punish or convert obstinate heretics—and of streams of human blood, which the cruelty of papal interests has caused to flow. Even to recite the forms of punishment, would require more room than can well be given to this department of our subject. Suffice it to say, that every country where it has been resisted, has done so at the expense of its best and dearest lives: its progress is tracked with the blood of its victims; and the multitude of those who have fallen a prey to its rapacity is literally innumerable. No part of the character of Rome is better attested than this. It is what cannot be concealed. Before this could be done, it would be requisite to blot from “history’s honest page,” the reigns of Mary of England—of Charles V. in Germany—of Louis XIV. in France: together with the accounts of St Bartholomew-day in Paris—of the revocation of the edict of Nantes, at which 100,000 were murdered—and of the massacre of the Irish protestants in 1641. France, Spain, Germany, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, England, Scotland, Ireland, America, and even Italy, have all had their martyrs. There is scarce a country in Europe on which the fires of popish persecution have not gleamed. Nor is it possible now to tell how many Huguenots in France, Waldenses in Piedmont, Lollards in England, and Reformers in Scotland, have fallen sacrifice to papal intolerance. The Belgic martyrs are estimated at 50,000 by some, and by others as high as 100,000; the Waldensian at a million. In the city of Beziers alone, 60,000 persons were indiscriminately murdered in one day, the pope’s legate, with the crucifix in his hand, crying out, “Kill all, and God will know his own.” Charles IX. of France, boasted of having sacrificed in one night, 70,000 of his subjects. During the Irish massacre, which began in 1641, from 40,000 to 50,000 protestants were cruelly murdered in a few days. Even in England, during the short reign of Mary, about 300 persons, of all classes, perished amid the fires of Smithfield; and during the persecutions under Charles and James, 60,000 in England, and 18,000 in Scotland suffered by banishment or death. Let it not be said these are old things. Are they not approved by papists of the present day? Have they ever received a mark of condemnation from any authoritative source? Is there not, on the contrary, an annual thanksgiving observed at Rome, for the signal interposition of the divine power at the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and for the massacre on St Bartholomew-day? No description of the popish church is more true than that which represents it as “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Rev. xvii. 6.) Nor can any declaration better accord with the retributive character of Deity than this:—“Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus: for they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.” (Rev. xvi. 5, 6.)

This is one of the things which are apt to be retorted on protestants: but most ignorantly and most unjustly so. It is not sufficiently observed, that when protestants have persecuted, they have done it in opposition to their principles: their religion has, at the very time, disallowed their conduct. But persecution is in the very spirit of popery—is the natural and avowed result of its principles. Besides, if at an early period protestants exhibited anything of an intolerant disposition, it ought in justice to be ascribed, not to their religion, but to the difficulty men feel in throwing off the influence of sentiments they have been long accustomed to entertain. For any spirit of intolerance they have retained, protestants are entirely indebted to Rome, in escaping from whose abominations, it was scarce to be expected that they should get rid of everything objectionable at once. After all, what are the few paltry instances by which the charge in question is supported, compared with the tens of thousands which attest the spirit of the antichristian system! All the Jewish, pagan, and protestant persecutions put together, cannot number so many victims as have been sacrificed to the “Roman Moloch” alone.

How opposite the spirit of protestantism is to that of popery, may be illustrated by the following quotations, which we would recommend to the attention of those who are disposed to confound them:—“Mary,” says a sensible French writer, quoted by Dr M‘Crie, “was brought up in France, accustomed to see protestants burned to death, and instructed in the maxims of her uncles the Guises, who maintained, that it was necessary to exterminate, without mercy, the pretended reformed. With these dispositions she arrived in Scotland, which was wholly reformed, with the exception of a few lords. The kingdom receive her, acknowledge her as their Queen, and obey her in all things according to the laws of the country. I maintain, that in the state of men’s spirits at that time, if a Huguenot queen had come to take possession of a Roman Catholic kingdom, with the retinue with which Mary came to Scotland, the first thing they would have done, would have been to arrest her; and if she had persevered in her religion, they would have procured her degradation by the pope, thrown her into the Inquisition, and burned her as a heretic. There is not an honest man who dare deny this.” (Life of Knox, vol. ii. 28.) “In this very city,” writes Mr Maturin of Dublin, in 1824, “there is a work, entitled Ward’s Errata; that is, errors of the protestant translation of the bible. This work is exhibited in all the Roman Catholic booksellers’ shops in Dublin, adorned with prints of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, chained, in flames, and tormented by devils. Now, I say, that if a protestant bookseller dared to expose at Rome, at Naples, at Madrid, etc. etc., a protestant book, in which the pope, the cardinals, or the distinguished ecclesiastics of the Roman Catholic Church, were represented as condemned to everlasting flames, the result would be, that in twenty-four hours the publisher would be committed to the prison of the most holy Inquisition, from whence he would never make his exit, except to blaze at an Auto da Fe, for the love of God, the honour of Jesus Christ, and the glory of the holy Roman Catholic religion. Such would be the tolerance of the Roman Catholic Church—such is the tolerance of the protestant.”

7. To complete this picture of complicated iniquity, it is only necessary to advert to the influence of the popish system on practical morality. Here we shall leave out of view altogether the laws of the Jesuits, which, whether publicly avowed principles or secret instructions, disclose a system of wickedness, of unblushing impudence, and consummate adaptation to corrupt human nature. Enough may be gathered, from the general maxims of the body at large, to serve our purpose.

The very distinction of venial and mortal sins cannot but have an injurious influence on morals; inasmuch as there must be less inducement to abstain from iniquity, in believing “that venial sins deserve only temporal punishment,” than in believing that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against All unrighteousness of men.” The tenet, No faith with heretics, of which, however stoutly denied, the history of the church affords so many illustrations; the abominable maxim, that the end will sanctify the means; and the power assumed and acted upon, of dispensing with the most solemn obligations, of which so many well-authenticated instances are on record,—open a wide door for the overthrow of all social morality, break the bonds of every relation, and pour a desolating destruction over the dearest and most important interests of human life. It is matter of fact, that so late as 1811, the pope pronounced sentence of divorce between Bonaparte and Josephine Beauharnois, his lawful wife, to enable him to marry the daughter of the Emperor of Austria; and the incestuous marriages of uncle and niece, nephew and aunt, which have taken place for two generations among the members of the reigning family in Portugal, exist in consequence of a similar dispensation from his Holiness!

But perhaps the most demoralising principle of all is that of penance, with its appendages of confession, absolution, dispensations, and indulgences.—By substituting the spurious sacrament of penance for the christian doctrine of repentance, one of the most effectual barriers to immorality is removed. Is it, in the nature of things, supposable that they will be strongly solicitous to avoid practical iniquity, who believe, that on the payment of a given sum, or submission to some painful process, the priest is authorised to absolve them from all the sins committed since their baptism? nay, that should they feel greatly repugnant at the performance required, they may, for a trifling bribe, have it transferred to a less wealthy individual, and thus accomplish their object by proxy?—With respect to the confession that precedes absolution, it is not easy to determine on whom, the priest or the culprit, its influence will be more pernicious. As a source of emolument, as a subtle engine of spiritual tyranny, it is not difficult to see the use of the law which enjoins confession “at least once a year;” but as a means of personal holiness, it is not quite so easy to discover the secret of its utility. The person who confesses every iniquity of his heart, tongue, and life to a fellow-mortal, cannot but be fearfully degraded in his own eyes; while he, whose office it is to receive such confessions, whose ear has poured into it all the dishonesty, malice, profaneness, injustice, and lewdness of a district, could scarce expect to escape being contaminated, were he even innocent as Adam, immaculate as an angel of light.

And then another department of the mystery is indulgences, permissions on certain conditions to commit sin, or rather assurances of pardon before guilt is contracted. How these should contribute, as asserted, to the moral benefit of the individuals who procure them, one may surely be excused for being at a loss to apprehend. This part of the system is comparatively a modern invention. It was artfully contrived to replenish the exhausted coffers of Pope Leo X. by the sale of documents, in which the purchaser is secured against the consequences of such offences as he is thus authorised to perpetrate. As in other cases of merchandise, the variety is suited to all tastes; there being indulgences for this world, and indulgences for the next; some partial, others plenary; some for a shorter, and others for a longer period; for every species of crime indeed; the scale of prices being, of course, nicely graduated according to the supposed greater or less enormity of the crimes to be committed.[See Note D.]

Nor are these antiquated things, which the light of modern times has abolished. The doctrine still holds a place in the catechisms of the church, and the practice still forms a fruitful source of the emolument of her priests. To expect a high toned morality among the members of such a community, were to look for the living among the dead. That a people who are instructed to believe that the payment of a few pence, or the virtues of a splinter of wood or a rusty nail, can absolve them from guilt, should be distinguished for purity, would be a greater miracle than any to which impostor has ever laid claim. Nor is this a mere speculative inference from the tenets in question. The page of history is stained with the crimes of the popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests, of the dark ages; and even now, where will you find a more wicked race of human beings than the poor Roman Catholics? Do not the greater proportion of the thieves, robbers, housebreakers, highwaymen, and assassins, whose misdoings go to swell the criminal calendars of our country, and who end their days on the gibbet, belong to this class?

Such is the complicated iniquity of the popish system. Dark as is the picture, it is so far from being overcharged, that it can only be called a very faint sketch. Even to state all its abominations would require a volume of no ordinary dimensions. Should anyone presume to doubt the fidelity of the outline, the clearest documentary proof can be adduced. And yet it is such a system—a system which thus throws dishonour on God; offers direct insults to Christ; nullifies the holy scriptures; endangers fearfully the souls of men; perverts all the institutions of the church's divine Head; annihilates everything like personal liberty; and throws open the floodgates of grossest immorality,—it is such a system which lays claim to being the True Church of Christ, out of which there is no salvation. To everyone who has attended to the preceding statements, it may safely be left to judge, how much more appropriately it is styled, by the Spirit of God, The Mystery Of Iniquity!

Notes for Sermon I.

A. Indeed it can never be better exposed than it was by the ignorant collier, of whom Dr. Campbell relates the following anecdote. Being asked what he believed, he answered, ‘I believe what the church believes.’ On being asked again, ‘What then does the church believe?’ he readily replied, ‘The church believes what I believe.’ His interrogator desirous, if possible, to bring him to particulars, rejoined, ‘Tell me, then, I pray you, What is it which you and the church both believe?’ The only answer the collier could give was, ‘Why, truly, sir, the church and I both believe the same thing!’

B. Sess. vi. can. 12, 24, 32: cited by Fletcher.

C. No part of the details of those disgusting facts by which our northern metropolis has been so lately (1829) disgraced, shocked us half so much as that to which we have here referred. In the case of the principal facts, our attention was turned, for the most part, to the bodies. Here, however, we beheld a soul, a guilty soul, quivering on the verge of eternity, entrusted, for its future welfare to the mere enchantment of a name! And such is the method of salvation in the popish church!

D. The extent to which this singular traffic has been carried, may be guessed from the well-known fact, that the Spanish vessel Galleon, captured in the reign of Queen Anne, and carried into Bristol Roads, had on board, as part of its lading, 500 bales of bulls of indulgences, sixteen reams in a bale, the whole number being supposed to be not less than 3,840,000; the value of each varying from 20d. to £11! To such a height of impudence did this iniquity rise, that John Tetzel, who was commissioned by Leo to preach up these indulgences, unblushingly proclaimed that they could obtain the pardon of any offender, etiamsi matrem Dei stupravisset [even if he ravished the Mother of God]. and boasted that he had “saved more souls from hell by his indulgences, than St Peter had converted to Christianity by his preaching!”