PREACHED IN EDINBURGH, AUGUST 17, 1860,
IN CONNECTION WITH
THE PROTESTANT INSTITUTE OF SCOTLAND,
TERCENTENARY OF THE SCOTTISH REFORMATION.
PROFESSOR OF SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.
GLASGOW; DAVID BRYCE.
PAISLEY: ALEX. GARDNER.
EDINBURGH: JOHNSTONE, HUNTER, AND CO., AND W. P. KENNEDY.
THE following account of the occasion on which the Sermon was preached is gathered from the Bulwark for October, 1860.
On the last of the four days of the National Tricentenary Commemoration of the Scottish Reformation, these magnificent meetings culminated in the laying of the foundation-stone of the Protestant Institute of Scotland, as a living memorial of the Reformers and Reformation. This one practical result was, and will everywhere be, hailed by the joyous greetings of thousands of the scattered sons of Scotland.
The Congregation met in the New Assembly Hall at one o'clock, when the sermon was preached. After public worship, the members formed themselves into a procession in the quadrangle of the College, and proceeded to the place purchased for the new buildings at George IV. Bridge. The procession was headed by Major Davidson, Sir Henry Moncrieff, Rev. Drs. M’Crie, Begg, Hetherington, Lorimer of London, and Lindsay of Glasgow; and among those composing it were Professor Balfour, General Anderson, Bailie Blackadder, R. Morrieson, Esq., Harvieston House, P. W. Macredie, Esq., Perceton, Dr. Greville, Rev. Professor M’Michael, Rev. Dr. Wylie, Dr. Handyside, Peter Drummond, Esq., Stirling, and a number of influential citizens. Dr. Begg supplicated the Divine blessing on the undertaking, and Mr. Porteous, Secretary, read a list of articles enclosed in the bottle. The stone having been lowered, Robert Morrieson, Esq., said, it gave him the highest gratification to perform the pleasing duty allotted to him that day of laying the foundation-stone of a building destined to forward the great and good work which they had throughout their Tricentenary meetings been commemorating; and he trusted that the blessing of the Most High would rest upon their labours.
Animating addresses were delivered by Rev. Dr. M’Crie of London, Professor Lindsay of Glasgow, Sir Henry Moncrieff of Edinburgh, and Rev. A. Dallas of Wonston. The 122d Psalm was then sung, and prayer having been offered up by the Rev. Professor Symington, the large assembly separated.
REV. xviii,—‘Come out of her, my people.’
It would be unpardonable to detain an audience like the present, with lengthened introductory remarks, on the writer of this remarkable book—on the character of its varied contents—or on the received principles of apocalyptical interpretation.
Suffice it to observe, that the subject-matter of these Revelations is, by the inspired writer himself, conveniently divided into the things that have been—the things that are—and the things that shall be hereafter (Rev. i. 19). The last of these divisions—the visions of futurity—embraces seven distinct periods, extending from the Pagan Roman Empire to the celestial glory. The history of the Church of Christ down to the time of the Millennium, is set forth under seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials;—the seventh seal comprehending the trumpets; and the seventh trumpet comprehending the vials. The several prophecies, embraced under these respective symbols, are all unfolded in the first sixteen chapters. The Millennium and what follows it, are set forth from the commencement of the twentieth chapter to the end of the book. The intervening chapters, that is, the seventeenth, the eighteenth, and the nineteenth, contain only enlarged accounts of what had been before presented in a more cursory form:—partaking, in a good measure, of the character of what, in modern publications, goes under the name of ‘notes and illustrations.’ These illustrative notes treat of the scarlet-coloured Harlot, and the Beast by which she is supported—of the Fall of Babylon the Great—and of the casting of the Beast and the False Prophet into the lake of fire.
The text stands connected with the second of these, namely, The Fall of Babylon the Great. This event is announced by an ‘angel that came down from heaven, having great power;’ and who, while ‘the earth was lightened with his glory,’ cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, ‘Babylon the Great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.’ Whilst the astounding declaration is reverberating like thunder throughout the apocalyptic heaven, another voice is heard—a voice of an entirely different kind, a voice not of denunciation but of solemn and affecting warning,—‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.’
The former prophetic intimation, brethren, has not yet become an historical fact. We are not yet in circumstances to take up the message of the one angel, and proclaim, ‘Babylon the Great is fallen, is fallen:’ but the times in which our lot is cast, are of such a nature as to give redoubled urgency or emphasis to the warning cry of the other angel, ‘Come out of her, my people.’ This call is just an embodiment of the spirit or design, as I understand it, of that ‘Protestant Institute’ the foundation stone of which is this day to be laid. It is spoken of by the Committee as to be ‘the head-quarters of a mission for Roman Catholics, and a means of establishing and superintending mission operations wherever Romanists are found to congregate throughout the country.’ I am at a loss to conceive how an Institution the design of which is thus described, whose object is to rear and send forth into the streets of the mystic Babylon evangelical angels to resound this beseeching cry, could find a more appropriate motto for its seal, or a more significant inscription for its vestibule, than that which is here furnished in the words, COME OUT OF HER, MY PEOPLE. Nor could services commemorative of the Great Reformation from Popery be more suitably closed, than by having attention directed to words which breathe the true spirit of Protestantism toward Romanists—not a spirit of malignant hatred, but of tender and imploring benevolence—the spirit of Him who has compassion on the ignorant and them that are out of the way.
Bear with me, then, when, for a little, I ask your attention to a series of observations founded on the text,
I. There exists a corrupt system, against having connexion with which, the people of God are solemnly warned.
This system is indicated by the pronoun ‘her’ in the text; the antecedent is ‘Babylon the Great,’ described in the two verses which precede. ‘Babylon’ was the ancient capital of Chaldea, founded either by Semiramis or by Belus, and brought to perfection by Nebuchadnezzar. It was well entitled, on many accounts, to be spoken of as ‘Great;’ the descriptions given of it, by the writers of antiquity, being so extravagant that moderns were disposed to call in question their truth—an incredulity for which, perhaps, there was no other foundation than that similar magnificence had never been witnessed. Babylon the Great is here symbolical of the Church of Rome. The nature of the Book of Revelation required that some degree of obscurity should characterise its pages, until such time as the events foretold should receive fulfilment. The Popish system, to which so much of the book refers, is accordingly described under certain analogical symbols, fitted to pourtray its character and properties—such as Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon. The last is more common, perhaps, than either of the others. Amongst Protestant expositors there is great harmony of agreement, in understanding the Church of Rome, or the Popish system, as meant by this and other passages where the symbol occurs. (See Rev. xiv. 8; xvi. 19; xvii. 5; xviii. 10, 21.) The points of analogy are so striking as to make the application stand out in the very clearest light; and too numerous to leave any ground for hesitation.
Babylon was the original seat of apostacy from the worship of the true God. There was nothing of this kind before the deluge, whatever practical wickedness prevailed. The erection of the tower of Babel on the plain of Shinar, the temple of Belus, was the first attempt at such impiety. The Popish Church is an apostate Church. Connected with the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition, being revealed, there was to be ‘a falling away’ first. This falling away (ἡ αποστασια) from the purity, and simplicity, and spirituality of the primitive Christian church; this falling away in worship, in doctrine, and in practice; this universal apostacy, in short, has been so fully realized in the Church of Rome, as to have led some to conclude that Apostacy is the name of the Beast.
Babylon was an idolatrous city. If idolatry commenced with the worship of the heavenly bodies, of the sun and the moon, under the names of Baal and Ashtaroth, we know that it did not stop there, but that homage came to be offered to heroes, benefactors, beasts, reptiles, vegetables, masses of gold and silver, and blocks of wood and stone. In this idolatry ancient Babylon was seriously implicated, as appears in the prediction of her destruction, where we read of ‘the graven images of her gods being broken unto the ground’ (Is. xxi. 9). Popery, every one knows, is a system of idolatry, sanctioning, as it does, the worship of other objects than God, of angels, and saints, and more especially the Virgin Mary, and the use of images in the worship of the true God, contrary to the express prohibition of the second commandment of the decalogue;—the excuses pleaded for which would go far to justify the grossest forms of heathen worship.
Babylon was celebrated for her pomp and magnificence. Her walls, her temples, her palaces, her canals, and her artificial lakes contributed to her external grandeur. To this there is marked allusion in the language of Holy Writ:—‘Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency—the golden city—the Lady of kingdoms—abundant in treasures—an astonishment among the nations’ (Isa. xiii. 19; xiv. 4; xvii. 5; Jer. li. 13, 41). How well all this fits the Church of Rome, must be manifest to all who call to mind the character of her places of worship, the forms of her service, the dress of her priests, her imposing processions, and her gorgeous ceremonies;—so much calculated to allure and overawe the minds of the vulgar. Her lofty domes, pictorial decorations, voluptuous music, and showy pageants, proclaim how skilfully the fine arts have been made the handmaids of a degrading superstition; how industriously every thing has been contrived to strike the senses rather than to affect the heart, to glitter in the eye rather than to reach the conscience;—thus serving to identify her with ‘the woman arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, and having a golden cup in her hand’ (Rev. vii. 4); as also with ‘the mighty city,’ whose merchandise is described as ‘the merchandise of gold and silver and precious stones; and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet; and cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil' (Rev. xviii. 10–13).
The pride and arrogance of ancient Babylon have their exact counterpart in that which is mystical. The spirit of the one breathes in the words, ‘Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty’ (Dan. iv. 30)? ‘I sit a queen and am no widow; and shall see no sorrow,’ says the other with equal self-complacency. The same spirit is manifested by the Romish Church in her arrogant claims of absolute and universal supremacy; in her assumption of infallibility; in her appropriating the names, titles, attributes, and prerogatives of Deity; in her setting aside Scripture, taking upon herself to dispense with the obligation of God’s law, presuming to pardon sin, and even venturing to award the blessing and the curse which God has reserved in his own power—thus ‘opposing and exalting herself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped’ (2 Thess. ii. 4).
The barbarous cruelties perpetrated by Babylon of old on the Jewish Church render it a fit emblem of a community which is ‘drunken with the blood of the saints;’ whose history is written in blood; the sanguinary spirit of which is breathed in fearful maledictions and atrocious persecutions; to whose monstrous appetites thousands and tens of thousands in almost every country have been sacrificed; which has only ceased to persecute when deprived of the power so to do; and whose persecutions differ from all others that have ever existed, in being the native result of its principles—the mere acting out of its established maxims.
Practical immorality, every form of licentiousness and abomination, abounded in ancient Babylon. Fit type of Popery ‘the mystery of iniquity,’ which imposes no restraint on the indulgence of luxury and effeminacy, and whose law of clerical celibacy is itself a reeking fountain of untold pollution. Indeed, it were contrary to every dictate of reason to expect personal purity in a church, the emoluments of whose officebearers are derived from auricular confessions and the sale of indulgences, and which claims the power of absolving men for money from whatever monstrous iniquities they may choose to commit. How truly is it said, “Her sins have reached unto heaven!’
In fine, the extent of dominion claimed and exercised by the Church of Rome, is indicated by the symbol employed in this verse. Babylon was the mistress of the civilized world; her power extended over all kingdoms; all people and languages were subjected to her authority, and trembled before her. ‘Whom the king of Babylon would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive, and whom he would he set up, and whom he would he put down’ (Dan. v. 19). And is it not the fact that, during the middle ages, Popery exercised sway over all the nations of christendom? She sat on many waters, and the inhabitants of the whole earth may be said to have been made drunk with the wine of her maddening cup. Nay, even to this day, it bears rule over a large portion of the fairest quarters of the globe.
Such are the analogies by which, in common with a whole host of Protestant interpreters, we are led to view the Popish system as meant by that Babylon the Great, with reference to which the warning is sounded, ‘Come out of her, my people.’
II. Some of God’s own children may be found within the precincts of the Mystic Babylon, and be content to remain there.
This appears from the manner in which those invited to come out, are addressed, ‘My people.’ It is, without doubt, God who speaks; the voice is from heaven, and the utterance is one which befits only Him whose throne is there. ‘My people,’ is a description which indicates such as are God’s, not by profession merely, but in reality; such as are chosen to eternal life, redeemed through the blood of Christ, and made holy by the Spirit of all grace.
Such may be found within Babylon, in certain subordinate senses, which do not imply an actual incorporation with the wicked system.—They may be there locally, in virtue of having their residence within certain geographical bounds. They may be living under the domination of Rome; enthralled by its power; immured, it may be, within the cells and dungeons of the Inquisition, like the captives of Judah and Israel in Babylon of old. They may be residing in Popish countries, like France, Italy, Spain, or Portugal. In a certain sense, such may be said to be in her, and it may be their duty to ‘come out,' because of the moral dangers with which they are beset.—In a higher sense, though still a subordinate one, the people of God may be in her constructively. That is to say, they may be in Babylon, by adopting her errors, by copying her practices, and by forming alliances with her. The principles of the system are infectious; her cup is fascinating; her leaven may impart a pernicious taint to Protestant churches and Protestant men; even the people of God may not be proof against a measure of evil influence arising from too close contact. In consequence of this it may be, that some have learned to think more favourably of Popery than they ought to think; have come to speak extenuatingly of its errors and its practices; are disposed to look upon it as changed; and have ceased to hold that attitude of decided hostility, even in their prayers, by which Protestants were wont to be characterized. Persons of this kind are to be charged to ‘come out.’ And it is their duty to do so by making themselves better acquainted with the evil nature of the system—by renouncing its spirit—by purging the old leaven thoroughly out—by studying to keep their garments clean—by peremptorily refusing to wear the mark of the Beast either on their forehead or their arm—by condemning and opposing every measure calculated to increase its political influence—and by unceasingly and fervently praying for its overthrow.
But may not some of God’s children be found, in a higher sense still, within the precincts, of the Mystic Babylon? May not God’s own people be actually incorporated with the Popish system? Of course, persons who are among the elect of God may mingle for a while with the very worst systems in existence,—with heathenism, with Mohamedanism, and with every corruption of Christianity. More than this, is it not possible to conceive of persons who have actually felt the regenerating power of divine grace, occupying the hazardous position in question? It is amazing how ignorance may cloud the minds of the truly godly; how superstition may mingle with genuine piety. From this cause, men may retain a sort of connection with a false and wicked system, who in their hearts repudiate and loathe the essential elements of the system itself; just as many, too many, alas! may stand in a certain relation to the system of true religion who are utter strangers to its spirit and its power. The celebrated brotherhood of Port-Royal furnishes an apt confirmation. Many of the Jansenists adopted a comparatively pure creed, and led it may be truly godly lives. Among ‘the Reformers before the Reformation,’ may there not have been similar instances? And who shall say that our leading Reformers themselves—Luther, Calvin, Knox—did not feel the power of grace on their hearts, before they assumed the attitude of protesting openly against the corruptions of the system by which they were entangled? In the case of the German Reformer at least, the Reformation, we know, was acted over in his own bosom, before he was strengthened and emboldened to avow it in the face of Europe. Now and then still, under the prompting of gracious motives, an ecclesiastic bold enough to rebuke the superstitions and expose the impostures of his own church, makes his appearance on the Continent; and may we not conclude that there are many more, living unknown amid the shades of obscurity, who are only waiting the signal of some competent leader to revolt from the Holy See, and join the ranks of Protestantism? The language of the text leads us to expect that there will be some such to the very last.
If it should seem wonderful that God's people may be found in the Mystic Babylon, it is still more amazing that they should be content to remain there. Yet such the text supposes to be the case. The persons addressed are not making a single spontaneous effort to escape; but need to be warned, expostulated with, and besought. This is doubtless due to the deadening effect of ignorance, custom, education, and example. They are not wholly under its dominion, yet are they not sufficiently alive to the evils of the system. Babylon's intoxicating cup may have its influence so far counteracted, that while its poison stupifies it does not kill. It may lull into torpor, without extinguishing the vital spark. By allaying apprehensions, it may induce a lethargy which shall indispose and unfit for throwing off her yoke, and leave in a state from which nothing shall be able to rouse but the trumpet-note of such a warning-voice from heaven as this, ‘Come out of her, my people.’
III. Connection with the Mystic Babylon is perilous for God’s people.
By connecting themselves therewith, they become ‘partakers of her sins,’ and expose themselves to ‘receive of her plagues.’
They become ‘partakers of her sins.’ Her sins!—who shall undertake to describe or to enumerate them? They are no ordinary sins, either in number or magnitude. Sins of every name, and every degree of aggravation, are found in the Mystic Babylon:—sins against God; sins against Christ; sins against the people of God; sins against the laws, the perfections, and prerogatives of Deity;—sins against the authority, against the offices, against the institutions and laws, against the sacrifice, and intercession, and lordship of the Redeemer;—sins against the liberties, the rights, and the privileges of the Church. ‘Her sins have reached unto heaven.’—Now, such as are in it, ‘partake’ of these, by lending countenance to their existence;—by throwing the weight of their influence and example on the side of their commission;—and by doing what tends to their perpetuation. Great guilt may in this way be contracted, when the sins themselves may not be individually or personally committed. Nothing but separation can prevent participation. The pleas of ignorance, of secret dissent, of protest against being thought to lend them countenance, are alike of no avail, so long as connection is retained. The persons themselves may be saved, saved so as by pulling out of the fire—if they are really God’s people, they will be so saved;—nevertheless, they shall not escape chastisement.
They expose themselves to ‘receive of Babylon’s plagues.’ ‘Her plagues’ include all the withering, scorching, fiery judgments, by which the system is to be overthrown. She is doomed to everlasting destruction. The ancient Babylon, we know, ‘became a desolation among the nations,’—was ‘recompensed according to her work’:—‘her broad walls were utterly broken, and her high gates were burned with fire:’ —the sentence was fulfilled to the letter, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her’ (Jer. 1. 23, 29–51; lviii. 64). Like sudden, terrific, and total destruction awaits the Mystic Babylon. Observe the language used respecting her in this very chapter. ‘She shall be utterly burned with fire;—in one hour her riches shall come to nought;—in one hour shall she be made desolate;—with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all’ (ver. 8, 17, 19, 20, 21). Talk of the Romish system being reformed! How can it be if these sayings are true? And there are other parallel Scriptures. Is not that ‘wicked’ destined to be ‘consumed and destroyed’ (2 Thess. ii. 8)? Is not the man of sin, ‘the son of perdition’ (2 Thess. ii. 3)? Is not the beast to go into perdition (Rev. xvii. 8)? Why, the City is not to be repaired, but to be razed to the foundation and consumed with fire; not a fragment of the decrees, the orders, the rites, and the canons of the apostate church shall remain to desecrate God's earth with its presence. Amid the awful predictions with which the volume of inspiration closes, not one ray of hope gilds the destiny of Papal Rome. On the horizon there rests but one dense unbroken cloud of portentous judgment: nor does any other prospect meet the eye of the observer, but . the lurid glare of those lightnings by which Babylon is to be consigned to utter and everlasting destruction.
Oh what then must be the danger of remaining in connection with a system over which there hangs so heavy a doom! Nor does the whole of the danger arise from participating in her predicted plagues. The tenets of the system have a soul destroying tendency. It is thoroughly unevangelical and inimical to the gospel of God’s grace. Some, as was before said, who are outwardly connected, may inwardly come to the knowledge and experience of salvation. Men may, even in Babylon, breathe the atmosphere of a Divine life, as the diver lives at the bottom of the sea by means of air sent down to him from above. But it is not the system itself which supplies the vital element. No. Even its doctrine of human merit alone, which holds so very prominent a place, is perilous to the soul’s eternal interests. What fervour and importunity ought this one consideration to give to the warning voice of the text, even as amplified, and intensified, in ancient prophecy. ‘Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul; be not cut off in her iniquity. My people, go ye out from the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul, from the fierce anger of the Lord’ (Jer. li. 6, 45).
IV. God’s people ought to separate from the system symbolized by ancient Babylon.
To describe the system is to make known the duty of taking such a course. Separation from a Church, is in most cases a difficult and delicate step, involving as it does the hard question of schism. But when it is impossible to abide in a community, without being implicated in the sins thereof, the obligation to withdraw is clear. As regards the Romish Church, we are relieved from all embarrassment on this score. The call of the text is explicit, and the ground on which it rests, is most satisfactory. Yet has that Church the effrontery to brand all who leave its fellowship, with the character of schismatics; a charge which is often virtually acknowledged by conceding to its members the title of Catholics; for if Papists are catholics, it inevitably follows that Protestants are schismatics. It is therefore, the bounden duty of all who would not be involved in the sins and plagues of the Mystic Babylon, to come out of her. And how?
They are to come out, first of all, by believing in Christ. They must renounce faith in the Church, and transfer their allegiance to the Church’s Head. Abandoning all superstitious ablutions, they must have recourse directly to the blood of the Lamb. Throwing away their crucifixes, they must embrace, firmly and tenaciously embrace, the Cross. This is the first, and most essential act of separation. It is what Rome dreads most of all: and she well may, for it saps her very foundations.
They are to come out by renouncing the communion of Rome. They are to break off visibly and formally as well as really. It cannot be safe, either for themselves or for others, to remain in connection under the pretext of having broken off virtually. The command is, ‘Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans. Remove out of the midst of Babylon, and go forth out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as the he-goats before the flock’ (Is. xlviii. 20; Jer. l. 8).
They are to come out by assuming the unequivocal attitude of Protestants. They are to lift up a distinct and fearless testimony against its errors; they are to PROTEST against the evils of the system. They are to ‘overcome,’ not ‘by the blood of the Lamb’ only, but ‘by the word of their testimony’ (Rev. xii. 11). The squeamishness which shrinks from the condemnation of error, which would limit the duty of the witness to the assertion of truth, is at once absurd, unreasonable, and contradicted by the example both of Christ and the apostles. They never hesitated to lift the sheep’s clothing, and to disclose in their true character the wolves who had assumed it as a disguise.
They are to come out by carefully avoiding all after participation. They are to stand aloof, to keep at as great a distance as possible. They are to beware of suffering themselves to be drawn by weak compliances into any compromise of their consistency. In their behaviour and in their prayers, they are to give unequivocal expression to their sincerity in the step of separation. How pitiful the appearance made by those professing Protestants whose whole endeavour seems to be, to avoid the peculiarities of Protestantism, and to mimic the absurdities and mummeries of Rome!
They are to come out, in fine, by holding themselves ready for contest with the enemy. It is not the contest of a day, or of a year. Rome aims at the supremacy of the world. In particular has she set her basilisk eye on Britain, having sagacity enough to perceive that, while it is unconquered, she can never attain the object of her ambition. The plans have been long considered and matured. The machinery at her command is both extensive and insidious. We may assure ourselves that it is not an indignant burst of popular opinion, such as was recently given, that will make Rome relinquish her purpose. It is mortifying enough, to be sure, to find that after the lapse of 300 years the battle of the Reformation should still need to be fought. Such, however, is the fact. And those who would respond to the call of the text must equip themselves for warfare. The enemy is vigilant and active. If we give ourselves up to sloth, if we suffer ourselves to rest even on our arms, the consequences may prove alike disastrous and disgraceful. If the old battle is to be fought, the Church must range herself under the old standard, must furbish up and sharpen the old weapons, must bring herself up to the ancient battle-ground, and must manifest the old spirit of indomitable courage and endurance.
Men must rise above that weak dread of controversy with which so many seem to have been stricken. ‘Terrible,’ it has been well said, ‘as are the hurricanes of controversy, pernicious as may be their immediate effects on the faith of some, and temper of many, they serve from time to time to purify the atmosphere, and render it salubrious. Let us never forget that Christianity was planted, and has grown up in storms. Discussion is favourable to it, and has ever been so. Let the wintry blast come, it will but scatter the sere leaves, and snap off the withered branches; the giant tree will only strike its roots deeper in the soil, and in the coming spring-time put forth a richer foliage and extend a more grateful shade.’
V. The warning cry of the text is one which demands special, immediate, and universal attention.
Special attention is due to it, as divinely authoritative—as infinitely gracious—as involving the best interests of mankind—and as tending to advance the glory of the Redeemer.
It is divinely authoritative. It may be delivered by men, and seconded by providence; but in either case it is the message of God. It is uttered by ‘a voice from heaven.’ Men are not at liberty to disobey. They cannot do so without trampling under foot the highest authority in the universe.—It is infinitely gracious. It betokens the goodness and condescension of God. ‘My people,’ are words which should touch the heart. It is the language of endearment. It is the cry of an affectionate father, whose bowels of compassion are moved, and who is concerned for the safety of his children placed in circumstances of imminent danger.—It involves the best interests of men. Babylon is not a safe or fit place for any of God’s children. The consequence of neglecting to come out may be fatal; the consequence of obedience to the call cannot but be highly beneficial.—It tends to the glory of the Redeemer. By scarcely any other step can men put more honour on Christ. Popery wears an aspect of manifold and determined hostility to the Mediator. Rome makes war with the Lamb. It is Anti-christ. To break off from it, and go over to the other side, is so honouring to Our Lord, that it is represented as giving rise to a burst of grateful and joyous acknowledgment in heaven:—‘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’ (Rev. xix. 1)!
The call demands immediate attention. Compliance cannot be given too soon. Men cannot too soon renounce sin; cannot too soon escape from impending plagues. Every moment’s delay, the guilt of continuance is accumulating; the difficulty of escape is increasing; and the hazard is the greater as the time of destruction draws nearer. The prediction is, that the doomed system shall continue 1260 prophetical days. Whatever theory may be adopted of the commencement of this period, its termination cannot now be very far distant. Many have long had their minds fixed on the year 1866; and the extraordinary events of the present day, more especially in Italy, the citadel of the Mystic Babylon, would seem to favour the conclusion that the Antichristian system, although it may not be overthrown, shall then receive a death-blow, tending greatly to advance its end. The physical aptitude for volcanic explosion of the country which is the centre of the Popish system;—the spread of Divine truth, the Spirit of the Lord’s mouth by which that wicked is to be consumed;—the signal instances of conversion which have been occurring, both in Europe and America;—the predictions of scripture;—and the power of Jehovah, are sufficient to prevent all despondency as to the final issue. We know, for God hath said it, that ‘her plagues shall come in one day, and that she shall be utterly burned with fire’ (Rev. xviii. 8). We know that ‘strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.’ Yes; here is our security,—‘strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.’ Rome may increase her zeal and redouble her activities; and faithless Protestants may give themselves up to supine indifference. But strong is the Lord God who is pledged to bring about her extinction. He whose voice was obeyed by the wind and the sea;-He to whom the planets in their courses and the angels in their holy ministry do homage;—He who rends the rocks with a word, and shakes the earth at his pleasure;—He who has the roar of the thunder, and the impetuosity of the whirlwind at his command, as much as the whispering breeze of love;—even He it is that hath said:—‘Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her. With violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all' (Rev. xviii. 20, 21). Why, then, need we despond?
Nor do the symptoms of revival in the system which now and then present themselves, stagger in the least our confidence in its fall. They rather tend to strengthen and confirm it, inasmuch as we are assured that ‘the Beast is to be cast alive—not weak and maimed and dying—into the lake of fire’ (Rev. xix 20); and the plagues of Babylon the Great are to come ‘in one day,’ that is, not gradually but suddenly. The efforts that are being made by the friends of Rome, may succeed in imparting to it a sort of posthumous or galvanic activity; but the struggles she may thus be enabled to put forth will be only as the mortal spasms of approaching dissolution. The doom of Babylon is sealed. The hour is fixed and near at hand, when the seven-hilled city shall be tossed from her proud preeminence;—when the triple crown of blasphemy shall be prostrated in the dust;—when, like a millstone cast by an angel’s might into the sea, Babylon shall sink to rise no more at all for ever.
Now, the nearer the period of her overthrow the more loud and urgent should be the cry, ‘Come out of her.’ If the cry demands immediate attention, it calls for immediate announcement. And it ought to be uttered with all earnestness; with an earnestness like that with which men are implored to leave a sinking vessel—like the earnestness of the covenant-angel to Lot, when the fire and brimstone were about to break forth:—‘Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed’ (Gen. xix. 17). Or, like the earnestness of Jehovah’s appeal to the congregation of Israel, when the earthquake was opening its mouth to swallow the tents of the rebels:—Get you up from about the tabernacles of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram’ (Numb. xvi. 28).
The call demands universal attention. I have not time now to speak of it in this aspect. We are not to content ourselves, however, with its being published in Britain. The United States of America require to hear it. Canada requires to hear it. The continent of Europe, above all, requires to hear it. Indeed there are few corners of the earth where it does not need to be proclaimed. Let it go forth to all, without reserve, without hesitation, and without delay. Wherever there is a street or a lane of the Great City, let it be made to reverberate with the warning cry.
Go, found and rear, then, with all possible speed, your Protestant Institute. Gather into it men of learning and piety. Train them effectually for their work. Send them forth as angels of mercy throughout the ranks of Romanism. And, wherever they go, let the burden of their message be the heaven-borne voice:—‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.’
This Protestant Institute is, after all, the grand practical improvement of these commemorative services. It wears an aggressive aspect. Too long have Protestants thought it enough to stand on the defensive. It is high time that they felt the obligation to carry the war into the camp of the enemy. Their doing so may prove to be the crisis of success. Instructive and encouraging in this connection, is a fact in our country’s history. The British troops on the field of Waterloo had stood many a bloody hour beating back the surges of war, when, on a signal from the great captain of our age, a hostile movement was made on the line of the foe. Instantly the cheek of Napoleon grew pale, and his guard, misnamed ‘invincible,’ was scattered in irrecoverable route. The Captain of our salvation is, in his providence, giving us a sign to advance with unbroken phalanx and without delay, on the line of the Man of Sin. And may we not hope, that, on the signal being obeyed, the legions of Romanism shall be scattered in inextricable confusion, and the Mystic Babylon, misnamed ‘infallible,’ FALL to rise no more. Oh how I should like to see the benevolent enterprise of British Christians concentrated on a grand Protestant Mission to Rome,—the centre of Papal error and tyranny. To secure for Rome a free Bible and a full Gospel, would be noble revenge for the injuries it has sought to do us. This work accomplished, the triumph of the Protestant cause would be achieved.
Nor let our zeal for others render us unmindful of our own personal interests. Popery is the religion of fallen man. The errors of Romanism have all their origin in the corruption of human nature. When we think of the apostacy of our own hearts from God;—of our spiritual idolatry;—of our liability to substitute outward forms for the life and power of true godliness;—of our aptitude to lean on our own merits;—of our ungenerous hostility to our fellow-men; and of our great and manifold immoralities, we cannot but feel how much it concerns us to give good heed ourselves to the beseeching cry, ‘Come out of her.’ And, oh, while we linger, may the angel of the covenant lay hold on us by the hand, bring us forth, and set us beyond the city (Gen. xix. 16). Then, and then only, shall we be able to feel due concern for the escape of others.
And it is our personal interest, not more as fellow-sinners to regard the call ourselves, than as true Protestants to see that it be universally and successfully published to others. For, not until it has been obeyed—not until God’s people have come, or rather have been brought out—may we expect to hear the other angel proclaiming as an accomplished fact, ‘Babylon the Great is fallen,’ introductory to the great voices in heaven, saying:—‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.’
Indulge me, brethren, ere I close, with the expression of a hope that this Tercentenary Commemoration may have the effect of directing attention to certain things in regard to which both the churches and the governments of our country have erred.
The churches had long ceased to bear a very marked and decided testimony against the man of sin, in their public teachings and authorized symbols. Formal and earnest petitions for the overthrow of the doomed system had come to be almost entirely dropped from their public prayers, and a general apathy had come to prevail in regard to the conversion of Papists from their dangerous errors.—The successive governments, whether conservative or liberal, had, also, for a length of time, followed the mistaken policy of conferring honour on those whom God has threatened to clothe with shame. They had established and endowed the Popish religion in our colonial dependencies. They had conferred large grants of public money on Popish seminaries, for the purpose of rearing and maintaining priests, to go forth over the land disseminating the most pernicious errors. They had formed friendly alliances, of a doubtful character, with antichristian foreign powers.
In all these things we had sinned. And it seemed as if God had designed to shew us our sin in the light of our punishment, when, a few years ago, the Head of the Romish Church made the audacious attempt to erect a Popish Hierarchy in this Protestant kingdom. We have reason to thank God for the noble counteractive burst of popular feeling that was elicited by the Papal aggression, and for the signs of a reactionary movement that followed. And, although this movement has not been followed up as it ought to have been, yet the tone of feeling has been decidedly improved. This feeling the present commemorative services cannot but have deepened and advanced.
It is to be hoped that it will also be blessed as a means of leading many to seek a closer acquaintance with the history and principles of the Reformation, especially of the Reformation in Scotland. These our ancestors well understood ; but their posterity have been in danger of overlooking them. It will, further, it is hoped, prove the means of directing attention to the Confessions of the Reformed Churches, especially the Westminster symbols, almost every sentence of which is pointed, more or less directly, against the corruptions and errors of Romanism. Nor can I repress the hope that it may issue, besides, in recalling men’s minds to those Federal deeds [i.e., the Covenants, National and Solemn League] of former years, which were so prominent in promoting and preserving, under God, the inestimable benefits, civil and religious, of the Reformation, but which have been long covered with the dust of neglect. A revived consideration of such things as these, may be expected, under the Divine blessing, to have the effect of awakening the attention of our statesmen, our noblemen, our ministers, and our yeomanry, to the real source of our country’s safety. For, assuredly, all her agricultural riches, all her commercial glory, all her military and naval strength, all her foreign relations, all her territorial extension, and all the skill and learning of her sons, will form but a miserable defence, should the bulwarks of her religion, her Protestant Faith and Gospel morality, be suffered to be removed. Let it, therefore, be the fervent prayer of all, that these recent services may result in securing a more devout attention to the admonition and warning:—‘Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God’ (Rev. iii. 2). Then, shall our own beloved Britain ‘no more be termed Forsaken, neither shall our land be termed Desolate; but the Lord will be favourable and bring back our captivity; our country shall be married, as of old, to the Lord; and glory shall dwell in our land’ (Isa. lxii. 4; Psa. lxxxv. 1, 9).
The Lord hasten it in his time! Amen, and amen.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
1. The Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ, 8vo, 2nd edition.
2. The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ, fcap. 8vo, 2nd edition.
3. Sermons on Public Occasions, 8vo.
4. Life and Remains of John Williamson, 12mo.
5. Considerations on Lots, from an American Journal, with Introduction and Appendix.
6. Popery, the Mystery of Iniquity, 18mo.
7. Charges at the Ordination of the Rev. Jas. M’Gill, 8vo.
8. The History and Importance of Sabbath Schools: a Lecture at the request of the Glasgow Sabbath School Union, 1841.
10. Scott’s Commentary on the Bible. With Introductory Essay; and Notes Critical, Explanatory, and Practical, 3 vols. 4to.
12. Historical Sketch of the Westminster Assembly of Divines: a Lecture at the Commemoration of the Bi-centenary of the Westminster Assembly, by the Reformed Presbyterian Synod.
13. Mercy to the Seed of Abraham; an Address at the Designation of the Rev. John Cunningham to Missionary Labour among the Jews in London, 8vo.
14. An Essay on the Life and Writings of Stephen Charnock, B. D., prefixed to a Selection from his Works, 12mo.
15. Departed Worth and Greatness Lamented: a Sermon on the Death of Rev. Andrew Symington, D.D., 8vo.