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Book II - Chapter I

The Popish Theology

The Popish theology is based on the great fundamental truths of revelation. So far it agrees with the evangelical and Protestant scheme. Any attempt on the part of the Church of Rome to obscure or extinguish those doctrines which form the ultimate foundations of religion would have been singularly imprudent, and as futile as imprudent. By retaining these truths, and founding her system upon them, the Romish Church has secured to that system an authority and power which it never otherwise could have possessed. Building so far upon a divine foundation, she has been able to palm her whole system upon the world as divine. Had she come denying the very first principles of revealed truth, she would scarce have been able to obtain a hearing;-she would have been at once repudiated as an impostor. Popery saw and avoided the danger; and it has shown in this its usual dexterity and cunning. The system is not the less opposed to Scripture on that account, nor the less essentially superstitious. Paganism was essentially a system of idolatry, notwithstanding that it was founded on the great truth that there is a God. It has been a leading characteristic of Satan's policy from the beginning, to admit truth up to a certain point, but to pervert it in its legitimate applications, and turn it to his own use and purpose. So is it with Popery: it does not raze the great foundations of religion; but if it has left them standing, it has spared them, not for their own sake, but for the sake of what it has built upon them. The Popish theology includes the existence of a self-existent and eternal Jehovah, the Creator of the universe, of man, and of all things. It teaches that in the Godhead there are three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory; that man was created in God's image, holy and immortal, but that he fell by eating the forbidden fruit, and became, in consequence, sinful in condition and life, and liable to death, temporal and eternal. It holds that the posterity of Adam shared in the guilt and consequences of his sin, and that they come into the world "children of wrath." It embraces the doctrine of man's redemption by Jesus Christ, who for this end became incarnate, and endured the cursed death of the cross, to satisfy the justice of God for the sins of his people. It teaches that he rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and will return at the Last Day. It teaches, farther, that Christ has set up a Church upon the earth, consisting of those who are baptized in his name and profess obedience to his law; that He has appointed ministers to instruct and govern his Church, and ordained ordinances to be dispensed in it. It embraces, in fine, the doctrine of a resurrection of the body, and or a general judgment, which will issue in the acquittal of the righteous, and their admission into "life eternal," and in the condemnation of the wicked, and their departure into "everlasting punishment."

We find these great and important truths lying at the foundation of the popish system. It will afterwards be apparent that they are permitted to occupy this place, not from any value which the Church of Rome puts upon them as connected with the glory of God and the salvation of man, but because they afford her a better foundation than any she could invent on which to rear her system of superstition. For certainly no system bearing to be a religious system would have obtained any credit with men, in the circumstances in which the Church of Rome was placed, which ventured on repudiating these great truths. But that Church has so overlaid these glorious truths, so buried them beneath a mass of mingled falsehood, absurdity, and blasphemy, and has so turned them from their peculiar and proper end, that they have become altogether inoperative for man's salvation or God's glory. In her hands they are the instruments, not of regenerating, but of enslaving the world. The only purpose they serve is that of imparting the semblance of a supernatural origin and a divine authority to what is essentially a system of superstition and imposture. It is as if one should throw down a temple to liberty, and on its foundations proceed to rear a dungeon. On the everlasting stones of truth Rome has built a bastile for the human mind. This will very plainly appear when we proceed briefly to state the leading tenets of the Popish theology.

In following out our brief sketch of Romanism, it may conduce somewhat to perspicuity and conciseness that we adopt the following order:-We shall speak first of the CHURCH; second, of her DOCTRINE; third, of her SACRAMENTS; and fourth, of her WORSHIP. This method will enable us to embrace all the more salient points in the system of Romanism. Our task is one mainly of statement. We are not to aim, save in an indirect and incidental way, either at a refutation of Popish error or a defence of Protestant truth; but must restrict ourselves to giving a concise, though tolerably complete,-and, above all, an accurate and candid, statement of what Popery is. Though this forbids that we should indulge in proofs, or illustrations, or arguments, yet it demands that we adduce from the standard works of the Roman Church the authorities on which we base our portraiture of her system. We shall mostly permit Popery to paint herself. We shall take care at least to adduce nothing which the Church of Rome may be able on good grounds to disavow. It also appears to us that this is the proper place for a distinct exhibition of the system of Popery. It is necessary to be shown the ingenuity, compactness, and harmony of her system of doctrine, before proceeding to point out the adroitness and vigour with which she made it the instrument of accomplishing her ambitious and iniquitous designs. The popish theology was the arsenal of Rome. Here hung the bows, and spears, and swords, wherewith she did battle against the armies of the living God. Here were stored up the weapons with which she combated religion and liberty, subjugated the understanding and conscience, and succeeded for a while in subjecting the world to her iron yoke. The system of Popery is worthy of being made the subject of profound study. It is no crude, ill-digested, and clumsily constructed scheme. It possesses an amazing subtlety and depth. It is pervaded by a spirit of fearful potency. It is the product of the combined intellects of many successive ages, acute, powerful, and crafty, intently occupied in its elaboration, and aided by Satanic cunning and power. Wo to the man who falls under its power! Its adamantine chain no weapon has an edge so keen as to be able to cut through, but the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Once subjected to its dominion, no power but Omnipotence can rescue the man. Its bitings, like those of Cleopatra's asp, are immortal. "There was in some of my friends," says Mr. Seymour, speaking of the priests whom he met at Rome, "an extraordinary amount of scientific attainment, of classical erudition, of polite literature, and of great intellectual acumen; but all seemed subdued, and held, as by an adamantine grasp, in everlasting subjection to what seemed to them to be the religious principle. This principle, which regarded the voice of the Church of Rome as the voice of God himself, was ever uppermost in the mind, and held such an influence and a mastery over the whole intellectual powers, over the whole rational being, that it bowed in the humility of a child before everything that came with even the apparent authority of the Church. I never could have believed the extent of this if I had not witnessed it in these remarkable instances."1 As a piece of intellectual mechanism Popery has never been equalled, and probably will never be surpassed. As the pyramids have come down to our day, and bear their testimony to the skill and power of the early Egyptians, so Popery, long after its day is over, will be seen towering across the interval of ages, a stupendous monument of the power for evil which lies in the human soul, and of the prodigious efforts the mind of man can put forth, when impelled to action by hatred to God and the desire of self-aggrandizement.

1 Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome, by the Rev. M. H. Seymour, pp. 5, 6; London, 1849.

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