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Albigenses, and the horrible persecutions endured by the reformers in the sixteenth century. And such is the present doctrine of the Romish church, although the power to enforce it is in good measure wanting. The world is progressively advancing in knowledge and improvement; religious liberty has won its bloodless victories; yet the right to restrain and coerce conscience, and visit supposed theological errors with temporal penalties, is still pertinaciously defended, and forms a component part of the system of popery.* This is consistent, it is true; it is not for the infallible to alter or repeal; but it helps us in forming our judgment of the community that puts forth such monstrous assumptions, and vindicates the Protestant from the charge of uncharitableness when he denounces the system as the “ Antichrist,” the mystical “ Babylon” described in holy writ, and long ago destined to terrible destruction. '
5. Christianity is a system of happiness. Faith in the gospel produces content, cheerfulness, satisfaction, and the sublimest felicity. And the practice of Christianity is inseparably connected with bliss ; "her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” Gratitude,'trust in God, patience, hope, temperance, charity, and other kindred virtues, promote our happiness as well as our purity. Both temporal and spiritual blessings are attendant on the religion of the New Testament; and its benefits are enjoyed by society at large, in the amelioration of laws, the improvements witnessed in domestic and social life, the diminution of misery and crime, and the gradual softening down of the asperities of the human character : so true is it that “ godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”* But it is obvious that these blessings can only be experienced in proportion to the degree in which Christianity is understood and realized. Here is the crowning glory of the gospel ; it is the religion of mankind. Unlike the philosophy of the ancients, it has not an esoteric and an exoteric doctrine, one scheme for the learned and another for the vulgar. It may be understood by all; it is intended for all; it is given to all. The Roman-catholic system interferes with this divine benevolence, takes away the key of knowledge, and having sealed up the heavenly treasure, doles it out again with niggardly hand to its wretched victims. That those countries in which popery is the prevailing religion are usually worse governed and more miserable than others; and that the people generally are lower in the scale of civilization, and enjoy fewer of the comforts of this life than their neighbours, are facts beyond dispute.+ It is equally clear that for these results popery itself is responsible ; like every false system of religion, it brings a present curse upon its votaries, and makes the world a wilderness indeed.
sovereigns and states to exterminate them, and threatened excommunication if they refused; and granted the same indulgence to those Catholics who undertook to extirpate heretics by force of arms, as to those who joined the crusades to the holy land.Dupin, xi. p. 96. See Appendix, No. 4.
* Mr. Butler says that religious persecution is a “ crime," (Book of the Roman-catholic Church, p. 258 ;) and he, with many others of his communion, wish it to be believed that modern Catholics are not persecutors. But we have nothing to do with private opinions; we must abide by Mr. Butler's own rule—that heretics are to be exterminated is an“ article of his faith,” seeing that it was decreed by the council above-mentioned-a council which all Catholics “ undoubtedly receive.” He has no authority to contradict its decisions.
6. Finally; Christianity is peculiarly the religion of Christ. He is the “ Alpha and Omega, the first and the last”-the
* 1 Tim. iv. 8. + “Of all the religious grievances of which the French peasantry and labouring classes now complain as falling the heaviest, the necessity they are under of attending mass on working days, and the strict observance imposed on them by the maires, or magistrates, of many of the communes, to religiously observe all feasts and festivals, and even certain hours, on particular days dedicated to particular saints, on pain of a heavy penalty, is the most oppressive. These agents for the revived claims of the long-forgotten legion of saints frequently levy their fines without mercy, on the profane but industrious peasant who takes up his spade during the vigil of St. Didymus, or who plies the wheel on the feast of St. Catherine.”—Lady Morgan's France, i. p. 103.
“ Bavaria is one of the most backward countries of Gerinany, in regard to every kind of improvement. A bigoted and ignorant priesthood, not content with possessing a valuable portion of the lands of the country, have insisted on the expulsion of the Protestants, and on the strict observance of the endless holidays and absurd usages which impede the progress of industry among their followers. Hence, a general habit of indolence and miserable backwardness in all arts, and especially in agriculture; and in point of learning, a complete contrast to the north of Germany."— Loudon's Encyclopædia of Agriculture, p. 96.
centre of attraction—the source of life—the sole head and governor. In the Christian commonwealth he is the supreme and only ruler, and his statute book is the New Testament. Other king, the church, as such, may not have; other laws, in things spiritual, she must not acknowledge; she is “ complete in Him who is the head of all principality and power."* 6 One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.”+ But popery is the religion of priestcraft. From beginning to end it is nothing but priest, priest, priest. The aggrandizement of the sacerdotal order is the main design of all its ceremonies and services; the priests are literally and truly “lords over God's heritage.” Thus, the honour of the Redeemer is taken from him, his authority vilely usurped, and his laws trampled under foot. That indescribable being called “the church” has contrived to merge all power, divine and human, in her own monstrous tyranny.I Sitting in the chair of blasphemy, the Pope styles himself the “ Vicar of Jesus Christ,” but in reality exercises sovereign control over the consciences and souls of men, and “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped.” While the name of Christianity is retained, its power and influence are gone; and under the guise of friendship, a deadly thrust is aimed at its very existence. The skeleton is not more unlike the living man than popery is unlike Christianity. Or it may be aptly compared to the “whited sepulchre, which indeed appears beautiful outward, but is within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.”||
When a system so absurd and mischievous is held forth as the only genuine representation of the religion of the New Testament, and the means of comparing the one with the other are studiously withheld, it cannot be wondered at that reflecting minds should take refuge in infidelity. To them it must appear far wiser and better not to believe at all than to suffer such a degradation of reason and common sense as popery
* Coloss. ii. 10.
+ Matt. xxiii. 8. | It has been already mentioned, that in expounding the fourth commandment, the compilers of the Catechism have made the word “ sabbath” to include saints' days; all are placed on the same footing, and the commandments of the church claim the same regard as those of God. § 2 Thess. ii. 4.
|| Matt. xxiii. 27.
system bis desolaticraft, thi
requires of them. “ If this be Christianity," they argue, - if these silly superstitions, these ridiculous legends, this idolworship and priestcraft, this hostility to knowledge and freedom, this desolating principle of persecution, belong to a system which arrogates to itself a heavenly origin, we will indignantly reject its claims, and rather wander in the uncertainties of scepticism than submit ourselves to a yoke which a child might spurn to wear. Such a system carries with it its own refutation, and only deserves to be consigned to everlasting contempt.” Thousands and tens of thousands have reasoned thus; and in such countries as France, Italy, and Spain, particularly the latter, infidelity, concealed or avowed, is diffused to an astonishing extent, and numbers among its adherents a large proportion of the clergy themselves. They have confounded Christianity with popery, and the tyrannical policy of their church prevents them from rectifying the mistake. By demanding implicit faith, without examination or inquiry, and vigilantly guarding all the avenues to divine truth, it has driven them into unbelief, as their sole resource.
They must either cease to think or cease to believe; who can be surprised that they choose the latter alternative?
Is the reader a member of that church whose doctrines have been described in these pages? Suffer the entreaties of a friend. Break the fetters of your thraldom. Dare to think for yourself. Fear not priest, prelate, or pope; their anathemas cannot harm you. God gives you his blessed word; let no man take it out of your hands, or interfere with the inalienable right of conscience. Holy scripture is a profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works."* Dread not to read and examine that sacred volume, but thankfully receive the gift of heaven. Thence learn Christianity. Determine to receive nothing, as religion, which does not bear on its front the attestation of divine authority; and for every such attestation require indubitable proof from the word of God. Compare your system with the New Testament; reject whatever you do not find in that holy book; and be not deceived by a
* 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17.
church which tells you that she has power to interpret, invent, and ordain,-gives you no better evidence than her own assertion,—and forbids doubt or scrutiny. Above all, pray for divine instruction and grace. Inquiry into religious truth is the most important of all inquiries. Opposing systems cannot both be right; neither ought it to be regarded as a matter of indifference whether we serve God according to his revealed will or not. Be open to conviction ; search with impartiality ; seek wisdom from above. « Every one of us shall give account of himself to God."*
Do we profess the principles of the reformation ? Let us hold fast our profession. “Buy the truth, and sell it not.”+ And especially let us honour the sufficiency of scripture. Are there among us no practices unwarranted by the word of God? Is no further reformation necessary? Have we no human traditions, no corruptions or abuses, to be disavowed and removed? Let us institute rigid examination. We live in eventful times. All religious peculiarities are about to undergo a severe ordeal. God is saying to his church, “ Arise, shine ; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”Let us hear his voice betimes, lest, if we slumber, ruin overtake us ; for the judgments that shall befal Antichrist in the latter days will not leave unpunished the Popery of Protestantism.
* Rom. xiv. 12.
f Proverbs xxiii. 23.
Isaiah 1x. 1.