Fifty years ago the eminent statesman, Sir Robert Peel said, with remarkably clear foresight: “The day is not distant, and it may be very near, when we shall all have to fight the battle of the Reformation over again.”
That day has come. It has been upon us for some time. It has found us unprepared, and as a result the battle is to some extent going against us. More than three centuries of emancipation from the yoke of Rome three hundred years of Bible light and liberty had made us overconfident, and led us to underestimate the power and influence of the deadliest foe, not only of the gospel of God, but also of Protestant England. Britain’s honorable distinction of being the leading witness among the nations for the truth of the gospel and against the errors of Romanism had come to be lightly esteemed among us. Our fathers won this distinction through years of sore struggle and strife; they purchased it with their best blood, and prized it as men prize that which costs them dear. It had cost us nothing, we were born to it; we knew not its value by contrast as they did. In the early part of this century the power of Rome was in these lands a thing of the past, and it seemed to be fast decaying even in other lands. The notion grew up among us that there was no need to fear any revival of that deadly upas tree, which is the blight of all that is great and good, pure and prosperous. The light of true knowledge had for ever dispelled the dark fogs of superstition, so it was supposed; mediaeval tyrannies and cruelties cloaked under a pretense of religion could never again obtain a footing in these lands of light and liberty. We might despise and deride the corruptions and follies of Rome, but as to dreading her influence no. She was too far gone and too feeble to inspire fear, or even watchfulness.
This was all a delusion, and we have been roughly undeceived. The difficult and dangerous crisis through which England is now passing is the direct result of the course of action taken under this delusion, and God only knows what the ultimate consequences may be. A serpent may be scotched, yet not killed; it may retain life enough to turn and inflict on its foe a fatal wound. The ground may be purged from a destructive weed, but the little remnants left behind may sprout and spread so as speedily to pervade the plot anew. It has been thus with Romish influence in Protestant England.
Let facts speak. Fifty years ago there were not five hundred Roman priests in Great Britain; now there are two thousand six hundred. Fifty years ago there were not five hundred chapels; now there are fifteen hundred and seventy-five. Fifty years ago there were no monasteries at all in Britain; now there are two hundred and twenty-five. There were even then sixteen convents, but now there are over four hundred of these barred and bolted and impenetrable prisons, in which fifteen thousand Englishwomen are kept prisoners at the mercy of a celibate clergy, who have power, unless their behests are obeyed, to inflict on these hapless and helpless victims torture under the name of penance. Fifty years ago there were but two colleges in our land for the training of Roman Catholic priests i.e., of men bound by oath to act in England as the agents of a foreign power, the one great object of which is avowed to be the dismemberment of our empire and the ruin of our influence in the world; now there are twenty-nine such schools. And, strangest of all, England, who once abolished monasteries and appropriated to national uses the ill-gotten gains of Rome, is now actually endowing Romanism in her empire to the extent of over a million of money per annum. The exact amount is 1,052,657 pounds.
Results even more serious have arisen from the dropping on the part of evangelical Christianity of its distinctive testimony against Romish doctrine and practice. An apostasy has taken place in the Reformed Church of England itself, and multitudes of its members, uninstructed in the true nature and history of the Church of Rome, and ignorant of the prophetic teachings of Scripture about it, have rejoiced in a return to many of the corruptions of doctrine and practice which their forefathers died to abolish. Our reformed faith is thus endangered both from without and from within, and it can be defended only by a resolute return to the true witness home by saints and martyrs of other days. We must learn afresh from Divine prophecy God’s estimate of the character of the Church of Rome if we would be moved afresh to be witnesses for Christ against this great apostasy. As Protestants, as Christians, as free men, as philanthropists, as those who are acquainted with the teachings of history, we deplore the existing state of things; we regard all these changes as a retrograde movement of the most dangerous character, and we feel constrained to renew the grand old PROTEST to which the world owes its modern acquisitions of liberty, knowledge, peace, and prosperity. We recognize it as a patent and undeniable fact, that the future of our race lies not with Papists, but with Protestants. Its leading nations this day are not Papal Italy, Spain, and Portugal, but Protestant Germany, England, and America. What has made the difference? The nations that embraced the Reformation movement of the sixteenth century have never since ceased to advance in political power, social prosperity, philanthropic enterprise, and general enlightenment; while the nations that refused it and held fast to the corruptions of Rome have as steadily retrograded in all these respects.
“By their fruits ye shall know them.”
The present course of lectures is intended to arouse fresh attention to the great controversy between the Church of Rome and evangelical Churches. In this war the Roman army stands on one side, and Protestantism in one unbroken phalanx on the other. The regiments of Rome wear but one scarlet uniform, fly but one Papal flag, and use in their religious ceremonies but one dead language Latin; the Protestant army, on the other hand, consists of many divisions, clad in differing uniforms, flying different flags, and speaking different tongues. But, like the composite hosts of Germany in the struggle with France, they are all the stronger for their voluntary union; they can cordially join in the great struggle. The secondary denominational differences existing between Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Nonconformists are all lost sight of in their common conflict with Rome; and the sole issue is between those who hold to the old gospel of Christ, and those who teach another gospel which is not another.
Our subject in these lectures is Romanism and the Reformation from the standpoint of prophecy: that is, we propose to give you, not any merely human view of the subject, but the Divine view; not the opinions of the lecturer about it, but the teachings of prophets and apostles, the judgment of the only wise God as expressed in His sacred word, in this blessed Divine revelation which sheds its beams on every subject of interest to the people of God. It is a fact, that though the canon of Scripture was closed ages before Romanism began to exist, and fifteen centuries before the Reformation, yet it presents the Divine judgment as to both. The Bible records the past in its histories and the future in its prophecies, which are simply history written beforehand. It expresses moreover moral judgments as to the individuals it describes and the acts which it records, and it similarly expresses moral judgments respecting the individuals and actions which it predicts. It warned the Church against the wiles of Rome Papal, even from the days of Rome Pagan. John, the victim of Nero and Domitian, painted for posterity pictures of the martyrs of the Inquisition, and of the cruelties of tyrants more merciless than the Caesars.
In viewing this question from the standpoint of prophecy, consequently, our object is, not merely to trace the fulfillment of sacred prediction in the broad facts of history, as a proof of the inspiration of Scripture though our lectures must of course do that but it is even more to present the Divine view of the Roman Papal system, to show what infinite reprobation and abhorrence Scripture pours upon it, and what an awful doom it denounces against it. If we know what God thinks of any system, we know what we ought to think of it and how we ought to act towards it. Forewarned is forearmed. Had the youth of the last two or three generations of England been carefully instructed in the Scriptures bearing on this subject, we should not have lived to see our country troubled and in peril of dismemberment through Jesuit intrigues, nor our national Church divided against itself, to its own imminent danger, and one section of it relapsing into the apostasy from which the Reformation had delivered it.
Let me first define distinctly the three terms in our title Romanism, the Reformation, and Prophecy. Let me answer the questions: What is Romanism? What was the Reformation? What is Prophecy?
ROMANISM IS APOSTATE LATIN CHRISTIANITY
Not apostate Christianity merely, but apostate LATIN Christianity. The Greek Church, the Armenian Church, the Coptic Church are all apostate in greater or less degrees, and the Protestant Church itself has no small measure of apostasy in it; but it is of Romanism, or Latin Christianity, alone that we now speak, because it is the great and terrible power of evil so largely predicted by the prophet Daniel and by the Apostle John; it is the special apostasy which bulks most largely in prophecy, and it is the culmination of Christian apostasy. It includes all whose public worship is conducted in Latin and who own allegiance to the Pope of Rome.
Dean Milman’s history of the Church of Rome is called “The History of Latin Christianity.” Archbishop Trench speaks of Gregory the Great as “the last of the Latin Fathers, and the first in the modern sense of the popes,” and says he “did more than any other to set the Church forward on the new lines on which it must travel, to constitute a Latin Christianity with distinctive features of its own, such as broadly separate it from the Greek.”1 Romanism is this Latin Christianity become apostate.
II. The Reformation was A RETURN TO PRIMITIVE OR NON-APOSTATE CHRISTIANITY accomplished between three and four centuries ago in this country, in Germany, and some other countries of Europe. One feature of this great movement was the abandonment of the use of Latin in public worship, and the translation of the Scriptures into living language, so that all nations might read the word of God in their own tongue, and understand for themselves its sacred messages. The names of Luther, Zwingle, Erasmus, Tyndale, Knox, Calvin, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, Hooper, and others, are associated with this “Reformation.”
III. And, in the third place, Prophecy is THE DIVINELY GIVEN MIRROR OF THE FUTURE. “Things not seen as yet” are reflected on its surface with more or less distinctness. They may be partially discerned beforehand, and clearly identified when the time of fulfillment comes. Thus the first advent of Christ was shown, though but as in a glass darkly, thousands of years before it took place; and so the tragic episodes of the siege of Jerusalem were presented to the mind of Moses ages before the city was even built. Romanism and the Reformation both lay afar in the distant future when Daniel and John foresaw their history; but their prophetic visions and writings reflect both one and the other with a distinctness and clearness which is the exact equivalent of their magnitude and importance in the history of the Church and of the world.
Bear in mind these three brief definitions:
1. Romanism is apostate Latin Christianity.
2. The Reformation was a return to primitive non-apostate Christianity accomplished three centuries ago.
3. Prophecy is the mirror of the future.
Let us next inquire, What is this Romanism, or Latin Christianity, as distinguished from Greek, or Protestant, or any other form of the faith of Christ? As to its doctrines and practices, we will answer this question later on in our course of lectures, quoting from its own acknowledged standards. For the present we must confine ourselves to a consideration of its history. But before I give you a brief outline of this, I may state that there are three distinct sets of prophecies of the rise, character, deeds, and doom of Romanism. The first is found in the book of Daniel, the second in the epistles of Paul, and the third in the letters and Apocalypse of John; and no one of these three is complete in itself. It is only by combining their separate features that we obtain the perfect portrait. Just as we cannot derive from one gospel a complete life of Christ, but in order to obtain this must take into account the records in the other three: so we cannot from one prophecy gather a correct account of antichrist; we must add to the particulars given in one those supplied by the other two. Some features are given in all three prophecies, just as the death and resurrection of Christ are given in all four gospels. Others are given in only two, and others are peculiar to one. As might be expected from the position and training of the prophet who was a statesman and a governor in Babylon, Daniel’s foreview presents the POLITICAL character and relations of Romanism. The Apostle Paul’s foreview, on the other hand, gives ECCLESIASTICAL character and relations of this power; and John’s prophecies, both in Revelation thirteen and seventeen, present the COMBINATION OF BOTH, the mutual relations of the Latin Church and the Roman State. He uses composite figures, one part of which represents the political aspect of Romanism as a temporal government, and the other its religious aspect as an ecclesiastical system.
In this lecture we deal with Daniel’s political foreview, with his predictions of the great power of evil which was revealed to him as destined to arise in the fourth empire, and which he describes in chapter 7 of his book. Before we consider this prophecy you must allow me briefly to recall a few well-known historical facts, that none can deny or question.
The last twenty-five centuries of human history that is, the story of the leading nations of the earth since the days of Nebuchadnezzar has been divided into two chronologically equal parts, each lasting for about twelve and a half centuries. During the first half of this period four great heathen empires succeeded each other in the rule of the then known earth the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires. They lasted from the eighth century before Christ to the fifth century of our era, and ended with the fall of the last emperor of Rome, Romulus Augustulus, A.D. 476. During the second half of this period no one great empire has ever ruled over the whole sphere dominated by these old pagan governments. Power has been more divided, and modern kingdoms have replaced ancient empires. A commonwealth of nations has for the last twelve hundred years existed in the territory once governed by old Rome, and no monarch has ever succeeded in subjecting them all to himself. This makes a broad distinction between ancient and modern times, and the dividing line is the fall of the old Roman empire, the break up of the last form of ancient civilization, the one which preceded our modern Christian civilization.
Rome itself that great and ancient city was founded about the beginning of the long period I have named, and has therefore been in existence for nearly two thousand six hundred years, though for many centuries it had but a local reputation. Gradually it rose to importance, and in the second century before Christ it attained supremacy in the earth. After that it was for about five hundred years the magnificent metropolis of the last and mightiest of the four great empires of antiquity, the seat of its government the very heart and center of the then known world. Nineveh and Babylon had each in its day been great metropolitan cities of wonderful size, wealth, and influence; but the realms they ruled were small compared to those over which Rome in its zenith of power exercised her imperial sway. She was for long ages, in the esteem of all civilized nations as well as in her own, “mistress of the world.” Her proud pre-eminence of position was based on an unequaled degree of military strength and power. It was a rule, not of right, but of might, and it subjected the world to itself. Remains still extant, not only in all parts of Europe, but in Africa and Asia, and above all in Rome itself, sufficiently attest the wide extent of the sway of Rome, the luxury of her princes and people, and the refinements of her civilization. Roman roads, Roman camps, Roman baths, Roman coins, statues, and remains of every kind abound even in our own little isle, some of which have been examined with interest by most of us. Roman laws, Roman literature, and the fundamental relation of the Latin language to the languages of modern Europe afford clearer evidences still of the universal, mighty, and long-enduring influence of the ancient masters of he world.
Up to the beginning of the fourth century of our era Rome was a pagan city, and the emperor was the high priest of its religion. The ruins of its old heathen shrines still adorn the city. The Pantheon, which is now a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs, was formerly a heathen temple dedicated to Cybele and all the gods of the ancient mythology. But in the fourth century of our era heathenism fell prostrate before that faith of Christ which for three centuries Rome had persecuted and sought to exterminate; the religion of Jesus of Nazareth overthrew the religion of Jupiter Olympius, and the Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the creed of the world. Rome had become the seat of a Christian bishop before that date, and in the division and decay of the Roman empire which soon followed, this bishop, owing to his metropolitan position, became a person of great importance and the head of Latin Christianity. As other rulers passed away, and as the power of Rome waned before the hordes of Gothic and Vandal invaders, the Christian bishopric, sole survival of the old institutions in Rome, raised its head like a rocky reef in the midst of a wild expanse of roaring billows. It remained when all else failed around it. At first it had itself been a small, weak, new thing under the shadow of a great, mighty, and ancient power. But time brought changes, and gradually it became the stable, strong, and only ancient thing in the midst of the turbulent young Gothic nations into which the fragments of the old Roman dominions slowly crystallized. To these rude and recently evangelized people the Church of Rome was naturally the mother Church, and the Bishop of Rome the chief of Christian bishops. The tendency of the Latin episcopate thus enthroned in the old metropolis of the world, in the midst of ignorant, superstitious, and childlike Gothic nations, was to become first a monarchical, and then an imperial power. This tendency was deep and enduring; it worked for centuries, till at last it produced that singular blasphemous usurpation and tyrannical government which we call the Papacy.
The rise of this power was, like all great growths, gradual and slow. From the middle of the fifth century to the end of the thirteenth i, e. for between eight and nine hundred years it was steadily waxing greater and greater, rising higher and higher, reaching forth its branches more widely, and making more extravagant claims and pretensions. Time would of course fail me to trace the rise of ecclesiastical power in the Middle Ages to the monstrous proportions it assumed in the thirteenth century. After the conversion of Constantine, when Christianity became the established religion of the Roman world, the Church passed rapidly from a state of persecution, poverty, and distress to one of honor, wealth, and ease; and it degenerated as rapidly from its early purity. Covetousness and avarice came in like a flood, and ecclesiastical power became an object of eager ambition, even to ungodly men. The bishop was a wealthy, influential, worldly dignitary, instead of a humble Christian pastor. Opulence poured in upon the priesthood, alike from the fears and the affections of their converts; and their intellectual superiority over the barbarian nations had the effect of increasing still more their ascendancy. The time came when they alone retained any semblance of learning, or could prepare a treaty or write a document, or teach princes to read. By a variety of sordid frauds they contrived to secure to the Church immense wealth and an enormous share of the land. But they recognized their own subjection to the secular power, and respected mutually each other’s independence. Claims to supremacy over other bishops began however before long to be advanced by the bishops of Rome, sometimes on one ground and sometimes on another, but it was long before they were admitted.
Papal authority indeed made no great progress beyond the bounds of Italy until the end of the sixth century. At this period the celebrated Gregory I, a talented, active, and ambitious man, was Bishop of Rome. He stands at the meeting place of ancient and mediaeval history, and his influence had a marked effect on the growth of Latin Christianity. He exalted his own position very highly in his correspondence and intercourse with other bishops and with the sovereigns of western Europe, with whom he was in constant communication. Claims that had previously been only occasionally suggested were now systematically pressed and urged. He dwelt much on the power conferred on the bishops of Rome in the possession of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which were committed to Peter and his successors. The Gothic nations were too ignorant to unravel the sophistries of this clever and determined priest, and they permitted him to assume a kind of oversight of their ecclesiastical matters.
His successor, Boniface III, carried these pretensions still higher. He was the last of the bishops of Rome and the first of the popes. In his days the claim to supremacy over all other bishops was, not only definitely made, but it was acknowledged by the secular power and confirmed by an imperial edict. The wicked usurper Phocas, to serve his own selfish purposes, conceded to Boniface III in A.D. 607 the headship over all the Churches of Christendom. A pillar is still standing in Rome which was erected in memory of this important concession. This was a tremendous elevation, the first upward step on the ladder that led the bishops of Rome from the humble pastorate of a local Church to the mightiest throne in Europe. But still all that was claimed or granted was simple episcopacy, though of a universal kind; no thought of secular government existed at this period. The matter however did not stop here. This supreme episcopal jurisdiction led to constant interferences of the Roman bishop in the affairs of the various nations of Christendom, and to ever-increasing pretensions to authority in matters secular as well as ecclesiastical, until five hundred years later, in A.D. 1073, Pope Gregory VII took a great stride in advance and established.