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ON THE DOCTRINE AND MANIFESTATION AND CHARACTER
OF THE APOSTASY IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
(Communicated by the Rev. EDWARD IRVING.) There is nothing more certainly declared in history, more thoroughly embodied in the constitutions civil and ecclesiastical of this land, than that the system of which the Pope of Rome is the head is no better, is no other than the manifestation of the apostasy which
was prophesied of by Christ and the Apostles, and indeed all the Prophets, as being about to come over the Christian church. And if we refer to the pulpit, then know we well, from every document and from every relic of the Reformers, that it was the distinct, unqualified, and incessant preaching of the Pope as Antichrist, and of Rome as Babylon, and of the papal system as the great whore of Babylon, which wrought that mighty tide of holy wrath and indignation against the papal abomination, which hath not yet subsided amongst the people, though it be well-nigh subsided among the rulers, and too much among the clergy of this land. To make quotations in order to authenticate this fact, would be to weaken its evidence. It stands upon the universal harmony of all the Reformers, and has never been disputed. Nay, more, it is the only ground upon which the Reformers who separated from the Church of Rome can be vindicated from the mortal sin of schism. The Protestant Reformation is no better, is no other, than a great consummate act of schism, if the Church of Rome be not that apostasy, that Babylon, from which the saints are called to come out, Rev. xviii. 4. If the Papal or Roman (falsely called catholic) Church, be a true church of God, then, as there cannot be two churches, those acts of the Church of Scotland and Church of England, constituting themselves upon another basis, and setting themselves up in direct opposition, article by article, against the papal faith and papal discipline, were acts schismatical and divisive, destructive of the unity of the church, and bringing in the hideous error of one church taking up the contradiction of another church which it still regarded as a true church ; while the high acts of the realms of Scotland and England, establishing those two forms of the Protestant Reformed Church, were acts of direct insurrection against Christ, the Head of all, if so be He doth acknowledge the Roman Church as of his jurisdiction, and not of the jurisdiction of Satan. It was therefore no matter of choice with our Reformers, and they knew that well, but a matter of stern necessity and of self-justification, to maintain that the Roman hierarchy, with the pope at its head, was the very synagogue of Satan, and no church of the living God. Not that they were driven into that position by any necessity, or yet purpose of self-vindication, but that they were let into it by the eternal Spirit of God, and built up in it by the infallible word of God; and being once possessed of the mighty secret, all the powers of earth and hell could not wrest it from their hearts-all the powers of fire and water could not quench their voice, that they should not utter it aloud unto all people that on earth do dwell.
But, lo, another race-a mongrel, not a genuine race-have arisen both in church and state, who, neither understanding the Scriptures of truth, nor yet the standards of the Church builded thereon; perceiving no principle of the unity of the church; discerning neither the existence nor the need of any mystery of iniquity; go about to doubt, and even to decry, the sure foundations of our Protestant Churches; to accuse as narrow and sectarian that holy, righteous, and truly catholic spirit, in which the Reformers served God against the rulers of the darkness of this world and the spiritual wickednesses in high places. They have forgotten the first principles of the church by which our fathers steered the straight-forward course of their procedure, and therefore they cannot understand wherefore they should have proceeded so.
It is not that we have discovered any new principles of ecclesiastical or political government, but that we have forgotten the old, and are vain and stupid enough to make a boast of our ignorance. It is not that three hundred years' experience has added any thing to the evidence in favour of the papacy-very much to the evidence against it—but it is, that for nearly two hundred years, at least, we have been forgetting that evidence, and becoming familiarized to latitudinarian principles, which destroy the very faculty of judging between right and wrong, of cleaving to the one and steadily protesting against the other.
For the end, therefore, not of adding any thing new upon this subject--for I know not that I have any thing new to add—but for the purpose of bringing out of the great treasury of the church things new or old, according as the great Head of the house may furnish them to his servants, I address myself to the work of opening in the ear of the church of Christ, which hath obeyed the command of God to come out of Babylon; and in the ear of the Church of Scotland in particular, whose son and servant I am; and in the ear of this great Protestant kingdom, which requireth faithful counsel according to the word of God at the mouth of all the ordained ministers of the established churches; and in the ear of Babylon itself, for the calling out of those faithful ones within her hold, and for the speedier condemnation and judgment of that mystery of iniquity, for whose destruction I continually pray; and in the ear of Christendom itself, whose speedy judgment draweth on, I undertake to lay open the deep, deep foundation of that great question
which now agitates this kingdom, and to which all Christendom is giving earnest heed: the question, to wit, whether we shall remain an Anti-catholic and Protestant kingdom, or whether we shall take the seed of the serpent (for the devil “ gave to it his power, and seat, and great authority”) again into our councils and administration.
Now, there is no mystery of our faith which seemeth to me so little understood, and consequently so little taken advantage of, by the ministers of the church, as the Mystery of Iniquity : which unto the shewing forth of God's glory in the true church hath as important a part, as the Fall hath unto the shewing forth of his glory in creation; each being the grand demonstration of the negative, which precedes the demonstration of the affirmative;the Fall proving that creation glory and creation power belong not to the creature, but the Creator; the Mystery of Iniquity, or apostasy in the church, proving that the glory of instructing and governing all things, which belongeth unto the church, is not in herself or from herself, but in her Head and from her Head, the great Redeemer of the church. This subject of the mystery of iniquity, though it hath been ably discoursed of in times past, both in respect of its idea and in respect of its form-as, by Dr. Henry More, and Mede, and others-yet in these last times it hath either been entirely lost sight of, or, by the few who still retain it in their knowledge, hath been employed merely in order to carry on the warfare of good Protestants against the Church of Rome. While therefore I would never forget this same object, I do propose, first, by the help of God, to open unto all the holy brethren this great subject of the apostasy, or mystery of iniquity, which is so much dropped out of mind. And this I shall do as a man of God, who “ought not to strive, but be gentle unto all; in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."
The method according to which it seemeth to me best to open this mystery of the kingdom, is, First, to hear Him who taught the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven and interpreted them unto his disciples—that is, to search the Gospels, wherein are contained the words of our blessed Lord ; and to prove out of them that it was both the purpose and the prophecy of Jesus Christ, our great Head, that there should be in the bosom of his church on earth, always, and in all places, a leaven of iniquity working, as well as a leaven of righteousness ; a seed of evil-doers, as well as a seed of godly men. Secondly; We will then, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, which contain the authentic records of the primitive church for the space of forty years, shew the fulfilment of this prophecy and purpose of the
Lord; and endeavour to shew out the form which the evil spirit was beginning to assume, together with the further notices and prophecies which the Holy Ghost therein giveth of this apostasy. Thirdly; We shall then, from the Apocalypse, search out the history of this apostasy, so far as it is there revealed, until the coming of the Lord in judgment upon it. Thus shall we have attained to all the information which the New Testament containeth concerning this mystery : after which, in a second part of this discourse, we shall endeavour to set forth the great and glorious ends which are attained unto God and Christ by the permission and ordination of such an apostasy in the church. And there will remain a third part, which should embrace the whole duty of a Christian church and of a Christian state, which God hath enlightened in the knowledge of this great mystery; and how they should carry themselves towards those men and churches and states which are manifested as belonging thereto. Such shall be the method of our discourse; and for the two remaining parts, we shall divide them into sections when we come to them in the course of our subject.
That an apostasy, or a mystery of iniquity, or an antichristian
system, is predicted in the Scriptures as about to come over the Christian church. § 1. What is contained thereof in the Gospels.
In order to establish the proposition laid down as the title of this part of our discourse, and to lay the basis of the whole future argument upon the apostasy, it is necessary that I should shew from the Scriptures that God did both purpose and predict an apostasy in his church: after which it will be proper to explain, as far as we are able, the end and intention of such a purpose :
: then it will fall in course to look out for that apostasy, and give it the conditions of time, place, and visibility : and, finally, shew how God's servants should carry themselves towards it in the church.
Now, in opening the first of these particulars, I think it is but reasonable that we should gather our documents, both to prove an apostasy, and to fix its name and place, from the Scriptures of the New Testament which contain the foundations and constitutions of the church. Not that we may not refer unto the Prophets, seeing, according to Paul, the church is “founded upon the Prophets” as well as upon the Apostles, “ Jesus Christ himself being the Corner-stone:" seeing also, according to the Apostle Peter, the church is required to look unto “the sure word of prophecy, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place ;" and that the Prophets prophesied both “of the sufferings of Christ
and of the glory which should follow.” But while I shall not be prevented falling back upon the Prophets both for illustration and confirmation, especially when they are alluded to in the passages of the New Testament which I shall examine, I shall be careful to build my arguments upon the plain announcements of Christ and his Apostles alone. And I begin, according to our method, by inquiring what notices and warnings of an antichristian system in the church are given by our Lord in the Gospels. And, first, I shall take those which are direct and explicit; then those which are indirect, or implied in the general tenor of his instructions.
In his first discourse, commonly called the Sermon on the Mount, a very large section, and that the concluding one, is devoted to this very subject, beginning expressly at the 15th verse of the viith chapter, “ Beware of false prophets,” &c.; and impliedly, as I think, at the 13th verse, “ Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto destruction, and many there be which go in thereat : because strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The destruction and the life here spoken of, are the same as the exclusion from and the entering into the kingdom of heaven mentioned in the 23d and 21st verses; and therefore it is that I consider the wide gate of destruction and the strait gate of life, the broad way of destruction and the narrow way of life, to be the occasion of his warning his disciples against “ false prophets” in the next
” verse; which, with the following verses, I consider to be the first announcement from his own lips of an apostasy in his church. Peter announceth it under the same style of “ false prophets,” or false teachers, in his Second Epistle; and under the same name of “the false prophet” is the apostasy destroyed at the coming of the Lord, Rev. xix. 20, xvi. 3. Let us, then, examine this passage of the Sermon on the Mount.
“ Beware of false prophets, which come unto you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” They come in sheep's clothing : that is, they have around them the air and appearance and vestments of meek and harmless and innocent pastors, but under that disguise make havoc of the flock; or, as it is expressed, Rev. xiii. Îl, “ they have two horns like a lamb, but they speak as a dragon :” or, as it is Dan. vii. 8, “ And, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.' In the passage before us, our Lord doth not embody the false prophets into one system, or present them as acting under one head; but certainly he forewarneth his church against false prophets under the guise of true shepherds, who should lead and conduct the many into the broad way of destruction. Against whom having warned them to