« PreviousContinue »
and subservient to the bad designs of others; it enlists him under the banners of the principle of evil; makes him a soldier in the armies of corruption, and an enemy of the human race, whose improvement he retards, and whose debasement he would perpetuate.
The next mark of an anti-christian church is, alliance with temporal authority, which is not only suggested by the expression, “ with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication,” (Rev. xvii. 2) but appears from the whole description, in which the beast represents the civil powers, and the woman is an emblem of the corrupt church supported by their interposition. The Romish Church had the extraordinary address, or fortune, to gain for itself a political existence, and become a state. This anomaly is supposed to be the subject of distinct prophecy, and to be shadowed out in the little horn of Daniel's fourth beast. Other churches have stopped short of such a consummation; but the subservient connexion in which they have rested can scarcely be deemed less pernicious. They are kingdoms of this world, established by its authority, subservient to its designs, paid from its treasures, and armed with its vengeance; consequently far indeed from being the kingdom of Christ. By such alliances Christians have lost the freedom of their minds, the simplicity of their faith, the purity of their worship, the independence of their characters;' and they have gained the exclusive possession of wealth and honout, a patent to dogmatize, and a power to persecuté.
The gospel was distinguished by simplicity; it was preached to the poor, and adapted to their capacities; it revealed many mysteries, or secrets, by which they ceased to be so, but it taught none; on the contrary, mystery is inscribed on the forehead of apostacy, and is presented as a test that, however intermixed with the doctrines of Christ, we may detect and discard the corrupt additions of after ages. Secrecy was resorted to by the early Christians, under persecution, in the celebration of their worship, from 'necessity or prudence; it was retained from policy, for the purpose of exciting reverence for particular ceremonies, and being thus introduced, it gradually pervaded the whole system, until every thing was mysterious, from the most important proposition in a creed, to the most trifling article of dress of the priest by whom it was repeated. The senses and the understanding were alike bewildered. Against the Eastern Church, with which, indeed, the notion of Transubstantiation originated, at the second Council of Nice, this charge may be as completely made out, as against the Church of Rome. And was mystery got rid of at the Reformation? Look at the Athanasian Creed; read the Institutes of Calvin, and the Confession of the Westminster Assembly; take
any statement of Trinitarianism, Papal or Protestant, Lutheran or Calvinistic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Independent; mystery glares on its front, and enters into its very essence. · The doctrines concerning demons, of which Paul speaks, very accurately describe that prevalent invocation of saints, which was evidently borrowed from those notions of the souls of dead men, and acts of homage to them, which are so prominent in the mythology and superstitions of antiquity. On this ground, Protestants have often advanced the charge of idolatry against Papists. This offence is certainly elsewhere connected with Antichrist; and Bishop Newton very justly observes, that it is hinted at in the term Apostacy, (falling away, our translators have rendered it,) which "was idolatry in the Jewish Church, and therefore is the same in the Christian.” Yet it should be remembered, that the saints were honoured, not as gods, instead of the Father, but as mediators, instead of the Son. There could be nothing analogous to this error during the Jewish dispensation, nor any propriety in defining it by terms previously employed to describe a different offence. It is, doubtless, the demonology of New Testament prophecy; but where shall we find the apostacy and idolatry? There are two kinds of idolatry; 1st, The adoration of · any other being or person than the One God,
the Jehovah of the patriarchs, and the Father of Christ; and, 2ndly, that of a visible or imagined form, even if it be nominally identified with the true God. He is the Infinite Spirit, and any material representation of him is strictly forbidden. Yet some have worshipped his bodily picture or statue; while others adore him as incarnate, existing in a man, whose form may be painted or fancied, and who is besought to hear prayer by his birth, circumcision, agony, death, burial, and resurrection. In addition to God the Father, the uniform and sole object of scriptural worship, we hear supplications addressed to God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, and to that mysterious and complex idea, formed by their union, called God the Trinity. For the worship of the Holy Ghost and the Trinity, not even the shadow of Scripture precept or example can possibly be alleged; while that of Christ is in opposition to his express prohibition, “In that day ye shall ask me nothing; verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” (John xvi. 23.)
It is said of the power described in Dan. vii. 8, and again Rev. xiii., that he should “speak great words against the Most High; and open his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.” Does this refer to the assumption, by ecclesiastical dignitaries, of titles which ought to have been held sacred to the Deity? Does it
describe that 'active malignity which has ever delighted to blacken the characters of reputed heretics, and cast out, not only from the church, but from an honourable abode in the memories of men, those who preserved the tabernacle of God in this wilderness of corruption, and who shall dwell in heaven? The charge is advanced against the Ecclesiastical State, and the Civil Powers in alliance with the church. It may be a condemnation of their aspiring to spiritual legislation, and of the manner in which that authority has been exercised. Blasphemy is evil-speaking. Intentional defamation of the Deity is scarcely to be imagined. But we must lament that such creeds have generally been established, as tend to throw a dark shade over the Divine perfections. They impair our perception of his excellence, by notions which compress infinity into human shape, and connect spirituality with corporeal organs and sufferings : they sully his moral character, and dim its loveliness, by attributing to him actions that would disgrace even imperfect man, and sink him from the Father, into the tyrant of the human race.
Pious frauds, feigned miracles, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, are now matters of history, like the other predictions, and but too easily and frequently to be met with. (©) We find them abundantly in the fourth century, when the maxim was almost uni