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ANSWER TO THE QUESTION, WHAT WAS THE REFORMATION ?
CHAPTER 1.- Reformation not Secession. It is very evident, that, in discoursing of the principles acted upon or asserted at the Reformation, we should work altogether in the dark without some just and well-grounded notion of what the Reformation itself essentially was—in other words, what constituted it a Reformation. And so many are the varying statements we hear made on this subject, and so many are the persons, otherwise well informed, who seem to have no further thought of it than the simple fact of a number of good men having loudly proclaimed certain truths in opposition to prevailing errors, that we may be allowed to take it for granted that the topic requires some illustration. This is furnished by referring to the manner in which God drew forth the Christian church from the corrupt church of Jerusalem. By its articles--that is, by the lively oracles of God - which had been uttered at various periods, and in close adaptation to all the shifting errors in the national faith and practice, so as virtually to include an authoritative and acknowledged standard of interpretation, as well as a fundamental code of truth, that church was pledged and bound over to Christianity when its Founder should appear. Her true relation and duty towards that dispensation was as plain and certain, as the mother's towards the babe whom for many days she has borne in her womb : “ If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed me.... Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me....and ye will not come unto me that ye may have life..... Ye make the word of God of none effect through your tradition... If ye were the children of Abraham, ye would do the works of Abraham ; but now ye seek to kill me, a man which have told you the truth which I have heard of God : this did not Abraham.” And thus always did our Lord rebuke the unbelieving members of his mother church : not for rejecting a discovery which he announced, but for a want of conformity to their own standards and profession; for want of being Hebrews indeed, not for refusing to abandon the ancient faith of the Hebrews. Still he preached and worshipped among them; still he “stretched out his hands all day long to a disobedient and gainsaying people." And when the Jewish church had accomplished her apostasy, by adding to her own violation of the Law the murder of Him who came to fulfil the Law, his disciples still went forth among their kinsmen, as sheep in the midst of wolves; worshipping and preaching in their assemblies, and setting an example of respect to types and shadows, which they alone had this apology for disregarding, that they possessed the substance. At last the time came which their Master had foretold, the time when their unbelieving brethren should cast them out of their synagogues. And the expulsion of the infant Christian church from the bosom and the house of the proud and undutiful nurse appointed her by God, was violent and contemptuous; expressing also the affectionate delay and meekly struggling reluctance of the banished child. It was effected by force of hand, scourgings, and stonings; it was ratified by deliberate pleadings and solemn sentences : and in all it was most emphatically marked, that the true method of reformation is that in which the providence of God has most to do, and man has least; that when the majority of the church has forsaken the way of peace, the knowledge of which is the treasure hid in the vessel of the church, so as not to bear the speaking and the acting by a few among them of what all alike profess, then the few are cast out, and what remains is not a church, but an apostasy : it has its unity no longer in the profession of truth, but in express and wilful enmity to truth : it now bears to the true church the same relation as the dross of the furnace to the pure gold with which it formerly composed one mass. The separating thus of the gold, is the reformation of the church. By what touch-stone shall it be tried ? By those very articles—by that common profession of faith and of practical obligation which at once justify the upright man in his adherence to the communion of a corrupt church, and in his stedfast withstanding of her courses – that is, in the instance of Judaism, by the lively oracles of God. By them was the Christian acquitted, alike in his conformity and in his singularity ; being proved in both to be an Israelite indeed.
Now the Gentile church, heir to better promises and richer endowments of God than Abraham's fleshly seed had ever enjoyed, was, to say the least, as faithless to her trust and as insensible to her true blessedness. A dispensation of worldly elements and carnal ordinances had never seen religion so mired in things of sense, a priesthood so pompous and worldly, a people so ignorant, so indulged and fostered in sin, as the catholic church of Europe for centuries enclosed within her pale. But what joined men together as her members ? When the countrymen of Luther acknowledged fellowship one with another, not as Europeans only, nor as Germans only, nor as subjects of the Elector of Saxony only, but as catholic Christians-what was signified by this, and implied in it? The confession of one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all: the possession of principles which we are too apt to undervalue, or to omit in our catalogue of valued possessions—for the same reason for which we might leave out water, or air, or sunshine-but which are stiil truths pregnant with all truth, to retain which is virtually to retain all. These made the banner around which catholic Europe gathered. Her bond of union was not error, but a profession of truth : as in a man's body, corrupted and ate into by distemper, the sound
parts may be of less bulk than the diseased; and yet, what holds all together, and gives all the common name of body, is not disease, but the single pervading principle of life; which being departed, the union must be utterly dissolved. From that diseased body, then, to the Reformers as members was communicated, not disease, but life. They proceeded, therefore, not as opposing the body, united under the name of Christ, which had given them those Scriptures and other books, those traditions and fellowmembers, from which they had received the truth ; but as speaking and acting what she professed, and what she herself had taught. But she could bear it no longer : she condemned them, she punished them, she cast them out, and barred and bolted her gates upon them by decrees and anathemas : so that what remained was no church, but an apostasy, united now by a common principle of enmity and contradiction to the truth.
It would not be hard to prove, from a consideration of the state of Europe before the Reformation, not only that this is its true history, but that it could not possibly have been otherwise. So much reverence was paid to ancient and comparatively pure exhibitions of doctrine ; so much true and elevated theology subsisted in men and books which the church venerated ; so much mutual contradiction was there of the doctors and the councils to whom she ascribed decisive authority; so liable were all councils, called general, to have it questioned whether they were general indeed ; so often had this been done by Rome herself, as well as other churches; that, in the absence of any generally acknowledged single code of false doctrine unrepealed and uncontradicted, it was impossible to represent any of the grievous heresies which had gained ground otherwise than as dogmas of individuals, solitary or united, rather than of the church in general. For corrupt practices—as the Mass—they rose out of falsehoods bordering so near upon truth, and there was still so much liberty in interpreting the act and explaining its relation to the doctrine, that here, also, a man might, with a pure and unsuspecting conscience, say and do aright, or not essentially wrong, and still view himself as no dissentient from authorized usage.
But the great point at issue was the Papal authority. Now, though the Pope's actual power was great, though his reign over the ecclesiastics was generally existing in fact, and their influence with the people and the governments had grown to an enormous height; still, his claim to ecclesiastical supremacy beyond his own See had been so often denied, not by individuals only, but by states; the distinction between a legitimate dignity from his station, and a despotic spiritual power, was so great, while the boundaries of each were so difficult to fix; and, again his stretching spiritual power itself so far into the regions of the temporal had met with so great and
steady resistance from teachers, and from almost every government in Europe ; and the origin of his temporal power and that of the clergy was so easily traced, without admitting any general recognition of Divine right; that it was equally impossible to charge on Christendom the crime of sanctioning his audacious seizing of the throne of Christ, as of setting-to her common seal to his code of lying doctrines. The importance of this point becomes the more obvious, when we consider that stupid and blasphemous heresies, gross and superstitious observances, dissolute and unprincipled morals, are unclean things, that have been bred and fattened more from the papal power than from any single source. Take away the Papal supremacy, and you take away the beastly and intriguing and slavish court of Rome, with all its baits and its scourges for a greedy and prostitute clergy. Take away Papal supremacy, and you take away Jesuitism, and all the orders which have shared in selling themselves soul and body to the Pope, with no reservation for such a case where this may prove the same thing as being sold to the devil. Take away Papal supremacy, and you take away indulgences, and jubilees, and arbitrary absolutions, setting heaven and hell to sale, proclaiming in the name of God a repeal of the eternal principles of God's government, making Christ security for the rewards of treason and murder and rebellion. And, observe, these are energies of evil of which
you cannot rob the Pope by denying his temporal power. When the Venetians * refused to admit the right of Paulv. to prevent the punishment of criminals, though ecclesiastics, or to take it out of the hands of the civil magistrate; when the Pope excommunicated the functionaries of their government, and laid all the state under an interdict of Divine ordinances; a striking illustration occurred of the growth of the Pope's temporal power out of his spiritual pretensions. It might be perfectly consistent in the senate to call themselves Roman Catholics, and yet deny his right to interfere with their laws and their criminal trials; but it was altogether inconsistent, since they admitted his spiritual and ecclesiastical supremacy, to deny the validity of his excommunication, or of his interdict. But they were shrewd enough to see, that to admit this was to make him an absolutely irresistible tyrant over Christendom, by allowing him to bring all his spiritual artillery to bear on those who should resist him in all contests, whether spiritual or temporal; and therefore they preferred liberty to consistency, and denied a prerogative, against which, once admitted, nothing Divine or human could maintain its footing among men. But his magazine was not exhausted when the senate treated the interdict as invalid,
* In 1604. See Father Paul's Historia delle Cose passate tra Paolo V. e la Republica di Venetia.
because the motive for issuing it was unjust. Paul proclaimed a jubilee, inviting all Christian men to join with him in prayer during certain days, and promising unlimited absolutions and indulgences to those who should do so. Now this was strictly a question of Papal supremacy, and even of spiritual supremacy: but who can fail to see what a tremendous weapon such a power, recognised by the faith of men, became necessarily in all controversies? Observe how he used it in this case. cepted from the indulgence, as a matter of course, those who lived under excommunicated governments and in interdicted territories. Such a jubilee was considered by the Italians as the highest privilege of their religion; as doubtless the natural mind of man, give him
a religion that bestows such a gift, will care little for any other it may offer. Here were the Venetians tempted with this bait (so eagerly coveted) to abandon their governors, to rebel in favour of the Pope, who was then preparing war: and yet he, all the while, was in this matter of the jubilee keeping within the limits of his acknowledged spiritual authority; although the object was so well known, that even the Spanish government, his own allies, delayed for three months the proclaiming of the jubilee in their dominions. The Venetians knew the value of a free and powerful government too well to be allured even in this way. But still his ammunition was not run out: he employed his agents to circulate information among the inhabitants of the interdicted territory, that, notwithstanding this general exception, any one who would obey the interdict, or do some other signal service to the Pope in the contest, should be admitted to full enjoyment of this envied blessing. Now, although he was still unsuccessful, and though this were after the Reformation, who does not see in this indefinite spiritual supremacy the awful engine that under ground had gone on for so many ages, throwing up the mass of lying doctrine and practical abomination that possessed Europe ? Who does not see the Papal power to be the very poison of the whole frame; and that the system, as hath been truly said, could as little subsist without this, as a circle without a centre? It is not because it has a Pope, it is because the Pope is the sun and soul of that system, that we refuse it the name of church, or catholic, and call it the Papacy.
Now this grand principle of Popery was so far from existing in any authorized form as the creed of the Catholic church, that, as it was denied by the Reformers in the sixteenth century while they yet remained members of that church,
so it had been written against a century before, for instance by Gerson ; who, even in admitting the Pope's claims to be regarded as the first bishop, and the last appeal in ecclesiastical questions, still spoke of a standard by which his judgments might be judged, and in cases of ex