Romanism is now regarded by Protestants with far greater favor than in former years. There is an increasing indifference concerning the doctrines that separate the reformed churches from the papal hierarchy; the opinion is gaining ground that, after all, we do not differ so widely upon vital points as has been supposed, and that a little concession on our part will bring us into a better understanding with Rome. The time was when Protestants placed a high value upon the liberty of conscience which has been so dearly purchased. They taught their children to abhor popery, and held that to remain at peace with Rome would be disloyalty to God. But how widely different are the sentiments now expressed.
The defenders of popery declare that she has been maligned; and the Protestant world is inclined to accept the statement. Many urge that it is unjust to judge the Romish Church of today by the abominations and absurdities that marked her reign during the centuries of ignorance and darkness. They excuse her horrible cruelty as the result of the barbarism of the times, and plead that civilization has changed her sentiments.
Have these persons forgotten the claim of infallibility for eight hundred years put forth by this haughty power? So far from relinquishing this claim, the church in the nineteenth century has affirmed it with greater positiveness than ever before. As Rome asserts that she has never erred, and never can err, how can she renounce the principles which governed her course in past ages?
The papal church will never relinquish her claim to infallibility. All that she has done in her persecution of those who reject her dogmas, she holds to be right; and would she not repeat the same acts, should the opportunity be presented? Let the restraints now imposed by secular governments be removed, and Rome be re-instated in her former power, and there would speedily be a revival of her tyranny and persecution.
It is true that there are real Christians in the Roman Catholic communion. Thousands in that church are serving God according to the best light they have. They are not allowed access to his word, and therefore they do not discern the truth. They have never seen the contrast between a living heart-service and a round of mere forms and ceremonies. But God looks with pitying tenderness upon these souls, educated as they are in a faith that is delusive and unsatisfying. He will cause rays of light to penetrate the dense darkness that surrounds them. He will reveal to them the truth as it is in Jesus, and they will yet take their position with his people.
But Romanism as a system is no more in harmony with the gospel of Christ now than at any former period in her history. The Protestant churches are in great darkness, or they would discern the signs of the times. The Roman Church is far-reaching in her plans and modes of operation. She is employing every device to extend her influence and increase her power in preparation for a fierce and determined conflict to regain control of the world, to re-establish persecution, and to undo all that Protestantism has done. Catholicism is gaining ground in our country upon every side. Look at the number of her churches and chapels. Look at her colleges and seminaries, so widely patronized by Protestants. These things should awaken the anxiety of all who prize the pure principles of the gospel.
Protestants have tampered with and patronized popery; they have made compromises and concessions which papists themselves are surprised to see, and fail to understand. Men are closing their eyes to the real character of Romanism, and the dangers to be apprehended from her supremacy. The people of our land need to be aroused to resist the advances of this most dangerous foe to civil and religious liberty.
Many suppose that the Catholic religion is unattractive, and that its worship is a dull, stupid round of ceremony. Here they mistake. While Romanism is based upon deception, it is not a coarse and clumsy imposture. The religious service of the Romish Church is a most impressive ceremonial. Its gorgeous display and solemn rites fascinate the senses of the people, and silence the voice of reason and of conscience. The eye is charmed. Magnificent churches, imposing processions, golden altars, jeweled shrines, choice paintings, and exquisite sculpture appeal to the love of beauty. The ear also is captivated. There is nothing to excel the music. The rich notes of the deep-toned organ, blending with the melody of many voices as it swells through the lofty domes and pillared aisles of her grand cathedrals, cannot fail to impress the mind with awe and reverence.
This outward splendor, pomp, and ceremony, that only mocks the longings of the sin-sick soul, is an evidence of inward corruption. The religion of Christ needs not such attractions to recommend it. In the light shining from the cross, true Christianity appears so pure and lovely that external decorations only hide its true worth. It is the beauty of holiness, a meek and quiet spirit, which is of value with God.
Brilliancy of style is not an index of pure, elevated thought. The highest conceptions of art, the most delicate refinement of taste, often spring from minds wholly earthly and sensual. They are often employed by Satan to lead men to forget the necessities of the soul, to lose sight of the future, immortal life, to turn away from their infinite Helper, and to live for this world alone.
A religion of externals is attractive to the unrenewed heart. The pomp and ceremony of the Catholic worship have a seductive, bewitching power by which many are deceived; and they come to look upon the Roman Church as the very gate of Heaven. None are proof against her influence but those who have planted their feet firmly upon the foundation of truth, and whose hearts are renewed by the Spirit of God. Thousands who have not an experimental knowledge of Christ will be swept into this deception. A form of godliness without the power is just what they desire. The Romanist feels at liberty to sin, because the church claims the right to pardon. To him who loves self-indulgence, it is more pleasing to confess to a fellow-mortal than to open the soul to God. It is more palatable to human nature to do penance than to renounce sin. It is easier to mortify the flesh by sackcloth and nettles and galling chains than to crucify fleshly lusts. Heavy is the yoke which the carnal heart is willing to bear rather than bow to the yoke of Christ.
There is a striking similarity between the church of Rome and the Jewish church at the time of Christ's first advent. While the Jews secretly trampled upon every principle of the law of God, they were outwardly rigorous in the observance of its precepts, loading it down with exactions and traditions that made obedience painful and burdensome. As the Jews professed to revere the law, so do Romanists claim to reverence the cross. They exalt the symbol of Christ's sufferings, while in their lives they deny him whom it represents.
Papists place crosses upon their churches, upon their altars, and upon their garments. Everywhere is seen the insignia of the cross. Everywhere it is outwardly honored and exalted. But the teachings of Christ are buried beneath a mass of senseless traditions, false interpretations, and rigorous exactions. The Saviour's words concerning the bigoted Jews apply with still greater force to the Romish leaders: "They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." [MATT. 23:4]. Conscientious souls are kept in constant terror, fearing the wrath of an offended God, while the dignitaries of the church are living in luxury and sensual pleasure.
Satan instigates the worship of images, the invocation of saints, and the exaltation of the pope, to attract the minds of the people from God and from his Son. To accomplish their ruin, he endeavors to turn their attention from Him through whom alone they can find salvation. He will direct them to any one that can be substituted for the One who has said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." [MATT. 11:28.]
It is Satan's constant effort to misrepresent the character of God, the nature of sin, and the real issues at stake in the great controversy. By his sophistry he blinds the minds of men, and secures them as his agents to war against God. By perverted conceptions of the divine attributes, heathen nations were led to believe human sacrifices necessary to secure the favor of Deity; and the most horrible cruelties have been perpetrated under the various forms of idolatry. The Romish Church, uniting the forms of paganism and Christianity, and in a similar manner misrepresenting the character of God, has resorted to practices no less cruel and revolting. In the days of Rome's supremacy there were instruments of torture to compel assent to her doctrines. There was the stake for those who would not concede to her claims. There were massacres on a scale that will never be known to mortals. Dignitaries of the church studied, under Satan their master, to invent means to cause the greatest possible torture, and not end the life of their victim. The infernal process was repeated to the utmost limit of human endurance, until nature gave up the struggle, and the sufferer hailed death as a sweet release.
Such was the fate of Rome's opponents. For her adherents she had the discipline of the scourge, of famishing hunger, of bodily austerities in every conceivable, heart-sickening form. To secure the favor of Heaven, penitents violated the laws of God by violating the laws of nature. They were taught to sunder every tie which he has formed to bless and gladden man's earthly sojourn. The churchyard contains millions of victims who spent their lives in vain endeavors to subdue their natural affections, to repress, as offensive to God, every thought and feeling of sympathy with their fellow-creatures.
If we desire to understand the determined cruelty of Satan, manifested for hundreds of years, not among those who never heard of God, but in the very heart and throughout the extent of Christendom, we have only to look at the history of Romanism. And as we see how he succeeds in disguising himself, and accomplishing his work through the leaders of the church, we may better understand why he has so great antipathy to the Bible. If that book is read, the mercy and love of God will be revealed; it will be seen that he lays upon men none of these heavy burdens. All that he asks is a broken and contrite heart, a humble, obedient spirit.
Christ gives no example in his life for men and women to shut themselves in monasteries in order to become fitted for Heaven. He has never taught that love and sympathy must be repressed. The Saviour's heart overflowed with love. The nearer man approaches to moral perfection, the keener are his sensibilities, the more acute is his perception of sin, and the deeper his sympathy for the afflicted. The pope claims to be the vicar of Christ. How does his character bear comparison with that of our Saviour? Was Christ ever known to consign men to the prison or the rack because they did not pay him homage as the King of Heaven? Was his voice heard condemning to death those who did not accept him? When he was slighted by the people of a Samaritan village, the apostle John was filled with indignation, and inquired, "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?" Jesus looked with pity upon his disciple, and rebuked his harsh spirit, saying, "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. [LUKE 9:54, 56]. How different from the spirit manifested by Christ is that of his professed vicar.
The Romish Church now presents a fair front to the world, covering with apologies her record of horrible cruelties. She has clothed herself in Christlike garments; but she is unchanged. Every principle of popery that existed in ages past exists today. The doctrines devised in the darkest ages are still held. Let none deceive themselves. The popery that Protestants are now so ready to embrace and honor is the same that ruled the world in the days of the Reformation, when men of God stood up at the peril of their lives to expose her iniquity. She possesses the same pride and arrogant assumption that lorded it over kings and princes, and claimed the prerogatives of God. Her spirit is no less cruel and despotic now than when she crushed out human liberty, and slew the saints of the Most High.
Popery is just what prophecy declared that she would be, -- the apostasy of the latter times. It is a part of her policy to assume the character which will best accomplish her purpose; but beneath the variable appearance of the chameleon, she conceals the invariable venom of the serpent. "We are not bound to keep faith and promises to heretics," she declares. Shall this power, whose record for a thousand years is written in the blood of the saints, be now acknowledged as a part of the church of Christ?
It is not without reason that the claim has been put forth that Catholicism is now almost like Protestantism. There has been a change; but the change is in Protestants, not in Romanists. Catholicism indeed resembles the Protestantism that now exists; but it is far removed from Protestantism as it was in the days of Cranmer, Ridley, Knox, and other reformers.
As the Protestant churches have been seeking the favor of the world, false charity has blinded their eyes. They do not see but that it is right to believe good of all evil; and as the inevitable result, they will finally believe evil of all good. Instead of standing in defense of the faith once delivered to the saints, they are now, as it were, apologizing to Rome for their uncharitable opinion of her, begging pardon for their bigotry.
A large class, even of those who look upon Romanism with no favor, apprehend little danger from her power and influence. Many urge that the intellectual and moral darkness prevailing during the Middle Ages favored the spread of her dogmas, superstitions, and oppression, and that the greater intelligence of modern times, the general diffusion of knowledge, and the increasing liberality in matters of religion, forbid a revival of intolerance and tyranny. The very thought that such a state of things will exist in this enlightened age is ridiculed. It is true that great light, intellectual, moral, and religious, is shining upon this generation. In the open pages of God's holy word, light from Heaven has been shed upon the world. But it should be remembered that the greater the light bestowed, the greater the darkness of those who pervert or reject it.
A prayerful study of the Bible would show Protestants the real character of the papacy, and would cause them to abhor and to shun it; but men are so wise in their own conceit that they feel no need of humbly seeking God that they may be led into the truth. Although priding themselves on their enlightenment, they are ignorant both of the Scriptures and of the power of God. They must have some means of quieting their consciences; and they seek that which is least spiritual and humiliating. What they desire is a method of forgetting God which shall pass as a method of remembering him. The papacy is well adapted to meet the wants of all these. It is prepared for two classes of mankind, embracing nearly the whole world, -- those who would be saved by their merits, and those who would be saved in their sins. Here is the secret of its power.
A day of great intellectual darkness has been shown to be favorable to the success of popery. It will yet be demonstrated that a day of great intellectual light is equally favorable for its success. In past ages, when men were without God's word, and without the knowledge of the truth, their eyes were blindfolded, and thousands were ensnared, not seeing the net spread for their feet. In this generation there are many whose eyes become dazzled by the glare of human speculations, "science falsely so called;" they discern not the net, and walk into it as readily as if blindfolded. God designed that man's intellectual powers should be held as a gift from his Maker, and employed in the service of truth and righteousness; but when they are idolized, and laid upon the shrine of Satan to be employed in the service of a false religion, then intelligence can accomplish greater harm than ignorance.
In the movements now in progress in this country to secure for the institutions and usages of the church the support of the State, Protestants are following in the steps of papists. Nay, more, they are opening the door for popery to regain in Protestant America the supremacy which she has lost in the Old World. And that which gives greater significance to this movement is the fact that the principal object contemplated is the enforcement of Sunday observance, -- a custom which originated with Rome, and which she claims as the sign of her authority.
The spirit of the papacy, -- the spirit of conformity to worldly customs, the veneration for human traditions above the commands of God, -- is permeating the Protestant churches, and leading them on to do the same work of Sunday exaltation which the papacy has done before them. Would the reader understand the agencies to be employed in the soon-coming contest? He has but to trace the record of the means which Rome employed for the same object in ages past. Would he know how papists and Protestants united will deal with those who reject their dogmas? Let him see the spirit which Rome manifested toward the Sabbath and its defenders.
Royal edicts, human councils, and church ordinances sustained by secular power, were the steps by which the pagan festival attained its position of honor in the Christian world. The first public measure enforcing Sunday observance was the law enacted [A. D. 321.] by Constantine, two years before his profession of Christianity. This edict required towns-people to rest on the venerable day of the sun, but permitted countrymen to continue their agricultural pursuits. Though originally a heathen statute, it was enforced by the emperor after his nominal acceptance of the Christian religion.
The royal mandate not proving a sufficient substitute for divine authority, the bishop of Rome soon after conferred upon the Sunday the title of Lord's day. Another bishop, who also sought the favor of princes, and who was the special friend and flatterer of Constantine, advanced the claim that Christ had transferred the Sabbath to Sunday. Not a single testimony of the Scriptures was produced in proof of the new doctrine. The sacred garments in which the spurious Sabbath was arrayed were of man's own manufacture; but they served to embolden men in trampling upon the law of God. All who desired to be honored by the world accepted the popular festival.
As the papacy became firmly established, the work of Sunday exaltation was continued. For a time the people engaged in agricultural labor when not attending church, and the name Sabbath was still attached to the seventh day. But steadily and surely a change was effected. Those in holy office were forbidden to pass judgment in any civil controversy on the Sunday. Soon after, persons of all rank were commanded to refrain from common labor, on pain of a fine for freemen, and stripes in the case of servants. Later it was decreed that rich men should be punished with the loss of half of their estates; and finally, that if still obstinate they should be made slaves. The lower classes were to suffer perpetual banishment.
Miracles also were called into requisition. Among other wonders it was reported that as a husbandman who was about to plow his field on Sunday, cleaned his plow with an iron, the iron stuck fast in his hand, and for two years he carried it about with him, "to his exceeding great pain and shame."
Later, the pope gave directions that the parish priest should admonish the violators of Sunday, and wish them to go to church and say their prayers, lest they bring some great calamity on themselves and neighbors. An ecclesiastical council brought forward the argument since so widely employed, that because persons had been struck by lightning while laboring on Sunday, it must be the Sabbath. "It is apparent," said the prelates, "how high the displeasure of God was upon their neglect of this day." An appeal was then made that priests and ministers, kings and princes, and all faithful people, "use their utmost endeavors and care that the day be restored to its honor, and, for the credit of Christianity, more devoutly observed for time to come."
The decrees of councils proving insufficient, the secular authorities were besought to issue an edict that would strike terror to the hearts of the people, and force them to refrain from labor on the Sunday. At a synod held in Rome, all previous decisions were reaffirmed with greater force and solemnity. They were also incorporated into the ecclesiastical law, and enforced by the civil authorities throughout nearly all Christendom.
Still the absence of scriptural authority for Sunday-keeping occasioned no little embarrassment. The people questioned the right of their teachers to deny the positive declaration of Jehovah, "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God," in order to honor the day of the sun. To supply the lack of Bible testimony, Satan was ready with expedients. A zealous advocate of Sunday, who about the close of the twelfth century visited the churches of England, was resisted by faithful witnesses for the truth; and so fruitless were his efforts that he departed from the country for a season, and cast about him for some means to enforce his teachings. When he returned, the lack was supplied, and in his after-labors he met with greater success. He brought with him a roll purporting to be from God himself, and containing the needed command for Sunday observance, and awful threats to terrify the disobedient. This precious document -- as base a counterfeit as the institution it supported -- was said to have fallen from heaven, and to have been found in Jerusalem, upon the altar of St. Simeon, in Golgotha. The pontifical palace at Rome was the source whence it proceeded. Frauds and forgeries to advance the power and prosperity of the church have in all ages been esteemed lawful by the papal hierarchy.
The roll forbade labor from the ninth hour, three o'clock, on Saturday afternoon, till sunrise on Monday; and its authority was declared to be confirmed by many miracles. It was reported that persons laboring beyond the appointed hour were stricken with paralysis. A miller who attempted to grind his corn, saw, instead of flour, a torrent of blood come forth, and the mill-wheel stood still, notwithstanding the strong rush of the water. A woman who placed dough in the oven, found it raw when taken out, though the oven was very hot. Another who had dough prepared for baking at the ninth hour, but determined to set it aside till Monday, found the next day that it had been made into loaves and baked by divine power. A man who baked bread after the ninth hour on Saturday, found, when he broke it the next morning, that blood started therefrom. By such absurd and superstitious fabrications did the advocates of Sunday endeavor to establish its sacredness.
In Scotland, as in England, a greater regard for Sunday was secured by uniting with it a portion of the ancient Sabbath. But the time required to be kept holy varied. A law was passed that Saturday from twelve at noon ought to be accounted holy, and that no man, from that time till Monday morning, should engage in worldly business.
But notwithstanding all the efforts to establish Sunday sacredness, papists themselves publicly confessed the divine authority of the Sabbath, and the human origin of the institution by which it had been supplanted. In the sixteenth century a papal council plainly declared: "Let all Christians remember that the seventh day was consecrated by God, and hath been received and observed, not only by the Jews, but by all others who pretend to worship God; though we Christians have changed their Sabbath into the Lord's day." Those who were tampering with the divine law were not ignorant of the character of their work. They were deliberately setting themselves above God.
A striking illustration of Rome's policy toward those who honor the Sabbath was given in the long and bloody persecution of the Waldenses. Others suffered in a similar manner for their fidelity to the same truth. Amid the gloom of the Dark Ages, the Christians of Central Africa were lost sight of and forgotten by the world, and for many centuries they enjoyed freedom in the exercise of their faith. But at last Rome learned of their existence, and the emperor of Abyssinia was soon beguiled into an acknowledgment of the pope as the vicar of Christ. Other concessions followed. An edict was issued forbidding the observance of the Sabbath under the severest penalties. But papal tyranny soon became a galling yoke; and the Abyssinians determined to break it from their necks. After a terrible struggle, the Romanists were banished from their dominions, and the ancient faith was restored. The churches rejoiced in their freedom, and they never forgot the lesson they had learned concerning the deception, the fanaticism, and the despotic power of Rome. Within their solitary realm they were content to remain, unknown to the rest of Christendom.
The churches of Africa held the Sabbath as it was held by the papal church before her complete apostasy. While they kept the seventh day in obedience to the commandment of God, they abstained from labor on the Sunday in conformity to the custom of the church. Upon obtaining supreme power, Rome had trampled upon the Sabbath of God to exalt her own; but the churches of Africa, hidden for nearly a thousand years, did not share in this apostasy. When brought under the sway of Rome, they were forced to set aside the true and exalt the false Sabbath; but no sooner had they regained their independence than they returned to obedience to the fourth commandment.
These records of the past clearly reveal the enmity of Rome toward the true Sabbath and its defenders, and the means which she employs to honor the institution of her creating. The word of God teaches that these scenes are to be repeated as papists and Protestants shall unite for the exaltation of the Sunday. [REV. 13:11, 12]. For nearly forty years Sabbath reformers have presented this testimony to the world. In the events now taking place is seen a rapid advance toward the fulfillment of the prediction. There is the same claim of divine authority for Sunday-keeping, and the same lack of scriptural evidence, as in the days of papal supremacy. The assertion that God's judgments are visited upon men for their violation of the Sunday-Sabbath, will be repeated. Already it is beginning to be urged.
Marvelous in her shrewdness and cunning is the Romish Church. She can read what is to be. She bides her time, seeing that the Protestant churches are paying her homage in their acceptance of the false Sabbath, and that they are preparing to employ the very means which she herself employed in by-gone days. Those who reject the light of truth will yet seek the aid of this self-styled infallible power to exalt an institution that originated with her. How readily she will come to the help of Protestants in this work, it is not difficult to conjecture. Who understands better than popery how to deal with those who are disobedient to the church?
The Christian world will learn what Romanism really is, when it is too late to escape the snare. She is silently growing into power. Her doctrines are exerting their influence in legislative halls, in the churches, and in the hearts of men. Throughout the land she is piling up her lofty and massive structures, in the secret recesses of which her former persecutions will be repeated. She is stealthily and unsuspectedly strengthening her forces to further her own ends when the time shall come for her to strike. All that she desires is vantage ground, and this is soon to be given her. In the near future we shall see and shall feel what the purpose of the Roman element is. Whoever shall believe and obey the word of God will thereby incur reproach and persecution.
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