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The Bible or the Church: Chapter 7

By Robert Anderson

      IN the Church's name! "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." The only sacred thing on earth is "the Church." As for Holy Scripture, that may be patronised or mangled at pleasure: the dissecting knife of criticism cannot be applied to it too remorselessly. But to question the Divine authority of "the Church" is profanity beyond forgiveness. Just as in Pagan Rome men were free to believe in anything or in nothing, as it pleased them, so long as they were willing to burn incense at the appointed shrine, so is it in "Christian" England. There is but one God, and "the Church" is His prophet.

      "In the Church's name!" With these men "the Church" is the one mediator between God and men. No, they will exclaim, not the Church but Christ; the mediator is Christ, speaking in and through the Church. How plainly and fully the Divine Spirit anticipated this plausible falsehood when He inspired the words, "There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, THE MAN Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all."' Not the Church, not Christ in the Church, not the "mystical Christ"; but Christ THE MAN who died for men; HE is the only mediator between men and God.

      Society is occasionally startled by some notable secession to Rome; and the inference is a natural one that if "men of light and leading" take a step so momentous there cannot but be the most cogent reasons in its favour. As a matter of fact every one of these perverts has been angled for individually,(2) and the bait by which they have all been tempted is "the Church." (3) As the champions of the Neo-Romanism, so popular today in England, have taught them the foundation lie of the apostasy, that salvation is in and through "the Church," 4 they are easily drawn into the net, and duly make their submission to Rome.

      (Footnotes, -(2) I have myself been honoured in this way. See Appendix II. (3)The lie is a venerable one. "Outside the Church there is no salvation" was a favourite maxim of Cyprian.)

      The great Orthodox Church being ignored, this result is inevitable. A simple process of negative induction leads to it. For the position claimed by the ritualists for the Church of England is obviously that of a schismatical sect, severed from and repudiated by that Church to which it owes everything which they deem vital; and Protestantism regarded as a religion is rightly rejected as a transparent fraud. It was a common saying in the days of the Council of Trent that the Bible was the religion of Protestants. Protestantism in itself affords no anchorage for faith. But it provides a breakwater which makes our anchorage secure: it shields us from influences which make Christianity impossible. While priestcraft would set up a Church to mediate between God and man, Protestantism places in our hands an open Bible, and pointing us to the only mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, leaves us free to "obey the gospel."

      Christianity makes salvation a personal matter between the sinner and God. It is not a question of subjection to ordinances of religion, but of personal submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. The contrast is presented in the most emphatic way in the great doctrinal treatise of the New Testament. At the close of his parting charge to Israel, Moses spoke as follows :- "For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in the heart, that thou mayest do it (Deut. xxx. 11-14).

      And now, mark how the inspired apostle uses these words. Addressing the Romans, he says :- "For Moses writeth that the man that doeth the righteousness which is of the law shall live thereby. But the righteousness which is of faith saith thus, Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down:) or, Who shall descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom. x. 5-9 R.V.). According to the Divine revelation of Judaism, the way of life was obedience to ordinances; according to the Divine revelation of grace in Christianity, it is faith in Christ, and the acknowledgment of Him as Lord. And thus the apostle adds, "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. . . . For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." And the inspired definition of the Church is, "All that in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."'

      Salvation therefore is not by the Church, but the Church is composed of those who are thus saved by Christ.

      But this is mere Christianity, and what men crave for is a religion. For their "affairs" they have a lawyer; for their bodies, a doctor; and for their souls they want a priest. Christianity is Divine and therefore, as men deem it, supernatural and visionary; whereas religion is human and natural, and therefore practical.

      Here, and throughout these pages, the word " religion" is used in its proper classical meaning - the only meaning in which it is used in our English Bible. "How little 'religion' once meant godliness," says Archbishop Trench, "how predominantly it was used for the outward service of God, is plain from many passages in our homilies and from other contemporary literature." So Thomas Carlyle writes that, "In Scotland, Dr. Laud, much to his regret, found 'no religion at all,' no surplices, no altars in the east or anywhere; no bowing, no responding; not the smallest regularity of fuglemanship or devotional drill exercise; in short, 'no religion at all that I could see - which grieved me much."'

      In these days the secular press has taken up "religion." Priests and altars, confession and absolution, "the ornaments rubric" and "incense used ceremonially "- these and kindred topics are freely discussed in the daily newspapers. But no letters in the interests of Christianity appear in their columns. Letters of that kind gravitate to the waste-paper basket, while every one has been free to air his faith in the superstitions of human religion - superstitions which, formerly, the manhood of Christendom, especially in Roman Catholic countries, treated with cynical contempt.

      (Footnote - Carlyle's Cromwell's Letters and Speeches (Introduction). Archbishop Laud was an authority upon religion, but not upon Christianity. For the Christian, "pure religion" (the Apostle James declares) "is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted in the world." And in commenting on this, Archbishop Trench remarks that the very (Greek word) of Christianity "consists in acts of mercy, of love, of holiness." In other words, Christianity is not a religion at all. (See The Silence of God, pp. 43-45, and Note II. of the Appendix.)

      The following is a typical specimen of the sort of effusion above alluded to. After referring to the charge that "a clergyman who has a High celebration with Catholic ritual" cannot teach the doctrines of the Church of England, he proceeds "So I used to think, but I found I was mistaken. I had never read any theology in those days; I had only glanced at my Prayer-book; I knew nothing of the Ornaments Rubric, the Act of Uniformity, the Tractarian movement, &c. Consequently I bore false witness against my neighbour - viz., the ritualistic clergy. But when God revealed the truth to me and I understood what conversion meant, and what the Incarnation, the Catholic Church, the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Real Presence, Confession and Absolution, and all the rest meant, then a new light dawned on my soul and I found a beautiful peace in the Church of England. Then I saw that what looked to me in my ignorance to be idolatry, formalism, treachery, was really love of Jesus, faith in God's promises, and loyalty to, the Church of England as part "of the one true Church."'

      It is not easy to gauge the spiritual, or even the intellectual condition of men who in presence of the awful solemnities of "sin and righteousness and judgment to come" can find "a beautiful peace" through the study of the ornaments rubric and the Act of Uniformity, Were it not indeed for the solemnity of the subject, it would be exquisitely amusing. But it is too serious and too sad for ridicule. Of course ecclesiastical doctrines and practices may be discussed in a cold and formal way, without reference to experience.

      But here the writer discloses his own spiritual history and the ground of his soul's peace. And yet there is not a word about Christ and His atoning sacrifice. "Christ as a person is forgotten; the fundamental questions of salvation are not answered by reference to Him."' Instead of Calvary we have the "Eucharistic sacrifice" of the mass, that the Church of which the writer is a paid servant describes as a "blasphemous fable." A discussion of the many questions here raised would fill a volume; but let us seize upon this vital error of "the one true Church," "the Catholic Church."

      The haughty isolation, the dignified reserve, of the Greek Church is well fitted to impress the imagination, as is also the lofty intolerance of Rome. We know what "the Church" means with them, and we know what the Reformers meant by it. But what is "the one true Church" of these Neo-Romanists? Not the company of "all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," but the aggregate of the Episcopal communities, including that Church which rejects their fellowship with such disdain. The Reformers defined the Church as "a congregation of faithful men in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered";' and judging the Greek and Roman Churches by these tests, they in express terms excluded them from the category.

      Mark what this implies. Prior to the Reformation, the English Church was but a branch of the Church of Rome; but the Reformers openly seceded from the Roman Communion; and in doing so they expressly repudiated its claims to be a true Church at all, and denounced its most characteristic ordinances as "blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits." But the Reformers were not so narrow-minded and silly as to imagine that there was no Church on earth save in the southern half of this little island of Britain. Rome limits the Church to those who are within her pale; but they, refusing the place of a mere sect, which is the position occupied by the Neo-Romanists to-day, so defined the Church as to include all Christians everywhere who took their stand with them upon the truth and practice of primitive Christianity.' The Church founded by Augustine of Canterbury was not the Church of England, but a branch of the Church of Rome in England. Pope Gregory's mission corrupted and eventually stamped out, so far as the southern kingdom was concerned, the purer Christianity of the ancient Church of Britain - a Church founded in apostolic times by apostolic emissaries.

      Was the Reformation then no more than a surface cleaning of the English branch of the apostate Church, or was it a repudiation of that evil system, and a return to the purer faith of earlier days?

      Great issues depend upon the answer given to this question. The time foretold in prophecy is not yet, when there can be no salvation within the professing Church of Christendom. Not until the earthly people shall have been restored to favour as "the Bride" will the Church of Christendom be openly revealed as "the Harlot." - And then the command will be peremptory; "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached even unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities."

      (Footnote - Rev. xviii. 4, 5. I would not be understood as palliating the sin of remaining in the communion of an apostate Church. And if the Church of England were a branch of "the Catholic Church," in the sense in which the Romanisers use that term, no Christian should remain in it for a single day; not because there is no salvation within the historic Church-this may not b~i 'asserted-but because the Christian has to stand before the of christ. 2 Luke xi. 5o, 5i.)

      For Divine judgments are cumulative. He is "a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him." It is not that the innocent suffer for the guilty, but that succeeding generations of God-haters, by identifying themselves with the sin of those whc have gone before them, become heirs of guilt. Thus it was that, as the Lord Himself declared, the Israel of Messianic days guilty of "the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world." And by her own deliberate acts the "historic Church" entered upon the awful heritage of guilt; and when, at the close of this day of grace, her sins shall come up for judgment, upon her shall be avenged His holy apostles and prophets for "in her," we read, "was found the blood of prophets and of saints, even of all that have been slain upon the earth."' The Churches of the Reformation sought to "break the entail" of guilt, but these Neo-Romanists are determined, so far as in them lies, to restore it. Upon every man who stands upon "the continuity of the historic Church," "the blood of the martyrs" calls aloud for vengeance.

      The question here involved is the pivot on which the pending controversy turns. The ritualist regards the Reformation as merely an incidental episode in the Church's history, and the Thirty-nine Articles as a passing ebullition of Protestant ignorance and bigotry. Therefore he practically ignores both. Therefore it is that he dreads the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals, knowing - well that every lawyer will regard the Reformation and the Articles as vital. The Articles are the Church's confession of faith, framed after the Prayer-book was compiled; and therefore the Prayer-book must be interpreted by the Articles, not the Articles by the Prayer-book. Men of the world are Gallios in all that concerns religion. Why should they take sides with one Church or party against another? But the revival of the confessional is fitted to put an end to this indifference. Men are beginning to understand that the question here at issue is one which touches all that is most precious and sacred in private and family life. And the more fully this is realised, the stronger will be the tide of popular indignation.

      The standard theological treatise prepared for the guidance of priests in questioning penitents in the confessional, and actually used for this purpose, is so indescribably filthy that a pamphlet containing bare extracts from it in English, although admittedly published and circulated with a good motive, has been condemned for obscenity; and an enthusiast who sought thus to excite public feeling against the system has suffered imprisonment for his offence.

      "If in these days," says Froude, "the Church of Rome were to persuade any secular power to burn a single heretic for it - as in past centuries it burned thousands - I suppose the whole system would at once be torn to atoms." And if some English gentleman should be sent to gaol for horsewhipping a "priest" who has received his wife's confession in matters relating to the secret confidences of married life, the event would do more than the bishops are likely, to effect to put down this iniquity in the land.' - Confession to a man is an outrage upon men; hence the popular clamour against the infamy of it. Absolution by a man is a far greater outrage upon God; but of this men seem to be unmindful. And yet there is in it something appallingly profane. It belongs to the Pagan conception of priesthood, by which the primitive Church was so soon corrupted. The Jew knew nothing of it. Even in the days of his deepest apostasy, he never forgot that the forgiveness of sins is a Divine prerogative.

      (Footnote - Said Archbishop Tait, when speaking on this subject in the House of Lords on 14th June, 1877, "I am sure it would be the duty of any father of a family to remonstrate with the clergyman who had put the questions, and warn him never to approach his house again." I mean nothing more than this, save that I could suggest a method of "remonstrating" that would be efficacious!)

      And no great knowledge of Scripture is needed to satisfy any one that the apostles themselves never claimed the power to which these priests of Christendom so impiously pretend. To point sinners to the Lord Jesus Christ was the aim of all their ministry. "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins."' Such was the Apostle Peter's testimony. And the Apostle Paul's was to the same effect: "Through Him is proclaimed unto you remission of sins; and by film, every one that believeth is justified from all things."

      There was nothing distinctively apostolic about this. To give such a testimony to Christ is the privilege of every Christian. Indeed, until ecclesiasticism corrupted Christianity it was plainly recognised as his responsibility. In the persecution which followed the martyrdom of Stephen, the Christians, we are told, were all scattered abroad, and the record adds, -"They that were scattered abroad went everywhere, preaching the Word." That is to say, not only was missionary work of this kind not "an apostolic function," but at that particular stage of the Church's history the apostles alone refrained from entering upon it.' Priestly absolution, like Papal supremacy, depends on the perversion of a single text. The precept, "Confess your sins one to another," is the only Scripture to which it can appeal. Here is the passage in full

      "Is any among you suffering? let him pray. Is any cheerful? let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working" (James v: I3-I6, R.V.).

      (Footnote - Under Divine guidance, no doubt. While the testimony was specially addressed to Israel (that is, during the Pentecostal dis-pensation), Jerusalem was the divinely appointed centre.)

      If men did not take leave of reason and common sense in all that concerns religion, could any one find priestly absolution here? "Confess your sins one to another," means, forsooth, "confess your sins to a priest, and "pray for one another" means, "and the priest will absolve you"! Forgiveness is with God; and if the weak would invoke human aid, that aid will be found in "the supplication of a righteous man," or (as the Reformers suggested) the counsel of a "minister of God's word," who, "by the ministry of God's holy word," may be able to quiet the conscience of the penitent.'

      If the Apostle Peter had known of the power to prescribe a penance, and to absolve the penitent, would he have said to Simon Magus, "Pray God, if perhaps the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee"? If Simon had ever heard of it, would he have replied, "Pray ye to the Lord for me"?

      (Footnote - "The ever memorable Mr. John Hales, of Eaton," an Oxford Professor in his day, and altogether a notable person-he got preferment from Laud-wrote as follows: "Your Pliny tells you 'that he that ,ls stricken by a scorpion, if he go immediately and whisper it into the ears of an ass, shall find himself immediately eased.' That sin is a scorpion and bites deadly, I have always believed; but that to cure the bite of it it was a sovereign remedy to whisper it into the ear of a priest, I do as well believe as I do that of Pliny." )

      Paul alone of all the apostles, compelled by the attacks of the Judaisers, "magnified his office," insisting upon the dignity and power which pertained to the apostleship. Yet he it was who wrote, "What then is Apollos? and what is Paul?" And the answer is - not "Priests to stand between you and God," but "Ministers by whom ye believed." The same might have been said of any one of the thousands of the scattered Pentecostal Church. And he further emphasises this by declaring, "In nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing."'

      The apostles had a position of undoubted pre-eminence and power in the Church - a position absolutely unique, though these sham priests pretend to share it; and yet so far as the remission of a sinner's sins was concerned, an apostle was no more than the humblest Christian. At this point man is absolutely nothing, and his intervention is indeed the sin of Korah - a sin compared with which the foulest immorality ever disclosed in the confessional is trivial. If such an outrage upon the Divine Majesty does not bring down swift and signal vengeance, it is because this is the age of a silent Heaven, the age of the reign of grace. Its punishment awaits the awful day when the priest and his dupe shall stand together before the throne of God.

      But while, as already noticed, the question in this aspect of it is altogether a religious one, it has another side, in which it closely concerns the national character and the future of this realm. "It is yours, Right Reverend Fathers," said Cardinal Manning' in addressing the English Roman Catholic prelates, "to subjugate and subdue, to bend and to break the will of an imperious race, the will which, as the will of Rome of old, rules over nations and people, invincible and inflexible." And no method can be more certain of achieving this fell purpose of humiliating the spirit of Englishmen than that of habituating them to the degradation of confession to a priest. The ritualistic controversy abounds in questions respecting which wide differences of opinion must be tolerated in a Church which claims to be national. But here no toleration is possible.

      Persecution? Yes, if needs be - persecution of the kind that sends men to gaol for fraud, or for dispensing poisons without a label. Let these men join the Church of Rome, and they can follow the practices of their religion unhindered. But the salaried servants of the National Church, the Church of the Reformation, must not be permitted to destroy the work of the Reformation. If the bishops will not, and the courts cannot, put down this abomination, the constituencies must deal with it. God forbid that the appeal should need to be carried further. But our liberties have been won at the cost of revolution, and we are prepared to maintain them, let the further cost be what it may.

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