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And as the Reformation has been gradual in its progress among the nations, so it were not to be expected that it should at once have become complete in its character : and hence we find that the Reformers, great and good men as they were, differed on some points with each other; and the Reformed church at this day embraces a variety of denominations; agreeing however, with few exceptions, in those great truths which the first Reformers considered fundamental. Without venturing to claim for any portion of Protestant Christendom absolute freedom from errour, we maintain that the system of doctrine which is professed by most of the Reformed churches is, in all its general features, the same which the early Christians were taught from the lips of the Apostles; and on every point upon which the Protestant church differs from the Roman Catholic church, we, of course, maintain that it does so by the authority of scripture.
The former of the two passages which I read to you at the beginning of this discourse, has been universally admitted by Protestant commentators to refer to the Romish hierarchy; and it were easy to vindicate this interpretation from all the objections with which the Romanists have ever opposed it. The latter passage was designed as a caution to the Christians of Galatia not to yield to the influence of those judaizing teachers who insisted on the perpetual obligation of the Mosaic
but it fairly admits of being applied to all Christians in reference to any system of ecclesiastical tyranny; and especially to Protestant Christians in reference to that system which Luther and Calvin and their coadjutors abjured at the Reformation. It is in this latter sense exclusively that I shall consider it on the present occasion.
My design in this discourse then is to contrast Protestant Christianity with Romanism: And I shall do this in respect to
I. THEIR AGREEMENT WITH SCRIPTURE:
But before proceeding to the consideration of this contrast, let me ask your attention to one or two remarks.
In the first place, let it be distinctly understood that I do not deny to the Roman Catholic church the honour of having embraced in her communion at different periods
many illustrious men;-illustrious alike for their talents, their eloquence and their virtues. Massillon, and Fenelon, and Paschal, were Roman Catholics; and brighter names than these we do not often meet on the page of modern ecclesiastical history. And there have been others of a still later period, who, though of less distinguished name, have fairly commended themselves to the grateful regards of posterity. These men, we cannot suppose, could have ever fully received all the absurdities which we shall see, in the progress of this discourse, belong to the canons of the church with which they were in communion; and I am well aware that there are distinguished ecclesiastics at this day who profess to receive their articles with a very different construction from that which all antiquity has given to them. Where cases of this kind exist, let them be acknowledged; and let no man be taxed with holding inconsistencies which he honestly disavows.
In the next place, it cannot successfully be questioned that the Roman Catholic religion every where, in re
spect to its practical operation, has been in a degree softened and modified by the prevailing spirit of improvement, and especially through the influence of the Reformation. Compare the present condition of Italy and Spain, where Romanism has undergone less modification than any where else, with the condition of any Roman Catholic country previous to the Reformation, and you cannot resist the conviction that there is a mighty difference in favour of the former; that though there is deep darkness prevailing now, yet it is not the darkness of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In this country especially the more revolting features of Romanism have hitherto scarcely been seen; and we may safely say that the system never can exist here, even in that degree of absurdity and intolerance by which it is characterized at this day in some other countries, unless it should succeed in effectually remodelling our institutions.
You will be convinced, I trust, from these remarks, that it is no part of my object in this discourse to attack the Romanists in the spirit of wholesale denunciation; but then I must be allowed to speak out my honest convictions without respect to any considerations of supposed delicacy. As a minister of Christ, I am bound to vindicate the truth against the encroachments of errour; and not the less but the more, when errour boldly plants itself in the midst of us; because I am set for the defence of the gospel :-—but I am equally bound to perform this duty in the spirit of Christian kindness; for the servant of the Lord must be gentle and not strive, and must speak the truth in love. That I may not even seem to do injustice to the Romanists, I shall exhibit their system, not as it may be collected from the writings of their opposers, but as it is found in their own standards ;standards which have been adopted in a formal manner,
and which the church as a body continues to recognise without the least abatement from their authority. If it be said that there are individuals in the Roman Catholic communion by whom many of the doctrines contained in their formularies are not received, I have only to reply that so far they are not Roman Catholics; and perhaps, when they shall have advanced a little farther, they may be disposed to renounce the whole system. If I were called upon to state the views of religious doctrine which are held by the Presbyterian church, I should refer to her Confession of Faith: a similar demand in respect to the Episcopal church I should meet by a reference to her Thirty-Nine Articles: and if I were in controversy with either of these bodies, I should have a right to appeal to one or other of these public formularies 'as containing the sense of the denomination; and the fact that there were individuals professing to be Presbyterians or Episcopalians who rejected these standards would not at all abate from their authority, until the church by a publick act should have renounced them. On precisely the same ground I am about to appeal to the standards of the Roman Catholic church;—that they have not only never been authoritatively set aside, but that the church as a body still clings to them with undiminished pertinacity.
Let me now proceed to contrast Protestant Christianity with Romanism, I. In respect to THEIR AGREEMENT WITH SCRIPTURE.
1. Romanism denies, Protestant Christianity affirms, that the Holy Scriptures are a complete Rule of faith, independently of oral traditions.
The decree of the council of Trent on this subject is in these words :-"All saving truth is not contained in the Holy Scripture, but partly in the scripture, and
partly in unwritten traditions; which, whosoever doth not receive with like piety and reverence as he doth the Scriptures, is accursed.”
Hear the Apostle Paul, and see which side of the question has the sanction of his authority. In writing to Timothy, a young minister, who, it was exceedingly desirable should be led into all truth, on this subject, he declares that “the Holy Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation;" and again, that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” On these passages it may be remarked that, if the “Scriptures are able to make men wise unto salvation, there can be no occasion for unwritten traditions; and that, if the man of God can be so instructed out of the Scriptures as to be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” they must contain every doctrine and precept which God in his wisdom has been pleased to reveal for the edification of the body of Christ or the conversion of the world. The Prophet Isaiah virtually excludes every thing else than the Holy Scriptures as a Rule of faith, when he says, “To the Law and to the Testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." The wise-man in the Book of Proverbs says, “Every word of God is pure: Add thou not unto his word, lest he reprove thee and thou be found a liar.” And finally John in the Book of the Revelation declares, "I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this Book, if any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this Book."