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ENQUIRER.—But these Ministers were, during a long space of time, corrupt and wicked.
MINISTER.—That I admit. Read the blessed book itself, and
you will find that their corruption was foretold --its nature, its duration, its overthrow. I merely in this case build on the fact of succession, the satisfactory conclusion, that there has existed from the time of the foundation of Christianity a series of men who have admitted its truth, administered its sacraments, and instrumentally handed down to us the Word of God himself.
In effect, if the argument of Paley, taken from Lardner, and grounded on the existence of a chain of writers reaching from the first age of Christianity to the present day, have any force in it, it would seem to me that a succession of authorised pastors existing in the Church affords an argument possessed of all the force of this argument, with some additional force beside. And it has many other practical bearings on the work of the Ministry that are most important in their character. Who can doubt this who looks at any Roman Catholic country ? What is the single circumstance that holds in bondage, and exerts such a powerful influence, of whatsoever sort it is, upon the population of Spain, Portugal, Austria, Italy, Ireland, &c. ? It is a sense, arising from the existence of Apostolical succession, of due authority in the Church for something or other, which something they imagine to be the absurd and wicked traditions, the lying legends, and superstitious practices of Popery. Now we, from the same source, claim an authority, but an authority to be exerted with a very different view,
-an authority to be exercised, not for the destruction, but for the salvation of the souls of men. In what other Church (e.e.) do we find so regular a succession of pastors as in the Church of Rome? And thence the benefit flows to the reformed Church.
EXCELLENCE OF THIS.
There seems to me something strikingly providential
and beautiful in this. In the dark ages, when the Spirit of God was driven away from the visible Church by the corruptions that existed in it—when spiritual men had to struggle against these corruptions, rather than to contend for due order in the Church, had the maintenance of a regular succession of Ministers been committed to their care and keeping, it would not have been in safe hands. Therefore, this duty was left with persons of a very different stamp, to wit—the pampered prelates of the Church of Rome. These, knowing that the authority for all their usurpations was simply the fact that they succeeded the Apostles, look care to preserve that succession with great assiduity, and were, at the same time, no less diligent to keep the Scripture, which would have revealed their corruptions, from the minds of the people. The very
worldliness, therefore, of the Roman Church has, by the providence of God, been made to tend to the production of an accurate transmission of Apostolic authority to our times.
It pleased God to allow whatever other Apostolical Churches
may have existed in the primitive times, either gradually to disappear, or to become merged,
as the primitive British Church did, in the Church of Rome. So that I apprehend that there is scarce any Church (e.e) that can produce such clear, or at least so universally acknowledged Apostolic authority in its Ministers as that Church can. Now, all the benefit that grew out of Popish selfishness and worldly-mindedness, we enjoy in the Church of England, purified from its dross and filth.
WHAT WE LEARN FROM THE DISSENTERS.
But the inheritance of due Apostolical authority is in its nature calculated to produce a certain degree of pride; just as any other valuable possession is, in our fallen world. It seems to me not necessary to look back to history for examples of this. The very state of the Church as it exists in this country, this united kingdom, at the present day, is abundantly calculated to shew us that there may be a great deal of pride engendered by the possession of ecclesiastical power. Now, this pride must be counteracted : it was formerly much greater than it is at present. What, then, did the great Head of the Church do? He poured out his Spirit upon men not regularly constituted; he made them, with all their irregularity, the instruments of effecting great things in the world : as though he would, in that way, say to his Church, “ Be humble-for observe, great as are your privileges, high as is the dignity I have conferred upon you, I can do without you, and make my light shine without a candlestick.” In fact, I imagine the Dissenters to have been raised up for the very purpose of quickening and humbling the Church; as it is written, “ I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty, because of my holy mountain.” And I am very much confirmed in this view of the matter by the actual state of the dissenting body at the present day; for I must say, that I do miss in it a great deal of the single-minded piety that I have seen in the Church of England. I speak as an observer, a witness, a stranger. I came to England as to a Protestant country, with my mind prepared to take up any impression that might be made on it by facts, so ignorant of the effects of Protestantism upon a population, that I would not even conclude against the practical workings of Popery until I had been an observer of a different system for some years; and, as the result of much accurate observation, I do say, that it is in the Church of England you must look for active, humble, unpretending, unerbittered piety. I, however, profess that, as a Christian man, I do feel in many ways indebted to Dissenters for the benefits, direct and indirect, which they have conferred upon religion.
NOTICE OF THE PRESENT EDITION. A sense of the importance of the views brought forward in the Introduction, and the intense delight that I have myself derived from the reading of Mede's Works in general, and particularly of the “ Apostasy of the Latter Times,” led me to publish this piece, Chapter by Chapter, in a periodical which I edit in Sheffield, called The Witness, devoted to the work of opening the eyes of the people to the views that they should take of Popery. As this piece appears in Mede's Works, it is scarcely suitable for popular reading ; for, the quotations from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, are mixed up with the text, and not always translated. I made an alteration consequently in this particular, transferring those quotations to notes, so that the Work might be read straightforward by the simple people. In this way it rejoiced me to find that it was received with avidity, and gave exceeding pleasure to my humble readers. After we had made use of the type as it was set up for the Witness, we threw it into the form of
pages, and printed it off sheet by sheet, until the Work was concluded. We did not, however, publish in the Witness more than the thirteen first Chapters, and part of the fourteenth of the first Part. After that we went on with the publication of the second Part, and of the very admirable Sermon that will be found in the Appendix. This will account for the manner in which the number of the pages is given. The reason why we omitted the latter portion of the first Part was, because in the main it referred to the time of the manifestation of the Apostasy, which, after all, is not so very importanta matter, particularly as regards humble readers ; and also, because it gives a very elaborate interpretation of a passage in Daniel, which (I agree with Mr. Faberin thinking so,) is not the correct interpretation. At first I thought of omitting this passage altogether, and of giving something in its stead. Upon more mature consideration this scarcely seemed allowable, and I therefore determined
not to venture to take such an important liberty with the venerable author. I should be disposed to recommend the reader to pass on from the reading of the fourteenth Chapter of the first Part, to the reading of the second Part, reserving the rest for subsequent perusal.
I feel that something like an apology is owing from me, for venturing to come forward in the way I do, in connexion with so truly venerable a name as that of the great Mede. I think I can honestly say, that a most sincere horror of Popery, and the most anxious desire to
fellow Christians in the diffusion of true ideas with respect to it, have been the sole cause of my doing so. Notwithstanding, however, my feelings on this subject, my gratitude to our anthor, and admiration of him, I should certainly not have taken the liberty, had the service been undertaken by another hand.
I add to this Introduction, 1. an interesting passage from an early Christian writer, Lactantius-on the subject of the Antichrist foretold in Scripture. It will serve to shew the opinions of the primitive Christian Church, as to the history of the Church which was then future. As Mede refers to those opinions very frequently, I think the passage will be found gratifying to the readers of the Work. I also subjoin, 2. a short quotation from Luther, which will justify my own strong language.
EXTRACT FROM LACTANTIUS, AN EARLY
CHRISTIAN WRITER, CONCERNING THE END OF THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION.*
Since we have already declared, in the former books, that the soul is immortal, it follows now that we should say how and when immortality will be conferred upon believers—that in this, also, the worshippers of false Gods may perceive the errors of their depravity and folly.
* Divine Institutions, Book vii. c. 14.