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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From Popery: the Man of Sin, 1853
...But some say, the great and rich may be permitted to have the Bible, and read it, because they have had an education of a superior kind, and are, therefore, not so likely to adopt erroneous notions respecting it. But here we again refer to Moses.
No man could be more jealous than he of the glory of his God—none more indignant at any attempt to foist heresy or schism into the commonwealth over which he presided—yet it never entered into his mind, for a moment, that there would be any danger in committing the Bible to the common people. So far from this, the injunction applicable to all, was—"These words thou shalt teach diligently unto thy children—and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes—and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates." (Deut. 6:7, 9.)
Where does Moses speak the language of the Council of Trent? Where does he hint that the church, meaning by that the tribe of Levi, alone is to be the depository of the oracles of God? No where. All were not only at liberty to possess the Scriptures, in the Hebrew language, without note of comment—but all who did not possess them, peruse them, and live according to them, were criminal in the sight of God.
As the sunshine irradiates the cot of the humblest, as much as the mansions of the highest of the sons and daughters of earth, so the light of God's word was to cheer the occupant of the cabin, as well as of the castle. The sun of heaven might direct the hand of the assassin as well as that of charity, but this did not cause his rays to be withdrawn. The Word of God might be abused by Satan and his servants, but still was it "a lamp unto the feet" (Psalm 119:105) of every heavenward pilgrim—a spark of celestial fire, which the storms of earth might fiercely blow upon, but never have been able to extinguish.
The last written book in the Bible is the Gospel by John. It was written after the Revelation. It contains several of the discourses and prayers of Christ, which none of the other evangelists had given. Does the Messiah ever put an embargo upon the Word, or apprehend any evil consequences from its indiscriminate perusal? Never. On the contrary, his command to one and all, is, "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39.)
Has popery ever uttered such a sentence as this? Hear the Saviour interceding for his disciples! More anxious that they should be holy than exalted or rich, he asks of his Father in heaven—"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth." (John 17:17.) Did ever a priest of Rome offer up for his people such a petition? If he did, and did so from the heart, why is there such a tenderness in giving the Scriptures to the people—who often times, because they have it not, are perishing through lack of saving knowledge. (Hosea 4:6.)
In the primitive ages of Christianity, when copies of the Scriptures were costly, because the art of printing was as yet unknown, as Chrysostom informs us, "the women and children frequently carried the Gospels, or parts of the New Testament, hung round their neck."
This they did not as an amulet—as a sort of charm, as if a few verses or chapters of Scripture could repel the assaults of every enemy—but that they, having God's Word constantly with them, might, when they pleased, take counsel of Him who is of infinite wisdom and understanding. Nay, so much was the Bible prized, that some Christians, like Marcus when a youth, could repeat the whole of the Old and New Testaments; and of others, it is stated, that being themselves unable to read, they still, by hearing it read by their fellow-believers, had all the Bible committed to memory.
Were these Bible Christians, as we might call them, found swelling the ranks of heretics, schismatics, and other adversaries of the gospel? No! Their lives were spent in the fear of God—in the discharge of the duties of their respective callings; and when even a martyr's fate or apostasy were their only alternatives, they nobly preferred a cross with Christ, than a crown with Satan and the world.
The Church of Rome did not issue any formal prohibition of the free use of the Scriptures until the year 1229, when the Synod of Toulouse, alarmed by the spread of the Waldenses, thus expressed itself: "We prohibit, also, the permitting of the laity to have the books of the Old or New Testament, unless any one should wish, from a feeling of devotion, to have a Psalter or Breviary, for divine service, or the Hours of the Blessed Virgin. But we strictly forbid them to have the above-mentioned books in the vulgar tongue."
From that time until the Reformation, the Bible was, as much as the Church of Rome could make it, a sealed book. Of it, the clergy were partially, but the laity entirely, ignorant. Had the Saviour been alive, would he not have spoken to the pope, and all his minions, as he did of old, when he said, "Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye enter not in yourselves, and them that were entering in, ye hindered." (Luke 4:52.)
Romanists, however, are found citing Scripture itself, in support of the decrees of the Council of Trent, in regard to the circulation of the Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15, 16, is a passage which they are fond of quoting. "Even as our beloved brother Paul, also, according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you; as also, in all his epistles speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable, wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction." But what does this passage prove? Certainly not what some would infer from it.
Does Peter forbid the general reading of the Bible, because in it are difficulties, and from it some may derive only ruin? By no means. Because there are hidden rocks in the ocean, it does not, therefore, follow that no mariner should ever trim his bark, or set his sail for any purpose of merchandise or war. No! Even these rocks serve some end of which man is ignorant—and their presence only calls forth the greater watchfulness on the part of the voyagers, that so he may avoid the terrors of a watery grave. Does not Peter immediately add, "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
The more dangerous his path across the deep, the more skilful the pilot, and the more accurate the chart that will be required—and so the more numerous the shoals and quicksands in the world, the more the believer needs to consult his Bible, and follow the guiding eye of the Spirit of God. There are mysterious depths in Scripture which no human intellect can fathom, and dizzy heights which no human power can scale—yet so much is revealed to all as is needful to salvation; and when eternity dawneth upon the soul of the redeemed, a light so strong shall be thrown upon the darkest subjects that God's people shall clearly see what now is dim and indistinct.
The Church of Rome in general does not endeavor to bring forward Scripture evidence to show that Scripture ought not to be read. That is in reality superinducing the habit of going to the Word of God as the standard of faith and practice. Experience is a more common argument. Thus, the Council of Trent says, "Inasmuch as it is manifest from experience that if the Holy Bible translated into the vulgar tongue be indiscriminately allowed to every one, the temerity of men will cause more evil than good to arise from it, it is on this point referred to the judgment of the bishop or inquisitors, who may, by the advice of the priest or the confessor, permit the reading of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue by Catholic authors to those whose faith and piety they apprehend will be augmented and not injured by it."
Who ever heard of a parent granting permission to some of his children to eat a portion of daily food, and prohibiting others? The wise and affectionate father would see to it that the bread were wholesome, and taken at proper times, and in proper quantities—but never would it occur to him to benefit any of his family by an entire refusal of the staff of life. If the body be living and healthy, it must have food; it can neither subsist upon the air nor on medicine. If the soul be lively and vigorous, it must have some of the heavenly manna; it cannot exist upon the vanities or purgatives which man supplies.
Experience tells us this—and experience tells us just as emphatically, that whenever the Bible has been taken away from any people, they have gradually sunk until the national strength has been exchanged for weakness—the national religion for impiety—and the national morality for crime the most revolting and extended.
The onward progress of civilization has removed the barriers which self-interest might have raised to the free introduction of bread, because it is a prime necessary of life—yet Rome, even to this very day, would lay upon the importation of the Bible, into every land and household, such a duty that it amounts to a virtual prohibition; and all this that the clergy may have a monopoly, and that all who wish to buy religious knowledge must purchase it from them, on terms which they themselves have settled. If the Bible be worthy of the name of "holy," why are Romanists so much afraid of its circulation?
Why do some of them, like the infidels, turn to passages in it which they aver cannot safely be read by the youth? Why do they keep the "Holy Bible" in a species of quarantine, as if they suspected that it carried a plague along with it? Let them speak out honestly, and deny the Divine origin of the Bible, and then we will know how to reason with them; but we cannot conceive how they can honour the Scriptures with lofty names, and yet act toward it as they would toward one that was placed upon the list of the proscribed!
Away with such a mockery of reverence! If the Bible be the word of man or of Satan, let it be buried or burned—but if it be the Word of God, let it be raised as the lighthouse on the rock, by its well-reflected light speeding the travelers on ocean joyously through the darkest hours of night, past the fatal shore, to their destined harbor.