Romanism: an Answer to the Pamphlet of a Romish Priest, Entitled "The the Testimony": Part 3

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I HAVE now examined all you have alleged for this. In conclusion, I reply to your assertions. The Old Testament never speaks of the church. Paul declares it was a mystery bidden till the Holy Ghost was given—hidden from ages and generations—hid in God. Christ, no doubt, founded His church (i.e., on the day of Pentecost, and in general by the apostles), but He promised to be with them, not her, to the end of the world. The Holy Ghost will surely abide with Christ's true disciples till He takes them up to glory. He did not declare that He would teach the church but the apostles all truth—a promise undoubtedly fulfilled; and it is equally sure that Satan's power will never set aside the church of God, and she is, according to God's counsel, the pillar and ground of the truth, whatever may be the condition of the visible body called the church; which we have shown, by your own account, cannot be what this passage applies to. But that you are it is a very different question.
Instead of declaring that the professing church could not fail, mark it well, the Lord has declared the express contrary. He has said, first, as warning (referring to the Jews, lest the Gentiles should deceive themselves by their conceit), “Be not high-minded, but fear upon thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” He has farther declared, that a falling away or apostasy (so that it is certain that it would not continue in God's goodness to the end, for apostasy is falling away from it) would come; and that the day of Christ's coming to judge could not come till it did. He has declared that the presence of Antichrist was the mark of the last times. He has declared, the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the last days perilous times shall come (men running into all kinds of wickedness shall have the form of piety, denying the power of it); and warns the true disciple to turn away from such, and refers him to the scriptures as able to make him wise unto salvation. You seek to turn him from them, and to trust in that in which it is certain, by God's word, apostacy was to be found.
You may ask, what do we make of the promises of God? I answer, they are infallible; but he who has the scripture, the true servant of Christ who has the truth, has them before his eyes, but has all the rest of the word, so that he does not misapply them. Satan applied true promises to Christ without reference to obedience. He used the rest of the word to show that His part was to walk with God, and He would surely have all that God had promised to the true believer. He does not look for the heirs of promise in what denies the truth, to which God Himself has referred him for warning. He knows that all the unfaithfulness of man will only glorify the faithfulness of God, and that God will certainly preserve the truth and His saints (even should there be partial failure amongst them) till Christ Himself comes to fetch them according to His own promise at the end. They do not count the mass of ungodliness and corruption and worldliness around them to be the little flock which is to inherit the kingdom. They do not take the tares for wheat, though it be not their business to root them up (as you have pretended to do, rooting up, for the most part, as the Lord warned, the wheat with them); but they are sure the Lord will keep the wheat for His garner, and that the Holy Ghost will never leave them till He does, nor allow the truth to fail in the earth. It shall be maintained to the end by the church taught of God.
But I am touching on the next point, the perpetual visibility of the church. That there is a great public body, called the church of Christ, is notorious. The marks you now give you rejected, when, as you alleged, Luther, Calvin, and the church of England pleaded them as such: but we cannot expect error to be consistent. But suppose I was born in Greece or Russia, and I was told that I should obey my pastors, and that pure doctrine and the same sacraments were the marks of the church visible, what would be the effect? Why I should remain a Greek, and abhor you as false. I should have to go to the Propaganda at Rome to find you out, you are so invisible in those countries. Is the true church to change with countries, and east and west? and can these be the adequate marks of it, which, in one, would make me take a body to be the true church, which in another three days' steaming would make me reject as schismatic and heretic? You are tired, I am sure, of the Greek church. But there it is, as ancient as yours, with the same claims. It has its pastors, it has its sacraments, it has what it calls the true faith, as you allege of yours, it has its visibility. The marks you give me make me a Greek when in Russia, and you at Rome condemn me for using them, when I get there, and, if I were born in Russia, persuade me they are insufficient, and that I must leave what they prove to be the true church there, and join you. Yet there are these Greeks in spite of you. God has taken care, by their existence, to make all your pretensions and marks futile nonsense. They are proved to be worth nothing to secure a man's finding the true church, for some of them prove two or three to be such, while the existence of the two or three proves the essential ones to be false. God has taken care that the sober godly inquirer should have patent proof, if he take the pains that your allegations of unity, universality, visibility, perpetuity, tradition, and all the rest, are just worth nothing; because, in the dreadful departure of the professing church from God, He has taken care that there should not be unity, and, consequently, no universality; while visibility, and tradition, and perpetuity, and antiquity are as strong for one as the other, and, therefore, prove nothing for either. Blessed be God, the spiritual man, who has his Bible and reads it wants no such proof. He knows that the truth of God has been perverted, the forms of piety assumed, and the power gone; the headship of Christ abandoned (though Romanists alone have ventured to set up another head, and hence are worse than Greeks), and subjection to ordinances brought in. He sees the Spirit's words fulfilled— “In the last days perilous times shall come” —the form of piety, denying the substance. But of this a word at the close.
Must I turn again to your use of the Old Testament? I can afford to be brief after what we have already examined. You quote Isa. 40 “Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” But again, whom am I to accuse? I honestly lay it on your church and not on you. You have left out, between what I have just copied and the next verse of the chapter, an all-important verse, which shows the absurdity of the application of the passage: “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.” Now, whatever is the subject of this chapter under the name (justly used after the Vulgate, though not in the Hebrew) Jerusalem, it had been in darkness, though existing, and in an awful state, as the previous chapter shows. Truth failed, and he that departed from evil made himself a prey; but now the Lord visited her, and while all else was in darkness, light and the glory of the Lord was here. Indeed Paul has quoted part of the preceding description to show the awful state of the Jews. But do you believe that the truth having failed, and he that departs from evil making himself a prey, is a description of the true church? Is that, indeed, what the church of Rome is? Or, again, when the full light and glory of the Lord has risen on the church, so that it is in “cloudless manifestation and universal visibility” as you say, how comes darkness just then to cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; or why did you leave that verse out? So the Lord goes on: “In my wrath I smote thee” (ver. 10); and again, “Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee.” (Ver. 15.) When and how long was this unfailing and perpetually visible church forsaken and hated of God? Apply it to Jerusalem which is named, and nothing is more simple: we know it has been her state.
You quote also (and the same a little before) Isa. 2 If you take the trouble to read that chapter, you will find that it is concerning Judah and Jerusalem, and describes the blessing as being brought about by the dreadful judgment of the Lord, when men shall go into the clefts of the rocks for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty, when He ariseth to shake terribly the earth. Well may the Spirit of God add, “Cease ye from man.”
Again, Ezek. 17, we have these things explained by the Spirit: “Know ye not what these things mean? tell them, Behold the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem and hath taken the king thereof,” &c., and then describes the conduct of Zedekiah, and, at the close, predicts the raising up of Christ as seed of David. What has this to do with the church? The seed of David is not the church.
In Jer. 31 it is revealed: “He that scattered Israel will gather him.” Has God scattered the church? Is the church the backsliding daughter of Ephraim? Further, the Lord says, “Like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict, so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the Lord.” Has God watched over the church to pluck it up? And the prophet adds, after the verse you quote, what you do not quote: it runs thus: “Then I will also cast off all the seed of Israel, for all that they have done, saith the Lord. Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that the city shall be built to the Lord, from the tower of Hananeel unto the gate of the corner,” &c., “and it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more, forever.” Jeremiah addressed the Jews, and told them, that God would not cast them off in that future day, and that the city should be built, and that then they who had been so utterly plucked up should never be so any more. Is this the church? That God's name may be great among the Gentiles no one disputes, and that under the figure of Jewish offerings they should offer theirs, every Christian can believe; though I do not believe it applies to the church.
And here allow me to ask a question. All the passages which you have quoted you have applied figuratively up to the present; now that there is a question of oblation and sacrifice, you apply it literally. Why so? The apostles were the light of the world, and so set doubtless. But how does this prove that you are that light, or that it was to be perpetual? Though, however dimmed, I doubt not that God has never suffered it to be extinguished. The Lord is speaking of His true disciples, poor in spirit, pure in heart. Do you mean that the mass of the professing church, Romish, Greek, Protestant, or Presbyterian, are that? I have been in many Roman Catholic countries, and in Protestant and Presbyterian; and, though doubtless there are blessed exceptions, the mass of pleasure—bunters and money-hunters and passion-governed men are not what the Lord describes in Matt. 5. Or do you mean that, when their character was wholly changed, they are as much light as before? Or is it the judgment of the Romish body, that moral condition or holiness has nothing to do with the light the saints should give?
The Lord, on the contrary, says in this same chapter (which you take care not to quote), “If the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is good for nothing.” You may salt other things with salt; but if the salt be savorless, what other thing shall salt it? In fine you tell us, because Christ said to the apostles, “Ye are the light of the world,” therefore the church is so at all times—i.e. the outward professing Romish body—a strange conclusion where nothing is proved at all. The word of God says the contrary, that the day shall not come except there be a falling away first. (ἡ ἀποστασία.)
Your chapter on tradition is hardly worth an answer. Every one knows that tradition in scripture always means a doctrine delivered, and never has the Romish sense of it. A passage you quote shows it: “The traditions you have learned by word or by our epistle.” The apostle had preached to them by word of mouth, and written an epistle to them: they were to mind all he had taught them. Next, your arguments are a mere nullity. You urge that the apostles taught by word of mouth before they wrote to the churches. Undoubtedly. Who ever doubted it? The question is, whether, since they wrote, what men have retailed for seventeen centuries can be relied upon—a question you do not so much as touch upon. You refer to Timothy's committing the truths Paul had taught him to faithful men—an excellent service—a thing which is done, be it well or ill, among different sects of Christians in their theological schools and colleges, and I doubt not was very well done by Timothy. But how does this make it authoritative teaching? No man's teaching is held even by Rome to be infallibly authoritative, save that Ultramontanes hold the popes to be infallible e, which the Council of Constance, as we have seen, held them not to be. The question is not, whether Timothy taught or whether you do, but whether you have got what he taught besides what is written. You have no authentic truth by tradition. In the very epistle you cite we have the proof of it: “And now ye know what withholdeth,” says the apostle, for when he was yet with them he had told them of these things. Now, here is an instruction given by word of mouth, which we have not got. Can you produce any authenticated church statement of what it was?
Tradition is very convenient to say (I leave something you can have no proof of), in which you must obey me blindly; but when we come to ask what are they, they are not to be had. The Rabbis, to whom you refer for purgatory, keep the poor Jews in blindness by the same means. The early church was frightened by the warnings of the apostle, and thought the final judgments would come after the revelation of antichrist, on the fall of the Roman empire; but this consent of the Fathers as to the millennial scheme and Christ's soon reigning at Jerusalem (for scarce could any topic be found more generally believed by them), this sure tradition belied itself; and already in Augustine's time and after it passed off into a more general spiritualization, and the faith of the early church (which is declared positively by Justin Martyr, in his dialog with Trypho, to be held by all the orthodox) was cast off as a fable, and the early Fathers left on these points in oblivion and forgetfulness; and the account between tradition, universal tradition, and an orthodoxy founded on tradition, having been thus far falsified by fact, had to be settled by modern orthodoxy, passing as lightly over its grave as it could. Though they misapplied it, I believe, in the substance, Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Nepos, and the orthodox of those days, were right, and not Origen and Dionysius and the moderns. But I believe it, because scripture is clear upon it.
But you mention two things in particular, which you say are founded on tradition, and which are not in scripture—Lent and Sunday. The apostles, you say, instituted the solemn fast of Lent. If they did, certainly it is not found in scripture. But let us see what the facts are. I need only quote Irenaeus, a godly Father of the church, who had heard Polycarp who had heard John. There was a dispute between Victor, the bishop of Rome, and the churches of Asia, as to the celebrating of Easter. Victor would have it on Sunday, and the Asiatic churches celebrated it (as did all the old British till the sixth or seventh century, if I remember right) on the day of the resurrection, whatever day of the week it fell upon. For the Passover was computed by moons, and was held upon the fourteenth day after the new moon, and the resurrection was three days, of course, after, and this did not always fall on a Sunday. The Easterns went by the days of the month, the Westerns by the days of the week. Well, Victor refused to own them as Christians at all. Irenaeus agreed, it seems, with Victor in opinion as to the day it should be kept upon. But earlier than this, some thirty or forty years before, the aged Polycarp, himself a disciple of John, came from Asia to Rome, to confer with Anicetus, bishop of Rome, about it. Think of a disciple of John himself (and a most blessed old man be was, and a martyr too) going all wrong, and insisting on a tradition derived from John himself contrary to the pope's tradition and his authority too! Well, Polycarp would not give in, nor Anicetus either; but they agreed, it seems, to part in peace, and each go his own way. But Victor, a more energetic and less Christian man than Anicetus, orders all the Christians in Asia to change their rules in this respect, and follow Rome, and give up their apostolic tradition. However, they would not; and then he excommunicated them all in mass, as far at least as Rome was concerned. It was thunder, however, not lightning, for they did not obey; and the bishops elsewhere continued in communion with them. This did not please all the bishops, says Eusebius, some of them writing pretty sharply to him (Victor); and Irenaeus warned him not to cut off whole churches, who observed the tradition of their ancient customs. This was at the end of the second century; and then he adds (says Eusebius) not only was the controversy about the day, but about the form itself of the fast; for some think they ought to fast one day, others two, and others more, and some measure this day forty hours, day and night; and this variety of observance had not its birth first in our age, but began long before, with those who went before us.... And then he adds, and thus the disagreement as to the fast commends the unanimity of the faith.—Euseb. v. 24.
Now this little bit of ecclesiastical history gives occasion for one or two remarks: first, how the Roman bishop sought to satisfy his ambition, not quite two centuries after Christ; but secondly, at the same time, not only Polycrates at Ephesus, and others, but other bishops besides paid no attention to his orders, and even rebuked him sharply. Thirdly, what a slippery thing tradition is! Here, as to this very Lent, which is adduced as a proof of apostolic tradition, Polycarp who conversed with John has one from him which he will not give up; because he who leaned on the Lord's bosom, he says, had so kept it and taught. But Victor, who professed to have Peter's and Paul's too, excommunicates whole churches because, after Polycarp's clear tradition, they kept John's. Could not tradition secure certainty on such a trifle as this? The conflict was maintained till the fourth century, and even long after that the Asiatic way was maintained in certain churches derived from that country.
It is urged that the Holy Ghost was to teach things the apostles could not receive while Christ was alive. No doubt; but what has this to do with tradition? Further, that the Holy Ghost was still teaching. This would tend to show that tradition was not needed; for, in that case, the Church had always the same teaching as the apostles themselves, and did not want theirs by word or letter. There is a passage or two important to cite, as regards tradition and apostolic succession.
But I must give the reader a few more quotations from the Fathers as to this Lent, which is not in scripture, says the author, in which he is surely perfectly right, but is observed by tradition from the apostles. The Romans in the fourth or fifth century observed Saturday as a fast, and the Easterns and many of the Africans dined and ate as usual, and did not think of fasting. A hot Roman in Augustine's time attacked all the churches for not following the Roman custom. It was alleged, as the origin of the custom, that Peter, having to contend with Simon Magus, fasted along with all the Roman church on Saturday. If he did, I am sure it was a very godly and excellent thought and act for that time; hence the Romans did it every Saturday, when there was no Simon Magus at all. Augustine wrote a letter to a presbyter, Casnelanus, on this hot-headed Roman's book. He gives a pleasant reply enough to the Simon Magus reason, that, if he was a figure of the devil as they said, they would have that work every day of the week. But in replying to this we have from him general remarks on fasts, which touch our present point of tradition. He says, that was the opinion of the most, that it was a mere Roman custom in reference to Peter's conflict with Simon Magus. “But if,” he continues, “it be answered, James taught this at Jerusalem, John at Ephesus, others in other places, which Peter taught at Rome, that is, that men should fast the Saturday, but that other lands had deviated from this doctrine, and that Rome had remained firm in it; and, on the contrary, it is replied, that rather certain places of the West, among which is Rome, have not kept what the apostles delivered, but that the lands of the East, whence the gospel itself began to be preached, have continued, without ever varying, in what was delivered by all the apostles along with Peter, that they should not fast on the Sabbath (Saturday), that dispute is interminable, generating strifes, not finishing questions.” —Augustine, Ep. xxxvi. And then he says that the unity of the faith was the point, for that the glory of the Church, according to the Psalm, was within: “The king's daughter is all glorious within;” that the observance was only the garments; and that she was in golden fringes, clothed around with variety: so the Vulgate, circumcincta varietate, after the Seventy.—Psa. 44
What a testimony this bright light (as the author alleges, and justly, compared with much of the Fathers) affords of the certainty of tradition, and about fasting, and about Roman tradition too! It was a source of interminable disputes, he says. In the same letter we have another statement, which I will quote, on the point: “But since we have not found, as I have above remarked, in the evangelical and apostolic letters, which properly belong to the revelation of the New Testament, that it is clearly prescribed that fasts should be observed on any certain days, and therefore, that thing also, like many others which it is difficult to enumerate, has found in the garments of the daughter of the king, that is the church, room for variety, I will tell you what the revered Ambrose answered me, when I asked him about this.” And then he relates how his mother was uneasy, because at Milan they did not fast the same days as at Rome; and was she to follow the custom of her city, or that of Milan where she then was? Ambrose, a light too among the Fathers, told her he could not teach her better than he practiced—a good deal to say, too, if he went beyond fasts; and so she was to do at Milan as they did at Milan, and to do at Rome, in such matters, as they did at Rome. So Augustine recommends in the beginning of the letter:— “In those things, concerning which divine scripture has settled nothing certain (and we have seen he states that it had not settled any certain day for fasting), the customs of the people of God, or the institutions of those of old (majorum), are to be considered as a law.” This is a strange way to talk, if these are apostolic traditions too. We see, however, the real source of it—following old habits which were made a law of.
However, we have something about Lent itself from Augustine. “The quadragesimal period of fasts, indeed, has authority (i.e., scriptural) both in the old books—in the fact of Moses and Elias—and from the gospel, because the Lord fasted so many days, showing the gospel not to depart from the law and the prophets. In the person of Moses, namely, the law in the person of Elias, the prophets are found. . . In what part of the year, therefore, could the observation of quadragesima be established more suitably than on the confines of, and close to, the Lord's passion?” And then be shows many wonderful mysteries in the number 40. But where is the apostolic tradition here?
But we have something more from the Fathers on quadragesima. We have seen Irenaeus telling us that some fasted one day, some two, some several, some forty hours continuously. Now this last is the real secret of this number forty. Tertullian is a Father who lived in the end of the second century, an upright and able man; so that the famous Cyprian used to call him “the master,” saving, Bring me the books of the master. This was the famous Cyprian who wrote a celebrated book about the unity of the church; though he would not yield to Rome on what both thought a vital point, namely, re-baptizing heretics. But this Cyprian tells us that the church in his day (Cyprian de Lapsis) was corrupt to the last degree; that professing Christians were bent upon money-making, men luxurious in their habits, women painting their faces and adorning their hair—cheating going on in a shameful way—marriages with heathens taking place—bishops leaving their sees and flocks to carry on secular affairs, and making long journeys to gain money—not helping their hungry brethren—seeking large fortunes—seizing on property by insidious frauds, and employing usury to enrich themselves. In other treatises, he insists on the evil state of Christendom.
Such a state of things seemed to have moved Tertullian, who lived just before Cyprian, and driven him (Jerome says it was the envy the Roman clergy bore to him) to believe in the rhapsodies of Montanus and his two prophetesses of Phrygia, who were much stricter in their lives and fastings. The pope was on the point of receiving them too (already acknowledging, is the term used), when a certain Praxeas, afterward a famous heretic, came to Rome and put the pope off it, who then excommunicated and rejected them. Our famous Tertullian would not give them up, and said they were rejected, not because of the spirit they alleged they had, but because of the fasts they gave themselves up to. However, this led him to say something of these fasts; and from him we learn that the Catholic party had their quadragesimal fasts from this—the forty hours that Christ passed, as was alleged, in the grave; and that the scriptural authority (for none of them knew anything of apostolic tradition) they had for it was this: “When the Bridegroom shall be taken away, then shall they fast in those days;” and that as Christ was taken away till His resurrection, therefore they fasted these forty hours—a curious reason, by-the-bye, for doing so, when He was, according to this theory, restored to them. But let that pass. Here we have, from the two earliest Fathers who speak of it (Tremens and Tertullian), the original of quadragesima, i.e., forty.
But you shall have, reader, a specimen from history also. After relating what we have stated as to the observation of Easter, and that the Quartodecimans (the Asiatics who kept it the third day after the fourteenth of the moon) alleged that John had taught them; and the Romans boast that they had received their way from Peter and Paul, but that neither could bring a writing to prove it (he does not seem to have valued oral tradition much), he goes on to speak of Lent. Socrates, lib. v. c. 22. “For these who are of the same faith, the same differ among themselves in rites. It will not, therefore, be out of place to add somewhat about the various rites of the churches. First, therefore, those fasts which are kept before Easter you will find differently kept among different people: for those who are at Rome fast three weeks continuously, except the Sabbath and the Lord's day (it is a question whether this does not apply to Novatians). Those who are in Illyria, and throughout Achaia, and those who live in Alexandria, fast six weeks before Easter, and call that the quadragesimal fast. Others, again, follow a different custom from that. They begin their fast the seventh week before Easter, and, fasting three only of five days with intervals, call the time nothing the less quadragesimal; and I cannot but wonder why, although they differ among themselves about the numbers of days, they still call it by the same name of quadragesimal. But of this appellation each different person, according to his own invention, gives a different reason; for not only in days alone, but also in abstinence from foods, they are found to differ For some, indeed, abstain altogether from eating what has had life; others eat fish alone of such as have had life; some, with fishes, eat also of birds, affirming that they also are formed out of water, according to Moses; some abstain from fruit of trees, and from eggs; some eat only bread; others do not use even this. Some, fasting to the ninth hour, eat without distinction of every kind of food afterward. There are other observances again in different nations, and innumerable causes are alleged for them; and since no one can produce a written precept concerning this matter, it appears that the apostles left to the choice and will of every one that each one might do what is good, neither from fear nor necessity.” What a certainty of apostolical tradition we have here! Zozomen gives the same accounts. Lib. vii. c. 19. Cassian, too, tells us, as others state (I have not his works), the same thing. For a long time there were only thirty-six days' fast, even when six weeks or forty-two days were kept; because they never fasted on the Lord's day, till at last either Gregory the Great or Gregory II. (in the close, that is, of the sixth, or beginning of the eighth century, for it is disputed which) added Ash-Wednesday and the three following days to make it forty. Think of an apostolic tradition arranged seven hundred years after Christ, and grown from forty hours to forty days, and all the original reasons gone!
But I have yet one extract more from this same Cassian, for which I am also indebted to another. Cassian was a monk, founded monasteries and nunneries, was ordained deacon by Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, and made priest by Innocent, pope of Rome. He will give us a sounder idea, perhaps, of this apostolic tradition. “It is, therefore, indeed to be remarked that, as long as the perfection of that primitive church remained inviolable, this observance of quadragesima (Lent) did not exist at all; but when the multitude of the faithful, abandoning that apostolic devotion, daily gave themselves up to their wealth, &c., it then pleased the body of priests, that men, bound by secular cares, and almost ignorant of continence or compunction, should be recalled to holy work by canonical obligation of fasting, and compel them by the necessity of a legal tenth (36 days is tenth of 360, or nearly a year”).
What a history of Lent in the way of devotion! and think of apostolic tradition! The reader will not think that I attach great value to Lent or tradition; but I have quoted these passages, because Lent has been selected as a point brought forward as a matter of apostolic tradition for a thing not in scripture. We have seen now what, in this carefully selected case, such an assertion is worth, and what solid authority the Fathers are.
I am now going to quote something in favor of what the author says; for you may generally find in the fathers both sides of anything, except the truth itself. Jerome says (he is writing to Marcella against the Montanists, who had three Lents) that one Lent in the year is observed, according to the tradition of the apostles, and says just that much in passing. Leo calls it the apostolical institution of a forty days' fast, which the apostles instituted by the direction of the Holy Ghost. But then Jerome also says (to show what a solid thing apostolic laws founded on tradition were in those days), “But I think you should be briefly put in mind, that ecclesiastical traditions are so to be observed (especially those which are not in opposition to the faith”) (how much such a reserve skews he could have thought them apostolic!) “as they have been delivered by our ancestors. But let each province abound in its own way of thinking, and consider the precepts of their ancestors as apostolic laws!” Letter 52, Benedic. 71, Verona Ed. As to Leo, Pagi (a very learned and highly-esteemed Roman Catholic commentator on Baronius's Annals, and another) tells us that Leo was used to call everything an apostolical law which he found either in the practice of his own church, or decreed in the archives of his predecessors, Damasus and Siricius. (Pagi Critic. in Baron. an. lxvii. note 16.) I use another's quotation in this instance also.
You have now, reader, the authorities for Lent being proved by apostolic tradition, and for the Romish assertion to that effect.
I turn to the Lord's day, the other example selected by the author: it is old battle-ground. My answer to this is easy, a lighter and a happier task. It is always distinguished in the early church from the Sabbath, which invariably means Saturday. As regards the law, the change of the whole system involved the abolition of the Jewish Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath was the sign of their covenant; but this was broken on their part, and gone, and buried on God's part in Christ's grave. The Sabbath, which was the public sign of it, Christ passed in the grave.
No establishment of any form of relationship with God took place under Moses without the Sabbath being anew introduced—a very remarkable fact; and in Ezek. 20:1212Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. (Ezekiel 20:12) it is said, “And I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.” Hence these Sabbaths could not be preserved as a Jewish Sabbath according to the commandments; because, when once Christ was crucified, God did not sanctify the Jewish people any longer. This the Lord showed beforehand, over and over again, during His ministry, in the way He acted and spoke on the Sabbath days.
But, further, the Sabbath was the sign of the rest of the creation; and sin having entered into the world, and man having rejected Jesus who had come into its sorrow, there could be no rest of creation in connection with the first Adam. So “If they shall enter into my rest, though the works were finished from the foundation of the world:” grace, and power, and redemption must be the basis of rest and blessing. Hence, when they maliciously and unreasonably accused the Lord of not keeping the Sabbath, He does not pay heed to their malice, but says (in the touching revelation of a grace which, if it could not find its rest where sin and misery were, could begin to work where all was ruined), “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” We can rest neither in sin nor sorrow, but can work in grace, where both are, and find occasion for work, if not rest, in it. The Sabbath of the Jew, as the rest of man in creation, whatever physical mercy it may be to him as it is, could not remain spiritually as the valid sign of a state of things which was abrogated and passed away.
Is there no such witness of rest, and a better rest too, which remains for God's people? Surely there is. If now our rest is not on earth, because it is polluted, it is prepared in heaven, where we shall have our place in glory by resurrection (or an equivalent change), as Christ entered there by it. Hence, not God's rest in the first creation, but the day on which Christ rose from death, which had passed on Adam the head of the first (and which He had in grace taken on Himself), became the witness, as far as a day is, of the church's hope of rest. She does not celebrate her joys and her hopes on the day her Lord was in the grave—how could she? (it was the proof of the ruin of the old, of the first, Adam)—but on the day on which He rose, the day of the triumph of the Second, who is the Lord from heaven. The Jewish Sabbath fell with the whole system of which it formed part.
It was not the church changing a day; it was gone before the church existed; the cross abrogated it and all it was connected with. The church could not have existed, had the sign of the covenant made with Israel remained in force as a witness that the covenant remained entire. The Sabbath was the witness of man having a share in God's rest under the first covenant; but he could not. The covenant was gone, and the sign with it. The resurrection inaugurated with divine power a new ground on which man could rest—a new scene in which he was to find blessing, when the ordinances of blessing were not to be imposed as law, but revealed in grace and spiritually understood.
Have we no proofs from scripture of the institution of the Lord's day not imposed as law, which would be contrary to the very nature of Christianity, but established in grace? The plainest. First, the Lord Jesus assembled on that day His disciples, and met them: two or three assembled in His name, and He in the midst of them. Next Lord's day He did the same thing. This the Gospels give. The Acts inform us that the disciples met on this day to break bread. In the Epistles, the day is remarked as that in which the faithful were to lay by for the poor saints, as God had prospered them; and in the Revelation it is expressly called “the Lord's day” “κυριακὴ ἡμέρα;” and the apostles were peculiarly blessed on it.
Such is the scriptural warrant, not for making a law, but for recognizing the Lord's day, the first day of the week, as one of worship and blessing; and so it has ever continued. The word of God gives it according to its unfailing perfection. It does not make a law of an ordinance where grace reigns, but it marks out distinctly the character and blessing of a day given us by grace, as the Lord's day, the day on which He began all things new for our eternal blessing. The Old Testament has, in more places than one, recognized the eighth—that is, the first day after the old week was closed—as the day of special blessing. This was a pertinent figure.
Thus we have seen what tradition affords on one of the topics produced by the author, and what scripture affords on the other; that tradition is obscure, variable, and establishes nothing—can demonstrate nothing—which scripture does not prove; and that scripture is clear and simple. For Lent there is no warrant, and it is not in scripture; and as to the Lord's day, even to the very name, we have the clearest testimony possible of its observance in scripture.