Dunedin: Mills, Dick & Co., General Painters, Stafford Street. MDCCCLXVIII.
Ritualism in Relation to the Apostacy of the Last Days.
On this subject, I will endeavour to show that Ritualism, even in those respects in which it seems, on a superficial view, to be in most decided opposition to the current infidelity of the times in which we live, has in reality an inherent tendency in the same direction: that, if I may so illustrate the matter, while the main current of the river of modern thought sets steadily towards un belief, Ritualism is as it were an eddy, which appears to carry those who are caught in it out of the stream, but it is only to rejoin it further on, where the current is swifter and stronger, because much nearer to the point where the river plunges headlong into the dark gulf of Atheism. I wish to point out how, while in one aspect Ritualism is a too faithful index of the low point to which real spiritual religion is at present sinking, it yet in another aspect exhibits such a marked incompatibility with the secular spirit of the times, as must finally bring the two into deadly collision—a collision in which, we may learn from inspired prophecy, the latter will triumph.
The aspect in which I shall in the first instance view Ritualism is its Childishness. Ritualism at the best, is the religion of children. The attention bestowed on the minutest details of dress, decorations, and even posture; the ludicrous gravity with which the fashion of an alb, the embroidery of a chasuble, or the colour of a stole, is debated; the tricking out of the churches, and especially of the altar, with a profusion of flowers and tawdry ornaments; the long processions of priests and choristers with their crosses, banners, and other ecclesiastical toys, all manifest this spirit in a way that cannot be mistaken. It does not fail to attract the attention even of the genuine Romanists themselves. It is only recently that a distinguished Roman Bishop, on being asked by the Naples correspondent of the Times newspaper, with what feeling English Ritualism was regarded by the members of his order, thus expressed himself:page 4
"We think that the Ritualists do not know what they are about They are trifling with the fringe of the mantle without laying hold of the substance of it. Indeed, we liken them to children, who are playing at priests, and who invent and distort, and make mistakes as they go on. It may, however, lead to something. It may persuade some of them to study antiquity, and, if it does, it will bring them back to the bosom of the Church...... At present, however, Ritualism is mere child's play, a mere imitation of externals, and, like all imitations, bad. Many young persons of imaginative temperament are attracted by it, but after a time become wearied of it, and lapse into a general indifference to religion. If they could be induced to study antiquity, the result would be different, and we hope that the time may come."
Alluding to the inventions and extravagant imitations of the Ritualistic clergy, this Bishop added, "They are like a Judge on the bench, with the book of the law open before them, but without any knowledge of the traditions of their profession, consequently they often commit many gross absurdities. I will illustrate this by one or two anecdotes related to me by a lady of rank. Dr.—, on one occasion, when giving absolution, laid two crossed keys on the head of the penitent—a pure invention without precedent, and without any apparent object. On another occasion a person wishing for absolution from the same clergyman, and being unable to present himself or herself, wrote to ascertain if it could be communicated by letter. The answer was favourable, and I take for granted that confession as well as absolution was sent through the post. Now, it is well known that in our Church, which is the object of imitation, the presence of the penitent is absolutely necessary before the priest; and I give you these anecdotes to shew you what wild inventions and unauthorised practices are adopted by men, who, while thinking they imitate, follow no rule or precedent whatever. In my own experience, several persons among the Ritualists have come to me asking for absolution, but I told them I could do nothing for them—they must go through a regular course of preparation beforehand. No! Ritualism is at present nothing but child's play—they are toying with the fringe; but on the condition I have mentioned, it may lead to something."*
* Let me add here the testimony of a very different witness. Mr. Binney, in his admirable volume, quotes the following from the letter of "A Reciter":—
"May I be permitted to make a suggestion to my clerical brethren with reference to the use of church bells, which 1 have for some time carried into effect in my parish church, and which I find, although but a trifling matter in itself, to be very edifying. The bell-ringer is instructed to sound each bell thrice, and as he does so, to repeat the usual invocation of the Blessed Trinity, then to make a pause of at least a minute before commencing to chime or toll. The meaning of this threefold intonation on each bell becomes understood ly all residing within its sound, and to them it has the effect of a solemn warning, while this not itself of ringing is made an act of devotion to the ringer or ringers. The great bell of my church is also similarly rung at the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament. The sick and others detained from church are thus apprized of the exact moment when the Holy Sacrifice is pleaded, and are thus enabled to join their prayers and intentions to those of the priest and worshippers in the church, while at the same time the solemnity of the act of worship is greatly augmented by this accessory."
On this Mr. Binney observes:—"This extract illustrates another thing often to be seen in some of the ritualistic clergy, namely, the mixture of silliness and sincerity—the childish, not child-like piety—that distinguishes them. It is not to be denied that there are men of real power and of unquestionable ability among the leaders of the movement, but in many of the unfledged weaklings that follow, there is no strength or manliness either in their aspect, or utterances; everything is emasculated, drivelling, feeble; they seem earnest and devout in their way, but their devotion is often expressed in such unctuous language and grotesque forms as to seem the result of a union between sainthood and idiotcy."—"Micah, the Priest-Maker," pp. 83, 84.
One may smile at this, and yet in truth the matter is sad and serious enough. The Church of Christ was once a child. The pen of inspiration has drawn the picture of that childhood "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need. And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts ii. 42–47). Such was the daily walk, such the catholic usages of those who "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven." (1 Thess. i. 9, 10.) Beautiful picture of the childhood of the Church! What happy obedience, what innocent simplicity, what unquestioning faith, what filial love! How, like a happy, loving child waiting as the evening shadows fall for the return of its father, did the Church, ere her first love was lost, wait for her Lord from heaven! But that childhood has long been left behind, and has been succeeded by the sorrows of her youth, and the sins and follies of her womanhood. And now—what is she now? What page 6 she should he we know fail well. A widow indeed, clad in het mourning weeds, her heart a-lit with chastened hope, and the glory of coming translation already encircling her meek bowed head. But what is she, alas! A poor demented creature, decking herself in the gaudy rags of the harlot, and mistaking them for her bridal robes; pleased with the toys of childhood, which shake and tremble in her palsied hands; painting her face and tiring her head like another Jezebel, and thinking that in very deed the renown of her beauty may-still captivate the nations of the earth. Childish! yes; but, dark and awful thought, it is not the childishness of youth but of age: not first childhood, telling of inexperience, simplicity, and undeveloped powers, but second childhood, telling of mental imbecility, of spiritual decay, of coining death. Of this childhood, too, we find the awful picture in the Word of God. "Unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that then art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked; I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fine, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest he clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see." (Rev. iii. 14–18.) Surely Ritualism viewed in this aspect, and taken in conjunction with other indications of spiritual childishness which we see, warns us that the visible Church has entered on her last and darkest phase, and that the hour of her rejection is at hand. No scruple is felt by Ritualism in parading ceremonies so childish and frivolous, "that," as Dr. Vaughan has strongly, but not too strongly said, "if men of understanding were obliged to accept such exhibitions as being acceptable to the Founder of Christianity, that Founder would receive little, homage at their hands. As it is easier to be an atheist than to accept a character of God which belies his moral perfections, so it would be much easier to a man of intelligence to become a deist than to be a Christen, if he must regard Jesus Christ as being really pleased with the scenic performances which some men present to us in his name. An awful alternative indeed, yet one which it can hardly be doubted, hundreds here will accept, should Ritualism achieve its expected triumph, as millions have accepted it in England, France and Italy. "There is no school of scepticism like this school of folly. What page 7 more natural, if Christianity is to be exhibited as a weak thing, what more certain than that it will be despised? But it is not possible that the scheme of these men should be a success. The tide of modern thought is not to be stayed by such means. The measure in which the Ritualists succeed in imposing upon the weak, is the measure in which they will become an offence to the enlightened. In the eyes of men generally, it will be the priest at his old work again, aiming to rule the people as nurses rule children, now by scaring them with silly inventions, and now by amusing them with trifles."*
The picture we have been considering is dark enough, but we must now turn to one which is even darker. If Ritualism ostentatiously exhibits all, and more than all the childishness of Romanism on the one hand, it assuredly contains within it the undeveloped seeds of all Rome's intolerance, persecution, and bloodthirstiness on the other. It is in truth only "the priest at his old work again." The life-blood which circulates throught the two systems is the same, and that life-blood is—Priestcraft. Priestcraft! what images of terror, what cruel oppression, what frightful tyranny does the very word recal! The tyranny of kings and rulers has been a sore burden to humanity; the scourge of war has desolated the nations and deluged the earth with blood; the hideous wrong of slavery has inflicted incalculable misery and cried to heaven for vengeance; but" none of these things, dreadful and cruel as they are, have been such a curse to man's race as that master-piece of the devil—Priestcraft. More far-reaching than the iron rod of the conqueror, it has tyrannised even over the souls of men; more merciless than the bloodstained chariot of war, it has slain its millions in cold blood and with fiendish exultation; more iniquitous than slavery, whose manacles bind only the festering limbs of the slave, it has striven to bind and fetter not the dying body, but the enduring mind. Would we know with what feelings the great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens into the holy place not made with hands, regards it? We have, as I solemnly believe, his verdict in those terrible words addressed to the Church at Ephesus, "But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate" (Rev. ii. 6, 15.)†
* "Ritualism in the English Church," pp. 69, 70
† The common idea that the Nieolaitanes were a primitive heretical sect, is, I am persuaded, altogether a mistake. Nicolaos (conqueror of the people) is the Greek version of Balaam (destroyer of the people). The Book of Revelation, we know, abounds in these duplicate Hebrew and Greek names: as Apollyon, Abaddon; Devil, Satan; Yea, Amen. The name Nieolaitanes is symbolic, and denotes those who, farming, themselves into a priestly caste, have, from the earlier ages of the Christian Church to the present hour, usurped dominion over the minds and consciences of their fellow-men, and made themselves in very deed lords over God's heritage. Adopting that view of the Epistles to the Seven Churches which regards them as a prophetic picture of the successive phases of the visible Church, we can have no difficulty in understanding what Nicolaitanism really is. "We know from the Scriptures, and from the common representations of all ecclesiastical historians, that the Church was hardly founded until it began to be troubled with the lordly pretentions and doings of arrogant men, in violation of the common priesthood of believers, and settling upon ministers the attributes and prerogatives of a magisterial order, against which, Peter, Paul, and John were moved to declare their apostolic condemnation, but which grew nevertheless, and presently became fixed upon the Church as part of its essential system. We know that there is to this day a certain teaching, and claim, and practice in the largest part of the professing Church, according to which a certain order severs itself entirely from the laity, assumes the rights and titles of priesthood, asserts superiority and authority over the rest in spiritual matters, denies the right of anyone, whatever his gifts or graces, to teach or preach in the Church, who has not been regularly initiated into the mysterious puissance of its own self-constituted circle; and puts forward its creatures, however glaringly deficient in those heavenly gifts which really make the minister, as Christ's only authorised heralds, before whom everyone else must be mute and passive, and whose words and administrations everyone must receive, on pain of exclusion from the hope of salvation. We also know that this system of priestly clericalism and prelatical hierarchism claims to have come down from the earliest periods of the Church, and traces for itself a regular succession through the Christian centuries, and appeals to patristic practice as its chief basis, vindication, and boast. We know that it first came into effective away in the period immediately succeeding the Pagan persecution (Smyrna), reaching its fullest embodiment in Popery (Pergamos), and has perpetuated itself in the same, and in Laudism, Tractarianism, and Ritualism, even to our day, and to our very door. "—See Dr. Seiss's "Lectures on the Apocalypse, lect. vii.
Yet priestcraft is the vital centre, the root principle of Ritualism as much as it is of Romanism. Out of this root springs, as by a law of natural growth, altar, sacrifice, apostolic succession, supernatural powers bestowed in ordination, confession, and absolution. In fact, you may construct the Romish system as completely and elaborately as you like, and if you then withdraw "priesthood," the whole falls at once into utter ruin. Now we know that priestcraft and intolerance are almost synonymous terms: the world has never seen priestcraft in power, without its attempting to suppress opposition by means of persecution, and, as Solomon tells us, "the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be." As Mr. Lecky has truly said, "It is an incontestable truth that for many centuries the Christian priesthood pursued a policy, at least towards those who differed from their opinions, implying a callousness and absence of the emotional part page 9 of humanity which has seldom been paralleled, and perhaps never surpassed. From Julian, who observed that no wild beasts were so ferocious as angry theologians, to Montesquieu, who discussed as a psychological phenomenon the inhumanity of monks, the fact has been constantly recognised. The monks, the inquisitors, and in general the mediaeval clergy, present a type that is singularly well defined, and is in many respects exceedingly noble, but which is continually marked by a total absence of mere natural affection. In zeal, in courage, in perseverance, in self-sacrifice, they towered far above the average of mankind; but they were always as ready to inflict as to endure suffering. These were the men who chanted their Te Deums over the massacre of the Albigenses, or of St. Bartholomew, who exulted over the carnage, and strained every nerve to prolong the struggle, and, when the zeal of the warrior had begun to flag, mourned over the langour of faith, and contemplated the sufferings they had caused with a satisfaction that was as pitiless as it was unselfish. These were the men who were at once the instigators and the agents of that horrible detailed persecution that stained almost every province of Europe with the blood of Jews and heretics, and which exhibits an amount of cold, passionless, studied and deliberate barbarity unrivalled in the history of mankind."*
* "History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism," vol. i. pp. 358, 359.
"The haughty and censorious temper in which the majority of Ritualists indulge towards Protestant Christendom, and especially towards the Christians of this land whether beyond the pale of the English Church or within it, is such as to prophesy distinctly enough what the course of this sect would be if it might once become powerful. If such things are done in the green tree, what would be done in the dry? We see this movement in its incipiency and weakness, but its principles are old, have been often tested, and experience, that safest of expositors, assures us that it is in the nature of those principles that they should come as a blight on everything social and religious, to the extent in which circumstances may be favourable to their action,"*
* "Ritualism in the English Church," pp. 86–88
* Pp. 226–263.—The drift of these remarks is obvious enough, however cautiously expressed. Romanism proper sneaks more plainly. The following extract is from an article which appeared some years ago in a Roman Catholic magazine: "You ask if the Roman Catholic were lord in the land, and you were in a minority, if not in numbers, yet in power, what would he do with you? That, we say, would entirely depend upon circumstances. If it would benefit the cause of Catholicism, he would tolerate you; if expedient, he would imprison you, banish you, fine you; possibly he might even hang you. But he assured of one thing, he would never tolerate you for the sake of the; "glorious principles of civil and religious liberty....... Shall I hold out hopes to the Protestant that I will not meddle with his ereed, if he will not meddle with mine? Shall I lead him to think that religion is a matter for private opinion, and tempt him to forget that he has no more right to his religious views than he has to my purse, or my house, or my life-blood? No! Catholicism is the most intolerant of creeds. It is intolerance itself, for it is the truth itself."—The Rambler, September, 1851.
* "The spirit of the age, jealous as it has become of all authority—except such nominal authority as is of its own voting, and bows to its dictates—will little brook submission to such a yoke as the Church of Rome would impose. If she supposes that the friends she is now making by feigned liberality, and temporary suppression of her pretentions, will presently, when she thinks fit to resume them, fall into the ranks of her disciples and dutiful children, she is grossly mistaken; and if she attempts to assert them by force, she falls instantly: the experiment would be her ruin."—Burgh's "Lectures on the Second Advent," p. 117. Third edition.
Here my subject might properly enough have come to an end. I am reluctant, however, to conclude without taking some notice of a serious objection which may arise in some minds on its perusal. From my application of the foregoing quotation, it will be evident to the reader that while I recognise Romanism or "Catholicism" in the Babylon of the Apocalypse, I feel constrained to differ in toto from that interpretation which would identify St. Paul's "man of sin" with either popery or the Pope. Hence I find myself, at this critical period in the history of the Protestant Church, at issue with many beloved and respected friends, and exposed to their charge of abandoning what was the distinctive principle of the glorious Reformation, and of thus betraying the cause, as dear to my heart as it can be to theirs, into the hand of the enemy. Thus, for instance, I find Mr. Garratt saying: "The word Antichrist is used by St. John more than once in his Epistles. An opinion of some of the fathers that Antichrist was a man who was to usurp Christ's throne, and be in fact the incarnation of the Evil One, has prevailed and does prevail among Roman Catholic writers. A personal individual Antichrist, yet future, was the expectation by means of which, in the dark ages, they sought to ward off the charges of prophecy against the papacy, as they do still. And within the present century it has been adopted by many writers, not Roman Catholic, by those called "Plymouth Brethren," by "Romanizing Anglicans," and by that, though not large, yet growingly important section of the Church of England, who adopt and ably advocate the "Futurist Theory."
"Is Antichrist a person? And is Antichrist infidel? We have already considered the passage in 2 Thess. ii., which some of these writers wish so to explain away, and have seen in it a photograph of the papacy.... Antichrist is not infidel, but falsely religious—is not a person, but a system, and will in different ways claim all the prerogatives of Christ. But to no one man, however great and however wicked, will it be permitted to attain the pre-eminence in guilt of in all things usurping what belongs to Him."
The language of Mr. Marsden is still stronger. "Either the Church of Rome," he observes, "is the predicted Antichrist, or we have inflicted upon her a grievous wrong. For this charge was the two-edged sword with which our Reformers smote her to the dust in England. Of Scotland the assertion is, if possible, more emphatically true. With regard to Latimer, and his associates, it was the most deadly weapon they employed; but it was almost the only one Knox page 14 condescended to make use of. Rome is the predicted Babylon. The Pope, or, however, the Papacy, is the predicted Antichrist, the man of sin, the son of perdition. This was the watch-word, or, to speak more properly, the war-cry of the Reformation, and by this sign we conquered; for it was to the Reformers what the cross in the heavens (whether real or imaginary) was to Constantine, and his legions. Now, if we are not prepared to defend this position, we are bound in manliness and common honesty not only to abandon it, but along with it to abandon likewise the fruits of a victory so dishonestly gained."*
This statement is certainly somewhat exaggerated. To make the idea of the Pope being Antichrist, the mainspring of the Reformation is, to my mind, simply ludicrous; hard names were, no doubt, bandied about, and Antichrist, as being the hardest, was, perhaps, the favourite; yea, our Reformers were so far justified in their application of the term, that no doubt the Pope was an Antichrist, and the special Antichrist with whom they had to contend, though not "the Antichrist" of St. John and St. Paul Still, the question is beyond all doubt a most serious one, and of real practical consequence at the present time; and, therefore, I feel bound to give my reasons, however briefly, for dissenting from the interpretation of these writers, and the school to which they belong; so far as this point of the personality and character of the Antichrist is concerned.
* "The Churchmanship of the New Testament," pp. 203—205
* See Rainbow. Vol. III., p. 289
One word in conclusion, Recommended by the character, the learning, and the devotedness of many of its advocates, Ritualism seems to many weak and agitated minds the only place of safety amid the swellings of ungodliness; it points, as it were, to a rock amid the floods, and says—there, and there only is a place of refuge. But be not deceived; their rock is not the rock which God has laid in Zion; it is not a rock at all, but sand, which is being rapidly washed away, and will by-and-bye disappear beneath the raging waters. True, the flood is coming, but Ritualism is not the ark which shall outride it; true, the fiery storm is about to descend, but "the Church" is not the Zoar into which Lot must flee. Silently into the regions of the air descends the New Jerusalem, the place prepared by Christ for his waiting people; and sweetly, ere the tempest breaks, shall the invitation be heard from that secret pavilion, "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain." (Isa, xxvi. 20, 21.)
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