The True Character of Romanism - by JN Darby
THE TRUE CHARACTER OF ROMANISM
Things may be received as true, connected with the worship of God, or our religious habits, which are the opposite of faith, and, as far as they go, destructive of it.
A person may be sincere in his convictions, may fancy God has taught them to others ; but if he does not believe them himself on God's testimony it is not faith, it is not believing God. Now, I shall show in the following brief remarks, that Romanism is really, in its main doctrines and practices, infidel (not avowedly, perhaps, but really) in all that concerns the ground of our soul's fellowship with God. I pray my reader's quiet and attentive consideration of my remarks, before he rejects this judgment of it.
Christianity is the revelation, not merely of God's law, or God's will, but of God Himself; and God is love. Hence, we find in it the perfect revelation of His love in the gift of His blessed Son ; so that the believing soul, however poor and guilty, should know God as such, and as such toward itself: sin being perfectly and for ever put away for the believer, that he may approach God without fear; for fear has torment, and love would take away torment. Yet God cannot bear sin in His presence, nor indeed can the renewed and repentant soul bear it either; hence the God of love has put it away through Christ, in order to admit us to His presence. Thus God has reconciled us to Himself, to enjoy His perfect and gracious love; the same love supplying all the grace needed for us to maintain our fellowship with God in our weakness here, so that even this weakness itself should become the means of our mercifully knowing all His goodness, and the interest He shows in blessing us. Hence the apostle John thus speaks of the Christian, " We have known and believed the love that God hath to us," 1 John 4:16. Christian faith, then, believes in this love. And everything that is put in between us and God, who exercises it immediately towards us ; or that tends to show that it is not so free and perfect; or to militate against that entire, perfect putting away of sin by the blessed Saviour, which makes God's perfect love consistent with His absolute holiness; all such inventions are denials, so far, of the revelations of Christianity, of what God really is towards us. They are, so far, infidelity. There is One between us sinners and God; that is, Christ. But He is the revelation of this love, and the Accomplisher of that which, by putting away sin, would enable us to enjoy it; and the Intercessor through whom we obtain daily needed grace to do so. It is in Him who, while the lowliest, most gracious, most accessible, Man, was God manifest in the flesh, God blessed for evermore ; it is in Him, I say, we know God.
All that obscures God's love, or the perfect efficacy of Christ's work, is infidel as to God's only full display of Himself.
Between the Romanist and the Christian who believes that the system which the Romanist maintains is not the truth of God, but a vast system of apostate error, two questions are at issue. One of these questions is, Are the doctrines which the Romanist system teaches true ? The other is. What is the authority in which man can confide, in order to know that he possesses the truth ? In both the Romanist system is really infidel. I say the " system," because I do not deny that some poor ignorant soul may believe in spite of the system, though its faith be all but overwhelmed by its errors. A man's constitution may, through mercy, resist poison ; but that does not say that the drug, from whose effect he has escaped with that constitution ruined, is not poison.
If the Scriptures be taken as having the authority of God's Word, as being inspired by Him, as every true Christian acknowledges, the Romanist system of doctrine cannot be maintained for a moment; but my object now is to notice not the errors, but only the infidelity found in it.
I proceed to the proofs of this. The Scriptures teach that Christ, having by one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified, there is now no more offering for sin, Heb. 10:14. The whole Romanist system is based on, and identical with, the doctrine that there is in the mass an offering for the sins of the living and the dead. The Scriptures teach us that the only ground on which we can stand in the presence of God is that the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. The Romanist believes that there is a purgatory needed to complete this cleansing ; unless for some rare soul in an unusual state of sanctity. Now, these two Romanist doctrines are really infidel as to what God has taught for our peace.
God has said that Christ's offering of Himself was a work so perfect and so efficacious, that it needed not to be repeated ; and, indeed, that it could not be repeated, because, in order to such efficacy, Christ must suffer. He has declared that without shedding of blood there is no remission; and hence, that if the offering of Christ had to be repeated, Christ must needs have suffered often ; but that the efficacy of His one offering of Himself was such, that it needed not to be repeated. Now, if I pretend to offer this sacrifice again and declare that such offering is necessary and right, I deny the efficacy of Christ's one offering of Himself on the cross; that is, I am infidel, or unbelieving, as to the efficacy of the one offering accomplished by Christ on the cross once for all. And this is the more clear and decisive, because the apostle, in the passage of the Epistle to the Hebrews to which I refer, is contrasting the repetition of the Jewish sacrifices because of their inefficacy to make the conscience perfect, with Christ being offered once, and once for all, because His sacrifice made perfect for ever those that were sanctified. See Heb. 10: 11-18.
And further, in accepting the Romanist doctrine as to the sacrifice of the mass, I am infidel as regards the authority of God's Word, which declares that there is consequently no more offering for sin. The Romanist pretends that there is still an offering for sin. For he pretends to have one in the sacrifice of the mass. That is, he is an infidel as to that which is the foundation of Christianity; namely, the offering of Christ on the cross. I am well aware that he teaches that the mass is a bloodless sacrifice. But this excuse is of no avail, for the declaration of Scripture is, that there is no more offering for sin. And not only is it of no avail, but it makes the matter worse; for the Romanist doctrine declares that this bloodless sacrifice is efficacious for the remission of sins, whereas Scripture declares that without shedding of blood there is no remission, Heb. 9:22; so that the Romanist doctrine contradicts Scripture expressly. And note, that this doctrine of a bloodless sacrifice is infidel as to the nature of sin. God declares the nature of sin to be such, that nothing less than the sufferings of Christ could expiate it; while they pretend that a bloodless sacrifice, in which Christ does not suffer, can put it away.
Again, the Word of God teaches that " the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin," 1 John 1 : 7. Blessed truth! just what our consciences need, in order to have boldness to go before God, and enter His presence, as knowing Him to be a gracious and loving Father. Now, the doctrine of purgatory teaches me that the blood of Jesus does not thus purge me; that I must go and suffer in some fire, of which they themselves can give very little account, in order to be purged, before I can appear in God's presence; and remark here, this purging fire is for the faithful, for those who have profited by all that which what they call the Church has at its disposal for the good of souls. A good Catholic, as they call him, who has confessed to a priest, received absolution and the viaticum, and extreme unction, everything that can be done for him by what they declare to be the Church, goes to purgatory after all; and will (in every case he can) have masses said for the repose of his soul; though the Church has done its best for him while living. This is the more strange, because their authentic doctrine declares that extreme unction wipes away the remains of sin, " abstergit peccati reliquias." It is strange that after absolution, and the viaticum, and extreme unction, each of which is alleged to be efficacious to clear a man from sin, he should go into the torment of purgatory after all. Is this all the efficacy which belongs to the Church's acts—that after she has done all she can, in order to their being cleansed, she lets the souls go into a place of fire, whose efficacy does not flow from her at all ? And remark here, that she then offers the mass to get the soul out of the purgatory which God, they say, has sent it into, out of which she was not able to keep it by all she did for it when in the body. Are these the Lord's ways, or like the Lord's power ? But this only in passing. I can understand that a conscience troubled by sin, and fearing wrath, will fly to anything to get relief, where the true efficacy of Christ's precious blood to cleanse it and give it peace is not known.
But why all these efforts and means to relieve and quiet the uneasy soul— the doctrine of purgatorial fire to cleanse and fit the soul for God's presence? Because the great and precious truth that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin, is not believed. If it does so, why go to purgatory (that is, a supposed place of cleansing, for such is the meaning of the word) to get it cleansed ? That is, the Romish system is infidelity as to this great and precious truth also as to God's Word. But there is in it, too, infidelity as to something more than the truth. There is infidelity as to God's love. What is the text constantly quoted to lay a ground for purgatory ? " Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing," Matt. 5 :25, 26. Is it thus God has met us in the Gospel? That the unrepenting sinner will meet with the just wrath due to his sins, every true Christian owns ; but such a use of this text is really denying the efficacy of Christ's work. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," John 3:16. And that we might be forgiven, Christ has died upon the cross. But this doctrine of purgatory teaches that we must pay to the very last farthing, that God will exact it of us. It is infidelity as to that grace which has given Jesus to bear our sins in His own body on the tree ; so that every repentant sinner should know that God loved him, so as not to spare His own Son, but gave Him as a propitiation for his sins ; and that Christ has, by the sacrifice of Himself, put away the sin that justly alarmed the conscience ; or, as Scripture expresses it, He has " by HIMSELF purged our sins," Heb. 1 :3. This doctrine of purgatory is really infidelity as to the efficacy of Christ's blood ; for, if that has cleansed the true Christian from all sin, he does not want purgatory to effect his cleansing. It is infidelity as to the authority of God's Word, which declares that the blood of Christ does cleanse us from all sin ; that when He had by Himself purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high ; and it is infidelity as to the precious love of God, who gave His Son to do it, that we might have peace in our souls through His name.
Again, the doctrine of the mediation of the Virgin Mary and the saints is also really infidelity. Scripture declares that there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 1Tim. 2:5; and what does it teach us as to this doctrine of Christ's intercession ? Scripture teaches us that that divine and gracious Person, the Son—who is one with the Father ; who is God over all, blessed for evermore—came down so low and in such grace, that the poorest and vilest sinner, whose heart grace drew to Him, found free access to Him, was never cast out. If it was a woman in the city that was a sinner, if Jesus was in the house, she was emboldened to go in, and count upon that tender goodness which inspired confidence in the heart, while it awakened the conscience in the deepest way, and gave a horror of sin. That is, we are taught that such grace, such tenderness, was in Jesus, in that Holy One, who had become like unto His brethren in all things, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, that He condescended to all our infirmities, and sympathized with all our sorrows, entering into them as none other could, with a heart such as none other had. We are taught that He suffered, being tempted, that He might be able to succour them that are tempted; that He was tempted in all things like unto us, without sin ; so that we have a merciful and faithful High Priest, who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities ; and hence we can come boldly to a throne of grace; that He ever liveth to make intercession for us. This is what my heart learns of the blessed Jesus in the Scriptures : that He who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, now lives to make intercession for us.
But what does the Romanist doctrine teach me ? That I cannot thus go to Him ; that I cannot count upon His tenderness ; that He is too high, too far off ; that Mary has a tenderer heart, as being a woman ; and that I must go to Him through her as I should in the case of some king or great man, who would be too much above me to allow me to approach him ; or I must go to the saints. Have they, then, tenderer, more condescending hearts than He who came to this earth on purpose to assure us of His love ? Did Mary, however blessed, come down from heaven to seek me in my sorrow and in my misery ? Or is Christ changed and become hard-hearted, since He ascended up on high ? No ; the doctrine of many mediators, and of the Virgin Mary as the one through whose heart I am to approach the heart of Jesus, is infidelity as to the grace of Christ; denies His glory as a compassionate High Priest. He came down and suffered in this world, that we might know we could go to God by Him; inasmuch as He could feel for all our infirmities Himself, and would be touched with them. The Romanist doctrine tells me that I cannot dare to do it, that I must get nearer, tenderer, hearts to go to Him for me. Ah! I prefer His own ; I have seen and learnt what it was in His life down here ; I can count upon it, more than on any, be they what they may. It is the only heart whose lifeblood has been shed for me. I trust its kindness more than that of all the Marys, and of all the saints that ever were, blessed as they may be in their place. This Romish teaching again is infidelity as to another precious doctrine of the Word of God—of Christianity itself.
I refer to these as examples of the way in which the doctrines of Romanism, while seeming only to add various doctrines on the authority of what is called the Church, is really undermining the truth, taking away all the value of what is true, is really infidelity as to the most precious truths of the Gospel. It calls you to believe other things not in Scripture ; but in doing so, it makes you disbelieve what is the truth of God herein revealed. And here note—It is not open infidelity as to the historical facts of Christianity, nor as to the doctrines which embrace the great truths on which Christianity is founded.
There are two things with which faith is concerned, in order to obtain the peace of a soul.
First. The great doctrinal facts revealed ; and
Secondly. The value of these facts for the soul, and the application of this value to it.
If these last be taken away, the soul has no more benefit from them than if they were not true at all.
If the riches of the world were heaped up before me, and I could not have them— if they were not available to me for my debts, there might as well be none, as far as I am concerned.
Now, Romanism does not deny facts, but their availableness to my peace. It does not deny the expiation for sin made at the cross ; it does not deny the Trinity; it does not deny the incarnation nor the divinity of Christ: these truths it holds, so that it would not at first sight be suspected of infidelity. It is in the actual value and application of them to the sinner that it has destroyed the truth, and taken away the way of peace to the soul thereby.
God says, that by one offering Christ has perfected for ever those that are sanctified, Heb. 10:14.
Romanism says, He is to be offered often, and that the believer is not perfected by that one offering of Christ on the cross. It denies, not the offering, but its value and sufficiency for the believer's peace.
God says, that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin ; that He has by Himself purified our sins, 1 John 1:7; Heb. 1 :3.
Romanism says, He has not; that people have to be purified in purgatory.
God says, that Christ is a merciful High Priest, who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, Heb. 4:15.
Romanism says that we shall find more suitable persons to go to, more accessible, more tender-hearted, in the saints and the Virgin Mary.
It denies, not the fact of Christ's priesthood, but its real value for me. In vain, then, is it orthodox as to the facts of Christianity. It makes them useless to the soul, and substitutes others in their place, for the soul's use.
These are examples of the real infidelity of Romanism as to those truths of the Gospel which are most precious for the peace of the soul.
But as regards the second point I referred to in commencing; that is, the authority on which our souls can rest in order to be assured that we possess the truth, the infidelity is still more glaring. I have supposed in what precedes, that the authority of the inspired Word of God is admitted, as every true believer does admit it.
But the Romanist will not consent to this.
Now mark well. Not to consent to it is infidelity. He who does not admit the authority of God's inspired Word is an infidel.
If God has written a Book, and addressed it to men in general, or to those called Christians, His doing so puts them under the responsibility of receiving and submitting to what He has so addressed. What God has so addressed to them obliges their conscience. If not, He has failed in the object He proposed. He was not able to put those He addressed under the responsibility of receiving what He had said, if, as the Romanist says, the ordinary Christian cannot know that it is the Word of God, and that he is not able to receive it as such. Of two things one is true : either he who says so denies it himself to be the revealed Word, or he asserts that God's Word is not by itself binding on those to whom it is sent; that God has failed in so writing it as to render it obligatory on the conscience of the reader to receive it as such. Now, either of these is infidelity, and the common ground taken by infidels ; and the latter is really a blasphemous kind of infidelity. Yet this is the ground always taken by the Romanist, and it is clearly infidel ground. If the authority of the Church is requisite in order for a man to believe the Scripture, and to receive it as God's Word, then God has not so spoken as to bind the conscience, and make faith obligatory, without some one adding to His authority so as to make it to be received. What kind of Church it can be, which can give to God's Word an authority over the conscience, and oblige men to believe it, which that Word itself had not, though God spoke it, I leave the man who reverences God to consider.
If God gives a testimony of Himself, man is bound to believe it. If not, he is guilty of despising the testimony of God ; and the day of judgment will surely show that it is not God who has failed in giving the testimony, so as to bind the conscience, and oblige to faith ; but that the man's sinful heart has deceived him.
When the blessed Lord appeared, many cavils might be, and were, raised by infidel hearts ; but He could say, " If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins," John 8 : 24.
So John—as to the testimony of God of the Gospel in general—" He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he has not believed the testimony that God gave concerning His Son," 1 John 5:10. Such a one was guilty, guilty of infidelity. So in the Word God has given a testimony, and man is bound to believe it. Doubts and cavils and difficulties may be raised by infidel minds ; but God's testimony of Himself is in every case adequate to bind men to believe it and to bring his conscience under it.
If he does not believe it, he has, to use the apostle's solemn expression, made God a liar, because he has not believed His testimony concerning His Son. He is really an infidel (at least, his principles are), whatever system of religious rites he may have bowed to.
Now, what does the Romanist say? He says, You cannot believe in the Scriptures without the authority of the Church to accredit them; that is, that God's testimony does not bind the conscience, does not oblige to faith, without something else to accredit. Now, this is infidelity, and a horrible dishonour done to God. It is declaring that God's testimony is not sufficient, not competent in itself, to bind man, to oblige man to believe and bow to it. That God has given an inefficient thing as a testimony; so that if I do not bow to it; that is, if I remain an infidel, I am justified in so remaining! This is high treason against God and His truth. They dare not say it is not God's Word, for then they would be avowed infidels themselves. But they do dare to say, consequently, that though it is God's Word, it does not bind the conscience of a man ; and that something else is necessary to give it authority to his conscience. No matter what it is—they may call it the Church, or the Pope, or a general council which represents the Church—it is something besides the Word, without which God's own Word is not binding on the conscience.
The Word of God is a testimony to man's conscience, which bears God's authority itself.
If a man do not bow to it when sent in grace as a testimony to save, he will be obliged to bow to it when it will be executed in judgment. In a word, Romanism declares that without what it calls the Church's authority, God's Word is not such as obliges me to believe it.
This doctrine is infidelity, as to the proper authority of God's Word. And mark further: if I do not believe what God's Word says without the authority of the Church, I do not believe God at all; it is not faith in God. There may be faith in the Church, but there is not faith in God. For when I had only what God said I did not believe it; when the Church tells me to believe it, I do. But this is faith in the Church ; and I do not believe God.
Now, believing when there is only God's authority, is believing God : nothing else is.
To require the Church's testimony to accredit God's is dishonouring Him and disbelieving Him. The Romanist, as such, has no true faith at all; for he does not believe God on His own authority but on the Church's. As the Word is sometimes read by them, or heard, God may give individuals among them faith, in spite of the infidel doctrine of their Church.
Remember, that true faith is faith in what God has said, because God has said it. If you require the Church's sanction of it, you have not faith in God. You do not bow to His Word, unless it is sanctioned by some one else. Credulity as to superstitions taught by men, is not faith in God. Faith in God believes in His Word, without any other authority than His Word itself.
That is, Romanism is infidelity as to the most precious and fundamental truths of Christianity; and it is infidelity as to the authority of God's own Word itself.
J. N. DARBY