"The Jews' religion" was a human system based upon a Divine revelation, and so is it with the religion of Christendom. But the Judaism of Messianic times was not an apostasy in the sense in which that can be averred of the religion of Christendom. For the Lord could sanction by His presence the services both of the temple and the synagogue. The cult was right: it was the men who were wrong. "God is Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship in spirit." With unspiritual men, therefore, even a religion which in itself was true became of necessity false. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly . . . but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." "For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost."' And if this was true in regard to a cult in which ordinances and the external element filled so large and prominent a place, how intensely true must it be of Christianity.
Moses was the Apostle of "the Jews' religion." And in externals at least there was no wilful departure from his teaching. Any blunders in this respect were made honestly and through ignorance. Blunders there were, as for example in the celebration of the Day of the Firstfruits. This error, which has escaped the notice of theologians, destroyed the significance of one of the great characteristic types Of the law. The law enjoined that "on the morrow after the Sabbath" of Passover week, the first sheaf of the harvest should be cut and carried to the temple, to be "waved before Jehovah." The true " Day of the Firstfruits," therefore, always fell upon the "first day of the week." But in Ezra's revival, misreading the injunction, they took "the Sabbath" to mean the festival day of the passover. And thus it came about that on that Sabbath day during which the Lord lay in the grave, the Jews were celebrating a rite divinely ordained to typify His resurrection from the dead.
(See Lev. xxiii. 10, 11, 15, 16; and Deut. Xvi. 9. Also John xix. 31 ("that Sabbath was an high day," because it was "the day of the firstfruits"). I have dealt more fully with this in The Coming Prince, Chapter IX., and have there pointed out that the true "Day of Pentecost," as divinely ordered, was not the Sabbath upon which the Jews observed it, but that "first day of the week" on which the Holy Spirit was given. iCor. xv. 20, 23 especially refers to the firstfruits as a type of the resurrection. Just as God's accepting the first sheaf gathered was a token and pledge of His acceptance of the whole harvest, so the resurrection of Christ is a token and pledge of the resurrection of His people. I have seen it stated that one of the points on which the Karaites differed from the "orthodox" Jews was that they followed the Scriptures in celebrating the Day of the Firstfruits, and therefore also the Day of Pentecost, upon the first day of the week.)
But while those who honoured Moses sought to follow his teaching with scrupulous care, the New Testament has received very different treatment in the religion of Christendom. When the Lord and His disciples met to eat the paschal supper, the rite was essentially the same as in the days of Hezekiah or of Samuel. And if a heathen stranger could have passed from that "upper room" to other kindred scenes in Jerusalem, no difference in the ritual would have attracted his attention. Here, was Israel's Messiah surrounded by His disciples; there, were apostate Jews who on the morrow would clamour for Messiah's death. But disciples and apostates alike were celebrating the same ordinance according to the same ritual. The only difference between them was that while the disciples were spiritually quickened and enlightened, the apostates were spiritually in darkness and in death.
And if a Jew of those days could now come back to life he could again take part in the familiar rite in the home of any pious co-religionist. But imagine one of the primitive disciples present in St. Peter's at Rome today during the celebration of a baptism or a mass! A devotee of the old Eleusinian mysteries would find himself at home in the scene; but the disciple would shrink away from it, as from a specially profane development of paganism. Between the religion of Christendom and the revelation upon which it claims to be founded there yawns a gulf which is impassable.
To the apostasy of Christendom Judaism affords no parallel. As regard externals, Judaism appears to be an exception to the strange law of degeneration which marks the religion of mankind. The Scriptures are still read in the synagogues, and the paschal supper is still celebrated in simplicity. And in the Scriptures and the paschal rite may yet be found the means of their spiritual restoration. The altar is there and the wood for the sacrifice: all that is lacking is the fire from heaven to kindle it - a signal proof of the truth that "God has not cast away His people."' For though in this age of a silent Heaven, He does not declare Himself as the God "that repayeth them that hate Him to their face," He is none the less "the faithful God which keepeth covenant . . . to a thousand generations." Paganism is not less evil or less hateful because it masquerades in a Christian dress, and uses the language of Christianity. The guilt and infamy of Judas were all the greater because he ranked as an apostle of the Lord. And if there be indeed apostolic succession in the historic Church, we know to what source to trace its origin ! The Judaism which crucified the Lord was essentially a true religion: it became a false religion only because the very truth of God when administered by carnal men is changed into a lie. But the religion of Christendom is essentially a false religion, and so lost to shame, moreover, that it makes no effort even to cover itself with a Christian terminology. About the priest and the altar the New Testament is silent, save in that Epistle which was written expressly to teach that they belong in type to Judaism and in anti-type to Christ. And as for baptismal regeneration, and the mass, with its vestments and "candles vainly lighted at noonday" '-these are the well-known stock-in-trade of a Pagan priesthood, and the New Testament knows absolutely nothing of them.
Judaism, I repeat, affords no parallel to such an apostasy as this; but a counterpart may be sought in Buddhism. Just as the principles and practices of Buddhism are marked by the most flagrant opposition to the teaching of Gautama, so also the religion of Christendom stands out in open contrast with the teaching of Christ. I would not be understood as bracketing Gautama with the Lord Jesus Christ. I deplore such profanity. But again I appeal to the history of Buddhism as a striking instance of the working of that same law of spiritual gravitation which has been so apparent and so disastrous in the history of what - if it be lawful to coin a much needed word - might be described as Christianism. For while in the sphere of morals and of mind man is master of himself, the ruin of his spiritual nature is complete. Here he is so entirely the slave of perverted religious instincts that, apart from Divine grace, his recovery is impossible.
But even here we must distinguish. Divine grace is needed for the apprehension of Divine truth, but not for the detection of human error. No grace is needed to save a man from card sharpers and "confidence trick" men; and his native wit might equally avail to save him from the artifices and errors of human religion. In the only address to a heathen audience recorded in the New Testament, the Apostle appealed to reason and common sense to teach his hearers that their cult was false.
But while the victim of the criminal is eager to hide his shame, the dupe of the priest seems always ready to glory in it. Not many years ago one of our great city houses was defrauded of £20,000 in gold by a very clever, but very transparent trick; but their chief anxiety was to avoid the ridicule which publicity would have brought upon them.
True it is that in the most solemn prophecy world, ever uttered-for the words fell from the lips of our Divine Lord - a time is foretold when false prophets shall arise who "shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect." ' But that time is yet to come. "Great signs and wonders"! The victim of the "confidence trick" can plead that with his eyes he saw the sheaf of counterfeit bank-notes, and he took them to be genuine. But what excuse can the victim of these sham priests set up to excuse his credulity? An honest-hearted schoolboy might well be ashamed of being duped by them. As for priestly absolution, if even-handed justice were meted out to all, the Vagrant Act would suffice to deal with it. Ignorant women are sent to gaol for deceiving people about their future in this world, but educated men are allowed to deceive them with impunity about their future in the next.
And yet human religion has a terrible power behind it. Satan is not, as men suppose, the instigator of their crimes. Religion is the special sphere of his influence. What other meaning can be given to the awful title, "the god of this world," accorded him in Holy Writ? Were it otherwise the religion of Christendom would never have survived the sixteenth century. When that century opened, the infamous Alexander VI. was on the papal throne. The letter of a devout Roman Catholic, recorded in the diary of a high official in personal attendance on the Pope, describes life in the Vatican under the Borgias. Here are extracts from it:
"Everything can be had for money. Crimes grosser than Scythian are committed without disguise under the eyes of the Pope. There are rapes, murders, incests, debaucheries, cruelties, exceeding those of the Neros and Caligulas. Licentiousness past description is paraded in contempt of God and man. Sons and daughters are polluted. Harlots and procuresses are gathered together in the mansion of St. Peter. On All Saints' day fifty women of the town were invited to dinner."
At this point the historian from whom the foregoing is quoted breaks off the narrative by adding: "The details of what followed are barely mentionable." ' The letter goes on to speak of the universal sale of indulgences, to provide a portion for the Pope's daughter, Lucretia, and also to mention his son Cesar Borgia as being as great a monster as himself. And as for the Sacred College, not a single voice is raised in warning or remonstrance.
Was it any wonder that when Charles V. ascended the Imperial throne the laity everywhere were in revolt against the Church? But the Emperor was no friend of Luther, no patron of the Protestants. The Edict of Worms, which devoted Luther to the flames, gave proof of his zeal for the Church; and it was no fault of his that that edict was frustrated. But the dream of his life was the calling of a Council which, by dealing with the flagrant immoralities of the clergy, and allowing the voice of the laity a hearing, would prepare the way for his putting down the Protestants by force. Pope succeeded Pope, however, without his achieving his purpose. Neither Leo X. nor Clement VII. had any wish to be "reformed"; and when, a quarter of a century alter Charles's accession, Paul III. found himself compelled at last to yield, he took care that the Council should neither parley with the laity nor meddle with the vices of the clergy.
The secret history of the Council of Trent has been laid bare by its "incomparable historian," as Gibbon calls him - Paolo Sarpi of Venice, that amazing prodigy of genius and learning. The shameful story is before the world.' There a Lot even in Sodom, and doubtless there were not a few such at Trent - the Spanish bishops were believed to be pure; but the Italian majority were for the most part men of the same kidney as Pope Paul - that "Vicar of Christ" who openly pensioned his bastard children upon the State, and made cardinals of his schoolboy grandsons.
His friend and biographer, Cardinal Pailavicino, pleads that he was no worse than his contemporaries! One might expect a "Vicar of Christ" to be better; but this perhaps is proof of Protestant ignorance and bigotry.
And these men, unknown to fame as theologians, and bound by their ordination oath to obey their master the Pope, settled the creed of Christendom, not omitting to devote to eternal damnation all who refuse the blasphemous lie that a thrice-holy God accredits licentious profligates as His ministers.
The Council of Constance had claimed jurisdiction over the Popes, and proceeded to try and depose the rival claimants to the chair of St. Peter, including John XXIII., of whom Gibbon writes, "The Vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy, and incest; the most scandalous charges were suppressed."' But the Council of Trent established the supreme authority of the Pope.
Nine years after it was finally dissolved, occurred the "Massacre of St. Bartholomew." The leading Protestants of France were invited to Paris by the French king, Charles IX., to celebrate the marriage of his sister. They had been granted solemn and oath-bound pledges of safety, but at midnight on the festival of St. Bartholomew (21st Aug., 1572), the signal was given for their butchery. Ten thousand Huguenots, men, women, and children, including some five hundred persons of rank, were massacred. Their mangled bodies were flung into the streets; the gutters were choked with their blood. In other towns like butcheries were perpetrated." According to the estimate of Sully, the defenceless victims numbered seventy thousand. But when Charles, repenting too late of his hideous guilt, sought to palliate it by inventing charges of political conspiracy against the Huguenots, the "Vicar of Christ" rebuked his repentance by celebrating a Te Deum and ordering public rejoicings in honour of the crime. More than this, he sent Cardinal Orsino to convey his congratulations to the king. At Lyons, on his way to Paris, the emissary sought out the leader of the butchery, and gave him absolution and his blessing. And on reaching the capital he urged Charles to claim openly the credit of his acts, which future generations would attribute to zeal for the Catholic religion, now purified from heresy by the Council of Trent and by the extermination of the Protestant sect within his realm.
And this "Vicar of Christ" was not a depraved sensualist like some of his predecessors, but a theologian and a scholar.' Gregory XI had much in common with his successors of our own times. But on this very account his memnory is branded with eternal infamy.
And yet the Council of Trent has settled it that the Popes of our own times, notwithstanding their personal claims to veneration, have no better title to the homage of Christendom than an obscene monster like Alexander VI., or a monster as hateful, though of another kind, like Gregory XIII. That Pius X. is the successor of the Apostle Peter is a mere theory; that he is the successor of these men is a plain fact. Just as a family or a nation can morally separate itself from its past, so can a Christian Church for it depends only on the living Christ in heaven, the Divine Spirit present upon earth, and the inspired Word of God. But the Church of Western Christendom is united to its past by a chain that reaches back through all the centuries of our era, and if one link be broken the chain is destroyed.
And yet if we ask the way of life, we shall get answer, "Submission to the Church." And when we press the inquiry and ask, What is submission? we shall be told, "Not the profession of Catholic doctrines, but obedience to the voice of the Shepherd." For "the sheep hear the voice of their Shepherd and they follow Him. He chooses the pastures; He leads His sheep into them. The relations of sheep and Shepherd correspond to those of disciple and Teacher. And hence it is clear that no one ought to be received into the Catholic Church unless he comes into the fold through the gate, of which Peter the Chief Shepherd is the Keeper."
The words are Cardinal Vaughan's. Referring to the difficulties and prejudices which have to be overcome, he proceeds: "Now, instead of entering into a maze of objections, into a labyrinth of difficulties, a shorter and more satisfactory course should be taken. Find the Divine Teacher, find the Supreme Shepherd, find the Vicar of, Christ. Concentrate all your mental and moral faculties upon finding the Head of God's Church upon earth. This is the key to the situation."' The daring profanity of this is accentuated by the use of capital letters, which lead the reader to suppose that the Divine titles so familiar to the student of Scripture refer to his Divine Lord., But he is startled and shocked to that they are applied to an Italian priest, whose claim to them is, as we have seen, no better than that of the incarnate fiends of eternally infamous memory, who ruled the Church of Rome in other days.
Nothing ever penned by Edmund Burke has been more often challenged than the statement - in the most brilliant passage of the most brilliant of his treatises, that, "vice itself lost half its evil in losing all its grossness." By parity of reasoning it might perhaps be urged that the superstitions of Christendom are less degrading than those of Pagan cults. But the true contrast is between human superstitions on the one hand, and Christianity on the other. And this explodes the fallacy of Macaulay's well-known problem "Whether England owes more to the Roman Catholic religion or to the Reformation." "For political and intellectual freedom," the historian goes on to say, "and for all the blessings which political and intellectual freedom brought in their train, she is chiefly indebted to the great rebellion of the laity against the priesthood." This is her debt to the Reformation. To the Church of Rome she owes it that the dawning of that bright day was delayed for centuries; that by her hideous cruelties, and the debasing influence of her teaching, the chains were riveted which at last made that "rebellion" a necessity.
It is commonly assumed that religion, if earnest and sincere, must be pleasing to God and a benefit to men. But Scripture and history combine to refute such an error. The religious zeal of those who crucified the Lord was altogether exemplary. Nor was religion with them what it has so often proved in the history of Christendom -a mere cloak for immorality. In the terrible denunciations of the Pharisees, which fell from the lips of Christ Himself, the secret sinfulness of their hearts was exposed, but there was not a word to justify the charge that they were outwardly immoral. Nor was any such reproach ever cast upon them by the great Apostle who had been trained in their school, and whose knowledge of their lives was intimate and full. "I bear them witness," he declared, "that they have a zeal for God." And if such men were branded by the Lord Himself as a "generation of vipers," "children of hell," and farther from the kingdom than publicans and harlots, why should we doubt that there are men among" us today of scrupulous morality and intense religious zeal, who, like them, are "children of hell," and farther from the kingdom than the openly dishonest and impure?
The religion of Christendom has so lowered the standard of rrrorals that morality has come to mean no more than freedom from one special lust. But God makes no such distinction between sins; and even men of the world have often juster thoughts. It was not thus that John Stuart Mill used the word when recording how his father taught him to regard religion as "the greatest enemy of morality."' The indictment is a terrible one; but in the light of notorious facts, who can resist the charge, inspired though it be by the bitterest prejudice?
From the murder of Abel to the supreme tragedy of Calvary, and down through all the ages of the history of Christendom, religion has been the fruitful cause of more wickedness and hate and cruelty and bloodshed than all the common lusts and vices of humanity. These lusts and vices have degraded men to the level of the brute, but religion has changed them into flends. Hence it is that in every age religion has been the most implacable enemy of God, the most relentless persecutor of His people.
The following is Hume's account of the massacre of the Protestants in Ireland in 164I : "But death was the lightest punishment inflicted by these rebels. All the tortures which wanton cruelty could devise, all the lingering pains of body, the anguish of mind, the agonies of despair, could not satiate revenge excited without injury, and cruelty derived from no cause. To enter into particulars would shock the least delicate humanity. Such enormities, though attested by undoubted evidence, appear almost incredible. Amidst all these enormities the sacred name of RELIGION resounded on every side, not to stop the hands of these murderers, but to enforce their blows, and to steel their hearts against every movement of human or social sympathy." This quotation is an adequate defence of the memory of the great man who, in 1649, meted out well-deserved punishment to the authors and abettors of these crimes.
"It cannot be," the Lord exclaimed, "that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem!" With common men the prophet's mantle would insure immunity from outrage. Religion it was that made it the outward badge and emblem of martyrdom. "Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?" was the martyr Stephen's scathing charge against the religious leaders of his people-" They killed them which showed before of the coming of the Righteous One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers." Religion it was that crucified the Lord of Glory, and stoned His faithful servant.
It was the Lord's misinterpreted words about the temple which most excited the malignity of the religious Jews (Mark xiv. 18, xv. 29). Stephen received a patient hearing until, referring to Isaiah's words, he declared that God did not dwell "in temples made with hands" (Acts vii. 48). This evidently provoked an outburst of opposition which led to his breaking off his narrative, and launching the rebuke of verses 51-53. Just as in the case of Paul, the declaration that he had been charged to preach to the Gentiles so exasperated his hearers that in a frenzy of passion they exclaimed, "Away with such a fellow from the earth... for it is not fit that he should live." And but for the intervention of the Roman power they would have murdered him then and there (Acts xxii. 21-24). Such is religion.
Religion inspired the persecutions even of Pagan Rome. For though in the case of a monster like Nero it was no more than a cloak for his infamies, in the case of emperors of a different type it was the genuine motive of their cruelties. Nor will it avail to plead that theirs was a heathen cult. It is a matter of common knowledge, astounding though the fact may be, that the persecutions of the Christian centuries, perpetrated in the name of the Christian religion, equal in fiendish malignity and cruelty the atrocities of Pagan Rome. As a matter of fact, in the case of such men as Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, persecution was not the outcome of malignity at all. The State required that every man should have a religion. But Christianity had not yet degenerated into a religion, and so the Christians ranked as Atheists, and they were punished accordingly.' Christianity was aggressive. It proclaimed a revelation, and inculcated a faith, that drew away men from all religions. It thus came to be regarded as an enemy to religion; and rightly so. Religion therefore became the enemy of Christianity. Such it has ever been. As Renan tersely puts it, the temple has always been anti-Christian.
This accusation is mentioned by both Justin (Apol. i. 5, i6) and Tertullian (Apol. x.). And Eusebius records that when the Roman pro-consul called upon Polycarp to renounce his fellow. ship with Christians, he did so in the words, "Repent: say, 'Away with the Atheists,'"
But here mark the contrast. In his famous letter to Pliny, Trajan enjoined upon his pro-consul not officiously to press inquiries concerning the Christians, and on no account to receive charges made against them by informers. How different this from the spirit and the methods of the persecutions inspired by the so-called Christian Church in the name of Christ! In the passage already quoted, Mill goes on to say that a hundred times he heard his father declare that the Christian's God was "the most perfect conception of Wickedness which the human mind can devise." And if the Christian's God be the 4od of "the historic Church "- the god of the religion of Christendom, is not this true? If the judgment which we mete out to men in other spheres is to be applied to this, and guilt is to be measured by enlightenment and privileges neglected and abused, the Church of Christendom stands out as the most hideous inpersonation of evil which the world has ever known. "No means came amiss to it, sword or stake, torture chamber or assassin's dagger. The effects of the, Church's working were seen in ruined nations and smoking cities, in human beings tearing one another to pieces, like raging maniacs, and the honour of the Creator of the world befouled by the hideous crimes committed in His name. All this is forgotten now," the writer here quoted sorrowfully adds-" forgotten, or even audaciously denied."
We judge of a Pagan god by the acts of his worshippers, committed in his name and in his honour. Let us be consistent and fair, and apply the same test here; and instead of denouncing Mill as a coarse blasphemer, we shall hang our heads as we deplore the ignorance which confounds the god of Christendom with the Christian's God, and the Christ of Christendom with the Christ of the New Testament.
The god of Christendom is a god who can own as his specially accredited agents and ministers men whose lives were marked by immoralities and crimes so flagrant and so shameful that the record of them here would render these pages unfit for the eyes of the innocent and pure; a god who can sanction and bless atrocities as hideous and hateful as any that we associate with the names of Nero and Diocletian. With all the passion of which we are capable we protest against the blasphemy of confounding this god with the God of the Bible, or the Christ of "the historic Church" with our Divine Lord and Saviour.