Superstition is the subjection of the mind of man—in the things of God—to that, for subjection to which there is no warrant in divine testimony.
The objects of this superstitious reverence or fear may be (1) such as (being mere creatures) were themselves subject to man’s power, or at least to his mind; or (2) they may be the creatures of his own imagination; or (3) such as exercise a real and evil malignant influence over him, as Satan and the evil demons; or (4) they may be creatures good and excellent in themselves, and even such as are in a position superior to man, and instruments of divine power or testimony. But for subjection to these, or for any kind of worship rendered to them, or for employing them in religious service on our behalf, there is no warrant in divine testimony.
Of the first class of superstitious reverence, the worship of animals—as among the Egyptians—or of the sun, moon, and stars—one of the earliest forms of idolatry—are examples.
Of the second, a vast mass of the religion of the Greeks is an example—as fauns, satyrs, Pan, &c; whence even it is called mythology, or the doctrine of myths or fables.
Of the third class is serpent-worship, and the worship of the powers of evil, found in many countries of Africa; and, in a general way, the whole of heathen idolatry, as the apostle testifies (1 Cor. 10:20), alluding to Deuteronomy 32:17, “The things which the Gentiles offer, they offer to devils or demons, and not to God.”
In the last class we have that of which the apostle speaks in Colossians 2: “a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.” So the apostle John was himself tempted to fall down and worship before the feet of the angel, who had been God’s servant in the communication of the apocalyptic visions: the angel replying, “See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant.” Also setting the saints above in heaven, in the place of mediation, in which God has not set them; or even men on the earth, in virtue of their office, as if they were priests (that is, really, mediators, having another kind of prevailing power with God than other men).
All these, though differing in character, have this in common: —they are the subjection of the mind of man, in the things of God, to that for subjection to which there is no warrant from divine testimony. This is superstition. Faith, on the contrary, is the reception of a divine testimony into the soul, so that God Himself is believed.99
The consequence of either of these (consequences as opposite as the nature of that from which they respectively flow) is sufficiently evident. The object of our superstitious reverence gets between our souls and God, and in practice supplants Him, and takes His place. God is, indeed, never entirely forgotten. Even among the idolatrous heathen there was a vague idea of one supreme God, shewn, as Tertullian has remarked, by their habitual exclamations; and some of the philosophers insisted and enlarged on this, though without any true knowledge of Him.
Still, the whole practical condition of men depended on the character of the superstition with which their hearts were immediately in connection. The Athenians might rear an altar to the unknown God, but they did not rise morally by this ignorance. Their state was what the state of those must have been who worshipped a Jupiter, a Minerva, and a Venus, or who were in daily association with their altars.
The introduction of the one true God may be in a greater or lesser degree; but it remains true, that in general, where any object intervenes between us and God, He is so far hidden; and the effect upon men is, that they are lowered to the standard of what they reverence. God’s presence (whatever their fears) does not act immediately upon their consciences as light, or elevate their hearts to Himself as love.
Now, though this power over the imagination of things which divine testimony does not authorize our reverence of is often called faith (though it be merely connecting the religious element of man’s nature with what is not God, and is no real revelation of God), it is really the opposite of faith. Faith brings God present to the soul. Faith is, as we have seen, the reception into the soul of a divine testimony. Now, the grand object of this, especially in Christianity, is the revelation of God Himself. In every case a divine testimony carries direct divine authority, and is, so far, a revelation of God. The consequence is, faith brings the soul into God’s own presence; and hence everything is judged in the light itself, for God is light. All a man’s works, all that is in man, is brought into the light, the man’s conscience having His perfect light for a measure by which to judge himself. But as God has in Christ revealed Himself in love, faith, which embraces His revelation, produces a sweet and blessed confidence in God Himself, known as love; as a Saviour who has given His own Son, who has by Himself purged our sins. Thus, while all is judged by the believer’s conscience in the light of God’s own presence, it is all put away according to the demand of that holiness; and we are at peace with God, and can walk with Him in newness of life.
So that faith puts into immediate connection with God; a connection founded on His own testimony, which is received by the operation of divine power in the soul; and hence also has its practical existence in real confidence of God Himself. The soul is reconciled with Him; and God becomes, by the revelation of Himself in the testimony He has given, the moral measure of right and wrong to the soul which is elevated to connection with Himself through Jesus. Hence it is exactly opposite to superstition, though this latter assumes its name and forms, and may be connected, as it ever is, more or less, with the idea of the true God.
This last circumstance leads us to another important remark: that, while superstition hides the true God, and wholly falsifies our notions of Him, this connection in the mind of the superstitious object of reverence with the idea of the true God attaches the authority of His name and supreme power to the object of our superstition, and sanctions, by that authority, all the moral degradation involved in our connection with it; save in so far as natural conscience revolts, and tells a truer tale of God than the superstition. But then alas! the tendency of this last is to exalt man above what he has made religion, and to produce infidelity and even atheism, if atheism were possible to man’s mind, which I do not believe. But it tends at least to make men reason as atheists against the superstition which revolts their conscience, and which they know is contrary to what even conscience would know of God. Human will is always atheistical, for it is not subject to God’s will, and will seek to reason against the existence of what it does not like; but God has a testimony in conscience, which, after all, the will can never get over. Where men have reduced what bears the name of God below the standard of natural conscience and feeling, the mind will use this, if it dare, to throw off the authority of the God it dislikes.
An objection may present itself before going farther—that what I say of immediate association with God by the reception of divine testimony sets aside ministry. I answer, Not in the least. Ministry of the word is a divine ordinance, for the purpose of bringing the testimony of God to the soul of man; and, if in real divine power, the effect is to bring, by the living word, God Himself in Christ present to the soul, so as to place it in the light and bring it to have immediately to say to God. Priesthood places itself between the soul and God; real ministry brings God, by the word, present to the soul. This is the essential difference between the true character of each.
It is evident that faith must be founded on the testimony of God, otherwise it is not God who is believed. Further, it must be founded on His testimony alone. I must believe, because God Himself has spoken, or I do not believe God. “Whoso,” says John Baptist, of the blessed Lord, “he that received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.” So “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” God graciously added in the former case miracles to confirm the word, as it is written, “Confirming the word by signs following.” But faith was in the testimony of God. Indeed, if only founded on the miracles, it was without value. “Many believed in him when they saw the miracles which he did; but Jesus did not commit himself to them, for he knew what was in man.”
Such then, practically, is faith. It is the soul’s reception, by divine power, of the testimony of God; who is thus known by it, as He has revealed Himself, and in whose presence consequently it walks, God having graciously revealed Himself as a Saviour, so that it is in peace in the presence of the Holy One, and in communion with Him. I do not enter here into the way in which He has revealed Himself, blessed as this subject is above all, because it is not my subject now—the knowledge of, and communication with, the Father, through the Son, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, as the portion of a soul which has found peace through the blood of the cross. Such is the Christian’s portion; but I turn to a now needed and less happy subject.
I do not farther pursue the subject of superstition or attack the forms in which it more particularly shews itself; but I shall shew that the Romanist system is not founded on faith, but the contrary. I have introduced what I have said of superstition to shew that 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 shew, 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 such fear has torment, and love would take away torment for what it loves). 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 shews in blessing us. Hence die apostle John thus speaks of the Christian, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” Christian faith, then, believes in this love. And everything that is put in between us and God, who exercises it immediately towards us; or tends to shew 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 revelation 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 this 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 only, but 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 scripture teaches 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 Episde 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. For 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 an unbloody sacrifice. But this excuse is of no avail, for the declaration of scripture is, that there is no more offering for sin. Yea, it is not only of no avail, but it makes the matter worse; for the Romanist doctrine declares that this unbloody sacrifice is efficacious for the remission of sins; and the 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 an unbloody 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; they pretend that an unbloody 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 from all sin.” Blessed truth! just what our conscience needs, in order to have boldness to go before God, and enter into 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, why 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 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 of God’s word.
But there is infidelity too in it, 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, whilst 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 not come out thence till thou hast paid the last farthing.” 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.” And that we might be forgiven, Christ has died upon the cross. But this doctrine of purgatory teaches that we must pay to die 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 die sin that justly alarmed his conscience; or, as the scripture expresses it, “He has by Himself purged our sins.” (Heb. 1:3.) The doctrine of purgatory is really infidelity as to the efficacy of Christ’s blood; for, if this has cleansed die 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 His blood does cleanse us from all sin, and that Christ, when He had by Himself purged our sins, 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. The scripture declares there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus; and what does it teach us as to this doctrine of Christ’s intercession? It 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 who was a sinner, if Jesus was in the house, she was emboldened to go in, and count upon that tender goodness which inspired confidence to 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 condescends to all our infirmities, and sympathizes 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 that 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 Jesus’s, is infidelity as to the grace of Christ; it 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, 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 that has shed its life-blood 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 again, while seeming only to add, 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. It 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 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 be suspected at first sight 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 and greater advantage.
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.
It will be said that many souls have been saved without knowing of the existence of the Bible. I admit it fully. If the truth has been preached to them or brought to their knowledge in any other way, the Spirit of God may have brought it savingly home to their souls. In the first ages thousands were brought to salvation by the preaching of the apostles and others, before the New Testament existed. So, since it has been written, many were converted before they were informed of its existence, as heathens, into whose language it was not yet translated. But this is not our case. We do know it exists; and then to deny or question its authority, is infidelity as to it. Now this is the ground the Romanist always takes. He tells me, I cannot know it is the Bible, or the word of God, without the authority of the church. Now mark that. For, 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 is clearly infidel ground. If the authority of the church is requisite in order to a man’s believing the scripture and receiving it as God’s word, then God has not so spoken as to bind the conscience and to 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 had not, though God spoke it, I leave a man who reverences God to consider. It must be more competent, its authority more obligatory, than that of God Himself; for it says such a book is God’s word, and you must receive it as such; and yet, though it be God’s word, it could not have that authority over the conscience before!
I am not speaking of a greater competency to instruct, of a greater knowledge of its meaning where all own it as divine, but of what gives it a divine authority over the soul. It has not this (though it be God’s word), according to the Romanist, without receiving it from the testimony of the church.
The church—that is, certain men (supposing even they were inspired)—have told me certain things, and I am bound to believe them; Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, and others, that is, the apostles and other writers of the New Testament, have told me certain things as inspired men, and I cannot tell whether I am to believe them or not! If so, then these apostles have not the same claim over my conscience and faith as the former. It is in vain to tell me the former compose the church, and that it has God’s authority: had not the inspired apostles God’s authority? Did not what they say bind the saints’ conscience? It is not a question of interpreting. The question is, Has what they say authority over my conscience, so that I am bound to receive it as God’s word and believe it? St. Paul writes an epistle to the church— say at Corinth:—were they bound to receive it as God’s word? If so, am I? If I am not, they were not; and note, they were the church; that is, the church has to receive the work of the apostle, not to pronounce on it. Woe be to them if they did not; woe be to me if I do not.
This, then, is the simple yet solemn assertion of the believer in the truth and wisdom and glory of God—that, 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 shew 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.
Look at the creation. There is a testimony God has given of Himself. Man is guilty, if he does not see God in it. There are many difficulties, many things he cannot explain; but the testimony is sufficient to condemn those who do not believe in God the Creator.
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.
So St. 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: such an 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 man 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.
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 that it is not God’s word, for then they would be avowed infidels themselves. But they do dare to say, consequently, that though it be 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.
That is, their principles are infidel before God. Their cleverness in puzzling the mind as to the word, their demanding proofs, their shewing how impossible it is for man to know it is God’s word—though the object be to throw them into the arms of what they call the church—is merely infidel reasoning, and reasoning which is found employed in fact by infidels. They will tell you that laws require a judge. But laws bind every one, whether he be a judge or no. And, further, we are not to judge God’s word: it will judge us. “The words that I have spoken unto you,” says the Lord, “the same shall judge you in that day.”
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: I decline doing it, unless I have something else to accredit His word.
Now the only true faith is believing God, believing God Himself. This is the real return of the soul to God. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness; he had no church to accredit what God had said. He believed, because God had Himself said the thing. It was believing God. He who does not, until the church adds its authority, does not believe God at all. There is no true faith at all where a man believes because the church has accredited anything. I have refused or failed to believe when God has spoken, when there was only His authority.
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.
If you say. How am I to know it is? This is merely saying His word is not in itself sufficient to bind your conscience. That is just what an infidel says. It is infidelity. Your belief depends on the church’s authority—not on God’s word.
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.
99 In speaking of religious subjects, I have not thought it necessary to speak of the belief of mere human testimony. No one, of course, denies that there is such a thing as the belief of human testimony. The only thing important to remark here is, that really to believe the testimony of a person, I must receive what he says because he has said it; if I require something to confirm it, I so far discredit his testimony.