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excite that of the people; the prophecies all SERMON the while being no further concerned in the question, than as they were wrested for these purposes (as they frequently have been, in like cases) from their true and proper meaning."
To remove this capital prejudice (which, more than any other, hath, perhaps, diverted serious men from giving a due attention to this . argument) was the main purpose of the preceding discourse; in which it was clearly shewn from historical testimony, that the question concerning Antichrist had its rise in the earliest times; that the prophecies concerning Antichrist, though imperfectly enough understood, and, it may be, passionately applied, had yet, been considered, very generally, as referring to some corrupt Christian and even ecclesiastical person or power; and that many eminent members of the Christian church had even applied those prophecies to the same person or power, to which Protestants now apply them, and for the same end, which Protestants have in view, when they apply them to such person or power, for many successive centuries, before the Reformation began. From all which it is undeniable, that the Reformers did not innovate in the interpretation of the prophecies concerning Antichrist; and that their application
Sermon of them to the see of Rome, was not a contri
vance, which sprung out of the passionate
, resentments, or interested policies of that time.
It is true indeed (for the truth should not, and needs not be concealed) that the Reformers were forward enough to lay hold on this received sense of the prophecies, and to make their utmost advantage of it; the account of which matter is, briefly, this: The Christian church had now for many ages been held together in a close dependence on the chair of St. Peter; and to secure and perpetuate that dependence, was the principal object and concern of the papal court. Various means were employed for this purpose; but the most effectual was thought to be, to inculcate in the strongest terms on the minds of Christians the absolute necessity of communicating with the Bishop of Rome, as the centre of unity, and, by divine appointment, the supreme visible head of the Christian world. Hence, to renounce in any degree the authority and jurisdiction of Rome, was deemed the most inexpiable of all sins. The name of Schism was fastened upon it; a name, which was sounded higher than that of Heresy itself, as implying in it the accumulated guilt of Apostacý, ani Infidelity. The way of heaven was shut against
all offenders of this sort; and, to make their SERMON condition as miserable, as it was hopeless, all the engines of persecution, such as racks, fires, gibbets, inquisitions, and even Crusades, had been employed against them: as was seen in the case of the Albigenses and others, who, at different times, had attempted to withdraw themselves from the papal dominion.
Such was the state of things, when the bold spirit of Luther resolved, at all adventures, to break through this inveterate servitude a, so dextrously imposed on the Christian world, under the pretence, and in the name, of ecclesiastical union. Yet the peril of the attempt was easily foreseen, or was presently felt. And, therefore, the Reformers (to prevent the ill effects which the dreadful name of Schism might have on themselves and their cause, and to satisfy at once their own consciences and those of their adherents) not only revived and enforced the old charge of Antichristianism against the church of Rome; but further in- sisted (on the authority of those prophecies which justified the charge) that Christians were bound in conscience, by the most express com
a Rompons leurs liens, dit-il, et rejettons leur joug de dessus nos têtes, Bossuet, H. V. 1. i. c. 26.
SERMON mand, to break all communion with her. The
expedient, one sees, was well calculated to serve the purpose in hand: but still the command was truly and pertinently alledged; for it exists in so many words (however the blindness or the bigotry of former times had overlooked it in the book of the Revelations b. So that whoever admitted the charge itself to be well founded, could not reject this consequence of it, That Christ and Antichrist had no fellowship with each other. And on this popular ground, chiefly, the Protestant cause, in those early times, was upheld; with no small advantage to the patrons of it; it being now clear, that the invidious imputation of Schism had lost its malignity in the general obligation, which lay upon Christians, to renounce all communion with the church of Rome.
This being the true account of that zeal, with which the doctrine of Antichrist was asserted in the days of Reformation, let us see how the case stands at present; and whether any reasonable prejudice lies against the doctrine itself, from the uses, that were then so happily made of it.
b Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. Rev. xviii. to
In the first place, The injunction, to come out of her, was, as I observed, not forged by the Reformers ; nor (admitting that church to be Antichristian) was it misrepresented by them. Every reader of the prophecies must confess, that the command is clearly delivered, and that the sense of it is not mistaken. How serviceable soever, therefore, this topic was to the cause of reformation, it is not, on that account, to be the less esteemed by the just and candid inquirer.
In the next place, I will freely admit, that the dread, in which most men, if not all men,
c Il [Luther] condamnoit les Bohemiens qui s'ctoient separez de notre communion, et protestoit qu'il ne lui arriveroit jamais de tomber dans un semblable Schisme. Bossuet, Hist. des Variat. 1. i. p. 21. Par. 1740. And again, p. 28; Apres, dit-il (Luther,] que j'eus surmonté tous les argumens qu'on proposoit, il en restoit un dernier qu'à peine je pus surmonter par le secours de Jesus Christ avec une extrême difficulté & beaucoup d'angoisse ; c'est qu'il falloit écouter l'Eglise. – One sees for what purpose
M. Bossuet quotes these passages, and others of the same kind, from the writings of Luther." However, they shew very clearly how deep an impression the idea of Schism had made on the mind even of this intrepid Reformer.