Friday, 16 September 2016

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 149



CHAPTER VI. The Character of the Capital Reformer Considered.


THE person I speak of, is Martin Luther, the first discoverer of the pretended errors of the Church of Rome. For as to those that followed him, they had nothing to do but enter at the breach, which he had made, and share with him at the plunder of their mother Church.

I pretend not, however, to concern myself in any particular manner with the Church, that takes its denomination from him, or consider Luther any otherwise than as head of the reformation in general. For the only end I promise to myself, is to show, that a person of a scandalous character has not the true marks of a reformer of Christ's Church; unless the word reformer be taken for synonymous with that of heretic; and I hope thereby to convince the reader, that the Church of Rome may be incorrupt, and free from errors, though Martin Luther thought fit to be of another opinion.

Let us now consider the character which a grave archbishop and primate of England has given of this great apostle of the reformation. "In the beginning of the reformation," says Tillot. Serm. 25, p. 588, " when antichrist sat securely in the possession of his kingdom, Luther arose; a bold and rough man, but a fit wedge to cleave asunder so hard and knotty a block: and appeared stoutly against the gross errors and corruptions of the Church of Rome, and for a long time stood alone."

I shall make but two short remarks upon the bishop's words. First, he dignifies his hero with the titles of  "a bold and rough man, and a fit wedge to cleave a hard and knotty block." Surely, these titles are not much becoming an apostolical man; and I fear the bishop will be thought to have had before his eyes the pattern of some famous gladiator, rather than a meek and humble preacher of the Gospel. Secondly, the bishop has here owned a fact, which may serve indeed, to set off the intrepidity of his bold and rough man, who, as he tells us, " for a long time stood alone;" but the credit of the reformation must suffer by it. For it is but an odd argument to convince any man, that Luther had the truth on his side, because the whole world was against him.

I imagine, indeed, the bishop did not fully reflect upon the consequences of this concession. For if Martin Luther for a long time stood alone, and had by consequence, the whole Christian world against him, (which agrees exactly with his own, primo solus eram) it follows plainly, that he had no ordinary mission from any man upon earth. Because it is a thing contrary to all practice, and even common sense, that a man shall be commissioned to teach and preach a doctrine opposite to that of the Church, or immediate superior, from whom he receives his commission. Does a king ever give commissions to his officers to levy forces against himself? Have judges their credentials to subvert the laws of the government, under which they serve ? Or will any man, for example, say that Mr. Wh on had, by virtue of his ordination, a power given him to teach, a doctrine contrary to that of his mother Church. Either then it was an irregularity in him to do so, or not. If not, why were his writings condemned? Why was he expelled the university? If so, then Martin Luther was guilty of a much greater irregularity in preaching a doctrine in which he had the whole Church against him ; and from which he could not by consequence, have a commission for so doing. For Luther "for a long time stood alone."

In effect, when Luther first set out in quality of reformer, the Roman Catholic Church was spread over all the principal kingdoms of Europe, which were then in perfect communion with the bishop of Rome, and had been so from their conversion to Christianity, as I have already observed. They all acknowledged the pope for head of the Church, and professed no other religion, than what goes now under the odious name of Popery. Mass was said in all the Churches of Christendom. The real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the holy Eucharist, the doctrine of transubstantiation, the number of seven sacraments, which are since reformed away into two, were the universal belief. Praying for the souls departed, imploring the intercession of saints, and paying due respect to their images and relics, were then practised in all places, where Christianity was known. Nay, I defy any man to mark me out one single province, town, village, or even family in Christendom, where the Protestant religion, either as now established by law in Great Britain, or as it is modeled by any of the late reformed churches, was publicly professed and practised when Martin Luther made his first appearance. For Luther " for a long time stood alone."

Now, besides the irregularity of a man's setting up a new religion of his own head, and without commission to impower him to do it, is it rational to judge that all Christendom was then, and had continued for many hundred years, under a kind of lethargy, or infatuation, and that but one single man, a private Austin friar, should start up all on a sudden in his right senses ? Were there not at that time hundreds of bishops, doctors, and pastors in the world, as learned and zealous for the purity of the Christian faith as Martin Luther? It is, therefore, very strange, that he should either be the only man, clear-sighted enough to detect the gross errors of Popery, or if others were equally convinced of them, that he alone should have zeal enough to oppose them.

This argument has frequently been urged against the first broachers of heresies, who always pretended, that the Church had fallen into errors; and it is but too plain, that the reformation labors under this great prejudice, viz.: That whereas the true Church has, and can have no other than Christ himself, and his blessed Apostles commissioned by him, for its founders, the reformation, on the contrary, has this resemblance with all known heresies that were ever broached, that it has for its author a single private person preaching and writing, not only without commission from any lawful superior, but even in direct opposition to all that Church authority, that was then visibly extant upon earth. For Luther " for a long time stood alone."