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his own heart and imagination, and school him to act his part as the unflinching instrument of every horrid barbarity.— The zealot tormentor, taught from the pit, wants nothing but power and tools to render him indeed terrible and ruthless.
If it were demanded to give in a few words the chief incentive of the ferocity of Romanism, we must plainly say, that the doctrine of eternal damnation--as held and perverted by the Romish Church, is the germ of its cruelty. Or the truth (such we deem it) may be expressed in general terms – That a malignant fanaticism of some kind (truculent if opportunity permits) will attend every misinterpretation or misapplication of what the Scriptures affirm concerning future punishment. It should be added that an error of this sort naturally follows in the track of an abused doctrine of grace.
Let it be noted that our Lord and his ministers speak of the wrath of God as provoked by nothing but impiety and immorality ; and they leave us in no doubt of what it is specifically which they mean when they issue their comminations. — It is the blasphemer and the impenitent; it is the murderer, the thief, the liar, the slanderer, the impure, the adulterer, the perjured person, and the rapacious; or, in a word, the sensual, the malignant, and the unjust, who have to expect the fiery indignation—the future “ tribulation and anguish.” Terrible as it is, this doctrine leans, with its whole stress, to the side favourable to virtue; nor is there any thing mystic, indefinite, or obscure attached to it. If any complain of the severity of the threat let them forsake the evil of their ways, and its severity shall not touch them. Does any complain ? nay rather, let him repent, and it shall go well with him.
And not only, in the preaching of our Lord, and in the writings of his Apostles, is the threatening clearly attached to a vicious and irreligious life, and to nothing else ; but it is employed in no other way, and for no other purpose, than to enforce, or to give solemnity to the invitations of mercy. How cogent is the reason why men should humble themselves before Almighty God, and instantly sue for the pardon of sin!
Thus defined, and thus employed, the doctrine, appalling as it may be, was clearly an engine of benevolence:- it must have been grossly perverted if, in any case, it has ceased to deserve this commendation. So was it at first, and so, in any age, whoever, after the example of Christ—the Saviour of the world, spends life and strength in the endeavour to lead his fellows to the arms of the Divine compassion, because there remains a “ fearful looking for of wrath” which shall fall on the impenitent, is not only no fanatic, but deserves the praise, and will win
the recompense, of the highest and purest philanthropy.
Not such is the Romish doctrine of wrath ; nor such the spirit or style of its preachers; nor such its pit of perdition.- What is the Papal llell but the State Prison of the Papal Tyramny? - The future woe, converted into the instrument of its oppressions, has made it natural that the inflictions of the infernal dungeon should be taken as the exemplars of sacerdotal barbarity. All offences of a moral kind, even the most atrocious, having come under the management of the Church, and being made the subject of a mercenary commerce between her and the transgressor, so that while he submits implicitly to the direction of the priest (who farms heaven) he has nothing to fear, the bearing of the doctrine of retribution is wholly turned off from the consciences of men ; and the genuine association of ideas, which connects sin and punishment, is broken up. The preacher may still declaim about the righteous judgment of God; but in fact, and in every man's personal apprehensions, the terror of justice has passed off' obliquely, and is no more thought of in its due place. The future Retribution remains therefore at large to serve the turns of the hierarchy: it is nothing else than an ecclesiastical terror. The Romish place of perdition awaits—the infidel, and the heretic, and whoever provokes the jealousies of the
Church. Let us fix our minds a moment upon the natural consequences of this perversion of so momentous an element of religion.
We will imagine then that we have received and firmly embraced this Romish dogma, as true.—How does it affect our general sentiments toward the bulk of mankind ; or what impression does it convey of the Divine character and government ? Under such an influence, in the first place, we learn to think that the most heinous crimes — crimes aggravated by a full knowledge of religion, and committed in the face of its sanctions, enjoy perpetual impunity by the means of a villanous and interested misprision on the part of the functionaries of Heaven; so that in fact Justice takes no hold of those whose fortune it is to be born upon a canonical soil, and where, the dispensing power having its agents, pardons are always in the market. The actual state of morals in countries where, age after age, nothing has been tolerated that might serve to correct the proper influence of popery-Spain, Portugal, Italy, is proof enough that these suppositions are not imaginary.13
13 The state of manners in the southern countries of Europe is now unhappily but too well understood in England; for the profligacy of the continent has of late been shed over the entire surface of our ephemeral literature. No reference on this subject need be made to authorities. If it be alleged that the manners of the northern and protestant states are but a shade or two better than those of the south, we shall then have to balance the unobstructed influence of
Yet the dogma has another, and perhaps it is a worse aspect. Imbued with its spirit, we turn toward the millions of mankind — pagan and Mohammedan, whose misery it has been to have possessed no religious light — or a mere glimmer, and who, if we are to trust to our Lord's rule of equity, are to be “ beaten with few stripes,” for this proper reason, that they knew not his will :—but upon these, we are taught to think, the unrelieved weight of the future wrath is to press.—These, because they have no holy water, no holy oil, no absolving priest, are to suffer without mitigation. Thus have we subverted the order of reason and justice, and have rendered the righteous retribution of Heaven, which, as expounded in the Scriptures, is altogether of a sanatory influence, horribly corrupt and despotic.
The practical inference is natural and inevitable. If God thus deal with his creatures-inflicting the heaviest penalties where there has been the lowest responsibility; and allowing a mercenary commutation of punishment in the case of the most aggravated guilt, why may not man, in his dealings with his fellows, follow in the same track, though at a humble distance ? Who can affirm that, to carry the brand of exterminating war into the heart of pagan and Mohammedan lands—to hack and rip up and
popery against the scarcely at all obstructed influence of infidelity and the scale is seen to turn a little in favour of the latter.