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Established Church at the present day; both are identical in essence, and both spring from the same source; the difference is only in degree, and even that distinction may not long continue; and certainly will not, if the avowed intentions of some can be carried out. Look at facts. The doctrine of sacramental efficacy, identical with the Pharisaical notion of circumcision, is openly professed, and is becoming alarmingly prevalent ; the magical power of converting the bread and wine of the eucharist into the body and soul of Jesus Christ is avowed, and rapidly gaining ground; the tremendous power of dispensing eternal life, or inflicting eternal death, is unblushingly assumed by their priesthood; and the vestments, the crucifixes, the candles, the genuflexions, and the mummeries of Rome are advocated and loudly demanded, even in defiance of our laws.
A short time ago, when the Church Congress was held at York, there was an “Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Art,” when not less than 223 articles, including all sorts of vestments, incense, utensils, altar furniture, patterns of altars, images of bishops, fully and most gorgeously robed, and various other paraphernalia, were publicly exhibited, for the adoption of the clergy in conducting worship in the churches of this land. And only a few weeks ago the Rev. Orby Shipley, a leading ritualist in the Established Church, publicly proposed to erect in the metropolis of England what he calls an “Anglican Oratory”-a large modern church of “cathedral dimensions”-as a normal standard for general imitation, in which there shall be a constant round of services, conducted by 200 clergymen, whom he calls “ Catholic priests," who are to recite in turn all the Divine offices-evensong, vespers, compline, &c.; to hear confessions in the confessional ; perform “mass” at the given hour in the morning, and recite the hours, matins, texts, &c. Side altars are to be built for low masses, and the high mass sung on festivals must be of the highest type known to Catholic Christendom, being fully mediæval in the correctness of its use, and more than medieval in the richness, costliness, taste, and perfection of its details. There must also be the “ Asperges," the use of “ Introits," “ Gospel lights," "consecration lights and candles,” “altar bells," the “Lavabo,” and complete “Eucharistic vestments,” and, above all, the “ Reserved Presence on the high altar.”
This is speaking out. Incredulous England has been slow to believe what was meant. But here it is at length, openly avowed by its advocates ! Now all may see what fully-developed ritualism is. It is Popery, both in essence and in form ; and Popery is nothing but the bloated Pharisaism so sternly rebuked by our Lord—the Pharisaism which long beclouded the noble intellect of Paul, so that he could see only an impostor in the Saviour, but which, when Christ was found, he cast away as a filthy and offensive rag. Both in ancient times and now- in the corrupt Jewish Church, in the Roman Church, and the Anglican Church, ritualism is the devil's substitute for spiritual religion : a substitute which flourishes most as true religion dies; which declines as true religion revives. When our martyrs restored vital Christianity, they cast away tradition, and restored the authority of the Scriptures; they pulled down images, they abolished masses, they tore to tatters the vestments of super
stition, and lighted up afresh the pure flame of spiritual religion. Who, then, are they that seek to give us the inflated pomp and the meretricious ornaments of formalism for the pure, the saving, and soul-transforming religion of the Bible ? Protestants they are not; they repudiate the name! They claim affiliation with Rome, and they glory in her shame.
3. Paul as a Ritualist was devout.—Speaking of himself, he says: “I profited in the Jews religion above many my equals in mine own nation.” And again, “as touching the law, a Pharisee ;” “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” As a Jew, he strictly observed the ceremonies of his religion ; and as a Pharisee, he practically regarded the numerous formal rites which the sect had superadded to the Mosaic law. He did all this in sincerity, and in a religious spirit; with a view to please God; to work out for himself a perfect righteousness, and effectually secure his salvation. And he so far succeeded as to win a reputation, and to deem himself blameless in the external requirements of the law, and to become a proficient beyond many in attainments as a Pharisee. Doubtless he was one of the best of that class. But how different Paul's estimate of himself then from the estimate of God! And how different his own estimate of himself when once enlightened by the Word and Spirit of God! Yet all his self-deception was fostered by the traditions on which he relied. Solemnly admonitory is the case of Paul, it shows us how inefficient, yet how deceptive, is the strictest ritualism, and how far a man may proceed in delusion while serious in religion and devotional in his habits. The case of Paul at once exhibits the tendency of a system, and represents the condition of a numerous class. No doubt numbers of ritualists in our day are both sincere and devout, though profoundly mistaken. No doubt, indeed, many heathen are devout and conscientious“ feeling after a God unknown," anxious to find him, and wearily seeking him through the mists of superstition and false religion.
4. Paul was a Sanguinary Persecutor,--How affecting the testimony he gives against himself :-"A blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” “And many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” How tragic his career, as described in the sacred narrative; coldly standing by, and authorizing the martrydom of holy Stephen, and still “ breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the saints!”
All this was done under the influence of ritualism. It was not the spirit of the true Jewish religion that persecuted Christ. That religion, in the person of Simeon, welcomed him, and blessed God for the precious gift of his Son ; in the person of Anna it glorified God for him as the Redeemer of Israel; and in the person of Nathanael exclaimed, at the first interview with Christ, “ Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” And had the Pharisees followed the Scriptures instead of tradition, and possessed true religion instead of practising formalism, they would have been among the first to welcome him as the Messiah and the Saviour of the world. But those sanctimonious chiefs were the bitterest enemies of Christ. It was the religion of ritualism which awoke the rage of the Pharisees against the Saviour, and which burned in the bosom of Paul against his disciples. It inflamed the zeal he displayed in persecuting the Church, and nerved his arm to destroy the innocent disciples of Christ. It so perverted his understanding that he mistook murder for religion, and thought his energy in shedding the blood of saints was a meritorious act in the sight of God. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” The ritualism which flattered his selfrighteousness excited him to blasphemy against Christ, and covered the flaunting robes of the Pharisee with the blood of martyrs. But true spiritual religion, when once received, changed this fierce lion into a lamb.
It is remarkable how the history of spurious religion in the Jewish Church has repeated itself in the Church of Rome. A decayed piety originated tradition ; tradition begat ritualism ; ritualism flattered human depravity, and when fully matured engendered persecution, until finally we see the chaste virgin become a polluted harlot, drunk with the blood of saints. The ritualism of the National Church has not arrived at this stage, for it is not yet fully developed. It has, however, reached already two stages out of the three, and begins to show signs of advance towards the last one. Discordant sounds are already muttered, rejecting the name of Protestant, denouncing our noble reformers, dishonouring the names of our sainted martyrs, partially justifying the resistance of Rome, and sighing for a return to her polluted and bloody bosom. Is this religion? Is it not the caricature of genuine Christianity ? It is a foul slough which spiritual religion throws off in the regeneration of the soul. When Paul became converted, he cast off at once all his tradition, all his ritualism, all his persecution, and became a new creature in Christ Jesus, full of tenderness and love. The Church never became a persecutor while she was pure. It was when she put on the gaudy robes of ritualism that she drew the sword ; and more numerous have been her victims than those of the fiercest warrior that ever desolated our world ; and her victims have been the wisest and the best of mankind.
Let us now contemplate Paul's conversion from ritualism to true spiritual Christianity. By conversion, we mean a thorough change, not only in his opinions or creed, but in heart and life.
1. The first thing that strikes us is the fact that he needed Conversion. -All the Jews did not need conversion on their becoming Christians. Some were renewed, and in a state of salvation even while they were Jews. Such were the Virgin Mary, good old Simeon, Anna, Zacharias, Elisabeth, Nathanael, and others; for Judaism, spiritually observed, led men to Christ. It was intended to be the precursor of Christianity, even as John was the herald of Jesus; and all who observed it faithfully were looking for Christ as the Consolation of Israel before he came, and were prepared to receive him when he came. But ritualism was the antagonist of true Judaism, as much
as it was of Christianity, and made men the enemies of both. Such were the Pharisees, and such was Paul; and therefore both he and they needed conversion. It is a dreadful fact that many of the Pharisees never became converted, but died in their sins, as our Lord had solemnly foretold. But Paul was converted, and this fact, of itself, proves that he needed conversion ; and if he needed conversion, he was unrenewed before it took place. With all his supposed personal righteousness—with all his rigid ceremonialism, he was in a state of degeneracy and condemnation. Affecting proofs are these of the inadequacy of the most perfect ritualism to purify the heart.
2. The Conversion of Paul was the result of a Miraculous Interposition. And this was necessary, because of the deceptive influence of tradition and the hardening tendency of ritualism. Publicans, harlots, and profligates were convinced, aroused, and saved under the Redeemer's ministry; but the scribes and Pharisees—the men who professed to know, to teach, and obey the law, and assumed an extra sanctity, by the observance of rites and ceremonies, beyond what the law required—these punctilious ritualists were proof against all the instructions and admonitions of Christ. Secure in sacramental efficacy, they needed no change; inflated with self-righteousness, they required no merits but their own; and fortified by inveterate prejudices, they withstood all evidence, however powerful, of the Saviour's mission. Their eyes were closed against the light, their ears were insensible to all appeals, and their hearts were hardened to a flinty resistance of all the truths of the Redeemer's ministry; and even his miracles they ascribed to a diabolical agency. These men lived and died and perished in their ritualism; and so, in all probability, would Paul, had not a miraculous interposition startled him from his delusive dream. Paul was more sincere than the general brood of Pharisees, and possibly he had not heard our Lord's discourses nor seen his miracles; and therefore it was consistent with the Divine sovereignty to employ extraordinary means for his conversion,
The conversion of Paul was a great event, and to render it the more conspicuous he was arrested at the very height of his mad career as a public persecutor, and when rushing to Damascus on his mission of death. The event took place at noonday, and in the presence of witnesses. Suddenly a light surpassing the splendour of the sun flashes upon him and strikes him blind; and at the same moment he is laid prostrate on the earth by a voice like thunder. He hears one exclaiming, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ? And he said, Who art thou, Lord ? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the goads. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Led by the men who were with him he enters Damascus, no longer a persecutor, but a broken-hearted penitent; and was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink (Acts ix. 1—9.)
But during those three days of darkness what a mysterious light penetrated the dungeon of his soul, and what startling revelations rise before his astonished gaze! It is Jesus the crucified who has spoken to him; and therefore Jesus the crucified is alive, he is risen, he is exalted, and enthroned! If so, then he is the true Messiah, and his mission Divine; and if so, then his own life has been a miserable delusion and an awful tragedy. The hated Christianity is true. It is the Desire of nations, the Son of God, the Prince of Life and Glory, the Saviour of the world, whom he and his nation have despised and crucified as an impostor and a malefactor! It is his faithful and loving disciples whom he himself has hunted down with relentless fury and put to death. How the spectres of murdered saints flit before his imagination, and what a crowd of alarming convictions rush upon his mind, scattering his false hopes and crushing his pride in the dust! How could his life be righteous,' thus stained with innocent blood ? How could his heart be pure, which had cherished such malign and cruel passions ? How could those traditions and those views of religion be true, which were thus found in antagonism with God, with all the teachings of his prophets, with all the purposes of his wisdom and mercy, and the glorious mission of his well-beloved Son: Impossible. The mirage is now dissolved, the spell is broken, the ruinous deception of his past life is disclosed. His gaudy robes of righteousness are turned into filthy rags; his boasting is exchanged for self-loathing and reproaches. He sees himself self-deluded and self-ruined ; condemned and accursed by the law in which he had made his boast, and exposed to the fiery indignation of a just and holy God. What shame and confusion, what guilt and remorse, must have filled his wretched soul when these solemn convictions flashed upon his conscience! Horror must have seized him, and the pains of hell gat hold upon him, and the gloom of utter despair would have settled upon his dark spirit, but for the hopeful words which Jesus spoke when he met him on the way.
3. In his Conversion personal Prayer was a Necessary Condition. -“Behold, he prayeth,” and Heaven notes the change. This is a new exercise with him-he had never prayed before. He had uttered lengthy words, had offered numerous sacrifices, and performed countless ceremonies; but never till now uttered the sighs of a broken heart; never implored mercy from a consciousness of guilt; never sought the cleansing and renewing power of the Holy Spirit. But now he prays in earnest. The proud Pharisee is become a penitent publican, and pleads for mercy with tears and agonizing supplication. Prayer implies voluntary submission to God, and the use of appointed means. Without this his miraculous arrest would have been ineffectual. But with this he cannot pray in vain. The despised Saviour hears, and, lo! a heaven-sent messenger of mercy appears, and loving words salute his ears-“Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me unto thee, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales : and he arose and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts ix. 10—20). In his baptism we see his trust in Christ as his only Saviour, and his full consecration to God; in his consorting with the disciples we see his