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There never existed on earth such a frightful vortex of corruption as that which raged in Rome during the awful and gloomy period which elapsed between the death of Augustus and the accession of Trajan. It swallowed up all private and public principles. Treachery, faithlessness and infamy of every description dispelled and supplanted every domestic virtue and every trace of patriotism. Every thing succumbed to the prevailing abandonments, and chance alone preserved the treasures of the past literary zenith.
METHODISM BY INSKIP.
Methodism explained and defended by J. S. Inskip. Cincinnati: H. S. &
J. Applegate. 1851.
In 1501 a young student at Erfurth, found a bible! A rare book indeed, to be found at a theological university; and one which the professors themselves had never seen, nor did they know that such a book was in existence. A few scraps and detached portions of the Word of God were known, and used by them in their daily devotions. But that the word of the Most High contained so many books; so many chapters, and was so voluminous, who had ever dreamed of such a thing ! At the moment Luther seized upon the treasure, it seems, he first opened and commenced reading at the history of the young Samuel. His heart leaped within him 'for joy. “Oh, if I had a book like this for my own!” he thought; and he snatched every leisure moment he could from his regular studies, and, in the old musty, rusty library, devoured eagerly, portions of the sacred pages.
Here Methodism began. Not the name of it, but the thing itself. Here began the first revival of Religion, proper. And if the essence of Methodism is any thing more than religion revived, or resuscitated, in its pure element of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ, in contra-distinction to religion dependent, in some form, or to some extent, upon men, or forms, or institutions, or things, we have yet to learn it.
In that most memorable of all struggles for truth and principle which the world has witnessed since the days of the A postles, in which, for a long and fearful time one man stood against the world, and then for a long time, Luther and Melancthon in Germany, Zwingle and Æcolampadius in Switzerland, and Lefevre and Farel in France, stood against the world in a more organized and belligerent form ; in all this struggle, of more than thirty years, which shook Europe to its very centre, there was but one single question at issue ; FAITH IN Christ or FAITH IN THE PRIESTS ; or, in other words, the vital Godliness of Christianity on the one hand, and a religion, dependent upon forms and usages and men and institutions, on the other. The simple essence of Christianity ; faith in Christ; direct, immediate ; unincumbered with human forms and human things, is Methodism, whether we find it displayed or set forth in Luther's sermon at Wittemburg ; or, “ Thou shalt have no other Gods before me" or in Wesley on Eph. 2:8. Methodism has two constituents, and but two; first, simple faith in Christ, unincumbered with forms and things; and secondly, a zeal of God according to knowledge, to enforce it.
"As soon as salvation was taken out of the hands of God it fell into the hands of the priests.” That is a very true saying. And what did the priests do with it? They turned it to the best account; they formed it into merchandise, and moulded it into the most convenient and portable form, and sold it in the best markets, at the most profitable rates. The leading article of commerce in the markets, in Europe, at this time, was salvation. The priests and their pedlars could sell you salvation from past sins, or salvation from intended crimes, to suit the trade ; and in quantities to accommodate purchasers. Salvation, parceled out; put up for market, either to order or for the market generally, was called indulgences, by way of commercial distinction; sometimes they were sold at auction, sometimes at private sale. It was, however, according to the church, the easiest thing in the world to get to heaven. Only a few florins, and the benefit is secured.
And not only could they sell you a place in heaven for yourself, but for your deceased friends who were now in purgatory. Pay up the money and the arrangement shall instantly be made. Thus did thousands upon thousands of poor deluded creatures pay their money by the handful to a corrupt and vagabond pope, and to, if possible, a still more corrupt and vagabond priesthood, to support them in luxury, idleness and licentiousness. It is hard now to believe the plain simple truths of history; that this was the common, ruling, popular religion, but three centuries ago ; when God raised up Luther and his followers to teach salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
But the great reformer, like Abraham, went out, not knowing whither he went. He had no idea of a reformation, in any general or extended sense of that term. He wanted to resuscitate or revive religion among a few of his fellow students in the university at Wittemburg. But the Lord led him on, step by step, and Providence opened its ways before him. Position after position appeared before him, and God nerved him with zeal and resolution to enable him to occupy them. The power of God was all the while in the gospel, but human agency was necessary in the plan of God's merciful dealings with men to operate upon human persons, so as to give motion and scope and impetus to that power.
But the irreligion of popery is no worse than the irreligion of Protestantism. Irreligion is the substitution of something else for faith in Christ. And it is immaterial whether it assume the form of the sale of indulgences, or of indulgence in livings and benefices.
The reforination in Germany commenced with the sixteenth century; and it did wonders. It battled hard and long with the corruptest corruption. It cut and hewed and lopped off the roughest excrescences that ever grew upon mortality. The pages of its history will astonish men in all time. But that there were some elements of a true and thorough reformation, that it did not fully embody and carry out in succeeding times, is no marvel; the wonder is that it embodied and carried out so many under the circumstances. In fact, it is quite probable that the German and French and Swiss reformers brought religion as near to pure simple Methodism, with the exception of a few errors in mere doctrine, as the political state of the world would allow.
The good providence of God relieved England of one of the worst men it ever . possessed, Henry VIII., in the year 1547, which gave good men there an opportunity to think seriously of planting true religion in their country too, and they set about earnestly to do so, under the auspices of Edward VI., a very different sort of man from his corrupt and vicious father. But alas, he lived but six years; and popery and blood again found an advocate in his successor Mary, the daughter of Catharine, for the five succeeding years; when in the wiser and more pacific reign of Elizabeth, the form of state religion, which England still has, was established.
But the Reformation had to meet difficulties it did not look for. In its earlier history its very existence seemed to depend tipon its connection, in some way, with the affairs of the state; and now, in subsequent years, this very connection threatened it seriously, at times, with destruction. The combination of princes and other ecclesiastical dignitaries, in the condition in which Europe was, at least up to the middle of the last century, was exceedingly hostile and disadvantageous to piety in any ecclesiastical form.
Partly from the force of circumstances, and partly from overlooking the simple nature of pure Christianity, unconnected with its forms and external appendages, the various reformed churches in Europe, up to and beyond the middle of the eighteenth century, seemed, each one of them, to have something else to do; some other matters to regulate; some other ends to accomplish, either political or ecclesiastical, than to promote simple godliness in the hearts of the people. Religion unendowed, unestablished, with no state garb of distinction in which to exhibit itself, and in virtue of which to claim respect and attention, did not comport with the times. And hence, the more religion was established, or, in this respect cared for, the more it declined.
David Simpson was a man of talent, and was unquestionably one of the purest and holiest men in the church of England at the close of the last century. Hear him:
“What a curse have the priests of Christendom been to Christendom! How many precious souls have been led into the pit of destruction by an ungodly: superstitious and idolatrous priesthood! I was almost going to say that we parsons have been the means of damning more souls than ever we were a mean of saving! From our profession it is that iniquity diffuses itself through every land! God forgive us! We have been too bad! Iostead of being a blessing, and spreading health and salvation through the patiens, as is the undoubted design of the gospel of Christ, and the Christian ministry, we have been playing into each others hands, and have erected a huge fabric of worldly dominion for ourselves.” * * * *
“ To our shame be it spoken, with half our literary attainments, we suffer the Methodists, and several of the Dissenters, to outdo us exceedingly in rare and positive usefulness to mankind. We let the cause of Christ suffer and lose ground in our hands. * * mine * * We must either awake from our lethargic state and return to evangelical principles and practices, or all is lost. Most of the higher ranks of society in this country, both among the clergy and laity, have forsaken the gospel scheme of saving a ruined world ; and it is exceedingly probable the Supreme Head of the church will ere long remove our candlestick, lay aside the great body of us parsons as a useless set of men, and deprive us of those means of grace which we have so long enjoyed to so little purpose. The neglect of the Son and Spirit of God is the master sin of Christendom. * * *
“We promote the interests of satan more effectually by our indolence, worldly mindedness, lukewarmness and misconduct, than all the wicked and immoral characters in the kingdom put together."
Bishop Burnet, in his History of his own times, says: " I have lamented during my whole life that I saw so little true zeal among our clergy. The Dissenters have a great deal more among them : but I must own that the main body of our clergy has always appeared dead and lifeless to me; and instead of animating one another, they seem rather to lay one another asleep."