Page images
PDF
EPUB

Ghost, taught in the church, and secured it against error. Now, it is mainly upon this principle, that the Catholic bases his belief in the doctrine of purgatory; yet not so-as I shall just now show you—but that the principle is laid down, indirectly at least, in the word of God.

In order to examine the proofs of this belief, it is necessary to connect it with another practice of the Catholics, and that is the practice of PRAYING FOR THE DEAD: for that practice is essentially based upon the belief in purgatory, and the two, consequently, must be necessarily proved together. Why does the Catholic pray for his departed friend, except he believes it possible, and, indeed probable, that, not having died in such a pure state as to have been worthy to be admitted immediately into the sight of God; believing, likewise, that he may not have expiated the punishment which God reserves after he has forgiven sin; be believes it possible that he may be at that moment in a state of purgation which God has appointed for cleansing away those lesser stains; and, consequently, that his prayers, through the communion of saints, may have power and virtue before God, for benefitting his friend in that distressed situation. The two doctrines, therefore, go together so far as this, that if the one be proved, at least if the second one be demonstrated, the other necessarily follows upon it. If we prove that it has always been the belief of the church of Christ, that those who were departed might be benefitted by our prayers; that they might be brought into the sight of God, which they should not otherwise enjoy, (at the same time, it was well known that it was the universal belief, that those who have incurred eternal punishment, cannot be released from it) we assuredly have demonstrated the same belief as ours; that there was a middle state wherein the face of God was not enjoyed, and yet eternal punishment was not suffered; and, indeed, we shall find the two so necessarily united together, that they are spoken of in common. Those passages, from the oldest writers, which treat of the propriety of praying for the departed, give us reason to believe that we are able by our prayers to release them from the state of such suffering.

But we begin with the word of God. There is a passage with which, probably, most of you who have ever looked to this subject, are well acquainted. It is a passage in the second book of Maccabees, in which we are told, that Judas made a collection, and sent 12,000 drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice, to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For, if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is, therefore, a wholesome and holy thought to pray for the dead ; that they may be loosed from sins.” Many will say, that the second book of Maccabees is not Scripture ; it

does not come within the canon. I will waive that enquiry for the present; it would be very easy to prove that it has a right to be put into the canon on the same grounds whereon any other books of the Old and New Testament, but especially some books of the New Testament, are received—that it is quoted as Scripture by the fathers, and that it is enumerated in the canons of Scripture, by those councils which first drew up the canon that is now received. But, however, let us waive the consideration, for it would lead us aside into quite another enquiry. The book is owned by all to be a work containing sound and edifying doctrine: for even the church of England prescribes what it calls the Apocrypha, to be read for the instruction of men; and, consequently, we may suppose that it does not believe the doctrines it contains are opposite to the doctrines of Christ. But, my brethren, no one will pretend to deny, that this is an historical work of considerable value, and that being written at the time, it represents to us faithfully what the Jews believed and practised at that period. It shews us, therefore, that in the time of Maccabees, it was the persuasion, it was the conviction of the Jews that prayers were to be offered for the dead, and that they were benefitted by them, and that it was a holy and a wholesome thing to do so. We have, therefore, the belief of the Jewish church, and its practice for that purpose. Does our Saviour ever once reprove this custom or belief of the Jews ? Does he ever, when he speaks so severely of the false traditions of the pharisees, and of the way in which they had destroyed the very law of God-does he ever once intimate that this is one of the corruptions that had been brought in by time among the institutions of God.

But, you will say, are there any other testimonies to this besides that of the practice of the Jews ?” Most assuredly, for the Jews, who never could be suspected of having drawn any doctrines from Christianity, have continued the practice in every age, and practise it at this moment; and it is prescribed in the ordinary prayer-book of the Jews, that every day they shall say a prayer for the dead, which is here laid down. We have it in the oldest writers and commentators. Dr. Lightfoot, after quoting passages from their earliest writers, showing the belief that the dead would be benefitted by the prayers of the living, and that it was the duty of the living to intercede for them, he says, In this point the Jewish church seems to have taken its doctrine from the Romish.” He acknowledges that they agree perfectly with the Catholic doctrine; but, surely, it would bave been more honest and more fair, to prove when and how this doctrine was received by them from the Catholic church. But, if we find that they practised it before the time of our Saviour, and that they bave continued the practice ever since, we have a right to consider it a doctrine received by the Jews

before the coming of Christ, and we find it was never once reproved or blamed by him.

Now where matters do not depend upon a mere legal institution, and there is nothing done to abrogate them, we must consider that the doctrines remain unchanged. It is only upon this ground, that several of the moral precepts of the old law are preserved in the church: it is only upon this very ground, that the practice of observing the Sabbath or Sunday, with such rigour, is enjoined in this country; and it is from this, that those who are so zealous for its being kept with such great rigour, derive their authority for this being the proper method of observing it. If it is not from the fact that God prescribes its observance in the old law, on what ground is it continued in the new law? They would answer, that it is not a tbing of mere legal institution, that it is in the nature of the thing itself that the Sabbath has been thus appointed to be kept. I contend, that the method in which this argument under consideration must necessarily be conducted, is exactly the same as that here employed. If it was firmly believed by the Jews, by the writer of this book, by Judas Maccabæus, by the priests who offered up the sacrifice, and the holy men who joined together to present the sacrifice of twelve thousand drachms of silver; if it was believed among the Jews that this, in some measure, did assist the dead after they departed, their souls, consequently, must have been in a state, not of final or eternal condemnation, and yet not in a state of complete enjoyment. And if we find that there is nothing in the new law to reprobate this doctrine, and that it is based upon a consideration of God's justice and the course of ordinary providence, we must suppose that the same continues at present; and we must suppose that the doctrine which was so universally held then, and never once blamed, was correct, and, consequently, as it does not affect any outward practice which was modified by the new law, it continues to be correct as yet. If, therefore, prayers benefitted the dead of old, and saerifices too, they must continue to benefit them as much in the new law. Nay, why not a great deal more so ? Is not the communion of all the members of Christ's church infinitely stronger than it was of old ? Are not the merits of Christ infinitely more able to assist ? And what reason have we to think, that such a beautiful and consoling communion as that between those who have de ted, in grace indeed, but yet slightly stained, and those who remain on earth, and are able to pray for others, should be broken, and not rather strengtbened in the new law ?

But let us proceed still further into our examination of the new law in this regard. Our blessed Saviour distinguishes two characters of sin. He says, that "there is a sin against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.” There is a distinction therefore of sins : there is one sin not to be

forgiven in the next world. Should we not then conclude, that some sins may be forgiven in the next world? What is the meaning of giving some sins that peculiar character of aggravation, that they are not to be forgiven in the next world, if no sins are to be forgiven in the next world ? Surely we naturally have a right to conclude, that there is some remission of sin in the world to come. Yet it cannot be in heaven, neither can it be in eternal punishment. We must suppose, therefore, a third state, some state in which this can take place; and thus, so far from seeing the former opinions, the former belief rejected, we see it strongly confirmed by our Saviour himself.

Again, we are told, that “there shall not enter into heaven anything that defileth, or that worketh abomination, or that maketh a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the lamb.” Nothing, therefore, that defileth can possibly enter to eternal glory. Suppose an individual dies who has committed some small transgression; he cannot enter into heaven in this state, and yet you cannot suppose that he is to be condemned for ever. What then is to be done? There must be, surely, some place where he is to be purged and cleansed from these faults, from these transgressions, so as to be qualified for entering on the glory of God. There are some persons who say, that God forgives all sin at the moment of death. Where is the warrant for it? Where do we read this, because it is an important question; and if you suppose that God, at the moment of death, or any other time, at once forgives the smaller transgressions of the sinner, you must be able to show the authority in his word (for you admit no authority but his word) for such an important institution. If you do not find anything of the sort there, when you see, on the one hand, that sins are forgiven in the next world; and when you find on the other, that no one can enter with the smallest stain into heaven, you must suppose that purgation is possible in the next world, that sin may be forgiven, and there must be some means whereby the sinner, who is not worthy of eternal flames, is cleansed and prepared for the enjoyment of the sight of God.

I pass over two or three other texts which are brought in favour of purgatory, because on one particular I shall bave occasion to introduce them a little later. These texts you will say are obscure, that is to say, they lead to no definite result. We are not told how the thing is to be done-we are not told the place where it is done—the name of purgatory never occurs in Scripture. True, but we have a principle laid down which manifestly requires a strong elucidation, and where shall we look for that but in the authority of the church from the beginning of time? Take any example you please. Baptism is prescribed in the word of God: the apostles are told “ to baptize all nations.” It is said, indeed, that whole families were baptized. How do you prove from all this that infants may be baptized? The articles of the Church

of England content themselves with saying, “ that the baptizing of infants is to be retained.” Where is the scriptural warrant for it? You may say that Scripture says families were baptized, and probably there may have been children among them. There may, but you are not certain that there were. But how is the doctrine really and truly of infant baptism established ? Upon no other ground than that from the beginning the church had held that baptism was an institution applicable to children; therefore, when we find it not merely laid down that there is a place of purgation, but find it said, that there is forgiveness of sin in the next world ; and when we find it said, that prayers are beneficial for those who are dead; when we find it said, that nothing that defileth can enter heaven, and yet we know that it is incompatible with God's justice that every defilement should be condemned to eternal punishment, we see we have a doctrine evidently in its germ, which only requires unfolding--that we have the binge, the base, the ground-work; and as in the case of baptism, we only require a traditional corroboration, or rather explanation, to satisfy us that these texts bear us to the extent which we say. Now nothing can be more easy than to establish the belief of the church universal on this point, and, indeed, of the church from the earliest times. The only difficulty is the selection from many passages of those which may appear the clearest. i

We begin with the very earliest fathers of the Latin church. Ter. tullian advises “ a widow to pray for the soul of her departed husband, intreating repose to him, and a participation in the first resurrection, and making oblations for him on the anniversary-day of his death, which, if she neglect, it may be truly said of her, that so far as in her lies, she hath divorced her husband.” To make oblations on the anniversary-day of his death ; to pray that he may have repose, supposes that he may be in a state which requires repose, and in which he may be benefitted by her prayers; and it is not only recommended, but inculcated as a duty.

St. Cyprian again, one of the oldest writers of the Latin church, says, “ Our predecessors prudently advised, that no brother, departing this life, should nominate any churchman bis executor; and should he do it, that no oblation should be made for him, nor sacrifice offered for his repose; of which we bave a late example, when no oblation was made, nor prayer in his name, offered in the church.” It was considered, therefore, a severe punishment, when it was enjoined that prayers and sacrifices should not be offered up for anyone who had violated ecclesiastical law. There are many other passages in this father wbich are very strong; but I proceed to another testimony in the same century, that of Origen, than whom no one can be clearer regarding this doctrine. He says, “ When we depart this life, if we take with us

« PreviousContinue »