A BRIEF AND IMPARTIAL ACCOUNT OF THE NATURE OF THE PROTESTANT RELIGION
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ITS PRESENT STATE IN THE WORLD; ITS STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS; WITH THE WAYS AND INDICATIONS OF THE RUIN OR CONTINUANCE OF ITS PUBLIC NATIONAL PROFESSION.
BY A PROTESTANT 1682 PREFATORY NOTE.
WHETHER we regard the deep sagacity pervading this treatise; the calm and nervous dignity of its reasonings; the statesman-like view it gives of the condition and prospects of the Protestant cause; or the noble strain with which it concludes, of confidence in God and the ultimate triumph of his cause, amid all the fears and forebodings which the author had been led to entertain, — we are inclined to ascribe to it a pre-eminent value among the smaller productions of Dr. Owen. It is very far from being of merely ephemeral interest. It was reprinted in 1822, when the claims of the Roman Catholics to be admitted into Parliament were under discussion. To this edition there was prefixed a letter, addressed to Mr Wilberforce, by Bishop Burgess; and from the following extract it will be seen in what estimation that accomplished prelate held this brief treatise: “The extensive knowledge, the powerful intellect, the ardent piety of Dr. Owen, are too well known to you to require eulogium or recommendation. The little tract which I have reprinted, and which I am desirous of submitting to your perusal, is distinguished by all his talents, and is calculated to excite feelings superior to any considerations of partial and temporary policy.”
I. The first part of the tract is occupied with an account of the Protestant religion, — generally, in its origin and principles; and then more particularly, as it is opposed to Popery. He specifies the four essential elements in Protestantism, from which the Reformation took its rise and character: — 1. Some great apostasy had been foretold in Scripture; 2. The Church of Rome embodied this predicted apostasy; 3. All true Christians were bound to separate from this antichristian church; and, 4. It was their duty not merely to separate from it, but to maintain a public protest against its errors and abominations.
II. Then follows an account of the way in which Protestantism had arisen; of the costly sacrifices made in order that it might be established, its martyrs exceeding in number those who had fallen under the Pagan persecutions; and, lastly, of the happy effects which had ensued from the Reformation, not merely to Protestant nations, but even in countries where though Popery still reigned, it was held in check by the contiguity of Protestant light and freedom, and the possibility that now existed of turning against it “the balance of power.”
IV. Then follows a discussion of the probable way in which the Papacy may regain predominance; — either by defection, or force, or reconciliation. The author dwells chiefly on the danger to be apprehended frown the last source, inasmuch as some learned men now conceded a patriarchal primacy to the Bishop of Rome; novel opinions had been widely spread, which, so far as they set aside the doctrines of grace, narrowed the difference between Popery and Protestantism; it was now denied that the Pope was Antichrist; atheism prevailed; vital religion was at a low ebb; the clergy, losing confidence in the spiritual power of truth, sought to retain their influence over the people by recourse to superstitious expedients and appliances, such as Romanism sanctions; and, lastly, forgetfulness of the persecuting spirit of Popery induced many to bethink themselves of an “ecclesiastical coalescency with the Church of Rome.”
V. The folly and wickedness of such a movement are exposed. The tract closes by stating the grounds of hope amid prevailing discouragements, and the true means for the preservation of Protestantism, — in prayer, union, and repentance.
The works of Owen are commonly more exhaustive than suggestive; but the following tract is an exception to the truth of the remark, and no analysis can do justice to the range of thought embraced in it. His views as to the danger of reconciliation being attempted with Rome may be thought extravagant, but accord with an apprehension entertained by many British Protestants at the time, and which there was much to justify in the notorious leanings of the Court. See “Neal’s History,” vol. 4 458, 463.
Louis Du Moulin, professor of History at Oxford, published in 1680 “A Short and True Account of the Several Advances the Church of England hath made towards Rome; or, a model of the grounds upon which the Papists for these hundred years have built their hopes and expectations that England would ere long return to Popery.” While no authors have done more effective service in the controversy with Rome than Tillotson, Tenison, Stillingfleet, and other divines of the English Church, the necessity which they felt to engage in a vigorous exposure of the errors of Popery, as well as the spirit and scope of their treatises in many instances, indicate that they too wrote under feelings of alarm lest, through the Romanizing policy of the Court, the Anglican Establishment should revert to the Papacy. —ED.