Dr. John H. Rice, with the intuition of a great mind, warned Presbyterians against a renewed prevalence of popery in our Protestant land. This was when it was so insignificant among us as to be almost unnoticed.
Many were surprised at his prophecy, and not a few mocked; but time has fulfilled it. Our leaders from 1830 to 1860 understood well the causes of this danger. They were diligent to inform and prepare the minds of their people against it. Hence General Assemblies and Synods appointed annual sermons upon popery, and our teachers did their best to arouse the minds of the people.
Now, all this has mainly passed away, and we are relaxing our resistance against the dreaded foe just in proportion as he grows more formidable. It has become the fashion to condemn controversy and to affect the widest charity for this and all other foes of Christ and of souls. High Presbyterian authority even is quoted as saying, that henceforth our concern with Romanism should be chiefly irenical! The figures presented by the census of 1890 are construed in opposite ways. This gives the papists more than fourteen millions of adherents in the United States, where ninety years ago there were but a few thousands. Such Protestant journals as think it their interest to play sycophants to public opinion try to persuade us that these figures are very consoling; because, if Rome had kept all the natural increase of her immigrations the numbers would have been larger. But Rome points to them with insolent triumph as prognostics of an assured victory over Protestantism on this continent. Which will prove correct?
For Presbyterians of all others to discount the perpetual danger from Romanism is thoroughly thoughtless and rash. We believe that the Christianity left by the apostles to the primitive church was essentially what we now call Presbyterian and Protestant. Prelacy and popery speedily began to work in the bosom of that community and steadily wrought its corruption and almost its total extirpation. Why should not the same cause tend to work the same result again? Are we truer or wiser Presbyterians than those trained by the apostles? Have the enemies of truth become less skillful and dangerous by gaining the experience of centuries? The popish system of ritual and doctrine was a gradual growth, which, modifying true Christianity, first perverted and then extinguished it. its destructive power has resulted from this: that it has not been the invention of any one cunning and hostile mind, but a gradual growth, modified by hundreds or thousands of its cultivators, who were the most acute, learned, selfish, and anti-Christian spirits of their generations, perpetually retouched and adapted to every weakness and every attribute of depraved human nature, until it became the most skillful and pernicious system of error which the world has ever known. As it has adjusted itself to every superstition, every sense of guilt, every foible and craving of the depraved human heart, so it has travestied with consummate skill every active principle of the Gospel. It is doubtless the ne plus ultra of religious delusion, the final and highest result of perverted human faculty guided by the sagacity of the great enemy.
This system has nearly conquered Christendom once. He who does not see that it is capable of conquering it again is blind to the simplest laws of thought. One may ask, Does it not retain sundry of the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel, monotheism, the trinity, the hypostatic union, Christs sacrifice, the sacraments, the resurrection, the judgment, immortality? Yes; in form it retains them, and this because of its supreme cunning. It retains them while so wresting and enervating as to rob them mainly of their sanctifying power, because it designs to spread its snares for all sorts of minds of every grade of opinion. The grand architect was too cunning to make it, like his earlier essays, mere atheism, or mere fetishism, or mere polytheism, or mere pagan idolatry; for in these forms the trap only ensnared the coarser and more ignorant natures. He has now perfected it and baited it for all types of humanity, the most refined as well as the most imbruted.
I. Romanism now enjoys in our country certain important advantages, which I may style legitimate, in this sense, that our decadent, half-corrupted Protestantism bestows these advantages upon our enemy, so that Rome, in employing them, only uses what we ourselves give her. In other words, there are plain points upon which Rome claims a favorable comparison as against Protestantism; and her claim is correct, in that the latter is blindly and criminally betraying her own interests and duties.