Page images

of judgments! Great generals too, and emperors, were raised up; and most ambitious rivals came to the thrones of powerful nations. Charles the Fifth, king of Spain, was now elected to fill the imperial throne of Germany; fitted with talents, and dominion, to be a scourge to the age. Francis First, a violent competitor with Charles for the Germanic crown, was on the throne of France; and Henry Eighth, formed for objects of ambition, was on the throne of England; while the warlike Solyman was on the throne of the Turks. Such a preparation of executioners of divine judgments (at the time the art of printing was becoming more improved) could not have been provided and stationed at their posts, without vast design in Providence. It is thus a notorious fact, that the sixteenth century opened with indubitable prospects of new systems of most interesting events.


The pope himself (till now unshaken in his impious confidence,) was, at the view of these things, deeply troubled, and predicted the approaching ruin of the papal see. this period then, we turn our eyes, in full confidence of here finding the commencement of the vials of " the seven last plagues."


Vial I.


Ver. 2. And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.

It has been shown, that early in the sixteenth century was the time when the judgment of the vials commenced. That things had been in a manifest preparation for such

an event; and the first vial exhibited popery to the world as a most deadly, filthy system of false religion. Martin Luther, a pious Augustine monk, a man of the first natural and acquired abilities, and Professor of Philosophy in the University of Wittemberg, became disgusted and alarmed at the general wickedness of the papal see; and especially at the blasphemous vending of indulgences to sin, with sealed diplomas by Leo X. in the name of Christ; and Luther raised his warning voice against it in 1517. This opened a series of events, which fulfilled the first vial, and were to issue in the overthrow of popery. Luther, commencing with this enormity, was led to discover and expose the horrid train of abominations in the papal system. Powerful men were led to engage with him in this work of Reformation; and God gave them astonishing success. The history of the Reformation is of deep interest. But a few particulars of it can be given in this lecture.

Great attention was soon paid to the labours and remonstrances of Luther, by first characters, who had long been vexed to see vast collections of money taken from the people, and at such horrid expense of their morals, and all under the cloak of religion. These things had prepared the way to engage the attention of thousands to the warning voice of Luther; and his proselytes became


Attempts were made by the papal authority to silence Luther, and to extinguish this light; but in vain. The pope then thundered against him his bull of excommunication, and demanded against him an execution of the law against heretics. Upon this, Luther committed this papal bull to the flames, with his own papal books; and declared the pope to be the Man of Sin. Charles V. had come to the imperial German throne: and, at a diet of German princes at Worms, called to suppress these new commotions, he laboured to procure the destruction of Luther; who upon this, deemed it expedient to retire, for a time, from public view. In this retreat, he translated the Bible into the German language, which proved of infinite service to the Reformation. The pope and his posse now discovered their full determination to crush this northern heresy, so called. But a watchful Providence soon furnished them with other employment, with which they could not dispense. A war broke out between Charles

and Francis I. king of France, of which Italy was the bloody theatre for half a century, as will be shown under the next vial; which opened upon the sea, and turned it to blood. This prevented the pope, Charles, and the papal powers, from crushing the Reformation; which otherwise it seems that they would have done with great readiness and ease. The pope, in this terrible scene of war between his two darling papal sons, Charles V. and Francis I., found himself scorched between two fires, as Italy became the seat of their contest. He was found dangling between them; sometimes in alliance with the one, and sometimes with the other; and despised by both these turbulent sons of his own communion.

In these continual scenes of vexation and danger, he found business enough, without interfering, to any effectual degree, with the reforming operations of Luther. And, so urgent and precarious were the affairs of Charles, that he dared not provoke the German princes who favoured the Reformation. Indeed, Charles himself (being often embroiled and vexed with the intrigues of the pope, who at times was siding with Francis against him), often secretly rejoiced to see the abominations of the papal see exposed, and its influence thus curtailed. Repeatedly Charles (as great a Catholic bigot as he was,) put to his helping hand to expose the vile duplicities of the holy father; He even published these duplicities, and exhorted the College of cardinals to manifest their care for the church, when it was (as he expressed it) "so shamefully neglected by its chief pastor!" These things flew over Germany, and confirmed the truth of the charges of the reformers against papal corruptions: and a number of great and free cities openly declared for the Reformation. Great advantages were on the side of the reformers, in point of erudition, purity and force of writing, industry, and every thing that commanded respect. The reformers had in this a commanding advantage over the illiterate monks, their rude arguments, and barbarous style. Erasmus, of high literature and wit, learning the abominations of popery, turned all his power of satire against it. The Landgrave of Hesse, the Elector of Saxony, and of Brandenberg, and the Prince of Anhalt, renounced the papal see, and embraced the reformed religion. The pope now, roused by his perplexities, demanded a diet for the destruction of

Luther, and the suppression of the Reformation. But the German princes replied, that they could not obey his order; for a reformation, in his system, was indispensable; and that so many had embraced the doctrines of the Reformation, that any violent measures against them would be full of danger. A diet was, however, convened at Nuremberg; but there a remonstrance of one hundred articles was drawn up against the enormities of popery. The pope's nuncio, then present, and beholding what was done, fled, without formal leave, lest he should be obliged to be the bearer of such tidings to his master. The ecclesiastical princes also, withdrew from such an exposure of their corruptions. In these hundred charges of the secular princes against the papal see, the most scandalous abominations were exposed, together with the indecent and profligate lives of the papal clergy. And the remonstrance concluded by declaring, "that if the Holy See did not speedily deliver them from these intolerable burdens, they had determined to endure them no longer; and they would employ the power with which God had intrusted them, to procure relief." Thus the pope was defeated and confounded; and a bright contrast was exhibited with all the long antecedent triumphs of corruption in that hateful system, reigning over the kings of the earth." This diet, instead of crushing the Reformation, as the pope designed, took a most effectual step to uncover the filthy ulcer on the men who had the mark of the beast. By such authority were the fatal abominations of that system exposed to the world; and the event opened the eyes of millions with a wonderful rapidity. They were astonished to behold the insufferable abominations of a system, which they had so long held in the highest veneration. And, to deepen this sore, this incurable ulcer of abominations, Pope Adrian (who succeeded the scandalous Leo X.) confessed and bewailed them, and engaged to do all in his power to reform them. And the consequence was, that Adrian suddenly died; and to the door of his chief physician there was shamelessly fixed the inscription, "To the deliverer of his country!" thus glorying in the fact, that this reforming pope fell by the hand of a murderer. These things had their effect in exhibiting to the nations the fatal corruption of the papal see.


Almost half the Germanic body now revolted from the

abominable system; and suppressed its rites in their dominions; establishing in their room those of the reformed religion. And in cities, where this was not the case, the cause of popery sickened well nigh unto death. The emperor Charles was troubled at this prevalence of the Reformation; for he viewed it unfavourable to his ambitious plan of usurping full dominion over the princes of Germany, which he had long contemplated. He hence assembled a diet at Spires in 1529, and demanded an order that the innovations in religion should proceed no further, till there should be a meeting of a general council. After much debate, his order was carried by a majority of votes. Upon this, the Elector of Saxony, the Margrave of Brandenberg, the Landgrave of Hesse, the Duke of Lunenberg, the Prince of Anhalt, and the deputies of fourteen imperial cities, entered their solemn protest against this decree; and hence obtained the name of Protestants. Charles continued his attempts against the protestants; upon which they entered into a solemn league of defence, and formed an alliance with the king of France, and with Henry VIII., king of England. With the protestants these kings confederated, not so much to aid the Reformation, as to cramp their great rival Charles. This league of Smalcald was afterwards renewed, and far greater numbers united in it. So mightily was the sore of the man of sin widened, and exhibited as incurably fatal.

The pope still hoped to crush the Reformation. And, that he might attempt it with a better grace, he professed to set about a reformation in his own system. For this purpose, he commissioned a college of cardinals and bishops, to investigate this subject, and report some plan of reform. In this duty, they were reluctant, slow, remiss. Manifest evils they touched with a gentle hand, afraid to probe deeply the fatal sore. Enormities they could not but expose; yet their proposed remedies were either inadequate, or were never applied. Their report was designed to be kept a secret in the court of Rome. But it got air, reached Germany, was made public, and afforded the protestants much matter of triumph. It added vast weight to their remonstrances, and showed that it was in vain to expect a reformation from Romanists. Luther remarked upon it, that "they only piddled at curing warts;

« PreviousContinue »