To the Rev. C. E. Swope,
Rector of Mt. Calvary Church:
Dear Sir:--We believe that we express the general desire of those who listened to your sermon on Sunday morning last,--the Feast of the Annunciation,--when we ask that you will consent to its being printed.
Hoping that you may be disposed to gratify the desire of all those with whom we have conversed on the subject, we respectfully request you to furnish us with a copy of it for publication.
Very faithfully and truly yours,
WM. B. DUVALL,
CHARLES C. GIBSON,
E. M. BARTHOLOW,
H. WM. ELLICOTT,
H. CHAMBERLAIN, Jr.,
GEO. L. HARRISON.
Baltimore, March 28th, 1855.
Your note requesting a copy of my sermon of last Sunday morning, for publication, is before me.
The sermon, prepared for your benefit, is at your disposal.
Hoping that it may serve, however humbly, the cause of Christ and the Church,
I am, most faithfully and affectionately,
Your friend and Pastor,
C. E. SWOPE.
To Messrs. H. Colburn,
Wm. B. Duvall, and others.
"QUOD UBIQUE, QUOD SEMPER, QUOD AB OMNIBUS CREDITUM EST." Vincent of Lerins.
TO THE REV. JOHN B. KERFOOT, D.D., RECTOR OF THE COLLEGE OF ST. JAMES, THE FAITHFUL GUIDE OF EARLIER YEARS, AND NOW THE NO LESS FAITHFUL FRIEND, This Sermon IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED, IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIS MANY WORDS OF WISE AND GODLY COUNSEL.
THE Gospel and Epistle which have just been read in your hearing, declare the subject which is brought before us at this time. It is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was upon this day that the Almighty announced to the Blessed Virgin, by the message of an angel, that she was to be in due time the Mother of our Lord,--that she should bring forth, by the miraculous operation of the Holy Ghost, her first born son, and should call his name Jesus. This event the Church sees fit to commemorate, and she associates it with the name of the Virgin Mary, as she does also the other feast of the "Presentation of Christ in the temple," because of the high honor which she properly esteems to be the Virgin's due, in consequence of her near relationship to our blessed Lord. Nor can we well esteem too highly her who was called to this exalted privilege. We can look upon her with love and silent admiration, as we contemplate the glorious scene of the Annunciation, and listen to the wondrous language of the angel, "Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." We have [7/8] every reason to honor and admire, to reverence and love her who was chosen as the favored instrument by which He that is mighty wrought great things, and brought about the Incarnation of His eternal Son. We must honor and revere one so highly honored by the Lord, and the Church allows us to do so, teaches us to do so. But she allows and teaches no more than this. We may honor, but we may not worship; we may revere, but we may not pray to; we may love and admire, but we may not bow down to or adore.
But, beloved, we can scarcely think of the humble subject of this day's commemoration without being reminded of the sad superstitions, and the foul corruptions, and the vain idolatries, by which her memory has been abused, her name dishonored, and herself been stripped of all her truest glory. Her very relation to the Eternal Son of God, from which alone her honors and her blessedness have all proceeded, has been made the means of detracting from the glory of that Son, and in the hands of those whose lot it seems to be to turn the holiest and best of all God's blessings into snares, has been so represented as practically to convey the thought that all the glory of the Son of God sprang from His connexion with his earthly mother, and not all hers from her relationship with Him.
It is curious to note how, step by step, the Church of Rome has still gone on in her sad progress of corruption and of error, in relation to the Virgin Mary, until at last she has been lifted to a level with her blessed Son, and made His equal in the great work of the redemption of mankind. One by one, age after age, His high prerogatives, His sacred offices, His blessed privileges, have been made hers, until there scarce is left a single attribute or honor or distinction in which she is not made in fullest [8/9] measure a partaker with Him. Equally with Him, nay, often to the exclusion of Him, has she been made the object of worship, the hearer of prayer, the advocate of sinners at the throne of grace, their mediator in the heavens. Equally with Him is she regarded now, and styled, in solemn acts of public worship, the "Refuge of sinners," the "Tower of strength," the "Mother of mercy," the "Ark of the covenant," the "Root of Redemption," the "Comforter," the "Hope," the "Life," the "All in all" of those who flee to her for succor and for strength. Even a mighty Resurrection and a glorious Ascension are no longer the peculiar distinctions of the Saviour. They are no longer the sure testimony of His Sonship and Divinity, the proof that marked Him as the God, the Victor of the grave and Hell. They have been given to the creature, and the Virgin, according to the Romish notion of the "Assumption," has been made to share these high distinctions with the Son of God. So, one by one, through ages past, the titles and the attributes and offices of Christ have been bestowed upon His earthly mother. And now another, almost the only one remaining, has been added to the rest. Within the last few months, the world has been amazed and the Church has been startled by the novel dogma of the "Immaculate Conception." The Virgin Mary is formally and solemnly declared, on the authority of the "infallible" incumbent of the See of St. Peter, exempt from sin, actual and original, in every shade and shape, and the high prerogative of sinlessness, which, on the authority of Holy Scripture, has always been regarded by the Church as the exclusive and peculiar privilege of Him who, by virtue of the union of the divine and human natures in His person, was pure and spotless and intact, is given to another; and a [9/10] creature, sinless and immaculate, takes precedence, in point of time, of Him who was Creator, and whose very mission upon earth was to deliver human nature, by His Incarnation, from the bondage of transmitted depravity, and, in His own person, to exalt humanity, for the first time since the fall, to a state of full immunity from sin.
Now the full teaching of the Church of Rome upon this point, may best be gathered from the decree of the Roman Pontiff himself, in which the fatal fallacy of this new dogma has been of late proclaimed and published to the world as an article of saving faith. The words are these:
"It is a dogma of the faith, that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved perfectly free from all stain of original sin."
Such is the official and formal declaration of the Supreme Pontiff of the Church of Rome, and, as one of the advocates of the new article declares, "its terms are too plain to be misunderstood." [Dr. Forbes' Sermon on Immaculate Conception, p. 12.] Alas! that they indeed are so! The Blessed Virgin is here declared to have been not only free from the commission of actual sins during her pilgrimage on earth--not only is it said that she was born without sin, and came into the world gifted, by the special grace of God, with that supernatural sanctity which should preserve her spotless in her life, and free her even from all tendency to sin--not only is it said, that she was sanctified as Jeremiah or as John the Baptist, from her very birth, nay, before her birth--not only is all this said of her, this, which in the light of Holy Scripture and of the early Church, we should feel forced to repudiate as heresy and error--but more than this is here declared to be her high prerogative. She is declared [10/11] to have been freed not only from actual sins, not only from the tendency to sin, but absolutely from that taint of sin which every child of Adam is expressly declared by Holy Scripture to inherit from the first great father of the human race;--from that "fault of nature," which, as the fruit of Adam's fall, has ever since been propagated and still handed on from age to age, to every child by nature born as his descendant; and this, not in after life, not at her birth into the world, but at the first moment of her conception, at the instant of the infusion of her soul into her body--so that there never was a moment of time that she was under the contagion of original sin, never a moment when she was not holy. We are told, not that she was sanctified or made holy, but was always holy; not that she was liberated, but exempted from the very first; that she possessed an absolute freedom from all sin, not by purification afterwards, but by original perfection; that from the first instant of her conception she was endowed with a spotlessness neither admitting of nor requiring any cleansing whatsoever. In other words, the dogma is simply this, that the Virgin Mary, although a mere human creature, was exempted from the lot of humanity in the matter of original sin, that she formed a grand exception to the universal condition of human nature, and that among the children of Adam, natural descendants from him, and inheritors of his humanity, she was spared the consequences of his fall, and exempted from that contagion, that stain of sin, which, from the fall, became henceforth, though not an essential and integral part of human nature, yet its inseparable attendant and quality, its universal accident, the inevitable condition of its being, except in that one instance in which it was taken into God in the person of the Man Christ Jesus.
 Such is the doctrine now put forth by the "infallible" authority of the See of Rome, as an article of the faith, to be received, and to be believed, by all her children, on pain of everlasting condemnation. Let us see how this doctrine accords with the teaching of Holy Scripture and with the voices of the early Church, and what are its practical results upon the scheme of man's Redemption.
I. But, first, the history of this doctrine will throw much light upon it, and will help us greatly in settling its claims to our belief.
To say the most, then, that can be said, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary as a formal tenet, knows no greater antiquity than the Twelfth century. Over eleven hundred years of the Christian era passed away, and yet this doctrine was not only not yet settled as a part of the faith, but had never yet been even agitated as a question to be settled. More than a thousand years rolled by from the time that the faith was once, and once for all, delivered to the saints, before this dogma, now necessary to be received and to be believed on pain of condemnation, was advocated as a receivable speculation in Theology, or claimed to be an edifying truth. We make this assertion not without authority. Nor is it made on such authority as the Church of Rome herself feels at liberty to repudiate or disallow. The illustrious Bernard, who flourished about the middle of the twelfth century, and who is not only revered and held in honor by the Church of Rome for his great learning and acuteness, but is actually enrolled among the canonized Saints of his Church,--this illustrious Saint, whose writings must be regarded as endorsed by his canonization, and therefore carrying with them all the authority of the Church of Rome, absolutely declared in so many words, that in his [12/13] time, eleven hundred years after Christ, the observance of a festival in honor of the Immaculate Conception, nay, the doctrine itself, "was a novelty of which ecclesiastical observance knew nothing, which reason did not approve, and which ancient tradition did not recommend." It is clear, then, from the testimony of this celebrated Saint, whose testimony has never been rebutted or set aside, that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception can be traced no further back than the twelfth century.
The notion that the Virgin Mary was free from original sin, seems to have had its origin as far back as the early part of the fifth century, and to have been twin-born with that other heresy of Pelagius, which denied the doctrine of original sin altogether. It was asserted by this adversary of the truth, that "our religion required that we should confess the Virgin Mary to be sinless, that so we might not hold our Saviour to be born in sin." This error lies upon the same foundation as that which has now received the sanction of the Church of Rome, viz: the notion that the Saviour derived His purity from His earthly Mother, and not from the union of the Divine and human natures in His sacred person, by which He was exempted from all taint of sin. The teachings of Pelagius, however, but for a time disturbed the Church. They were opposed at once by the more orthodox of Christian writers, and were finally condemned by the third General Council. Still the notion which he originated with regard to the Virgin Mary found place from, time to time, in the minds of individuals, and was there privately held and cherished, though never publicly discussed. At length it grew into a formal tenet, and in the hands of the Schoolmen of a few centuries later, it became a favorite and fit subject for the exercise of their oftentimes superior, but quite as often misused, talents. In [13/14] the year 1136, the Canons of Lyons introduced the tenet into the ecclesiastical offices and adopted, or most probably invented, the festival of the Immaculate Conception. This called forth the spirited remonstrance of the great St. Bernard, and led to the first open discussion of the subject in the Church. It was violently opposed by such men as Peter Lombard, and those who followed him, Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventura; all in communion with the See of Rome, and still the objects of its highest veneration and esteem.
About one hundred and fifty years after the introduction of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by the Canons of Lyons, or about the year 1300, the famous schoolman John Duns Scotus, a friar of the Franciscan order, asserted, at first cautiously, and after with increasing boldness, the total exemption of the Blessed Virgin from all sin, original as well as actual. He based his assertion upon the Omnipotency of God, Who might, he said, if He saw fit, free her from all sin;--the Omnipotency of God--a plea which, when substituted, in matters of the faith, in place of the revealed will of God, has been quaintly, but most justly, styled the "hiding place of heretics."
From this time on an unceasing contest upon this subject raged between the rival orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans, which threatened even to divide the Church. Appeals were made by the contending parties from time to time, for several hundred years, to Councils and to Popes, to put an end to this unhappy controversy, and to give a final definition of this vexed and troublous question, yet these appeals were made in vain. Neither Pope nor Council would presume to settle or define it. Neither Urban VI., nor Sixtus IV., nor Pius V., nor Paul V., nor Gregory XV., nor others still to whom in turn appeal was [14/15] made, would dare to fix this tenet as an article of faith. Even the great Council of Trent, claimed, though falsely, by the Church of Rome as an universal Council, with full authority to define the faith and settle all matters of controversy, still left the question open, even after it had been thoroughly discussed and warmly advocated by both parties; and it was left to the present "infallible" successor of St. Peter to fix and to declare as an article of faith, to be believed on pain of everlasting death, this question, which has vexed the Church for upwards of six hundred years, and which universal councils, (as they esteem them,) and his "infallible" predecessors, for so many centuries, have not been able to settle or define. [The question discussed in the Council of Trent was, not whether the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin should be fixed as an article of faith, but whether it should be declared so much as a pious opinion. Even this the Council refused to do, lest their action should imply that the opinions of those who held the contrary was impious, which they were unwilling to declare.] We scarcely need the Word of God, or the pure teaching of the early Church, to show the folly, not to say the fearful sin, of this proceeding. Common sense and an enlightened conscience are all we need.
I know that it is asserted by the advocates of this new dogma, that almost all the higher doctrines of the Christian faith were defined and settled by the Church in ages later than the promulgation of the Gospel by the Saviour, later than the times of the apostles, and that the fundamental doctrines of the divinity of Christ and the personality of the Holy Ghost, and others of like character and kind, remained unsettled, undefined by ecclesiastical authority, for several centuries. [Dr. Forbes' Sermon, p. 19.] I know that this is true, but then I know that these were but defined, not invented in later days, that they were settled by the voice of the universal Church [15/16] in general councils assembled; and settled not as something new, but as the faith which had been held and taught "from the beginning, every where, and by all." Not so the doctrine we are now considering. It dates, as we have seen, not from the beginning, but from the twelfth century after the beginning. It is settled, not by the universal Church in general council assembled, but by a single bishop of a single see; not as the faith held every where, by all, but as the petted fancy of but a portion even of that portion of the Church which claims it, and would force it upon all;--and that too, even after a council which its warmest advocates claim to be universal, the Council of Trent, not only did not settle it, but after free and full discussion, unanimously and deliberately refused to fix and to define. [It is true, that the issuing of encyclical letters, and the assembling of bishops in St. Peter's, at Rome, may have the appearance of a general council, but they cannot well be mistaken for such by those who recollect that all the Romish Bishops upon earth could not constitute an universal synod, and that all who did assemble there were but the bond-slaves of Papal tyranny, and the vassals of the Pontiff's will.]
In fact, the whole history of this dogma, for several centuries, in the Church of Rome, is but the record of dissensions and divisions and disputes, which Popes with all the force and authority of their official bulls have never dared to settle, and never had the power to decide; which councils claiming to be universal have failed to put a stop to, or to check--disputes in which there were Doctors arrayed against Doctors, Popes opposing Popes, Councils differing from Councils, till the whole edifice of infallibility was shaken to its very centre, and the chair of Peter, its seat and oracle, trembled on its frail foundations and tottered almost to its fall. These facts will show us the claim which this new dogma has upon our faith on the grounds [16/17] of primitive antiquity and general consent. What evidence they furnish of the divine, inherent Papal power to decide all controverted questions in the faith, and of that superior inspiration which places the successors of St. Peter, as such, beyond the possibility of erring, I need not stop to say.
II. The testimony from Holy Scripture, which I shall notice next, is overwhelming in its opposition to this new article of Roman faith, while but slender arguments indeed, if any, can be gathered from the Word of God in its support. Indeed, its warmest advocates do not pretend to base it upon Scripture grounds so much as on the absolute and independent authority of the Church. The Word of God, from first to last, abounds in testimony to the fact of the universal depravity of mankind, in consequence of Adam's fall. In fact, the revelation of God's will itself, and all the means of grace and help to holiness provided and held out to us in the economy of God for the salvation of mankind, are based upon the fact of the corruption of human nature. They come to us as fallen creatures, resting under the burden of a curse, liable and lying open to the wrath of God, and their whole end and aim is to restore us to the state from which we have so lamentably fallen. Accordingly, the Holy Scriptures every where are full of intimations of the fearful fact of our fallen state, full of express, explicit declarations of this truth. Indeed, the doctrine of original sin, or sin inherited from Adam, through birth and through descent from him, by every one inheriting his nature, and so, of course, by every member of the human race, is, and has been, the almost universal doctrine of the Christian world. That the consequences of the fall are universal, that all died in Adam, is a truth which the Word [17/18] of God every where invariably proclaims. There is no exception made in favor of any. The very fountain of humanity became corrupt;--the very germ of human nature was vitiated at the start, and so the whole stream and after growth partakes of the corruption of the fountain, and shares the vitiation of the germ; so that all who partake of that nature, which in itself is fallen, become partakers of its taint and fault, and so stand in need of restoration, in need of a redemption.
"Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" is the question which the patriarch of old by inspiration asked, and by the same inspiration answered, "not one!" "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin hath my mother conceived me," is the humble confession of the devout, repentant Psalmist, in which he speaks not only for himself, but as the representative of all of Adam's children. "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," is the unqualified assertion of St. Paul in the third chapter of his epistle to the Romans. In the fifth chapter of the same epistle he again declares, "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned;"--and no less than seven times, in this one single chapter, does the great apostle assert and reassert, in plain and express language, the melancholy but unquestionable fact of the universal inheritance of the guilt and stain of Adam's sin. Again, the same apostle, in another epistle, reminds his Ephesian disciples that they "were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." There are other texts which assert the doctrine of the universality of original sin with double force, both by declaring the direct fact of the propagation of sin in all alike, and also the consequent necessity of the redemption of all alike. "Therefore," says St. Paul to the Romans, "as by the [18/19] offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." And again, in the language of the text, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
These are but some few of the many passages from Holy Scripture which may be brought to prove the universality of the consequences of the fall of Adam. But there is a witness nobler still. The declaration of the Son of God, that "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," and that all that are born of the flesh "must be born again" in order that they may enter into the Kingdom of God; this declaration alone, falling as it does from the lips, not of the inspired, but of the Inspirer Himself, puts the question of the sinfulness of that nature, which we inherit from Adam, beyond all doubt, and makes it clear, that every child of man stands, by its very birth, in need of a Redemption, in need of a new birth, in need of an engrafting into the new Head of the new humanity, in order to its rescue from the curse, and from the sin which it inherits from the old.
So the Word of God throughout, bears universal and unvarying testimony to the fact, that all are born beneath the curse, that all are sharers of the sin of Adam--that all, as partakers of humanity, inherit, by their very birth, the sin of the first father of the race. All,--the declarations of the Word of God are without qualification, without exception. There is one exception, in behalf of Him who condescended to assume the nature of the creatures of His hand, the Man Christ Jesus--but He was more than man. He was God manifested in the flesh, and by virtue of His divinity, could take our sinful nature, yet without its sin. And the exception is expressly made in His behalf in Holy Scripture. But where is the exception made, or mentioned, in [19/20] behalf of her, for whom the high prerogative of sinlessness is claimed? Where, I ask, in all the Word of God,--and I ask it without fear,--where, in all that Word, can there be found a single text, that can, by any fair construction, be made to advocate, or sanction, the notion of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary? There is absolutely none! Nor will it do to say, that the silence of Scripture is no proof against this novel dogma, since it is silent, so far as any positive command is concerned, on the observance of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath, and on the practice of infant baptism. [Dr. Forbes' Sermon, page 20.] I answer, that if there be no positive, express command in Scripture on these points, there are still intimations and allusions which would be unintelligible, nay, even absurd, were not the practice of the Christian world, upon these points, just what it is. Are there any such relating to the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary? I know of none. But besides, the assertions of the Bible, with regard to the universality of original sin, are without qualification, and without exception, save in the case of the Son of God, and in His case the exception is expressly made. If, then, the sacred writers, under inspiration, thought it needful to except, in express words, from the all-embracing consequences of the fall, Him Whom we should naturally suppose to be excepted, surely there should have been some mention of His earthly mother's full exemption also, if such, in their esteem, there were. Nay, the very mention of the Saviour's exemption from sin, is proof that she was not excepted; since her sinlessness alone would have rendered Him immaculate by nature, and so have made the assertion of His spotlessness superfluous and vain.
 But, beloved, we are not left to mere conjecture. Besides the passages just quoted, and the many others, which assert the universality of the consequences of Adam's fall, and declare all men to be born in sin, without exception,--there are positive assertions in the Word of God, which would seem to render the Scriptural proofs of the Virgin's participation in our common nature, and our common sinfulness, more than merely negative. On no less than four occasions did our blessed Lord Himself give utterance to language, concerning His earthly mother, and to His earthly mother, which, to say the least, must be regarded as not altogether free from reproof. At the marriage in Cana of Galilee, when the Blessed Virgin would have her Son supply the lack of wine, His answer was, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" Although the title "woman" does not convey, in the original Greek, the same sternness that it does in English, yet still there can be little doubt that, in these words, the Saviour meant to convey some censure of her importunity and haste. Most of the early writers of the Church so regarded these words. Irenaeus, the disciple of St. Polycarp, who in turn was the disciple of St. John the Apostle, expressly asserts that the Virgin, in this case, "was guilty of some fault or error in inciting her Son to this miracle unseasonably." Before this, when the Saviour was but twelve years old, when His mother and Joseph sought Him anxiously, and found Him in the Temple at Jerusalem, He reproved them for their ignorance of the high nature of His mission upon earth, and said, "How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business." When His mother and His brethren came to Him in Capernaum, and sought to speak with Him, but could not come at Him for the press, and those about Him told Him, "Behold, Thy mother, and Thy [21/22] brethren without seek for thee;" His answer was, "Who are my mother and my brethren? And He stretched forth His hands towards His disciples and said, behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in Heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Theophylact here charges the Virgin with "vain glory, and with guilt, in endeavoring to draw Him from teaching the Word." Tertullian pronounces her guilty of 'incredulity;' and Chrysostom, of "vain glory, infirmity and madness." And the Saviour Himself seems certainly, to bestow no higher distinction upon her, than upon any one who should faithfully perform His Father's will, and yet the faithful performance of the will of God brings no such high distinction as that now claimed for the Saviour's earthly mother. And again, when a certain woman, in the company that pressed upon the Saviour's steps, "lifted up her voice and said unto Him, blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked;" He said, "yea, rather blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it." To use the application of another, "There was here no denial of the blessedness of being His mother; still less was there any denial that His mother was blessed. But the privilege of being the mother of Jesus was not in itself so great as the blessing of doing the will of God. Now those who argue that the Virgin was perfectly free from sin, argue so from the very fact of her being the mother of the Immaculate Saviour. But surely, if the fact of being His mother proved that she was sinless, it would have brought with it, or would have been the proof of, a blessing so great that there would have been no room for the 'yea, rather blessed,' of the Son of God."
 But, again, the Blessed Virgin herself gives utterance to an expression which most clearly indicates that she regarded herself as standing, as every other child of Adam, in need of the redemption wrought by Christ, and so as sharing in the consequences of the fall. When she exulted in the prospect of the Saviour's birth, she exclaimed, "My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." She here confesses Christ to be her Saviour. But a Saviour is one who saves. Salvation is rescue from a state of peril and of guilt. Salvation is not for those already safe. 'Tis not the whole who stand in need of a physican, but the sick; nor the sinless who require the salvation of the Son of God, but those who are in sin. If Jesus be the Saviour of the Virgin, then the Virgin stood in need of that salvation; and to stand in need of salvation, is to rest beneath the burden of the curse. The Virgin therefore knew and owned herself to be, as other children of the former Adam, born in sin, and therefore in need of the new birth of grace, by which she might be made a sharer of the righteousness of Christ, and so the mother stand among the offspring of the Son. I am aware of the reply that has been made, and will be made, to this unanswerable argument;--that it was only through the merits of Christ Jesus, by anticipation applied to her, that the Virgin was exempt from all stain of original sin, and that so, of course, she could confess her Son to be her Saviour. [Dr. Forbes' Sermon, page 21.] But I have yet to learn, that the salvation wrought by Christ consists in an exemption from the consequences of the sin of Adam. I know that Christ, by the redemption which He wrought, delivers man from sin original, but not that He exempts him. And I have still more to learn, that salvation means Immaculate Conception. If the Virgin never, for an instant, rested under [23/24] sin, then never, for an instant, did she need the application of the merits of Christ Jesus to redeem her;--and if the merits of the Son of God were applied to her at all, they must have been applied to her before she was in existence, which is impossible and absurd. If she was redeemed at all, then, by the application of the merits of the Son of God, she must have been, before she could be redeemed; and if she existed but an instant before this redemption, she was not without original sin, and therefore, hers could not have been an "Immaculate Conception."
The argument from Holy Scripture, then, against this recent dogma of the Church of Rome is three-fold. First; The negative, arising from the total silence of the Word of God upon this point so full of interest and importance, and the entire absence of any passage which, by any fair construction, could be made to sanction or support it. Secondly;--The uniform teaching of the Holy Scripture in support of the doctrine of the universality of the consequences of the fall of Adam, of the all-embracing reach of original sin, of its inheritance by all of the descendants of the father of our race, without exception, including, of course, the Blessed Virgin among the rest. And, thirdly, the positive, direct assertions of the Word of God, the Virgin's own confession included, which absolutely point her out as a partaker of the universal sinfulness of man, and therefore in need of the redemption purchased by her Son.
Such is the argument from Holy Scripture. No wonder then, that the only answer which a famous Romish writer has been able to give to this argument, (a writer, by the way, complimented by the present Pope upon the skilful and successful manner in which he has treated this subject,) is this, that the force of all those Scriptural assertions which [24/25] militate against this doctrine "has been destroyed by subsequent Papal decrees," and "by the rule of the Council of Trent!" [Perrone--de Immaculato, B. V. Mariae Concepter.]
III. The testimony of the early Fathers, and of the writers of the mediaeval Church, on which the Church of Rome relies almost exclusively for the support of this new dogma, is just as conclusive, just as unvarying as that from Holy Scripture. Of course, there can be but little looked for in the way of direct testimony to the point in question, before the twelfth century, inasmuch as the question was unheard of before that time, and of course therefore was not discussed. There is abundant proof, however, in the writings of the Fathers, from the very first, which renders it beyond question that such an idea as the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary never entered into their minds, and could never have been entertained by them for a moment. On the general question of the universal sinfulness of man, without exception, save in the case of our blessed Lord, their testimony is unvarying and most decisive. In all the arguments with which, from the very first, they were forced to meet the heresies that arose concerning the nature and the personality of our Lord, they are all particular and clear in laying it down, as one of the axioms of the Christian faith, that He was God the Son, who took the nature of the creatures of His hands, that he might redeem it; and that He took it by the miraculous operation of the Blessed Spirit, that so he might escape the contagion of sin, which clings to every one of the natural descendants of Adam.
Irenaeus, who, as we before remarked, was a disciple of the disciple of St. John the Apostle, abounds in testimony to the universality of sin, both original and actual, and to the fact that Christ took human nature from the Virgin [25/26] Mary, not already purified, but to make it pure by taking it. "In the beginning," says this writer, "all of us were by our first parents brought into bondage, through the obligation we were under to suffer death." Again he says, "As we offended God in the first Adam, by not obeying His commandment, so we are reconciled in the second Adam, being made obedient even unto death."
Tertullian, who lived a little later, says, "Man is condemned to death for having tasted of one little tree, and thence proceed sins with their punishments; and now all perish, who have not known a single turf of Paradise." Again, speaking of the temptation of Adam, and the fall by which he transgressed the command of God, he says, "thence the whole race, sprung from the same seed, being tainted, derived also their own condemnation." And again, "every soul is so long reckoned in Adam, until it be anew enrolled in Christ; and so long unclean until it be so enrolled; and sinful, because unclean, receiving a taint from the fellowship of the flesh." And still again this same writer says, "If then, you say, Christ put on our flesh it was sinful in Him; forbear to narrow the inexplicable meaning, for putting on our flesh He made it His, and making it His He made it sinless." These last words directly meet the case in point, and deny positively the Immaculate Conception of any one but Christ. He says that Christ by taking our nature sanctified it, therefore it was not sanctified when he took it, not sanctified in His mother. He took it of her unsanctified, and, taking it, made it for the first time, in Himself, spotless and without sin.
Origen, who lived a little later, and who is claimed by the advocates of the new dogma as one of its supporters, says, "Every one that entereth into this world is said to be affected with a certain contamination, and therefore the [26/27] Scripture saith, 'there is none clean from filth, though he be but one day old.'" And again, in a more pointed way, does this great writer speak of the very question now before us. "What," says he, "are we to suppose that when the apostles were offended, the mother of our Lord was not offended? If she took no offence at the passion of the Lord, then Jesus died not for her sins. For if all sinned and fell short of the glory of God, then Mary also was at that time offended. And with a view to that, Simeon spake when he prophesied, saying, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also--the sword, viz.: of unbelief and the knowledge of doubt, by which the soul itself was divided." We are here told that the mother of Christ was not only liable to sin, but actually did sin.
St. Ambrose says, "None is without sin; to deny this is sacrilege."
The great St. Augustine, who wrote against Pelagius, and censured him for teaching that there ever had been or would be any one born without sin, says that "infants, without the imitation of the first man, are yet bound with the infection of being begotten carnally of him."
But the witness of these writers is still clearer to the fact, that there is no exception to the universal corruption of mankind except Christ.
St. Clement says, "The Word," meaning, of course, the Son of God, "alone is without sin, for to sin is natural and common to all."
Tertullian says, "For God alone is without sin, and the only man without sin is Christ, because Christ is also God."
St. Augustine declares that Christ "alone, being made man, yet remaining God, never had sin, neither did he take a flesh of sin, although coming from a maternal flesh of [27/28] sin." Again, he says, "We find none in Scripture said to be without sin, but that One alone of whom it is openly said, 'Him who did no sin.'" Again, speaking of men without sin, he says, "It is most certain there is none, never was, nor ever will be, any such at all, besides the one Mediator betwixt God and man, the man Christ Jesus."
Ferrand, an African writer in the sixth century, says, "The flesh of Christ is like the flesh of Mary, and unlike it--like it, because it took thence its origin: unlike it, because it did not contract thence the contagion of original sin."
These all are writers who flourished long before the question of the Immaculate Conception was ever agitated, or even thought of. Such is their testimony, and if it will add any force to it, we may further say, that during^all this time there cannot be found a single writer, whom the Church of Rome will not unite with us in condemning as heretical, that ever once denied the universality of original sin, or asserted that any one, except the Son of God, was ever born without it. When we come down to those mediaeval writers, who flourished during the time of the discussion of this dogma, we find a volume of testimony against this new article of the faith, which even all the skill of its most ardent advocates has been spent in vain to get rid of, or to overcome.
St. Bernard, whom we have quoted from before, the learned abbot of Clairvaux, and now a saint of blessed memory in the Church of Rome, speaking of the universal sinfulness of mankind, says, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, alone was conceived of the Holy Ghost, who was alone holy even before His conception. He only excepted, to all the other offspring of Adam apply the words spoken by one in humility and truth of himself, 'I was shapen in [28/29] iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.'" But even more decided is his testimony on the direct question now before us. "Whence then," he says, "is the sanctity of her conception I Can she be said to have been prevented by sanctification, as being already holy when conceived, and thus her conception itself was also holy? But she could not be holy before she existed. ***** Or, again, did holiness attach to her conception, so that she was at the same time both sanctified and conceived? But reason admits not this, * * unless it be said, indeed, that she also was conceived of the Holy Ghost, * * which is hitherto unheard of." This same writer dwells at length upon the famous argument which bears his name, in which he declares that, "on the same principle," of the Virgin's Immaculate Conception, "we would be obliged to hold that the conception of her ancestors, in an ascending line, was also a holy one." And his argument is good, for if it is necessary that the Virgin Mary should be sinless in order that the Saviour's human nature might be so, I know no reason why her parents, and theirs, and so on back to Adam, should not of necessity be sinless also, that so she might be without spot. But St. Bernard sums up by saying, "We ought not to attribute to Mary that which belongs to one Being alone, to Him who can make all holy, and being Himself free from sin, purify others from it."
Peter Lombard, the famous Master of Sentences, and Bishop of Paris in the middle of the twelfth century, in his third book of Sentences, "On the flesh which the Word of God took," in answer to the question, "whether it was bound to sin?" says, "It may indeed be said and believed, according to the attestations of the saints, that it was previously obnoxious to sin, as the other flesh of the Virgin."
 Albertus Magnus, the master of Thomas Aquinas, assumes the same side of the question, and argues, "that if the Blessed Virgin had not had original sin, and had therefore been herself the instrument of redemption, there would have been no need of any other Saviour, and the Incarnation of the Word of God would have been wholly useless." He also says that there are in the Church but two classes, the Head and the members, the former redeeming and the latter redeemed; and that the Virgin, not being the Head, but one of the members, she must have received redemption, and therefore have lain under sin."
The great Thomas Aquinas, in answer to the question, "whether it is necessary that all men should be born in original sin?" says, "It is necessary that all men who are naturally born of Adam should have original sin, for if not, the defect in his nature caused by sin, and from which all his posterity derive their original want of righteousness, must have been perfectly healed; which is not the case, and therefore all who are naturally descended from him must be born in original sin." As to whether the Virgin Mary was sanctified before her nativity, he says, "Sanctification comes of grace, nativity of nature, therefore she was not sanctified before her birth as to her nature, though, like Jeremiah and St. John the Baptist, she was cleansed from any personal stain."
Such is the testimony from some few of the mediaeval writers, and all in allegiance to the See of Rome. Time would fail me, and I should but weary you, were I to cite one-half the testimony that could be adduced. But I cannot refrain from presenting you the witness against this novel dogma which Popes themselves of former ages have borne. Their testimony is collected by Launoy, a Jansenist of the seventeenth century, one of the most learned [30/31] and eminent of Romish controversialists. According to his showing--
Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome, as early as A. D. 450, declared, "Jesus Christ our Lord alone among the Sons of Men, was innocent in His birth, because He alone was conceived without the stain of carnal concupiscence."
Gregory the Great, in 590, said, "John Baptist was conceived in sin, Christ alone was conceived without sin."
Innocent III., Pope in 1216, says--"Mary was born in sin, but she brought forth without sin."
John XXII., Pope in 1342, speaking of the 'Assumption,' said, "She (the Virgin) passed, first, from a state of original sin, second, from a stale of childhood to maternal honor, third, from misery to glory."
And Clement VI., 1352, said, "I suppose that, according to common opinion, the Blessed Virgin was in original sin for a short period. [In addition to this we may add, that Melchior Canus, himself a member of the Council of Trent, says, "All the Saints who happen to make mention of this matter, affirm with one mouth that the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin,"--and he cites Ambrose, Augustin, Chrysostotn, Remigius, Maximus, Bede, Anselm, Bernard, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Vincent, Damascen, Hugo, and adds, that "not one of the Saints contradicted it." And Bandelli, General of the Dominican order, computes some 300 Fathers, who, all without exception, opposed this doctrine.]
Now such, beloved, is the testimony against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, as derived from history, from the Word of God, and from the writers of the early and the middle ages of the Church. There seems to be but one conclusion we can come to, and that is, that the doctrine is a novelty, which was wholly unknown to the Church in its purest days, that the Holy Scriptures do not recognise it, and cannot be made to sanction it, and that the Fathers of the Church knew nothing of it in their times.
IV. One more argument remains to be considered, that derived from the practical working of the doctrine, and the results to which it must inevitably lead.
 Passing by, then, the many arguments which have been brought to bear, from time to time, upon this point, to prove its utter fallacy and error;--passing by the question, how far the Church of Rome, or any Church, or the whole Catholic Church together, has any right to add one single jot or tittle to the faith as it was once for all delivered to the Saints; passing by these considerations--considerations of no mean importance--it will be enough to see the practical working of this notion of the Immaculate Conception, to test it by the teaching of the text, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Viewed in this light, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception denies the express teaching of the Word of God; it robs the Blessed Son of God of one of His especial, high prerogatives, and gives it to another, the creature of His hand; and it undermines and overthrows the scheme of man's Redemption as wrought out for us in the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Christ.
It contradicts the express teaching of the Word of God. At a single stroke, it wipes out from the Holy Scripture the important, fundamental, truths contained in the double declaration of the text. If the teaching of the Church of Rome upon this point be true, then the Apostle Paul is simply and unqualifiedly in the wrong. Both cannot stand together--one must fall. The Apostle says, "in Adam all die." The Church of Rome says, in Adam all did not die; for the Virgin Mary never for an instant was partaker of the sin of Adam, and so escaped the guilt and penalty of Adam's fall, and did not die in him. St. Paul declares, "in Christ shall all be made alive." The Church of Rome informs us that St. Paul again is wrong; that the reviving and the restoration of the dead and fallen race of man was brought about before the Son of God was born into the [32/33] world; that the antidote to Adam's fall was furnished in the person of the Blessed Virgin, not in Christ; that the tide of the corruption and depravity which found its source in the first sin of Adam, and flowed down from thence unchecked through all the race of man, was turned at last and for the first time checked, not in Emmanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh, the man Christ Jesus--not in Him but in the Virgin Mary, in His earthly mother, before she even knew that He should ever be her Son; that the Virgin Mary was herself conceived without the taint of Adam's sin; that she was, not purified, not liberated, but from the very first, and by original perfection exempt from sin; that she therefore, and not her Son, was the first sinless being upon earth since Adam's fall; that the new race commenced in her; that she was the head of the renewed creation, the germ of restored humanity, as Adam was the germ of that which fell, and consequently that, not in Christ, but Mary, "all were made alive."
The teaching of the Word of God is then denied by this new dogma, and the Son of God is stripped of His especial high prerogative, as the Restorer of fallen and depraved humanity. To say that human nature found its highest and complete perfection in the Virgin Mary--to say the ruin of the fall was all repaired before Christ came--to say the death that followed, as the fruit of Adam's sin, was overcome, and life brought first to light, by any but the Son of God--to say that, even before the Son of God came in the flesh, to ransom and restore humanity by His coining, there was a member of the human race restored, there was a sinless being upon earth, without the restoration which His coming wrought--and this is said of the Virgin Mary--to say this, is worse than folly, worse than simply error--[33/34] it is fearful and profane idolatry; it is to spurn God's wise provisions for the exaltation of our race; it is to put the creature in the place of the Creator; it is to rob the brow of Jesus of the brightest jewel in His crown.
But the teaching of this novel dogma goes still further. It undermines and overthrows the whole scheme of man's redemption, as provided by the Almighty, revealed in His Word, and wrought out in the Incarnation and the Sacrifice of Christ. What is redemption, but simply what the name implies, a "buying back" a release, a restoration? Now human nature needed this release, this restoration. You know the story of man's first creation in the image of his Maker, God. You know the history of his falling from that high estate. You know the loss which it entailed upon himself, and his posterity for ever. You know the curse, which, as the fruit of Adam's sin, became the heritage of all his children, the taint, the fault, the corruption, which became henceforth the inseparable quality of his very nature, the inevitable condition of its being. Now this taint, this fault, this corruption, which attaches itself to every child of Adam, to every member of the human race, as an inheritor of Adam's nature in its fallen state,--this is what constitutes the fallenness, if I may use the word, of humanity. This fallenness is the heritage of every child of Adam. It is the inseparable quality of human nature, of that which we all share as human beings, that which makes us human beings, of humanity itself, so that our being members of the human race, itself makes us not only men, but fallen men.
Now, in whatever this fall consisted--whether it consisted in the withdrawal of God's presence, or in the rebellion of man's lower nature against his higher, or in the infusion of a taint and poison from without, which was to work and spread and be conveyed, like the contagion of a [34/35] foul disease, through every member of the human family--in whatever it consisted, we know that it was simply what the Scripture teaches us to regard as the losing of God's image. It was a fall in its most emphatic sense, a fall from purity and holiness and bliss, into a state of misery and sin and corruption. From this fallen state of humanity, this state of corruption, depravity and sin, we needed a redemption, a release, a restoration. And it was to bring about this redemption, to work out this restoration, that Christ came in the flesh. He came that he might take this fallen nature, and unite it to the high and holy nature of the Godhead, in His sacred person, and by so taking it, so uniting it to perfection, make it pure, sinless, perfect as it was before the fall, as it was when it was first created. He came that he might restore it, redeem it, lift it from the depth of shame and sin to which the fall had plunged it, and exalt it to the image of its God in which at first it was formed.
We are apt to mistake the object of the Saviour's coming in the flesh. We are apt to suffer ourselves to rest content with the general idea, that Christ, the Son of God, redeemed mankind, without troubling ourselves to think of the manner and the plan of that redemption. We confess, in general terms, that the Sacrifice of Christ for our sins was our Redemption, and we are apt to think that Christ came into the world simply to die for us on the Cross. True, He did so die for us, and thanks be to God, He did so shed His precious blood, to take away the sins of all the world, and reconcile us to the everlasting Father. But the work of the Son of God was not only His dying on the Cross for us. The Second Person of the Ever-blessed Trinity stooped from His high throne in Heaven, and took upon Himself the nature of the creatures of His [35/36] hands, not only that He might thus have a body, in which to give Himself to God, as the Sacrifice for sin; not only that He might have a tangible, substantial form to offer as the Victim on the Cross, and so fulfil the "arbitrary requirements of judical exactness;"--not only for this end did the Son of God take our flesh, but that by the very act of taking it He might restore it, that He might unite it to the Divine nature in His person, and by so uniting it, make it in Himself, for the first time since the Fall, sinless, pure, immaculate. The Saviour's object then in taking on Himself humanity, was to exalt it by taking it,--to lift it from its low estate, and in Himself restore it to a state of sinlessness and purity. But a thing to be restored, must be a thing fallen, the Saviour, if He took human nature to restore it in Himself, and by His taking it, must have taken that human nature which was fallen. Its restoration implies that it was fallen. For unless it was fallen, there could be no restoring. Upon this fact hinges the whole scheme of Redemption through the Incarnation. If humanity had never fallen, there would have been no need for Christ's coming in the flesh; and there would have been no need of Christ's coming in the flesh; to restore fallen humanity, if in so coming He should take, not that humanity which was fallen, that by taking it He might restore it, but a nature not fallen, and so in need of no restoring.
The whole force and power of the argument of the Apostle Paul, in 2d chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews, where he is insisting on the oneness of Christ with those whom He redeemed, stands in this very fact, that Christ, in His Incarnation, took not on Him any higher nature than that of man, that He took not on Him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham, human nature--nature that was fallen,--the nature that He was to redeem and ransom. [36/37] "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same." And it is the glory, as well as the hope, of humanity, that "both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one," that is, of one nature. The nature that the Saviour took was, then, a nature that required sanctifying, in order that the sharers of it might be sanctified in Him. The Son of God Himself declares this truth: "For this cause,'' says He, "I sanctify myself, that they also might, be sanctified." Sanctifying Himself was not sanctifying His Divinity, for that was holiness itself, but sanctifying His human nature, the humanity which He took. The humanity which He took was not then holy before He took it. It needed sanctifying. But if the Virgin Mary was Immaculate, if she was sinless, if she never for a moment had been a partaker of Adam's sin, and so was never fallen, then Jesus Christ, who took the only humanity which He shared from the Virgin Mary, never took humanity which was fallen, and so, in His Incarnation, He did not restore the nature which He took, for it did not stand in need of restoration. It was pure before He took it. Thus poor fallen humanity must still remain, so far as Christ's coming in the flesh is concerned, just in the same fallen state in which it was before He came, and if it has ever been restored at all, it must have been restored in Mary, and not Christ. She, then, must be the Head of the new race. She must be, what the Apostle calls the Son of God, "the first born of every creature." She must be "the beginning of the creation of God." She, and not the Son of God, must be the Redeemer of mankind, and so the Son of God came in the flesh in vain. Can this be Antichrist? Surely, it is not unlike it.
Such then, beloved, is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, such is its practical [37/38] working, such its inevitable results. It takes from Jesus His own peculiar, personal prerogative. It overthrows the doctrine of redemption through His blood. Does it accord then, with the Word of God? Is it then, the teaching of the Church of Christ? Can it be a part of the true faith which at the first was once delivered to the saints? Shall it meet with our reception, our belief? No! never; God forbid. Let others make it, and let others take it, if they will. Let others close their eyes to the plain teaching of the Word of God--let others close their ears to the clear voice of primitive antiquity--let others violate the solemn sanctity of the one sacred faith which was committed to the keeping of the Church--let them alter it, or corrupt it, or change it, as they will--but, oh! for shame, let them not impudently call themselves the Catholic Church of Christ--let them not falsely claim to be the keepers of the oracles of God--let them not wickedly arrogate to themselves the high prerogatives of the dispenser of the gifts of God's most Holy Spirit--and, above all, beloved, let us not, by our countenance or sanction or support of their high-handed wrong, be, in any measure, partakers of their guilt.
"Oh! God, whose blessed Son was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life, grant us, we beseech Thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as He is pure; that when He shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom, where, with Thee, oh! Father, and Thee, oh! Holy Ghost, He liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. Amen."