The first public meeting of this Association was held on Monday evening, the 30th of June, at the Theatre, which was densely crowded in every part — stage, boxes, pit, and gallery; a lecture being delivered on the occasion by the Rev. Stowell, who selected for his subject: “The Grace of the Gospel: How Popery Mars It.” The chair was occupied by the President of the Association, the Rev. J. Owen Parr, Vicar of Preston, and Rural Dean. The Chairman said:
My dear fellow Christians: I am sure you will agree with me that it will be a proper course for us to take to commence the business of this evening by asking the blessing of God upon us; I will therefore call upon Mr. Page, Secretary of the Preston Protestant Association, to offer up prayer to God for his presence and blessing on this occasion.
The Rev. S. F. Page having offered several appropriate prayers, the Chairman resumed:
I have a very simple and a very pleasing duty to perform this evening: it is merely to introduce the lecturer of the evening, the Rev. Hugh Stowell, Canon of the Cathedral Church of Chester, who has been kind enough to come over to deliver us a lecture on a subject with which he is especially familiar, and in the illustration of which he is, as you very well know, gifted with more than ordinary eloquence. I am sure that you will listen to him tonight with attention, and that our proceedings will be distinguished by a peaceful and orderly spirit. I trust it shall not be said of us, after this meeting is over, that we manifested anything that looked like personal hostility. We are indeed bound, I take it, to foster and encourage by all means in our power, a Protestant spirit in this people and nation. Our constitution is a Protestant constitution, our sovereign a Protestant sovereign; and while we are willing that all our countrymen should have, like ourselves, the freest exercise of the rights of conscience, and all liberty to worship God according to that conscience, we do yet resist all encroachments upon the Protestant constitution of the country, and all attempts to overthrow the law that is founded upon a protest against Rome. It is our bounden duty, in all places and by all means, to confute error and confirm truth. We do it in our churches — we do it on the Lord’s Day. And because we have not all around us on every occasion, we come here that we may summon together a more numerous assembly, and speak perhaps with more freedom on the subject than we can within the precincts of houses consecrated to the worship of God. For these reasons it has seemed good to us, in endeavouring to uphold the Protestant religion of the land in these times of peril, to request our kind friend Mr. Stowell to come and inform and animate us, by offering to us arguments in favour of our Protestant Church, and also such arguments as will show you that the truth which we, as Protestants hold, is founded upon the Scriptures, while the doctrines of Rome are opposed to the Word of God. With these few remarks, in order to occupy as little time as possible, I beg now to request of Mr. Stowell, if he feel himself prepared, that he should address this meeting.
The Rev. Hugh Stowell rose amid reiterated plaudits, and said:
Mr. Vicar and my Christian friends: It is with no common feeling of interest that I find myself in the midst of the Christians of Preston, assembled in their combined character of a Protestant Association. Time was when a degree of mistrust was felt as to the utility, as to the expediency, and as to the necessity of Protestant associations. But that time is assuredly past; and whatever doubt there might have existed as to the necessity of combination on the part of the children of light, the children of darkness have made it so apparent what the end of their combination is — how fatal to our civil and religious rights, our privileges, and our freedom — that the man who hesitates about joining some Protestant combination to resist the great Papal combination, is not worthy of the liberty he enjoys nor the honoured name he bears. It has passed into a proverb, that when bad men confederate, good men must combine; and without combination, assuredly, however numerous the troops, our efforts will be of little avail; for we are marshalled against, brought front to front with an enemy exceedingly crafty and exceedingly combined — an enemy that knows every response of subtle warfare, and, whatever else it may lack, possesses despotic power over all that march under its banners, and renders it formidable even in its decrepitude.
I have long looked upon Preston with a considerable degree of interest, as being the Papal citadel of Lancashire. They are strong here, and have boasted of their strength; and I heartily rejoice to find that our brethren in Preston have at length girded themselves to the righteous conflict. I will venture to say that the Popish priests considered it a dark and perilous day on which a Protestant association was formed in Preston. There is nothing Popery so much wishes as to be let alone, but nothing she will do so little as leave us alone. She will work and worm underground as long as she can, and the more you leave her to work and worm underground without letting light in upon her dark recesses, the more she will be obliged to you; but thank God, we have arisen to the necessity of unearthing the mole and the badger from their underground holes. We have felt called upon to let light in upon the dark falsehoods of Rome, exhibited under the guise of truths — to strip her of her meretricious ornaments and of her painted visor — and to expose the haggard features and the loathsome form that lurk beneath the purple and the paint with which she decorates herself.
In doing so, we are anxious to maintain a spirit of all charity and kindness to individuals, while we must maintain a spirit of all fidelity and boldness towards the system that enslaves and debases them, and that would enslave and debase us if it had the power. We are anxious at the same time that the controversy should not take a kind of secular and political tone, for, after all, that is subordinate and subservient to the spiritual and theological aspect of the question. If it were merely a question that affected our civil and our political immunities, however the clergy of the church and the ministers of other Christian denominations might feel themselves bound to wield their elective franchise on behalf of political and civil liberty, they ought not to take a leading part in a great struggle of that nature, because they have higher objects to engage their energies and their attention. But it is because we think that apart from political and secular considerations, there is an aspect of the subject that bears on the glory of God, on the grace of the gospel, on the interests of immortal man for time and for eternity — it is therefore we think that the ministers of the Church are bound to stand in the fore-front of the battle; and however there may be flung in our face the charge of incendiarism, of agitation, and of political partizanship, we must cast such considerations to the wind, and having the approval of conscience, the smile of God, and the authority of the Bible, look with indifference upon the scorn of those who would thus seek to divert us from our course.
It was with a view to this aspect of the great controversy that I made selection of the subject for my lecture this evening — of a theme that may be considered perhaps too sacred and spiritual for the building within which we are assembled. I had rather anticipated this meeting would have been held within the walls of one of your sanctuaries. But nevertheless, a minister of Christ must preach his gospel in season and out of season, whether within the walls of a church or of a theatre. He has one master to serve, one truth to proclaim; and he ought never to waver or to falter in the discharge of this important duty. Therefore, without further preface or preliminary, I address myself at once to that theme to which I stand pledged — a theme of the highest and holiest character — a theme for which I must bespeak your devout and earnest attention, and one on which I should be doing utter injustice to my conscience and to truth if I did not first endeavour to lay before you the glorious grace of the gospel; that then I may bring before you the dark caricature and libel on that grace which the Church of Rome has inflicted upon her deluded votaries. I shall pause in the midst of my subject, so that after I have given you the foreground of light, we may sing a hymn of praise to our Lord and Master, the Saviour of all grace and of all hope; and then I will furnish you with the less congenial side of the subject, the dark background of Popish heresy and superstition.
Heaven is the scene of God’s love; Hell is the scene of God’s justice. There is no pardon in the one, for there is no guilt there; there is no pardon in the other, for there is no atonement there. But this marvellous and mysterious world of ours, so far as we know, is the chosen and select theatre for the display of the glorious grace of the blessed God. It is here that God is known in the blessed aspect of a pardoning God. This is the wonder and the glory of earth. This draws the attention of all the heavenly hosts and hierarchies to this little speck of clay. This causes the great God himself to have his heart and his eyes ever set upon his church militant here upon earth; for it is by means of this church, and by means of his redemption, that he displays to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places his manifold wisdom and his fathomless mercy.
The grace of the gospel! Time was when it was not needed in the world; for the grace of Christ is love shown towards the unworthy and the undeserving. But man in primitive purity stood in the image of his Maker, walked in the light of his complacency, and needed no forgiveness, for there was no sin to forgive. But so soon as he transgressed, then came the fearful question. Was there forgiveness with God for man, or must man be left in irremediable guilt and to hopeless destruction? Then it was that there appeared to an enraptured universe the new manifestation of the Godhead, and it was seen before all the principalities and powers in heavenly places that the God of justice, of love, of truth, of holiness, of immutability, would be the God of grace to a fallen family on this little speck of clay, in the boundless regions of his sovereignty. And so, in that first promise, “the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head,” there broke on the midnight of man’s ruined state, the first beam of Heaven’s mercy towards the guilty and the lost.
Now the glory of the Word of God is this: it is the revelation of God’s grace to fallen man. No man understands the Bible who does not understand it by means of this Key. The great object of this revelation is salvation — salvation through grace by Christ Jesus, the only hope of ruined and wretched man. Here is the glorious clue to guide us through all the various portions of divine revelation. The man who walks through the intricacies of revelation with this clue in his hand, will thread his way through its seeming mazes and perplexities; he will see light where before he saw but darkness, beauty where before he saw but deformity, order where he saw but confusion.
Further, this glorious grace of God is everywhere free. The word “grace” means free favour; it means free love; it means free kindness, free forgiveness. Take away the freedom of grace, and you take away the essence of grace. This is the condemning sin of the Church of Rome, that she takes the grace out of the gospel, and then it is the gospel no more to fallen man. Let me, for a little while, I pray you, though it may be less stimulating, and, in some respects, perhaps, less interesting; yet it ought not to be, for to every humble man it is the one great subject that involves his hope for time and his prospects for eternity: — let me lay before you the glorious freeness of the grace of the gospel. The prophet Micah, when contemplating this glorious subject, exclaimed — “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy.” (Micah 7:18) And when God himself speaks of his own mode of pardoning, he says — “Look how high the heaven is above the earth: even so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:9)
How free is God’s grace! Before man was created, God had provided for his redemption. Before the crime for which he fell was committed, God had prepared the means of his salvation; for we read — “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” (Jer. 31:3) And again, it is said of the Lamb that “he was slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8) Look again at the freeness of God’s grace. Did he wait for us to seek it? Did he wait for anything on our part? O, no! While we were his enemies, Christ died for us. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) While we were ungodly, Christ in due time died for the ungodly. What was there on man’s part to induce God to compassionate him? What made him the object of the divine compassion, except the depth of his misery and the hopelessness of his ruin? He had mercy because he would have mercy; he showed grace because he delighted in grace.
How free, then, is the mercy of God from first to last! The Good Shepherd goes after the stray sheep into the wilderness and brings it in rejoicing: he is not sought of the sheep first, but he seeks the sheep. If we apprehend him, it is because he has apprehended us. If we return to him, it is because he put into our mind good desires. O, how freely does God forgive! The man that comes to bring anything like money or price, he must say to him — “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God was to be bought with money!” You can never buy salvation; for it is the gift of God, which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. These are his words — “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isa. 55:1) Again: “Whosoever will, let him take of the waters of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17)
O, how freely the sinner can partake of it! Let him come as he is, poor, sick, wretched, naked, undone. Let him come for the eye-salve that, anointing him, will restore his sight. Let him come for the white raiment that will clothe his nakedness. Let him come for the blessed fine gold of Christ’s merits that he may be rich. Let him come to receive all that the Almighty has provided for him. Christ asks nothing more than this — his heart, his body, his soul, and his spirit. This is all that Christ requires.
O, how freely does God forgive through Christ Jesus! My dear Christian friends, look again at the freeness with which God forgives. There is none that forgives so promptly as God does. Look how readily he shows compassion. There is no reluctance on his part; there is no giving grudgingly. Listen to his words — “Before they call, I will hear; before they ask, I will answer.” (Isa. 65:24) He calls on them first, you see. Hear his voice again — “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20) Thus, you see, it is he that calls upon us, not we that call upon him. So again, look at his glorious language — “He is slow to anger, but is ready to forgive.” This is beautifully rendered in the Manx version of the Psalms, thus: —
His anger moves with halting pace, his mercy flies to save.
Swifter is he than the seraph’s wing or the lightning’s flash in succouring those who require his aid. Look how beautifully this is represented in God’s picture of himself in the parable of the prodigal son. A poor prodigal, clothed with rags, the consequence of his own viciousness, returns at length to his father’s house with trembling step and throbbing heart, and thinks that not even a hired servant’s place will be vouchsafed to him. “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) Before he can confess, the father has forgiven and embraced him. He does not wait to see how the son would behave himself; it is sufficient that he is a returned prodigal; and the father says to his servants — “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him: and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it: and let us eat and be merry: for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:22–24)
Such is the joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. On this subject, I can enter into the feelings of a dear little Christian child: when she heard that parable read, or when, arrived at a competent age, she read it herself, the tears would trickle down her little cheek, and she would exclaim — “O, mama, how kind is God to a poor sinner! How tender is he to one that comes back to him!” It was just the sentiment of the child’s heart, so true was the divine picture presented to her. Slow to take vengeance, but prompt to pity, he has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that he should repent and live.
Look again at the freeness and completeness with which God pardons sin. He does not partially grant forgiveness, making it a wretched patch-work robe that can never cover the nakedness of the poor sinner. No, he enwraps the sinner with a robe of perfect righteousness, that covers all his transgressions and blots out all his iniquities. Look at the language employed in Holy Scripture; listen to a few of the passages — “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isa. 55:7) Again: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” (Isa. 43:25) So will God wash away the guilt of the believer in Jesus. And again — “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins; return unto me, for I have redeemed thee.” (Isa. 44:22) Can there be stronger language still? Yes — “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa. 1:18) Can you conceive a greater contrast — scarlet and snow, crimson and the whitest wool?
Can there be stronger language still? Yes! “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for and there shall be none, and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found.” (Jer. 50:20) Can there be stronger language still? Yes, if possible — “I will cast their sins behind my back” (Isa. 38:17), and, “I will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) If you wanted to bury iniquity forever, could you bury it deeper than in the abyss of ocean? I cannot conceive anything more glorious than such language as this; it is so unlike man’s poor, angry way of pardoning. He must qualify and modify; the great God pardons like himself, divinely.
What infinite harmony and consistency there is in God’s mode of pardoning! If one man pardon another, he often does it weakly and at the expense of truth, and justice, and honour. In human legislation and human judicature, it is difficult to harmonise justice with mercy, and pardon with the rights of the community at large. God must show how he hates sin, while he pities the sinner. He must harmonise truth and justice, and mercy and grace, with faithfulness and holiness, in man’s salvation. And how is this done? It is done in the cross of Jesus. It is done in the finished work of Emmanuel. It is done by that glorious archway of atonement, the first stone of which is here on earth, and the top stone of which is on the throne of God, “for he is God”; and so, as God and man in one mysterious person, can Christ Jesus stand our surety — merciful to his brethren on earth, and faithful to his Father in heaven. What can you add to that which is infinite? What can you attempt to supplement to that which is in itself almightily perfect?
Such is the salvation of Christ Jesus. By his own body once offered, once for all, once and forever, he took away the sins of them that believe. The poor believer does not bring anything; he comes to get all; he owes everything to Christ from first to last; and yet, it is grace in harmony with justice — grace that makes the law more adorable, and awful, and immutable than hell itself would make it, by the punishment of all that had broken it. It is in the cross of Christ that the justice of God is seen more fearfully than in the fire that can never be quenched.
I hope, my dear Christian friends, you see the glory of the grace of the gospel, in that it is grace in harmony with holiness, in consonance with justice, in perfect accordance with divine law; meeting all the requirements of fallen man, and satisfying all the demands of an outraged God. The gospel offers full, free, and perfect redemption. It is suitable to God, for it gives his law, his truth, and his justice, infinite reparation and infinite vindication; so that all the hosts of heaven cry — “Salvation to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever.” (Rev. 5:13) There is nothing they so glory in, nothing they so adore, nothing that so enkindles their ceaseless song, as “the Lamb that was slain,” the mystery of mysteries, the wonder of wonders, the mercy of mercies; there is nothing in the universe of God like a crucified Saviour. And as there is none that thus shows grace so harmoniously, so becomingly, as the great God; so there is nothing can be more complete, nothing more efficacious and effectual than this way of displaying his grace. It provides at once for the hope and for the happiness of the fallen sinner. It is all-sufficient pardon, and he may get it even at his dying hour. It requires not to be pieced out by priestly absolution, and priestly masses, and priestly extreme unction, followed, perhaps, by purgatorial torment that may last till the day of judgment. No, this miserable pardon is unworthy of God and unfit for man.
The gospel promises glorious and complete forgiveness. The sinner is told to “go and sin no more.” In the language of the apostle — “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth: who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. 8:33) Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. And we glory in this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. A pardoned sinner ought to be a happy sinner. He needs no angel, or virgin, or saint, to come between him and his God; for he has a living way of access by which he may draw near immediately to the Father — the one great High Priest who, having died on earth, intercedes for him in heaven. Woe to the man that regards the grace of the gospel as incomplete! Away with all the wretched figments, and superstitions, and will-worship, and formalism, and all the other monstrous excrescences with which the Church of Rome would defame and deform this glorious manifestation of the divine will! It is so complete that nothing could possibly be added to it; for it is divine, and what could be added to divinity? Do we, then, make void the law by faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.
We are not afraid to compare the general holiness and morality of Protestant countries with that which obtains in Popish countries. “The tree is known by its fruits.” Though we may have less of asceticism and less of servile bondage in the presence of priestcraft, yet this is but our privilege and our birthright; for if truth makes us free, then are we free indeed. It is the glorious birthright of the Protestant to exercise his judgment, to think for himself, under the guidance of God’s holy word, and, it may be, under the teaching of his ministers, but only so far as their teaching is in accordance with that word, and no further. Yes, we are not afraid to say, look at the comparative freedom, the comparative morality, the prosperity, the intellectual culture, the domestic virtue and endearment, the moral tone and character of happy England, of Protestant England. Though far from what she ought to be, yet, making every abatement, compare her with Italy, the model garden of the world. Compare her with Rome, the Pope’s model family. Compare her children with the children of “Papa.” We know that the Pope dare not ride abroad; he dare not go to give his blessing to his children; in fact, he is obliged to be surrounded with French bayonets to keep him from their loving embraces.
Compare the miserable state of Rome itself with the happy state of old England. Look at Queen Victoria going to the Great Exhibition, morning after morning, as I have been privileged to see her; and I said, as an Englishman, “God bless my Queen!” To see her going with her worthy consort — aye, well worthy of the hand of Victoria is that excellent Prince Albert! See her there with her children round her, the monarch is an example as a mother, and a pattern as the mistress of a family. See her going morning after morning, talking with working men, inspecting machinery, and asking questions that show a great amount of intelligence; and, to use a Scripture expression, “there is not a dog that moves his tongue at her.” Not a hand is lifted up, except to cheer her; not a voice is uttered, except to say “God save the Queen!”
Contrast that happy loyalty, that palladium round about our Queen formed of the hearts of Protestant Christian Englishmen, with the wretched peril, the miserable bondage of poor Pio Nono! Then I say, here is what the gospel of the grace of God has done for Protestant England, and there is what the gospel according to Trent has done for Rome and poor Pio Nono. The Roman Catholic is not a free man; he does not walk like a man that enjoys peace in his heart. Wherever you find an earnest, devout Papist, you will always find that he serves in a spirit of bondage. His downcast eye tells you it; he cannot look you in the face. His general demeanour betrays him. How different the spirit in which the Protestant believer serves his God! We love him because he first loved us. Our love is a reflection of his — just like the sun you see mirrored on the waveless lake: it must shine on the water in the first instance before its reflection can appear. In like manner, the sun of righteousness must shine on man’s heart before he can manifest his love for God.
I have now given you some slight sketch of the glorious foreground of our subject, “The Grace of the Gospel” — the glory of God, the hope of earth, the foundation of salvation, the essence of the Bible, the one great central truth that is like the sun of revelation, from which all the other truths in the Christian system borrow their light and derive their gravitation. We will now sing a hymn to Emmanuel’s praise, and then I will turn the picture, and having shown you the gospel according to Christ, I will give you the gospel according to Trent — according to Rome.