The Assumption of Mary

 

By G. H. LANG.

 

[The following can be found in the authorís book, - Pictures and Parables, pp. 104-109.]

 Before leaving this parable [i.e., of The Leaven and the Meal] we will consider a few more instances of the hiding of leaven in the meal by this Woman.

 

The Godhead. The Catholic creed avows the orthodox doctrine of the trinity of Persons in the one God. In practice, however, the glorification of Mary makes her the chief object of devotion. In the first period of the Confederated Church the East and the West sections were one body. The Coptic Church of Egypt is a branch of the Eastern section. In its liturgy there is a passage in which Mary actually stands between the Father and the Son as an object of invocation. Thus was idolatrous error interwoven with the truth.

 

Atonement. The Church avows that the sacrificial death of Christ is indispensable to our salvation; but this is vitiated by the doctrine that this salvation is obtained through the sacraments, and these require the priest for effectual administration. Liberty of direct access to God through Christ is thus set aside.

 

The Catholic creed admits the Divine origin of the Old and New Testaments, but this is corrupted by the recognition of the Apocrypha also. Moreover, before the official Catholic creed admits the Holy Scriptures it requires the avowal of a steadfast assent to and acceptance of alleged apostolic traditions. And to the acknowledgment of the Scriptures the promise is appended not to interpret them save according to the unanimous consent of the Church Fathers. As these in fact are not unanimous on doctrine no interpretation of Scripture by the individual Catholic is possible. Thus does leaven vitiate the meal. Tradition is made the more important, and the Word of God is made of none effect.

 

Purgatory. In my commentary on Hebrews it is shown (ch. 13) that Scripture warns that an unsanctified believer is liable to the parental chastisement of God [before and] after death, with a view to his being fitted for the Millennial kingdom. To this salutary teaching the Catholic Church adds the fundamental error that this purification is necessary to final salvation, whereas the blessed truth is that this is dependent solely upon the atoning death of Christ relied upon by faith.

 

To false doctrine on this matter the Church then appends the further falsity that its priests can help the sufferer through and out of purgatory by their masses, thus greatly strengthening the grip of the priests on their dupes [deceived followers] and their money.

 

(12) The Assumption of Mary. [On p. 187 of G. H. Langís commentary on Hebrews is written:-]

 

ďIt is worth deep and full inquiry whether it be not the case that the whole system of Roman theology, and each dogma separately, has some element of truth at its heart, truth perverted and corrupted, but there. It is to be doubted whether any one of those dogmas is undiluted error. That Church has been pre-eminently the woman that has hid the leaven of error in the meal of truth; but the meal is there.If this is so, it is to be expected that in even their doctrine of purgatory there is an element of truth

 

Here is a theme worthy of some competent evangelical theologian and historian. A reviewer remarked upon the paragraph just quoted that - "there is true insight here, but the statement goes too far: what element of truth lies at the heart (for example) of the latest Dogma, that of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?"

 

The answer affords a useful illustration of the feature here discussed.

 

The history of this dogma begins with an early legend that almost immediately after the death of Mary Christ appeared, with His angels, and caused her soul to be reunited with her body and she was carried to heaven.

 

The legend appeared in the third or fourth century and was attributed to Gnostic or Collyridian heretics. The latter worshipped the Virgin Mary as a goddess and offered to her cakes as a sacrifice. The book that preserved this story was for a while rejected by the Church and was officially condemned as heretical by a Decretum attributed to Pope Gelasius A.D. 494. By a series of forgeries in the names of John the Apostle, Melito, Athanasius, Jerome, and Augustine, and further by the adoption of the Gnostic legend by some accredited teachers, writers, and liturgies, it became accepted by the Church in centuries 6, 7, and 9 (see Smithís Dict. of Christian Antiquities, ii, 1142, 1143). But it remained only a "pious tradition" [which nevertheless ought to be accepted] down to A.D. 1950, when it was exalted to being a Dogma which the faithful are bound to believe at peril of the soul.

 

Here is a clear denial of the Dogma of Papal Infallibility, for what was condemned as heretical in 494 was affirmed as Divine truth in 1950.

 

Thus the lowly Mary, the mother of Jesus, and of His brothers and sisters (Mark 3: 31; 6: 3; John 2: 3-5; Gal. 1: 19), was metamorphosed into the Perpetual Virgin and impiously exalted to be the Queen of Heaven with the blasphemies which are attached to her, as in the instance cited above where she is placed between the Father and the Son in adoration, and as when she is set forth as the tender-hearted Intercessor, who pleads for sinners at the hands of her harsh and unwilling Son.

 

Thus the pagan Queen of Heaven, as owned at first by the heretical Collyridians, was adopted by the Confederate Church at large when it had become paganized as the Church of the Empire.

 

The reader may think the reviewer justified in questioning whether there can be any element of truth in this blasphemy. Yet going back to the original form of the legend, its essence is this: That immediately after Maryís death, by a descent of the Lord from heaven with His angels, her body was re-quickened by reunion with her soul, brought from Paradise, and she was then translated to the heavens. Now this is precisely what is to occur to Mary at the descent of the Lord from heaven with the angels of His power, and to all other believers accounted worthy to attain to that coming age and the resurrection from among the dead (I Thess. 4: 16, 17; 1 Cor. 15: 50 ff.; Luke 20: 35).

 

The error mingled with the truth was that the event had already taken place in the case of Mary, and this paved the way for the disastrous corruptions mentioned.

 

If the apostles had taught the early church that all believers go to heaven at death this would of necessity have applied to Mary and there would have been neither need nor room for inventing a special legend so as to get her there. The fact of the legend about her in particular shows the apostles had not so taught.

 

The Place of Dead Saints. Let it now be much observed that, according to the legend Maryís soul did not at death go to heaven above, but was carried by angelic agency to Paradise.

 

This shows that down to that time (cent. 4) it was held that believers at death went where Lazarus went at his death, and by the same angelic agency; "he was carried by the angels into Abrahamís bosom" (Luke 16: 22). This was the current description of Paradise, the sphere of the pious dead, and it was thither that the Lord and the penitent thief went at death (Luke 23: 43; Eph. 4: 9). I find not a word of Scripture to suggest that the godly dead have ever gone to any other place, yet the unfounded idea is general that Christ at His resurrection took From Paradise all believers, removed them to heaven, and that consequently ever since then believers have gone to heaven at death.

 

Upon this the learned Bishop Pearson, in his monumental treatise on The Creed, writes on Article V as follows:-

 

This hath been in the later ages of the church the vulgar opinion of most men ... But even this opinion, as general as it bath been, hath neither that consent of antiquity, nor such certainty as it pretendeth. ... The most ancient of all the fathers, whose writings are extant, were so far from believing that the end of Christís descent into hell was to translate the saints of old into heaven, that they thought them not to be in heaven yet, nor ever to be removed from that place in which they were before Christís death, until the general resurrection. ... Indeed, I think there were very few (if any) for above five hundred years after Christ, who did so believe Christ delivered the saints out of hell as to leave all the damned there; and therefore this opinion cannot be grounded upon the prime antiquity, when so many of the ancients believed not they were removed at all, and so few acknowledged that they were removed alone. ... But there is no certainty that the patriarchs and the prophets are now in another place and a better condition than they were before our blessed Saviour died; there is no intimation of any such alteration of their state delivered in the scriptures; there is no such place with any probability pretended to prove any actual accession of happiness and glory already past.*

 

[* Griffith Thomasí discussion in The Principles of Theology (66-72) I feel to be inadequate and faulty. It is to be remembered that Pearson uses "hell" in its older sense of hades, the place of the dead not in its present common sense of final punishment, Ďthe lake of fireí.]

 

This opinion that believers at death go to heaven and glory is worse in its nature than the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. That doctrine did at least include the resurrection of the body as prerequisite to ascent to heaven; this other opinion dispenses with resurrection as a preliminary to translation to the presence of God. In this particular the one was scriptural, the other unscriptural, and in scope and influence the latter is the larger error, for the one applied to Mary alone, the other affects myriads of believers.

 

Its practical effect is to make resurrection unnecessary, for the saint has already reached the goal and the highest state possible, the glory of God.*In essence this is much the same as the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus, that "resurrection is past already," and its moral effect is similar, even to diminish faith as regards a living expectation of resurrection at the coming of the Lord, even in those who sincerely aver belief in the last doctrine.

 

[* William Tyndale urged this argument against the Catholic, Sir Thomas More, who asserted that Christians go to heaven at death (Reply to Sir T. More, Ch. viii, 118).]

 

Now that which lessens in the Christian the keen desire for the coming of the Lord is injurious. It works alongside of the error that the church is to convert the world in this age, which error gained ground at the same time that the hope of the Lordís return ceased to be generally held by Christians.

 

The Sovereignty of the Saints. Scripture teaches that it is the purpose of God that Christ shall be King over all the earth (Ps. 2; Dan. 7: 13, 14; Matt. 25: 31; etc.). Included in that purpose is the plan that those who will form the church of the firstborn ones, those who conquered in the present wars of the Lord, shall share the sovereignty and glory of Christ (Matt. 19: 28; Luke 22: 28-30; 1 Cor. 6: 2, 3 ; Rev. 2: 25-28; 3: 21; etc.).

 

This high prospect the Confederated Church accepted; but when that Church was adopted and honoured by the State, and the expectation of the return of Christ faded away, error was added to this truth also. The truth was retained; but even as the translation of Mary was brought forward into this age, and no longer deferred to the first resurrection at the coming of the Lord, so was the temporal rule of the saints brought forward and it was taught that the Church ought to rule the world now. It matters nothing that Paul had reproved the believers at Corinth for "reigning" as if this [evil age] were the period for the saints to do so (1 Cor. 4: 8). The City of God must be built here and now, without the personal presence of the King.

 

Out of this perverse and ill-timed application of the truth grew the rank and poisonous weed of Papal Supremacy. The Pope claimed to be king of kings, lord over all rulers and peoples, and to have authority to depose sovereigns and absolve a kingís subjects from their due allegiance to him. As Viceregent for Christ it was his to live in more than royal splendour and luxury.

 

This corrupt and civilly corrupting leaven, this evil political theory, is still held firmly by that Church, and is yet to be realized when the Harlot Church shall for a short time sit on and direct the Scarlet-coloured political Beast, the kingdom of Antichrist (Rev. 17).

 

Annually, in mock imitation of the blessed Lord having washed the feet of the apostles, the Pope washes the feet of twelve beggars. But, as Bengel said, it would show more true humility were he to wash the feet of one king.

 

The blessed hope of the return of the Lord was a vital part of apostolic doctrine. Whatever diminishes it in the heart of the believer is of the nature of leaven, a corrupting of truth by an admixture of err! Here each who abhors the Woman has to fear and watch lest he to spread leaven. The Roman 'Church is not the only agency that has done this work of the Evil One.

 

These instances of the work of the Woman and the leaven against the truth will suffice. The serious lesson of the parable is that this process having early commenced in the sphere of the kingdom of heaven will continue to work until the consummation of the age, so that the coming Lord has Himself raised the question whether "when the Son of man cometh shall He find the faith on the earth?" (Luke 18: 8).

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