Present Truth UK January 4, 1894
The expression "the papacy" naturally brings to mind the Pope of Rome, with his cardinals, bishops, and priests, the Vatican, the Inquisition, and various other institutions connected with the machinery of the papal system. But the real papacy is not a set of men holding the titles of pope and cardinal and priest; is not the institutions which these men and their supporters have planted in Italy and throughout the world; it is not the false doctrines of Catholicism; nor is it all three of these together. It is a system of principles,-of false principles,-carried out to the full limit of their evil capacity. It is false worship developed to its most baleful degree of perfection. Before there were any popes or bishops or cardinals, or before most if not all of the false doctrines which Rome teaches had arisen, "the mystery of iniquity doth [did] already work." Before papal institutions had been established or the papal machinery had been put in operation, the principles were working which culminated in the revelation of "the man of sin," the "son perdition."
What the real essence of this system is may be seen from the following words of the Apostle Paul, taken from his second letter to the Thessalonians: "Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day [the day of the Lord] shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth HIMSELF above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." 2 Thess. ii. 3, 4. The Revised Version reads, "setting himself forth as God." It is the exaltation of self; it is putting self in the place of God. Develop this principle to the full limit, and the result will be the papacy every time.
And this principle is naturally inherent in every man. Every individual has within him a tendency to put self in the place of God. This tendency most naturally finds expression in efforts to supply the power to make himself do what is right. He makes vows, and resolves to live righteously; next he makes laws to compel himself to be righteous; and finally he inflicts penances upon himself as a last resort, to change himself, as it were, in the pathway of obedience to the Divine will. This is the principle that works in paganism,-the principle that leads men to throw themselves under the wheels of Juggernaut, to crawl on hands and knees for scores of miles to the Ganges, or shrines of their gods, and to inflict upon themselves various other tortures. With it is coupled the equally false idea that such things serve in some way to appease the wrath of God.
The papacy goes a step farther than this and thereby reaches a far more baleful position. It extends the principle to the doctrine that a man should not only make laws and inflict penalties for the spiritual guidance of himself, but for other people as well; that he should not only exercise power to regulate his own conscience, but the consciences of his fellows! And thus we have the Pope of Rome, sitting as God in the temple of God, and assuming authority to command all men under sin; to shut up heaven to all, or to release from "purgatory," or to absolve souls from the penalties of all laws; to regulate, in short, the consciences and the worship of the whole world! This is the principle of putting self in the place of God, carried out to its full extent.
And what should be borne in mind in connection with all this is that this principle of self-exaltation is not confined in its operation to any certain kind or class of men, but is a principle which has a natural hold upon all, a hold which can only be loosed by the power of the Gospel of God. And hence it is just as possible to have popes among Protestants as among Catholics. Indeed it is certain that there are many popes in the Protestant world to-day,-not visibly and ostensibly such, but men which nevertheless put themselves, or allow others to put them, in the place of God, so that people seek to them instead of to God to learn what is right. The principle is the same in both, and the results are bound to be as evil in the one case as in the other.
Let every man beware how he puts himself in a position, or allows himself to be put, where he stands in the place of God. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." It could be not God's voice that is heard, and God's power that is felt, through him,-if, in other words, he calls attention not to God but to himself, lifts up himself and not Christ before the multitude, then, although not a pope in name, he is actuated by the same principle that works in popery, and is bringing upon himself a share in its condemnation.