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A Sabbath in Rome

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the 1 January 1872 Sword and Trowel

Spurgeon

WITH no ordinary feelings we found ourselves on the Lord's-day in the city where Satan's seat now is, but where once the gospel gained its grandest triumphs. We had trodden the Appian way, peered into the gloom of the Mamertine prison, and threaded the mazes of the catacombs, and now we were to preach the gospel in Rome also, and salute the saints which be in Rome, and devout strangers out of every nation. Of superstition we do not possess a particle, and even sentimental reverence for places has small power over us. It might be said of us most truly—

"A brickbat from Jerusalem,
A bit o brickbat was to him
And nothing more."

For all that, an unusual condition of heart was upon us, and we felt the spell of Rome. That, spell, however, did not move us in the direction of the old heathenish Papacy, but in the opposite path, once trodden by an older, holier, and more truly Christian church, which is at this time reviving in the city of the Caesars. If the church of the catacombs still exists—and we are sure it does, for we have seen it—it certainly finds no shelter beneath the dome of St. Peter's, or within the walls of the Vatican, for there an utterly alien system holds sway. Peter would be filled with wrath at the idolatry which defiles St. Peter's, and Paul would wonder how Pio Nono could dare to claim apostolical succession, when his palaces, and his teachings, and his pretensions are things unknown in the word of God.
    We started early to find our Baptist friends and break bread with them, but as they had told us the hour only, and not the place of meeting, we wandered about in a hopeless search. Our walk, however, took us by the English Episcopal church, outside the walls, hard by the public slaughter-house. Here the Pope in the days of his reign allowed our countrymen to worship, but their heretical rites were not allowed to defile the holy city. This church is reputed high, so high, that a rival church is opened on the opposite side of the road, offering a resort for those of a lower or more evangelical creed. The church which boasts of her unity thus exhibits a schism in the presence of the lynx-eyed church of Rome—a schism which one would think would not have arisen—as there is yet a third Episcopal congregation, called the American church. A man must be hopelessly infatuated who sets up High Church in Rome; carrying coals to Newcastle is nothing to it. If a man wants the genuine Popish article, he is not likely to deal with a Ritualistic pedlar, when so many wholesale warehouses are all around him. We sincerely hope the Low Church will snuff out the High, and present to the Roman people something better than the sham fineries of Puseyism.
    We missed the meeting for communion, which we had much anticipated, and turned in to wait for the service it the neat and elegant meeting-house of Dr. Lewis, of the Free Church of Scotland.. Our Free Church brethren, wherever they exist, gather around them all the Nonconformist element; and their general liberality of heart, and orthodoxy of doctrine, render them a very attractive center for all Non-episcopal believers, in Dr. Lewis's church we had the great privilege of preaching the gospel to a numerous audience of all classes of the community, including not a few eminent persons among our fellow countrymen. At the remembrance of that service our heart is glad, for we are persuaded that the Lord was among us of a truth. Pleasant, indeed, it was to meet with old friends and acquaintances, after the service, and receive their Christian salutations.
    In the evening our sermon within the gates, in the very center of Rome, was addressed to the Italians. It was in an upper room near the Forum of Trajan that we spoke to a crowded little gathering, our beloved brother, Mr. James Wall, acting as interpreter. This dear friend we have known and esteemed for years; he is an able preacher, has thoroughly mastered the language, and speaks with the fluency of a native. He is sanguine, zealous, warm-hearted, intense man; in all respects well fitted to be the pioneer of the Baptised churches in Rome. Withal, he is cheerful, and of a generous spirit, and large-hearted enough to work with the Vaudois, the Wesleyans, and others who are evangelising Italy. He deserves the prayers and co-operation of Christians in England, and we trust he will not be without them. In connection with his excellent fellow laborer, Mr. Cote, who represents the American Baptists, and of whom we will say more anon, Mr. Wall is doing a good and great work among the Romans.
    Mr. Wall gave out a hymn, read a portion of Scripture, and prayed in Italian, and then began our part of the proceedings. It is always dull work to speak through an interpreter. One has to utter a few sentences and pause, and then begin again. It is as murderous to all oratory as the old method of lining out the hymn was deadly to all music. Your train of thought hardly starts, before it has to pull up. There is no opportunity for warmth or vehemence. Still, by keeping to the marrow of the gospel, giving short sentences, and plentiful illustrations, attention can be gained and held. So far as we could judge, the best of feeling pervaded the meeting, and the truth was received with joy, though many there were strangers to it.
    This was too good to last; and accordingly, as Satan would have it, a question was asked by someone near the door, which, being answered, a well-dressed personage attempted to prolong the inquiry and raise difficulties. As he had no right by law to disturb the assembly, he was requested to wait till the preacher had done. In all probability, our close would have been a little more remote, but so unusual an experience flurried us a little; and, with a prayer for divine guidance, we ended our exhortation, and prepared for war. Mr. Wall was coolly expectant, being well used to such debates. We being only able dimly to guess what the objector had to say, felt uneasy and impatient. The voice was at first that of a caviller from a free-thinker's point of view, but an assault being made in Mr. Wall's rejoinder upon the church of Rome, the gentleman threw off the mask and spoke as a Romanist. Thereupon, an esteemed Waldensian Pastor rose and addressed him with great energy, and even rose to indignant eloquence, denouncing the Jesuitism displayed by the caviller. He carried all the people with him, so that general acclamation followed, which could scarcely be hushed. The objector, with violent gesticulation and affected nonchalance, commenced again, but many rose to reply, and we could see that the battle was in excellent hands. It was a hotly contested field, but the enemy made no headway, even the common hearers were eager to answer him. We asked him, through Mr. Wall, one or two questions, at which he bit his lips, but which he did not attempt to answer, as for instance, this:—"What are the great advantages offered by the church of Rome? Seeing that masses are said for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Wiseman, it is clear that this eminent divine has gone where he is not in repose. If such is the future prospect of your best and greatest men, there must be but a poor look-out for common people,—would they not be better off if they turned heretics and went to heaven at once when they died?" The people tried to hold him to these questions, but he backed out of them, and endeavored to talk on other points.
    Just then a letter was passed up, saying that the writer knew the objector to be a secular priest, of remarkable ability, and a personal friend of the Pope. He was informed of this and asked if it were so. He pretended astonishment, but could not deny it. He was thereupon challenged by Mr. Wall to a public discussion, but wisely declined it. He was then informed that the time was come to close any debate for the evening, and he thereupon left the assembly. We then proceeded again to talk to the people; and, after many salutations to, the brethren, went our way to our hotel, attended by the two evangelists and other friends.
    Our brethren in Rome view the conflict of the evening with great satisfaction. To them it appears needful to break their way in a manner unusual and undesirable in England. The disputing brings hearers, and lets in light where otherwise indifference would have reigned. For our part we shall be glad when it can be dispensed with, for our fear is that it prevents the due influence of gospel preaching upon the hearer, and is likely to confound the weaker sort, and wound quiet spirits. For the present it is like the backwoods-man's axe, needful to hew a way through the dark forests of ignorance, superstition, and scepticism.
    So ended our Sabbath in Rome, joyously and well. We hope that ere long we may be allowed to spend many days in this city, for a great door and effectual is open unto us and there are many adversaries. Since that Sabbath, we have had further intercourse with our Baptist brethren, and have broken bread with them, and quietly preached the word of life. A church is growing up in Rome, full of hope, living, suffering, and increasing. There are four preaching rooms in Rome, a small Pastors' College, and several out-stations. Mr. Cote is a solid and energetic man, exactly fitted to work with Mr. Wall; and the two together make up an apostolic agency of the right kind. They ought never to lack funds or friends. Prayer should be made for them continually; they need it and deserve it. What is most wanted is a large central meeting-house where all could meet for worship. Their rooms are as good as they can afford, and are just now in capital situations to reach the poor; but, in addition, they ought to have a permanent site and a neat but handsome room. If they were only half as well off as our Presbyterian friends, it would be an improvement indeed. American and English Baptists must unite in this work; why should they not? Would to God we were knit together by closer bonds. We are one race and have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; let us labor together for the common cause. Would it not be possible to have a Baptist Union for all the world, and meet in brotherly conference to look each other in the time? It might be a step to increased unity in the entire Christian world. Meanwhile, Rome must have a chief place in all our hearts.
    Besides the English churches, and the two brethren we have mentioned, who labor among the Italians there are in Rome two ministers of the Waldensian church with their congregations, one Italian Wesleyan, and we believe two Italian Free churches There is therefore a hopeful agency at work, a wonderful agency, indeed, considering that religious freedom has only been enjoyed since September, 1870, when the Italian troops entered the city. Everywhere priests are despised. Convents and nunneries are in the progress of suppression, church lands are being sold, and public opinion falls strongly on the side of unbounded liberty. Scepticism is wide-spread, and is an enemy equally to be dreaded with superstition, but the tongue and the pen of the evangelist are free, and the gospel slowly but surely is winning its way. If we had to choose our life-work, we would prefer to labor in Rome. It is a clear site, no other man's foundation is there, and he who is first at work will be the architect of he future. The Lord bless those who are already laboring there, and raise up many helpers of their toil. May his Holy Spirit richly rest on all that is done in the name of the Holy Child Jesus, both at Rome and throughout the world.

C. H. SPURGEON.

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