The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

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Nineteenth Century Romanism

by Rev James I Gracie

First published in the Presbyterian Standard in four parts,
from issue 27 (July-September 2002) to issue 30 (April-June 2003).


WE begin a series of articles in which we look at 19th century Romanism through the eyes of Rev James Begg. A Handbook of Popery was the first of Begg's published works (written 1852). In it, he had four objects chiefly in view:-

  1. To discuss the salient points of what he saw as "the greatest controversy that ever agitated the Christian Church."
  2. To arrange the Protestant arguments in a logical order so as to leave upon the mind of his readers a lucid impression of the unity of Protestant truth as opposed to Romish error, and to bring out that which the Reformers mainly dwelt upon, viz., the fact that Rome upsets both the law and the gospel.
  3. To set out these points and arguments in such a way that the mass of people could understand them, and to give ample references (especially scriptural) for more considered study where desired.
  4. To use the most up-to-date sources of evidence which he then had to prove his points.

It must be noted that he wrote this book with two specific concerns:-

  1. He witnessed the desperate assaults being made by Rome to regain its former supremacy in Britain and how these endeavours were, to some extent, succeeding. His book was an attempt to combat this.
  2. An alternative title was given to the book, viz., Textbook of Missions for the Conversion of Romanists: being Papal Rome Tested by Scripture, History, and Its Recent Workings. Thus a principal concern of the work was the conversion of Romanists.

These articles [i.e., the four parts included herein] seek to investigate the position of Romanism at that point in history, with particular reference to its attempts to proselytize Britain. They also endeavour to set out the main topics (including papal history) which Begg deals with, and his own views and contributions to these topics as they affected not only Rome but the Church of his own day. The issues Begg identified are still present today. They are always present since Rome has not changed for the better. On the contrary, her corruptions have grown and her efforts towards prostestant Britain have gathered pace. These articles seek to show the relevance of Begg's judgements on Romanism for our own day.

In the book, Begg intentionally used the words Popery,Papist, Romanist and so forth. He did so, not for the purpose of causing insult, but because these words alone accurately define the system and its adherents. "To call Popery the 'Catholic' or 'universal' church" says Begg, "is virtually to concede the whole argument to Rome. To call its adherents 'Roman Catholics' is to use a contradiction in terms." These articles adopt the same terminology and for the same reasons.

17th-18th Century Romanism

In Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan tells how Christian passes a cave wherein were two giants: Pope and Pagan. Christian learnt; "Pagan has been dead many a day: and as for the other, though he be yet alive, he is, by reason of age, and also of the many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy and stiff in his joints, that he can now do little more than sit in his cave's mouth, grinning at pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot come at them." Thankfully, Bunyan never took up a career in medicine - he buried Pagan before his time, and he mistook Pope's flu symptoms for death pangs.

James Begg never thought that Popery was a spent force. On the contrary, he gave three reasons to show that Popery had inherent longevity:-

  1. Popery's past success manifested infallible tokens of its mysterious power.
  2. Popery's ability to adapt to suit the depravity of human nature.
  3. Scripture reveals that Antichrist will be consumed with the Spirit of the Lord's mouth, and be destroyed with the brightness of His coming.

Thus Popery; "should perish, not by gradual decay, but by sudden judgement"; the wound inflicted at the Reformation should therefore be healed, and the system destroyed when at its full strength.

However, as far as 17th. and 18th. century Britain was concerned, Bunyan's assessment may not have appeared far from the truth. The Jacobite rebellion, culminating in the '45 rising, represented effort on the part of Popery at a counter-reformation in Britain. Pope Benedict XIV gave his full blessing to the expedition, praying that the Stuart family be restored to the throne: "a family so truly Catholic, and one which has done so much for the Catholic religion."

Schools teach and sentimental ballads commemorate no more than an historical mis-conception when it is asserted that the Scottish Highlander was defeated at Culloden. Steve Bruce [1] perpetuates this misconception when he says; "In 1715 and 1745, leading Highland chiefs and their followers fought in the interests of the Stuart monarchy.....The whigs were sensitive enough to see that the willingness of the highlanders to engage in such adventure could only be diminished if their whole way of life was undermined." This statement may be correct as far as it goes, but one must be reminded that the Pretender was defeated largely because the highlander was not at Culloden, i.e. relatively few Clan Chiefs rallied to the cause. An examination of the available information proves this point, e.g. Donald MacLean records the following interesting statistics:- [2]

Total strength of Jacobite army

2590 (Official list)

Number bearing Clan names


Of the 780 above:-

Number forced into army


Number hired


Number of servants

over 200

There was, therefore, little support in the Highlands for the Jacobite cause - the overwhelming mass of the Highland people supported the Protestant cause. This, sadly, makes the subsequent red-coat atrocities under the Duke of Cumberland all the more heinous.

19th Century Romanism

This setback for the Romanist cause did not conclude the aspirations of the Pope of Rome to once again rule over Britain. Indeed, by the 19th century James Begg observes that Popery "is making great and rapid progress."

This was not only true in Britain but throughout Christendom. He continues: "Spain, Portugal, and Naples are her slaves - Russia is her ally - she is struggling for dominion in Switzerland...... France is prostrate at her feet. In Austria, she is paramount - in Italy, she is politically supreme - in Holland, she is struggling for power, in America and Australia she is making gigantic efforts" [3]   Britain stood as the last and strongest fortress against Rome's superstition and civil tyranny - it followed that she should now turn all her attention and might to its reconquering. The Pope had learnt by experience that force would not work. This signalled the beginning of the so-called Peaceful Penetration method. Her weapons of warfare; "fraud, perjury, the most reckless use of priestly power, and the most unscrupulous employment of civil despotism." [4]   "That the Jesuits are leading this movement in Britain," says Begg, "is admitted on all sides." [5]

Theodor Griesinger records that the open contention which existed among the various orders of monks (e.g.Thomists and Scotists) whilst previously increased by the national jealousy of French, Italian and Spanish (the races to which almost all such orders belonged) was terminated by the Reformation and the institution of a new Order established - the Jesuits. "Monachism", says Griesinger, "could not stand against the thunderbolts of the Reformers, and the Catholic world and the Papacy could not ward off attacks with the old weapons and means, hence the Jesuits [were] called into existence." [6]

The Jesuits were formed on the 27th September 1540 through a special Bull commencing with the words Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae. Its founder was Ignatius Loyola. Initially the Society had sixty members but a new Bull gave Loyola the power to take as many members as he wished. He was also given the power to change the laws of the Society without any reference to the Pope, such pronouncements to have all the authority of the Pope himself. This effectively made Loyola and his successors independent of the papal Chair and, at the same time, "a despot of such extraordinary power that it was calculated to render all states distrustful of him." [7]

Griesinger comments further; "All admitted that the Jesuits in relation to power, influence, extension, empire, and mastery, had made even the impossible possible. All, however, agreed that never, so long as the earth had been inhabited by man, had there been a society so steeped in meanness and vileness as the Jesuits; indeed, should the tenth part of the crimes and shameful deeds attributed to them be true, they are unworthy to exist among men." [8]

The aim of the Jesuit is the complete sway over Church and State. The former he achieves by his influence over the infallible Pope. As Griesinger says; "Woe be to the Pope who forgets the authority and power of the Order by whom he climbs to his own eminence." [9] The Papal absolutism inherent in the idea of infallibility was the design of the Jesuits. While infallibility was opposed by many notable papists, yet; "thanks to the bribery and intimidation practiced by the dominant party [the Jesuits], it was at last launched upon an unsuspecting world as de facto." [10]

The Jesuit seeks sway over the State by whatever means are available: legal or illegal, moral or otherwise. Begg states the case thus; "They assume all disguises..... their sole object being to re-establish the dominion of Rome..... Their obedience is shackled by no regard to principle, human or divine. Whatever their master commands, they implicitly obey." [11] The implicit obedience demanded by the Jesuit Society is spelled out by Loyola himself in a document entitled The Jesuit Rule of Obedience.

Romanist Objective

Pope Pius IX revealed the true Romanist objective when, in 1850, he parcelled out England into Roman dioceses and, in his Letters Apostolic, stated; "We reserve to ourselves and our successors, the Pontiffs of Rome, the power of again dividing the said Province [England] into others and increasing the number of dioceses as occasion shall require."

Astorm followed this presumptuous insult, such that even the Romanist Duke of Norfolk, the Premier Peer of England, wrote; "These ultramontane opinions are totally incompatible with allegiance to our Sovereign and with our Constitution." Parliament felt it necessary to issue an Act declaring that, "all such Letters Apostolical....shall be deemed unlawful and void."

However, Begg records the following statistics demonstrating the progress of the popish church in Britain during the ten year period 1842-1852:- [12]

England and Wales:-








Religious houses for men








Churches and chapels
























Begg saw the Jesuits behind the havoc being caused within the Church of England of his day, where nearly one hundred of its ministers had newly gone over to Rome. This may have begun with such men as John Henry Newman, John Keble, Edward Bouverie Pushy, and the formation of the Oxford Movement. From this movement, there later developed the Anglo-Catholic Movement which introduced Romanist ritual and practice into Anglican Churches, followed closely by Romanist doctrines.

The same influence affecting England was notoriously employed in Edinburgh. Begg observes: "This city swarms with emissaries of Rome, who are plying every art of deception." [13]

But why should Rome be successful in her efforts? Begg observed two points:-

Firstly, Rome has internal causes which foster the growth of her superstition, i.e. it adopts itself to the various tastes of unregenerate men. "In a word," says Begg, "that man is but little acquainted with human nature, or his own heart, who does not see that there are strong elements in the nature of man, to which Popery has successfully appealed in the case of millions for centuries past." [14]

Secondly, Rome has external causes which explain her progress, i.e. the low state of vital religion within Britain. Cold and heartless theology possessed the Protestant pulpits. Begg observes; "Our periodicals and other literature besides, whilst disowning, under pretence of higher intelligence, the deeper penetration of our ancestors, has created a shallow sentimentalism, which is the very substratum upon which Popery delights to build."

Apart from the obvious advantages, Rome also employed three further elements:-

  1. The world-wide funds at her disposal.
  2. The swarm of priests from Maynooth College (which received £30,000 per annum of Government subsidy).
  3. The wealth and position of every convert to Rome made available to her to further her cause.

The Scottish Bill repealing the penal laws in 1793, and the subsequent Emancipation Act in 1829, in no way altered Rome's ultimate objective and aspirations towards Scotland. Donald MacLean comments as follows; "Unalterably bound to the belief that there is no Church but the Church of Rome, and that all else is heresy, she illustrates in Scotland the illogical extreme of asserting supremacy, while gladly accepting the benefits of equality." [15]

Due to Irish immigration, the papist population in Scotland increased seven-fold e.g. MacLean states that the papist population in Glasgow rose in the first half of the nineteenth century from 50 to 24,000; and in Edinburgh from 700 to 8,000. By 1851 there were 32 papist schools which 5,673 scholars attended. Between 1881 and 1901 the Irish multiplied in Scotland by 32.5%, while the general population only increased by some 18%.

This inrush of Irish immigrants brought about the first of a series of triumphs for Rome: the restoration of papal hierarchy in Scotland. While the Scottish papist was pietistic by nature, the Irish Romanist was militant. Such was the strength of the Irish contingent that when they, contrary to the wishes of Scottish priests, demanded the erection of dioceses and the introduction of a regular hierarchy, Pope Leo XIII gladly accommodated them by issuing a Bull on 4th. March 1878 enacting the same.

In every sphere within Scotland, Rome was consolidating and expanding its influence in all directions with effective assertiveness. Yet there was no general turning of the Scottish people to Romanism. MacLean comments: "Rome has failed by persuasion to alter appreciably the character of Scottish religious life and thought. But it has succeeded considerably by the means of peaceful penetration. What polemics failed to do the Irish labourer succeeded to effect." [16]

To be Continued (D.V.)

1. Steve Bruce, No Pope of Rome, p.11.
2. Donald MacLean, The Counter Reformation in Scotland, p.222.
3. James Begg, Handbook of Popery, p.299.
4. Ibid. p.299.
5. Ibid. p.300.
6. Theodore Griesinger, The Jesuits, p.1-3.
7. Ibid. p.36.
8. Ibid. p.3.
9. Ibid. p.155-156.
10. Ibid. p.156.
11. James Begg, Handbook of Popery, p.300.
12. Ibid. p.309.
13. Ibid. p.305.
14. Ibid. p.315.
15. Donald MacLean, The Counter Reformation in Scotland, p.264.
16. Ibid. p.282.


Papal Rome Tested

THE greatest concern for men like James Begg in the 19th century was the conversion of Romanists. To this end, Begg's book, A Handbook of Popery, sets out to test Rome not only by its workings, but by Scripture and history. He felt great harm was often done when one simply endeavoured to prove that Rome is unscriptural in all its parts. As a painter fixes in his mind on the broad outline of his picture before filling in the details, so we should first apprehend the Divinely inspired sketch of this Masterpiece of Satan before contemplating the details.

"The Bible warns us clearly and unequivocally" he says, "that the system now called Popery should arise in the world.....and be the most formidable and bloody enemy with which the Church of Christ should ever have to war." [1] He gives the following Scriptural proofs for this statement:-


This Prophet gives two predictions regarding the four Kingdoms that were to succeed the Babylonian Empire. The first, Daniel 2:31-45, is the revelation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, where:-

  • The golden head = The Babylonian Empire.
  • The breast and arms of silver = The Medo-Persian Empire.
  • The belly and thighs of brass = The Grecian or Macedonian Empire.

  • The legs of iron = The Roman Empire.
    (a) The feet partly iron and partly clay = The Roman Empire strong then weak.
    (b) The ten toes = The Ten Kingdoms into which the Roman Empire was divided.
  • The stone cut out of the mountain without hands = The Kingdom of Messiah which would smite the image and break it, which would become a great mountain and fill the whole earth.

Daniel Chapter 7 affords us another outline of the same four empires, where:- 

  • The lion with eagles wings = Babylon (the King of beasts and the King of birds).
  • The bear = The Medes and the Persians (strength and cruelty).
  • The leopard with four heads and four wings = Alexander's rapid progress/ the eventual fourfold division of his empire.
  • The nameless beast = The Roman Empire which had ten horns plus a little horn which plucked out three of the former horns, in which were; "eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things."

This latter vision troubled the prophet: "I, Daniel, was distressed in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me" (v.15). The vision of the little horn particularly troubled the prophet since he specifically asks concerning it (v.20). [It is significant that the time and place of the little horn is fixed within this vision].

All the above predictions have come to pass. The Roman Empire was divided into Ten Kingdoms, and the Papacy arose out of the midst of them. In so doing, he plucked out by the root three of these Kingdoms; viz. the Exarchate of Ravenna ceded to the Pope in 755, the Lombards in 774, and and the state of Rome itself.

The title Little Horn is also significant. Compared to previous monarchies the Papacy appears insignificant, yet it is diverse from the first (being a combination of spiritual and temporal power). Further, Daniel's description of this horn fits exactly that of the worldly pride and arrogance of the Papacy, as:-

In this horn were the eyes of a man, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows. (v.20)

He shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws. (v.25)

2 Thessalonians

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-11 Paul not only gives a similar description to that of Daniel, but he likewise identifies the time and place. The mystery of iniquity (v.7) had already begun in the apostle's time, but was being hindered or let by the Roman Empire within which it had sprung up. But when the Roman Empire is finally taken out of the way, then αποκαλυϕθησεται ο ανομος - the Lawless One will be revealed (v.8). The papacy did indeed arise just as here predicted.

Alexander Thomson of Banchory gives a very vivid account of the installation of Pope Pius VIII. The Pope, having arrived at St. Peter's in great pomp an ceremony, received the adoration of all the cardinals - each cardinal prostrated himself before the Pope, and kissed the Pope's slipper and hand, then received the ultimate honour; the blessing of the Pope.

This adoration of the Pope takes place on the very spot where the Ciborium or Pyx - containing the Host - usually stands. The Host is considered by papists as the body and blood of Christ: in Italy it is spoken of as Il buono Dio - the good God. In the centre of every high altar there stands a Pyx containing the Host, which no papist would pass without kneeling before in worship.

By the Pope placing himself on the spot usually occupied by the Pyx, he literally fulfils the apostle's words; '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 2:4) Paul does not say that the son of perdition exalts himself above God, but above all that is called God; a reference surely to the Host, which papists call God, and worship as God.

Further, the worship given to the Pope is not merely reverence, but adoration. The word adoration (αδοραζιονε) is the technical word always used by papists when they speak of the worship God himself; thus the Pope as God sitteth in the Temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. It is for this reason that Pope Boniface VIII concluded what was a notorious Bull in the following terms; 'Moreover, we declare, affirm, define, and pronounce, that it is altogether a matter of necessity of salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.' [2]

1 Timothy

In 1 Timothy 4:1-4, Paul gives additional facts which Begg applies exclusively to the popish church. By its impious devotion offered to the virgin Mary and the real or supposed saints, Rome has restored the demon or hero worship of the pagans, i.e. it is giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrine of devils (1 Timothy 4:1). The apostle also describes the lying spirit which has always characterised Rome.

Paul's prophesy of them 'forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats' (v.3) is a remarkable prediction of Rome's practice of priestly celibacy, and her command to keep from certain meats.


In Revelation 13:1-8, John describes exactly the same power that Daniel had earlier seen - a power rising out of the sea having ten horns, and a mouth speaking great things. Yet it also has seven heads, which he later explains: "The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth" (Rev. 17:9). The centre of this power is therefore to be on seven mountains. Rome, where the papacy is centred, is notoriously built upon seven hills. 

Daniel had previously described the pagan empires as beasts (a leopard, a bear, etc) to indicate peculiarities which they severally possessed. Now John describes this new beast as combining all these peculiarities in one. It is later said that in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints.......and that she trafficked in the souls of men (Rev. 18:13,24). Of whom but Romanism can all this be said? Is not purgatory just another means of making merchandise of the souls of men? 

James Begg had no doubt but that Daniel's Little Horn, Paul's Man of Sin, John's Beast out of the Sea, and the Pope of Rome are all one and the same. "Can these descriptions possibly be applied to any thing else recorded in history? Do they not literally and strikingly apply to the Papal Antichrist?" [3]

The Church of Rome also contrasts with the early Christian Church. Our Lord was meek and lowly of heart; He went about doing good; His Kingdom was not of this world; the apostles were marked with humility. There is no evidence in the Scripture that their successors were to aspire to any earthly dominion; to, as Begg says, "ape and overthrow Kings - shut up the Word and supersede the authority of God, and spread over the whole world merely as a great confederacy against Divine Law and human liberty." [4]  

A cursory view of the Papacy leaves us with the conclusion that here is the Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition. Closer investigation establishes the fact. 

Rule of Faith 

Papists constantly attack the protestant adherance to the Word of God. They question how one is able to prove that the Bible is the Word of God. Yet no papist is entitled to such a question, since the Council of Trent affirmed every book held by the Protestant Churches to be the 'Word of God' and bound every papist to accept them as divine - upon threat of a curse. There are, however, differences between papists and protestants:- 

  1. Rome affirms the Latin version of Scripture; 
  2. She receives the Apocrypha as part of Scripture; 
  3. She adds tradition and decrees as entitled to the faith of Christians above that of the Scripture. 

Rome can give no reason for laying aside the Hebrew and Greek originals in preference for Latin. It is likely that this is simply to accommodate her unscriptural use of Latin services, and to aid the introduction of the Apocrypha.

Her acceptance of the Apocrypha is erroneous: the various writers of it did not claim inspiration for themselves; it was not received by the Jews or the early Church as canonical; and it is never quoted by the Lord or His apostles. 

The introduction of tradition contradicts the claim Scripture makes for itself to contain all things necessary for salvation (Psalm 19:7; Isaiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Thus Rome is bound to authenticate her traditions. However, this is a thing she has never dared to attempt. She is, therefore, inconsistent when she claims to accept the Scripture. On the contrary, she actually hates the Scripture. As Begg says; "She must either give up the commandments of men, or the Bible; for if she receive the Scripture as true, she must reject as false whatever is plainly opposed to them." [5]  

Rome prohibits the circulation of the Scripture (except when forced to by public feeling) from a conviction that her own heresies will not bear it's light. This is evident, not only by reasonable deduction, but as an historical fact acknowledged by Rome herself, e.g. when Julius III consulted three Bishops on how best to combat the Reformation, their most important advice was: "by reprobating in the catalogue of heretical books a part at least of the doctrine contained in the gospel, and especially certain chapters which are against us."

Rome claims to be the sole interpreter of Scripture, yet for one to accept her as such, one must approach Scripture and - by private judgement - come to this conclusion. Yet, if one is forbidden to read Scripture and to have private judgement how can one come to even this conclusion? If, by private judgement, one can conclude that Rome is the sole interpreter of Scripture why is one unable to determine anything else? 

Opposed to this perverse view is the Word of God which commands all men to "Search the Scriptures" and to "prove all things." 

1. James Begg - Handbook of Popery. p12. 
2. ibid. p26. 
3. ibid. p.18.
4. ibid. p.20
5. ibid. p37 


The Church

THE Pope claims to be the successor of Peter. This claim, however, is simply false. There was no such pre-eminence given by the Lord to any of His disciples, and neither Peter nor the other apostles recognised such a primacy. "But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" (Matt.23:8); "And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest" (Luke 22:24); "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1Cor.3:11); "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2Pet.1:1).

But even if the above could be proven, Begg identifies three further points which Popery would require to establish in order to justify her claim:- [1]  

  1. That Peter was ever at Rome. 
  2. That his office was translated to the future ministers of Rome. 
  3. That the present Pope of Rome is the genuine successor of Peter. 

The first point – that Peter was in Rome – they cannot prove. Points two and three are impossible to prove. Indeed, the wicked character of numerous popes would rather prove the opposite. Begg muses at "the lame attempts of Roman Catholic writers to reconcile the horrible profligacy of their popes with their views in relation to apostolical succession, and papal infallibility." [2]  

Rome also claims that her history is an unbroken one, whereas Protestantism's history is relatively short. This, however, ignores the fact that at times there may be a small visible Church yet many believers; and vice versa. This was often the case with the Church in the Old Testament, and was undoubtedly the case during the persecutions of Papal Rome in the Dark Ages.

Rome further boasts in her wealth and riches to advance her claims. Yet outward prosperity is no evidence of real truth, nor of divine blessing. Where popery predominates, the people are invariably poor. The papists often view this poverty as a 'spiritual blessing', i.e. sacrificially giving to the Vicar of Christ. Yet it may be noted that the Pope, the cardinals, and the priests all singularly refuse to share in this 'great blessing'.


No doctrine of Scripture is truly held by Rome: either it is not held or it is subverted by other dogmas, e.g. while she acknowledges original sin, she thinks it so trifling that it can be washed away with the sprinkling of a little baptismal water. Actual sin is modified by the erroneous distinction between venial sins – which do not bring spiritual death – and seven mortal sins – which do. Sins are actually promoted by confessions, penances, absolutions and indulgences.

Rome's view of justification directly contradicts that expounded by Paul. The Council of Trent declared: "Whosoever shall affirm that men are justified solely by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ...or that the grace by which we are justified is only the favour of God, let him be accursed." (Council of Trent, 6th session). Paul, however, is clear on this: "Therefore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom.3:28).

Rome's view of adoption and sanctification similarly subverts that of Scripture. Adoption for her is not an act of God's grace. On the contrary, every papist is to her a child of God, made so by baptism, and kept so by various outward processes which she prescribes.Sanctification for her is not a renewal of heart and life by the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, it is merely an outward conformity to the commands of Rome. The result is that a person can be considered holy, even when continuing in the greatest of sins – and especially when such sins advance the interests of popery.

The Moral Law

Rome breaks the first commandment which requires us to worship God only:-

  1. The Pope receives adoration. 
  2. Priests are seen as the personification of Deity (and thereby able to forgive sins). 
  3. The wafer is worshipped. 
  4. Saints are prayed to. 
  5. The virgin Mary is venerated. 

Rome breaks the second commandment regarding image worship. The Council of Trent expresses it thus: "The images of Christ and the Virgin Mother of God, and other saints, are to be had and retained...and due honour, and veneration are to be given to them..." (Council of Trent, 25th session). Popery seems to know of her guilt in this respect; she excludes the second commandment from her catechisms, and divides the tenth commandment into two to make up the difference. 

Popery overturns the third of the commandments prohibiting blasphemy and perjury. Firstly, the impious titles claimed by the Pope are blasphemous. Secondly, the 16th canon of the third Lateran Council states: "Those are not to be called oaths, but rather perjuries, which are taken contrary to ecclesiastical utility and the institutions of the fathers." [3] Thirdly, if a priest is asked regarding a confession that has been made to him, Peter Dens says; "He ought to answer that he does not know it; and if necessary, confirm the same by an oath." [4] Thus the 'Confessional Box' is itself made an instrument of perjury. 

Rome ignores the fourth commandment. Firstly, she encourages monastic life, begging, and voluntary poverty in opposition to the command to labour six days. Secondly, while she accepts the first day of the week as the Lord's Day, she would rather impose innumerable saint's days than keep the Lord's Day as a day of rest.

Popery defies the commandment to honour father and mother. This command embraces all our relations, yet Rome scorns it by setting herself above all civil law. As Pius IX declares: "In criminal matters, the civil judge has no jurisdiction whatever over any person connected either directly or indirectly with the church." Rome also reserves to herself the right to remove daughters from parents and to place them in nunneries. If parents contradict this, they are to be disciplined "by ecclesiastical censure and other punishments." (Council of Trent, 25th session).

The sixth commandment – Thou shalt not murder – is similarly set aside. Rome continues to sanction numerous atrocities. Papist countries are notorious for murder and violence, e.g. Italy and South America. She has condoned murder and violence against protestants in Northern Ireland. And priests who hear in the confessional of intended murder and who yet remain silent due to vows, connive at murder and thereby have blood on their hands.

Adultery is forbidden in the seventh commandment. Yet while Rome makes marriage a sacrament, she denies this privilege to her priests. By so doing, she causes much mischief: history is replete with celibate priests (with the power to forgive sins!) entering nunneries to hear the confessions of celibate nuns – with disastrous results. In all of this Rome confounds celibacy with chastity, and marriage with the want of chastity – the one condemned, the other commended, in Scripture. "It is not good for a man to be alone" says God; "It is absolutely essential priests should be unmarried" says Rome. "Marriage is honourable in all" says God; "Marriage is eminently dishonourable in priests" says Rome.

The Pope has the power to dissolve marriages arbitrarily; a right he has exercised on many occasions simply for political expediency. This dissolving of the marriage bond, and the tearing asunder of those whom God has joined together, is not only an affront to sound Christian reason, but is degrading to the ordinance of marriage which symbolises the union between Christ and His body – the Church.

The eighth commandment states; "Thou shalt not steal." Rome, however, divides this explicit command into two sins: venial and mortal. Only when the thing stolen is of considerable value, causing considerable hurt to our neighbour, is it a mortal sin. So-called venial sins, being easily forgiven, are thereby encouraged.

Popery also places the breaking of the ninth commandment – which forbids bearing false witness against our neighbour – among venial sins. By so doing, she encourages lying. Liguori, one of Rome's saints, states; "If [the crime] be sacramentally confessed, it can be answered, 'I am innocent of this crime, because by confession it was taken away'." [5]

Finally, Rome overthrows the tenth commandment regarding covetousness. While it places covetousness as a mortal sin, it is so only when it stands in the way of the aggrandisement of Rome. Like Ahab coveting the vineyard of Naboth, so Rome is not satisfied with anything less than total domination. If, for example, the laity withhold anything which she covets, they are denounced as guilty of a mortal sin. Yet she labours constantly to engulf all her neighbours' wealth, property and power.

1. James Begg – Handbook of Popery p.78
2. ibid. p.83
3. ibid. p.140
4. ibid. p.134
5.ibid. p.180



THE confessional is an unscriptural imposition unknown in the early Church. It is kept simply as a cornerstone of priestly power. As Begg observes, "The man who knows the whole secrets of his neighbours' heart and life, is virtually his master." [1]  

The confessional not only acts as a source of corruption for the priest, into whose ears these sins are poured, but also for the people. Continually asking men whether they are guilty of sins - going over them in detail - tends to encourage vice. It also encourages people to imagine that it is with men they have to do.

The Scripture is clear that the sins of the man who repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ are forgiven. By introducing priestly absolution, Popery denies the necessity of regeneration, and makes the committing of sin an easy thing. While Scripture asks, "Who can forgive sins but God only?", Rome replies, 'our priests!'

With absolution, the selling of indulgences inevitably followed. They derive their efficacy from the treasures of the church: the merits of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. These indulgences can be sold, not only with respect to past sins but in anticipation of sins to come. Tetzel stated it thus; "I will give you letters duly sealed, by which even the sins you shall hereafter desire to commit shall be all forgiven you." [2]

Begg sums up the whole situation: "By absolution, they claim the power of wiping out all past guilt. By confession, they lay bare before them all the present secrets of men's souls. By indulgences, they claim a power greater than that of God, and over all the future." [3]

The doctrine of purgatory is affirmed and explained by the Council of Trent: "In the fire of purgatory, the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment." [4] Protestants, not being just men (according to Rome), do not enter purgatory, but are summarily cast into hell.

By the notion of purgatory, Rome extends her dominion, not only over this world, but over the next. By asserting that only just men enter there, and by the fact that nobody can tell how long a soul must be there, she is assured of a steady income. "Popery can make nothing out of those she stigmatizes as bad men," says Begg, "if her masses for the dead and other wares are to be sold, it must be for her friends and allies." [5] Further, with this doctrine, Rome preaches an imperfect justification, and denies both the completeness of the work of the Holy Spirit and the efficacy of the blood of Christ.

Gospel Commands and Ordinances

Some imagine the change in worship from the Old Testament to the New to be greater than it actually is, and, thereby, imagine the temples, incense, beautiful robes and instrumental music of Rome to be something of an imitation of Old Testament worship. This, however, is not the case.

It is true that early in Israel's history men were allowed to sacrifice in many places. But after the temple was established at Shiloh, it was unlawful to sacrifice in any other place. Synagogues spread over Israel where simple worship took place: the Scripture was read and expounded, psalms were sung, and prayers were offered. Apostolic worship, being of a more spiritual nature (John 4:23-24), adopts the simple worship of the Old Testament synagogue, whereas the figurative aspects surrounding the temple are fulfilled in Christ. Rome, therefore, having as many temples as she has congregations, not only contradicts the Apostolic practice, but is opposed to the Old Testament practice.

Rome changes even the words of Scripture and demands penance instead of repentance, i.e. she demands a price for that which God bestows without money and without price, and effectively makes sinners think they can save themselves.

Faith to Rome consists in a mere assent to dogma produced by herself. Further, the Council of Trent states: "Whosoever shall affirm that the entire punishment is always remitted by God....that penitents need no other satisfaction than faith....let him be accursed." [6]   As Begg observes; "When they are not employed in denouncing and cursing their neighbours, their discourses generally consist in laudations of the virgin Mary, and of socalled saints and relics." [7]

As well as corrupting the true sacraments, Rome adds five of her own, viz., confirmation, penance, marriage, orders and extreme unction. "In this way," says Begg, "she subdues the young neophyte to her dominion in confirmation; she labours to establish her power over man at the genial period of marriage; and by extreme unction she effectually secures that her agents shall always be called in the solemn hour of death." [8]

The inconsistency of believing that one can have a bloodless sacrifice, while at the same time believing that the bread and wine are literally transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, is not the only discrepancy attached to Rome's belief in the mass.

To the papist, grace is conveyed through the sacrament. But for a sacrament to be valid, the intention of the priest must be correct (Council of Trent. Sess.7, can.xi). But how can a man possibly know what the "intention" of the priest is as the sacrament is administered? Three irreconcilable facts follow from this:- 

  1. A man can never be assured that he has ever truly received the sacrament (or grace). 
  2. The sacrament not only depends upon the priest, but upon the validity of his orders. Orders, being a sacrament, themselves depend upon the intention of the consecrating bishop in the supposed line of succession right back to the Apostle from whom the priest is supposed to derive his orders. The bishop, therefore, must be vouched for - a single break in the chain and, according to Apostolic succession, that chain is utterly worthless. 
  3. Rome believes it damnable to worship breaden gods. Yet when the papist bows before the host, unaware of the intention of the consecrating priest, he cannot know whether he is worshipping God or simple bread, and so whether he is being obedient or being cursed even by his own church.

Begg therefore concludes that the points between us and Rome are; "not merely numerous, – we are divided by the great gulf which separates salvation from perdition; the lies of Satan from the unchangeable truth of the living God." [9]


Few churches, particularly in Scotland, were as active as the Free Church in seeking to combat Rome's aggression. The Assembly had a special committee on popery and Begg's Presbytery in Edinburgh frequently passed, unanimously, anti-Romanist notions. Even Thomas Chalmers, who supported the Emancipation Act, did so, not from sympathetic views towards Romanism, but by wrongly judging that she could be overthrown by simply giving her the Bible. Indeed, Begg was surprised that a man like Chalmers could so underestimate the devices of Rome. History shows that the position taken by Chalmers has had as Begg states: "a most disastrous effect in Scotland and in the United Kingdom." [10]

John Wolfe seems to imply that the Free Church's support for the wider anti- Romanist movement was coloured by the Disruption issue and by a partisan spirit. Yet the facts would appear to oppose such a view. As he points out himself, it was a group of Free Churchmen who sent out the invitations to the Christian Union conference in 1845. The composition of this meeting shows the wide school with whom the Free Church was willing to participate, and the importance she placed on the subject. The breakdown of the attendance is as follows:- [11]

Church of England


Free Church of Scotland


Church of Ireland


United Secession


Church of Scotland


Reformed Presbyterian


Original Secession




Relief Synod




Irish Synod


Methodist New Connexion


Associated Synod of Ulster


Calvinist Methodist


English Presbyterian






Even Begg, often accused of being narrow-minded, advocates a spirit of Christian union amongst true Protestants: "We do not mean that doctrine reckoned essential should be abandoned. But, since our divisions have been largely the cause of the progress of Rome, let us unite in spirit, and in action, opposing the progress of idolatry and superstition." But such union was sadly lacking last century [i.e., in the 19th Century]. A glance at the variety of midnineteenth century Protestant Societies gives an indication of this.

Begg also makes a further three points. Firstly, our people need to be instructed as to the true nature of Rome – ministers and parents are culpable if they do not give instruction in this to their congregations and children respectively. Secondly, National support for popery must be withdrawn, and to this end, Christians should only support Protestant candidates at Parliamentary elections. Thirdly missions to papists should be set up in every leading town in Britain

Begg was not a procrastinator; he acted upon his convictions. Such was his dislike for Rome, and his desire for a united front against her, that he unwisely continued support for Peter MacMenemy – who developed the Edinburgh Irish Mission – long after others realised the man was an impostor. Begg, however, was instrumental in the formation of the Protestant Institute of Scotland, an institution founded to diffuse knowledge of the character of Romanism and to make students of theology and others conversant with the issues involved. The Scottish Reformation Society – of which Begg was a leading supporter – adopted the objectives of the Protestant Institute, and these objectives, with a slight alteration to object 2(a), are exactly the same today.

The Westminster Confession makes an unequivocal statement on the Pope of Rome: "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be Head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that Man of Sin, and Son of Perdition that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God." (Westminster Confession 25 para. 6).

Here is a statement around which good men can unite. Indeed, no man should sign the Confession who does not hold the above statement to be accurate in its entirety. All ministers having signed this Confession are then bound, according to 1 Timothy 4:6 "to put the brethren in remembrance of these things, so as to be good ministers of Jesus Christ."

Begg believed that in her Gaelic speaking highlandmen, the Free Church had a natural advantage in working among the Irish; the common language being an obvious point of contact. While there are probably few Gaelic speaking Irishmen in Scotland today, the same advantage still exists in South Uist, Barra, Benbecula and Lochaber. Indeed, a report in the Monthly Record of October 1877, speaks of the work of a Free Church catechist, Mr Norman MacLean, amongst the people of Barra. He reported that in an eight year period, the attendance at the Sabbath service went up from ten to fiftyfive. He conclude his report; "I have to thank your Committee for sending me as their deputy to that interesting island". Does the Free Church today make use of this obvious advantage?

Begg was despised by many because he held firmly to his Ordination vows. His views today are largely rejected and his warnings ignored. Some do believe all that Begg believed, but do not want to offend the papist. Others do not accept Begg's prognosis, but view Rome as simply misguided on a few issues. Yet if we are faithful to the Scriptures – and true to our Confession – such light views will be unacceptable to us. We will be concerned about Islam and other world religions but, above all, we will beware of the Papal Antichrist; "whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders." 

1. James Begg - A Handbook of Popery p.191
2. ibid. p.206
3. ibid. p.209
4. ibid. p.212
5. ibid. p.221
6. ibid. p.232
7. ibid. p.233
8. ibid. p.251
9. ibid. p.239
10. Memoirs of James Begg by Thomas Smith p.75
11. Protestant Crusade in Britain by John Wolfe p.140.