Works VII, pp. 149-152
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. (Revelation 18:4)
Where was the Protestant Church before the Reformation?
Out of this commandment, “Go out of her, my people,” I gather that the true church of God is and has been in the present Roman church as corn in the heap of chaff. Though popery reigned and overspread the face of the earth for many hundred years, yet in the midst thereof, God reserved a people unto Himself that truly worshipped Him. And to this effect, the Holy Ghost says that the dragon, which is the devil, caused the woman, that is, the church, to flee into the wilderness, where he sought to destroy her but could not. “And she still retains a remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17). Now this which I speak of the Church of Rome, cannot be said in like manner of the congregations of Turks and other infidels, that the hidden church of God is preserved among them; because there is no means of salvation at all; whereas the Church of Rome has the Scriptures, though in a strange language—and baptism for the outward form—which helps God in all ages preserved, that His elect might be gathered out of the midst of Babylon. This serves to stop the mouths of papists, which demand of us where our church was fourscore years ago, before the days of Luther; whereby they would insinuate to the world that our church and religion is green or new. But they are answered out of this very text, that our church has ever been since the days of the apostles, and that in the very midst of the papacy. It has been always a church and did not first begin to be in Luther’s time, but only then began to show itself, as having been hidden by a universal apostasy for many hundred years together. Again, we have here occasion to consider the dealing of God with His own church and people. He will not have them for external society to be mixed with their enemies, and that for special purpose; namely, to exercise the humility and patience of His few servants. When Elijah saw idolatry spread over all Israel, he went apart into the wilderness and in grief desired to die (1 Kings 19:4). And David cried out, “Woe is me that I am constrained to dwell in Mesheck and to have my habitation in the tents of Kedar” (Ps. 120:5). And just Lot must have his righteous soul vexed with seeing and hearing the abominations of Sodom.
Rome is not a True Church.
By this commandment we are taught what opinion to carry of the present Church of Rome. It is often demanded whether it be a church or no; and the answer may hence be formed on this manner: If by this church be understood a state or regiment of the people, whereof the pope is head, and the members are all such as do acknowledge him to be their head, and do believe the doctrine established in the Council of Trent, we take it to be no church of God. Because Babylon, which I have proved to be the Church of Rome, is here opposed to the church or people of God; and because we are commanded to come out of it, whereas we may not wholly forsake any people until they forsake Christ.
Some will haply say, “The Church of Rome has the Scriptures and the sacrament of baptism.” I answer first of all, they have indeed the books of Holy Scripture among them; but by the rest of their doctrine they overthrow the true sense thereof in the foundation, as I have proved before. And though they have the outward form of baptism, yet they overturn the inward baptism, which is the substance of all, standing in the justification and sanctification of a sinner. Again, I answer that they have the Word and baptism, not for themselves, but for the true church of God among them—like as the lantern holds the candle, not for itself, but for others.
Second, it may be—and is alleged—that if the pope be Antichrist, he then sits in the temple—that is, the church of God—and by this means the Roman church shall be the true church (2 Thess. 2:4). Answer. He sits in the temple of God, but mark further how: as God, that is, not as a member, but as a manifest usurper; like as the thief sits in the true man’s house. For the popish church and God’s church are mingled like chaff and corn in one heap. And the Church of Rome may be said to be in the church of God, and the church of God in the Church of Rome; as we say the wheat is among the chaff and the chaff in the wheat. Again, he is said to sit in the temple of God, because the Roman church, though falsely, takes unto itself the title of the true catholic church. Some go about to delay and qualify the matter, by comparing this church to a man lying sick full of sores, having also his throat cut, yet so as body and soul are joined together, and life is remaining still. But all things well considered, it is rather like a dead carcass, and is void of all spiritual life, as the popish errors in the foundation do manifest. Indeed, a known harlot may afterward remain a wife and be so termed: yet after the bill of divorcement is given, she ceases to be a wife though she can show her marriage ring. Now the church has received the bill of her divorcement in the written Word, namely in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13:11–12, etc.
Furthermore, in this commandment we may see a lively portraiture of the state of all mankind. Here we see two sorts of men: some are pertaining to Babylon, a people running on to their destruction; some again are a people of God severed from Babylon and reserved to life everlasting. If any ask the cause of this distinction, I answer, “It is the very will of God vouchsafing mercy to some, and forsaking others by withdrawing His mercy from them for the better declaration of His justice.” Thus says the Lord, “I have reserved seven thousand that never bowed the knee to Baal” (Rom. 11:4). And the prophet Isaiah says, “Unless the Lord had reserved a remnant, we had been as Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:9). By this distinction, we are taught above all things to seek to be of the number of God’s people and to labor for assurance of this in our own consciences. For if all should be saved, less care would suffice. But this mercy is not common to all, and therefore the more to be thought upon.
Lastly, here I note the special care that God has over His own children. He first gives them warning to depart before He begins to execute His judgment upon His enemies with whom they live—that they might not be partakers of their sins or punishments. Thus, before God would punish Jerusalem, an angel is sent to mark them in the forehead that mourned for the abominations of the people (Ezek. 9:4). And in the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt, the angel passed over the houses of the Jews that had their posts sprinkled with the blood of the paschal lamb (Ex. 12:23). And this passing over betokens safety and preservation in the common destruction, to those that have their hearts sprinkled with the blood of Christ. This blessing of protection should move us all to become true and hearty servants of God. Men usually become members of those societies and corporations where they may enjoy many freedoms and privileges. Well, behold, in the society of the saints of God, which is the true church, there is the freedom from danger in all common destructions, and from eternal vengeance at the last day. When Esther had procured safety for the Jews, and liberty to revenge themselves upon their enemies, it is said that many of the people of the land became Jews. Even so, considering Christ has procured freedom from hell, death, and damnation for all that believe in Him, we should labor above all things to become new creatures, enjoining ourselves always to the true church of God.