14 Reasons Roman Catholics Are Not Saved

James Durham
Commentary on Revelation, vol. 3
Excursus 25, Part 2, pp. 186-187, 195-203.

Concerning the Difficulty of Salvation Under Popery.

Doctrine: A Papist, as such, living and dying according to the complex principles of the doctrine and worship that is followed in Popery, cannot be saved, nor expect justification before God.

I say, a Papist, living and dying according to the essential principles of Popery, which do especially relate to these three:

2. To their way of carrying on the justification and salvation of a sinner before God, as it is held forth in their doctrine.

3. To their manner of worship, that is, praying to saints, worshiping of images, sacrifice of the Mass, and other such things, owned both by the doctrine, laws and practice of that church.

We say, one living and dying devoted to these, although neither scandalous in outward practices, nor defective in respect of external painfulness; yet upon this account, as being a Papist, chargeable with the three general heads aforesaid, he cannot but be liable to God’s judgment, and die without any solid hope of being saved by these principles.

. . .

If it be yet required, that further satisfaction be given as to the grounds which render their salvation impossible. We do answer that it arises from these two, which do infallibly demonstrate the same.

1. This way of Popery is of itself exceeding sinful, and abominable before the Lord, and so does in more than an ordinary manner make a person liable to His wrath.

2. As it is of itself sinful, so it has no solid way laid down for removing of sin, but does leave a man without any solid hope of relief from his original and actual sins, beside that it incapacitates him to look upon itself as sinful, or to seek for the right remedy thereof.

And where these two are put together, to wit, heinous sin and no way to remove it, or any other, what can be expected but inevitable ruin and condemnation? For where the disease is deadly, and the cure naught, death must be certain. We shall therefore make out both these assertions, from which the conclusion laid cannot but follow.

. . .

Let us now enquire, if according to the former grounds [i.e. Rome’s doctrine], a sinner, that is pursued by the Law, may with confidence expect to be justified and absolved before the Tribunal of God’s justice. And we confidently assert that according to these grounds no flesh living can be justified, which this one argument may make out: No sinner can expect justification or pardon of sin but according to the grounds and terms laid down in the Gospel. But this way is not such. Ergo, etc. Or: That contrivance of justification which does overturn almost fully, most, if not all the truths of the Gospel, and is utterly inconsistent with the same, cannot be the way how a sinner may be justified. But this is such, etc.

For making out of this, we shall, 1. Propose some general considerations. 2. More particularly touch some inconsistencies of the same. 3. Remove some objections. And, 4. Resume the conclusion.

Rome’s False Religion vs. the True Religion of Jehovah.

1. The Covenant of Works vs. The Covenant of Grace.

The first general we propose to be considered is that the way which God has laid down in the Gospel for attaining of life by Christ Jesus does formally differ from that way of attaining life that He propounded to Adam. Hence these two Covenants of Works and Grace and their conditions are frequently and directly opposed in the Scripture as being different and opposite in respect of the account upon which men were to expect life (cf. Rom. 10.6-7, etc. Gal. 3) But this [Roman Catholic] way laid down, is in matter and form the same with the Covenant of Works in this respect, because it founds a man’s hope of expecting life and heaven upon the merit of his own works and his observing of the commands, which these their grounds do confirm.

1. That they do compare his working and merit by it, to Adam’s before he fell, and supposeth this to succeed now in the room of that, as in the forecited author (lib. 12, cap. 19, p. 487), is clear.

2. That they state the terms of life in these words, “If thou would enter life, keep the commands, and cast the laborers to receive their hire” (Mat. 20:8). And so from this they say, Christ’s merits have procured the Lord’s re-entering of a Covenant with us, wherein He promises happiness to our working as the condition thereof (ibid. p. 488), and says there is no promise of the reception of a sinner but upon this account. And,

3. That they say the way now to life has the same threatenings and promises that the first had, and so they conclude [that] it is the same with it. And although they acknowledge Christ to have merited this promise to be made, and this grace to be given us whereby we may keep it, yet does that infer no alteration of the way or terms held out in that promise in respect of the condition thereof, although it shows a different ground upon which it is built, and from which it flows. If therefore the Covenants differ, and a sinner cannot now obtain life upon that same condition, and upon the same way that Adam did (even though he be habitually renewed), then can he not come to obtain life in this way laid down. But to say the former, were to continue the Covenant of Works, and exclude the Covenant of Grace. This way, therefore, to life is utterly impossible.

2. The Sufficiency of Christ.

2. If by the strain of the Gospel, Christ Jesus be made all to us in respect of our peace and happiness, and that immediately (that is, without the intervening of any new merit occasioned by His merit), then the former way cannot be consistent with the Gospel, because immediately infused grace is made our formal righteousness or first justification; and our actual good works, are made our merit or second justification. And these two are inconsistent together. For Christ cannot immediately be our righteousness (as we stand before God), and inherent grace and good works also be immediately the same.

Because according to the first, if it be asked of the sinner: ‘What is thy righteousness by which immediately thou darest appear before God or expect absolution and heaven from him?’ He is to answer, ‘Christ and His satisfaction offered to me in the Gospel and by Faith received, this is the defense I mind to shelter myself with at the bar of His justice, and by which I expect to be saved.’ According to the last he were to answer that former question thus, ‘Inherent Grace is that which maketh me acceptable to God, and my good works, and their condign merit is that upon which I expect heaven according to His promise made thereto.’ Which certainly would relish most uncomfortably to a challenged sinner, and is contrary to the former. But the former is true, that by the Gospel Christ Jesus is immediately made our righteousness, by whose merits we may have only confidence to appear before God, to expect remission and salvation from Him according to that Scripture, “He is made to us of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). “Christ is all” (Col. 3:11), which is expressly mentioned in opposition to circumcision and uncircumcision, and everything else, which are not admitted to be anything to the believer in the former respects, but Christ alone (Phil. 3:8-9).

3. The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness.

3. God’s contrivance of the Gospel for the justifying of a sinner through Christ Jesus, is clearly holden out to be by a judicial transferring of our sins as a debt upon Christ the Cautioner, and of His righteousness and merit to us, to be imputed for our justification before God, without any respect had to our inherent holiness or good works, whether done before or after justification. This may appear from these two places:

2 Corinthians 5:21

First, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, that Christ is said to be made sin for us, that we may be made the righteousness of God through Him—where this is clear: that by the Covenant of Redemption we are to be righteous by Christ, as Christ was sin for us. But Christ was made sin or sentenced by justice for it, not by any infusion of sinful habits (which were blasphemous to think) but by having imputed to Him the guilt of our sin in respect of the punishment thereof. It will follow therefore that He is our righteousness, or we are justified or made just by Him, by having His righteousness imputed to us and accepted as performed in our name without laying the weight upon any inherent qualification in us. And can there be a more clear way to expound what this is to be “made just” by Christ, than by its opposite, what it is to be “made sin” for us?

Philippians 3:8-9

The second place is Philippians 3:8-9, where Paul is seeking to be in readiness for appearing before God’s tribunal, and he was one who wanted not inherent grace or actually good works, and in a great measure, yet in reference to God’s acceptance he can rest nowhere but in Christ, not having his own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that righteousness which is by faith in Christ—where we have:

1. Paul, looking on a righteousness within him, which was his own, and that at the highest pitch of it (for, it respects any posterior time when he might be called to a reckoning). This righteousness he disclaims as not being that which would be accepted.

2. He looks to a righteousness without him in Christ Jesus, which he considers as being the only shelter, even of a believer, from the wrath of God. So that if the question be proposed to Paul, What will thou choose to lippen [trust] unto? Where will thou choose to be found on the Day of Judgement? His answer would be, only in Christ. If it be asked what this is? He answers, it is to have His righteousness in opposition to his own. If it be again asked how he comes by it? He shows by faith in Christ he comes to partake of His righteousness, which he dare lippen [trust] more unto than to his own. Whereby it appears that the Gospel’s way of justifying a sinner is by imputing of Christ’s righteousness, and by a sinner’s resting upon it. For, this righteousness is not that which is procured by Christ and is inherently in the believer, but is that which is in Christ, and whereof the believer partakes by hiding himself under it, and by his faith opposing it to justice, which can be done no other way than by imputation.

Now there being nothing more opposite to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness than the former doctrine [of Rome], there can be nothing more opposite to the way of the Gospel. And so if it be impossible to be justified without the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, it is impossible to be justified by the way of the Papists.

4. God Covenants With Sinners For Their Salvation.

4. The Scripture holds forth God’s way of reconciling sinners to Himself, to be by way of covenanting, as Isaiah 55:2-3 wherein God offers, and the hearer receives and closes with His offer, upon which follows God’s acceptance of the person (as Job 1:12; Heb. 8; Jer. 31) and his being reconciled to God. Hence there is so much spoken of covenanting in Scripture, that the whole doctrine thereof bears that name of Covenant, or, Testament, and one that closes with it cannot but be justified. Now, by this doctrine of justification by inherent grace, or merit of works, there is no place left for such covenanting upon such terms. Yea, they are inconsistent together. Therefore this cannot be the way of making up the breach between God and a sinner.

5. Justification by Faith.

5. That justification, which the Gospel speaks of, is that wherein faith has a peculiar causality beyond any other grace, as that which does entitle a sinner unto pardon and justification by the virtue of Christ’s righteousness, which it does take hold of. Hence it is that so frequently in Scripture it is called “justification by faith,” and that, as opposite to all other graces in that respect, the “righteousness which is of faith,” and such like. Now, the former [Roman Catholic] way is utterly inconsistent with this, therefore cannot be the way to salvation. And considering, that covenanting with God, imputation of Christ’s righteousness, justification by faith, etc. are things so essential unto the up-making of a sinner’s breach with God, and that yet all of them are so great strangers (even in the very name) to the Popish way of justification, and materially inconsistent with the same: It cannot be of God.

Particular Ways Rome’s False Gospel Overturns The True Gospel.

1. It Overturns the Nature of Justification.

1. More particularly, we will find it overturns the nature of justification, and at best it does put in sanctification in the room thereof. And there is never any distinct ground laid by which a sinner may come to receive a sentence of absolution before God, but this, to wit, justification, is lost by the former doctrine [of Rome]. And they acknowledge no such thing distinct from regeneration or sanctification, as if no such act as justification were needful or mentioned in Scripture as distinct from these. And in effect it leaves a sinner to a way of salvation that wants justification in it, and therefore cannot profit him. For by denying that which is the formal cause of justification, they deny justification itself, seeing that gives it a being.

2. Rome’s False Gospel Perverts the Nature of Grace.

2. It derogates from the nature of grace, and that in several respects. 1. As to grace’s efficacy, that it hangs at man’s free will. 2. As to its sovereignty, that it bounds it to man’s disposing of himself. 3. As to its freedom, in that it appoints man’s own satisfaction for the removing of punishment, and his own merit for the obtaining of reward. And 4. As to its spiritual sublime way of working, making it carnally to be conferred ex opere operato.

3. Rome’s False Gospel Undermines Christ’s Merit.

3. It enervates the merit of Christ: For, at the best it attributes to that only the restoring of a Covenant of Works, which may be entered, kept, and broken according to men’s working. And, as it were, the procuring to men a new stock of habitual grace, with which they are to trade and procure their own happiness by their after merit. In reference to which if they fail, Christ’s merit, and their habitual grace will not profit them. Therefore the weight of obtaining life is laid there.

But the removing of the punishment, and the obtaining of the reward, they ascribe to human satisfaction and good works. And that by reason of their own intrinsic worth, without the imputation of Christ’s merit, except in respect of the general influence formerly alleged. Yea, they fear not to call saints their redeemers, in so far as by their works of Supererogation they suppose them to have satisfied in something for them, as Bellarmine asserts (lib. 1, de indulg., cap. 4, col. 1161). And at most they are sanctified by Christ’s merit, but after [all] that they do for themselves.

4. Rome’s False Gospel Maligns Christ Himself.

4. It wrongs the Lord Himself. 1. In His grace, as has been said. 2. In His justice, as if He were to be satisfied by creature’s satisfaction, and that in such things as many men would not be pleased with. Yea, they scare not to affirm that such holiness could not but have satisfied Him and merited, although Christ had never suffered—which shows also how little they respect Christ’s merit, as the forecited Suárez (pp. 484, 486) asserts. 3. It wrongs His sovereignty, in that it ties Him in proper justice to be man’s debtor. And that not by virtue of His promise only, but from the consideration of the intrinsic value and merit of men’s good works—as if He were not just if He did not reward them.

5. Rome’s False Gospel Abuses God’s Covenant.

5. It wrongs God’s Covenant. For either it allows no Covenant at all, or quite alters the nature and terms thereof, and turns it to works, as has been said. For it still makes the stipulation on man’s part the same which constitutes the form of the Covenant of Works—however one be enabled to perform that stipulation, which certainly was by Grace, even to Adam.

6. Rome’s False Gospel Undermines Faith.

6. It enervates faith, excluding altogether that faith that receives Christ and takes hold on Him, and closes with the Covenant of Grace. And [it] leaves no more to a believer, but a naked assent to the truth of God, which is in the devils (James 2:19); and utterly secludes faith from any particularity of application in the making of our peace with God in any respect.

7. Rome’s False Gospel Overturns the Reality of Man’s Natural Estate.

7. It overturns the truth concerning man’s natural estate: in giving him a free-will in reference to spiritual good, and that before the infusion of grace, and in making this acting of free-will a necessary disposition to justification and a necessary condition of merit.

8. Rome’s False Gospel Corrupts the Law of God.

8. It corrupts the holy Law of God. 1. In its end, as if now it were to be the condition of God’s Covenant upon which life is to be attained. 2. In its meaning, as if it did not condemn natural concupiscence. And many other things are exempted by them from it, that they may make the fulfilling thereof possible.

9. Rome’s False Gospel Denies the True Nature of Sin.

9. It denies the true nature of sin, and makes many things that are contrary to the Law of God to be no sin. As by its exclusion of the remains of original sin, and many others (by that fond distinction of venial and mortal sins) from being accounted sins that make men liable to eternal wrath.

10. Rome’s False Gospel Overturns the Nature of the Sacraments.

10. It overturns the nature of the Sacraments. 1. In making these to be Sacraments which are not, as penance, extreme unction, etc. 2. In attributing other ends and another manner of attaining to these ends than agrees with the Word, or can quiet a conscience in reference thereto, as the conferring of grace ex opere operato.

11. Rome’s False Gospel Destroys Church Discipline.

11. It does not leave discipline undestroyed. For it abuses the power of the keys in this absolution, to make up a Sacrament and confer grace, and give indulgences, and suchlike, which no sober man will think a sufficient way for founding of his peace, or to be a defense against a challenge in the Day of Judgment.

12. Rome’s False Gospel Overturns Assurance of Salvation.

12. It does altogether overturn that consolation that God allows His people. For, 1. There is great anxiety in the supposed way of attaining it. 2. No certainty of having it, and so it can yield comfort to no one. 3. According to their principles, it may be lost, and one that is justified today, may be in a state of damnation tomorrow. 4. It makes their recovery difficult and almost desperate. For (as Bellarmine in the forecited place asserts) it may have with it 20,000 years continuance in Purgatory. Of this uncomfortableness, and of all this matter, more may be seen in chapter 9, lecture 1.

13. Rome’s False Gospel Causes Ignorance.

13. It excludes knowledge, and cries up ignorance. So that Bellarmine (lib. de Justific.) does not fear to say that faith ought rather to be defined by ignorance than knowledge, per ignorantiam potius quam per notitiam.

14. Rome’s False Gospel Corrupts the Nature of Holiness. 

14. It overturns and corrupts the nature of holiness and good works, and all spiritual worship, putting in, I cannot tell what will-worship, external rites, etc. in the place of all practice, mumbling and muttering unknown words for prayer, afflicting of the body for mortification, and many such like things have they.

These are but a part of the horrible absurdities of this way, and yet we suppose are sufficient to demonstrate the truth of what we assert, to wit, that this way is involved with many fundamental inconsistencies with the truth and way of the gospel, and so cannot be a possible way of attaining salvation. For it makes men to count many sins not to be sins, and so never to repent of them. The sins that it discovers, it leads them not to the right satisfaction, which only can be accepted for them, to wit, Christ’s righteousness, but to their own inherent holiness and good works. Yea, even this they corrupt; and what they account saving grace, as faith, repentance, humility and such like, are nothing less than such indeed before God.

Can Roman Catholics Be Saved?

If it be again further asked: What then are we to esteem of such as lived under Popery, if all of them are excluded from the obtaining of salvation? We answer with a fourfold distinction.

1. Subjects of Rome vs. Her Persecuted & Captives.

1. We would distinguish these who might live under Popery, and yet be kept from the infection thereof and no way belong to that body, from the native members thereof. Of such we have spoken in chapters 11-12. To such the Lord speaks, “Come out of Babylon, my people” (Rev. 18:4). Such were rather captives under her tyranny, than subjects of her kingdom. Of these there is no question, but as the Lord sealed them for Himself (Rev. 7:3-8), so did He always singularly own them and accept them.

2. Antichristian Papists vs. Superstitious Papists.

2. We may distinguish Papists in these that are antichristian worshippers, and others who are superstitious, and in some things are erroneous.

Antichristian Papists.

We call them Antichristian who 1. Receive the beast’s mark and number, and give him worship in more than an human manner, ascribing to him a certain divinity, infallibility, universal supremacy, and such like Antichristian attributes. And who, 2. Receive his doctrine in the complex contrivance thereof, which is his number (i.e. 666). And, 3. Who join in his worship wherein it is Antichristian: as praying to saints, worshiping of images, adoration of the Mass, and such like. These in the former assertion we have excluded.

Superstitious Papists.

Again, we call them superstitious Papists, who might not altogether have kept a distance from that church in everything, but many ways have been tainted with their superstitions yet so as to be kept from an Antichristian conjunction with that society or union therewith in things that are plainly Antichristian—but might be testifying against such by some sincere zeal and pure light. Thus,

1. We suppose that many did give some reverence to the Popes, who yet did utterly abhor their gross usurpations and blasphemies, his assuming to himself what was proper to God and Jesus Christ. And detest the base flatteries of others that ascribed these to him, as to be supreme head of all, and that both in civil and ecclesiastical things, to be infallible, to be accountable to none, to authorize traditions, and such like. And [superstitious Papists] might only give him some reverence, either from human policy and ecclesiastical constitutions, such as was given to Archbishops, Patriarchs, etc. or, they might esteem him (though erroneously and ignorantly) to be a church officer, for meddling with things incumbent to church officers to meddle in, without any opinion of his illimited or absolute power, even as men might err in accounting Bishops, Archbishops, Patriarchs, etc. of divine authority, although they might disclaim Antichristian tyrannous usurpation and practices in them, and seek only to have that power subservient to edification.

2. Further in fundamental doctrines they may be pure, although not altogether without errors, even as were many of the [Early Church] Fathers.

3. In worship they might join many superstitious rites, as crosses, altars, bowings, etc., yet abstain from worshiping of saints and idols, and from accounting the Mass a propitiatory sacrifice, although they might join in the Eucharist, and such like. Of such sort were Jean Gerson, Bernard of Clairvaux, and some others in the midst of Popish darkness, who were not altogether free of these superstitions, yet still did check the Popish pride and usurpation, and bound their authority, and preserved the doctrine of remission of sins through faith in Christ’s righteousness pure, and pressed holiness in some spiritual manner, even in the midst of many superstitions that abounded. And whereof they were not altogether free.

We suppose these last [superstitious Papists] are no way to be classed with the former [i.e. captives under Rome], but might have had access to God’s mercy through Christ Jesus. Because 1. Although they had errors, yet were they not such as were inconsistent with sincerity and the nature of the administration of grace. And 2. Because they kept the way of attaining pardon through Christ Jesus clear, which being followed by them in their practice (as no doubt it was by many) might, through God’s gracious dealing with them, make them acceptable before Him, so that their failings being of infirmity and not of malice, might not be imputed to them. But they, accepted as penitents, being sincerely affected with what they conceived to dishonor God, although they did not discern everything that was sin against Him.

3. Deathbed Converts Away From Rome and to Christ.

We would distinguish Papists living so and dying so, from such, as though living so, might yet by God’s grace have repentance conferred upon them at their death. This has been found by experience, that many who have been tenacious of the doctrines and superstitions of Popery in their life, have been yet at their death brought to abhor them, and to betake them to the righteousness of Christ alone for their justification. These, where that repentance and faith were true (as no question often it was) are no way to be excluded, or accounted worshippers of the Beast.

4. Times Before The Reformation and Witness Against the Antichrist.

Distinguish times—something might through God’s grace be more dispensed with in these times of more universal darkness, than afterward in the breaking out of light, and in God’s erecting a standard for His truth in the earth, and bringing forth a visible church state for His people to join in, which formerly was not. Hence, communion in church fellowship with the Church of Rome is much more dangerous now than formerly: which will appear upon these considerations:

Four Reasons Communion With Rome is More Dangerous After the Protestant Reformation.

1. God Threatens Harsher Punishment.

1. Because the Lord does more peremptorily now threaten her and her followers, and adds more severe certifications to the same, as we may see in this place. Now, this is proclaimed, “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.” (Rev. 14:9b-10a). And again, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” (Rev. 18:4).

2. God Provided a Means of Escape.

2. Their stay now is more unexcusable, because the Lord has opened a door of freedom, and they refuse it. Even as the people’s stay in Babylon while the Captivity lasted was not imputed to them, yet staying after the proclaimed liberty was detested. And having with it ingratitude against their Redeemer, and despising of their redemption offered, and a willing submission to that bondage—contrary to the warnings and advertisements given them, and God’s call to abandon the same (Ezra 1:4-6; Jer. 50:8; 51:6, 9-10; Isa. 52:11; Zech. 2:6-7).

3. Rome is More Deadly Now Than Before.

3. After this also, things in the doctrine and worship of the Church of Rome became more deadly. For Babylon refused to be cured, and in the Lord’s righteous judgment it came to pass that their doctrines became more corrupt, that thereby He might punish their contempt of, and enmity at, the light which He had made to shine. Hence it is that the later Schoolmen, especially the Jesuits, are more corrupt than the former, as may be marked in the writings of diverse Schoolmen upon Thomas who do mutilate and corrupt many things in him; so as they may agree with the late determinations of the Pope, and the Council of Trent, and may be most opposite to those they call heretics. An instance whereof may be seen in Cajetan (in 3 Thoma, qu. 48, art. 5) where explaining that assertion of Thomas, that only Christ ought to be called our Redeemer (which formerly we had Bellarmine contradicting) he lays down, for the qualifying thereof, that bull of Leo X concerning indulgences and the application of the saints’ purchases to others which was sent to him when he was his legate in Germany, and forces such a sense upon Thomas as might agree with it. Thus also (as we may see) was done in the Council of Trent, wherever in all debates among divines the most corrupt side was inclined to and concluded.

4. There is no Basis to Expect Salvation in Rome.

4. Remaining in Popery now has more contempt with it of God’s calling, and has greater snares, as is said. And therefore has less ground now either to expect preservation from sin or wrath, because God’s call requires separation now more fully, and in a more distinct manner than formerly He did. As, “Come out of her, my people, be not partakers of her sin, lest ye partake of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4), which holds forth a special hazard in reference both to sin and wrath, after the Lord’s making this to be proclaimed more than formerly it was.


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