Thomas Carlyle.

The Christian treasury, Volume 2 online

. (page 122 of 145)
Online LibraryThomas CarlyleThe Christian treasury, Volume 2 → online text (page 122 of 145)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


golden grain has been gathered in, and placed
in security. Autumn's leaves have strewed
the plain, and now the angry blasts of winter
sweep through the leafless woods. AU nature
dies— how blank and dreary the prospect of
such a death, and how fitting its resemblance
to that cold and lifeless tomb, where sleeps the
ashes of the dead ! The harvest of earth's hap-
piness, with its ripe and mellow fruit, will soon
be past to us all, and the cold winter of death
will breathe upon us with its withering blasts.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



FRANCIS SPIKA.



519



To the aged, uoir in the autumn of life, this
should be their harvest of earnest, constant
prayer — of ripe fruits — and of an ample ingather^
ing of God's sanctifying Spirit. Aged one, if the
morning service of your life was devoted to the
world, if your noon-day was a season of rejoic-
ing in the sunshine of the world's pleasures,
be persuaded now, in your old age, to strive to
reap the harvest of Christ's atoning merit, and
to obtain a title to that bright inheritance on
:he other side of the Jordan of death. Your
privileges will soon be shortened by disease and
infirmity, your tide of life is ebbing fast, your
last evening is nearly run, your sky is becom-
mg overcast with clouds, which betoken the
near approach of that hurricane which will soon
shatter and overpower your feeble bark. Yes;
the harvest of life and privilege will soon be
past, the kareett home will soon be gatliered in,
but, alas ! forthoeey when the last echoes of its re-
joicings shall pronounce their unalterable sen-
tence — ** Not toted.**

May we be found living in Christ and to
Christ, and when death comes may we hail it
as the messenger of peace, and hear the Judge
oronounce that we are aaved t Is Christ thy life,
then, O my soul! Has he the love of thine
heart ! Then fear not death, for he says, ** I am
the resurrection and the life,'' and ** whosoever
liveth and believeth in me shall never die."



FRANCIS SPIRA

BT THE BET. W. K. TWBEDIB, EOINBUBOH.

It is often remarked, that all the great principle by
which GK>d would guide the world have been evolved
amid controversy and commotion. Without going be-
f ond the Christian era, we see this signally exemplified
in the various periodic agitations which have disturbed
the peace, but at the same time promoted the pro-
greet, of the Church, and the truth of which it is the
custodier. When the Christian tfystem, the truth as
it is in Jesus, was first fully developed among men,
how resolute the hostility which it had to encounter !
Gf ood m the highest sense was the object aimed at,
And antagonism seemed the condition of achieving it.
At the Reformation, again, when great truths were
once more disembarrassed, that they might emanci-
pate the souls of men, the same scenes occurred.
Troth was not allowed to make progress in silence;
but emperors and popes, principalities and powers,
banded against it, when the concussion between truth
and error was such as to remind as of the reverbera-
tion occasioned by the lightning when it enters the
cloud. In still more modem times, the same result has
been seen. For example, when the grand truth that
the Church of Christ should be Evangelistic, as well
as Evangelical, began to be brought forth fW>m its
long neglect, many still remember the hostility which
it encountered. Assemblies debated against Missions,
and voted them down. The worldly-wise derided— the
formalist raised the cry of fknaticism— and even
some of the friends of truth, instead of throwing
themselves boldly upon principle, or upon Him who
is the believer^s rock of defence, were timid and



cautious, to an extent that rendered many of them
time-serring.

In those times of trouble, evil as well as good
is developed. If the principle of stedfMtness be
drawn out into action in those who know the truth,
and love it, the opposite principle becomes apparent
in others, who fear man more than Qod, and love a
portion upon earth better than the inheritance of
the saints in light. There were Judas and Demas in
PatU's time— as there had been a Jehu in the days
of old — and we are now to recount some startling
incidents in the life of a noted apostate of the era
of the Reformation.

Francis Spira, to whom we now refer, lived about
the middle of the sixteenth century (1548). He was
a doctor of law, and an advocate of high rank in the
town of Cittadella, in the province of Italy, then sub-
ject to Venice. He was distinguished by his learn-
ing and his eloquence, possessed of a subtle mind,
and was highly intelligent His attainments and posi-
tion secured for him the esteem of many, while his
wealth gave him an influence which rendered him
one of the most notable men of his community.

About his forty-fourth year, Spirals attention becan
to be turned to the works of Lather and other Re-
formers. Eager in the pursuit of knowledge, he
forthwith began to inquire. The Scriptures were
searched, booksof controversy studied, and the result
was, a conviction that Lutheranism was true, and
Popery lalse. Spira embraced the resuscitated doc-
trines with so much seal, that he soon became in his
turn a preacher of them>-at least among his fiunily
(which was numerous) and his friends he sought to
disseminate what he had himself embraced. To some
extent he abandoned other pursuits, and urged his
friends to depend solely on the grace of €k>d in
Christ for salvation. He was well versed in the
Scriptures, took a firm hold of their doctrines, and
did ail that he could to q>read the light at once by
his life and his lessons.

For about six years Spira continued thus to be-
friend the Reformed cause. He exerted bis influ-
ence privately at first, but eventually waxed more
decided and bold, and the country around Padua be-
came agitated by the truths which he proclaimed.
The pardons and indulgences of priestcraft lost their
value, the old superstition was assailed and under-
mined, and threatened to &U. The cry of the craft
in danger was accordingly raised, and Spira became
the object of hatred and persecution. C^onmies of
the grossest kinds were circulated against him, and
it soon became apparent that if he would be a Re-
former to bless manlrmd, he must take his life in his
hand, and hazard it for the name of Jesus.

The pope's legate at Venice at that period was
the noted Delia Casa, and he entered with seal into
the persecution that had begun against Sphra. That
functionary was distinguished for hatred to the
truth and hostility to its friends, and easily credited
the information of the new teaditr's eneinies. The
dominant superstition then, as now, was conscious of
the ten thousand points at which its boasted infidli- :
bility is vulnerable, and resented the first appearance j
of a wish to unmask its delusions.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



520



THE CHRISTIAN TREASURY.



The enmity against Spin waa inoreaaed, when it
was ascertained that the people on the frontiers of
Italy &Toured the religion which Luther had freed
fh>m the incumbent mass of Popery. Delia Casa,
therefore, applied to the Senate of Venice to take
decisiTC measures against Bpira; while he, on the
other hand, was aware that no tenet would be tole-
rated which tended to the orerthrow, or even the
improTement, of Popery, and that Papists would
tightly forego neither their old superstitions, nor
their old modes of defending them— persecution, the
inquisition, and death. He saw, in short, that if he
persevered in the course on which he had entered,
he must prepare for one of two things— exile or
death. The only via media was apostasy.

Amid his trepidation at the gathering storm,
Spira was admonished to take the shield of fidth;
and those who hare written the story of his liiie, t^
us of the struggles and temptations of his mind at this
the crisis of his religious state. The apostles and
martyrs were set before him as models. Death with
the truth, or life without it, were the topics of his
frequent thoughts; and it was strongly impressed
upon his mind that, at the very least, he ought
rather to abandon his country than the truth.

Hitherto, then, we have seen little in Spira to re-
prebend. With characteristic seal and openness he
has been telling the truth as far as he knew it
Having embraced Christ's doctrines, he sought to
guide others to do likewise; and had his history
closed here, it would have been as the history of a
true convert, not of Francis Spira the apostate. But
he was not yet a Christian, though he was a Lutheran,
and must either become a Christian, or be unmasked,
as deceiving and deceived.

Amid his forebodings, Spira soon became restlen
and troubled. Now one purpose, and anon another,
swayed him. To-day he was resolved to suffer the
loss of all things rather than deny the truth; to-
morrow he would listen to the seductive and too suc-
cessful sophism which has kept its tens of thousands
in spiritual bondage for ever—** How can you so far
presume on your own sufficiency as to disregard the
examples of your ancestors, and the judgment of the
whole Church ?** Under tiie influence of that, or
rather in the state of mind that would listen to that,
Spira became more and more irresolute, de could
Qot calmly contemplate ** the offensive dungeon, the
bloody axe, and burning faggot.** The thought of
country and of friends, of wife and children (of whom
he had eleven), rendered his agitation deeper and
deeper. Like Eve, when she ccmsented to listen to
the tempter at all, Spira, when he consulted with
desh and blood, was tottering to his fall; and he at
last hastened to the legate at Venice, there to con-
fess his heresy, and implore forgiveness. He sought
to return to ** entire obedience to the sovereign
bishop, in the communion of the Church of Rome,
without ever desiring to depart from the traditions
and decrees of the Holy See.** lis rehearsed all his
errors, and drew them up in a formal deed, which he so-
lemnly subscribed. He was then dimnissed to his home,
and ordered to emit a recantation there, to abjure the
Lutheran heresy, and ** acknowledge the whole doc-



trine of the Church of Rome to be holy and tras.** I
All this was submitted to by the misguided sasD. He'
had put his hand to the plough, but he looked back.
He had once taken up the cross by profesBioo,bet ke ;
laid it down again. In sunshine he would foUov thi
Lord, but not in tribulation. The world had orcr- ,
mastering power, God and eternity were oat of agbt
and out of mind, and we shall soon see the result |

Having once entered on the downward pstk,
fitfiher declension speedily followed. On his retan
to his home, Spira complied with all the injuiMtioBi
of Delia Casa, though conscience had already b^gn
to exclaim again^ his apostasy. Reflection htffih to
bring haunting terrors with it; the foUy of seddsg
peace in departing fhmi €k>d soon became apparcati
The guilt of bartering eternal for tempeeml exkeaoe,'
of preferring the favour of Hian to the smile of God,'
and earthly treasures to u n sea r chable riches, «m
speedily discovered. The Saviour*B suffering for!
sinners, and Spira*s recoil from suffering for hin,
pr essed upon his conscience; and his biographcn tell
us that the terrors of the Lord thenceforth took kold
of him.* The advice of time-serving friends, who
set before him all the trials that would flow froB
stedfastness, but not one of the miseries that wosU
result ftaoL apostasy, induced him to make his
public recantation. He was present at the Gelebn*
tion of mass, and repeated clause by clause the sl^
ration which he had formerly subaciibed. About
two thousand persons were preeent at the ceremooj
in which Spira acted so prominent a part, althoagfa
he confessed that a feeling akin to desperation bad
already taken hold of him. He was fined in tbirtj
pieces of gold, the greater part of which was ex-
pended upon masses, and the unhappy man wu re-
stored by an apostate Church to all that apostasjwai
sure to receive fh>m it. Spira is said to have frmted
away after the agitating soeaee through which he
passed on that eventful day; and from that noiDeiit
he never more knew peace of mind. He sank into
the pit which himself had dug, and, like an oak
skaithed, or a tall tower shiveivd by lightnmg, be
became a signal monument of the reftribntioD of
Heaven.

The mind of the unhappy man soon beesme
violently distracted by remorse. We know little of
the feelings of Judas, except as we infer them fron
a few incidents recorded concerning him subseqoat
to his treachery; but those of Spira have been d^
scribed with accuracy and care. Physidans for the
body, and ministers of religi<m for the soul, were
called to the conscience-stricken man. He was re-
moved from Cittadella to Padua, that he mi^iBsU
respects benefit by the means reckoned most lik^
to restore his peace of mind; but after matore deli-
beration, the physicians declared that they coold S^
cover no bodily ailment It was the disease of the
soul that was preying on the wasting frame, so that
the most skilful men in a city which was at thst
period ** the eye of Italy,** saw the resources of their
art exhausted in vain in attempting a cure. Spin
himself declared that his diseaM was beyond the

* See The Evil and Danger of Apoetaty. as Bzempllfic' in |
the Hbtory of Frauds Spira, ftc^ b7 John Pojadv, B^-



Digitized by VjOOQIC



FRANCIS 8PIRA.



521



reach of human appliances; his ex c lamation was,
** Who can saccour a soul oppressed by a sense of
sin, and by the wrath of God ? It is Jesus Christ
alone who must be the physician, and the Gospel is
the only antidote/*

It may easily be supposed that Spira soon became
an object of public notoriety. Crowds accordingly
resorted to witness what is described as a harrowing
spectacle— the sight of one sunk in the darkness of
despair. Some from curiosity, others in the hope of
ministering to the mind diseased, sought the com-
pany of the wretched man; but their kindness and
counsel were unarailing. Water to quench his
burning thirst was Spirals constant cry. He obsti-
nately refused the use of food, that he might pass
the sooner, as he avowed, from the anticipation to
the reality of agony; and thus did Spira, at the age
of little more than fifty, amid much that might have
made life happy, sink into hopeless wretchedness
before the time, because in an eril hour he had
called the truth a lie, and wilfully trampled upon
conscience in the act of doing so.

Could we trace, in detail, the rarious stages by
which Spira'fe spiritual malady developed itself, the
narrattve might yield warning to the most unreflect-
ing; but we can only advert to the more salient
points in his gloomy history. We shall do so as much
as possible in the language which the agonized man
bimself employed as he passed on to the grave.*

When hii troubles began, then, Spira anxiously
wished that " some one would shorten his days;** and
in describing the misery which dictated the suicidal
desire, he detailed the crime he had conmiitted, and
its accompaniments, in language so impassioned and
afiectang, that he made the bystanders weep; nay,
some of them trembled at the recital. When they
attempted to oonsole him, his constant exclamation
as: **My sin is greater than the mercy of God.**

I have denied Christ Voluntarily, and against my
convictions. I feel that he hardens me, and will
allow me no hope.** Referring to the doctrines
which he had abjured, he declared that ** he believed
them while in the act of denying them ;** adding, that
now ** he believed nothing — ^he had neither faith, nor
confidence, nor hope.** ** I am a reprobate like Cain
or Judas, who, rc^jecting all hope, fell firom grace
into despair. My friends do me great wrong in not
suffering me to depart to the abode of the unbeliev-
ing, as I have justly deserved.**

His friends were anxious to read the Scriptures
with the agonised man, in the hope of alleviating his
misery; but terrified by the attempt, he roared out in
anguish, beseeching them to desist. The physicians,
we have seen, declared that there was no bodily dis-
temper; yet, Arom hour to hour, his misery grew more
and more intense, and the pitiable spectacle became
intolerable to the onlookers. Paul Vergerio, bishop
of Justinopoli, and others, tried from time to time
to soothe him; but all was rejected. His mind seemed

* Splra's cMe has been detcribed by Matthew Oribaldo,
a learned dvtUan of Pjulua, who w«« eye-witnet* of bU
wretcbedneM. Henry Scrimger, a celebrated Scotcman,
and a profeMor at Geneva, wm also a witnetg of Spira't
cloaing fcenet, and published a description of them. Otlier
aoeoonu have been given In various languages.



to become acute and inventive of arguments with
which to torment himself; by repelling the sugges*
tions of his friends. He clung to the conviction that
he was a reprobate, and declared ^ there ivas no
room in his heart for aught but torment and agita-
tion. ** Roaring in bitterness of spirit, he exclaimed :
** It is a fearful thing to feOl into the hands of the
living God.** ..... *' I have a whole legion of
devils who take up their abode in me, and possess
me as their own, and that justly, for I have denied
Christ.** In one of his paroxysms he exclaimed : '* I
desire nothing more than to oome to that place where
I may be certain of enduring the worst, and of being
delivered from the fear of a worse to come.** Rarely
has the appalling termination of such a career been
BO stedfastly contemplated. There was a kind of
method in his agony, for he never ceased to affirm,
tltat ^ when he renounced his opinions, he believed
them to be true, and yet he abjured them before the
legate.** His mind, through this torturing process,
gradually settled down in the conviction that he had
sinned against the Holy Spirit, and intrenched be-,
hind that conviction, no created power coold move
him. He spoke of his mind as corroied by the re-*
probation of God, who had hardened him; and **I
find,** he adds, ** that from day to day he hardens me
more and more.** When he reasoned regarding his
punishment, he always justified the ways of God,
declaring that ^ there was no punishment which he
did not deserve for so detestable a crime;** and add.|
ing, " I assure you, it is no little thing to deny Christ,!
and yet it is more conmion than is imagined.** At
another time he exclidmed, "O, could I only ezperi-|
ence the least sentiment of the love of GK>d towards
me, although it were but for a moment, as I now
feel the weight of his wrath burning like the tor-'
ments of hell within me, and afflicting my conscience
with inexpressible anguish! Assuredly despair is,
hell itself!** {

Painful as are these passages in Spira*s life, they
are but like the opening scene in this tragic drama.'
** Here is the truth of my case,** he exclaimed when'
his angniifh grew more and more overpowering: *' I
tell you, that when I first abjured my profession at
Venice, and when the declaration was recorded, the
Spirit of God admonished me often, and yet while at
CittadeUa, I in some sort set my seal to it.** •• I re-
sisted the Holy Spirit, and signed, and sealed it; and
at that very moment I sensibly felt a wound inflicted
even on my wilL** And subsequently to this, clasping
his hands violently together, and raising himself up,
he exclaimed: ** Now I am strong, but I unk into de-
cay by little and little, and consume away.** ....'* I
see my condemnation, and know that my only re-
medy is in Christ; nevertheless, I cannot persuade
myself to embrace it. Such is the punishment of
the damned.**

Did our space allow, it would be instructive to
trace the conduct of Spira while his friends per-
suaded him to repeat the words of the Lord*s Prayer
after them. ** Our Father which art in heaven,** the
disconsolate sinner began to say, but he suddenly
paused, and burst into tears, explaining his grief b}
the words, ** I perceive that I am abandoned by God.**



Digitized by VjOOQIC



-)22



THE CHU18T1AN TREASURY.



Aj he rq[>eated the other clauBes, or rather para^
phrased the passage, he shed ahundant tears, inso-
muoh that all about him were melted into compas>
lion. ** My crime is not one iota less than that ol
Judas,** was subsequently his ayerment; and that
coDTiction, accompanied with the feeling that it was
impossible for him to beliere, began at last to over-
iuaster his ingenious mind. His biographers tell
IS, that the wretched man "felt a continual hell
sormenting his mmd;** while he refused to be moved
iway from the haraswing couTiction, that " his pre-
sent state was worse than if his soul, separated from the
^>ody, were with Judas and the rest of the damned.'*
Cain, Saul, and Judas he regarded as his precursors
n crime and condemnation; while, with perrerse
ingenuity, he turned away whateTer tended to con
jole him. With considerable theological accuracy,
he drew the distinction between his former condition,
.vhen Gtod, he thought, was known, and his present,
•vhen God had been abjured — eyincing all too plainly
that his intellect and reason were untouched, while
.is conscience was stimulated to an extent which
transferred Spira, in effect, to the ridnity of Sinai and
Horeb. *' I know not what else to say, than that I
am one of those whom Qod has threatened to tear in
pieces,** was the language in which he described both
himself and his condition.

At otlier periods, Spira gare clear evidence that
though be could not apply the Ctospel to himself^ he
yet oould preach it to others. He urged his friends
to *' exalt the glory of God continually; and not to
be afraid of legates, inquisitors, prisons, nor any kind
of death.** These moments, however, were few and
hifrequent; and incidents sometimes occurred to
ruuse him to intense rehemence of feeling. Antonio
Fontanina, a priest who had been with him when
he recanted b^re the legate, came to risit him, and
reminded the wretched man of their last interriew :
" O the accursed day !** he exclaimed; ** O the ac-
cursed day ! Would thai I had never been at Venice !
Would to Ch>d I had been thai dead 1** Atasubse-
quent time, a priest attempted to exorcise Spiia as
one that wss possessed of a devil, when he confessed
that he was ** under the power of demons; but they
could not be cast out by any charms.** The priest,
however, proceeded with his incantations, loudly ad-
juring the spirit to come to Spin's tongoe and to
answer. The unhappy man, deriding such efforts,
turned away with a sigh.* Such are the prescriptions
of Rome to heal a wounded oonsdenoe.

But the effi>rts of that superstition were not yet
exhausted. Exorcism had failed; yet may not the
sacrament, the mass, avail ? But Spira refused. Yer-
^rio endeavoured in vain to persuade him. He held
it to be a scriptural truth, that whosoever would
deny Christ, Christ would deny before his Father
who is in heaven. Spira felt that he had denied him,
and chmg to the letter of Scripture, in spite of all
attempts. He quoted the texts, Heb. vL 4, 5, x.
26; and 2 Pet. ii. 21 ; and reinforced by these, neither
the exorcisms of superstition, nor the entreaties of
affection, could bring one ray of comfort to his
troubled souL Amid his agony of spirit, his tears
• See BtII and Danger of Apottary, &e.



sometimes flowed copiously; his constant loogiogl,
was for death; and yet, said he, the Scriptures are |
fulfilled in me — **They shall desire to die, and desth .
shall flee from them.** <* O miserable wretch!
miserable wretch !'* was the sentence which he pro-
nounced upon himself. He implored his friends and
brethren to take warning by his miseiy; while th(
words, " Whosoever shall love father or mother, or
houses or lands, more than me, is not worthy of me/'
were to his soul like nitre on a fresh wound.

Men who are not acquainted with the strong ibng-
gles of the soul when it discovers what sin is on tht
one hand, and God on the other, without also disco- ^
vering what Christ is, aj the mediator between God
and man, may call this raving. But the friends oi
Spira were convinced by his arguments and appeak
which continued acute and forcible to the last, that
neither frenzy, as ignorance concluded, nor sorcery. I
as superstition supposed, had any share in his m^dj j
and some of the statements of Gospel truth which he
made on his death-bed show that their opinion ira>
correct. He himself reprobated the charge of mad I
ness, telling them that they might thus escape fKul
the lesson which God was teaching them, or speak I



Online LibraryThomas CarlyleThe Christian treasury, Volume 2 → online text (page 122 of 145)