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your confession to God, unclasp thy conscience before God, and show thy wounds to Him, and from Him ask a medicine.” This testimony is so far from favouring the Romish doctrine, that it directly contradicts it : for the eouncil of Trent decreed, that “whosoever shall affirm that confession of all our sins to a priest, is not necessary to our obtaining forgiveness of them shall be accursed." St. Augustine and Chrysostom affirm, that this confession is not necessary and that forgiveness may be had without it.
Private confession was never thought of as a command of God, until nine hundred years after Christ ; nor was it decided as such, till the Council of Lateran in 1215, and by this Council it was only enjoined as an ecclesiastical constitution ; but that of Trent in the year 1545, decreed private confession to a Priest to be an ordinance of Christ, and absolutely necessary to salvation.
This is the date and origin of auricular confession, for it is clear that the thing was introduced by degrees, and this is the reason why I treat the Romish and the Puseyite system as virtually the same. Certain clergymen of a certain party are now trying to get in the thin end of the wedge; obsta principiis is a wise maxim, and we must strenuously oppose the first beginnings of this serious mischief : let the confessional, in ever such a modified form, become the general practice in the Church of England, forthwith the Protestantism of the National Church is gone ; and our beloved Zion which cost the nation so much, and for which martyrs bled, will soon be handed over, bound hand and foot, as a miserable victim to the tyrant Pontiff of the Seven Hills.
Secondly. Let us now consider the alleged scriptural auihorities for the practice of this system ; they are Matt. xvi. 19, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven : and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven : and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven :" also Matt. xviii. 18, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven : and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." From these two passages, there is no authority for priestly absolution, the completing act of the confessional system. The two passages may be treated in some measure as one, in the 16th chapter, Peter spoke for all the apostles, when he said, " Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;" and our Lord consequently addressed all through him in the 19th verse : this is clear by referring to chap. xviii. ver. 18, when he uses to them the same words. The passages refer partly to the inspiration privilege of the apostles, to fix what things in the old law were not binding in the new, partly to the fact, that the New Testament was to be written with divinely inspired power, so that the doctrines of Christianity, and the plan of salvation by Jesus Christ were to be explained and put forth with plenary authority from God, and were to demand full and unqualifed submission from man: and partly to the exercise of due and proper discipline in the church, as is clear from the context of the latter passage, namely, verses 15-17, of the 18th chapter of Matthew, where this discipline is unmistakably laid down as a thing which may be carried out by every congregation of Christians. There is another passage, John xx. 21 — 23, - Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost : whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them ; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” This passage requires particular attention, for it would appear, that the general body of disciples were assembled at this time, as well as the apostles, as is evident from the 19th verse : "Then the same day, at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst.” He was evidently encouraging them for their great business of evangelizing and preaching the gospel to the whole world, and in the gospel by Mark, we have supplied an important passage, which must have been uttered about this time. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel
but he that believeth not, shall be damned.” (Mark xvi. 15, 16.) This passage explains the words, “ Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted ; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained ;” the power given is the power to preach and proclain, that he that believeth in this gospel of Christ shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned ; a power which may be exercised by every man, no matter who he may be, who declares the plan of salvation to those who may be hearing himn : this is the fair and true way to explain this rather difficult passage of St. John. There is another way proposed, which is, that the apostles, because they could discern spirits, had a special and exclusive power of pardoning ; but this cannot be the true exposition, as such a power appears to have been rarely granted to the apostles : it is certain the apostles did not ordinarily exercise any such power. One thing is conclusively palpable, that these words did not convey to any man, however high or exalted his position in the Christian Church, the authority or power to forgive whom he will and to condemn whom he will : it is blasphemously presumptuous to put such a construction upon the passage. Who can conceive that the God of heaven, and of earth has deputed or delegated his own peculiar right, power and prerogative of forgiving sins to any miserable creature of a moment ? The apostles had no such power given them, and consequently no other minister can lay claim to any such prerogative.
Thirdly. Further, the case is impossible. Indeed, such a power, any creature, however exalted, is evidently unequal to; it involves the power and faculty ordinarily at every time, and under every circumstance, of thoroughly knowing the thoughts of men's hearts ; complete forgiveness could only be granted by a person having such a power, and as man is, by his finite nature, thoroughly incapable of satisfactorily exercising any
such faculty, the matter is palpably impossible.
Fourthly. Besides, such a plan must lead to awful blasphemy, because such a priest as is supposed to be exercising this assumed power, must frequently meet with cunving, insincere and hypocritical penitents; and, supposed to be standing in the stead of God, he, in his absolution, must inevitably be representing God as doing that, which it is horrible to think of, namely, giving peace and pardon to such abominable supposed penitents to whom we have alluded.
Fifthly. One passage more claims our attention ; not because the passage is obscure and difficult of explanation, but simply because we would not even seem to be unfair in this investigation : ou the contrary, we desire to examine thoronghly every passage, which may be brought forward to support their system. And now look at this passage which is in James v. 16, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another that ye may be healed.” We dispose of the meaning of this passage at once, for the meaning of it is plain ; it does not teach the confessional at all, or anything like it: it recommends mutual confession of faults one to another," a very different thing indeed, and it does not even hint at anything like the confessional system, under any phase of it whatever. Indeed one cannot but wonder at the impudence of any body of men, who could even, for a moment, hold forth this passage, as giving any countenance whatever, to any such system as that which we are now arraigning; it is evident that the putting forth of this passage, proves how hard pushed the advocates of the system must be, when they grasp at such a straw of an argument, as anything must be that eould ever be extracted from this plain passage, which speaks not of penitents confessing to priests, but of mutual acknowledgements, and mutual intercessions to God for each other, and also which speaks of the end to be obtained, as not the absolution from sin, but the recovery by the means of prayer to God, from bodily illness and disease. If Scripture then be consulted, her voice will not be found in favour of any such system, but steadily against it, and always guarding with unswerving fidelity the high, the inalienable prerogative of its Almighty Author, that God alone can, and that God alone does forgive sin. Sixthly. This system is opposed to the benevolence of God, and the
sympathy of Christ. The Scriptures represent God as not thoughtless or careless about the repenting sinner, but the very reverse ; as ready to welcome the returning prodigal. “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw
him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke xv. 20): and they teach us that Jesus is all syınpathy. “We have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities ;” and “ He ever liveth to make intercession for us;" and therefore “ He is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God through Him." Christ Himself says, “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out;" and again He says, “ Come unto me all that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This accursed system is not only an attempted robbery of the high prerogative of God alone, to forgive sin, but it is also by implication an insidious effort to pluck from the Redeemer's crown, the gracious and glorious diamond of sympathy for the repenting and returning sinner.
III. Now SEE WHETHER THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND TEACHES, OR EVEN COUNTENANCES, THE CONFESSIONAL SYSTEM.
First. The Church of England does not propose her manual of devotion, her Prayer Book, as infallible ; for she herself professes, as a church, to be fallible; it is clear then that she could never have intended that everything in the Prayer Book was to be considered perfect. Again, she has revised this Prayer Book, and corrected it, and improved it, and with the blessing of God, she will again improve
Further, in her 6ih article, she has declared the supremacy of “Holy Scripture, as containing all things necessary to salvation : so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” Thus, while I, as a clergyman, have given my assent to the Prayer Book, it is an assent to the book, as a book that is, to the teaching of the book as a whole, to what the book, honestly examined, is fairly found to teach. Let us then candidly examine the Prayer Book as we would examine any other book, and ascertain its clear intention upon this subject of the Confessional.
Secondly. Who are the principal persons, and from what class are they who say that the Prayer Book teaches this doctrine? They are of a class, who have for some time professed to be dissatisfied with the Church of England, and some of them have already gone to Rome : they are traitors in the camp, their real business is to create a diversion in our ranks ; and, if they cannot Romanize our church, their effort will be to carry as many as possible with them to Rome. From the character then, and spirit, and practice of these persons, no confidence can be placed in their testimony in this matter, their heart is already in Rome, and they can see nothing anywhere but something like Rome. Nevertheless, let us notice their arguments in thus libelling our Church.
Thirdly. We would call attention to the absolution in our regular order of service, that from the place of its occurrence, must be the most important. It is the form of absolution, which is always used in every congregation of the Church ; it cannot be maintained for a moment, that it is less comprehensive than any other of its kind, and from its important position must be that, which is to explain all other similar ones. The language of this important part of our daily and Sunday service is clearly expressed, “ He (that is, God) pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his Holy Gospel ;” and in the same passage the minister's office is expressed with equal clearness, “He hath given power and commandment to his ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins.” You see, that the minister's sole province is to “declare and pronounce” the manner and term of forgiveness, and nothing more; it is expressly said here, that it is God alone that pardoneth and absolveth. The absolution in the Communion Service is of the same precise form, declaring that it is Almighty God, that is to “have mercy upon them, pardon and deliver them from all their sins."
Fourthly. We would notice the exhortation in the Communion Service. And here let me remind you what the minister's work is, whether he be a minister of our church, or of any other Protestant church; it is not only to preach in the pulpit; it is not only to go through the ordinary se rvices of the sanctuary ; surely, that is not a faithful minister, who thinks he has finished his work when he leaves the pulpit; who never goes to the house of sorrow, and the room of sickness, who never speaks to his people in private on the important things which concern their peace; who never stirs them up personally to repent; who never expostulates and reproves, teaching not only publicly, but from house to house the things that belong unto man's salvation. If I know that one of my people is living in open sin, I am bound to go to him in private, and strive to bring vim to repentance ; if any of our people be in sore distress of mind, if he be in much temptation, and if he have to bear up against any peculiar burden or spiritual hardship; if he have weighing on his mind the sense of some flagrant sin, and is doubtful about what reparation he ought to make, there is nothing wrong in such a person consulting his minister; and, in reference to such a case only, does the exhortation in the Communion Service allude. How often, too, have I known persons imagine, that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and how necessary is it in such a case, that the minister or some godly elder should show such persons from the word of God, that who ever committed that sin never repented; and consequently the very fact that he is a penitent, proves that he has not been guilty of the unpardonable sin. If this be the duty of every pastor in reference to his flock, it is not wrong for such ministers to say in the exhortation, “Let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned minister of God's word, and open” not his sin, but “his grief.” And as to the benefit of "absolution," that is explained by the next passage, together with ghosily counsel and advice, “ to the quieting of bis conscience and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness." The word absolution in this passage can only refer io ihat already explained, namely, “ declaring and pronouncing the terms of forgiveness." Indeed here is expressed only the benefit of absolution by the ministry of God's holy word, and no other absolution was intended by the church in this passage, for she gives no form of absolucioa here. This is the truth, for the church did so once when she was just emerging out of Popery, and did then appoint in the first edition of the Prayer Book, in the reign of Edward VI., that the form of absolution in the Service for the Sick” should be used in the case of those who should come to confess their grief in private, before coming to the communion : but she subsequently expunged this authorization altogether, and by this act clearly showed her intentions and views upon this subject, and so far the Church of England stands clear of giving countenance either to secret confession or priestly absolution.
Fifthly. We now invite your attention to the ordination service for a presbyter. I intentionally use the word presbyter, for the word priest, as used in her services, is always used as an abbreviation for that word. The officiating bishop on such an occasion uses the words of Christ, when he was commissioning his apostles to go and preach His gospel. It behoves us then to understand what our Lord meani by the words, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” The words cannot mean receiving him for conversion, for the apostles were converied before: nor can the words mean receive the miraculous and other such gifts, for that privilege and power was especially reserved to be given on the day of Penticost; therefore these words must mean, “Receive the aid of the Holy Ghost, for the faithful preaching of my glorious gospel : and in so faithfully preaching my gospel whose soever sins ye thus remit, they are remitted ; and whose soever sins ye thus retain, they are retained; my gospel faithfully preached by your lips shall be salvation or damnation to them.” “ He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned,” or as in another passage, ministers are called a "savour of life unto life, or of death unto death." In the ordination service, the sincerity of all the parties is charitably supposed. The candidates for ordination assert, that they are moved and called by the Holy
CONFESSION, OR THE CONFESSIONAL.
Ghost to the office of the ministry ; this declaration is taken as true, and thus the bishop uses the words already alluded to in the office for ordination of presbyters or priests. Here I am bound to admit that these ordination words are rather strong, not that they were so intended at first, but that they have been misrepresented; and Romanizing men do handle these words for their own ends. When the expected revision of the Prayer Book takes place, these words will be altered and brought into greater harmony with the doctrines and religious systems of Protestantism. A very slight alteration would put the words in the form of a prayer, and explain the terms as meaning the preaching of the gospel and the proclaiming the terms of forgiveness.
Sixth. Let us now examine the “Form of service for the visitation of the sick."
1. This service is for a particular class of cases, and cannot be made the authority for the general order and practice of the church.
2. As the communion cannot be administered without the presence of two or three persons, besides the sick person and the clergyman ; it is evident, that nothing like auricular and private confession could be intended here.
3. The confession is of some weighty matter: the dying man may have injured some person in character or property, or some other way; and he is anxious that some reparation be made; it is quite right to allow this to be done and especially before witnesses; but surely this is not at all like auricular, private and priestly absolution.
4. Here again, I admit that the words of absolution are too strong, 10 matter how the service be explained; but this is no reason why they should be wrested to a purpose widely different from their original design; yet as they are thus perverted, and as they are too strong, an alteration oughi, wherever there is a revision, to be made in this service.
5. But this service is practically a dead letter. Very few ministers use the service at all. It was put into the book on account of the great ignorance of the clergy at the time, but now it is unnecessary, and never used unless by the class of Romanizing clergymen already mentioned.
6. The civilization and intelligence of society now is inconsistent with the full carrying out of such a service. It is notorious to readers of history, that discipline was formerly carried out everywhere in the church on a scale that would not now be tolerated, and that public apologies used to be made in the churches by persons who had indulged in scandal and such offences. The service under consideration, may have had reference to such a practice, and as the dying man could not make the public apology and be publicly reconciled to the church, this confession and absolution may have been permitted to give peace of mind to the sick person. But again we say, that the service is now obsolete, that the words of absolution are too strong, and that the service is for a state of things that does not now exist, and consequently should never be used. I have never used the service, and never intend to use it.
Indeed, my friends, the wonder is, that looking at the whole subject-the time when the Reformers arranged those formularies--their just emerging from the darkness of Rome --the many difficulties which the Church of England had to contend with the great alterations in the meaning of words which has taken place in our language during the last two or three hundred years—I say, the wonder is, that the Book of Common Prayer has so few faults, and that in the main, in the almost entire of the book, it is so scriptural and sound.
The time may come, and come shortly, when the book can be revised ; until then, let us stand by the sound book, and let us not allow Romanizers or any one else to wrest the few passages now referred to, so as to misinterpret not only the whole letter, but also the unmistakable Protestantism of the book. The Church of England is by profession a Protestant and a Bible church: let us then stand by the old, true ship, and prevent any pirate or privateers from usurping her authority or destroying her.