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hatred of sin as being opposed to His holy commandments, the earnest determination, through an humble reliance on His strength, to forsake it utterly, manifested by the correspondent course of life and conversation which can alone prove our repentance to be sincere. And these things are all demanded under our present system. If the Church, in addition, were to attempt a return to the primitive practice, through a blind and unreflecting reverence for the habits of that early age, it would be simply ridiculous; and, instead of drawing the world to Christ, it would only expose His Gospel to derision.
But if it would be absurd to attempt a restoration of those rules and modes which, although they were not apostolic, were yet the nearest to the apostolic age, how much more absurd would it be to undertake the introduction of the Confessional, which, as I have shown from the most unquestionable authority, grew up by slow degrees in times of ignorance and barbarism, and was not consummated, in connection with sacramental absolution, until the thirteenth century! In vain should we endeavor to defend such a measure by the authority of our venerable Mother Church, because she only permitted it under peculiar circumstances, when earnestly desired by the laity themselves, and never recommended, much less urged it, as a general means of increasing the piety of her people. And therefore, modify it as we may, and sustain it as we might, it is impossible that it could ever be regarded by the Church at large in any other aspect than that of sympathy with Romanism. For myself, indeed, I cheerfully disclaim the opinion that such was the true motive for the Rev. Mr. Maskell's theory. I doubt not that he was sincere in his desire to improve the devotional spirit of our degenerate day, and that he fully believed his system to be quite consistent with the avowed principles and best interests of his and our communion. But I find it very hard to understand how he and his admirers could expect that such a proposition should have been received without a lively feeling of alarm and consternation. And I think it by no means unlikely that, if they were encouraged to proceed in this first measure of reform, they would be strongly tempted to go on until they had brought the “ tribunal of penance” up to the full mark of Roman expediency.
This first step, however, can never be taken with the consent of the Church ; for it is not only inconsistent with all our habits and principles, but it is totally destitute of all scriptural or primitive authority. The earliest suggestion that looks like it is in a passage of Origen, about the middle of the third century, but that, when properly examined, speaks only of a voluntary private confession to a physician (not specifying the priest at all), solely with a view to friendly counsel and advice, and without the slightest hint of private absolution.* Nor have I found any thing in the pages of the fathers urging the laity to come in secret to their pastors, and confess their sins, for the purpose of being absolved. The truth is, that the notion of any such practice existing in the primitive ages, is a mere figment of the Church of Rome, to support their modern system of sacerdotal domination.
I frankly own, therefore, that I can not imagine how such an innovation, even if it were possible to
* The passage is quoted from Ruffinus by Bingham, book viii., chap. iii., \ 8, who says that it advised a voluntary confession sometimes to the priest. But the term in the original is medicus, which may have signified as well any experienced Christian.
establish it, could ever be expected to improve the piety either of our clergy or of our people. As it is, we have all the means of grace, and all the holy privileges appointed by our Lord, and administered by His inspired apostles. As it is, the members of our flocks are constantly led to confess their sins to Him who is the Searcher of hearts, and before whose awful tribunal they must stand in judgment. As it is, they have the grace of pardon connected with the faithful reception of the sacraments and the regular absolution of prayer, the only form employed by the Church until the thirteenth century. As it is, they are freely invited to come to their pastors and“ open their grief,” whenever they find that they “can not quiet their own consciences, and need further comfort or counsel.” And it is impossible to add any real improvement to these privileges by borrowing the form of words introduced through the despotio influence of the fourth Lateran Council. We have been taught by all the standard writers of our venerated Mother Church to regard that form with little rever
Her clergy have never considered it as an active element of ministerial duty. Her laity scarcely know of its existence; and her divines speak of it, not in the language of praise, but rather in the terms of reluctant apology. It was most wisely left out of our ecclesiastical system, and never can be grafted upon it hereafter.
And its advocates, however estimable for their past zeal or their present sincerity, will be convinced, I trust, upon reflection, that their position is untenable ; and resolve, in the exercise of true Christian magnanimity, to abandon a vain effort, which can not be continued with the slightest hope of advantage to the Church or credit to themselves.
I am far, however, from denying the justice of the complaint—which, indeed, we'are all ready to utter -that the age is relaxed, that there is but little discipline, and that the amount of active piety in our communion is by no means what it should be. Alas! when was there not abundant ground for the same lamentation? Even in the apostles' days, did not St. Paul deplore the contentions and strifes of the Corinthians, the backsliding of the Galatians, the enmity of false brethren? Did he not record the mournful reproach, “ All men seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ ?? Did not St. John declare that anti-Christ was already come? And was there not an awful warning delivered by the Spirit to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor ?
And in the ages which we are accustomed to venerate as primitive, may not Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Jerome, Augustin, Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory, Salvian, and others, be quoted, in countless passages of eloquent sorrow, on the same melancholy theme? And is it now, in the “ last days, when perilous times should come, when men should be lovers of their own selves, proud, disobedient, unthankful, unholy”—is it now, after the Saviour Himself has compared the time before His second advent to the state of the world before the flood, and uttered the dreadful question which looks so like a prophecy, “When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith upon the earth ?”—is it now that we should wonder at the low state of Christian piety, and think that the defect which is personal in ourselves and in our flocks can be remedied by innovating upon the apostolic system?
No mistake could be more fatal than to imagine that the apathy and worldliness of the age may be removed by urging men to confess their sins to us,
and giving them our private absolution. The remedy would prove worse than the disease. Neither have we any right to arrogate the prerogative of improving the original plan of discipline. We are but the servants of Christ, commissioned to proclaim His word, to administer His sacraments, to maintain His system, to declare that “ He absolveth all those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel,” and fervently to “ beseech Him to grant us true repentance and His Holy Spirit.” If we do this earnestly, and faithfully, and constantly, and humbly, we are not responsible for the results.
The TREASURE is His; we are but the earthen vessels. The POWER is His ; we are but the poor, weak instruments. The TIMES AND THE SEASONS are His; and though we may often seem to be surrounded by darkness, yet we must patiently abide at our allotted post, and watch and pray for the promised day of His glorious manifestation. At the worst, we may take comfort in the reflection of the poet,*
“ They also serve who only stand and wait.”
In conclusion, then, let me say, that no discouragement, no dejection, no difficulty should induce us to tamper with the system of the Church. That is of Divine appointment, and must be kept sacred from the hand of innovation. True, the spirit of innovation is the spirit of the age; and we may be well content to let it have its full range in the arts, the sciences, the commerce, the governments, and whatever else belongs to the uses, the tastes, or the ambition of mortality. But we may not suffer it to touch the Ark of our Redemption. Innovation has been the plague of the Church of Rome. Innovation has been