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HISTORY OF THE CONFESSIONAL.
We live in an eventful age. A spirit of restless enterprise--restless beyond all precedent—is abroad throughout the world.
Not only is it busy in its appropriate spheres—the arts, the sciences, and the commerce of mankind—but in the forms of government, in the plans of education, in the systems of philosophy, in the administration of justice, and in every relation of the social state. No human insti. tution seems now invested with its old stability. Each change is regarded as a preparation for the next. And the law of PROGRESS is invoked to give dignity to the whole work of innovation.
I shall not attempt to analyze the process by which this exciting appetite for novelty has become, to so great an extent, the peculiar characteristio of the nineteenth century. It would be a difficult task to determine how much of it may be fairly ascribed to the craving temper of morbid discontent; how much to a generous and noble longing for improvement; or how much to the mysterious and inscrutable appointment of that Over-ruling and Almighty Power, who holds in His hand the temporal and eternal destinies
Neither have I any wish to detract from the claims which many of our ardent reformers may advance upon the grateful admiration of their disciples. And still less am I disposed to speculate upon the probable consequences of their success. The field is too vast, the interests involved are too multifarious, the ultimate results are too complicated, for my humble faculty of penetration. But I frankly confess my alarm when I see the appetite for novelty invading the province of religious truth. And I would fain contribute my share of effort—though it may be with a feeble hand-to guard the Church of Christ from the perils which surround her.
For unhappily, it can not be denied that the love of change has rapidly extended its influence, of late years, among the professed followers of the Redeemer. Many important and numerous denominations, who had long been supposed established in their respective systems, have been torn asunder by new questions of internal controversy. New sins have been discovered. New terms have been invented. New conditions of communion have been proclaimed. New revelations have been asserted. Transcendentalism, Pantheism, Swedenborgianism, Mormonism, are all at work, with an activity beyond any former exam. ple. The conflict of opinion rages over a field which is constantly extending, and the increasing difficulty of ascertaining what ought to be believed, affords a plausible excuse to the infidel for believing nothing.
It would seem, indeed, that the Church, to which it is my highest privilege to belong, might well hope to resist, without any serious effort, this tide of innovation, however we may be bound to grieve, in Christian sympathy, over the troubles and distractions of our brethren. For we profess to abjure all new discoveries in the sacred scheme of redemption. We believe that the Gospel system issued in perfect
beauty from the hand of its divine Author. knowledge no power in human intellect to improve the Church, which was established by the apostles. We know that to them and their faithful successors the Almighty Saviour promised His presence and blessing, to the end of the world. And assured as we are, by all the evidence of the Word of God, and by the testimony of the primitive ages, that we have that celestial system in its purest form, we may be justified in thinking ourselves completely guarded against the assaults of novelty.
And yet the spirit of the age, which breeds such craving longing after change in others, has not been without some hurtful influence
ourselves. The chief difference has been, that as our principles inclined us to the old rather than to the new, we were moro liable to err, if at all, in the opposite direction. And hence we have to lament that a few gifted and zealous men, yielding to the prevailing temper of restless discontent, have sought to improve our apostolic plan, by introducing into the Church a modified infusion of Romanism. They looked with secret admiration upon Popery. They saw it lifting its lofty head, hoary with antiquity, boasting its assumed attributes of infallible and unchanging truth, contrasting its seeming consciousness of unity and power with the distracted and conflicting state of the rest of Christendom, and loudly proclaiming that in its fold alone the weary and storm-tost wanderer could find abiding peace. Alas! that they could be so deluded, when they ought to have known that the Church of Rome has gone beyond all the rest in the vice of innovation. True, her sin consists in adding to the divine record, while the sin of others consists in taking away. But the Word of God has pronounced a fearful judg
ment on both, because both are alike the work of human presumption.
Thanks to the blessing of the Most High upon the strength of our apostolic and conservative system, the dangerous agitation produced by these Romanizing innovators passed away without any serious defection. Firmly resisted by the great body of our clergy and people, and finding themselves unable to make any impression upon the scriptural doctrines of the Church, the chief leaders of the movement were compelled, one by one, to go out from us, and show their true sympathies by uniting with the papal communion. But, notwithstanding the total failure of their main design —notwithstanding the result has only been to confirm our humble confidence and trust in the favor of God toward the system of His own divine appointment, yet their misguided labors, still aided by the same restless spirit of the age, have left behind them a leaven of evil influence. The latest development of this influence has been put forth in the effort to recommend the practice of Auricular Confession; not, indeed, with all the offensive appendages of the Roman scheme, but in a modified shape, under the shelter of a special indulgence, allowed by our venerated Mother-Church of England. To this end, the Rev. Mr. Maskell, late chaplain of the Bishop of Exeter, has published a volume of considerable learning and research. And, as might have been expected, there are some among our own ministry, of small account in number, although deservedly and highly esteemed for their personal worth, who seem strongly inclined to approve his course and follow his example.
The rebuke of this attempt, which has been uttered with more or less distinctness from almost every quarter of the Church, has afforded another gratifying proof
of our substantial concord; and I have no reason to apprehend that this concord is likely to be soon disturbed. But I have thought, notwithstanding, that the occasion called for a thorough examination of the subject, in order that those who wish to investigate the rise and progress of the Confessional might have the whole merits of the question fairly placed before them. For although it is a topic which has often been handled learnedly and well, as in the works of Hooker, Bingham, and many others, and we have been favored, besides, with several able pamphlets of recent publication, yet I am not aware that there is any author in our language who has gone into it as extensively as its importance deserves. In the system of the Roman Church, the Confessional is the right hand of strength. It is in their Confessional that the priesthood wield their vast and secret power over the people. It is by the Confessional that they rivet the chains of superstition upon the conscience and the soul. The total abolition of this fearful despotism was one of the great blessings of the Reformation. And therefore the subject well deserves the serious attention of every intelligent believer, who desires to understand the value of his privileges as a follower of the true doctrine of the apostles, and to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free.
The plan which I have adopted is as follows: First, I shall state at large the Roman system, in the words of the Catechism of Trent. Next, I shall set forth the doctrine of the Church of England and our own, and point out, under fifteen different particulars, the contrast between them. Thirdly, I shall examine the testimony of Scripture, carefully marking the false translations of the Doway version of the Bible, which is the English standard of the Roman clergy. Fourth