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In preaching the Gospel, therefore, in receiving those whom they judged to be penitent and believing, and in administering to them the Sacrament of Baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the apostles discharged, thus far, the high commission for which they were appointed. Here was the solemn act by which the sinner openly renounced the pomps and vanity of the world, the sinful desires of the flesh, and the service of Satan; by which he professed his faith in Christ, and promised obedience to His commandments. And hence it was in baptism that his sins 'were remitted, because he was now made a party to the covenant of grace,
admitted to the fellowship of the apostles, to the gifts of the Spirit, to the Church, the body of Christ, and to all its inestimable privileges. When the apostles received the candidate to the blessings of the Gospel, they used the keys in opening the door of the Church -the kingdom of heaven, and, ministerially, “ remitted” his sins. When they refused to receive him, because they judged him to be lacking in repentance and faith, they “ retained” his sins by declaring that he was unfit to have them washed away. And all that they did or refused to do, in either case, was ratified and confirmed by their divine Master in heaven.
We next learn, from the same record of their acts and their epistles, the subsequent exercise of discipline connected with their commission. They pronounced the sentence of ecclesiastical judgment upon those that proved unfaithful, immoral, or unruly. They suspended the guilty from the communion of the Church; they cast them out as breakers of the covenant, closed the door against them, and thus thrust them back to Satan, whose servants they had been before, and whose service they showed, by their lives, that they did not
choose to abandon. And after all this had been done, if the excluded parties were brought to true repentance, and there was good reason to believe that they were thoroughly converted and reformed, the apostles received them back again to their former privileges, as we read in the case of the incestuous Corinthian. Thus we see the complete administration of the Church of Christ, the kingdom of heaven upon earth, committed to their hands. And for the whole solemn and responsible work they received the Holy Ghost from their divine Master, without whose spiritual influence and aid they must have labored wholly in vain.
Now the Church of Rome does not formally deny any part of this interpretation, and it is manifest that nothing beyond it is necessary for the accomplishment of the promises of Christ. How, then, can they pretend for a moment that those promises can not have been fulfilled, unless auricular confession and private priestly absolution be added to the list of the apostles' functions ? Where is the slightest intimation of such a rule in the Acts or the Epistles ? And yet their Catechism of Trent declares that "no one can be ignorant of the paramount necessity of the Sacrament of Penance,” and that “its exposition demands an accuracy superior to that of baptism." But if this were true, how can they account for the fact that not one sentence is recorded concerning its administration in all that the inspired teachers of the Church have written ? Can they conceive it possible that the Spirit of God would have dictated so much more than what was strictly essential to a sav. ing faith, and yet have omitted this subject of “ paramount necessity ?" Can they really think that " its exposition demands an accuracy superior to that of baptism," and yet suppose that the Scriptures of di.
vine truth, which contain so much concerning baptism, would yet omit all mention of another sacrament which required to be expounded with even “superior
But their claim to the authority of the Scriptures is disproved by more than even this conclusive negative testimony. There are two passages which seem to condemn it by a positive contradiction. Thus the Apostle Paul, in his First Epistle to Timothy, chapter v., verse 20, lays down this law for the episcopal office: «Them that sin, reprove before all, that the rest also may have fear.” Here is a plain rule that sinners should be rebuked in the presence of their brethren. And how can such a rule be reconciled with the doctrine of private confession and private absolution, under strict injunctions to secrecy? If their imaginary sacrament of penance had then been in existence, is it not manifest that the apostle would have qualified the precept by saying, “Those who sin publicly, reprove before all ?" Or that he would at least have alluded to the private confessional as an exception to the rule?
The other passage is in the Epistle of St. James, ch. v., v. 16, where we read, “ Confess
your to another, and pray one for another that you may be healed.” And here I can not but admire the boldness of their Doway commentators, who say in a note, " That is, to the priests of the Church, whom, verse 14, he had ordered to be called for and brought in to the sick ; moreover, to confess to persons who had no power to forgive sins, would be useless. Hence the precept here means that we must confess to men whom God hath appointed, and who, by their ordination and jurisdiction, have received the power of remitting sins in his name.”
Now that this is a most unwarrantable gloss upon the passage, is apparent from the context; for the 14th verse reads as follows : “ Is any man sick among you ? let him bring in the elders of the Church” (not “ priests,” in the Roman sense, for the Greek is neobvTépus, and their own Latin Vulgate is not sacerdotes, but presbyteros), “and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins” (et si peccata fuerit perpetratus, according to Montanus), “they shall be forgiven him.”
It is true, indeed, that the next verse is connected with the subject by an unwarrantable addition in the Vulgate and the Doway version: “Confess, therefore, your sins one to another." But this word therefore is not in the Greek: Εξομολογείσθε αλλήλους τα παpantáuata, which Montanus fairly renders Confitemini alii aliis offensiones. That it is not, however, a continuation of the 14th verse, but the introduction of a new tobic, is perfectly plain from the change of person and number, as well as from the order of the apostle's statements. Thus the previous verse is in the third person and the singular number. “Is any man sick ? let him,” &c. The next verse is in the second person and in the plural : “Confess your sins one to another," &c.
The order of the subject proves the same thing; for it is manifest that if the apostle had intended to inculcate the notion which the Doway commentators have so audaciously put in his mouth, he never could have stated that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him," without attending to the confession and the absolution which, according to their system,
66 Confess your
must have preceded the forgiveness of sin. The omission of confession to the priest, in the order to which it belongs in their theology, is the more striking, from the fact that the subject of confession is introduced immediately afterward under a totally different aspect : “Confess your sins one to another;" since this proves conclusively that it was not forgotten by the apostle when he wrote the previous verse, but by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he was led to record it in such a form as is absolutely fatal to their doctrine.
For now, when the case of the sick believer is brought to a full conclusion, St. James inculcates confession to man in the direct terms which exclude their sacramental theory altogether. sins," not to the priest, but “to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed, for the continual prayer of a righteous man availeth much." And then the apostle proceeds to illustrate the efficacy, not of priestly absolution, but of prayer, by referring to the condescension of God in connecting His wondrous works with the prayers of Elias. It is impossible to conceive of a more decisive proof than this, that their whole peculiar doctrine is utterly at variance with the teaching of the apostles.
I would next observe to what strange extravagance these commentators are ready to have recourse when they are determined to foist their favorite dogmas on the Bible ; for they are not ashamed to say, in the note which I have quoted, “ Moreover, to confess to persons who had no power to forgive sins, would be useless ;" and this they tell us in the very face of St. James's declaration, that “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Not only, however, do they here oppose the apostle, but expressly contradict several other passages of Scripture. Thus, in