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Matt., ch. v., v. 23, we read the precept of Christ, " Therefore, if thou offerest thy gift at the altar, and there shalt remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and first go to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Again, Luke, xvii., 4, the same divine Teacher saith, “If thy brother sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, forgive him.” And yet again, Col., iii., 12–13, the apostle saith, “Put ye on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another; even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do ye also.” All these passages are in the plainest accordance with the precept of St. James, “Confess your sins one to another ;” and yet, in determined opposition to them all, their champions do not blush to say that the confession of sins to persons who have no priestly power to forgive sins would be useless!
Thus, then, stands their scriptural argument for auricular confession and secret absolution, in what they call the Sacrament of Penance. Not only is it without the slightest real support, but it is even in conflict with positive and circumstantial evidence. They might, perhaps, make out a plausible case if their Church could condescend to adopt Mr. Newman's theory of Development, because their system was certainly developed after some centuries, out of what elements we shall see in due time. But, unfortunately for their cause, they would in that case stand convicted of error in having claimed for all their doctrines an apostolic origin, and I fear that they are not yet ready to give up their figment of infallibility for the sake of an accordance with scriptural truth.
THE DOCTRINE OF SATISFACTION TESTED BY SCRIPTURE.
Tue remaining branch of the papal system which belongs to their sacrament of penance is the doctrine of Satisfaction, and as their Catechism of the Council of Trent appeals to the authority of Scripture on this point with great apparent confidence, it is necessary to examine the argument with serious attention.
• Satisfaction,” saith the Roman Church, in the words of their Catechism, " is the full payment of a debt; for, when satisfaction is made, nothing remains to be supplied ; hence, when we speak of reconciliation by grace, to satisfy is the same as to do that which may be sufficient to atone to the angered mind for an injury offered, and thus satisfaction is nothing more than compensation for an injury done to another.' Hence theologians make use of the word “satisfaction' to signify the compensation made by man to God, by doing something in atonement for the sins which he has committed."
Now here is a doctrine which we can not too strongly condemn as utterly hostile to the whole testimony of the Scriptures. Man can do nothing in atonement for his sins before the Almighty ; and hence our entire dependence for atonement must rest upon the sacrifice of our blessed Saviour. And this is equally true of all, without exception ; for the best men during the present life are encompassed with infirmity. Even the Apostle Paul confesses the imperfection of
DOCTRINE OF SATISFACTION.
his attainments, Philip., iii., 12–14: “Not as though I had already attained,” saith he, “either were already perfect : but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended : but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” St. James, in like manner, ch. iii., v. 2, saith, “In many things we all offend." And St. John, 1 Ep., i., 8, saith, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” If, then, the best obedience of the holiest saints is still imperfect, how is it possible that they can satisfy or atone to God for their former sins ? For what can they render to God beyond the present demands of duty ? And if their highest efforts are still defective, so that they can only be accepted through the merits of Christ, how can they have a superfluity of obedience to set down as an offset to their past transgressions, “in compensation;" as the Roman Catechism calls it, to the justice of the Almighty? Hence our Lord expressly declares, Luke, xvii., 10, “ So you also, when you shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do."
The Catechism of Trent, however, tries to evade this difficulty by setting forth three, or, rather, four kinds of satisfaction, and giving the first place to the atonement of Christ, which stands pre-eminently above all the rest, as that by which, whatever is due by us to God on account of our sins, is paid abundantly, although he should deal with us according to the strictest rigor of his justice. This, we say, has
appeased God, and rendered him propitious to us, and for it we are indebted to Christ alone, who, having paid the price of our sins upon the cross, offered to his Eternal Father a superabundant satisfaction.”
Here I am glad to acknowledge that their doctrine is in perfect accordance with the Word of God; but the statement of this great truth does not remove the impiety of the notion that the penitent himself can “ satisfy" or make " compensation" to divine justice. The debt paid by Christ can not be paid by the sinner also.
And therefore the apostle saith, Eph., ii., 8, “By grace you are saved through faith, and this not of yourselves; for it is the GIFT OF GOD. Not of works, that no man may glory."
6. There is another sort of satisfaction,” continues the papal Catechism, " which is called canonical, and is performed within a certain fixed period of time. Hence, according to the most ancient practice of the Church, when penitents are absolved from their sins, some penance is imposed, the performance of which is commonly called satisfaction."
This passage shows the historical origin of the term from which, by a gradual and deplorable distortion, the Church of Rome concocted, after the lapse of many centuries, their modern doctrine. The primitive Church began, in the fourth century, to establish certain canons of penitential discipline, which I shall quote in a subsequent chapter, by which gross sinners were put away from the Communion for various periods, in some cases for ten years and more; and it is true, that after the period of public penitence allotted to the culprit was fulfilled, if his conduct was irreproachable, and his reformation was deemed sincere, he was considered as having given “ satisfaction;" but this satisfaction was to the Church, and The peni
not to the Almighty ; and therefore it was rightly called “ Canonical,” because it was in pursuance of the canons. And hence it afforded no ground whatever for their modern theory, with which it had not a single element in common. For in those days the confession of sin was open, not secret. tence enjoined was regulated by the Canons, and not by the private dictation of the priest. The fulfillment of that penitence was public, not concealed and capable of evasion. The sinner was obliged to satisfy the Church that he was truly reformed first, and he was admitted to the Communion afterward; whereas now their doctrine is, that he is to be privately absolved, and admitted to the Communion immediately; that his penance is to be performed afterward; and that the fact of his becoming reformed at all, being only a future contingency, shall not be taken into the account at the time of his absolution. Lastly, the words of absolution were then in the form of prayer, delivered in the face of the congregation, while now it is the positive "I absolve thee,” uttered in the secret confessional. All these points will be proved by quotations from their own undeniable authorities; and I only mention them at present, in order to show that in nothing but the mere word " satisfaction” have they retained any portion of the primitive system.
" Any sort of punishment endured for sin," continues the Trentine Catechism, although not imposed by the priest, but spontaneously undertaken by the sinner, is also called by the same name” (satisfaction). “It belongs not, however, to penance as a sacrament: the satisfaction which constitutes part of the sacrament is that which is imposed by the priest." This, therefore, is the special subject which the Church of Rome insists on as the adjunct to her au