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LECTURE THE TENTH.
ON THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE.
JOHN xx. 23.
ye the Holy Ghost ; whose sins ye shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins ye shall retain, they are retained." I SHALL this day endeavour to explain to you, in the simplest manner, the doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding the forgiveness of sins; and the grounds whereupon she maintains the practice of confession to be an institution of our Lord. It would, however, be necessarily unjust to the subject to enter into it alone, and detached from those other important institutions, which we consider an essential part of the remedy appointed by Christ, for the forgiveness of sins. It will, therefore, be necessary for me to enter, perhaps at some length, into other considerations connected with this subject, and endeavour rather to lay before you the entire form and substance of that Sacrament, which the Catholic Church maintains to be one of the most valuable institutions left by our Saviour to the ministration of his Church—that is to say, the Sacrament of Penance, of which, indeed, confession is to be considered but a part.
Nothing is more common than to separate our belief and our practice; and then, placing the latter before public notice as though standing on independent grounds, and having no connexion with the former, to represent it as a mere human invention, devoid of authority in the word of God. In order to remove any impression of this nature, it will be proper to show you this institution, prescribed in the Church of Christ, as in close connexion with other and still more important doctrines. I shall, therefore, endeavour to go through all the parts
of this Sacrament, comparing the institution believed by us to have been left by our Saviour, and preserved in the Church of God, with the method supposed by other religions to have been instituted, and to be in operation there, for the attainment of the same objects.
I have again and again inculcated, that in the works of God, or in all those institutions left by him to mankind, there will always be found a certain consistency or harmony of parts,so that whatever has been demonstrated regarding one portion of the system which He left on earth, must be allowed to be of considerable weight towards influencing our belief, at least as to the probability of other similar institutions having been provided. For example, with regard to the present case, all are agreed, that among the most important objects of our Saviour's coming among mankind,- I may say, indeed, the most important of all,—was that of rescuing fallen man from sin. We must, consequently, suppose that He did not leave his work imperfect; and, while we all concur in common belief, that the work of redemption was quite perfect and complete, as to his giving of a full equivalent to the divine justice, we all must likewise agree, that a means was provided by Him whereby this full and general redemption was to be applied to each individual case. No one can, for a moment, suppose, that because Christ died for our sins, we are rescued from all co-operation on our parts; that, without a single act, I do not say external, but at least of our minds, we shall have the full benefit of that redemption; that nothing was demanded from us, whereby that general redemption, which would have cancelled the sins of ten thousand worlds, was to be accepted by God in our particular case. Consequently, so far we may all be said to admit; first that redemption was perfected by Christ's death; and secondly that some means or other, whether an outward act or an inward movement, is requisite to make that redemption applicable to ourselves.
But if we look into the institutions of Christ, we shall see that, in every other case, at least, he was pleased to make use of
External agency Is not the Biood of Christ applied to the sanctification of man in the waters of regeneration? Is not baptism a sacrament instituted by our Lord, før the purpose of cleansing the soul from original sin? Is not the sin there forgiven, through the only forgiving power, that is, through the cancelling Blood of our Redeemer?—and yet, is not this applied by means of the outward act and ministration of man?
Was not the redemption of Christ complete in itself, so far as it was intended also for our greater sanctification?
Were not His sufferings in themselves all-abundant, as directed to the end of uniting us in love and affection with Him, by making us feel what He suffered for our sakes? --and do not all
agree, even those who differ from us in the real and essential character of the sacrament of the Eucharist-do they not all agree, that it is instituted for the purpose of applying to ourselves those feelings at least which He intended to excite by His sufferings and death? And is not this again a visible institution? Is it not applied through the agency of man, and is it not done by outward acts and rites, both on the part of the minister, and of him who receives it?
Did not our Saviour come on earth to teach all mankind? Did He not establish a code of doctrines and morals, a system of laws for our edification both in faith and conduct? And nas He not left an outward instrument of this in His written word? And has He not appointed ministers, and constituted a hierarchy, to whom was committed the care of His flock, with power and authority to instruct? And here again, is not one of the most signal and important benefits which our Saviour intended to communicate to man, communicated through outward means, by an institution founded by Himself for that purpose ?
Now, if the great end for which He came on earth was the abolition of sin; and that not merely considered as the cancelling of a general debt, but as a specific provision for each individual who requires the benefit of His redemption; if, at the same time, every other benefit conferred on mankind was