Page images
PDF
EPUB

cases does the Church of England recommend or sanction confession at all, in the sense of Dr. Pusey and the Romanists. Friendly pastoral guidance and declaratory announcements of mercy, which are of the essence of the Protestant and scriptural ministry, are totally different from the compulsory telling of all the secrets of the heart under the penalty of damnation, as the only way back to regenerate purity and peace; and totally different from the resting of the soul upon the lip of a fellow-creature for the judicial and authoritative decree of restoration and forgiveness. Unless Dr. Pusey's mind has been sadly debilitated and obfuscated by his new habits of implicit submission to Romish superiors, we cannot conceive of his own argument being conclusive to himself. There is at once a flimsiness about it which must fail to convince, and a thread of cunning and petty contrivance running all through, which must be painful to an ingenuous mind. If he has no better standing for his position, he is bound, as an honest man, to abandon either his opinions or his Church and preferment. He is either too weak or too wicked to occupy a chair in a Protestant University. We leave to him, more in sorrow than in anger, the meagre and melancholy advantage of the alternative.

But we proceed in the next place to show that the doctrine promulgated by Dr. Pusey in this sermon is not scriptural. And here, in limine, we have to regret that we are compelled, by the nature of his tenets, to lose sight altogether of his standing as a presbyter of the Church of England: (our argument with him is not within the range of matters about which true churchmen may differ-T0 evdexetas araws;) but that we have to encounter him at once in the beaten and common-place track of Romish controversy. The Council of Trent and the professor both mainly found this doctrine of the sacrament of penance—both as to the power of absolution and the duty of secret confession-on one passage of Scripture, John xx. 21-23, which he has taken as the starting point of his controversy; and Dr. Pusey would assume also that the Church of England, in adopting these words as the formulary of ordination (and because, as he says in his ambiguous way, “the Church has ever understood it in one sense”), accepts and uses them in the same sense in which the Church of Rome does; and because she uses the same terms, may therefore be chargeable with the same tenets.

But it should be observed at the outset, independently of the consideration of any interpretation of these words, that the Church of England only acts consistently with itself in the adoption of the very formulary of our blessed Lord, in the transmission of any ecclesiastical functions to which he has appointed his ministers. When her pastors baptize, they adopt the scriptural appointed formulary. When they consecrate the elements of the Lord's supper, they use the very terms of scripture, as the most natural mode of setting them apart for the purpose. But in each case it is in the belief that they act only ministerially; and that only such blessing will follow as is contingent on the gracious will of God, in proper adaptation to the case and state of each individual; and that in neither case does a direct spiritual blessing flow ex opere operato, or by the authoritative use of the words to each recipient. In the same way, in addressing itself to an office of ordination, the Church evidently and properly thought it desirable that the very form used by our blessed Lord should be used as the most appropriate to express the authority and power which he chooses to convey by ordination to his ministers. They hand down the original terms of consecration from age to age.

This office, precisely as any other, is dependent for its efficacy, not on the administration or the subordinate agent, but on the state of the recipient, and the will of his Omniscient Lord. And the use of our Lord's words by the bishop at ordination, implies, not at all that he believes himself thus able personally to convey the Holy Ghost by his hand, and to give to the candidate the power of a direct personal absolution, any more than to make him “a faithful dispenser of the word of God;"- but only a ministerial formula, suggested by the original words, and transmitted thus, as the Lord's words, through each generation of the Church-the Lord's, and not his servant's—and as the mode of blessing; and, at all events, only to import so much as shall be found to be brought out as the true and consistent meaning of the passage, in its first use, in harmony with the whole doctrinal tenor of the written word, and the inspired record of the practice of the primitive ministers. As subordinate agents of the Lord Christ, we use the very words that he used, as the best and most natural formula for the transmission of those responsibilities to which he appointed the pastors of his flock. The sense in which they are to be taken, as developing their commission, is another question, and can only be determined in the usual way. i. e. by an exegetical examination of the written word ; and we demur at once to the mode of interpretation which the Church of Rome adopts, that of affixing authoritatively an arbitrary sense to the words; and equally to the assumption of Dr. Pusey, in the face of what he knows to be the accredited and published views of the great body of our divines,—that the Church of England approves and adopts this Romish arbitrary interpretation.

We waive any discussion as to the propriety of using this passage

at ordination ; for that does not affect the question before us. It is admitted to be of comparatively modern adoption, and men may differ as to the wisdom of the course. But the main point before us is its real meaning, as addressed to the apostles by our blessed Lord. The passage is little more than a solitary and insulated one, and though there are elements which may avail much towards bringing out its real meaning, which we shall subsequently notice, it appears of great moment to illustrate it by reference to the practice and the inspired communications of the first teachers.

Now the assumption of Rome and of Dr. Pusey is unequivocal, that the utterance of those words was a commission to the apostles and their successors, to pronounce judicially an absolute pardon upon penitence, flowing directly from the priest to the penitent, and subsequently ratified by God in heaven; and this so extensive that there is no other door of mercy open to him who sins after baptism, but the priest's lips; nor hath God appointed, nor will he admit, any other way of reconciliation than that of confession to a priest and absolution by him. This is the Romish tenet; and it is endeavoured to be substantiated by their advocate in our English university.

It is an easy matter, in an arbitrary way, to affix this or any other interpretation on the passage ; but surely the more correct course is to explain the institution of the pastorship by the exercise of it, as historically recorded in the inspired page, and by the views which the apostles entertained of their own functions. We possess, in the New Testament, one whole book of twenty-eight chapters, left to us evidently as a normal specimen of a primitive gospel-ministry, every word of which is most precious authority. But we do not find in the Acts of the Apostles the most distant allusion to that theory and practice which Rome and Dr. Pusey thus declare to be of divine authority; nor a single instance of that secret and total breast-emptying and confession, which they affirm to be herein ordained. It is true that one instance occurs of the Ephesian converts, under the power of the preached gospel, confessing (eoporoyo upevou) i. e. openly avowing and acknowledging their evil practices, and burning their magical books : but this is no more than occurs continually in every Protestant mission, when the heathen, converted, leave their idolatrous and impure ways : it is simply the incipient petavola and its practical results and evidences. This is not the Romish confession. But looking for it where, if it did exist, as a matter of divine and unquestionable authority, it would certainly be found, viz. in St. Paul's recurring visits to the erected churches for their confirmation, there is not the slightest intimation that he used or authorized among them

the practice of secret confession, or of a formal and specific absolution after post-baptismal sin. If in the primitive model this system occupied the authoritative prominence that it does in Rome's and Dr. Pusey's system and regard, it must have appeared somewhere; and if not, then this Romish gloss on the terms of commission is neither primitive nor just.

But further, we have several very valuable letters of St. Paul, to various Christian communities which he had either founded or visited, which, taken with the other scriptures, were to be a complete and exclusive guide to the gospel church. And in them there are occasional notices of error, on the part of individuals, both of doctrine and life; and cases must have been constantly occurring—(there is a marked one in the Corinthian church, which occupies a prominent position in both epistles,)—which, if the assumed Roman system be the scriptural interpretation of this passage in question, must have led to allusions to these prominent and important duties both of minister and people, as to confession on the one side, and authoritative absolution on the other—that universal operation which concentrates and carries forth all the energies and powers of the pastorship in the Roman church, and is the grand centre and source of their influence and dominion! But where is it in the apostle's ministry? Where is his solemn announcement of this “ living provision for the absolute and total cleansing of the baptized,” as hopeless apostates after the first return to a sinful state? What is St. Paul's account of his own labours amongst a professing people in Corinth? We find it in chap. y. of his second epistle, “Now we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead be ye reconciled to God.” And, in chap. iv. “ By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.” Had he held Roman views, would he not have added something about this precious and awful power of scrutiny and re-restoration, by which he would claim the right to screw out all the secrets of the heart, and then to wash it clean again by a word—“ Absolvo te?" But alas ! there is total silence; not the slightest allusion to this the grand feature of the Romish ministry.

Again, we have the letters of St. Paul to two young pastors or bishops, which are intended for their own immediate guidance, and also to regulate the procedure of those who should be ordained by them. They form, in fact, the Christian pastor's vade mecuman instruction “How thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God.If a teacher wishes to know how to fulfil his ministry, there evidently he must go for instruction. But is there one sentence of allusion in them to this extraordinary duty and commission? “ Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine," but not to secret confession or absolution. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine ;” but not confess and absolve. “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves ; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil ; ” but not a word about the grand remedy of the sacrament of penance, and the power of the priest to “recover them” by his absolution. “I will therefore that men pray everywhere ;” not that they practise secret confession to a priest. “I will therefore that the younger women marry, &c. and give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully;" but no command or wish that they should commit themselves unreservedly by secret confession to the scrutiny and guidance of an unmarried priest. “ Them that sin rebuke before all,” is a command to maintain an open and consistent pastoral control for the welfare of the community ; but none to receive the secret outpouring of all sin, and to give a secret absolution. He speaks also of those “ who fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts ; ” but he says not one word of their reversion from baptismal purity, to a lost and hopeless state, except as they shall be renewed on confession and penance and the priestly remission of sin.

These important epistles, as instructions to the clergy, are so totally silent on this subject of all-absorbing importance to Rome and Dr. Pusey, that it is impossible to believe the then existence of such a doctrine and practice as they uphold. In fact, Dr. Pusey feels the awkwardness of having no scriptural standing for his dogma; and it leads him to meet it in this very characteristic way :“ This then is probably one ground, why so little needed to be said in the New Testament as to the forgiveness of sins of a Christian very grievously fallen; that our Lord has left a living provision in his church, whereby all penitents, however fallen, should be restored :”—that is, having gratuitously assumed that the whole system of the sacrament of penance is in the arbitrary forced and unwarrantable interpretation of his text, he then twists the entire silence of scripture on his scheme in his favour, by affirming that nothing need be said elsewhere, because so much is said there! But feeling, nevertheless, that something more than this was surely necessary to maintain a system, which ought to be one of precedent and authority, he ventures upon yet more questionable ground. “ The practice of the church became

« PreviousContinue »