« PreviousContinue »
THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN."*
Section 1.--- Auricular Confession.- Texts against it.
Fathers against it.- Origin of the Practice.- Silence of the Fathers.--Bad Consequences. Section II - Assurance.Texts misunderstood.-Texts against it.--Objections 10 the Doctrine.
object of this dissertation, is twofold: to enlarge on what has been said in the lecture; first, on the subject of auricular confession; and secondly, on what is held by some Protestants, in relation to inward assurance.
OF AURICULAR CONFESSION.
In the lecture, remarks were made on the power to remit or to retain sins, as given in John xx. 23. The other passages quoted in favour of auricular confession, are Acts xix. 18, and James v. 16. In the former it is recorded, that on St. Paul's first preaching and perform. ing of miraculous works in Corinth,“many that believed came and confessed and showed their deeds." It means no more, than that their application to the apostles to be received to Christian communion, was accompanied by an acknowledgment of their former vicious courses: a matter not uncommon in every Protestant communion, at the present day. But that a special confession of all past miscarriages was not a prerequisite of ini. tiation into the Church by baptism, may be presumed from the many places, in which it might otherwise have been expected to appear—as in the baptism of the
* See Lecture II.
eunuch-in that of Cornelius and his household, and -in that of Jairus and his household.
The other passage is—“Confess your sins one to another.” It is not—to a priest, as having an authori. tative and judicial tribunal; but to one another: meaning with candour, in opposition to the palliating or jus. tifying of what was faulty in their respective characters. For that the passage went beyond this, to a disclosure of the movements of the mind, does not appear.
On the present subject, the works of the early fathers have received a similar treatment with the holy Scriptures: that is, the absolute duty of confession to God, and the occasional use of opening the heart to the ministers of his word, has been confounded with the indispensable necessity of the latter, as a condition of divine pardon. Thus, Tertullian is introduced as to the purpose; because in his treatise concerning patience, among many animated exhortations to persons fallen from the peace of the Church, he counsels them to implore, on bended knees, the prayers of the Presbyters, and of all others who were dear to God. Cyprian and Origen are quoted to the same effect, and on similar occasion given. But on the other hand, it would be easy to bring passages from the fathers—from St. Chrysostom in particular, in various passages of his works-prescribing confession to God in such a way as to show, that they thought no other necessary to the pardon of sin. Even in the legitimate releasing from Church censures; there are sundry fathers who main. tain, that the act of the minister is not judicial, but declaratory.
The doctrine of auricular confession originated in the following manner. After the lapse of some centuries, sins of a publick and glaring character were acknowledged openly before the Church: and this
practice, with the advantage which it was thought to possess of securing the prayers of the clergy and of all the faithful, drew after it the unveiling of transgressions, which could be known only to the parties; but confessed by them voluntarily, and not drawn from them on the ground of duty. The inconvenience was per. ceived, in its bringing forward of some facts, which induced great scandal on religion: of which a signal instance is on record, as happening in Constantinople, under the episcopacy of Nectarius. In consequence of this, he abolished publick confession within his diocese. Out of the ashes of that practice, arose the other of private confession, as a general duty: but it grew by degrees; and was not enjoined by any of the councils called “ general,” until that of the Lateran, in the thirteenth century. * Even then it rested as a matter of discipline; and was not affirmed as of divine com. mandment, until so declared by the council of Trent.
It would be easy to recite from ancient fathers, ex. hortations to repentance under a variety of circumstances; and expressed in such forms, as show that they are materially defective; if auricular confession, so evidently wanting in them, were thought universally a duty. There shall be given the instance of the Ro. man Clement—undoubtedly the person referred to in Philipp. iv. 3, as having "his name written in the book of life.” In his admirable Epistle to the Corinthians, written for the express purpose of reclaiming them from a schism; after having set before them the heinousness of their offence, he exhorts them to beg God's forgiveness; enlarging on the sentiment, without any intimation of a preparatory step of auricular confession. This, if required, might also have been pertinently introduced in another place, where he admonishes those who had laid the first foundation of the schism, to submit themselves to their presbyters; and to be instructed to repentance, bending the knees of their hearts. It may be alleged, that confession was an appendage to the repentance, to which they were to be instructed. But this is the matter in question; and it is contended, that the general requisition of such a condition would naturally have introduced the men. tion of it in this place. The Corinthians, it is true, in * Canon 21.
† Chap. li. Chap. lvii.
the very return from their schism, must have acknowledged their fault therein. But it is easy to perceive the difference between this, and the disclosure of the heart implied in the subject under consideration.
The same inference may be drawn from the second Epistle of St. Clement; if it be indeed his, and not rather, as some think, erroneously ascribed to him, although confessedly very ancient. Be this as it may, we have there an earnest exhortation to repentance; without a word concerning the necessity of confession to a minister.
But there is no reason to confine to the first three centuries, what is here affirmed of the sense of the fathers. Those of the fourth century, were equally strangers to the doctrine in question. Especial stress should be laid on the evidences of this, found in the writings of St. Chrysostome; who, succeeding Nectarius in the see of Constantinople, may be expected to have spoken with a reference to the lately abrogated confession in publick; but not without regard to the private confession, had there been any such. How far he was from this, may be perceived in the following extract from his thirty-first homily on the epistle to the Hebrews" He who hath sinned, is certainly an ob. ject of mercy and clemency. But as for you who are not persuaded of this, how do you suppose it possible that you should obtain mercy? Why do you bear your. self with so much confidence? Let us be persuaded that we have sinned. Let us say it, not only with our tongue, but also in mind and thought. Let us not only say that we are sinners, but review our sins, number. ing them especially and one by one. I do not say to you, that you are to make an ostentatious display of them, but that you should obey the prophet saying, confess your way unto the Lord. To God, to the judge, consess your sins, praying, if not with tongue, at least with the memory; and so pray that he may have mercy on you."
There might be made numerous quotations from the same father, to the same effect. But they are the less necessary, as the fact of their being found in his works is explicitly acknowledged by Dupin; who accounts for it by the supposition, that very small offences, and such as need no confession are intended. But how does this consist with the above quoted passage; in which is enjoined the revolving of them specially and one by one in the mind, in order that they may be confessed with the same minuteness to the Lord? Much more; how does it consist with passages referred to by Dupin himself, in which Chrysostome speaks of the confession exacted, as what should be accompanied by tears, by alms, by humility, by prayer, and by other like remedies?
The historian also departs from his usual accuracy; when, in order to guard against the supposition, that private confession to God is opposed to the lately abolished publick confession before the Church, he intimates, that the places in question are in homilies delivered in Antioch, while the preacher was a priest in that Church; and before his succeeding of Nectarius, as bishop of Constantinople. The passage above given from the commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, comes not under that description. Besides, the fact of the abrogation of publick confession in the latter city, may have been prior to the delivery of the homilies in the former; and if so, could not but have been of notoriety.
The evils to which the assumed power may lead, and to which it has been confessedly abused in some places, is a matter of very serious consideration. For although legitimate power is liable to abuse; yet in proportion as any asserted right has been known to extend to the corrupting of the consciences of indivi. duals, to the invading of domestick comforts, and to the producing of disturbances in states, the greater should be the caution of looking well to the authority, which is said to sustain a claim, so easily made the engine of ambition, and the cover of licentiousness. It is reported of the secret intercourse in question, that it has been sometimes the mean of preventing and of redressing