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God, in condescension to that property of our nature, by which sensible objects may aid the impression of religious truths, has made provision in this way, for the acting of the declarations of his word, with the more energy on our minds, and for their more exciting of our best sensibilities.
In the first place, and principally in regard to an engrafting into Christ, there is the ordinance of baptism: which accordingly is so often mentioned in alliance with the forgiveness of sins, as greatly to fault the errour noticed; supposing an assurance, altogether detached from the other subject. When the harbinger of the Messiah began to preach" the baptism of repentance," it was declared to be " for the remission of sins "* In the first sermon of St. Peter to the unbelieving Jews, there is the demand "Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins." And Ananias was sent by the great Head of the Church, to repentant Saul, to say to him-" Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord."‡
The benefit here spoken of, is peculiar to the entrance within the pale of the Christian Church. But for subsequent errours of infirmity or of surprize, or even of wilful and deliberate sin, the sinner being humbled in deep repentance before his God, there is the institution of the Lord's Supper. As the very essence of the ordinance is its being a commemoration of the great sacrifice for sin; whenever it is celebrated with suitable dispositions, it may be contemplated by the devout communicant, as conveying, under a sensible figure, an assurance of the mercy of God to the repenting sinner. And this sentiment is sustained by the post-communion service of our Church; when it speaks of the spiritual feeding in the eucharist, as "an assuring us of God's favour and goodness towards us;" of our being "members incorporate in the mys
* Mark i. 4.
† Acts ii. 38. ‡ xxii. 16.
tical body of his Son; and also heirs through hope of his everlasting kingdom."
Not only in this holy ordinance, but by a divinely instituted ministry, and by declarations made in vir tue of it, there is the assurance of the forgiveness of sin: the consciousness of the qualification still lying with the party. What is here claimed to the minis. try, is the result of the tenour of their commission"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."*"The gospel:" That is, the glad tidings: and what are these, but of God's declaring of his readiness to receive repentant sinners? Accord ingly, we need not hesitate to consider the conditional absolutions in our morning and evening prayer, as made not only truly, but authoritatively. The matter declared, is not therein more to be relied on, than when it is recognized in our daily repetition of the Lord's prayer, or in any words of our own devising.. But in the other case, there is a visible channel of the conveyance of divine truth; not adding to its certain-ty, but for the realizing of it to those contemplated as its objects.
The design of these Lectures requires, that there should be pointed out where, and on what grounds, our Church differs from the Church of Rome, on the present subject.
That Church exacts as the condition of the forgiveness of sin-confession to a priest. We find no authority for this in scripture. The passage on which the council of Trent has principally rested this matter> is,t" Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained." Here-it is said-is a power of loosing and of binding: and it cannot be exercised without a special knowledge of the sins, which are the object of the power. The errour is partly grounded on the not distinguishing between the sinner and the sin. It is not said-whatsoever sins, but whosoever sins ye re.
* Mark xvi. 15.
↑ John xx. 23.
mit. There may be satisfactory evidence of penitence, even where there is not a minute disclosure of all the delinquencies to which it has a relation. This definition would not apply, if in the event of real penitence, the pardon were dependent on the number of sins, and on their grade of criminality; but this is confessedly alien from Christian verity.
Further; if we were to admit the passage in proof of the priestly power, it would not follow, that the penitent is under an obligation to resort to it. He might still for any thing that appears-repair to the original source of pardon; as in the case of a rebellious subject, who should have immediate recourse to his prince, instead of applying to another person under a commission.
But it is conceived, that the passage principally relates to the binding under ecclesiastical censures and to the releasing from them. When these acts take place in the due administration of ecclesiastical discipline, the great Master ratifies what is done in his name, and by virtue of his authority. But even in this line, what may be the effect of errour or of passion, must be foreign to every fair construction of the text: and much less can we conceive of the Searcher of Hearts, as admitting to a share in the exercise of his prerogative, a succession of frail, and in some instances sinful men, who cannot of themselves look beyond the conduct; who may be imposed on not only by an imperfect or by a false confession; but even where no deception is intended, and in consequence of men's imperfect knowledge of their own hearts.
By writers on the present subject, there are cited other passages of scripture, which speak of the confession of sins. But in no one of them is there an injunction to confess to a minister, authorized to apply the grant of pardon in any other way, than in that of release from ecclesiastical censures. Similar passages are cited from the early fathers; but with similar irrelevancy to the subject.
While the Protestant Churches deny the duty of confession, as maintained by the Church of Rome; they do not deny the utility of recourse to be had by believers to their pastors, for the easing of the conscience of any pressing burdens, and for the clearing of doubts and difficulties: and hence an invitation to that effect in one of the exhortations to the communion, in the Liturgy of this Church. It is indeed one of the most important uses of the ministerial office: It is also one of the most powerful incentives to ability for so weighty a work; and a discountenancing, not only of all flagrant sin, but of levity and too great devotion to the world; as what not only indispose the clergy to their duty in this respect, but discourage the people from a reliance either on their judgments, or on their faithfulness. [See Dissertation III.]
"The resurrection of the body." This is not only an article of faith repeatedly, declared in scripture; but in the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, it is shown, that to deny it, is in effect to deny the resurrection of Christ, which is virtually a rejection of the whole system. And further we read in the second epistle to Timothy,* of certain who said, that "the resurrection was past already:" referring all that had been revealed on the subject, either to the resurrection of Christ, or as is more probable, to a spiritual resurrection: thus doing away the obvious sense of scripture, by a species of spiritualizing wide of or contrary to the letter. This has been imitated since the apostolick age, in a variety of whimsical ways. Nevertheless, it is said of the persons referred to, that they had "erred concerning the truth," and that they had "overthrown the faith of some."+
"And the life everlasting." Although the Creed, being framed for Christian people, takes no note of the judgment impending over the ungodly and impenitent; yet it ought not to be forgotten, that as St.
II. 17. 18:
Paul declares, "the resurrection of the dead will comprehend both the just and the unjust;" it is a matter too little regarded in Christian countries, how much it depends on revelation, whether we are to have any such expectation of an hereafter, as to be influential on practice. As to the Heathen, although they had popular fables relative to the subject, these being probably original communications to our race, become much corrupted by the stream of tradition through which they had passed; it is certain, that of those who thought deeply, while a great proportion treated the expectation as a delusion, the remainder held it to be rather desirable than certain. In the Mosaick dispensation, the subject rests on very remarkable ground. It can hardly be said to have been matter of direct communication. Yet there are promises of a future dispensation, with the implication of an intermediate interest in them: which could not have been, if, in regard to the persons to whom they were made, death were to be an everlast ing sleep. All this was suited to the divine design, that "life and immortality should be brought to light," only "by the gospel:"+ some rays of it indeed to be indulged to preceding times; but its full blaze to be reserve for the period appointed for the constituting of the Christian Church.
The Catechism goes on, to sum up the sense of the Creed, in three articles. It demands of the catecumen -"What dost thou chiefly learn in these articles of thy belief?" He learns other important particulars; but what he is required to answer to, are contemplated, as the chief.
He says "First, I learn to believe in God the Father, who made me and all the world."
This requires nothing in the way of explanation, in addition to what was said concerning the first article in the Creed. But both that and the present would admit of an endless series of sentiment; tending to excite due sensibility to our dependence on the great Acts xxiv. 15. t2 Tim. i. 10.