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'that by its [i.e. Baptism] one only ministration it comes to pass that pardon is secured to the faithful of all their sins both before and after their regeneration.' And, immediately after, he speaks of the Lord's Prayer as being 'our daily cleansing,' through our use of its petition 'Forgive us our debts.' Such, then, is the central core and kernel of the truth upon this subject. Subject to the condition of genuine repentance, which to be genuine postulates full and free confession of the sin and prayer for pardon, sins committed by God's children are not allowed by Him to interrupt the filial access to Him on the one hand, or the flow of Divine help on the other. They are not allowed to break that contact of the soul with God which is the indispensable means of its daily renewal in God's image. In other words, all such sins are 'forgiven.' Then comes in the consideration to which we adverted some pages back, when we spoke of the difficulty experienced by the timid and the fearful those who, whether from native fearfulness, from disordered conscience, or through those spiritual terrors which Satan knows so well how to handle-in appropriating to themselves this free forgiveness. It is far from being every man's case at once to realise the boundless love of God. Men realise their own sins. They realise them as barriers. They don't so easily realise,-i.e. such persons as we have been describing do not realise,-the fulness of the paternal relation of God to their own souls on the one hand, or the fulness of their own filial relation to Him on the other; and thus the direct action between their own soul and God is impeded. What, then, remains? In our view, as Churchmen, clearly this that God in this, as in almost every other department of Religion, has not limited himself to direct action, but has availed Himself of secondary and subsidiary means of influencing the human soul for its own welfare. It seems to be almost too elementary a truth to be here adverted to, but really the way in which people ordinarily speak provokes us to repeat it, that while all the benefits of religion are on man's side, all the effort to make men profit by those benefits is on God's side. Is it, therefore, anything surprising that, since God knows all the difficulties we have touched on with a knowledge inconceivably more thorough, and therefore with a pity inconceivably more tender, than ours, He should have availed Himself of the agency of a human priesthood to aid in convincing the penitent soul of its acceptance with Him? The penitent doubts the genuineness, the thoroughness, the particu1 De Matrim. et Concupis. lib. i. cap. xxxiii. T. and T. Clark's Translation.
larity of his secret confession to the Unseen God. He cannot,his spiritual being is not as yet robust enough,—lean direct upon the Unseen Saviour. The eye and ear of faith are too dim, through long disuse, to see the face, to hear the voice of the pitying and pardoning God. It is in this need that a human voice, a human agent may-by that power of human sympathy, that power of human influence which is natural between man and man-succeed in conveying to the suffering soul that help which it requires, and by the absolving words spoken under the authorisation of the One Priest may give the weak soul that dead lift upwards towards God its Father which it cannot get any other way. In fact, in one way or another, the whole ministry of Christ's ambassadors revolves round this central need, and its varied functions either converge into it or radiate from it. To get the soul into direct contact with God, and to take advantage of such contact: this is the one work of all religion, and if it did not seem over-bold, one might say that it would be strange indeed if Jesus Christ set up a Church at all, if He sent ambassadors at all, that they should not be empowered to declare this forgiveness to souls who, though penitent, could not without some help realise their own penitence and His pardon.
Now it is manifest that it is on this principle that the Church of England acts in her official dealing with the subject. Look, first, at her daily offices. In those offices we speak to God and God to us. We address Him with praise and prayer. We hear His voice to us in the reading of His written Word. But before this mutual interchange commences, the office prescribes a Confession, in which each worshipper repudiates those sins which, if not repented and confessed, would bar him from true spiritual participation in the commencing service. Then follows an Absolution, in which, through the commissioned priest, God accepts the confession of each several soul which has duly shared in it. So in the Eucharistic office, of which the very essence consists in the closest contact of the soul with God. Here, again, Confession and Absolution open the way, and the soul whose spiritual health and strength is equal to the appropriation of the absolving grace, the soul whose faith is strong enough to enable it to rest directly upon God so dealing with it, need have no fear as to the absolving grace flowing freely into its being. But, as we have already pointed out at such length, there is not in all men either sufficient confidence in the completeness and adequacy of their own confession or sufficient realisation and grasp of God's full and free forgiveness. The
consequence is, that the Church provides something more. Over and above these general proclamations of pardon after general Confession, the Church has its particular Absolution after particular Confession, to the intent that no soul's need should be overlooked, but that all should be provided for. And surely, if the spirit of the Gospel is to be consulted, and it is the little ones of Christ's flock for whom He cares for most, this provision of particular Absolution, ministered to such after particular Confession, must be most according to His mind and purpose.
Now it is a universal rule that a practice which is a true application of a sound doctrine will have many collateral advantages circling round its central use. We cannot here so much as sketch the outline of a treatise on Confession; our space and our specified subject-the Place of Confession in the Church's System-alike restrict us. But we may step aside for one moment to speak of what we may call the double action of this particular Confession and Absolution as distinguished alike from the general Confession and Absolution in Church Services and the private Confession made to God alone in private devotion. There is not only the gain, to many minds enormous, arising from the assurance they win that their repentance really is repentance, but look also at the gain to untaught souls as to what it really is to confess sins at all. With regard, perhaps, to those who have been thoroughly and carefully trained in childhood and in youth, and who have gone forward steadily in the Christian life all along, the remark may not apply. But who that has had to receive those who have been brought before him through a mission, or who through any other cause have had recourse to him after a life of carelessness preceded by a youth destitute of individual teaching, does not know how much there is to be done in the way of training such persons in the very sense and perception of sin, and of what repentance of sin and confession of sin really mean? Why not teach them then by conversation?' we fancy some one says. True, but there is no mode of teaching an art so sure as the actual practice of it; add to which, that the deep solemnity of actual confession ensures an amount of reality and thoroughness which is simply inestimable. There is, we know, a time for all things, and as there are things which may be better dealt with in informal conversation, so there is a time for less formal and official treatment. But this does not detract from the value of the remark we have made; rather it leads us on to say that the Church's guarded and solemn mode of dealing with
such cases in official Confession and Absolution is infinitely safer than many of those informal spiritual conversations and interviews between pastor and penitent where there is nothing but his own tact, sense, and firmness to prevent aimless digressions, and that self-pleasing talking about themselves to which some people are so prone. Confession has its dangers, as we all know. Strange would it be if it had not. Whatever is committed to the administration of fallible men is liable to abuse, is liable also to mistakes in the way of using it. Corruptio optimi pessima, and just because this is the last and keenest and most potent weapon in the Church's armoury for dealing with souls, therefore also it needs that those who use it should be the wisest and the most devout, the most thoughtful and the most experienced of her ministers; men most deeply skilled alike in the things of God, in the knowledge of men, and in the working of the human heart.
That in its recent revival among ourselves everything has been done wisely we should be the last to assert. Indeed at the very outset we distinctly stated that it would be contrary to all experience for any newly revived truth or practice to get itself into play without having to encounter risk and damage from the inexperienced eagerness of some at least of those who are the first to take it up. Why, you cannot even discover a new remedy for some bodily disease without people running wild about it, exaggerating its action, applying it to everybody and to every ailment, until the reign of sober sense returns, and it is limited to the class of cases for which it is appropriate. That something of this kind has happened in the case before us may well be admitted; but the blame must ultimately rest not so much on those who may have made mistakes as on those who let it fall into desuetude at all. In this as in so many other things true Catholicity has been diverged from on the one hand by the cold system of Calvinism, and on the other by the overmethodising system of Rome, so that at every turn the army of the Church has to fight with a double front and defend our system from running into the exaggerations of the one, or from being withered by the negations of the other. Yet how few English Churchmen of the average amount of information are aware that both Rome and Geneva stand alone in their respective positions with regard to Confession. No Church, save that of Rome, has ventured to make private confession compulsory as a universal need for the spiritual life. No body of men professing the Christian faith save the Calvinists (including of course those English Dissenters who took their rise after the great influx of Calvinism among us) has ever ventured
to dispense with it; and we all know how the Wesleyan Revival tried to make up for the want of it. The Eastern Church retains it in its original voluntary form. The Lutheran body retain it. Whether you turn to the Augsburg Confession, or to the defence of it by Melancthon, to the Catechismus Major or the Catechismus Minor, or to Luther's own writings, it is all one. Luther's own language, indeed, in its eager impulsiveness, would seem to many to be somewhat exaggerated in its tone :
'We teach then how excellent, precious, and comfortable a thing Confession is, and we admonish accordingly that such a precious treasure be not despised considering our great necessity. If you are a Christian, neither my compulsion nor the Pope's commands, nothing in fact but your own self should constrain you thereto : but rather you, instead, would beg of me that you might become a partaker therein. . . . If you are a Christian you will think gladly that we are always at your bidding without ceremony and not accounting distance. The compulsion becomes inverted. We come to you by request, you to us of your own free will. We constrain no man, but suffer that you should constrain us in this matter, even as we feel ourselves constrained in the matter of preaching and administration of the Sacraments.' 1
We quote this merely as illustrating the tone in which the subject is handled by one outside of our own Communion. With respect to the teaching of our own Divines, it has been so lavishly and abundantly brought into prominence of late years, that it would be an altogether superfluous waste of our not very abundant space to dwell upon it here. Chillingworth did not represent what would be regarded as a very "high" school of doctrine, and his opinion is well known. Bishop Vowler Short, of S. Asaph, in recent times, would not be suspected of Romanising or enthusiastic views, and he too, as is well known, has left his judgment on record. We are exonerated also in the present article from the duty of examining either the history of the practice in earlier times, or the terms in which the Church of England speaks officially on the subject. These points have been dealt with in the preceding article. What we have felt to be specially needed just now is to show once more that in any complete Church system some such ordinance has its natural place, so that when we come to the doctrine and practice of the Church of England upon the subject, we do not approach it as any arbitrary or artificial arrangement, or as one which need surprise or startle us, but as, on the contrary, one more example of the adaptation
1 Luther's Works, vol. x. pp. 340, 341. Ed. Perthes : Hamburg, 1826.