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It is only within the last thirty years that the attempt has been made to introduce auricular confession and absolution, amongst other Romish practices discarded at the Reformation. The extent to which it is carried, and the shallow pretence of Church authority on which it is rested, may be well illustrated by the answers of two of the witnesses examined by the Ritual Commission, and recorded in their first published Report.
The Rev. J. E. Bennett, Vicar of Frome, gave the following answers in reply to an examination by the Archbishop of Armagh :
“Do you consider yourself a sacrificing priest ?—Yes. “ In fact a sacerdotal priest?-Distinctly so.
“What authority have you in the Prayer-Book for that ?- That again would involve a long answer. It would be so interpreted by our divines, the divines of our Church from the time of the Reformation downwards.
“ Then you think you offer a propitiatory sacrifice ?-Yes, I think I do offer a propitiatory sacrifice.
“Do you use confession ?-Yes.
“You do not then confine confession to the two occasions mentioned in the Prayer-Book, that of persons wishing to attend the Sacrament and in the Visitation of the Sick?-I do not confine it to that, but it virtually is that, because, the Communion being every day, persons coming to that Communion of course require my important spiritual advice every day.
"Do you use any form of absolution ?-Yes.
“What form ?--The form provided in the Prayer-Book in the Visitation of the Sick.
“You know at one time that was allowed, but that in the Second Book of Edward VI. the permission was withdrawn: does not that amount to a prohibition ; does it not by implication prohibit the use of it?-I cannot answer that off-hand, because there may be some other succeeding alterations in the Rubric which I am not aware of at the present moment. But when we are told to give absolution, we must give it in some form, and seeing that we have no other form provided but that, it seems natural to recur to that.
" Where are you told to give a form of absolution ?-We are to give absolution.
“Where? - In the address to the people in the service of the Holy Communion. They are invited to receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice.'
“Is it not said by the ministry of God's holy word'?—We give a form of absolution in matins and evensong which is involved in words. By parity of reasoning we should give a form of absolution to those that are penitent.
“There is none provided by the Church. There was one provided, but it was withdrawn, and the very wording was changed at the same time. “Let him come to me......and open bis grief; that, Vol. 68.-No. 376.
by the ministry of God's holy word, he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice. Is not there a distinct meaning in absolution by the ministry of God's holy word ?-I should think that was the meaning, that the priest pronounced it by the authority of God's word. ..
“Wheatly, I think, says, there is no form provided, but that God's word is to be applied according to the case of the penitent."
The Rev. Arthur Wagner was another witness examined by the Ritual Commission, and his answers were the following :
“ (Archbishop of Canterbury.) You spoke of confession ; I think you acknowledge you practise confession ?-Yes; I am always at the church for three days a week during certain hours for the purpose of hearing confessions, or of giving spiritual advice, as the case may be.
• Have you a confessional ?—No, I hear them in the vestry.
“Do you require them to confess periodically ?-I do not require anybody to confess. It is quite voluntary on the part of everyone.
“Do you exhort them to confess? -I have spoken of it as a great spiritual blessing, and advised people to confess.
“ (Mr. J. A. Smith.) Are penances imposed ?— Whenever a person makes a confession, of course there is always some penance enjoined; it may be saying a prayer. It usually would be saying some one or two prayers. It would be one's duty to impose some penance or other.
“ (Mr. Beresford Hope.) Do you impose any penance involving corporal pain ?-It is not, perhaps, a question one ought to speak about. I have never myself, certainly, imposed any such penance, but I cannot say as to others.
“ (Earl of Harrouby.) What form of absolution do you use ?-The one in the Visitation of the Sick.
“ (Mr. J. A. Smith.) Do you always wear a surplice when you receive confession ?- Always, and a stole.
“ (Archbishop of Armagh.) Are you authorised by any rubric to use the form of absolution to which you have referred ?-I conceive 80. I could not at the moment say. Is not there some direction that that form of absolution is to be used in private confessions ?
"In the First Book of Edward the Sixth, but not in the Second. It was purposely left out ?- That would merely indicate the practice of the Church, I suppose.”
Upon a review of the whole matter, we would now ask a few practical questions. Shall such a retrograde movement as a relapse into the evils of the Confessional be tolerated? Can the system be suppressed by law ? This latter question has been discussed with great candour and ability by Benjamin Shaw, Esq., Barrister-at-law, in a pamphlet.* It may be a question of prudence whether an appeal to the Ecclesiastical Courts is advisable; but there can scarcely be a doubt that
* A Brief Enquiry into the Law of the Church of England with respect to Private Confession. 3rd Edit. 1865. Rivingtons.
there is sufficient warrant for the exercise of Episcopal authority in the way of admonition and remonstrance, which, if vigorously applied, would restrain the practice within tolerable limits.
But there is another enquiry more appropriate to the pages of the Christian Observer; what efforts can be directed by the Evangelical Clergy to counteract the attempts to introduce the Confessional, or rather to direct those attempts into a higher and better course of action ?
The system of Auricular Confession has not as yet, it is to be hoped, fallen into dangerous hands; it is chiefly advocated by earnest men who think it may be made a means of holiness. Now, where such men are sincere, and have a competent knowledge of the Scriptures, there is a good hope that they may be open to the discovery of a more excellent way of communicating peace to a troubled soul, than by the personal guarantee of the minister. Let Evangelical preaching set forth the contrast between “a heart sprinkled from an evil conscience,” and a mind satisfied with a human assurance of its safety,-between the ministry of God's Word and the word of God's ministers,-between the Gospel of the grace of God and the system which “ hath not the warrant of God's Word.”
We here touch upon a wide but most important subject, how shall Evangelical preaching at the present day be made effectual, as in the days of our fathers, to overcome reigning prejudices and erroneous currents of religious thought? A perfect revolution has taken place, in the last thirty years, in the phases of anti-evangelical principles. Prepossessions with which our fathers had to contend, are vanished from the public mind; and their place is occupied by trains of thought which formerly never appeared. The old standard examples of "Gospel sermons” will not suffice for the present day; yet the principles of Gospel truth which those standards contain must still be held without compromise to be the power of God unto salvation. We would earnestly call upon the elder clergy of the Evangelical school to instruct their younger brethren in this art of spiritual warfare. As in the days of our fathers, we had frequent records of the triumph of the Gospel over self-righteousness, over the Gallio spirit of the world, over a cold and faint scepticism; so now we want records of similar triumphs over medieval proclivities, over protracted ceremonial worship, over a superstitious dependence upon auricular confession and absolution.
We lately heard from a friend who, twenty years ago, practised the system of confession as deeply as any Protestant minister of the present day, his discovery, while so engaged, of a more excellent way of obtaining the benefit of absolution, and his conviction that auricular confession more frequently rivets a man's sins upon his soul than releases him from them. We close this Article by an extract from a letter just received from that friend. "You asked me for a statement about my experience at
-, in respect to the hearing confessions and giving absolution. During the first three years which I ministered there, it was without the full Gospel, and without the effectual power of the Holy Ghost. I believe that I sincerely desired to lead souls to Christ and to minister Him to them, even in the hearing confessions and giving absolution. But to take the best cases
—those of really earnest and troubled souls—I cannot recall one who was, as far as one could judge, brought to a saving and sanctifying knowledge of Christ. The bulk of those who, most of them only for once or twice, submitted to make something like a confession of sin, appeared to find no peace in absolution, and no power to overcome sin in the future. With a few who did come frequently, it appeared to result in a most unholy toleration of sin on my part, absolving again and again, as I did, without evidence of a real change of heart; and I fear lest, in some, their consciences were either seared or hopelessly bewildered in their defilement. But from the moment the true and full Gospel began to be preached with some measure of the power of the Holy Ghost, the formal system of confession and absolution received its death blow.”
“ There was a remarkable Roman Catholic family, who used - as a sort of half-way house in the reverse direction of those who went over thence to Rome, crossing their path as it were mid-way. They welcomed the Gospel as soon as it was preached in power. I believe that they really had previously experienced its power. They went on still, for a time, in the practice of habitual confession, conscientiously and seriously, but were gradually entirely emancipated from the need of it.”
THE SECOND PORTION OF THE PROPHECIES OF ISAIAH (CHAPTERS
XL.-LXVI.): ITS GENUINENESS PROVED. The successive epochs, alike of sacred and of profane history, have been mainly distinguished by the appearance upon the stage of men who have stamped their impress upon the times in which they lived, and who, by their recorded words and deeds, “being dead yet speak.” As in the days of David, of Solomon, and of Josiah, the kings of Judah were, in an eminent
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degree, the representative men of the nation; so, in the days of Elijah, of Elisha, and of Isaiah, it was around those prophets, in an equally remarkable manner, that the destinies of the Jewish nation were concentrated. But whereas, in the case of Elijah and of Elisha, we possess the records of their words and deeds only as preserved by others; in the case of Isaiah, we possess a collection of writings proceeding from his own pen, diffused, probably, over a period of upwards of fifty years, fraught with the deepest and most important issues, not only to the subsequent history of his own nation and country, but also to the history of the universal Church of Christ.
The position of Isaiah, with regard both to his own nation and to the world-powers with which the Jewish nation was successively brought into conflict,—was one of peculiar significance and importance. The abode of this great patriot and prophet was in the very centre of the nation's life, in Judah where God was known, in Jerusalem, at a time in which the worship of the true God was, in a very signal degree, restored and purified. His prophetic commission seems to have been received, or renewed, immediately before that national revival both of true religion, and, as its necessary accompaniment, of the Teinple Services, which characterized the commencement of the reign of king Hezekiah.
The rival kingdom of Israel was yet standing, but was shortly, in conjunction with that of the then allied kingdom of Syria, to be convulsed and destroyed. The great power of Assyria had well nigh attained its highest pinnacle of renown. The might of its Babylonian successor had not yet made itself felt; and it was towards the Southern kingdom of Egypt, rather than towards any opposing power in the East, that man's eye would have turned in anticipation of some future oppressor of God's people, who should hereafter “ascend above the heights of the clouds," and should "exalt his throne above the stars of God."*
Withont attempting to determine to what extent it was given to the prophet to fathom the depths of the revelations which he himself uttered, we may confidently affirm that to Isaiah, in a larger measure than to any of the prophets who went before, or who followed after, it was permitted to pierce that mysterious veil which shrouds the future, and to unfold, on the one hand the destinies which awaited the nations of the earth, and on the other hand the mysteries of Messiah's Kingdom.t His prophecies consist, as is well known, of two grand divisions—the former tending towards, and culminating in, the Babylonish
• Is. xiv. 13, 14.
† “ Isaiah, says Jerome, unfolds so prophet of the future." -(Præf. ad clearly the mysteries of Christ and Esaiam, quoted by Bp. Wordsworth in the Church, that he seems to be an his Introduction to the Book of the historian of the past, rather than a Prophet Isaiah.)