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of persecution gave the first rise to it: all which demonstrates ART. that the primitive church did not consider it as a thing XXV. appointed by Christ to be the matter of a sacrament. · It may be in the power of the church to propose confession, as a mean to direct men in their repentance, to humble them deeper for their sins, and to oblige them to a greater strictness. But to enjoin it as necessary to obtain the pardon of sin, and to make it an indispensable condition, and indeed the most indispensable of all the parts of repentance, is beyond the power of the church; for since Christ is the Mediator of this new covenant, he alone must fix the necessary conditions of it. In this, more than in any thing else, we must conclude that the gospel is express and clear; and therefore so hard a condition as this is cannot be imposed by any other authority. The obligation to auricular confession is a thing to which mankind is naturally so little disposed to submit, and it may have such consequences on the peace and order of the world, that we have reason to believe, that if Christ had intended to have made it a necessary part of repentance, he would have declared it in express words, and not have left it so much in the dark, that those who assert it, must draw it by inferences from those words, 'Whose sins ye remit,' &c. Some things are of such a nature, that we may justly conclude, that either they are not at all required, or that they are commanded in plain terms.
As for the good or evil effects that may follow on the obliging men to a strictness in confession, that does not belong to this matter: if it is acknowledged to be only a law of the church, other considerations are to be examined about it; but if it is pretended to be a law of God, and a part of a sacrament, we must have a divine institution for it; otherwise all the advantages that can possibly be imagined in it, without that, are only so many arguments to persuade us, that there is somewhat that is highly necessary to the purity of Christians, of which Christ has not said a word, and concerning which his apostles have given us no directions. We do not deny but it may be a mean to strike terror in people, to keep them under awe and obedience; it may, when the management of it is in good hands, be made a mean to keep the world in order, and to guide those of weaker judgments more steadily and safely, than could be well done any other way. In the use of confession, when proposed as our church does, as matter of advice, and not of obligation, we are very sensible many good ends may be attained; but while we consider those, we must likewise reflect on the mischief that may arise out of it; especially supposing the greater part both of the clergy and laity to be what they ever were, and ever will be, depraved and corrupted. The people will grow to think that the priest is in God's stead to them; that their telling their sins to him, is as if they confessed them to God; they will expect to be
ART. easily discharged for a gentle penance, with a speedy absoluXXV.
tion; and this will make them as secure, as if their consciences were clear, and their sins pardoned; so the remedy being easy and always at hand, they will be encouraged to venture the more boldly on sin. It is no difficult matter to gain a priest, especially if he himself is a bad man, to use them tenderly upon those occasions. On the other hand, corrupt priests will find their account in the dispensing this great power, so as to serve their own ends. They will know all people's tempers and secrets; and how strict soever they may make the seal of confession, to draw the world to trust to it; yet in bodies so knit together, as communities and orders are, it is not possible to know what use they make of this. Still they know all themselves, and see into the weakness, the passions, and appetites, of their people. This must often be a great snare to them, especially in the supposition that cannot be denied to hold generally true, of their being bad men themselves : great advantages are hereby given to infuse fears and scruples into people's minds, who, being then in their tenderest minutes, will be very much swayed and wrought on by them. A bad priest knows by this whom he may tempt to any sort of sin : and thus the good and the evil of confession, as it is a general law upon all men's consciences, being weighed one against the other; and it being certain that the far greater part of mankind is always bad, we must conclude that the evil does so far preponderate the good, that they bear no comparison or proportion to one another. The matter at present under debate is only whether it is one of the laws of God, or not? and it is enough for the present purpose to shew, that it is no law of God; upon which we do also see very good reason why it ought not to be made a law of the church; both because it is beyond her authority, which can only go to matters of order and discipline, as also because of the vast inconveniencies that are like to arise out of it.
The next part of repentance is contrition, which is a sorrow for sin upon the motives of the love of God, and the hatred of sin joined with a renovation of heart. This is that which we acknowledge to be necessary to complete our repentance; but this consisting in the temper of a man's mind, and his inward acts, it seems a very absurd thing to make this the matter of a sacrament, since it is of a spiritual and invisible nature. But this is not all that belongs to this head.
The casuists of the church of Rome have made a distinction between a perfect and an imperfect contrition ; the imperfect they call attrition ; which is any sorrow for sin, though upon an inferior motive, such as may be particular to one act of sin, as when it rises from the loss or shame it has brought with it, together with an act formed in detestation of it, without a resolution to sin no more. Such a sorrow as this is they teach does make the sacrament effectual, and puts a man in a state of justification, though they acknowledge that without ART.
XXV. the sacrament it is not sufficient to justify him.
This was settled by the council of Trent.* We think it Trid. Sess. strikes at the root of all religion and virtue, and is a reversing 14. c. 4. of the design for which sacraments were instituted, which was to raise our minds to a high pitch of piety, and to exalt and purify our acts. We think the sacraments are profaned when we do not raise our thoughts as high as we can in them. To teach men how low they may go, and how small a measure will serve turn, especially when the great and chief commandment, the consideration of the love of God, is left out, seems to be one of the greatest corruptions in practice of which any church can be guilty; a slackness in doctrine, especially in so great a point as this, in which human nature is under so fatal a bias, will always bring with it a much greater corruption in practice. This will indeed make many run to the sacrament, and raise its value; but it will rise upon the ruins of true piety and holiness. There are few men that can go long on in very great sins without feeling great remorses; these are to them rather a burden that they cannot shake off, than a virtue. Sorrow lying long upon their thoughts may be the beginning of a happy change, and so prove a great blessing to them: all which is destroyed by this doctrine: for if under such uneasy thoughts they go to confession, and are attrite, the sacrament is valid, and they are justified: then the uneasiness goes off, and is turned into joy, without their being any thing the better by it. They return to their sins with a new calm and security, because they are taught that their sins are pardoned, and that all scores are cleared. Therefore we conclude, that this doctrine wounds religion in its vitals; and we are confirmed in all this by what appears in practice, and what the best writers that have lived in that communion have said of the abuses that follow on the methods in which this sacrament is managed among them, which do arise mainly out of this part of their doctrine concerning attrition. All that they teach concerning those acts of attrition, or even contrition, is also liable to great abuse in practice: for, as a man may bring forth those acts in words, and not be the better for them; so he may force himself to think them, which is nothing but the framing an inward discourse within himself upon them; and yet these not arising genuinely from a new nature, or a change of temper, such acts can be of no value in the sight of God: yet the whole practice of their church runs upon these acts, as if a man's going through them, and making himself think them, could be of great value in the sight of God.
The third branch of the matter of this sacrament is the
. For this decree, see note, p. 360.-[Ep.]
ART. satisfaction, or the doing the penance; which, by the constant XXV. practice of the church for above twelve centuries, was to be
performed before absolution could be given; except in extraordinary cases, such as death, or martyrdom; but in these latter ages, in which the necessity of confession is carried higher, the obligation to satisfaction or the doing of penance is let fall lower. A distinction is invented by which confession and contrition, attrition at least, are made essential parts of the sacrament, without which there is no sacrament; as soul and body are essential to the being of a man; and satisfaction is considered only as an integral part; such as an eye or a limb in a man, which is necessary to the order of it, but not to its being. If satisfaction is considered as that which destroys the habits of sin, and introduces the habits of virtue; if it is purgative and medicinal, and changes a man's principles and nature, then it ought to be reckoned the principal and least dispensable thing of all repentance. For our confessing past sins, and sorrowing for them, is only enjoined us as a mean to reform and purify our nature. If we imagine that our acts of repentance are a discounting with God, by so many pious thoughts whish are to be set against so many bad ones, this will introduce a sort of mechanical religion ; which will both corrupt our ideas of God, and of the nature of good and evil.
The true and generous notion of religion is, that it is a system of many truths, which are of such efficacy, that if we receive them into our minds, and are governed by them, they will rectify our thoughts, and purify our natures; and by making us like God here, they will put us in a sure way to enjoy him eternally hereafter. Sorrow for past sins, and all reflections upon them, are enjoined us as means to make the sense of them go so deep in our minds, as to free us from all those bad habits that sin leaves in us, and from those i:l inclinations that are in our nature. If we therefore set up a sorrowing for sin as a merchandise with God, by so many acts of one kind to take off the acts of another, here the true design of our sorrow is turned into a trafficking, by which how much soever priests may gain, or the value of sacraments may seem to rise, religion will certainly lose in its main design, which is the planting a new nature in us, and the making us become like God. Confession and contrition are previous acts, that lead to this reformation, which, as they teach, is wrought by the satisfaction; therefore we must needs condemn that doctrine which makes it less necessary and more dispensable than the other. In the case of death we confess all the rights of the church with relation to a man's scandals, and his obligations to make public penance, may and ought to be then forgiven him; but we think it one of the most fatal errors that can creep into any church, to encourage men to
rely on a death-bed repentance. The nature of man leans so ART. much this way, that it is necessary to bend the point as XXV. strong as may be to the other hand.
The promises of the gospel run all upon the condition of repentance; which imports a renovation of the inner man, and a purity of life: so that no repentance can be esteemed true, but as we perceive that it has purified our hearts, and changed our course of life. What God may do with death-bed penitents, in the infinite extent and absoluteness of his mercy, becomes not us to define: but we are sure he has given no promises to such persons in his gospel. And since the funetion of clergymen is the dispensing of that, we cannot go beyond the limits set us in it: so there is no reason to make this part of repentance less necessary or obligatory than the other, but very much to the contrary. Another exception that we have to the allowed practice of that church, is the giving absolution before the satisfaction is made; upon its being enjoined and accepted by the penitent. This is so contrary to all ancient rules, that it were a needless labour to go to prove it; the thing being confessed by all: and yet the practice is so totally changed among them, that such as have blamed it, and have attempted to revive the ancient method, have been censured as guilty of an innovation, savouring of heresy: because they condemn so general a practice, that it would render the infallibility of the church very doubtful, if it should be pretended to have erred in so universal a practice.
Hasty absolutions, contrary both to the whole design of the gospel, and to the constant practice of the church, for at least twelve centuries, are now the avowed methods of that church; to which in a great measure all that corruption of morals that is among them owes its rise and continuance : for who can be supposed to set himself against those inclinations to sin, that are deeply rooted in his nature, and are powerfully recommended by the pleasure and gain that arises out of vicious practices, if the way to pardon is cast so wide open, that a man may sin as long and as securely as he will, and yet all at once, upon a few acts that he makes himself go through, he may get into a state of grace, and be pardoned and justified ? The power that is left to the priest to appoint the penance, is a trust of a high nature, which yet is known to be universally ill applied; so that absolution is generally prostituted among them.
The true penance enjoined by the gospel is the forsaking of sin, and the doing acts of virtue. Fasting, prayers, and almsgiving, are acts that are very proper means to raise us to this temper. If fasting is joined with prayer, and if prayer arises out of an inward devotion of mind, and is serious and fervent, then we know that it has great efficacy; as being one of the