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soul by the Body and Blood of Christ, or Absolution, all is from Christ; and it is just as difficult to believe that a man can be God's instrument to enable his fellow to partake of Christ in one of these ways as in another.
But it has been objected that the Apostles had this power conferred upon them because they had the power of
discerning of spirits,” and that the latter gift is necessary to the right exercise of Absolution ; but they who say
this totally mistake the nature and intent of this gift of "discerning of spirits." There is no evidence whatsoever that the
power of " discerning of spirits ” was a power of reading the heart. It was simply a power to pronounce whether such or such spiritual utterances were from God
When the Spirit was largely poured forth, and men were endowed with various gifts of knowledge and utterance, there was, as yet, no canon of the New Testament by which these utterances could be judged. Satan then raised up men who professed to teach as from the Spirit what was contrary to God's truth; and these men not unfrequently came as “angels of light," and so the Churches would have been at their mercy, had not God raised up in each Church men whose critical faculties were so supernaturally informed, and strengthened, and purified, that they were able to pronounce who spake by God's Spirit and who not.
We have no evidence that the Apostles, as they moved among men, were able to read their hearts.
They appear to have judged of others, as we have to do, by their profession and their conduct.
It appears to me little short of blasphemy to suppose that this " discerning of spirits” was a " discerning of the
“ thoughts and intents of the heart ;" for this latter is, throughout Scripture, ascribed to God only, as one of His
incommunicable attributes; and yet we find that good men scruple not to ascribe this Divine power to the Apostles, in order to avoid granting to their successors a power of absolution, on the very face of it delegated, ministerial, subordinate, and conditional.
There is no evidence of any connexion between the power of granting absolution and that of discerning of spirits, nor need there be, for the power to absolve was merely ministerial and conditional. The person who absolved, absolved not infallibly as a judge, but conditionally as a servant or minister-always referring the ratification of his act to the Searcher of hearts.
Absolution, of course, can only be a means of grace to sincere penitents, and so is exactly on the same footing as the two Sacraments. It was no doubt given, from the very first, to those who appeared sincere in their profession of repentance; but the responsibility as to the right reception of it iay wholly with the man who applied for it.
Whatever difficulty there may be in realising that a human being possesses this power, let us remember that Christ has taken the whole difficulty upon Himself, for He has commissioned men to bind and loose— to remit and retain sin; and it is really as difficult to believe that one man can exercise such powers as that another can. It is really as hard to believe that St. Bartholomew or St. Andrew could remit or retain sin, as that any Bishop or Priest now can. But when Christ has given the power, it seems to me a fearful tempting of Him to ask with the Pharisees, “Who can forgive sins but God only?" for by asking this we assume to have more regard than He has for the honour of God His Father.
It is clear, then, that we learn from the New Testament that God is pleased to convey some of the highest bànefits of Christ's Redemption through the instrumentality of subordinate agents, and by means of significant acts.
And let it be remembered, that if God established this principle in the Pentecostal Church, He has for ever disposed of all objections to it which assume that it hinders the individual intercourse of the soul with the Redeemer : for will any one dare to say that the Pentecostal Christians, who had all things common,
and were of one heart and soul, and lived in constant daily prayer and praise, had less direct intercourse with Christ than the hearer at some modern places of Worship, in which the principle of Absolution, no matter how explained or modified, would be scouted ?
No doubt that in after ages this great truth has been abused. No doubt, also, that men, seeing that the priest was commissioned to make them partakers of certain benefits, were tempted by Satan to regard his office as if by relying on it they could divest themselves of their individual responsibility. But what of this? We surely have not to be taught that the abuse of a thing is any argument whatsoever against the right use of it; if so, we should have to surrender the Christian Sabbath, for that day is more abused than any other because it is the Sabbath, a day of loisure on which to commit sin, as well as to worship God.
EXAMINATION OF THE ORDINAI.
We now come to see how this Scripture principle is recognised in the Prayer-book.
First of all we have an Ordinal containing three services, according to one or other of which the Apostolic rite of Ordination is to be administered, each service containing prayers, addresses to the people, questions to be asked of the candidate, and suitable readings from Scripture.
Let the reader bear in mind, that from all which we can gather from Scripture, the Holy Ghost would have us regard the Apostles at our Lord's Ascorsion as the sole depositaries of all power to preach, administer Sacraments, ordain, or absolve—for no other ministers whatsoever are mentioned as receiving a commission from Christ to perform ministerial acts.
Now, in what terms did Christ constitute the Apostles His ministers ? Was their ministry inaugurated by acts and words which would lead us to take a high or a low view of it?
If, for instance, they were commissioned merely to preach or teach, they would have been commissioned to do what is ordinarily and naturally done by those who desire to propagate truths which they think will be useful. In such a case, no matter how high a view we were to take of the contents of their message as necessary to Salvation, we could scarcely take a high view of their commission. Their one business would have been to do (and in much the same way) what the propagators of all opinions have to do, and their success would mainly depend on the right use of natural gifts and acquirements, coupled with zeal, energy, and discretion. God might, of course, have endowed them with the highest supernatural gifts; but no matter how great these gifts were, they would only have been given to them to enable them to perform more efficiently a natural thing, i.e., to spread opinions which they believed to be useful or necessary to their fellow-creatures.
Now the original New Testament ministers, i.e., the
Apostles, were not commissioned merely to preach and to teach. They were commissioned to apply, by such things as Sacraments and Absolution, that Atonement which was wrought out by their Master on the cross.
And they received their commission, not in ordinary, but in very extraordinary terms—terms which are open to the scoff of the infidel, and the rationalist, and the secularist, as affording grounds for sacerdotal pretensions ; but notwithstanding this, terms used by One who came to break the yoke of mere ritual and superstition from off men's necks, and to make them “free indeed.”
Consider such words as, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven;" "Verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven;" “ As my Father sent Me, so send I you; whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.”
These are not ordinary words. They are not the language of One who would wish His followers to take a rational, commonplace, safe, ordinary view of the state of things He was establishing. They are most certainly not the language of One who would wish His ministers to be regarded as mere propagators of doctrine, or teachers of morals.
Such words, if they mean anything, stamp the New Testament ministry as a continuation of that heavenly and supernatural ministry which He Himself exercised. They are wonderful and mysterious; but was not He Who spake them surpassingly wonderful and mysterious, both in His person and office ?
May I be permitted here to employ words which I have written and published some time ago, respecting tho accordance between the mystery of Christ's own person and the mysteries of that state of things which He died to establish?