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that it was the Holy Ghost which consecrated them to that employinent, and gave them authority to execute it. From this it is also manifest, that the Priesthood is a grace of the Holy Ghost. That it is not a function founded on the natural oi civil rights of mankind, but is derived from the special authority of the Holy Ghost; and is as truly a positive institution as the Sacraments.” 1
"I trust it will not be considered presumptuous to give the following explanation from the Appendix to my “Doctrinal Revisicn of the Liturgy Considered :"
" • Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God.'
“The words in the Ordering of Priests are more qualified and guarded in the book of 1662 than they are in that of 1552; for whereas in the Prayer-book of 1552 the Bishop is directed to say, without any limitation whatsoever, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost,' the present book directs him to say, ' Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God.' Now we are at liberty to understand this as if, by the limitation, there was disclaimed any power of giving the Spirit except that strictly official and covenant gift which makes valid the official acts of the priest who is ordained.
“A minister of Christ has two sorts of powers: he has moral power as a preacher of righteousness; and he has also official power to perform certain covenant acts in that outward and visible Kingdom of God of which he is a duly constituted minister. His moral power is his ability, as a faithful teacher and preacher, to bring men to repentance and faith. This power depends on his prayers and study of God's word, and (above all) individual application to his own soul of the work and promises of Christ.
“Not so his official power. No matter what his private character or public usefulness, whenever he baptizes (for instance) be admits the person baptized into that kingdom of which he is the official minister.
“At his ordination the Bishop transmits to him this latter power complete-in its integrity—but the former power he only receives (or at least has a right to expect) in proportion to his own faith and prayer.
Now the Church, her form of ordination, be witness to two great truths
Let us now examine the “ Form and manner of Ordering of Priests.”
Priests are set apart to their office with words embodying the Lord's commission to His Apostles to absolve: “ Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands : whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained,” &c.
The priest in the Church of England is the minister of a parish, as distinguished from the bishop, the minister of the diocese. The minister, then, of the second order, who is supposed to come into immediate and daily contact with the flock of Christ, is furnished with this commission of absolution,
“1. That every official work of the minister is a work of the Spirit—so that the whole framework and fabric of Christianityvisible as well as invisible—is kept in existence by the Holy Spirit; so that we may be assured that we are living in the same dispensation of the Spirit which commenced at Pentecost; and that the words by which Apostles held even nominal Christians answerable for a gift of the Spirit may be applied to Christians now.
“2. The Church, by her form of ordination, bears witness that this state of things does not depend upon the prayers of any bishops or priests who may ordain, but upon the never-failing promise of Christ; and so she shows the truest and most submissive faith in the promise of her Great Head, by directing the Bishop to say • Receive the Holy Ghostinstead of directing him to pray* Mayest thou receive,' &c.
“ If this form was in the shape of a prayer, then its validity night, and no doubt would, be said to depend upon the faith or sincerity of the Bishop who ordains.
“Now, on the contrary, it must be looked upon as an official act for the transmission of an official power; and so the more clearly we mark the validity of the act as not depending upon the private religion of the agent, the better.
The fact of the commission to absolve being given to tho second order rather than to the first, appears to me to refute the idea that the power of remitting or retaining sins has to do with the retention or removal of Church censures; for if so, it would be given to that officer (the bishop) by whose authority alone these censures are pronounced.
The priest ordained after this form is furnished in the Book of Common Prayer with three formulas, in one or other of which he is to pronounce absolution. The first of these being the Absolution in the order for Morning Prayer, the second that in the Holy Communion, and the third the Absolution in the Visitation of the Sick. The terms of the last, being the plainest and most unmistakeable, will alone require attention.
The priest is there directed to absolve the sick man in these words :
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to His Church w absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him, of His greut mercy forgive thee thine offences; and by His authority com.
1 It is impossible to believe that the very comprehensive and general terms of the absolution in the Visitation of the Sick refer to the removal of Church censures. The loosing men from such censures may be of course included, but there is not one word said about such a thing in the Visitation Service, which there must have been, if such a view of absolution was the principal one taken by the compilers of the service, especially as the old form which this one superseded contained the words, “And I restore thee to the Sacraments of the Church” (et Sacramentis ecclesiæ te restituo). There is no word respecting Church censures in the commission in John xx, 20.
I cannot see that any difficulty is removed by this theory; for it our Lord merely referred to the removal of Church censures, theu excommunication must be a power of the most tremendous cha. racter, or the removal of its ban would not form the subject of such korda said on such an occasion,
mitted to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Here we have the power which the Saviour gave to the first ministers of the New Covenant recognised and claimed by the Church.
In the wording of this absolution the Church very carefully guards the due exercise of this power.
First. Against presumption on the part of the person absolved.
Secondly. Against assumption on the part of the absolver.
First. She guards this power against presumption on the part of the absolved, if he presumes that he can have absolution without the exercise of repentance and faith on his part; for the application of this power is, in the very words of the absolution itself, expressly limited to those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
Secondly. She guards the right exercise of this power against assumption on the part of the absolver,' lest he should take to himself the glory; for the absolver has to absolve in the words, “ By His authority committed unto me, I absolve thee.”
No less than four times in the few short lines composing this absolution is all power and authority to absolve referred to Christ as its Author, and Giver, and Controller.
First. When it is said, “Our Lord Jesus Christ hath left power in His Church.”
i I cannot, however, help thinking that the very careful annun. ciation on the part of the Church that this power is only delegated, cubordinate, and conditional, is aimed not so much at some imaginary assumptions on the part of imaginary priests, who are supposed to arrogate to tbemselves the power to remit sins on their own nuthority, but to swp, if possible, the mouths of adversaries who ask, with the avowed enemies of Christ, Who is this that speaketh blasphemies?
Secondly. When the priest is directed to pray that Christ Himself may absolve: "Of His great mercy forgive thee thine offences.”
Thirdly. When the pricst actually absolves, there is another recognition of the one Fountain of authority : “ By His authority committed unto me, I absolve thee.”
Fourthly. All is done in the name of the Trinity: “I absolve thee [not in my own name, but] in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
The Church could not have done more to guard this commission of Christ from abuse, whilst she is careful to honour her Divine Head by accepting His words in their plain, natural sense.
Any form of Absolution which honours these werds of Christ by not taking from them, as well as by not adding to them, must contain the three words, "I absolve tree.”
No prayer that the person may be absolved by God, as the Absolution in Holy Communion, fully satisfies these words of Christ.
No declaration of the Gospel that God absolves for Christ's sake, satisfies these words of Christ. His words are more than“ Whatsoever sinners ye pray for, they shall be forgiven.” They are more than “Whatsoever sinners ye proclaim the Gospel to, if they believe, they shall be forgiven.”
His words are, “ Whose soover sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.”
Any alteration or emendation of this Absolution which would suit the rationalising or democratic tendencies of the present day, would leave these words of Christ without anything answering to them in the Prayer-book.
Worse than this, it would be a deliberate casting aside of a commission ce recognised, or an attempt by the use of ambiguous expressions to evade the assertion of it.