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Is it not probable that, in an age like this, we may have, on such a matter, to choose between the world and Christ?
NOTE. This absolution is not merely declaratory. It must in some sense convey what it declares. The words of Christ are too strong for a merely declaratory absolution.
We must seek some solution which, whilst it jealously reserves all power of forgiveness to God, yet at the same time leaves room for some bona fide exercise of the subordinate authority which Christ has left, and so vindicates His wisdom in having used words which (on the anti-absolution hypothesis) are so much stronger than was needful,
It appears to me that the conveyance of pardon in Absolution is analogous to the mode of its conveyance in Baptism.
If we look to His “purpose according to election,” God may have pardoned the penitent from all eternity.
If we look to God's secret will, He may pardon the same man at the moment when he first believes.
But still there must be room for the declared purpose of God (Mark xvi. 16; Acts ii. 38, xxii. 16; Ephes. v. 26) to convey this secret pardon to the unbaptized at the moment when he is engrafted into that mystical Body to which the promise of pardon belongs.
And so with absolution. The words of the absolving minister may restore the penitent to the secret unity or fellowship of that Body from which he may be severed by many sins to which formal Church censures do not reach.
But let us remember that an inability to give an exact theory respecting the conveyance of pardon in absolution can be no excusa for our refusing to take into real account such plain words of Christ.
NOTES ON CHAPTER V.
The following extracts from W. Law's “ Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor" admirably expose some ever. recurring fallacies on this subject :
“ Your Lordship tells us, we need not trouble our heads about any purticular sort of clergy; that all is to be transacted betwixt God and ourselves : that human benedictions are insignificant trifles.
“But pray what proof has your Lordship for all this? Have you any Scripture for it? Has God anywhere declared that no men on earth have any authority to bless in His name? Has He anywhere said that it is a wicked presumptuous thing for any one to pretend to it? Has He anywhere told us that it is inconsistent with His honour to bestow His graces by human hands? Has He anywhere told us that He has no ministers, no ambassadors on earth; but that all His gifts and graces are to be reccived immediately from His own hands ? Have you any antiquity, fathers, or councils, on your side ? No,—the whole tenor of Scripture, the whole current of tradition, is against you. Your novel doctrine has only this to recommend it to the libertines of the age, who universally give in to it, that it never was the opinion of any Church or Churchman. It is your Lordship’s proper assertion, that we offend God in expecting His graces from any hands but His own.
“Now it is strange that God should be offended with His own methods, or that your Lordship should find us out a way of pleasing Him more suitable to His nature and attributes than what He has taught us in the Scriptures. I call them His own methods, for what else is the whole Jewish dispensation but a method of God's providence, where His blessings and judgments were dispensed by human hands ? What is the Christian religion but a method of Salvation where the chief means of grace are offered and dispensed by human hands ? ..."—(Second Letter, pp. 12, 13, in the first volume of the Works of the Rev. W. LAW, London. 1762.)
"There is a superstitious custom (in your Lordship’s account it wust be so) yet remaining in most cases, of sending for a clergyman to minister to sick persons in imminent danger of death. Even those who have abused the clergy all their lives long are glad to beg their assistance when they apprehend themselves upon the confines of another world. There is no reason, my Lord, to dislike this practice, but as it supposes a difference between the Sacerdotal prayers and benedictions and those of a nurse.
“ We read, my Lord, that God would not heal Abimelech, though He knew the integrity of his heart, till Abraham had prayed for him:– He is a prophet,' said God, ‘he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live.' (Gen. xx. 7.) Pray, my Lord, was not God as just, and good, and true, in the days of Abraham, as He is now? Yet, you see, Abimelech’s integrity was not available (by) itself. He was to be pardoned by the prayer of Abraham, and his prayer was effectual; and so represented because it was the prayer of a prophet. ..."-Second Letter, p. 14.
“We read, also, that Joshua was full of the Spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands upon him. (Deut. xxxiv. 9.) Was it not as absurd, my Lord, in the days of Joshua, for human hands to bless as it is now? Did there not then lie the same objection against Moses that there does now against the Christian clergy? Had Moses any more rutural pouver to give the Spirit of wisdom, &c., by his hands, than the clergy have to convey grace by theirs ? They are both equally weak and insufficient for these purposes of themselves, and equally powerful when it pleases God to make them so.
“ Again, when Eliphaz and his friends had displeased God, they were not to be reconciled to God by their own repentance, or transact that matter only between God and themselves, but they were referred to apply to Job. “My servant Job shall pray for you. for him will I accept.' (Job xlii. 8.) Might not Eliphaz here have said, Shall I so far affront God as to think I cannot be blessed without the prayers of Job ? Shall I be so weak or senseless as to imagine my own supplications and repentance will not save me, or that I need apply to any one but God alone, to qualify me for the reception of His grace ?”—Ibid. p. 16.
“ From the places of Scripture above mentioned, it is evident, and indeed from the whole tenor of Sacred Writ, that it may consist with the goodness and justice of God, to depute men to act in His
name, ard be ministerial towards the salvation of others : and to lay a necessity upon His creatures of qualifying themselves for His favour, and receiving His grace by the hands and intervention of
.."--Second Letter, pp. 16, 17. " It will not follow from anything I have said, that the Laity have lost their Christian liberty, or that nobody can be saved but whom the clergy please to save; that they have the arbitrary disposal of happiness to mankind. Was Abimelech's happiness in the disposition of Abraham because he was to be received by means of Abraham's intercession ? Or could Job damn Eliphaz because he was to mediate for hiin, and procure his reconciliation to God?
Neither, my Lord, do the Christian clergy pretend to this des. potic empire over their flocks. They do not assume to themselves a power to damn the innocent or to save the guilty; but they assert a sober and just right to reconcile men to God (2 Cor. v. 18, 19), and to act in His name in restoring them to His favour. They received their commission from those whom Christ sent with full authority to send others, and with a promise that He would be with thein to the end of the world.”—Ibid. pp. 17, 18.
“To what purpose does your Lordship except against these powers in the clergy, from their common frailties and infirmities with the rest of mankind ? Were not Abraham and Job, and the Jewish priests, men of like passions with us? Did not our Saviour command the Jews to apply to their priests, notwithstanding their personal faults, because they sat in Moses' chair? Did not the Apostles assure their followers that they were men of like passions with them? But did they therefore disclaim their mission, or Apostolical authority? Did they teach that their natural iufirmities made them less the ministers of God, or less necessary to the salvation of man ? Their personal defects did not make them depart froin the claim of those powers they were invested with, or desert their ministry; but, indeed, gave St. Paul occasion to say, * We have this treasure in earthen vessels (i.e., this authority committed to mere men), that the excellency of it may be of God, and not of men.' "-Ibid. p. 19.
“The Apostle happens to differ very much from your Lordship: he says that such weak instruments were made use of that the glory might redound to God. Your Lordship says, “To suppose
instruments to be of any benefit to us is to lessen the soveroignty of God, and, in consequence, His glory.'
“ Your Lordship imagines you have sufficiently destroyed the Sacerdotal powers by showing that the clergy are only men, and subject to the common frailties of mankind. My Lord, we own the charge, and do not claim any Sacerdotal powers from our personal abilities, or to acquire any glory to ourselves. But, weak as we are, we are God's ministers, AND IF WE ARE EITHER AFRAID OR ASHAMED OF OUR DUTY, WE MUST PERISH IN THE GUILT. But is a prophet therefore proud because he insists upon the authority of his mission ? Cannot a mortal be God's messenger, and employed in His affairs, but he must be insolent and assuming for having the resolution to own it? If we are to be reproved for pretending to be God's ministers, because we are but men, the reproach will fall upon Providence, since it has pleased God chiefly to transact His affairs with mankind by the ministry of their brethren."-Second Letter, p. 20.
“Your Lordship has not one word from Scripture against these Sacerdotal powers ; no proof that Christ has not sent men to be effectual administrators of His graces : you only assert that there can be no such ministers, because they are mere men.
“Now, my Lord, I must beg leave to say, that if the natural weakness of men makes them incapable of being the instruments of conveying grace to their brethren; if the clergy cannot be of any use or necessity to their flocks, for this reason; then it undeniably follows that there can be no positive institutions in the Christian religion that can procure any spiritual advantages to the members of it; then the Sacraments can be no longer any means of grace. For I hope that no one thinks that bread and wine bave any natural force or efficacy to convey grace to the soul. The water in Baptism has the common qualities of water, and is destitute of any intrinsic power to cleanse the soul or purify from sin. But your Lordship will not say, because it has only the common nature of water, that therefore it cannot be a means of grace. Why, then, may not the clergy, though they have the common nature of men, be constituted by God to convey His graces and be ministerial to the salvation of their brethren ? Can God consecrate inanimate things to spiritual purposes, and make them the means of eternal happiness i and is man the only creature that He cannot make subservient to His designs ?-the only being who is too weak for an Omnipotent