CHURCH OF ST. JOHN BAPTIST, KIDDERMINSTER,
RIVINGTONS, WATERLOO PLACE;
HIGH STREET / TRINITY STREET,
OXFORD / CAMBRIDGE
EXCEPTION has been made to this Sermon as not containing Scriptural proof: the question, however, raised by the circumstances which caused its delivery was not, "Is my teaching Scriptural?" but "Is my teaching the teaching of the Church of England?" If it is, all Churchmen will cheerfully allow it to be Scriptural.
But should any who are not Churchmen desire to ascertain whether the Church be Scriptural on this point, they would find the Doctrine of Ministerial Absolution, on which all recommendations of Private Confession must of course be based, set forth in such popular works as Mr. Sadler's "Church Doctrine Bible Truth," or Mr. Carter's "Doctrine of Confession;" and any one who has access to William Law's "Second Letter to Bishop Hoadley" will see the matter very ably and forcibly handled.
I would only ask truth-loving readers to observe that the Scriptural argument for the doctrine turns upon such points as these--that CHRIST ordinarily acts in His Church by agents; that in speaking to His Apostles (S. Matt. xviii. 18; S. John xx. 23) He meant what He said, and meant it to hold good as long as sins should remain to be dealt with; and that all power exercised by the "Ministers of Reconciliation" (2 Cor. v. 18) is really His own power, who is "all, and in all." The more the question is thought of, the more, probably, will people see how inconsistent are the various attempts to meet the argument referred to, and that some of them are just as evasive as Socinian "explanations" of texts on our Lord's Divinity.
INASMUCH as it appears that a certain misunderstanding prevails amongst some of the communicants of this parish touching the doctrine of Private Confession in the Church of England as taught by me, I have been requested to put forth a statement on that subject, and am glad to have an opportunity of so doing.
Let me suggest, however, that we should always hesitate before we accept as true mere hearsay evidence on the one hand, or mis-statements of anonymous writers on the other.
However, what has been my private teaching hitherto, shall to-day be taught openly. Brethren, probably some of you may be unable to accept much that I shall say; let me only ask of you to receive it in the same spirit in which (God helping me) I shall utter it, the Spirit of Love--that in all things God may be glorified, and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be made known in our hearts.
I. It ought to be unnecessary (and probably may be so) to ask the question, DOES THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND TEACH CONFESSION TO MAN?
No English Churchman can deny it; the Formularies of our Church are clear and unmistakable upon the point. I shall instance three passages only.
 1. The concluding part of the FIRST EXHORTATION to Holy Communion.
In this the Church, inviting us to the Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of CHRIST, bids us examine ourselves, bewail our sins, confess them to God, and purpose to amend; and then proceeds to say, "if there be any" (and be it remembered, she speaks to all here, since every parishioner is required to communicate at least three times a year); "if there be any of you who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned minister of God's Word, and open his grief: that by the ministry of God's holy Word [* It may be useful to observe that the term, Ministry of God's Holy Word does not mean the reading of exhortations from Scripture, but the exercise of that Ministerial Office, which, amongst other designations in Scripture is termed the "Ministry of the Word" (see Acts vi. 4).] he may receive the benefit of Absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness."
2. Again in the VISITATION FOR THE SICK. After asking the sick person the several questions mentioned in the Rubric, the Priest is directed thus: "Here shall the sick person [* This order that the sick person shall here be "moved" to special Confession was added in 1661, which is an important fact, as specially charging the priest to suggest it to the sick person, lest it should be forgotten.] be moved to make a special Confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter. After which Confession, the Priest shall absolve him (if he humbly and heartily desire it) after this sort.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath left power to His Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent [6/7] and believe in Him, of His great mercy forgive thee thine offences: and by His authority committed to me, [*] I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
[*]The Presbyterians (at Savoy Conf. 1661) requested that the form of absolution be declarative and conditional, as, "I pronounce thee absolved," instead of "I absolve thee," if thou dost truly repent and believe. The Bishops answered, "The form of absolution in the Liturgy is more agreeable to the Scriptures than that which they desire; it being said in John xx., 'Whose sins you remit, they are remitted,' not, 'whose sins you pronounce remitted;' and the condition needs not to be expressed, being always necessarily understood" (Cf. Cardwell, Hist. of Conferences, c. 7, p. 332 and p. 361).]
So that every Priest of the Church of England is bound to move or urge the sick person to make Confession, if his conscience be troubled with any weighty matter. Again, then, is Confession distinctly placed before all, here especially as a preparation for Death.
3. The third case (which is all that I shall adduce to-day) is a passage at the end of THE 113TH CANON OF THE CHURCH (passed in Convocation in the year 1603, and published by the King's authority under the Great Seal of England), which runs thus:--
"Provided always, That if any man confess his secret and hidden sins to the Minister, for the unburdening of his conscience, and to receive spiritual consolation and ease of mind from him; we do not any way bind the said Minister by this our Constitution" (that means, do not bind him to present to the Bishop the man who has so confessed his sins), "but do straitly charge and admonish him, that he do not at any time reveal and make known to any person whatsoever any crime or offence so committed [7/8] to his trust and secrecy (except they be such crimes as by the laws of this realm his own life may be called into question for concealing the same), under pain of irregularity" (that is, deprivation of Priestly rights ). [* Dr. Peter Heylin (on Creed, p. 486) says, "And pain of irregularity, as the Canonists tell us, not only doth deprive a man of all his spiritual promotions for the present time, but makes him utterly incapable of any for the time to come, and therefore it is the greatest penalty, except degradation from the Priesthood, Which possibly a Clergyman can be subject to."]
Here, therefore, once more does the Church of England distinctly recognize the doctrine of Private Confession.
These quotations surely are conclusive! Every fair-minded person must admit that it is at least allowed in the Church of England.
II. But, upon this, there comes a further question, no longer as to its EXISTENCE, but as to its USE. About this there are two views:--
1. The one View--that CONFESSION is altogether EXTRAORDINARY, only allowed after some very grievous sin.
2. The other View is what is sometimes called HABITUAL CONFESSION.
What does Habitual Confession mean? It may mean "that a person should, as a stated practice, as a mere matter of form, without any unquietness of conscience, without any sorrow for sin or penitential feelings, come at certain fixed periods to this House of God; and as it were thrust the keeping of their soul or conscience upon the Priest."
If so, to my mind this is not the teaching of the Church of England.
But if by Habitual Confession this is meant, "THAT CONFESSION MAY BE REPEATED WHENSOEVER IT BE [8/9] REQUIRED; AND THAT IT IS NOT CONFINED MERELY TO THOSE WHO HAVE COMMITTED GREAT CRIMES, BUT IS ALLOWED TO ALL"--then I say that such a view may be fairly held by an English Churchman. It is the view which I hold and teach.
I hold that Confession is ALLOWED TO ALL who are troubled in mind, when preparing for Holy Communion or for death; since all are advised, yea, even bidden and "moved" "to open their grief," and "make special confession."
I say all; for we should all be communicants, we should all be prepared to die. It is therefore offered to all, suggested to all. But yet liberty is left to all. Liberty to use, liberty to omit. Very many of you are familiar with the formula which I have taught: "The Church of England says you may use Confession; the Church of Rome says you must."
Still further, I hold that the Church lays down no rule as to WHAT is a "WEIGHTY MATTER" and what is not; what sins should cause a conscience to be so troubled as to need Confession, or what should not. To the drunkard, it may be, his sin is no weighty matter, brings no unquiet conscience; while to the saint, the remembrance that his sins (small as they may seem in the eyes of other men) are yet "more in number than the hairs of his head," may justly "cause his heart to fail."
I hold moreover that "CONFESSION MAY BE REPEATED WHENSOEVER IT IS REQUIRED;" since the Church says if you cannot (by means described) "quiet your own conscience," "open your grief." Your having confessed before matters not: if your conscience be again unquiet, the words of the exhortation again apply to you.
But though I claim this liberty for English Churchmen, that according to the teaching of the Prayer [9/10] Book they may come from time to time whenever "their conscience is unquiet," for the "avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness," my own view is that very frequent confessions are probably unhealthy, and I should therefore be inclined to discourage them, though I should hold it impossible for any Clergyman positively to refuse to receive them; because I maintain that the use equally with the non-use should be left entirely to the discretion of each individual soul.
Moreover, this I believe, that a person who is in earnest will be careful in self-examination; and though sins be confessed once, human nature is not conquered, nor do we become holy all at once; there are relapses into former sins; sins, too, there are, which once indeed seemed small as compared with those greater ones since in God's mercy trodden under foot, but which now stand forth to clearer eyes in darker form; the soul itself begins to see sin somewhat more as God sees it:--how that one single sin (little you may call it, if you will) is enough to make us unfit for heaven and for Christ, enough to damn us for ever; how that each little sin required the outpouring of that atoning Blood; that for one little sin did Adam die, and the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. When then the soul begins to see that no sin in God's sight is really small, but all are weighty; when (shrinking under the awful accumulation of them) [* It has been well observed that the neck of the bottle may be choked either by a single piece of rock, or by an accumulation of the minutest grains of sand.] it begins though faintly, still in some measure, to realize the immensity of the Love of God poured forth upon us, His awful hatred of every sin, our own gross ingratitude,--it will feel more than ever that the "remembrance [10/11] of our sins is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable," and so again will resort once more to that same fountain of healing and of comfort.
III. And now, having declared to you my own views, I shall proceed to quote the writings of some of our greatest divines since the Reformation; men who have held high place, and earned names of renown, in the English Church--men of almost every shade of opinion--noted Priests, Bishops, and Archbishops of our Church, WHO NOT ONLY HAVE APPROVED THE DOCTRINE AS I TEACH IT, BUT IN TRUTH HAVE MANY OF THEM TAUGHT IT FAR MORE STRONGLY.
But ere I do this, I propose to quote a few passages from other sources, not as authorities, but merely as testimonies to what foreign Protestants have taught.
LUTHER says of Private Confession, "It is useful, yea, necessary, neither would I desire that it had no existence, nay, rather I rejoice that it exists in the Church of Christ" ("De Capt. Babyl." opp. t. ii., fol. 292). Again, "I had rather lose a thousand worlds than suffer private confession to be thrust out of the Church" (vol. vi., p. 109).
Again (vol. i., p. 312, Jena, quotations by Melia in "Protestant Evidences"): "What is the shame we feel in declaring our sins to a man, compared to the shame that will overwhelm us when death, and perhaps an immediate death, will force us to confess them in the presence of God, in the presence of the angels, and of the very devils themselves? All this we can avoid by humbling ourselves in the presence of a single man! Moreover, I do not conceive that that man can feel a lively faith who will not even condescend to so slight a humiliation, and thus bear a small share of the holy Cross." And even more [11/12] strongly (vol. v., p. 233, Jena) Luther says, "Rely on the words of Jesus Christ, and be assured that God does not remit sin otherwise than by the living voice of man, as He Himself has ordained it."
Again (vol. i., p. 63, Jena), "The august and holy sacrament of Penance, that abundant source of grace, is the only means which the Divine mercy selected to pour grace and consolation into the heart of the sinner, when the keys were given to S. Peter, the representative of the whole Christian Church."
Our own Hooker, too, tells us, "But concerning Confession in private, the Churches of Germany, as well the rest as Lutherans, agree all, that all men should at certain times confess their offences to God in the hearing of God's ministers, thereby to show how their sins displease them; to receive instruction for the warier carriage of themselves hereafter; to be soundly resolved, if any scruple or snare of conscience do entangle their minds; and, which is most material, to the end that men may at God's hands seek every one his own particular pardon, through the power of those keys, which the minister of God using according to our blessed Saviour's institution in that case, it is their part to accept the benefit thereof as God's most merciful ordinance for their good, and without any distrust or doubt, to embrace joyfully His grace so given them according to the word of our Lord which hath said, 'Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted'" (Hooker, vi., ch. iv. 14).
SO MELANCTHON: "It would be wicked to take away private Absolution from the Church. Nor if any despise private Absolution, do they understand either what remission of sins means, or the power of the keys" (cf. Carter, p. 86). So again (2 Book, "Oper. Inst.," fol. 450): "Absolution . . . is good and profitable [12/13] before God, and being so, Confession is to be retained in which Absolution is asked."
So CALVIN bids "every faithful man remember that it is his duty (if inwardly he be vexed and afflicted with the sense of his sins) not to neglect that remedy which is offered him by the Lord, to wit, that (for the easing of his conscience) he make private confession of his sins unto his pastor."
So again (3rd Bk. of Instits. c. 4, quoted by Melia) [* Melia apparently has not quoted the exact words of Calvin, but given the correct sense. After speaking of the benefit of Public Absolution, and referring to John xx. 23, Calvin adds:--"Nor has Private Absolution less efficacy or fruit where it is sought for by those who have need of this special remedy to heal their infirmity."] he says, "By means of private confession, pardon is obtained from those to whom Christ has said, 'All that you shall have loosed and remitted on earth shall be loosed and remitted in heaven.' "
But to turn to our own great divines.
ARCHBISHOP CRANMER said that "Confession of sins, which is called auricular, and is made privately to the ministers of the Church, is very useful and MOST ADVANTAGEOUS." We find this in Cranmer's handwriting as a correction to the words "highly necessary," which occur in the eighth ("De Poenitentia") of the XIII. Articles. These Articles were written indeed in 1538, but yet are important, as they seem to have constituted the groundwork for the Articles now in use (cf. for Latin original, Strype's "Cranmer," vol. iv., p. 283 ; also "Hardwick on Articles," p. 256).
And in the year 1548, [* There were two editions; the first was printed in 1548.] in the Catechism written indeed by Justus Jonas, but put forth by Cranmer's authority, being dedicated by him to Edward VI., [13/14] and spoken of in one place at least as his own [* In the preface of the work he speaks of "errors fonde and pernitious, superstitions and abuses" being already abolished and taken away; and writes this that the youth may not grow up ignorant of the truth. It may be observed that this was republished by Dr. Hickes, 1708, in his Preface to the "Divine Right of Episcopacy," with much commendation.], we read, "Now God doth not speak to us with a Voice sounding out of heaven; but He hath given the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the authority to forgive sin, to the ministers of the Church. Wherefore let him that is a sinner go to one of them. Let him knowledge and confess his sin, and pray him that, according to God's commandments, he will give him absolution, and comfort him with the word of grace and forgiveness of his sins. And when the minister doth so, then I ought stedfastly to believe that my sins are truly forgiven me in heaven." And a little later in the same, "Wherefore, good children, give good ear to this doctrine; and when your sins do make you afraid and sad, then seek and desire absolution and forgiveness of your sins of the ministers which have received a commission and commandment from Christ Himself to forgive men their sins; and then your consciences shall have peace, tranquillity and quietness. But he that doth not obey this counsel, but being either blind or proud, doth despise the same, he shall not find forgiveness of his sins, neither in his own good works, nor yet in painful chastisements of his body, or any other thing whereto God hath not promised remission of sins, wherefore despise not absolution, for it is the commandment and ordinance of God" ("On Authority of the Keys," Tracts of Anglican Fathers, vol. i., pp. 22-26).
In the next year followed the FIRST PRAYER BOOK OF EDWARD VI., accepted by Convocation, Archbishop [14/15] Cranmer presiding, in which the exhortation to the Holy Communion runs thus, "And if there be any of you, whose conscience is troubled and grieved in any thing, lacking comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Priest taught in the law of God, and confess and open his sin and grief secretly, that he may receive such ghostly counsel, advice, and comfort, that his conscience may be relieved, and that of us (as of the ministers of God and of the Church) he may receive comfort and absolution, to the satisfaction of his mind, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness; requiring such as shall be satisfied with a general confession, not to be offended with them that do use, to their further satisfying, the auricular and secret confession to the Priest; nor those also which think needful or convenient, for the quietness of their own consciences, particularly to open their sins to the Priest, to be offended with them that are satisfied with their humble confession to God, and the general Confession to the Church. But in all things to follow and keep the rule of Charity, and every man to be satisfied with his own conscience, not judging other men's minds or consciences; whereas he hath no warrant of God's word to the same."
BISHOP RIDLEY writes, "Confession unto the minister, which is able to instruct, correct, and inform the weak, wounded, and ignorant conscience, indeed I ever thought might do much good to Christ's congregation, and so I assure you I think to this day" (Ridley's Works, Park. Soc., 338). This was Ridley's view, written April, 1554, from Bocardo, the prison at Oxford, the very year before he was burnt, Oct. 16, 1555.
Again, BISHOP LATIMER, another Reformer, after denouncing "THEIR (i. e. our Papists') auricular" [15/16] Confession, viz. that "we MUST go to the Priest," that sin "may not be forgiven without confession," the "binding" men's consciences to use it, says, under the head of "True and meet Confession is very necessary," "To speak of right and true Confession, I would to God it were kept in England; for it is a good thing, and those which find themselves grieved in conscience might go to a learned many, and there fetch of him comfort of the Word of God, and so come to a quiet conscience, which is better, and more to be regarded, than all the riches of the world" (Lat. Sermons, 3rd after Epiphany, p. 179, 1552).
And in a sermon for 1st Sunday in Advent, p. 13 (under head of Auricular Confession), he says to those who are content with the assurance from the pulpit that CHRIST will forgive if they are truly sorry, well; "but they that are not satisfied with it, they may go to some godly learned minister, which is able to instruct and comfort them with the Word of God, to minister that same (absolution, of which he has been speaking) unto them for their contestation and quieting of their consciences;" and then proceeds very rightly to warn them against believing in any satisfaction or absolution for our sins save through CHRIST, that we must first believe in His Atonement; and absolution may not be had except we believe in the satisfaction made by Him for us, nor will His satisfaction avail except we make restitution and amends for our sin according to the uttermost of our power.
[What "learned man" means is plainly shown--(a) by Latimer's own words in the two next quotations, where it is used synonymously with "Priest" and "Minister ;" (b) by Turner's quotation below, "Let the Bishops appoint 'learned men,' . . . then the people shall come to the 'Priests' by heaps and swarms."]
And again, "Sir, I tell thee the Priest, he hath power given unto him from our Saviour to absolve in such wise as he is commanded by Him. But I think ministers be not greatly troubled therewith; for the people seek their carnal liberties, which indeed is not well, and a thing which misliketh God. For I would have them that are grieved in conscience, to go to some godly man which is able to minister God's Word, and there to fetch his Absolution, if he cannot be satisfied in the public sermon. It were truly a thing which would do much good" ("Sermon on Lord's Prayer," p. 423, Park. Soc.).
So WILLIAM TURNER, another of the Reformers: "We do not utterly forsake auricular or ear confession; but the additions of man's traditions are parted and sundered from wholesome doctrine. . . . If we perceive not . . . if any doubt arise in our consciences. . . . Furthermore, when we be fainthearted, or have no courage, and are vexed with temptations, we may not despise the remedy that God ordained. Thou hast God's Word, 'Whose sins ye remit,' &c. (Matt. xviii. John xx.) . . . Let the Bishops appoint learned men to hear confessions, and not blockheads, and then the people shall come to the Priests by heaps and swarms" ("The Old and New Learning," Tracts of Anglican Fathers, vol. ii., p. 196).
Thus too BISHOP JEWEL, the Apologist: "Touching the third (private Confession made unto our brother), if it be discreetly used to the greater comfort and better satisfaction of the penitent, without superstition or other ill, it is not in any wise by us reproved. The abuses and errors set apart, we do no more mislike a private confession than a private sermon." And adding, to guard against compulsory Confession, "Thus much only we say, that private Confession [17/18] to be made into the minister is neither COMMANDED by CHRIST, nor NECESSARY to salvation" ("Defence of Apology," p. 351, Park. Soc.).
Again, after quoting "The Church of England hath authority this day by God's Word to bind and loose as much as ever Christ gave any of His Apostles; and by the same authority the Church of England is able to bind, not only M. Harding and his fellows, as Peter bound Simon Magus, or as Paul bound Elymas the false prophet, but also the Pope himself, if he be an open offender; and, as St. Paul saith, is able to deliver him over to Satan; and, undoubtedly, being so bound in earth, he shall also stand bound in heaven,"--he says, "As for private Confession, abuses and errors set apart, as it is said before, we condemn it not, but leave it at liberty; and therein we seem to follow the advice of Charles the Emperor, . . . . 'Confession and enumeration of sins, as it is not too much to be relaxed, so on the other hand it must not be too much made a matter of obligation'" (Ibid. pp. 362, 363).
So again: "Abuses and errors removed, and especially the Priest being learned . . . we mislike no manner of Confession, whether it be private or public. For as we think it not unlawful to make open Confession before many, so we think it not unlawful (abuses always excepted) to make the like Confession in private, either before a few or before one alone" (Heylin quotes from "Def. of Apology" pt. 2, c. 7, § 2).
Again: "To be short, we succeed the Bishops that have been before our days. We are elected, consecrate, confirmed, and admitted as they were." "Moreover, we say that Christ hath given to His ministers power to bind, to loose, to open, to shut."
 Bishop Jewel also is the reputed author of the 2ND Book OF HOMILIES, or Sermons, written in the reign of Elizabeth. In the HOMILY OF REPENTANCE, after denouncing the (Roman) adversaries and the arguments whereby they try to "maintain THEIR auricular Confession," and saying, "It is most evident and plain that THIS (Roman) auricular Confession hath not the warrant of God's Word," [* Cf. p. 46, Dr. Puller on this passage.]--the Homilist continues: "I DO NOT SAY, BUT THAT, IF ANY do find themselves troubled in conscience, they may repair to their learned curate or pastor, or to some other godly learned man, [* Vid. sup. Note on Latimer's Sermons.] and show the trouble and doubt of their conscience to them, that they may receive at their hand the comfortable salve of God's Word; but it is against the true Christian liberty that any man should be BOUND TO the numbering of his sins, as IT HATH BEEN USED HERETOFORE in the time of blindness and ignorance" (p. 592).
Again, in the HOMILY OF "COMMON PRAYER AND SACRAMENTS:" "And as for the number of them, if they should be considered according to the exact signification of a sacrament, namely, for the visible signs, expressly commanded in the New Testament, whereunto is annexed the promise of free forgiveness of sin and of our holiness, and joining in CHRIST, there be but two, namely, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. For although Absolution hath the promise of forgiveness of sin, yet by the express Word of the New Testament it hath not this promise annexed and tied to the visible sign, which is imposition of hands. For this visible sign (I mean laying on of hands) is not expressly commanded in the New Testament to be used in Absolution as the visible signs in Baptism and the Lord's Supper are; and [19/20] therefore Absolution is no such sacrament as Baptism and the Communion are" (p. 385).
So ARCHBISHOP PARKER, in 1567, in VISITATION ARTICLES, inquires, "If any members of your Church . . . do either privilie or openlie preach or teach any unwholesome, erroneous, seditious doctrine . . . or in any other point do persuade or move any not to conform themselves to the order of religion reformed, restored, and received by public authority in the Church of England, as for example that . . . or that mortal or voluntary sins committed after baptisme, be not remissible by penance?" (Foxe, "Acts and Monuments," vol. iii., p. 253). [* Here we presume that Parker used the word Penance in its strict theological sense.]
He also maintained that "The Church of Christ is" that in which "the Word of God is truly taught and the Sacraments orderly ministered according to Christ's institution, and the authority of the keys is duly used" ("The Eleven Articles," 1559, Hardwick).
Again, THOMAS BECON, D.D., who has the reputation of being a Puritan writer (1570): "Therefore, to make few words, disdain ye not to go to Confession, . . . and when he (the minister) shall rehearse unto you the most sweet and comfortable words of Absolution, give earnest faith unto them, being undoubtedly persuaded that your sins at that time be assuredly forgiven you, as though God Himself had spoken them, according to this saying of Christ, 'He that heareth you heareth Me,' and again, 'Whose sins ye forgive are forgiven them '" (Early Works, Parker Society, p. 101, "Potation for Lent").
And a little before, "What need I to make many words? Confession (speaking of auricular) bringeth high tranquillity to the troubled conscience of a [20/21] Christian man, while the most comfortable words of Absolution are rehearsed unto him by the Priest."
Again: "How say you, is any thing to be condemned in auricular Confession thus used? No verily, all things that you have rehearsed are rather worthy high praise and commendation" (Becon's Early Works). These words were not altered, see pp. 89, 102, in Becon's collected edition of his works, edited A.D. 1560, the reign of Elizabeth.
Passing on, we find HOOKER himself (in 1600) using Confession, being absolved on his death-bed by Dr. Saravia, "they being supposed to be confessors to each other." "To which end the doctor came, and after a short retirement and privacy, they two returned to the company" ("Life, by Isaak Walton," p. 67).
He writes (Book vi., ch. vi. 3), "It is true that our Saviour by those words 'Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted' did ordain judges over sinful souls, give them authority to absolve from sin, and promise to ratify in heaven whatsoever they should do on earth in execution of this their office; to the end that hereby, as well His ministers might take encouragement to do their duty with all faithfulness, as also His people admonition, gladly with all reverence to be ordered by them." Again (Book vi., ch. iv. 7): [* Conf. also Hooker, Book vi., ch. iv. 15, p. 275, and ch. vi. 4, 5.] "Furthermore, because the knowledge how to handle our own sores is no vulgar and common art, but we either carry towards ourselves for the most part an over-soft and gentle hand, fearful of touching too near the quick; or else endeavouring not to be partial, we fall into timorous scrupulosities, and sometimes into those extreme discomforts of mind from which we hardly do ever lift up our heads again; men thought it the safest way (speaking of the Early Church) to disclose their secret faults, and [21/22] to crave imposition of penance from them whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath left in His Church to be spiritual and ghostly physicians, the guides and pastors of redeemed souls, whose office doth not only consist in general persuasions unto amendment of life, but also in the private particular cure of diseased minds." . . . "But the greatest thing which made men forward and willing upon their knees to confess whatsoever they had committed against God, and in no wise to be withheld from the same with any fear of disgrace, contempt, or obloquy which might ensue, was their fervent desire to be helped and assisted with the prayers of God's saints."
KING JAMES I. himself bears testimony (cf. Cardwell's Conferences, chap. iv., p. 174), "Next in order was the point of Absolution." The Archbishop quoted only the public Absolution, which the King "liked and approved." Then the Bishop of London, stepping forward, said, "There is also another more particular and personal form of Absolution prescribed to be used in the Order for the Visitation of the Sick. This the King required to see, and whilst Master Dean of the Chapel was turning to it, the said Bishop alleged that not only the Confessions of Augusta, Boheme, Saxon, which he there cited, do retain and allow it, but that Master Calvin did also approve such a general kind of Confession and Absolution as the Church of England useth, and withal did very well like of those which are private, for so he terms them. The said particular Absolution in the Common Prayer Book being read, His Majesty exceedingly well approved it, adding that it was Apostolical, and a very good ordinance, in that it was given in the name of Christ, to one that desired it, and upon the clearing of his conscience."
And not only this, but on his death-bed he remembered [22/23] and used it, seeking Absolution at the .hand of Bishop Williams.
The testimony of DR. REYNOLDS is the more remarkable, since he was the leader of the Dissenting interest in the Church of England at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604: "Yet he was so well satisfied in the power and nature of Sacerdotal Absolution, that he did earnestly desire it at the time of his death (in 1607), humbly received it at the hands of Dr. Holland, the King's Professor in Divinity, in the University of Oxon for the time then being, and when he was not able to express his joy and thankfulness in the way of speech, did most affectionately kiss the hand that gave it" (Conf. Heylin on "Creed," Forgiveness of Sins, p. 460).
DR. GEORGE HAKEWILL, in answer to Carier (1616) writes, "Howbeit (the people) are indeed freed from the NECESSITY of that which we call auricular, though not from the POSSIBILITY, as you falsely pretend. For as we enforce none, if they come not, as knowing that force may work upon the body, but never upon the will; so we exclude none if they come with a true penitent heart, or out of the scruple of conscience, either to seek counsel, being ignorant of the quality or quantity of their sin, or comfort against despair for sin known and acknowledged. . . . And sure I see not but, the minister standing in the place of God, as His Ambassador, and pronouncing Absolution upon humble and hearty repentance, as from God, it should prove a marvellous great ease and settlement to a poor distracted and distressed conscience . . . which is an Absolution only declaratory, conditional, and ministerial" (p. 266).
It was about this time (1625) that Dr. Theophilus Aylmer, son of the Bishop of London, and himself Archdeacon of London, died, of whom we read, [23/24] "When he found that he approached nearer to death, he made, according to the order of the Church, his Confession to the preacher, his assistant, and received his Absolution" ("Last Hours of Eminent Christians," p. 53).
Dr. CRAKANTHORP (1624), a vigorous writer against Rome, says, "Private Confession and Absolution our Church both approves and teaches. We have not impiously abolished them, as you calumniously assert."
Again, the great BISHOP ANDREWES (1626) was one of those of whom we know that they not only taught but used and practised it. He thanks God Who "hast given me good hope for the remission of my sins by repentance, by the works of repentance and by the power of the Holy Keys" (Dr. Andrewes's "Devotions "). Moreover, when he held the place of "Prebendary in Paul's," i. e. of Confessor or Confessioner in St. Paul's Cathedral, he used, especially in Lent, to walk daily at certain hours in one of the aisles of the church, to receive those who chose to come to him. Hear, too, his words in a sermon on the power of Absolution, which caused some sensation at court at the time. The text was "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them;" part of the Gospel for the day, the First Sunday after Easter. "There God doth associate His ministers, and maketh them workers together with Him. There have they their parts in this work, and cannot be excluded. . . . And to exclude them is, after a sort, to wring the keys out of their hands to whom Christ hath given them, is to cancel and make void this clause of 'ye remit,' as if it were no part of the sentence; to account of all this solemn sending and inspiring as if it were an idle and fruitless ceremony." He continues: "Neither are we, the ordinance of God thus [24/25] standing, to rend of one part of the sentence. There are here expressed three persons" (the sinner, God, and the Priest). "Three are expressed, and where three are expressed, three are required; and where three are required, two are not enough. It is S. Augustine that thus speaketh of this ecclesiastical act in his time: 'Let nobody say within himself, I repent in private, I repent before God: God, who pardons me, knows I repent from my heart: THEN to no purpose was it said, "Whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven," then to no purpose were the keys given to the Church of God; we make void the Gospel, we make void the words of Christ.' "Which, as was remarked at the time, is as much as saying "that contrition, without Confession and Absolution, and deeds worthy of repentance, was not sufficient" (cf. White's Letter to Sydney, "Letters," vol. ii., p. 185).
DR. JOHN DONNE (died 1631), Dean of St. Paul's in time of James I., writes, "Men come not willingly to this manifestation of themselves, nor are they to be brought in chains, as they do in the Roman Church, by a necessity of an exact enumeration of all their sins, but to be led (to Confession) with that sweetness with which our Church proceeds, in appointing sick persons, if they feel their conscience troubled with any weighty matter, to make a special Confession, and to receive Absolution at the hands of the Priest" (Sermon 56, vol. p. 563); and then we are to remember, that "every coming to the Communion is as serious a thing as our own transmigration out of the world, and we should do as much here for the settling of our conscience as upon our deathbed."
And in another sermon (vol. v., p. 434): "For Confession, we REQUIRE PUBLIC Confession, in the congregation; [25/26] and in time of sickness, upon the death-bed, we ENJOIN PRIVATE and particular Confession, IF the Conscience be oppressed; AND IF ANY MAN DO THINK THAT THAT WHICH IS NECESSARY FOR HIM UPON HIS DEATH-BED IS NECESSARY EVERY TIME HE COMES TO THE COMMUNION, AND SO COME TO SUCH A CONFESSION, if any thing lie upon him, AS OFTEN AS HE COMES TO THE COMMUNION we BLAME NOT, we DISSUADE NOT, we DISCOUNSEL NOT, that tenderness of conscience, and that SAFE PROCEEDING in the soul." "The more I find Confession or any religious practice repugnant to mine own nature, the further will I go in it."
DIR. LEWIS BAILY, BISHOP OF BANGOR (1632), in his "Practice of Piety," a book which passed through seventy-two editions at least, and was a standard devotional book during great part of the 17th and 18th centuries, writes thus: "In any wise, remember (if conveniently it may be) to send for some godly and religious pastor, not only to pray for thee at thy death . . . . but also UPON THY CONFESSION AND UNFEIGNED REPENTANCE, TO ABSOLVE THEE OP THY SINS. For as Christ hath given him a calling to baptize thee unto repentance, so hath he likewise given him a calling and power and authority (upon repentance) to absolve thee from thy sins. . . . The Bishops and pastors of the Church do not forgive sin by any absolute power of their own (for so only Christ their Master forgiveth sins), but ministerially, as the servants of Christ, and stewards, to whose fidelity their Lord and Master hath committed His keys. . . . For Christ from heaven doth by them (as by His ministers on earth) declare whom He remitteth and bindeth, and to whom He will open the gates of heaven, and against whom He will shut them: and therefore it is not, said, 'Whose sins ye signify to be remitted,' but 'Whose sins ye remit.'" Again, "As [26/27] therefore none can baptize but only . . . . so, though others may comfort with good words, yet none can absolve from sin but only those to whom Christ hath committed the holy ministry and word of reconciliation." And after denouncing forced Confession, "when they feel no distress," as in the Romish Church, he continues: "And verily there is not any means more excellent to humble a proud heart, nor to raise up an humble spirit, than this spiritual conference between the pastors and the people committed to their charge. If any sin, therefore, troubleth thy conscience, confess it to God's minister, ask his counsel, and if thou dost truly repent, receive his Absolution. And THEN DOUBT NOT, IN FORO CONSCIENTIAE, BUT THY SINS BE AS VERILY FORGIVEN ON EARTH, AS IF THOU DIDST HEAR CHRIST HIMSELF, IN FORO JUDICII, PRONOUNCING THEM TO BE FORGIVEN IN HEAVEN. 'He that heareth you, heareth Me.' Try this, and tell me whether thou shalt not find more ease in thy conscience than can be expressed in words. Did prophane men consider the dignity of this Divine calling, they would the more honour the calling, and reverence the persons" (pp. 432-439).
BISHOP DOWNAME (1634), author of "The Pope Antichrist," says (in "Sermon on Dignity and Duty of the Ministry," p. 57), "His ministers whom we are bound to hear, and to receive, not only as angels of God, but even (Gal. iv. 14) as Christ Jesus." And "as touching their authoritie," he quotes S. Matt. xviii. 18 and S. John xx. 23, and Theophylact's annotation on those passages, adding, "As if in plainer terms he said, 'The authority of forgiving sins is Divine; which being communicated after a sort to ministers, in that they pronouncing the forgiveness of sin according to their commission, the [27/28] sins indeed are forgiven, their authority also may be said to be Divine."
JOSEPH MEDE (1638), a famous writer against Rome, says that Confession is a duty "in some cases also convenient to be made unto His ministers not only for advice, but for consolation by that power and authority which God hath given them to exercise in His Name; according to that, Whose sins ye remit, shall be remitted."
BISHOP MONTAGUE (1641): "It is confessed that all Priests, and none but Priests, have power to forgive sins; it is confessed that private Confession unto a Priest is of very ancient practice in the Church, of excellent use and practice, being discreetly handled. We REFUSE IT TO NONE, if men require it, if need be to have it. We URGE and persuade it in extremes, we REQUIRE it in case of perplexity, for the quieting of men disturbed and their consciences" ("A Gag for the New Gospel," p. 83).
"In some sense it is not true that none but God can forgive sins or retain them. For by delegation others also might do it ministerially. God doth forgive them by the ministry of men. The Priest, to do this, hath power conferred upon him by God in as ample a sort as he or any man can receive it" ("Appello ad Caesarem," p. 312).
I may here mention that in the VISITATION ARTICLES of OVERALL (1619), ANDREWES (1625), COSIN (Archdeacon, 1627), MONTAGUE (1638), and others at this time, we find inquiries made--Whether the minister of the parish exhorts his people to open their grief if conscience be troubled? Has the minister revealed any secrets so confessed? [* This inquiry was ordered to be made at ALL Visitations by order of the Convocation of 1640.] Does he absolve the sick upon their confession?
 DR. HAMMOND (an eminent divine in the reign of Charles I.) we find declaring thus, "Private Absolution is necessary to every one whose conscience either is not able to perform and go through the work of inward repentance with God alone, or is not able to satisfy itself with such performance without the minister's assistance."
DR. HEYLIN, in Charles I's reign, teaches, "For Confession to be made to the Priest, it is agreeable both to the doctrine and intent of the Church of England, though not so much to the practice as it ought to be" (Heylin's "Sum. of Theology," p. 455).
Again (date 1654), "Now as we disagree with those of the Church of Rome about the nature and necessity of private Confession, so have we no less differences with the grandees of the Puritan faction about the efficacy and power Of SACERDOTAL ABSOLUTION, which they which speak most largely of it make declarative only, others not so much; whereas the Church hath taught us that it is authoritative and judicial too. Authoritative, not by a proper, natural, and original power, for so the Absolution of a sinner appertains unto God alone, but by a delegated and derived power communicated to the Priests in that clause of their commission, 'Whose sins soever,' &c., John xx. 23, which proves the Priest to have a power of remitting sins, and that in as express and ample manner as he can receive it. But though it be a delegated ministerial power, yet doth not the descent thereof from Almighty God prove it to be the less judicial. Then judges and other ministers of justice sitting on the bench, may be said to exercise a judicial power on the lives and fortunes of the subjects, because they do it by virtue of the King's commission, not out of any sovereign power which they can challenge to themselves in their [29/30] several circuits. Now that the Priests or Ministers of the Church of England are vested with as much power of forgiving sins as Christ committed to His Church, and the Church to them, the formal words, 'Whose sins,' &c., which are still used in ordinations, do expressly signify. Which though some of the grandees of the Puritan faction have pleased to call Papisticum Ritum, an old Popish ceremony, . . . yet we shall rather play the fools with the Primitive Christians, than learn wit of them." He quotes the Absolution in Visitation of Sick, "In which we find that the Sacerdotal power of forgiving sins is a derived or delegated ministerial power, a power committed to His ministers by our Lord and Saviour; but that it is judicial also, not declarative only. It is not said 'That I do signifie or declare that thou art absolved,' which any man may do as well as the Priest himself; but I do actually absolve thee of all thy sins, which no mortal man can but he. In this the Priest hath the preheminence of the greatest potentate. And in this sense it is that S. Chrysostome saith that God Himself hath put the head of the Prince under the hand of the Priest. For as no man whatsoever, although he use the same words which the minister doth, can consecrate the elements of bread and wine into the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, because he wants the power of order, which should inable him unto it; so no man not in Priestly order can absolve from sin, though he may comfort with good words an afflicted conscience, or though he use the same words which are pronounced by the minister in Absolution. The reason is, because he wants the power of order, to which the promise is annexed by our Saviour Christ, which makes the sentence of the Priest to be so judicial; which when the penitent doth hear from [30/31] the mouth of the minister, he need not doubt in foro conscientioe but that his sins be as verily forgiven on earth as if he had heard Christ Himself in foro judicii, pronouncing them with His own mouth to be forgiven in heaven" (P. Heylin on Forgiveness of Sins, "Creed," pp. 458-459).
And ARCHBISHOP LAUD we find recording in his diary his own appointment "as Confessor to my Lord of Buckingham;" he thus wrote also, "All men (for aught I know) allowing Confession. and Absolution as most useful for the good of Christians, and condemning only the BINDING of all men to confess all sins, upon absolute danger of salvation."
And ARCHBISHOP BRAMHALL: "Protestants have not pared away all manner of shrift, or Confession and Absolution."
And in 1634 we find the following passed as the 19TH CANON OF THE IRISH CHURCH in their Convocation--a Canon (be it remembered) drawn up by BISHOP BRAMHALL, and approved by ARCHBISHOP USSHER, who presided (these being two of the greatest opponents Rome ever had);--which after ordering that warning of the Holy Communion be given, continues thus: "And the minister of every parish, and in cathedral and collegiate churches some principal minister of the church, shall the afternoon before the said administration (of the Lord's Supper) give warning by the tolling of a bell or otherwise, to the intent that if any have any scruple of conscience or desire the special ministry of reconciliation, he may afford it to those that need it. And to this end the people are often to be exhorted to enter into a special examination of the state of their own souls, and FINDING THEMSELVES EITHER EXTREMELY DULL OR MUCH TROUBLED IN MIND, THEY DO RESORT UNTO GOD'S MINISTERS to receive from them as well advice and [31/32] counsel for the quickening of their dead hearts, and the subduing of those corruptions whereunto they have been subject, as the benefit of Absolution likewise for the quieting of their consciences by the power of the keys which Christ hath committed to His ministers for that purpose."
Moreover in ARCHBISHOP USSHER'S "Answer to a Jesuit's Challenge" we find (p. 75), "Be it known unto him, that NO KIND OF CONFESSION, either public or private, is disallowed by us, that is any way requisite for the due execution of that antient power of the keys which Christ bestowed upon His Church. The thing which WE REJECT is that new picklock of Sacramental Confession, obtruded upon men's consciences, AS A MATTER NECESSARY TO SALVATION, by the Canons of the late Conventicle of Trent."
The great and holy GEORGE HERBERT (1632) declares even the necessity of Confession at times. He describes "The Parson Comforting." "Besides this, in his visiting the sick, or otherwise afflicted, he followeth the Church's counsel, namely in PERSUADING them to particular confession, labouring to make them understand the great good use of this antient and pious ordinance, and how NECESSARY IT IS IN SOME CASES" (Chap. xv., "Priest to the Temple").
In 1640 died MR. NICHOLAS FARRAR, Jun. The Bishop of Peterborough, Dr. Torrens, "came to him two days before he died . . . who gave him absolution, and with many tears departed" ("Last Hours of Eminent Christians," p. 85).
Most remarkable, however, is the testimony of CHILLINGWORTH (1644), author of the "Religion of Protestants," and of the saying (cf. Bishop Sanderson's observations on this and similar sayings in his preface to Sermons), "The Bible, and the Bible [32/33] only, the Religion of Protestants," who so freely handled many of the Church's doctrines. Quoting Archbishop Ussher, "Be it known to our adversaries of Rome" ("I add also," says Chillingworth, "to our adversaries even of Great Britain, who sell their private fancies for the doctrine of our Church"), "that no kind of Confession either public or private is disallowed by our Church. . . . . And this truth being so evident in Scripture, and in the writings of the ancient best times of the Primitive Church, the safest interpreters of Scripture, I make no question but there will not be found one person amongst you who, when he shall be in a calm, impartial disposition, will offer to deny it." He goes on to say that Rome had charged England with throwing away the Power of the Keys given by Christ, "taking advantage indeed from the unwary expressions of some particular divines, who out of too forward a zeal against the Church of Rome, have bended the staff too much the contrary way; and instead of taking away that intolerable burden of a sacramental NECESSARY and universal Confession, have seemed to void and frustrate all use and exercise of the keys." And he continues, "Since Christ hath given such authority to His ministers, upon your unfeigned repentance and contrition, to absolve and release you from your sins, . . . therefore, in obedience to His gracious will, and as I am warranted, and even enjoined, by my holy mother the Church of England expressly, in the Book of Common Prayer, in the rubric of visiting the sick (which doctrine this Church hath likewise embraced so far), I beseech you that by your practice and use, you will not suffer that commission which Christ hath given to His ministers to be a vain form of words without any sense under them; to be an antiquated, expired commission, of no use nor [33/34] validity in these days; BUT WHENSOEVER YOU FIND yourselves charged and oppressed, especially with such crimes as they call 'Peccata vastantia conscientiam,' such as do lay waste and depopulate the conscience, that you have recourse to your spiritual physician, and freely disclose the nature and malignancy of your disease, that he may be able, as the cause shall require, to proportion a remedy either to search it with corrosives, or comfort and temper it with oil. And come not to him only with such a mind as you would go to a learned man experienced in the Scripture, as one that can speak comfortable, quieting words to you, but as to one that hath authority delegated to him from God Himself to absolve and acquit you of your sins. If you shall do this, assure your souls, that the understanding of man is not able to conceive that transport and excess of joy and comfort which shall accrue to that man's heart, that is persuaded that he hath been made partaker of this blessing, orderly and legally, according as our Saviour Christ hath prescribed" ("Sermons," vii., p. 83).
In 1651, James, seventh EARL OF DERBY, was put to death by the rebels. We read he made his confession to Mr. Greenhaugh, and then received absolution and the Sacrament.
Next will come BISHOP HALL (1656), author of "No Peace with Rome," and other works against Romanism.
"A mean would do well betwixt two extremes; the careless neglect of our spiritual fathers on the one side, and too confident reliance upon their power on the other. Some there are that do so overtrust their leaders' eyes, that they care not to see with their own; others dare so trust their own judgment, that they think they may slight their [34/35] spiritual guides; there can be no safety for the soul but in a midway betwixt both these." "Who but the successors of a legal priesthood are proper to judge of the uncleanness of the soul? Whether an act be sinful, or in whatever degree it is such; what grounds are sufficient for the comfortable assurance of repentance, of forgiveness; what courses are fittest to avoid the danger of relapses; who is so likely to know, so meet to judge, as our teachers? Would we in these cases consult oftener with our spiritual guides, and depend upon their faithful advice and well-grounded absolutions, it were safer, it were happier for us. Oh the dangerous extremity of our wisdom! Our hood-winked progenitors would have no eyes but in the heads of their ghostly fathers; we think ourselves so quick-sighted, that we pity the blindness of our able teachers: none but ourselves are fit to judge of our own leprosy."
Again, "If after all these penitent endeavours, you find your soul still unquiet, and not sufficiently apprehensive of a free and full forgiveness, betake yourself to God's faithful agent for peace: run to your ghostly physician; lay your bosom open before him; flatter not your own condition; let neither fear nor shame stay his hand from probing and searching the wound to the bottom; and that being done, make careful use of such spiritual applications as shall be by him administered to you. This, this is the way to a perfect recovery and fullness of comfort."
And again, "Although therefore you may perhaps, through God's goodness, attain to such a measure of knowledge and resolution as to be able to give yourself satisfaction concerning the state of your soul; YET IT CANNOT BE AMISS, out of an abundant caution, to take God's minister along with you, and [35-36] making him of your spiritual counsel, to UNBOSOM YOURSELF TO HIM FREELY, for his fatherly advice and concurrence: the neglect whereof, through a kind of either strangeness or misconceit, is certainly not a little disadvantageous to the souls of many good Christians. The Romish laity make either oracles or idols of their ghostly fathers: if we make cyphers of ours, I know not whether we be more injurious to them or ourselves. We go not about to rack your consciences to a FORCED and exquisite confession under the pain of no remission; but we PERSUADE you, for your own good, to be more intimate with and less reserved from those whom God hath set over you, for your direction, comfort, salvation" (Hall's Works, vol. vii., pp. 451-455).
About this time (Jan.. 26, 1660) died LADY CAPEL, who "three days before her death asked and received the Church's last comfort and blessing, the benefit of absolution, which she took with great thankfulness, and showed a heavenly comfort and peace ensuing upon it" ("English Women of 17th Century," p. 76 ; quoted from Cooke on Absolution).
One LADY ANDERSON died the following year, of whom the Rev. Edward Boteler, Rector of Wintringham, writes, "The day before she died she desired me to pray with her and absolve her according to the use of the Church of England, which I accordingly did, to her no little comfort" ("English Women of 17th Century" p. 260).
In 1659, BISHOP MORTON, who wrote against the "Superstitions of the Roman Mass," says, "It is not questioned between us WHETHER IT BE CONVENIENT for a man burdened with sin to lay open his conscience in private unto the minister of God, and to seek at his hands both the counsel of instruction, and the comfort of God's pardon: BUT [36/37] whether there be (as from Christ's institution) such an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY of this private Confession, as that without it there can be no remission or pardon hoped for from God" ("Catholic Appeal," Book ii., chap. xiv., p. 253).
Again, "The power of absolution, whether it be general or particular, whether in public or private, it is professed in our Church; where both in her public service is proclaimed pardon and absolution upon all penitents, and a private applying of absolution unto particular penitents by the office of the Minister; and greater power than this hath no man received from God" ("Catholic Appeal," p. 270).
And here is a name familiar to all, JEREMY TAYLOR, the saintly Bishop of Down and Connor (1667). In his "Guide for the Penitent" (which some have indeed assigned to Bishop Duppa), he says, "Besides this examination of your conscience which may be done in secret between God and your own soul, there is great use of holy confession; which THOUGH it be not generally, in all cases, and peremptorily commanded, as if without it no salvation could possibly be had; YET you are advised by the Church under whose discipline you live, that before you are to receive the Holy Sacrament, or when you are visited with any dangerous sickness, if you find any one particular sin or more that lies heavy upon you, to disburden yourself of it into the bosom of YOUR CONFESSOR, who not only stands between God and you, to pray for you, but hath the power of the keys committed to him, upon your true repentance to absolve you in Christ's Name from those sins which you have confessed to him. Having made choice of such a confessor, who is every way qualified, that you may trust your soul with him, you are advised plainly and sincerely to open your [37/38] heart to him; and that laying aside all consideration of any personal weakness in him, you are to look upon him only as he is a trustee from God, and commissioned by Him, as His ministerial deputy, to hear, and judge, and absolve you. That the manner of your confession be in an humble posture on your knees, as being made to God rather than man. For the frequency of doing this you are to consult with your own necessities" (p. 105, "Advice concerning Confession").
Again (and be it remembered this is the author of the well-known work, "Dissuasive from Popery"), "In all which circumstances, because we may very much be helped if we take in the assistance of a spiritual guide, THEREFORE the Church of God in all ages hath COMMANDED, and in most ages enjoined, that we confess our sins and discover the state and condition of our souls to such a person whom we or our superiors judge fit to help us in such needs" ("Holy Living," chap. iv., § 9. 5).
Again, "Whether they be many or few that are sent to the sick person, let the curate of the parish, OR HIS OWN CONFESSOR, be amongst them. . . . He that is the ordinary judge cannot safely be passed by in his extraordinary necessity which in so great portions depends upon his whole life past. . . . It is by all Churches esteemed a duty necessary to be done in cases of a troubled conscience. THAT WHAT IS NECESSARY TO BE DONE IN ONE CASE, AND CONVENIENT IN ALL CASES, IS FIT TO BE DONE BY ALL PERSONS" ("Holy Dying," chap. v., § 2. 4, § 3. 15, 16).
Again, "CONFESS YOUR SINS OFTEN, hear the Word of God, make religion the business of your life, your study and chiefest care, and BE SURE THAT IN ALL THINGS A SPIRITUAL GUIDE TAKE YOU BY THE HAND" ("Golden Grove," Agenda, 32).
 Why in that very work, "Dissuasive from Popery," he says, "Whether to confess to a priest be an advisable discipline . . . and a good instance, instrument, and ministry to repentance, and may serve good ends in the Church, and to the souls of needing persons, is no part of the question ... The Church of England is no way engaged against it, BUT ADVISES IT, PRACTISES IT" (Part 2, vii., § 11). See also p. 241, vol. vi., ed. Eden: "Confession might be made of excellent use, and is so among the pious children of the Church of England."
BISHOP SANDERSON died 1663. We read that the day before his death he received absolution from Mr. Pullin, his chaplain, pulling off his cap, "that Mr. Pullin might lay his hand upon his bare head" (Isaak Walton); and this was one of the Commissioners, who gave us our Common Prayer as it now stands.
A Sermon, too, of DR. PIERCE (1661), President of Magdalen College, Oxford, afterwards DEAN OF SALISBURY, is pretty plain. Finding fault with the sectaries for imitating Naaman, he says, "I shall give but one instance, and that in the office of Confession, because it is amongst Christians a kind of Gospel Purification. The duty of Confession from the penitent to the Priest hath been commanded by the Church in the purest times of antiquity; and, however misused by the Church of Rome, hath been reformed, and NOT ABOLISHED by this of England. Now some malcontents there were who thought our Church not clean enough, unless they might sweep away the pavement; and, amongst other things, THEIR STOMACHS ROSE AGAINST CONFESSION. Will not God, say they, be pleased with the acknowledgment of the heart, but must that of the mouth be, required also? Must we pour out our souls into [39/40] the ear of the Priest? But I would say to such an English or Scottish Naaman, Wash and be clean; that is, confess and be forgiven." That was preached before the King the very year in which our Prayer Book took its present form.
In 1662 we have DR. THORNDIKE ("Blessed," as Bishop Bull, the great defender of the Faith, calls him) saying, "It will appear a lamentable case to consider how simple, innocent Christians are led on till death in an opinion that they want nothing requisite for the pardon and absolution of their sins, when it is manifest they want the keys of the Church; as it is manifest the keys are not used for that purpose" ("Just Weights," p. 118).
Again ("Laws of Church," Book iii., chap. ix., p. 85 ; quoted by Hickes, vol. i., p. 39), "The most part of Christians are bound in conscience to have recourse to the power of the Church and the keys thereof, for the cure of those sins which are not of themselves notorious."
BISHOP NICHOLSON (1671) writes, "Lastly: to the Priest's hand He hath delivered a key, and the use of it is for the detention and remission of sins; 'Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted.' "
Next will come BISHOP COSIN (1672). Preaching the funeral sermon of a Mrs. Holmes, he says, "Her preparation to her end was by humble contrition and hearty confession of her sins; which, when she had done, she received the benefit of Absolution according to God's ordinance and the religious institutions of our Church--a thing which the world looks not after now, AS IF Confession and Absolution were some strange superstitious things among us, which yet the Church has taken such care to preserve, and especially to be preparatives to death" (Cosin, vol. i., p. 28).
 But notice particularly what we find in his Devotions, and remember that he was one who had much to do with the arrangement of the present Prayer Book. He mentions, under the head of the "PRECEPTS OF THE CHURCH," to receive the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ with frequent devotion, and three times a year at least (of which Easter shall be always one). And for the better preparation thereto, AS OCCASION IS, to disburden and quiet our consciences of those sins that may grieve us, or scruples that may trouble us, to a learned and discreet Priest, and from him to receive advice and benefit of Absolution (Works, vol. ii., Ang. Cath. Library, p. 121).
It is well, too, to remember that Cosin was the disciple of Bishop Overall (1618), the author of the later part of our Catechism on the Sacraments. He, then, who spoke of "My Lord and Master Overall," writes thus on the Prayer Book, (Bishops Cosin and Overall in "Nicholls on Common Prayer," fol. ed. p. 62), "The Church of England, howsoever it holdeth not Confession and Absolution Sacramental, that is, made unto and received from a Priest, to be so absolutely necessary, as that without it there can be no remission of sins; yet by this place it is manifest what she teacheth. . . . Our 'if he feel his conscience troubled' is no more than his 'if he find out his sins' ('si inveniat peccata'); for if he be not troubled with sin, what needs either Confession or Absolution? Venial sins that separate not from the grace of God need not so much to trouble a man's conscience. IF HE HATH COMMITTED ANY MORTAL SIN, THEN WE REQUIRE CONFESSION OF IT TO A PRIEST, who may give him, upon his true contrition and repentance, the benefit of Absolution, which takes effect according to his disposition that is absolved.... The truth is, that in the [41/42] Priest's absolution there is the true power and virtue of forgiveness, which will most certainly take effect 'unless an obstacle is imposed,' as in Baptism" ("Notes on Common Prayer," 1st series, p. 163).
And, strongest of all, a certain Mr. Adams preached a sermon at Cambridge, affirming that there was no salvation without Confession, and that Confession was as necessary as Holy Baptism. It was proposed that he should retract: eight heads of houses, amongst whom was Cosin, decided against five that he should not. And Dr. Cosin, as he then was, stated that the Church of England, in the Thirty-nine Articles, though condemning (as he thought Mr. Adams and others were bound to condemn) all points of Popery, yet DID NOT CONDEMN the opinion (that Mr. Adams and others held) of the necessity of special Confession; nay, that the Book of Common Prayer seemed rather to give a man liberty to be of that opinion than to condemn him for it, where it says, "If a man cannot quiet himself by confessing to God, then let him go to a Priest and open his grief" (State Papers: cf. "Church Review," Feb. 2, 1867). And here in connexion with Bishop Cosin may be mentioned some papers of Grenville, Dean of Durham, son-in-law to the Bishop. (Papers published by Surtees Society: cf. Annotated Prayer Book, page 284.)
DEAN GRENVILLE writes, "We having no directions given by the Church for private Confession and Absolution but what is in the Office for the Sick, as to the manner of performance, we ought to proceed in that method, for the matter of examination, as far as time, and place, and person will permit. The form of Absolution is there set down, and therefore ought to be retained; but as for the form of prayers before or after, it is left to the discretion of the Minister; and, accordingly, several ministers have [42/43] several ways and methods of performance of it, more or less to edification. The rule of the Apostle, 'Let all things be done to edification,' ought to guide Priests in this and all other performances." He then gives the form he himself uses "according to the practise of the most godly and eminent divines under whom I have had my edification," viz. Lord's Prayer, Versicles, Gloria, 139th Psalm. "After this is said, the Priest takes his place in his chair," the penitent kneels down and makes the Confession. "It is expedient, and thought good for the ease and encouragement of the penitent, to have some form of examination and answers given to him some convenient time before, to consider of for the greater profit of his soul, and better preparation for so solemn a duty." Then follows Absolution, sentences of Scripture, thirty-second Psalm, concluding Prayers, and blessing. A long paper of questions is appended, apparently the "form of examination to be given to the penitent some time before."
In 1677, DR. ISAAC BARROW, one of our greatest divines, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, author, too, of a work against the "Supremacy of the Pope," says, "Likewise, if Christian men, having fallen into sin, or failed of duty toward God, do seriously confess their fault and heartily repent thereof, when the ministers of the Church in God's name and for Christ's sake, do declare (or pronounce) to them so doing or so qualified the pardon of their sin, and absolve them from it; we need not doubt but that their sins are really forgiven, and the pardon expressed in words is effectually dispensed unto them" (Works, vol. vi., p. 426).
Again, "They remit sins dispensative by consigning pardon in administration of the Sacraments, [43/44] especially in conferring Baptism, whereby, duly administered and undertaken, all sins are washed away; and in absolving of penitents, wherein grace is exhibited [old English for 'conferred'] and ratified by imposition of hands, the which S. Paul calls [carizesqai] to bestow grace or favour on the penitent." ("Power of Keys").
In EVELYN'S DIARY, dated March 16, 1685, the day on which he buried his daughter, we find recorded "the discovery of many papers: one to a divine (not named) to whom she writes that he would be her ghostly father, and would not despise her for her many errors and the many imperfections of her youth, but beg of God to give courage to acquaint him with all her faults, imploring his assistance and spiritual directions. I well remember she had often desired me to recommend her to such a person; but I did not think fit to do it AS YET, seeing her apt to be scrupulous, and knowing the great innocency and integrity of her life" (quoted from Cooke on "Absolution").
Let me now quote from BISHOP SPARROW (1685), one of the Commissioners who carried the present settlement of our Prayer Book. (Sermon on Confession and Absolution). "'He that would be sure of pardon, let him seek out a Priest and make his humble confession to him,' saith S. Augustine; 'for God, Who alone hath the prime and original right of forgiving sins, hath delegated the Priests, His judges here on earth, and given them the power of Absolution; so that they can, in His name, forgive the sins of those that humbly confess unto them.' But is not this blasphemy? said the Scribes at once. Is not this Popery? say some with us now. Take the counsel that is given in Job: 'Inquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search [44/45] of their fathers. . . . Shall not they teach thee and tell thee?'" and then, having quoted S. Chrysostom, S. Jerome, S. Gregory, S. Ambrose, and others, he continues: "These I have named are enough to give testimony of the former generation, men too pious to be thought to speak blasphemy, and too ancient to be suspected of Popery." And later on: "He, then, that assents to the Church of England, or believes the Scriptures, or gives credit to the ancient Fathers, CANNOT DENY THE PRIEST THE POWER OF REMITTING SINS, of absolving from sins all such as patiently confess unto them; and since he can, in the name of God, forgive us our Sins, GOOD REASON WE SHOULD MAKE OUR CONFESSION TO HIM. Surely GOD never gave the Priest this power in vain; He gave it for our benefit, and expects that we should do the best we can to make use of it; having ordained in the Priest the power of Absolution, He REQUIRES that we should use the best means we can to obtain that blessing. Now the only means to obtain this Absolution is our Confession to Him. . . . Confess as the Church directs us, confess to God, Confess also to the Priest; if not in private in the ear, since that is out of use (male aboletur, saith a devout Bishop; 'tis ALMOST quite lost, THE MORE THE PITY). . . . And more to the same effect. This sermon was preached in 1637. The Rebellion, which ended in Puritan supremacy, began in 1642. Well might Sparrow complain of the neglect of Church ordinances in those days! Again (in "Rationale," p. 266), after quoting "here shall the sick person make a special Confession," he adds: "It would be considered whether every deadly sin be not a weighty matter."
TIMOTHY PULLER, D.D., author of "Moderation of the Church of England" (1693) writes, "Our Church doth declare the necessity of such a confession as is [45/46] useful to the purposes of true repentance: that is, when confession to the ministers of God may be useful for spiritual advice, and for the quieting of any one's conscience, in order to a good life or happy death, and particularly in order to the fruitful receiving of the Holy Communion. . . . Such auricular Confession as is in practice in the Roman Church the Church of England hath utterly rejected, it being desired to pry into the secrets of governments, and such private circumstances of actions, which to unveil is neither the interest of private persons nor of priests. 'It is more plain' (saith our Homily) 'that THIS auricular Confession hath not its warrant of God's Word." Yet the same Homily earnestly commends to us the Confession of our sins before God, and one to another, for reconciliation of offences, and to the minister of God for his ghostly counsel and absolution, and publicly in case of public scandal. . . . And that the moderation of the Church may be more perceived, observe first, that our Church ascribeth not the power of remission of sins to any but to God only; secondly, it constantly holds that faith and true repentance are the necessary conditions of receiving the benefit of remission of sin; thirdly, it asserts, what is most true, that the ministers of the Church have a special power and commission, which other believers have not, authoritatively to declare this Absolution and remission of sins for the benefit and consolation of true penitency, which, if duly dispensed, cannot but have a real EFFECT from the very promise of CHRIST" ("Tracts of Anglican Fathers," vol. iii., p. 304, on Penance).
DEAN COMBER, author of three works against the Church of Rome (1699): "We direct all men to confess to God, but some also to confess their faults and reveal their doubts to the Priest, especially in these three cases, [46/47] (1) when we are disquieted with the guilt of some sin already committed, or (2) when we cannot conquer some lust or passion, or (3) when we are afflicted with any intricate scruples, PARTICULARLY whether we may be fit to receive the Blessed Sacrament or no. If any of these be our case, then first we must choose prudently, preferring our own minister, if he be tolerably fitted, or else we may select another that is prudent and pious, learned and judicious, or who may manage these weighty concerns gravely and privately, and despatch it wisely and fully to our satisfaction. . . . And this was so received a doctrine in the primitive times, that the confession of sins to a Priest, in case of a troubled conscience, was esteemed an Apostolical institution. . . . We wish, therefore, that the people, EVEN IN TIME OF HEALTH (when their conscience is troubled for some great sin, or their souls are assaulted with a violent temptation) would come and make their case known to their spiritual physician, to whom the fathers elegantly compare the Priest in this case. But if we have omitted this before, we have the more need to send speedily for God's minister in our sickness" (On Offices, p. 309. S. James v. 16).
The great BISHOP PEARSON (1686) tells a Nonconformist to whom he writes, "This comfort must be taken from YOU;" "for if . . . . you desire to make a special Confession, and receive the benefit of Absolution, to which end the Priest is ordered to use these words, "By the authority of Christ committed to me, I absolve thee of all thy sins;" you will never acquiesce in the Absolution, where you acknowledge no commission, nor can you expect any efficacy which dependeth upon the authority" (Minor Works, vol. p. 232).
There is a very important document bearing on this subject (cf. Wilkins' "Concilia," vol. iv., p. 267). [47/48] Sir John Friend and Sir W. Parkins were executed for conspiracy against King William III. Some clergymen absolved them, without Confession, publicly on the scaffold. Archbishop Tenison, of Canterbury, Archbishop Sharpe, of York, the Bishops of London, Durham, Winchester, Coventry and Lichfield, Rochester, Ely (Patrick), Hereford, Norwich, Peterborough, Gloucester, Chichester, Asaph, all, that is, that could be brought together, made and signed a Declaration, April 10, 1696. After quoting the rubric concerning sick persons, they say, "But here they absolved, and that publicly, persons condemned by law for execrable crimes, without so much as once moving them at that time to make a special confession of their sins, at least of those sins for which they were condemned. . . . If these ministers knew not the state of these men's souls before they gave them absolution, as it is manifest two of them did not . . . how could they, without manifest transgression of the Church's order, as well as the profane abuse of the POWER CHRIST HAS LEFT WITH HIS MINISTERS, absolve them from their sins?" The point to be observed here is, that the Bishops, in blaming this particular absolution, take for granted, as a matter of course, the reality of the absolving "power."
BISHOP PATRICK, author of several sermons and treatises against Rome, 1707 (Book for Beginners), says, "If he still find he is not safe, he must after all advise with some discreet minister of God's Word, as with a spiritual physician. . . . And when he comes for this ghostly counsel and advice, let him not be ashamed plainly to confess his sins, and to open the whole state of his soul before him whom he consults, relating how and by what means he comes to be thus entangled in the snare of the devil, that he cannot get out of it. Be sure you conquer the loathness you will find in yourselves [48/49] to make this discovery for fear it should disgrace you in his opinion, and convince yourself that you ought the rather to confess your sins ingenuously, that you may take shame to yourself and lay yourself low in the presence of God and His minister."
Again, "To him it will be necessary to repair on all occasions, that he may instruct and teach you in that whereof you are ignorant, or awaken you when you are sleepy, or refresh and cheer you when you are wrong, or cure you when you are sick or ill at ease, or resolve you in your doubts, or quicken your dulness, or bridle your fervours" ("Advice to Friend, § 13).
At the beginning of this century died the pious HENRY DODWELL, "who desired and received the absolution directed by our Church from my hands" (Brokesby's "Life of Dodwell," quoted by Cooke on "Absolution").
So JOHN ISHAM, D.D. (1702: "Daily Office for Sick"): "It is fit also for you to observe that though our Church presseth particular Confession to the Priest only when conscience is disquieted with sins of deeper malignity; YET IT DOTH NOT DISCOUNTENANCE THE MORE FREQUENT USE OF IT; and this, too, is so comprehensive a case as to take in great numbers that neglect it, and it is the declared judgment of Bishop Taylor, himself a pious doctor of the sick, that 'Confession being useful in all cases, and necessary in some . . . he that for stubbornness or any other criminal weakness shall decline it in the days of his danger, is near death, but very far off from the Kingdom of Heaven.' "
BISHOP BEVERIDGE (1708): "'Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose soever,' &c. As if He should have said, 'I, the Son of Man, having power upon earth also to forgive sins, DO NOW COMMIT THE SAME TO YOU: so that whose sins soever are remitted or retained by you, are so by Me also.' . . . This power, how great soever' [49/50] it be, 'it is but ministerial.' . . . Yea, whatsoever power they have of this nature, it is still His power in their hands; they derive it continually from Him, who is always present with them. And therefore as they themselves need to have a care how they exert this power, or neglect the exerting of it, so others had need take care, too, that they neither resist nor despise it" (Sermons on Church, vol. i., p. 14).
In 1710, the holy BISHOP KEN: "In case, good Philotheus, you do find this examination too difficult for you, or you are afraid you shall not rightly perform it, or meet with any scruples or troubles of conscience in the practice of it, I then advise you, as the Church does, to go to one of your superiors in this place to be your spiritual guide, and be not ashamed to unburden your soul freely to him; that, besides his ghostly counsel, you may receive the benefit of Absolution; for, though confession of our sins to God is only matter of duty, and absolutely necessary, yet confession to our spiritual guide also IS BY MANY DEVOUT SOULS found to be very advantageous to true repentance."
It was Bishop Ken, too, who pronounced over the dying Charles II. the Absolution of the Church; unheeded, indeed, by the King--then in heart a Roman, and no long time after received into that Communion (see Macaulay's "England," vol. i., p. 434)--yet enough to show what was the mind and practice of this great prelate. And in a poem entitled "Absolution," in speaking of the House of Prayer, Bishop Ken (author of "Awake, my soul," and "Glory to Thee, my God ") [50/51] writes:--
"It is a pile magnificent and large,
Of which collegiate pastors have the charge.
Their prelate Salvian over them presides,
To penitents they are sagacious guides;
Confessions private at their chairs are made,
Which they to souls COMMAND NOT, but PERSUADE,
In scandals chiefly, or distress of mind,
But all are to confess to God enjoined."
("Christian Year," p. 437, 2nd Edition.)
Again, in "Visitation of the Sick" (p. 441):--
"To God I have my will resign'd,
To God I elevate my mind,
My ghostly guide has me Absolved, and I
Have nought to do but pray, and love, and die."
Again, in the poem on "Holy Order," after describing the warnings of the chief pastor to notorious sinners--
"When wanton souls who brake Baptismal pact
Would league with sin, and with the world contract--"
"He Penance's restorative enjoin'd
To mortify the sin, and purge the mind;
True lovers with their tears her lapse bewail'd,
And for her pardon humbly Heaven assail'd;
When all her satisfactions were complete,
She begg'd her Absolution at his feet."
And, again, speaking of (p. 449)
"Choice under-shepherds carefully ordain'd,"
He describes how
"The state of every soul they justly weigh'd,
And to their wants due applications made;
Wont tenderly saints dying to frequent,
Their love, by their own fervours, to foment;
Saints' tears were by their Absolution dried."
The great BISHOP BULL, too, received Absolution in his last illness; not once, but frequently. "A few days before his death" (Feb. 17, 1710) "he received Absolution, when in the presence of several persons, he made a solemn confession and declaration of the conduct of his whole life, and so took his [51/52] leave of the world in a manner the most edifying that could be" ("Last Hours of Eminent Christians," pp. 182, 186).
ARCHBISHOP SHARPE, whose opinion is the more important, in that he was the spiritual director of Queen Anne (1714), author of "Sermons against Popery," says, "ALL PROTESTANTS that I know of do not only . . . . but even as to private sins, whereby no particular man nor no society is injured, but only God offended; I say, as to these, they not only allow of, but APPROVE OF CONFESSION TO MEN, even private Confession to men; and more especially such Confession as is made to those who are Ministers. No one Protestant, so far as we can judge by the public declarations of their faith, is against private Confessions of sin to any man, much less to a minister or pastor. Nay, they are SO FAR FROM BEING AGAINST IT, that they ADVISE it and RECOMMEND it in sundry cases as a most excellent instrument of repentance. So that the Papists do very unjustly traduce and CALUMNIATE the Reformation when they say that the Protestants are against private Confession. All that they have done is to regulate it, to set it upon its true basis and foundation, which is done, NOT BY REQUIRING private Confession as a thing necessary, but BY EXHORTING MEN TO IT AS A THING HIGHLY CONVENIENT IN MANY CASES. In all those cases where it can be useful, or serve any good purpose, it is both commended and seriously advised." He gives certain cases, and adds, "In all these cases no Protestant (that understands his religion) is against private Confession" (Works, vol. vii., p. 158).
Again, "Confession to a minister is ALWAYS LAWFUL, and sometimes expedient; and if people amongst us did more practise it, there is no doubt they would find both great comfort and great benefit thereby."
 DR. HICKES, Dean of Worcester (died 1715), republished from Cranmer's Catechism the Sermon on the Power of the Keys, giving it high commendation (cf. Preface to "Divine Right of Episcopacy"). Speaking of the neglect of the power of the keys, he wonders "how Priests of the Church of England should be guilty of such an omission, when in the form of Ordination the power of loosing and binding, or of absolving and retaining sins, is the very first thing which is mentioned as belonging to the office of a Priest, and in the Absolution after the General Confession in Morning and Evening Prayer, it is said that God hath given power and commandment to His Priests to declare and PRONOUNCE to His people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins; and in the Office for the Visitation of the Sick it is expressly affirmed that God hath left power to the Church, that is, to the Priests of the Church, to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him; and therefore directs the Confessary to absolve the confessing penitent of all his sins in the name, &c."
And again (vol. i., p. 37), writing in answer to Bishop Trimnell's (of Norwich) misrepresentations, he says, "But then, if by the power of forgiving sins, properly speaking, he means, as he ought to mean, that conditional, ministerial, derivative power of forgiving sins, which God, properly speaking, hath committed to His Church and her Priests, then I acknowledge that not only we, upon whom his Lordship would be understood to reflect, but all the antient and sober modern writers upon the power of Absolution have asserted such a power of forgiving sins to be lodged in the Church and the Priests of it by derivation and commission from God."
WILLIAM NICHOLS, D.D., author of "Commentary [53/54] on the Book of Common Prayer" (1712), says, "It is very plain from this passage that OUR CHURCH DOES NOT CONDEMN PRIVATE CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION; though she does not universally require them (as the Church of Rome does), as being necessary for the pardon of all sins."
DR. NATHANIEL MARSHALL (1714: Introduction to "Penitential Discipline," p. 3; Anglo-Catholic Library) talked of "the stale and putrid imputation of Popery" in the matter of penitential discipline.
MATTHEW HOLE, D.D. (1730), in his ("Practical Discourses on the Liturgy," pp. 129-131), speaking of persons to whom power of Absolution was given by the words, "Whose soever sins ye remit," says, "First and chiefly to the Apostles of Christ; . . . but yet not so as to be confined to them only; for the promise to 'be with them to the end of the world' could not be to them in their own persons, who died a little after, but to them that succeed in their office to the world's end; to which time there will be as much need of this office, and the Divine assistance in it, as when it was first given. Neither could the sunteleia tou aivnod (end of the world) relate only to the end of that age, but to the end and consummation of all things, when time shall be no more. Our Church tells us that God 'hath given power and commandment to His ministers to declare and pronounce this absolution and remission of sins.' He that hath a just authority of doing any thing may either do it himself in person, or depute others to do it in his stead. . . . This power Christ exercised Himself in person during His stay upon earth; but being about to ascend up to heaven, He delegated it to His Apostles and their successors in these words, 'Whose soever sins,' &c. . . . Our Church hath three forms of Absolution in her public Liturgy, all [54/55] of which are confined only to penitent and returning sinners. The first is declaratory, in this daily Absolution; . . . the second is petitionary, in the Communion Service; . . . the third is judiciary or authoritative, in the Office for the Sick, where the Priest, upon the hearty confession and desire of the sick person, is empowered to say, 'Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left,' &c.
"This power was given for the ease of dying and despairing persons, and must therefore be used with great tenderness and discretion, and the rather, because the sentence duly pronounced on earth will be ratified in heaven, and determine their future and final state" (Quoted from Cooke, p. 55).
DR. FIDDES (1725): "It may be proper to confess our sins for the quiet and relief of our own minds, or for the removal of any doubt or scruple, to a person capable of directing us, and especially to our spiritual guide, to whom the direction of our consciences is more immediately committed. But the Scriptures have nowhere made this a duty incumbent on us. . . However, as Confession is under certain circumstances a duty; as the Priest is our proper spiritual Ode; . . . as he is invested with a power, upon our repentance, of remitting sins; and, lastly, as a particular confession of sin is one good evidence of a true repentance,--it SEEMS, UPON THE WHOLE MATTER, the safest and most comfortable method we can take when we appear in the form of penitents, to make a particular confession of our sins to him, in order to our receiving the stronger assurances of their being in truth remitted to us. . . It SEEMS HIGHLY REQUISITE, if NOT ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, to all true penitents, where the sacerdotal Absolution may be had, that, as it is a means God has appointed to declare the forgiveness of sins, IT OUGHT TO BE HAD. And that he, therefore, [55/56] who dies without thinking himself obliged to have any regard to the sacerdotal office in this respect, or in contempt of it, dies, to speak in the softest terms, in a very dangerous state; both as he refuses God's pardon in His own way of applying it, and he cannot be supposed, while he does so, to be in other respects a true penitent." He adds, this is only spoken of a sinner dying "who wilfully slights it as a vain or insignificant remedy" ("Body of Divinity," vol. i., p. 597).
Again, "The objections, whether from weakness or from wickedness of those to whom this power is asserted, are altogether trifling. . . It is a groundless insinuation, and not the less so for being designed as a popular one, that this doctrine concerning sacerdotal Absolution subjects the laity to the clergy: it only subjects them to the institution of God." He refers to the command given to Naaman, and then considers the objection, that, if particular Confession of sin be maintained as highly requisite at least, if not in some cases necessary, to the pardon of sinners, "it is of very ill consequence with respect to the peace and happiness of society." He replies, "Were this objection really attended with all the inconveniences that are thought to follow from it, yet I can conceive it ought not to be admitted against the reasons of a Divine positive institution. The rule will still hold true that we should hearken unto God rather than unto men. But the inconveniences objected are merely accidental, and the danger of them less from the infamy which accompanies, and ought to accompany, the discovery of any secret revealed in Confession."
Once more: ARCHBISHOP WAKE, who wrote many books against Rome (1737), says, "The CHURCH of ENGLAND REFUSES NO SORT OF CONFESSION, either public [56/57] or PRIVATE, which may be any way necessary to the quieting of men's consciences or to the exercising of that power of binding and loosing which our Saviour Christ hath left to His Church. We exhort men if they have any the least doubt or scruple, NAY, SOMETIMES THOUGH THEY HAVE NONE, but ESPECIALLY before they receive the Holy Sacrament, to confess their sins. We propose to them the benefit, not only of ghostly advice how to manage their repentance, but the great comfort of Absolution too when they have completed it. . . When we visit our sick we NEVER FAIL TO EXHORT THEM to make a SPECIAL CONFESSION of their sins to him that ministers to them, and when they have done it, the Absolution is so full that the Church of Rome itself could not desire to add any thing to it ("Exposition of Doctrine of Church of England," pp. 42, 43: 1688).
ARCHBISHOP SECKER, too, we find saying that, though the form of Absolution was seldom asked for or used, yet "whenever people think it necessary, we are ready both to hear them with the utmost secrecy." And he speaks, too, of the pronouncing them forgiven, if we think they are (Sermon xiv., vol. vi., p. 357).
Again, BISHOP BERKELEY, of whom the poet Pope said, "To him was given every virtue under heaven," (Letter to Sir John James, 1753), "I had forgot to say a word of Confession, which you mention as an advantage in the Church of Rome, which is not to be had in ours. But it MAY BE HAD in our Communion BY ANY WHO PLEASE TO HAVE IT; and, I admit, it may be very usefully practised."
So CHARLES WHEATLEY, in his Book on Common Prayer (1742), chap. xi., § 4: "So that we may still, I presume, wish, very consistently with the determination of our Church, that our people would apply themselves [57/58] oftener than they do to their spiritual physicians, EVEN IN THE TIME OF THEIR HEALTH: since it is much to be feared, they are wounded oftener than they complain, and yet through aversion of disclosing their sore, suffer it to gangrene, for want of their help who should work the cure. But present ease is not the only benefit the penitent may expect from his Confessor's aid: he will be better assisted in the regulation of his life; and when his last conflict shall make its approach, the holy man, being no stranger to the state of his soul, will be better prepared to guide and conduct it through all difficulties that may oppose. However, if we have neglected to communicate our doubts and scruples in our health, we have more need of following the Apostle's advice when we are sick, viz. 'to call for the elders of the Church,' and 'to confess our faults,' in order to engage their 'fervent prayers.' For this reason, though our Church leaves it in a manner to every one's discretion, IN TIME OF HEALTH, whether they will be satisfied with a general confession to God and the Church; yet when THEY ARE SICK, she thinks it proper that they be MOVED to make a special confession of their sins to the Priest, if they feel their conscience troubled with any weighty matter." Wheatley's view, that the absolution of the sick properly refers to Church censures, imposed or deserved, cannot be thought to nullify the force of this passage. So conf. chap. iii., § 4.
BISHOP WILSON (1755), "whose name is a household word wherever the English language is spoken or the services of the English Church solemnized," quoting Hammond: "If we have committed sins against God, these are to be confessed to the elders of the Church, and afeqhsetai autv, he shall be absolved, or absolution shall be given him, i. e. upon [58/59] his confession." Again, "I know it is with difficulty that people will believe that their eternal salvation can depend upon the ministration of a man like themselves. But so most certainly it is, . . . and though there is no question to be made of it but God can dispense with His own ordinances when He thinks fit, and save a sincere soul without them, yet it is as sure He will not save such as despise His ordinances, or wilfully neglect to make use of them. . . . Do not therefore mistake, and think that when the minister of God prays for you, or blesses you, or administers to you the ordinances of God, that he does it as an ordinary private person. No, he does it as God's minister, as one authorized to bless you with sure effect, if it be not your own fault; who does it, as St. Paul speaks, in the person or place of Christ. . . . We have power to receive the penitent, to absolve and to comfort them. And the same Lord who gives us this power, gives all penitents who submit to it an assurance that they may depend upon what we do in His name, 'Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven; whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them'" (Works, vol. iii., pp. 475, 476).
Again, "Absolution benefiteth by virtue of the power which Jesus Christ has given His ministers. In short, our Lord having purchased the forgiveness of sins for all mankind, He hath committed the ministry of reconciliation to us, that having brought men to repentance, we may in Christ's name, and in the person of Christ, pronounce their pardon. And this will be the true way to magnify the power of the keys, which is so little understood, or so much despised, namely, to bring as many as we possibly can to repentance, that we may have more frequent occasions of sealing a penitent's pardon by our ministry. [59/60] And now if the sick person has been so dealt with as to be truly sensible of his condition, he should then be instructed in the nature and benefits of Confession (at least of such sins as do trouble his conscience) and of Absolution" ("Parochialia," i., p. 426).
"And she (our Church) asserts, what is most true, that Christ's ministers have a special commission, which other believers have not, authoritatively to declare this absolution for the comfort of true penitents, and which absolution, if duly dispensed, will have a real effect from the promise of Christ" (Thursday Meditation).
Bishop Wilson also thanked God that his wife had confessed and received absolution in her last illness, in these words: "For all the spiritual comforts the gracious God did vouchsafe her, the opportunities of receiving the Blessed Sacrament, the prayers of the faithful, the ministry of Absolution, and the assistance of her pious friends at the hour of her death" (1705).
BISHOP HORNE (1792): "And when sick or wounded by sin, it (the soul) must be recovered and restored by godly counsel and wholesome discipline, by Penance and Absolution, by the medicines of the Word and Sacraments, as duly and properly administered in the Church, by the lawfully and regularly appointed delegates and representatives of the Physician of souls" (Discourse xviii., on Ephes. iv. 7).
BISHOP TOMLINE (1827) says that though there is "not any authority for requiring auricular Confession to Priests, Confession of sin to God is an indispensable duty, and Confession to Priests may sometimes be useful, by leading to effectual repentance; and therefore our Church ENCOURAGES ITS members to use confidential Confession to their (i. e. their parish) Priest or to any other minister of God's Holy [60/61] Word. But this is very different from its being an essential part of a Sacrament instituted by Christ or His Apostles. A contrite sinner may feel relief in unburdening his mind to his spiritual pastor, and may receive advice and consolation which may soften the pangs of a wounded conscience; his scruples may be removed; his good resolutions may be confirmed" (On 25th Article).
BISHOP HERBERT MARSH (died 1839) writes thus in his "Comparative View of the Churches of England and of Rome:" "The case is widely different where men VOLUNTARILY go to consult their minister, in order to seek relief from a troubled conscience, and relate to him at their OWN DISCRETION the offences which cause their uneasiness. Now the Confessions required by the Church of England are general Confessions to Almighty God, in which the Priest joins with the congregation; and though on certain occasions especial Confession is recommended, it always depends on the will of the person himself."
And lastly, to quote the authority of living Bishops, BISHOP SHORT, the Bishop of St. Asaph, in his "History of the Church of England," pp. 141, 142: "The evils and abuses arising from this custom had so alienated the minds of most men from it, that it was readily dispensed with; but it has proved a misfortune to our Church, that the tide of opinion has carried us too far towards THE OPPOSITE EXTREME. The Scriptures never speak of Confession as obligatory in such a sense as the injunctions of the Church of Rome had ordained. Confession to a Priest is nowhere mentioned as absolutely necessary; but reason, as well as the Word of God, strongly points out, that to acknowledge our faults, especially to one vested with spiritual authority over us, must be a most effectual means of restraining us from the commission [61/62] of sin. . . . In the Church of England the Confession of particular sins is recommended in the Exhortation to the Sacrament, and the Visitation of the Sick; but so little are we accustomed to this MOST SCRIPTURAL DUTY, that these recommendations are frequently unknown and generally neglected."
BISHOP HAMILTON. This doctrine is also stated, and its importance enforced, in the last Charge (1867) delivered by DR. HAMILTON, Bishop of Salisbury (cf. pp. 64-67, and Appendix, pp. 153. 184; Riving-tons, 1s.).
Again, DR. MOBERLY, the Bampton Lecturer for this year (1868), thus speaks (pp. 226, 227): "Oh, let no shrinking from the honest and faithful use of the Divinely-descended powers that come to the Church and to her Priest from the holy words and breath of Christ, let no base fears of worldly objection or scorn, lead a Priest of God to grudge to his dying brother the clear, outspoken, ringing words of holy Absolution which the Church has put into his mouth, which the sad sinner humbly and heartily craves, which his faithful, full Confession has earned! Do not mock the dying patient by reminding him that he too is a physician. Do not cheat the brokenhearted penitent by telling him that he is a priest himself. God has given to you, and to none but you, the very anodyne for his soul's pain. You are cruel, you are faithless, you are untrue to your holy calling and duty, if, out of fear of man, you shrink from using it."
One fact I would mention ere I conclude, viz. that the office of Confessor was retained in the King's household up to the time of George IV. Nor can we wonder that in those times that office was abolished. In fact, many pious customs have died out in lukewarm times. We all know how the [62/63] decencies of worship were for years banished from many or most of our churches, although all may not know the remarkable fact that even the restoration of the general observance of Good Friday, when begun in 1776, was denounced as Popish tyranny.
Such then, dear Brethren, is the mind of the Church upon this great matter. My teaching would, I believe, appear, if any thing, rather TO FALL SHORT OF THAN EXCEED this the language of her great writers. All I claim is liberty; the liberty which Andrewes, Donne, Ussher, Taylor, Cosin, and Wake had, this I claim also. The doctrine which they taught and practised, this I too claim to teach and practise.
God grant that you may, one and all, in due time realize the truth of Confession in our Church; and, if need be, use it! In this prayer, at least, you will join with me: "May God pardon all that is amiss; and may this attempt to speak the truth tend simply to His honour, and aid in the winning of sinful hearts more wholly to His service!" Of this, at least, I am sure, that many would do well to avail themselves of Confession and Absolution who now refrain. Confession has been, is now, and ever will be the means, through Christ, of saving many souls, and of drawing them upwards to that all-loving presence of our eternal God:
To Whom be glory, honour, and power for evermore.
I MAY add here the testimony of the author of the "Christian Year." JOHN KEBLE (March 30, 1866), speaking of his own experience as Parish Priest, says, "In short, our one great grievance is the neglect of Confession. Until we can begin to revive that, we shall not have the due severity in our religion; and without a severe religion I fear our Church will practically fail. . . . And this is why I so deprecate the word and the idea of Protestantism, because it seems inseparable to me from 'Every man his own absolver,' that is in other words, the same as Peace where there is no Peace, and mere shadows of repentance."
 NOTE B.
SOMETHING has been said about RICHARD BAXTER. In vol. i. (fol. ed. 1707, p. 874) under "Directions for obtaining Pardon from God," we find "Direction 8. Despise not the Sacramental delivery of pardon by the Ministers of CHRIST. For this belongeth to the full investiture and possession of the benefit, nor yet the Spiritual consolation of a skilful, faithful Pastor, nor publick absolution upon publick repentance, if you should fall under the need of such a remedy." Again (in vol. ii. p. 919, &c.), under "Directions for getting and keeping Spiritual Peace and Comfort." Direction 31, § 5. "Next consider, in what manner you must open your grief, if you would have cure. 1. Do it as truly as you can. Make the matter neither better nor worse than it is. Specially take heed of dealing like Ananias, pretending to open all (as he did to give all) when you do but open some common infirmities, and hide all the most disgraceful distempers of your heart, and sins of your life. The vomit of Confession must work to the bottom, and fetch up that hidden sin, which is it that continueth your calamity. Read Mr. T. Hooker in his 'Soul's Preparation' concerning this Confession, who shews you the danger of not going to the bottom." He has already given reason why we should go to Pastors rather than private men. "It is their Office to be Guides of CHRIST'S disciples under Him, and to be spiritual Physicians for the curing of souls." And a little later adds, "But I know some will say, 'That it is near to Popish. Auricular Confession, which I here persuade Christians to, and it is to bring Christians under the Tyranny of the Priests again, and make them acquainted with all men's secrets, and Masters of their Consciences.' Answer 1. To the last, I say, to the railing Devil of this Age, no more but 'The Lord rebuke thee.' If any Minister have wicked ends, let the God of Heaven convert him, or root him out of His Church, and cast him among the weeds and briers. But is it not the known voice of sensuality and hell, to cast reproaches upon the Way and Ordinances of God? Who knoweth not that it is the very Office of the Ministry, to be Teachers and Guides to men in matters of Salvation, and Overseers of them? Should not the Shepherd know his sheep, and their strayings and diseases? How else shall he cure them? Should not the Physician hear the patient open all his disease, yea, study to discover to the utmost every thing he knows; and all little enough to the cure? A disease unknown is unlike to be cured: and a disease well known is half cured. Mr. Thos. Hooker saith truly, 'It is with many people as with some over-modest patients, who having a disease in some secret place, they will not for shame reveal it to the Physician, till it be past cure, and then they must lose their lives by their Modesty.' So do many by their secret and more disgraceful sins. Not that every man is bound to open all his sins to his Pastor. . . I am confident many a thousand souls do long strive against Anger, Lust, Flesh-pleasing, Worldliness, and trouble of Conscience to little purpose, who if they would but have taken God's way, and sought out for help, and opened all their case to their Minister, they might have been delivered in a good measure long ago. And as for Popish Confession I detest it: we would not persuade men that there is a NECESSITY of confessing every sin to a Minister, before it can be pardoned. Nor do we do it in a perplexed FORMALITY only at one time of the year; . . . lastly, Remember this, that it is not enough that you once open your Case to your Pastor, but do it as often as necessity urgeth you to call for his advice; though not on every light occasion. Live in such a dependance on the advice and guidance of your Pastor (under CHRIST) for your soul, as you do on the advice of the Physician for your body."
Lastly, conf. vol. iv. p. 333, where he quotes Dr. H. Hammond on the Power of the Keys, declaring that to take narrow-mouth bottles singly in the hand, and to pour water into each, is the surer way of filling them, than the setting them altogether (as is done in Preaching) and throwing never so many bottles of water on them.