CONCERNING CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION.
CONCERNING Confession, Archbishop Usher has these words: "No kind of confession, either public or private, is disallowed by our Church, that is in any way requisite for the due execution of the ancient power of the keys, which Christ bestowed on the Church."
Concerning Absolution, Bishop Andrewes hath these words: "It is not said by Christ, Whose sins ye wish, or pray for, or declare to be remitted, but Whose sins ye remit;"--to which He addeth a promise, that He will make it good, and that His power shall accompany the power He has given them and the lawful execution of it in His Church for ever.
And indeed the very same persons baptize for the remission of sins, and administer the Lord's Supper as a seal of the forgiveness of sins to all worthy communicants.
It is not water that can wash away sin, nor bread and wine; but these rightly administered, by persons truly authorized, and to persons duly qualified by faith and repentance. And thus 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, 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 possibly we can to repentance, that we may have more frequent occasions of sealing penitents' pardon by our ministry.
And now if the sick person has been so dealt with as to be truly sensible of his sinful condition, he should then be instructed in the nature and benefit of confession (at least of such sins as do trouble his conscience) and of absolution.
For instance, he should be told, that as under the law of Moses God made His priests the judges of leprosy, and gave them rules, by which they were to determine who were clean and fit to enter into the congregation (which was a type of heaven) and who were not clean:
Even so, under the Gospel, He has given His priests authority to judge of sin, (which is the leprosy of the soul)--has given them rules to judge by, with authority to pronounce their pardon, if they find them qualified. For this is their commission from Christ's own mouth, Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.
But then we dare not take upon us to exercise this authority, until sinners give such signs of a sincere faith and true repentance, as may persuade one charitably to believe that amendment of life will follow, if God shall think fit to grant them longer time.
At the same time therefore that we are bound to encourage penitents earnestly to desire absolution, and to exhort them to receive the Lord's Supper, as a pledge to assure them of pardon; we must seriously admonish them not to hope for any benefit either from the one or the other, but upon condition of their sincere repentance.
It will be proper therefore before absolution, and for more satisfaction, to ask the sick person some such questions as these:--
Have you considered the sins which you have been most subject to?
Do you abhor them from the bottom of your soul?
Are you convinced that it is an evil thing and bitter to forsake the Lord?
Are you resolved to avoid all temptations, and occasions of the sins you have now repented of?
Do you verily believe that you shall not fall into any of these sins again?
If you should do so, will you immediately beg God's pardon, and be more watchful over yourself?
Will you strive with all your might to overcome the corruptions of your nature, by prayers, by fasting and by self-denial?
Do you purpose, if God shall prolong your days, to bring forth fruits meet for repentance?
Are you in perfect charity with all the world?
Every Christian whose life has been in the main unblamable, and whose repentance has been thus particularly examined, and who has given a satisfactory answer to these questions, ought not to leave the world without the benefit of absolution, which he should be earnestly pressed to desire and exhorted to dispose himself to receive, as the Church has appointed, with all possible humility and thankfulness.