Next follows the ABSOLUTION to be pronounced by the Priest alone, standing. For though the Rubrick here does not appoint this posture, yet it is to be supposed in reason, that he is to do it here, as he is to do it in other places of the Service. And in the Rubrick after the general Confession at the Communion, the Bishop or Priest is ordered to pronounce the Absolution, standing. Besides, reason teaches, That Acts of Authority, are not to be done kneeling, but standing rather. And this Absolution is an Act of Authority, by virtue of a [Power and Commandment of God to his Ministers, as it is in the Preface of this Absolution.] And as we read S. Iohn 20. Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted. And if our Confession be serious and hearty, this Absolution is effectual, as if God did pronounce it from Heaven. So sayes the Confession of Saxony and Bohemia: and so sayes the Augustan Confession, and which is more, so says S. Chrys. in his fifth Hom. upon Esay. [Heaven waits and expects the Priests sentence here on Earth; the Lord follows the servant, and what the servant rightly binds or looses here on Earth, that the Lord confirms in Heaven.] The same sayes S. Gregory Hom. 26: upon the Gospels. [The Apostles, (and in them all Priests) were made Gods Vicegerents here on earth in his Name and stead to retain or remit sins.] S. Augustine and Cyprian, and generally Antiquity sayes the same; so does our Church in many places, particularly in the form Absolution for the sick: but above all, holy Scripture is clear, S. Iohn 20. 23. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them. Which power of remitting sins was not to end with the Apostles, but is a part of the Ministry of Reconciliation, as necessary now as it was then, and therefore to continue as long as the Ministery of Reconciliation, that is, to the end of the world. Ep. 4. 12, 13. When therefore the Priest absolves, God absolves, if we be truly penitent: Now this remission of sins granted here to the Priest, to which God hath promised a confirmation in heaven, is not the act of Preaching, or Baptizing, or admitting men to the holy Communion. For all these powers were given before this grant was made. As you may see S. Mat. 10. 7. As ye go, preach saying, &c. And S. Iohn 4. 2. Though Jesus baptized not, but his disciples. And 1 Cor. 11. In the same night that he was betrayed, he instituted and delivered the Eucharist, and gave his Apostles authority to do the like, Do this, that I have done, bless the Elements, and distribute them. Which is plainly a power of admitting men to the holy Eucharist. And all these powers were granted before our Saviours Resurrection. But this power of remitting sins, mentioned S. Iohn 20. was not granted (though promised, S. Matt. 16. 19.) till Now, that is, after the Resurrection. As appears first by the ceremony of Breathing, signifying that then it was given: And secondly, by the word Receive, used in that place, Verse 22. which he could not properly have used, if they had been endued with this power before. Therefore the power of Remitting, which here God authorizes, and promises certain assistance to, is neither Preaching nor Baptizing, but some other way of Remitting, namely, that which the Church calls Absolution. And if it be so, then to doubt of the effect of it (supposing we be truly penitent, and such as God will pardon) is to question the truth of God: and he that under pretence of reverence to God denies or despises this power, does injury to God in slighting his Commission, and is no better than a Novatian, saies S. Ambrose l. 1. de Poenit. cap. 2.
After the Priest hath pronounced the Absolution, the Church seasonably prayes, Wherefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his holy spirit, &c. For as repentance is a necessary disposition to pardon, so as that neither God will, nor man can absolve those that are impenitent; So is it in some parts of it, a necessary consequent of pardon; and he that is pardoned, ought still to repent, as he that seeks a pardon. Repentance, say Divines, out to be continual. For whereas Repentance consists of three parts, as the Church teaches us in the Commination. 1. Contrition or lamenting of our sinful lives. 2. Knowledging and confessing our sins. 3. An endeavour to bring forth fruits worthy of penance, which the Ancients call satisfaction; Two of these, Contrition and Satisfaction, are requisite after pardon. The remembrance of sin though pardoned, must always be grievous to us. For, to be pleased with the remembrance of it, would be sin to us: and for Satisfaction or amendment of life, and bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, that is not only necessary after pardon, but it is the more necessary, because of pardon, for divers reasons; as first, because immediately after pardon, the Devil is most busie to tempt us to sin, that we may thereby lose our pardon, and he may so recover us again to his captivity, from which, by pardon we are freed: And therefore in our Lords prayer, as soon as we have begg'd pardon, and prayed Forgive us our trespasses, We are taught to pray, And lead us not into temptation, suffer us not to fall into sin again; which very method holy Church here wisely intimates, immediately after pardon pronounced, directing us to pray for that part of repentance which consists in amendment of life, and for the grace of Gods holy Spirit enabling us thereunto. Again, Repentance in this part of it, viz. an endeavour of amendment of life, is the more necessary upon pardon granted, because the grace of pardon, is a new obligation to live well, and makes the sin of him that relapsed after pardon the greater, and therefore the pardoned had need to pray, for that part of repentance and the grace of Gods holy Spirit, that both his present service and future life may please God: that is, that he may observe our Saviours rule given to him that was newly cured and pardoned by him, that he may go away and sin no more, lest a worse thing happen to him. S. Iohn 5. 14.
There be three several forms of Absolution in the Service. The first is that which is used at Morning Prayer. Almighty God the Father of our Lord Iesus Christ, &c. And hath given power and commandment to his Ministers to declare and pronounce to his people being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins. He pardoneth and Absolveth.
The second is used at the Visitation of the Sick. Our Lord Iesus Christ who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners which truly repent, of his great mercy forgive thee: and by his Authority committed to me, I absolve thee, &c.
The Third is at the Communion. Almighty God our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn to him. Have mercy upon you: pardon and forgive you, &c.
All these several Forms, in sence and virtue are the same; For as when a Prince hath granted a Commission to any servant of his, to release out o Prison all penitent offenders whatsoever, it were all one in effect, as to the Prisoners discharge, whether this servant sayes, by virtue of a Commission granted to me, under the Princes hand and seal, which here I shew, I release this prisoner. Or thus, The Prince who hath given me this Commission, He pardons you. Or lastly, The Prince pardon and deliver you; the Prince then standing by and confirming the word of his Servant. So is it here all one as to the remission of sins in the penitent, whether the Priest Absolves him after this form; Almighty God who hath given me and all Priests power to pronounce pardon to the penitent, He pardons you. Or thus, By vertue of a Commission granted to me from God I absolve you. Or lastly; God pardon you, namely, by me his servant according to his promise, whose sins ye remit, they are remitted. All these are but several expressions of the same thing, and are effectual to the penitent by virtue of that Commission mentioned Saint Ioh. 20. Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted. Which Commission in two of these forms is expressed, and in the Last, viz. that at the Communion is sufficiently implyed and supposed. For the Priest is directed, in using this form, to stand up and turn to the people. Rubr. immediately before it. Which behaviour certainly signifies more than a bare prayer for the people (for if it were only a prayer for the people, he should not be directed to stand and turn to the People when he speaks, but to God from the people) this gesture of standing and turning to the people signifies a message of God to the people by the mouth of his Priest, a part of his Ministery of Reconciliation, a solemn application of pardon to the penitent by Gods Minister, and is in sense thus much, Almighty God pardon you by me. Thus the Greek Church, from whom this form is borrowed, uses to express it and explain it. Almighty God pardon you, by me his unworthy Servant, or Lord, pardon him, for thou hast said, whose sins ye remit, they are remitted; sometime expressing, always including Gods Commission: So then in which form soever of these the Absolution be pronounced, it is in substance the same; an act of authority by virtue of Christs Commission, effectual to remission of sins in the penitent.
Of all these Forms, the last, in the Communion-Service was most used in Primitive times by the Greek and Latin Church, and scarce any other form to be found in their Rituals or Eccles. History till about four hundred years since, say some Learned Men. But what then? is another Form unlawful? Hath not the Church power to vary the expression, and to signifie Christs power granted to her, provided the expression and words be agreeable to the sense of that Commission? But it may easily be shown that those other Forms are not novelties. For even of old in the Greek Church, there was used as full a Form as any the Church of England uses: It's true it was not written, nor set down in their Rituals, but delivered from hand to hand down to these times, and constantly used by them in their private Absolutions. For when the Penitent came to the Spiritual Man, (so they call'd their Confessor,) for Absolution, intreating him in their vulgar language. Parakallw na mh sugxwrhshV, I beseech you, Sir, absolve me: The Confessor or Spiritual Man, if he thought him fit for pardon, answered, ecw se sugkecwrhmenon, I absolve thee. See Arcadius de Sacra Poenit. l. 4. c. 3. & Goar. in Euchol. Graec. where you may find instances of Forms of Absolution as full as any the Church of England uses.