Tracts for the Times


BISHOP WILSON'S MEDITATIONS ON HIS SACRED OFFICE.

NO. V.THURSDAY.

[Number 63]


CHURCH DISCIPLINE.

(Continued.)

Heb. xiii. 4. "Whoremongers and adulterers GOD will judge." You dare not say that this is not true. What can you say to your own mind to make it easy? Nothing but this can make you easy:—to take shame to yourself, to confess your sins, to fast, and to pray earnestly to GOD for pardon, &c., and to let others know "what an evil thing and bitter it is to forsake the LORD."

This visitation will either do you much good or much hurt; you will from this time grow much better or much worse.—Since you did not blush to sin, do not blush to own your faults. Let it be matter of joy and thankfulness to you, that we are concerned for you so much. Grace indeed we cannot give,—that is the gift of GOD;—we can only pray for you, and do our duty in admonishing you, &c.—If you submit for fear only, and not for conscience sake, you will suffer both here and hereafter.

When men, and especially men in any authority, are not content to neglect their own salvation, but are industrious to ruin others, they may depend upon it, they are very near filling up the measure of their iniquities, and consequently their destruction is not far off.

Our charity to offenders ought to be like that of GOD, not in flattering them by a cruel indulgence, but in putting them, by a merciful severity, in the way of obtaining pardon.

In the primitive Church, no great offenders were restored to communion till they had, by their behaviour, given all possible demonstrations of the sincerity of their "repentance, not to be repented of;" and this, by a long trial of mortification, &c.; for a short repentance too seldom ends in amendment of life; and he who fancies that his mind may effectually be changed in a short time, will deceive himself and the Church, unless he shows this change by fasting, almsdeeds, retirement, &c., and that for a considerable time.

Will any man say that he loves CHRIST and his Church, when he opposes the authority of her pastors; when he opposes her discipline; or when he weakens her unity?

When we consider, that GOD is absolute master of men's hearts, we should not think any man incapable of salvation.

MY GOD! let me always fear for myself, when I am labouring to promote the salvation of others.

Remissness in Church discipline is owing, sometimes to indulgence and an easy temper, not caring to trouble others, or to be troubled; sometimes by being satisfied to go on in the track trodden by their predecessors, not considering what duty obliges them to, but what was done before. Others, out of downright neglect, not caring how things go, give opportunity to the enemy to sow tares while they are thus asleep. Thus corruption gets head, and is like to do so, until GOD awakens the Governors, both in Church and State, and makes them see, that they are answerable for all the sins occasioned by their negligence; and that they have more souls, besides their own, to account for; which is one day to fall heavy upon them. LORD, awaken all that are in power, and me, thy unworthy servant, that we may all discharge our duty more faithfully.

There may be people bold enough to make a mock of sin, to submit to public penance with contempt of the authority that enjoins it, and not to be bettered by such Christian methods for the restoring sinners to the peace of GOD; but it is to be hoped all are not so hardened, and that Christian discipline is, notwithstanding, a mighty check upon sin, and keeps many under a fear of committing such crimes as must oblige them to take shame to themselves before the face of men.

Convocation, 1536.—"That perfect penance which CHRIST requireth consists of contrition, confession, and amendment of former life, and an obedient reconciliation to the laws and will of GOD."—See also the Homilies.

Absolution.

Our Church ascribeth not the power of remission of sins to any but to GOD only. She holds that faith and repentance are the necessary conditions of receiving this blessing. And she 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. (John xx. 23.)—Pull. Moderat.

Authority of the Church is only spiritual and ministerial (the Head and authority being in heaven). She does not, therefore, call her orders Laws, but Rules, Canons; and her inflictions, not punishments, but censures. She acknowledges that whatever power she has besides spiritual, is either from the favour or injunction of princes.

But (Article 37.) we give not our princes (and they have always disclaimed it) the power of administering GOD’S Word, or the Sacraments. And although our spiritual power be from GOD, yet is this power subject to be inhibited, limited, regulated, in the outward exercises, by the laws and customs of the land. By this moderation both powers are preserved entire and distinct. We neither claim a power of jurisdiction over the prince, nor pretend to be exempt from his.

Antenuptial Fornication.

Those who enter into marriage only to conceal their shame, ought to give public satisfaction, as well as expiate their sin, by open penance.

The greatest care ought to be taken concerning the sincerity of penitents; till that be done, penance will only be a form without a power or any real benefit.

In the primitive Church, every thing was done with advice, because their great aim was to have reason and the will of GOD prevail. A despotic power was forbid by CHRIST himself: "It shall not be so among you." He that is humble and charitable will take the mildest and surest way, and will not be troubled, provided the end be obtained.

Penance.

Sin is the disease of the soul. Diseases are not to be cured in a moment: it will take time to root out their causes, and to prevent their effects; so will is require time to prove the sincerity of our resolutions. We solemnly profess that we repent, and we are not sure but that we lie to GOD.

Discipline.

As discipline slackened, men's manners grew more and more corrupt, even in the primitive times. There were never more infidels converted (saith Fleury) than when catechumens were most strictly examined, and baptized Christians put to open penance for their sins. They that are for making still more concessions to human frailty, will at last set aside the Christian religion, which is established upon maxims of eternal truth, and not on human policy; and instead of gaining or securing the bad, they will lose the better sort. A flattering physician is for giving palliating medicines, to ease the pain, without taking away the cause, which will occasion relapses, until at last they destroy the patient. But a good man will prescribe what he believes necessary to remove the cause, though uneasy to his patient, and will have nothing to do with such as will not submit to the necessary methods of cure.

Penances, in the primitive Church, were never granted but unto such as desired them, and such as desired to be converted. None were forced, but such as would not submit were excommunicated.

Discipline impracticable.

This cannot be, when it was practised for so many years in the primitive: Church. And what if it be one of those things which CHRIST has commanded His followers to observe so strictly, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20; and which He had learned of the FATHER, John xv. 15. and xvi. 13. The commands of Christ cannot be impracticable. That would be to tax Him with ignorance or weakness. When He promised to be with his Church to the end of the world, He engaged to give such graces as were necessary to raise us above our natural weaknesses.

Penances forced are seldom lasting. The Priest, under the Law, could not accept the offering of a leper, nor allow him to partake of the sacrifice, till he had received convincing tokens of his cleanness; no more ought the Christian Priest to treat sinners as cured, till he sees the proof. Quesn.

Matt. xvi. 19. "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shalt be loosed in heaven."

Those ministers that know not what it is to bind and loose sinners, reject one half of their commission.

Excommunication is the last remedy reserved for the incorrigible in the case of enormous sins. They who despise it, know not what it is to be an heathen in GOD'S sight,—to be without GOD for a Father, CHRIST for a Saviour, the Church for a Mother, and Christians for brethren.

A true penitent is always willing to bear the shame and confusion of his sin and folly before men, that he may escape the anger of GOD.

Heb. xii. 15. "Looking diligently, lest any more fail of the grace of GOD; lest any root of bitterness springing up, trouble you, and thereby many be defiled. Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright;" that is, such as for a short pleasure forfeit their eternal inheritance.

Happy that sinner, whom GOD does not abandon to the hardness of his heart, but awakens him by his judgments, or the visitations of his grace.

Luke viii. 28. "I beseech thee torment me not." These were the words of the Devil to our Lord, and these are the suggestions in the hearts of all sinners, wherever he has got possession. When a minister of CHRIST, by his sermons, rebukes, &c., or the Church, by her disciplines, attempts to disturb the sinner, they are looked upon as his mortal enemy; and they treat both the Church and her Ministers worse than this legion did JESUS CHRIST. They despise their power, set at nought their persons, and threaten and persecute them for their good will. Vide Quesn.

There is not any greater or more dreadful sign of the wrath of GOD, than when he abandons a sinner to his lusts, and permits him to find means of satisfying them.

The public good is the sole end of Church discipline. The interest of the governors of the Church is no way concerned in it; but only the advantage of their flock, that sinners may be converted; that contagion may be hindered from spreading; that every one may be kept to his duty, and in obedience to the laws of GOD; that judgments may be averted from the public, and that GOD in all things may be glorified; that differences among neighbours may be made up, and charity improved, &c.

Discipline (saith our Homily of the right use of the Church, Part II.) in the primitive Church was practised, not only upon mean persons, but upon the rich, the noble, and the mighty; and such as St. Paul saith, were even given to Satan for a time.

Those that make a mock, a sport, a jest of sin, too plainly betray a love of wickedness in themselves.

Exemption.

A legal exemption cannot free a man from guilt, beyond the extent of that power which grants the exemption. If it be a human power, it can extend no farther than to exempt a man from human penalties, not from those that are purely spiritual.

Eccles. viii. 5. "Reproach not a man that turneth from sin."

They whom fear renders cowardly in the exercise of their ministry, forget that they act in the name and place of Christ, and are to account to him for the mischief the Church receives thereby.

Deut. i. 17. "Ye shall not be afraid of the face of men, for the judgment is GOD'S."

O righteous Judge of the world, give me and my substitutes grace, patiently to hear, and impartially to weigh, every cause that shall come before us in judgment.

Give us a spirit to discern, and courage to execute, true judgment, that all our sentences may be approved by thee, our LORD and Judge. Amen.

Deut. xxiv. 17. "Thou shalt not pervert the Judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless."

Isaiah i. 23. "Every one loveth gifts: they judge not the fatherless; that is, they are poor, and cannot bribe them."

Exod. xxiii. 2, 3. "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause, to decline after many, to wrest judgment: neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause."

Deut. xix. 15. "Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour."

The judgment of the multitude is no rule of justice. "Then cried they all, Not this man, but Barabbas."

John xix. 12. "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend;—when Pilate heard that saying," then he resolved to sacrifice his conscience, rather than lose his prince's favour.

2 Chron. xix. 6. "And he said to the judges, take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment."

Prov. xvii. 13. "He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination unto the LORD.

John xix. 11. "Except it were given thee from above." Although the magistrate's authority is from GOD, yet he is answerable to GOD for the due execution of it.

Prov. xxi. 3. "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable unto the LORD than sacrifice."

Isaiah i. 11. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt-offering of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats."

Hosea vi. 6. "For I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of GOD, more than burnt-offerings.''

Micah vi. 7, 8. "Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy GOD."

The Jews had a rule that if a rich man and a poor man had a controversy, they must both of them stand or sit, to avoid partiality.

Virtue would hardly be distinguished from a kind of sensuality, if there were no labour—no opposition—no difficulty in doing our duty. Dulce est periculum sequi Deum.

The duty of a judge may oblige him to punish according to the law; but it is the part of a Christian injured to forgive according to the charity of the Gospel.

A judge is not the master but the minister of the law—for the public good, not for his own interest, passion, or will.

A good judge will never desire to make himself feared by his power; but will rather be afraid of abusing it.

The civil magistrate is liable to be excluded from Church communion for such reasons as the spiritual governors shall judge necessary;—they are to determine for him, and not he for them, in matters merely spiritual.

Give me, O LORD, the spirit of judgment, (Isaiah xxviii. 6.) that I may govern this Church with wisdom.

Eccles. iv. 9. "Be not faint-hearted when thou sittest in judgment."

A lover of the law will always have an eye to the intent of the law. (Matt. xii. 3.)

OXFORD,

Feast of St. Philip and S. James.


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