The Lesser Sacraments.
IT may be said, by way of general remark upon the Sacramental System, that, with a widening appreciation of the nature of that system and its application to us in our life, there will come a disinclination to restrict the number of these means of grace. On that point differences are found throughout the Church. The Latins fix the number of the sacraments to seven; the Eastern churches follow them in that particular. The number was not defined in the Confession of Augsburg, but it enumerates three as "having the command of God and the promise of the grace of the New Testament." Luther admitted three--Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Penitence. Cranmer, in his Catechism, says:
"Our Lorde Jesus Christ hath instituted and annexed to the gospel thre sacraments or holy scales, of his covenant and lege made with us. And by these thre, God's ministers do worke with us in the name and place of God (yea, God himselfe worketh with us) to confirme us in our faith, and to asserten us that we are the lyvely membres of God's trew churche and the chosen people of God, to whome the gospell is sent, and that all those things belong to us vvherof the promises of the gospel make mention. The first of these sacramentes is baptisme, by the which we be borne again to a new and heavenly lyfe, and be receaued into God's churche and congregation which is the foundation and piller of the treuth. The seconde is absolution or the authorise of the Kayes, whereby we be absolued from such synnes as we be fallen into after our baptisme. The thirde sacramente is the communion or the Lordes Supper, by the whiche we be fedde and nourished and fortified in the faith of the ghospell and knowlege of Christ, that by this fode we maye growe more and more in newnes of lyfe, so that we maye be no longer children, but maye waxe perfecte men, and ful growen in Christ."
The mind of the Anglican Church on this point is to be gathered from Article XXV., the Catechism, and the Book of Homilies. In a guarded manner, and with some explanatory comment, she limits the number of the sacraments to two. She does not say that there are two sacraments and no more; but that there are two only which are, to mankind in general, necessary to salvation.
Precise statements such as these, with limitation of the number of God's sacraments, are obviously the result of constraining causes; and chiefly due to the tendency to systematize in theology, and to a reaction against false or exaggerated teaching. As the Church was compelled, by the inroads of heresy, to mark with greater exactness of definition the lines of the Christian faith, so in the matter of the sacraments she has been forced by circumstances to make artificial limitations, and to narrow the field of view. What breadth, what grandeur, in the first conception of the Sacramental System! Christ a sacrament; man a sacrament, leading, in body and soul, a sacramental life; the earth, in its several kingdoms, and the vast outlying universe, all having their sacramental cast and character; religion sacramental throughout; sacraments everywhere, and hardly anything which is not sacramental! Thus do the old fathers and doctors of the Church appear to have regarded the subject, in the freshness and enthusiasm of early days, ere yet exigencies had arisen which called for definitions and restrictions. Anything in or under which divine power was veiled, was, in their eyes, a sacrament; even the implements used in working great wonders were styled by that name. Speaking of this wide application of the term, Jeremy Taylor says:
"When God appointed the bow in the clouds to be a sacrament and the memorial of a promise, he made it our comfort, but his own sign: 'I will remember my covenant between me and the earth, and the waters shall no more be a flood to destroy all flesh.' When Elisha threw the wood into the waters of Jordan--'sacramentum ligni, the sacrament of the wood,' Tertullian calls it--that chip made the iron swim, not by any natural or infused power, but that was the sacrament or sign at which the divine power then passed on to effect an emanation. When Elisha talked with the King of Israel about the war with Syria, he commanded him to smite upon the ground, and he smote thrice and stayed. This was 'sacramentum victoriæ,' the sacrament of his future victory. The sacraments are God's signs, the opportunities of grace and action." ["Worthy Communicant," ch. i. sect. iii.]
To return to a consideration of the mind of our Church as to the number of the sacraments. On that point her teaching is wise and clear. Making it a condition that a sacrament, to take the highest grade, should have been "ordained by Christ Himself," she finds two only of that class, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. [See "Bishop Forbes on the Thirty-nine Articles," Vol. II. p. 445] These tower preeminently above all other rites to which the name of sacrament has been or may be applied; these, and these only, were instituted by our blessed Lord Himself with reference to the wants of mankind in general, without distinction of sex, race, circumstance, or vocation. But she does not deny that in addition to these there are sacraments of an inferior grade. The sacrament of Matrimony is mentioned by that name in one of the Homilies, as "that which knitteth man and wife in perpetual love;" while of Absolution and others it is acknowledged that they are also sacraments, in some sense.
"Absolution is no such sacrament as Baptism and the Communion are... it lacks the promise of remission of sin, as all other sacraments besides the two above-named do they are not sacraments, in the same signification that the two forenamed sacraments are." "Although there are retained, by the order of the Church of England, besides these two, certain other rites and ceremonies about" the institution of ministers in the Church, matrimony, confirmation of children, and the visitation of the sick, yet no man ought to take these for sacraments, in such signification and meaning as the sacrament of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are."
This language clearly indicates the position of the Anglican communion on the subject. There are two great sacraments of the Gospel, ordained by the Lord Himself, and generally necessary to salvation. But, in a general acceptation, the name of a sacrament maybe attributed to anything whereby an holy thing is signified; and therefore it is correctly applied to those other rites "commonly called sacraments, so far as they are ministered in true Gospel wise, and do not imply a corrupt following of the apostles." "They have not like nature of sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper," says the Article; but that they have no sacramental nature or character whatever is not affirmed in our standards. In fact, there is good reason for insisting on the sacramental character and quality of the ordinances now referred to, and their affinity to the great "sacraments of the Gospel;" for they aid to keep before us, with reference to some of the most important actions of life, and particularly with reference to the sacred ministry, the alliance between the natural and supernatural, and to stamp a special seal of holiness and religious obligation on our relations to the Church and to each other. To deny the sacramental quality in these ordinances is to do what can be done to take God out of them, and relegate them to the line of secular transactions; to affirm that quality in them is to declare our adhesion to a Supernatural Religion.
Take Confirmation, for instance. It cannot be considered as barred out by the language of Article XXV. It is retained among us on the very ground that it is "a following of the apostles;" surely not a "corrupt" one. Deny to it the sacramental character, and what is left? A ceremony in which the person confirmed is the principal, if not the only personal, actor. He comes to confirmation merely in order to assume obligations previously incurred by others in his name; it is now his business to justify the act of his friends and relieve them of a responsibility; he comes forward under a sense of duty to take his place in the Church and make his oath as a soldier of Christ. This is all true as far as it goes, but to stop with this is to keep on our side of the line and decline to cross it and get on God's side. There is no mystery in such steps as these; no trace of supernatural workings; the action, so far, is simply that of the man admitting a duty and discharging an obligation. A rite so commonplace as this would afford nothing for theological analysis, and the failure to perceive the sacramental quality in Confirmation is the necessary consequence of exclusive attention to the part performed by the candidate. A higher field is entered the instant we turn our eyes above. God the Holy Ghost: the moment He appears, the scene and the conception change, and we feel the throbbing of the sacramental force. It is He that confirms; by Him the sevenfold gifts are exhibited and imparted; from Him a special benediction and power descend upon the young soldier of Christ. And these constitute a gracious gift conferred by instrumental means, and in the act of the laying-on of hands by the chief pastor of the Church; so that from the sphere above, whence at first came spiritual life, we receive a renewal of the vital gift at a special point of danger. Where these things are felt and realized--and we believe that they are widely felt and realized among us, and more and more appreciated every day--the sacramental character of the ordinance can hardly be denied. Here, surely, is an outward and visible sign, most tender and impressive, in the imposition of pastoral hands on the head of the child; here also is an inward and spiritual grace, in the gifts of the Holy Ghost; and though we miss the special mark in the institution of this rite by Christ Himself, yet it comes so near it that it could hardly be nearer. This is no "corrupt following of the apostles," but a true and sincere following of them, "after whose example" the thing is done; and whatever the holy apostles did we must believe to have been done, if not on the verbal suggestion of the Master, at least under the guidance of the Holy Spirit sent to them from the Father. We do not hesitate to call Confirmation a minor sacrament, a sacrament of a lower class; not such as the higher two, but precious as a means of grace, apt to that perilous age when, as the world exhibits its first strong allurements, the child of the Church is strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man, confirmed in all holy desires and fortified with weapons by which to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Finally, the significance of this rite is shown in the fact that it is the door of entrance to the altar; "there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed." [Rubric at the end of the Order of Confirmation.] So with Holy Matrimony. In the case of that sacred rite we are happily able to point to the authorized use of the title; it is spoken of as "a sacrament which knitteth man and wife in perpetual love." [Book of Homilies.] Holy Matrimony is "an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union between Christ and His Church, which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with His presence and first miracle that He wrought in Cana of Galilee." How appropriately, how rightly, is it called among us, "the Sacrament of Matrimony"! What can be gained by denying its sacramental character? Plow great is our advantage in being able to face the horrible spectre of divorce with a strong affirmation, supported by our formularies, that in Holy Matrimony, when rightly solemnized in the Church, God gives the man and the woman divine and supernatural grace sufficient to enable them to be faithful till parted by death! Marriage, divested of its sacramental character, becomes substantially a secular ordinance; there is no sacred mystery about it, and no grace; it might be regarded as but a business partnership, dissoluble by the contractors whenever they think it desirable to separate and form new alliances; an affair wholly within the purview of the civil magistrate, and to which the offices of the Church confer merely a religious and edifying flavor. The act of joining a man and woman together as husband and wife is essentially a civil ceremony; no special form is necessary; the union is a social compact, perpetual obligations are not incurred; for any one of a dozen causes the contract may be broken and the union dissolved. These are the results of the application of rationalistic principles to that relation on which depends the purity of society and the permanence of the state; and from such bald rationalism, under whose influence the cancer of divorce eats ever more deeply into our social system, we appeal to the principles of the Church and the sanctions of a sacramental religion. HOLY MATRIMONY is the marriage in the Church; that adjective is the characteristic note of sacramentals. It is a mystery, a sacred thing, the introduction into "a holy estate." It symbolizes the union of the Incarnate Son of God with the Church which is His Body. It makes a man and a woman one flesh by a bond which cannot be broken so long as they live. For the permanence of the union they are not to rely solely on natural powers; so unstable, so frail, so careless of duty and obligation, are the fallen beings whom God hath joined together, that supernatural grace is needed to enable them to live and love, in truth and loyalty to each other, till death. The trials and temptations which inevitably come upon the married are many and great; domestic peace is often endangered, and the union imperilled; wherefore this relation must be entered into "soberly, advisedly, discreetly, reverently and in the fear of God." And to those who thus enterprise it, there comes a special gift from above, enabling them "surely to perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made." There is nothing secular and civil in these ideas; they are sacramental throughout; in this holy office there are prayers and benedictions, outward and visible signs and forms, the giving and receiving a ring, the joining hands, the words in betrothal, the solemn vow and plight of troth. Who shall say, in view of the statistics of marriage and divorce among us, that one word can be spared, that one expression is unnecessary, which helps to realize the sanctity, the divine character, the sacramental cast, of the relation between man and wife?
And so, once more, of Holy Order. The title implies the sacramental character. We speak of Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Holy Matrimony; so, likewise, of Holy Order. That prefix "holy" determines the place of the ordinance in the Church; it marks the distinction between a profession which any man may undertake of his own motion, or to which one can induct another at will, and a sacred office exercised among us by persons duly set apart by apostolic authority. The question of the ministry is the burning question of the hour; whether it is to be regarded as a human calling or as a divine institution; whether all ministries are equal in validity. On this point there would have been less contention among us if the sacramental idea had been more distinctly kept before the people; if they had been reminded, in language not to be misunderstood by the most obtuse, that a special grace and power accompany the laying-on of hands in Ordination. In that solemn and impressive function we find outward and visible signs, in the imposition of pastoral hands, the delivery of sacred books, the recital of words denoting the transmission of official authority; the gift of the Holy Ghost is also imparted, to make the deacon, priest, or bishop apt and meet for his vocation. The men thus set apart, according to the ancient form and rules of the historic Church, by persons who, since the apostles' time, have been thus handing down a sacred office, must be thenceforth distinguished, not only from their brethren in secular life, but also from all ministries pretending to no sacramental or superhuman character. Experience has demonstrated the importance of insisting on the true import of the Ordinal, in order to forestall the efforts strenuously made, to divest the Christian Ministry of its sacred quality, to lower the Clergy to the level of mere presidents of assemblies or mouthpieces of congregations, and to represent them as only men like other men, depending on their native powers and good intentions, but disclaiming the possession of any higher qualification for the work of ministry to their brethren.
Another means of grace demands our consideration. It is variously known as Absolution, Penitence, and Penance. The fact has been already noted that, in the Confession of Augsburg, three sacraments are enumerated, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Penitence. Provision of some sort, for the removal of post-baptismal sin, has always been made in the Church. The subject claims our reverent attention, and particularly at this point, because the provision referred to has always been, and must as a matter of course be, sacramental. "Almighty God," we are told, "hath given power and authority to His ministers to declare and pronounce to His people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins." Whenever and wherever they exercise that power, they minister along sacramental lines; it is an office which no man under the grade of the priesthood can perform. The people may indeed confess their sins one to another, after the counsel of St. James; friend to friend, husband to wife, wife to husband, child to parent; they may speak to one another, confidently and comfortingly, of the loving kindness of the Lord; but if any desire--and no wish is more natural or more frequently expressed--a formal and official declaration that his own particular sins are forgiven, he must go to some one duly commissioned to give him satisfactory assurance on that point. He may seek it in the Church; the absolution in the Matin or Evening office, the more solemn absolution in the office of the Holy Communion, are true absolutions, applicable and effectual to any burdened soul which, by faith, appropriates the precious gift. Or else he may seek it in private, where a minute confession can be made, and the particulars of soul sickness disclosed to the physician; and, in that way, to many, the word of absolution seems to come home more closely and with a more direct and personal application. But wherever or whenever this power is exercised it appears impossible to divest it of a sacramental force, because a gracious gift is there, well won by the sacrifice to pride by which it is purchased. Nay, let us observe, moreover, how close is the connection between the earthly priest in absolution, and the Great High Priest above, and how distinctly this office bespeaks an extension of the Incarnation. Let us reverently consider the healing of the sick of the palsy, related in St. Mark, ii. 3-12. God can forgive sins. The scribes knew that; and when they heard Jesus say, with authority, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee," they raised their protest, instantly, and cried with indignation, "Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" The word of Jesus, in answer, denoted, substantially, the bringing of a new force among us. As man, did He forgive. He does not speak thus: "That ye may know that I have power on earth to forgive sins," as if arguing, "therefore I am God;" a different point is proposed to them: "Know ye that the Son of man hath that power." True as the former conclusion is, something else is suggested here. The power to absolve is now lodged in Christ as man; to Him, as the Son of man, is extended a prerogative of God. There is a parallel passage in St. John, v. 27: "He hath authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man." We all admit and feel the force of this limitation; man shall be judged by One who has man's own nature. Is it other than a prejudice which prevents us from seeing the same idea in this passage in St. Mark? Jesus, in forgiving sins, exercised the authority belonging to Him as the omnipotent and eternal Son; and yet He puts it thus to them, that what He does, He does as man. It was distinctly a part of His ministry of reconciliation; and when he committed that ministry of reconciliation to men, He gave them, ministerially, that power which, in its first exercise, awakened such indignation, caused such astonishment, and received so ample a proof of the right of the speaker to exercise it. Henceforth, the sons of men on earth have power to forgive sins, subject to the conditions imposed by the Incarnate Son of God. Belief in the remission of sins by sacramental means is an article of the Christian Faith as contained in the Nicene Creed. The power of absolution is exercised by the Holy Ghost in the sacrament of Baptism. It is exercised by the priest, when he administers to the faithful the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is exercised now publicly, and anon privately, in the absolutions declared and pronounced to the penitent. To that end some be made priests: "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained." [See "The Ordering of Priests."]
On this subject of Absolution, Penitence, or Penance, we are put on our defence, through the intense and bitter prejudices and hostility awakened by the mere mention of the word. On no point are men so sensitive, on none do they become so speedily excited; auricular confession is regarded as a term taken from the vocabulary of the Evil One himself. Therefore the theologians of the Church have been at the pains to arrange and publish catenae of authorities on this point, in defence of their position, and in deprecation of the astonishing ignorance on the subject. It is not known, or it is intentionally concealed, that the practice of private confession and the doctrine of absolution have come down to us with the recommendation of a great number of writers and teachers of unimpeachable Protestant character, and have the authority of the most highly venerated names in the Anglican Church. On this point reference may be made to a pamphlet, by the Rev. C. N. Gray, entitled "A Statement on Confession," and reprinted in this city in 1872, with an introduction by one of the most learned of the professors of this Seminary, the Rev. Milo Mahan. The student who desires to pursue the subject to a farther point should read Dr. Pusey's preface to his translation of the Abbé Gaume's "Manual for Confessors." In that exhaustive document, one hundred and seventy-four octavo pages in length, he has demonstrated the lawfulness of the practice so fully and so ably that nothing further can be added or desired. I cannot refrain from quoting the summary with which he brings the preface to a close:
"I thought it a work of charity to bring' before those who would hear some portion of the evidence that the very chief of our divines have recognized confession and absolution as a provision of our Church for the healing of our infirmities and the cure of diseases which might otherwise fester and bring death upon the soul.
"It may, anyhow, startle some that what they have been ignorantly declaiming against, as undermining the system of the Church of England, has been maintained by the most zealous of her defenders; that what they have condemned as Roman has been claimed by controversialists of ours against Rome; that what they have spoken against as injurious to the soul, and interfering between it and its Redeemer, has been valued by some who lived in closest union with him. Some may be healthfully ashamed that they have declaimed against the practice as unprotestant, when it is advocated in all the Lutheran formula;; some that they declaimed against it as undermining the Reformation, seeing that it was advocated by reformers such as Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer; some, who have been pressing upon the bishops to put down it and us, may be checked in their eagerness when they see that four archbishops and twenty-one bishops, of repute as writers, have more or less strongly advocated it; that ten bishops or more, in their visitation articles, inquired whether their clergy had invited their people to confession; some of intellect may, perhaps, pause, as if they may have been mistaken--anyhow they cannot pooh-pooh it--when they see such names as Berkeley, Hooker, Sanderson, Barrow, Pearson, against them; some of unction may hesitate when they see such as Bishops Hall, Andrewes, Ken, J. Taylor, Wilson, G. Herbert, on the other side; some, who conscientiously say 'The Bible and the Bible only,' even while their tradition overrides the plain teaching of the Bible, may be startled to see 'the immortal Chillingworth'--as some used to call him--even vehemently inviting to what they themselves vehemently condemn." [Pusey's translation of Abbé Gaume's "Manual for Confessors," preface, pp. 151-153.]
In palliation of the temper with which many estimable persons so strenuously--might I not say so viciously?--oppose the teaching of this great cloud of witnesses, it may be said that they do not appreciate the difference between the Roman and the Anglican Churches on the subject of Absolution. That difference is fundamental. In the Roman Church they have a "Sacrament of Penance" necessary to salvation; it restores to the recipient the perfect purity which he is supposed to have regained in baptism; it is the sole means of obtaining pardon for post-baptismal sin; it is the indispensable condition to the reception of Holy Communion. In the Anglican Church Absolution--for we have no sacrament of Penance in the Roman sense of the word--is a simple privilege of the faithful. To make confession privately to a priest is not matter of obligation; it is not a general duty; it is not enforced; it is not recommended for general use; its practice gives no right to self-laudation on the ground of a higher status in duty to the Church, nor may they who decline to do so be justly charged with shortcoming in their duty. The mind of this Church has been fully and happily expressed in the well-known passage in the 1st Book of King Edward VI.:
"And if there be any of you whose conscience is troubled and grieved in anything, 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."
Such is the view of Absolution held by the great divines to whom the revival of the last half-century was due, and such is the view of teachers nearer our own day who represent the mind of the Church. According to them, Absolution is not "a sacrament of the Gospel" necessary to acceptance with God, but a privilege of those who are drawn to seek it under the sense of sin, and a help to certain spirits who feel a special need. It is to be regretted that there is a disposition to pass beyond the Anglican line and to swing far over towards that of the Church of Rome; that we have among us enthusiastic persons who, if they do not actually insist on confession as matter of obligation, go very near to that; who subject timid and sensitive individuals to a moral suasion on that point tantamount to compulsion and command. To this tendency may be due the strong reaction against a helpful and salutary practice, of which many would have availed themselves if they had been led and not driven. If men had been content to follow strictly the line traced out for them by our great Anglican divines, and by such teachers and fathers of our own communion as Mahan and Ewer, it would have been better for us all. There is no doubt as to the sentiments of Pusey and Liddon on this point. Dr. Liddon, in a letter recently published, says:
"The question of private confession is left by our Prayer-book to the decision of the individual conscience, and it is difficult for any other person to settle, because it must be settled in view of a spiritual history known only to the soul itself and to God."
"Confession is medicine and not food, and is to be used when needed, and not as merely a matter of periodical propriety when the conscience feels that no need exists."
[The letter from which these quotations are made was an answer to one who asked Dr. Liddon's opinion on the subject of private confession, the writer stating that he had been taught as a youth to use confession, but that for a long time he had neglected its use; also quoting language which suggested that it was sufficient to confess our sins to our Great High Priest in heaven, without confessing them in the presence of any earthly priest as well.
["CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD, March, 1883.
["The question of private confession is left by our Prayer-book to the decision of the individual conscience, and it is difficult for any other person to settle, because it must he settled in view of a spiritual history known only to the soul itself, and to God."
["I have myself used confession whenever I have needed it ever since 1847, and have never regretted it. I think it braces the soul as nothing else does, while the absolution that follows is a more direct and peremptory application of the absolving power left by Our Lord to His Church than the more general formula of the Daily and Communion Services.
["I have felt too, as regards my own case, that Bishop Butler's general doctrine about the 'safer' course in questions of conduct points distinctly to the practice.
["Perhaps, too, it ought to be considered that there is some risk in giving up any religious practice which has once been adopted.
["In saying this, I do not forget that confession is medicine and not food, and is to be used when needed, and not as merely a matter of periodical propriety, when the conscience feels that no need exists. But there is risk, when a person has once used confession, in neglecting to use it if the conscience suggests it.
["I have a true affection for--------, whose language you quote, but should doubt whether he has ever used confession in his life, and when this is the case, a man can only look at the question from one side, and make a priori guesses as to what may happen in a contingency of which he has no practical knowledge.
["Notwithstanding the finiteness and imperfections of the earthly minister, and the omniscience and tenderness of our Great High Priest in heaven, the former does, by Christ's commission, help us, if we will, to repent and make a great moral effort which is NOT made so easily when we are alone.
["If you rightly quote the language, it seems to suggest that the earthly priest is in place of the heavenly, whereas, if he does his duty, he leads us up to Him.
["I am, Dear--------,
["H. P. LIDDON."]
Our own revered Mahan--"clarum et venerabile nomen!"--expressed himself as follows:
"I have never taught or practised any doctrine of confession without carefully guarding against the notion of compulsion which is the gist of the Roman doctrine.... In all my innumerable answers on confession, on which I have been appealed to by all sorts of men, and for all sorts of purposes, I have invariably taught, first of all, that confession should always be voluntary and unforced; I might almost say that I hate enforced confession, believing it to be destructive of the chief good of confession."
To the same effect are the following words of Dr. Ewer, some time rector of St. Ignatius' Church in this city:
"I hold that sins are forgiven to the faithful baptized, by God, without confession to man, and, therefore, that the sacrament of Absolution is not to be 'obtruded upon men's consciences as a matter necessary to salvation.' But I hold that such confession, previous to Absolution, although not peremptorily commanded to be used by all, nor set up as a matter necessary to salvation for any, is yet not only permitted but, under certain circumstances, advised by the Anglican Communion." [Correspondence between the Right Reverend the Bishop of Connecticut and the Rev. F. C. Ewer, D.D., Rector of Christ Church, New York, on the Doctrine of the Church touching the Seven Catholic Sacraments, p. 15.]
To one other rite must reference be made.
"Extreme Unction," says Bishop Harold Browne, "is an ordinance concerning which we differ from the Church of Rome more than on the other four. We admit the proper use of Confirmation, Confession, Orders, and Matrimony; but Extreme Unction we neither esteem to be a sacrament nor an ordinance of the Church at all. As used in the modern Church of Rome, it implies unction with olive oil, blessed by the bishop, and applied by the priest to the five senses of the dying man. It is considered as conveying God's pardon and support in the last hour. It is administered when all hope of recovery is gone, and generally no food is permitted to be taken after it. The Roman Catholic controversialists," he continues, "can find no primitive authority for this ordinance: the Greeks still practice Unction, but do not consider it a sacrament."
Unction, as thus practised in the Roman Church, is precisely what our Article describes as a "corrupt following of the apostles." But between unction more Romanensium, and unction as described and recommended by St. James, there is a difference. Of the latter Bishop Forbes of Brechin has spoken in words which I quote as covering the case:
"The unction of the sick is the Lost Pleiad of the Anglican firmament. One must at once confess and deplore that a distinctly Scriptural practice has ceased to be commanded in the Church of England. Excuses may be made of 'corrupt following of the apostles,' in that it was used, contrary to the mind of St. James, when all hope of restoration of bodily health was gone; but it cannot be denied that there has been practically lost an apostolic practice, whereby, in case of grievous sickness, the faithful were anointed and prayed over, for the forgiveness of their sins, and to restore them, if God so willed, or to give them spiritual support in their maladies. The meagreness of tradition is replaced in some measure by the agreement of the Greeks, the Armenians, the Nestorians, and all the Orientals, with the Latins on this subject; so that one cannot doubt that a sacramental use of anointing the sick has been from the beginning." ["Exposition of the XXXIX. Art.," Vol. II. pp. 317-319, 463-467.]
Faithful to the old customs, the Church of England appointed a service for the Unction of the Sick in her first Reformed Prayer-book. An office for the same purpose appears in the Non-Jurors' Liturgy of 1718, and also in the "Liturgy for the Church of England" compiled by William Whiston, 1713. The unction of the sick was lawful, and in occasional use in the Episcopal Church in Scotland, in 1784, when the Scottish bishops Kilgour, Skinner, and Petrie consecrated and entered into a "Concordat" with our own Seabury; the saintly and ascetic Bishop Jolly, of Moray, was wont to anoint the sick, after the example of St. James, without let, hinderance, or protest. There are not wanting, among the bishops of the American Church, some who concur in deploring the loss of this primitive ordinance, and predicting its restoration among us at some propitious time.
To sum up what has now been presented to your consideration, on the subject of several minor ordinances in the Church. While there appears to be no ground in Scripture or antiquity for limiting the sacraments to a precise number, we must regard the position of the Anglican Communion on this point to be reverent and wise. Many ordinances come forth to view, as we consider the relation of men to the Almighty Father through the medium of His Incarnate Son, and the needed application of the Gospel gifts. Let it be our aim to study these great mysteries with a ready will to take in the whole truth; and let the same mind be in us which was in the ancient fathers and doctors of the Church. A narrow rationalism should not confine us, whether it be that bred of the innate pride, of the human heart, or that same temper intensified by the idea of apparent growth in knowledge of many things. Formal and restrictive statements, though appealing to the love of systematic arrangement, and conferring, as they do, no doubt, an air of rounded finish, should, on the very ground that they approach the line of the artificial, be regarded with mistrust. Nothing must be allowed to conceal or obscure the facts, that the entire system of the Gospel has a sacramental cast; that human nature was constructed on a sacramental plan; that man's life, in nature and in grace alike, is sacramental in its character; and that, if we are to accept Bible teaching simply and naturally, these conditions are never to change, but to be prolonged and continued in our eternal state. For, though the "inward part or thing signified" in our present vital union with Christ will then be realized in an all-glorious and inconceivably blessed fulness, yet we believe that it will be realized in a form; in the form of an immortal, glorious, powerful, and incorruptible life, but still a corporal life; the life of the new body of the resurrection, which, like the glorious and glorified Body of the Ascended Lord, shall live and abide forever, never to be divided from the Godhead in His Person. [See Article IV., "Of the Resurrection of Christ."] All ordinances, be they greater or lesser, which help us in the establishment or maintenance of the union with Christ, have a place in the Gospel, and an honor as Sacraments or Sacramentals in His Church.
The wider the view we take of this subject, the broader its application to the relations of our life, as members of the family and the Church, as pilgrims and strangers here, as subject to unfavorable influences from every point on the horizon, the better shall we be equipped for the strife to which we are called to-day. It has been said, and with truth, that the intellectual conflict which the Church must wage to-day is no longer with this or that heresy; it is no more Catholicity versus Protestantism, but Christianity versus Paganism. It is Church or no Church; it is faith or infidelity. Modern paganism rejects the Holy Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, scoffs at tradition, despises the fathers, doctors, and theologians of the Church, and takes its stand on reason alone. It knows nothing of the Supernatural, will have nothing of it, rules it out of all discussion. But the Sacramental System is the exhibition, the application, the realization of the Supernatural to men; and the wider its influence is felt, the farther its salutary machinery extends, the more sensibly must the Supernatural be felt and known among men.
A few words in conclusion. We have been looking upon the lesser lights in the firmament of the Church; we have not yet fixed our eyes upon the greater orbs which shine there. It is like watching the Pleiades rising through the mellow shade ere descrying the glorious beacon-fire of Jupiter, or the lamps of great Orion blazing through the night. But even so, how wonderful, how precious, are these minor sacraments! What help do they continually minister, what cheer, what joy do they bring to the children of the covenant! By them, as the instruments of God the Holy Ghost, the little ones are made strong in the Lord and in the power of His might; man and woman are bound together by a power even greater than their mutual love, and strengthened by a gift which hallows and sanctifies their wedded life, and makes the home a sacred inclosure, guarded by good angels, and beautiful as a garden of the Lord; earnest young spirits, in the strength of opening manhood, take up the cross to bear it after Jesus, with the assurance that a strength above their own is given by the laying on of pastoral hands, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ; souls in the grief of penitence or the agony of remorse, in the clouded hours of the mortal day and at the coming of the death-thraw, are comforted and upheld by the clear and cheerful words: "Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee!" Who can tell how far these streams of mercy flow through the careful, sorrowful world, what wealth of blessing they carry to the habitation of men! It is hard for one who comprehends the subject to understand how men can consent to deprive themselves of this abundant outflow of spiritual refreshment; harder to imagine what we should do without it. The harmonies of nature, the music of the sphered heavens above us, breathe through these mysterious ordinances as winds through the chords of a lute. Everything bespeaks reparation, restoration, the recovery of something lost, the prophecy of something yet more satisfying to come hereafter. Beautiful, indeed, is the world, as the work of God; darkening here and there, no doubt, under deep and solemn shadow, while yet that very shadow adds effect and brilliancy to the rays reflected from the Fount of light perpetual: but when is the world, the created universe, so beautiful as when we see all through it the golden threads, the silvery cords, the broidered work of a divine and sacramental life? "Two worlds are ours," as Keble says, the outer and the inner, and the outer is but the portal through which we pass to the more glorious things within. At each successive stage of mortal pilgrimage we find ourselves in touch with some mysterious power; at every step are we met by something which discloses God and stamps on us a fresh impression and draws us forward, and ever nearer to the unseen. Such is the use of those lesser ordinances, which seem so arranged as to hallow the morning, the noonday, the evening, to fit into the several relations of man to his fellow men, to help him through the rough places, to lead him on,
"O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone."
Such is their use, and such the use of the hundred more of the same class, though of inferior grade, by which, as by a sign-language, our Father addresses His children. A life ordered on a plan like this must be, upon the whole, one of joy and peace. It is a good thing to know that we are not thrown back on ourselves; that we must not starve from all that the heart desires; that we shall not go unfed, uncomforted, unhouselled, through and out of this world; that we need not make our journey by a bitter path of straitness, leanness, and misery, without helper or Saviour, without sign to faith, or certain assurance, or gleam of spiritual glory from the forms of a godless, soulless creation. Joyful, indeed, must be he who sees through the outer and reads within; who finds God's image and superscription on all that we touch and all that touches us; who feels Him coming forth, through darkness, and making that darkness as clear as the day.
"Two worlds are ours; 'tis only sin
Forbids us to descry
The mystic heaven and earth within,
Plain as the sea and sky.
Thou who hast given me eyes to see
And love this sight so fair,
Give me a heart to find out Thee,
And read Thee everywhere."