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truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences; and there could be no reason at all imaginable why the next clause should be superadded to this prayer, viz. And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins,' &c. if the priest did not forgive sins authoritative, by such a delegated and commissionated power as before we spake of "
After all which tedious charge of the Doctor's against the Lord Primate, which I have been forced to transcribe, to let the impartial reader see I shall not answer him by halves, I doubt not but to proue that first the Doctor hath dealt very disingenuously with the Lord Primate's book, by him there cited, out of which he hath culled some passages here and there, on purpose to cavil and find fault: for I shall shew you (1.) that the Lord Primate doth there assert, that whatsoever the priest or minister contributes in this great work of cleansing the souls of men, they do it as God's ministers, and receiving a power from God so to do; and that tho perhaps he does not make use of the Doctor's distinction of authoritative, yet he speaks the same sence. (2.) That admit the priest does absolve authoritative, yet that this absolution can only operate declarative, or optative, and not absolutely. And 3dly, that the Church of England in none of the three forms of absolution above mentioned (no, not in the last which he so much insists upon) does pretend to give any larger power to the priest or minister than this amounts to.
As for the first head I have laid down, I shall prove it from the Lord Primate's own words, in the same treatise before cited by the Doctor; who agrees with the Lord Primate, that the supream power of forgiving sins is in God alone. Next, that the power given to the priest, is but a delegated power from God himself. Now that the Lord Primate owns the priest, or minister, to be endowed with such a power, I shall put down his own words in the said book: viz. "Having thus reserved unto God his prerogative royal in cleansing the soul, we give unto his under-officers their due, when we account of them as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Not as lords, that have power to dispose of spiritual graces as they please, but as servants that are tied to follow their Master's prescriptions therein; and in following thereof, do but bring their external ministry, (for which it self also they are beholden to
f Answer to the Jesuit's Challenge, Works, vol. iii. pag. 126.
God's mercy and goodness) God conferring the inward blessing of his Spirit thereupon, when and where he will: Who then is Paul, (saith St. Paul himself) and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man.' Therefore,' saith Optatus, in all the servants there is no dominion, but a ministery; cui creditur, ipse dat quod creditur, non per quem creditur; it is he who is believed, that giveth the thing that is believed, not he by whom we do believe.' Whereas our Saviour then saith unto his Apostles, Joh. 20. Receive the Holy Ghost: Whose sins ye forgive, shall be forgiven.' St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, and St. Cyril, make this observation thereupon, that this is not their work properly, but the work of the Holy Ghost, who remitteth by them, and therein performeth the work of the true God."
"To forgive sins therefore being thus proper to God only, and to his Christ his ministers must not be held to have this power communicated unto them, but in an improper sence; namely, because God forgiveth by them; and hath appointed them both to apply those means by which he useth to forgive sins, and to give notice unto repentant sinners of that forgiveness. For who can forgive sins but God alone? yet doth he forgive by them also, unto whom he hath given power to forgive, saith St. Ambrose. And tho it be the proper work of God to remit sins, saith Ferus; yet are the Apostles (and their successors) said to remit also, not simply, but because they apply those means whereby God doth remit sins."
After the Lord Primate had shewed in the pages before-going, that the power of binding and loosing consists in exercising the discipline of the Church, in debarring or admitting penitents from or to the Communion, he proceeds thus; "That" this authority of loosing remaineth still in the Church, we constantly maintain against the heresie of the Montanists and Novatians, &c."
And after having confuted the uncharitableness of those hereticks, who denied that penitents who had committed heinous sins, ought to be received into the communion of the Church, goes on thus, "That' speech of his (viz. St. Paul's) is specially noted, and pressed against the hereticks by St. Ambrose, 'To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing to whom I forgave it, for your sakes I forgave it, in the
See the places cited at large in the book, pag. 127. 128. h Works, vol. iii. pag. 127. Ibid. pag. 140.
person of Christ.' For as 'in the name, and by the power of our Lord Jesus, such a one was delivered to Satan; so God having given unto him repentance, to recover himself out of the snare of the Devil, in the same name, and in the same power was he to be restored again; the ministers of reconciliation standing in Christ's stead, and Christ himself being in the midst of them that are thus gathered together in his name, will bind or loose in heaven, whatsoever they according to his commission shall bind or loose on earth." Then after he has shewn that the power of the priest, or ministers of the Gospel, is only ministerial and declarative, like that of the priests under the Law of Moses, "Where the laws are set down that concern the leprosie, (which was a type of the pollution of sin) we meet often with these speeches; the priest shall cleanse him, and the priest shall pollute him; and in vers. 44. of the same chapter', the priest with pollution shall pollute him, as it is in the original; 'not,' saith St. Hierom, 'that he is the author of the pollution, but that he declareth him to be polluted, who before did seem unto many to have been clean.' Whereupon the master of the sentences (following herein St. Hierom, and being afterwards therein followed himself by many others) observeth that in remitting, or retaining sins, the priests of the Gospel have that right and office, which the legal priests had of old under the law, in curing of the lepers. These therefore (saith he) forgive sins, or retain them whiles they shew, and declare that they are forgiven, or retained by God. For the priests put the name of the Lord upon the children of Israel, but it was he himself that blessed them.'"
"Neither do we grant hereby, (as the aduersary falsly chargeth us) that a lay-man, yea or a woman, or a child, or any infidel, or a parrat likewise, if he be taught the words, may in this sence as well absolve as the priest, as if the speech were all the thing that here were to be considered, and not the power: whereas we are taught that the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. Indeed if the priests by their office brought nothing with them but the ministry of the bare letter, a parrat peradventure might be taught to sound that letter as well as they; but we belieue that God hath made them able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit; and that the Gospel ministred by them, cometh unto us not in word only, but also
k Works, vol. iii. pag. 147. 148..
I Lev. 13.
m Works, vol. iii. pag. 148. Bellarmin. de Pœnitent. lib. 3. cap. 2. sect. ult.
in power, and in the holy Ghost, and in much assurance. For God hath added a special beauty to the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, that howsoever others may bring glad-tidings of good things to the penitent sinner, as truly as they do: yet neither can they do it with the same authority, neither is it to be expected that they should do it with such power, such assurance, and such full satisfaction to the afflicted conscience. The speech of every Christian (we know) should be imployed to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers; and a private brother in his place may deliver sound doctrine, reprehend vice, exhort to righteousness very commendably: yet hath the Lord notwithstanding all this, for the necessary use of his Church, appointed publick officers to do the same things, and hath given to them a peculiar power for edification, wherein they may boast above others; and in the due execution whereof God is pleased to make them instruments of ministring a more plentiful measure of grace unto their hearers, than may be ordinarily looked for from others... These are God's angels, and ambassadors for Christ, and therefore in delivering their message are to be received as an angel of God, yea as Christ Jesus. That look how the prophet Esay was comforted when the angel said unto him, 'Thy iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged ;' and the poor woman in the Gospel, when Jesus said unto her, 'Thy sins are forgiven:' the like consolation doth the distressed sinner receive from the mouth of the minister; when he hath compared the truth of God's word faithfully delivered by him, with the work of God's grace in his own heart. For as it is the office of this messenger, to pray us in Christ's stead, that we would be be reconciled unto God: so when we have listened unto this motion, and submitted our selves to the Gospel of peace, it is a part of his office likewise to declare unto us in Christ's stead, that we are reconciled to God: and in him Christ himself must be acknowledged to speak, who to us-ward by this means is not weak, but mighty in us."
Having now shewn what the Lord Primate hath said in that treatise; that the absolution of the priest, or minister, tho it be declarative, yet is still authoritative, by virtue of that power which Christ hath committed unto him. But that this is no absolute power, but still only declarative, I shall prove in the next place, as well from what the Lord Primate hath here laid
"Works, vol. iii. pag. 149.
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That all the antient forms of absolution in the Greek Church were till of late only declarative, or optative, and always in the 3d, not first perSee Dr. Smith's learned Account of the Gr. Church, pp. 180, 181.