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of forgiveness by Baptism, of administering to them the word of God and the holy Sacrament, as means of grace; of denouncing his wrath against all sinners, interceding with him for all penitents, and pronouncing in his name that he pardons and absolves them. These things, we trust, are done much more faithfully by us than them. There is indeed another power, of exercising spiritual discipline for the honour of the Church and the sake of example, to distinguish so far as men are able between the good, by admitting them to Communion with us, and the bad, by excluding them from it. In this we acknowledge that we are deficient: but they are worse: for they have utterly perverted it from a public institution of general use and influence, to a secret transaction between a sinner and his confessor, in which not only such absolution is made necessary, as the Scripture hath no where required, but such confession insisted on as is no way needful to it. Not needful from any command of God : for the chief and almost only text they plead for that purpose, Confess your faults one to another *, no more obliges the people in all cases to reveal the particulars of their sins to the Priest, than the Priest to reveal the particulars of his to the people. Nor is it needful from the nature of the thing ; for it is not knowing a person's sins that can qualify the Priest to give him absolution, but knowing he hath repented of them: which is just as possible to be known without a particular confession, as with it.
Still in many cases acknowledging the errors of our lives, and opening the state of our souls to the ministers of God's word, for their opinion, their advice, and their prayers, may be extremely useful, sometimes
* James v. 16.
necessary. And whenever persons think it so, we are ready both to hear them with the utmost secresy, and to assist them with our best care : to direct them how they may be forgiven, if we think they are not ; to pronounce them forgiven, if we think they are. Only we must beg them to remember, that none but God can pardon sins as to their consequences in another world. Men indeed may take off from sinners the censures of the Church if they have incurred them; but as to any thing farther, all we can do is either to pray to God that he would forgive them, (which was the only form of absolution till the eleventh century at least) or else to declare that he hath done so. And let such a declaration express ever so positively that either God or the Priest absolves them, it is a fatal error to build hopes on this, with respect to another life, any further than conditionally, that if their repentance be sufficient, their forgiveness is certain. But whether it be sufficient or no, the Priests of our Church can give their judgment, and those of the Church of Rome can possibly do no more. For they must own themselves to be as fallible as we are.
But as neither reason nor Scripture makes confessions and absolution of this kind necessary, so neither did the primitive Church hold it to be so. Public confession indeed they required in cases of public scandal: but for private confession in all cases it was never thought of as a command of God for 900 years after Christ, nor determined to be such till after 1200 : when the same Council of Lateran decreed it, which decreed also the deposing of such princes as would not extirpate heresy. And yet it is amazing what stress they now lay upon it. No repentance, they tell us, will avail, if it be neglected : and almost
any will do, if it be observed. For let a dying sinner have only what they call attrition, such a sorrow as arises merely from the fear of being punished without the least degree of dislike to sin or love to God, this sorrow, though not sufficient without absolution, yet with it, is. So that if a person who hath disregarded God all his life, can but be made afraid of him at his death, the priest shall deliver him from Hell, and secure Heaven to him, by a word speaking. Some lesser punishments indeed he doth remain subject to first: as to which however there are ways of making matters as easy as can well be wished. But in order to understand them, another head of Popish doctrine must be explained.
Our Saviour, they tell us, having procured for repenting simers the forgiveness only of the eternal punishment due to their sins, there remains a temporal punishment due to them still, which, if it be not in this life either inflicted by worldly sufferings, or satisfied for by good works and penances, must be undergone after death, in the pains of a place called Purgatory: which pains may, however, be mitigated and shortened, partly by offering up prayers for such persons, and partly by granting in
, dulgences to them. And these things also we are heretics for not believing. Yet for the necessity of our believing these doctrines, they pretend no Scripture-proof, and they have no proof for so much as the truth of them. Heaven and Hell we read of perpetually in the Bible, but Purgatory we never meet with : though surely, if there be such a place, Christ and his Apostles would not have concealed it
St. Paul indeed mentions, a fire that tries every man's works, and persons that shall be saved, yet so as by fire * But what is he there speaking of?
* 1 Cor. iii. 13. 15.
He had been laying amongst them, he says, the foundation of religion, the acknowledgment of Jesus Christ. On this, says he, another man hath built : but let every man take heed how he buildeth; what he teaches for Christian doctrine: for the day shall declare it, and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is: either the day of the fiery trial of persecution, or rather, the final judgment of God, whose day shall burn like an oven *, this shall try every man's work, search it as thoroughly as fire does things that are put into it. Then, if any man's work which he hath built, abide, if the doctrines he hath taught bear the test, he shall receire a reward: but if his work be burnt, if, preserving the fundamentals of Christianity, he hath built errors on them, he shall suffer loss; the pains he hath taken shall be of no benefit, and though he may be saved himself, it shall be like one that escapes through the fire, with great danger and difficulty. For so St. Jude speaks: Some save with fear, pulling them out of the firet: and the prophet Amos, Ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning I. This passage therefore relates not to punishing, in purgatory, the persons of some men, before the Day of Judgment, but to trying the works of all men at the Day of Judgment: and far from patronizing the Church of Rome, gives them indeed an awful warning not to build on the foundation of Christianity hay and stubble ; such useless trash as this, and many other of their doctrines; which that great Day of the Lord will show to have no solidity in them: but their works shall be burnt up, themselves suffer loss, and at best be saved only so as by fire. Their other texts for purgatory are, if possible, less to the purpose than this : that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, either in this life or that to come * ; which is only saying it shall never be forgiven, but punished both here and hereafter: that he who agrees not with his adversary in the way, shall be cast by the judge into prison, and not come out till he hath paid the uttermost farthingt; which perhaps is only saying, that whoever doth not make up a difference with his neighbour before trial, must expect no favour after : Or, if God be the judge meant, the sense will be, that the person condemned shall never come out of prison, because he can never pay the uttermost farthing. For uncharitableness unrepented of, which is the crime here mentioned, the Papists themselves own, sends men not to purgatory but to Hell. As for their notion, that our Saviour hath not procured forgiveness of the temporal punishment of sin, it is certain from Scripture, that he hath procured the forgiveness of every thing that can properly be called punishment. For his blood cleanseth us from all sin ; and therefore no purgatory is needful.
* Mal. iv. 1. + Jude, ver. 23. I Amos iv. 11.
And there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus S, and consequently no such place to be condemned to. Correction indeed there is : but this correction is the work, not of an offended judge, but a merciful Father : and as he, by these and many other means endeavours to amend us, so we should use all proper means to amend ourselves : but such penances as tend only to give pain, are not proper means even in this life, which is our only time of amendment; much less will any such be inflicted on good men in the other, when they will come too late for any valuable purpose. Blessed, says the Angel, are the dead that die in the Lord, * Matth. xii. 32.
+ Matth. v. 25, 26. John i. 7.
§ Rom. viii. 1.