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OLD NEWS BETTER THAN NONE.
NOTES ON CHURCH HISTORY.
MR. JONES had a way of sitting in his vestry awhile, after Morning Service, on certain days in the week, in order that such as had any thing to say to him might come quietly and tell him their minds. At one of these times, soon after the conversation last reported, Mrs. Hyde presented herself, with a very thin pamphlet in her hand: and after some talk on other matters, was going away, when the Parson, letting his eye fall on the pamphlet, said, “ What have you got here ? oh, I see: a very old acquaintance indeed, I do not ask you how you like it, for I am sure it must have gone to your heart.”
Mrs. H. “ Indeed, Sir, it did: it has gone to my heart, and I may say it has made
heart ache.” Mr. J. “Why, surely, my child,” (so the good old Clergyman would sometimes address his younger parishioners,) “ it is exceedingly comfortable to learn what this paper teaches, how forgiveness for the worst of sins may be had in Christ's Holy Church.”
Mrs. H. “O yes, indeed it is, Sir: but that is just what I meant, it makes one's very heart ache with thankfulness, when one considers how one has gone on all one's life, God seeking us out in our sins, as He did this poor young man, by St. John, and we thinking so little of it.”
Mr. J. “It is very true, Mrs. Hyde: but will you tell me what made you think so much of it just now.”
Mrs. H. " Why, you know, Sir, one cannot always tell exactly how one was led to thoughts of this kind : but I believe a good part of it was due to the Evening Lessons we have been hearing lately." (The time of year was about the end of August.)
Mr. Í. “ The Evening Lessons they have been very severe and startling. You have been hearing, day after day, what St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude wrote of Christians defiling themselves with deadly sin; and it came into your mind, How can such ever be forgiven ? and this little history has set God's forgiving ways strongly before you; you know by it that you are not wrong in applying the promises of the New Testament even to those who have sinned most grievously, if only they truly and thoroughly repent.”
Mrs. H. “Ah, Sir, how can one value it enough? for indeed the sayings of our Lord are very awful, concerning such sinners as I am now thinking of, and have too much reason to think of.”
As she said this, her voice a little trembled, and Mr. Jones, with a kind grave look, opening his Bible, said, “ You have in your mind some verse in particular, have you
not?" Mrs. H. “I will shew you, Sir, if you please;" and she turned the leaves of the open Bible till she came to St. Matthew xii. 45, and stood pointing to it, with an earnest look towards her Pastor.
Mr. Jones said, after a grave pause for a moment, “Certainly that is a most alarming parable for all who after receiving God's grace fall into serious sin: and as certainly it is no exception to our Lord's usual course of teaching : it is but the substance of what is affirmed over and over in the Gospels—that the last state,' — of the relapsed Christian, is “worse than the first,'-of the ignorant and unbaptized Heathen."
Mrs. H. " But would it not seem even to shut out such an one from all chance of repentance ?”
Mr. J. “ Taken by itself, it might well make us fear something of that kind: and still more, when one joins it on to those alarming places from the later Epistles, which you were speaking of. But you know we are not to take any one place of Scripture, nor any number of places, by themselves, as if the other Scriptures had not been written.”
Mrs. H. “Yes; and that is one's chief comfort—to turn to the
many merciful sayings and histories which seem to hold out a hope, even to the worst. But it would be a great additional comfort to be sure that one might, without presumption, apply those promises to fallen Christians, repenting."
Mr. J. “ And I suppose you feel that such histories as this of St. John shew that we are not wrong in so doing."
Mrs. H. “ Yes; that is the very point: that is what seems to fill one's heart so, and make one sink into the earth, with thinking how good He is, and how ungrateful we have been.” She stopped a moment, and added in a lower tone, “ I hope I shall not be saying anything very wrong: but will you tell me, Sir, is there any thing in the history of the New Testament, which answers to this anecdote of St. John in this respect, That it is an instance of a fallen Christian converted and forgiven? I cannot myself clearly call any to mind, and sometimes, when I go deeper than common in my musings, it almost puts me into an agony.” The tears came into her eyes as she spoke, and Mr. Jones said compassionately, “ Fear not: remember the Prodigal Son, the good Samaritan, all the merciful Parables.”
Mrs. H. “I do remember them; they are the very stay of my heart, and I remember St. Peter, too, and St. Mary Magdalen, and the Thief upon the Cross: but then it will sometimes come into my mind, None of these were full Christians, the Holy Ghost had not yet been given; and how can I be sure that if they had been full Christians they would have had the same mercy shown them ?"
Mr. J. "My child, well might we believe and hope it, from what you have mentioned out of Scripture; but we know it for certain, out of the Epistles and Revelations, and by the course which the Church took afterwards."
Mrs. H. “Is there then any case in the Epistles or Revelations at all like this robber's case in the account of St. John?
Mr. J. “There is, though you seem to have overlooked it: the case of that incestuous Corinthian. You will recollect, now I have named it, how that in one of his letters to the Corinthians, St. Paul orders this person to be excommunicated, that is, turned out of the Church, delivered over to Satan for a while, and in the following letter, finding that this sentence had made the man penitent, the Apostle says again, Forgive him and comfort him."
Mrs H. “I well recollect now; and I perceive that it was really a case like that of sinners among ourselves—the sin was very grievous, the man's portion in Christ before was undoubted, yet, on his repentance, he was forgiven and again received."
Mr. J. “ The Apostle loosed him on earth, and no doubt God loosed him in heaven.”
Mrs. H. “And as St. Paul was to this Corinthian, such, or very near it, was St. John to that
poor young robber.' Mr. J. “It is so: and in the Book of Revelations very
sinful Churches are exhorted to repent and do their first works.”
Mrs. H. “May I understand that this was part of our Lord's meaning when He said, “Whose sins ye forgive, they are forgiven,' that He meant the absolving Christian people who had grievously fallen, as well as admitting converts to the first remission of sins by Baptism?”
Mr. J. " Undoubtedly: that is how we are to take the place ; the Church has always so taken it."
Mrs. H. “And St. Paul's way with that fallen Corinthian was no rare exception, but an instance of his and the other Apostles' usual way of dealing in such cases."
Mr. J. “ Exactly: and not of the Apostles only, but of the Bishops also and Pastors who succeeded the Apostles.”
Mrs. H. “Then, when I read in my paper here how St. John departed not, even after the robber was penitent, until he had • fully reinstated him in the Church, I am to understand his training him on by degrees until he had been absolved, and again received into the communion of Christ's Body and Blood.”
Mr. J. “Yes : assuredly it was all according to the rule of the Church; the Ecclesiastical history is full of such instances.”
Mrs. H. “I should like to see some of them : it would help me to feel the Apostles and their times very near to me, which is what I always want to feel.”
Mr. J. “Well, if you do not mind the trouble of reading so many written pages,
I will get Butler to lend you some papers, which he once wrote out for me on this very subject. It will be just a few things out of many, yet enough to give you a notion how those first Christians, being taught by the Apostles, ordered their penitential discipline."
Mrs. H. “I am sure, Sir, I shall be very thankful to read it: for every instance of that sort is refreshing to me when I am down-hearted, because it shows more and more that there is in the Holy Church remission of sins, even for the worst sins of apostate Christians, if only they repent of them in earnest: and if I might not believe that, I might well say, as it is in the Bible, What good would my life do me ?
So saying, she took her leave; and in a few days Mr. Jones sent her the following paper in Butler's hand-writing:Sayings gathered out of the Writings of the Friends of the Apostles,
concerning the remedy of Sin after Baptism. 1. St. Hermas, the Friend of St. Paul, says, “ If any one, after that great and holy calling, shall have been tempted by the Devil
, and so shall have fallen into sin, he hath but one repentance." That is, the Church admits him but once only to public penance.
Such was the strict discipline of that time. To us the saying teaches, that those who have fallen into serious sin after baptism, must be content to pass their whole life after as one great act of penitency.
2. The same writer says, “Those who have sinned, and would afterwards do penance for their fault, are for a time rejected from the church; they are placed near it but not in it; because upon their penitence they may be useful in building up the church.” Here is this great encouragement to contrite sinners : that upon their true repentance God is willing not only to pardon them but to employ them in His service.
3. The same writer says again, “ Thinkest thou that the sins of those who do penance are immediately blotted out? No: the penitent must afflict his soul, and shew himself humble in every thing, and bear many and manifold annoyances : and when he hath endured all that is appointed for him, it may be his Creator and the Maker of all will have mercy on him, and grant him some remedy.”. This shews that a regular course of severe observances was to be gone through before pardon.
4. St. Clement, the friend of St. Peter and St. Paul, writes to some who had caused divisions and offences, “Submit yourselves to your Priests, and be chastened unto Penitency; bow the knees of your hearts, learn to submit .... for it is better for you to be found in the flock of Christ, humble, yet approved, than to be cast out of this fold for overweening thoughts." Here we see, first, that our Lord's Priests were the regulators of Penance; and secondly, that the consequence of not duly performing it was being turned out of the Church.
5. St. Ignatius, the friend of St. Peter and St. John, writes in one place, “Let no man do any thing without the Bishop in matters relating to the Church:” and in another place, “ To all Penitents God gives pardon, if they order their penitency according to the Unity of God, and the Council of their Bishop, that is, according to the rules made in their Bishop's Council. This shews that the Bishop, as the successor of the Apostles, was the final judge and director in cases of penitency.
6. St. Clement, again, or some very ancient writer in his name, says, “Let us repent with all our heart for the evils which we have done in the flesh, that we may be saved by the Lord, while we have time of penitency. For after we are gone out of the world, we have no more power in that other place to make solemn confession, nor to repent.” He speaks, you see, of solemn confession, as one main part of true Penitency.
These hints, taken from the friends of the Apostles, shew plainly how the Church, in the time just after the Apostles, understood the sayings of the New Testament, touching the remedy of sin after Baptism.
(1). It had a remedy, i. e. Penitence, of which (2) solemn Confession was a part; which (3) lasted a long time, and was made up of many painful observances : (4) under the direction of the Priests, and (5) finally, of the Bishop, who (6) might at last not only restore, but employ the Penitent in the Church; (7) else he must continue excommunicate.*
* These passages are from Dr. Marshall's “ Penitential Discipline of the Ancient Church,"
Be wondrous wary of your first how they might be retrieved and comportments; get a good name, meet again. Fire said, “Where and be very tender of it afterwards: you see smoke, there you shall find for 'tis like the Venice glass,
Water said, “Where you quickly cracked, never to be mended, see marsh, and moorish low ground, though patched it may be. To there you shall find me.”' But this purpose, take along with you Fame said, “ Take heed how you this fable.
lose me; for, if you do, you will It happened that Fire, Water, run a great hazard never to meet and Fame went to travel together, me again : there's no retrieving of (as you are going now;) they con- me."--Howell's Familiar Letters. sulted, that if they lost one another,