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To which it was replied, “Sir, suppose I should not happen to know to whom it belongs, it does not therefore follow that it belongs to you.” So in the present instance, suppose I should not be able to show what else is meant by these expressions, it does not therefore follow that they mean the pardon of sin. If they relate at all to the pardon of sin, their meaning is obviously this, that Peter and the rest of the Apostles, (for the same power is given to them all in Matt. xviii. 18,) being under the infallible guidance of the Holy Ghost, by their doctrine admitted none to the divine favour, nor excluded any from it, but such as God himself admitted or excluded; and that in all their decisions in the exercise of Christian discipline, they acted in such perfect conformity to the divine will, that whatever they did on earth was confirmed in heaven. But still here is not one word about Peter's power to forgive sin.
O'Brien. Well, your honour, I am utterly astonished. I was always instructed to believe that from this passage his power to forgive sin was as clear as demonstration itself; but now, to be ingenuous, I confess it does not appear to me to contain the semblance of a proof. But you said that something like this text is in Matthew xviii. 18. I wish you would read that place. Perhaps
that is the text the Priest mentioned to me, and not this.
Peter. The passage in Matthew xviii. 18, runs thus: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven," &c. There is no difference between it and the passage you quoted from Matthew xvi., with this exception, that the one is spoken to St. Peter only, whereas the other is addressed to all the Apostles.
O'Brien. But is there not something said about St. Peter having power to forgive sin, in some other place?
Peter. I suppose the passage of which you seem to have some confused recollection is John xx. 23: “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” Is this what you were thinking of?
O'Brien. Yes, the very text. Now the matter is decided.
Peter. Decided! How is it decided ?
O'Brien. I mean this text clearly proves that the Apostles, and therefore Peter, who was one of them, had power to forgive sin.
Peter. Do you mean that they had an absolute or a declarative power ?
O'Brien. I don't exactly comprehend what you mean.
Peter. I shall endeavour to explain myself. By absolute
power, I mean a power to say to a
poor guilty wretch, "
Thy sins be forgiven thee," and instantly to remove his condemnation: by declarative power, a power to say, from a perfect knowledge of the genuineness of the repentance and faith of a humble penitent, from an absolute assurance that the terms on which God has offered his mercy, are in his case complied with,—“ Thy sins are pardoned.” In the former case pardon is the effect of the power; in the latter, the declaration is consequent on the pardon. The former is an exercise of mercy; whereas the latter is only a declaration of mercy already exercised. Now which of these did the Apostles possess ?
O'Brien. I feel a little perplexed; but I have always been accustomed to think that they possessed what you call absolute power.
Peter. Do you think the Apostles did, or did not, employ those powers or gifts which God bestowed, in accomplishing the purposes for which they were given. For instance, he gave them power to preach the Gospel, power to work miracles, and power to exercise a wise and holy discipline in his church.
O'Brien. To suppose otherwise, would be to suppose that they were not only unprofitable, but, what is worse,
unfaithful servants. Peter. How then do you account for none of the Apostles ever in any one instance exercising the power of absolution ? On supposition that
they had this power, they were, on your own principle, unfaithful men; for there is not a single instance on record of their ever absolving any one.
O'Brien. Sir, you surprise me. I have always thought that it was their every-day work, and on this account have thought the people very happy who lived in their day.
Peter. Instead of it being their every-day work, it was work that not one of them ever performed. On the contrary, they always directed men to Jesus Christ. So did Peter on the day of Pentecost; so did Paul in the case of the jailor; so did John to the church universal: “He is faithful and just to forgive us
As it is the exclusive prerogative of the King to forgive rebels, so also it is God's exclusive prerogative to pardon sinners; a prerogative which had the Apostles possessed, they would unquestionably have exercised, as certainly as they exercised other powers which were given to them for the benefit of the church and the world. But their never having exercised it, when thousands and tens of thousands of opportunities for its exercise presented themselves, furnishes complete proof that they never possessed it.
O'Brien. Well, I confess it does appear strange, if they possessed the power, that they never exercised it. But are you sure they never exercised it?
Peter. As sure as that the Bible contains' a faithful record of what they both said and did. They instructed mankind how to obtain pardon, propounded the terms on which that pardon might be obtained, and assured them that on compliance with those terms their sins should be remitted ; and probably, from their gift of discerning spirits, they might assure some doubting Christians, that, having complied with the requisitions of the Gospel, they were in the divine favour. But farther than this they could never go; for none but God can absolutely for
O'Brien. Sir, you alarm me; for if what you say
I can have no confidence in the absolutions that I have received.
Peter. Confidence! My dear Sir, it is a most horriblé delusion which your Priests are practising upon your credulity,--a delusion which, there is reason to fear, has in millions of cases proved eternally fatal.
O'Brien. Well, one thing I think is quite clear, that if the Apostles had not power absolutely to forgive sin, their successors cannot have any such power.
Peter. Nothing is more ridiculous than to talk of successors of the Apostles. Sir, the Apostles as Apostles never had, nor could have,
The Apostles were witnesses of our Lord's resurrection; but those who followed