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way vindicates auricular confession to a priest, with a view to absolution, as is the practice in another Church. In consequence of the abuses to which it has been exposed, it has been less frequent in its use in our Church than might be desired; for its abuse is no argument against its utility.
Little do they know of personal comfort, who have no bosom friend on whose piety, judgment, and discretion, they can recline. Destitute is that mind which is perplexed with doubts and sorrows, and has no faithful unprejudiced oracle to consult. In the deep and momentous truths of Scripture, intermixed as they often are with learned history, as well as with doctrine connected with the liveliest interests of the soul, is there no point of difficulty, in which the ignorant and well-meaning may not be relieved by the better knowledge and sounder discretion of a pious and learned pastor? But more, when the soul is burthened with sin, or even when it is distressed by oppressive thought, arising sometimes from false interpretations of particular passages in the Bible, sometimes from the delusions of a disordered mind, and the excruciating terrors of a distracted imagination, is it nothing to be wisely instructed and kindly soothed, by a tender friend in the person of a warm-hearted and conscientious minister?
But to take the question in its most obvious sense, when some hidden crime oppresses the conscience; when personal affliction, or mental agony, arising from
long iniquity, has weighed down the unhappy with solitary grief; when sudden passion has produced sudden revenge, and as sudden remorse and repentance, then is the time to seek such consolation, or such admonition, as the case allows. The chair of the confessional may not be at hand, but the closet of the faithful clergyman is always open; his heart is always melting towards his flock; he is waiting to gather the sheep into his bosom, to bind up their wounds, and to administer to all their necessities. Our admirable Church leaves the confession open to the discretion both of priest and people. She condemns neither the confession, nor the absolution in the course of duty. Indeed, she encourages both when necessary, as is evident in the exhortation to the Lord's Supper, and in the office for the visitation of the sick.
The public confession of the Liturgy, and consequent absolutions, are of general utility. They are in all respects, sufficiently particular for the purpose. The absolution will only be appropriate when the confession is sincere; for as no man can safely mock God by a feigned confession, so no absolving words can have any effect, either declaratory or otherwise, unless they fall upon an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart.
I might here make an important addition on the subject of cases of conscience, which a pious pastor is often called upon to resolve; and which, undoubtedly, is connected with the duty of confession. The sub
ject is too extensive for our present consideration; but it should always be kept in view in the studies of a conscientious minister, to reflect on "something by way of direction, what course might be most probably taken for the correcting of an erroneous conscience, for the settling of a doubtful conscience, and for the quieting of a scrupulous conscience." Good Bishop Sanderson, who makes these distinctions, uuder the guidance of prayer and of the Spirit of God, is our best master on this important but difficult subject. In his language "Beseech we God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, so to endue us all with the grace of his Holy Spirit, that in our whole conversations we may unfeignedly endeavour to preserve a good conscience, and to yield all due obedience to him first, and then to every ordinance of man for his sake 1."
He can best estimate the value of mortification, who has experienced a change from self-indulgence to the salutary restraint of Gospel-righteousness. But have none but the worshippers of pleasure, none but those, who, like the prodigal, have spent their whole fortunes, and ruined their constitutions in riotous living, required a curb to their indulgences? Yes; it is long,
1 Serm. IV. Ad Clerum.
very long, since the patriarch Job compared the unrestrained mind of man to the licentiousness of the colt of the wild-ass, the unfettered offspring of the desert. Is the mind changed?-Man remains the same; and every man, on whom the sacred fire of purification has not passed, is still a patient of the same discipline. Though no man liveth to himself alone when he has entered into a world of many duties, yet every man liveth to himself alone in the unrestrained solitude of his own breast. Our blessed Lord was in a state of trial with Satan in the wilderness; we are no less tempted, and by the same power, and, if I may so say, in the same desert, when we are drawn away by our own lusts, and enticed. "Behold, all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, these shall be thine," said Satan. "Get thee hence," was the answer of the Blessed One, who came to destroy his power. "Behold the pomps and vanities of the world, and all the alluring works of the flesh, many and manifold;" is said to us in our daily walks, and in our midnight slumbers:-that we may have the same grace of resistance, should be our constant prayer. This is a lesson for every scholar of the Gospel. A hard lesson, indeed, many have found it. But what said
St. Paul when temptation was strong?
"I can do all
things through Christ who strengtheneth me'." Mortification, then, is a Christian duty, when con
1 Phil. iv. 13.
sidered as a necessary auxiliary, or useful corrective, in subduing the encroachments of the natural man, and keeping in subjection those errors and sins of conduct, from which, even the matured servant of the Gospel is not exempt. Outward restraint certainly is necessary in accomplishing this purpose; but we must not imagine that severity of any kind is an atonement for our fault, or that a morose and unaccommodating behaviour is the mark of a humane man, or a humble Christian. The amiable virtues of a Christian, ought never to be disgraced or expelled from society by the outward affectation of unbecoming rudeness. While they mortify themselves, they should not mortify religion; or render its appearance less attractive by their own painful austerity. At the same time I must remark, that I do not rest upon amiable virtues as of themselves of intrinsic value, but as they become the outward visible signs of a rectified heart, as the true and sacred emblems of a pure and holy faith, in the apostle's language, displaying “the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price'."
At the same time, we must not think our course in life so easy, as to pass through our trials without conflict. Every man must have trials, which vary according to his circumstances and situation; sometimes
1 Pet. iii. 4.