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-for under the conclave system, if it were a merit to be rich and powerful, still more was it a merit to be old; " Choose an old man, the older the better, and then there will be the sooner a vacancy." Each disappointed claimant would willingly acquiesce in a choice, which would give him a speedy renewal of his own chance; and, thus, men who were past labour, whose energies were expended, and who were fit only for repose, were placed in a situation, the advantageous filling of which would tax the energies of the most robust, as well as the intellectual power of the most gifted.
Now what has happened, and does happen, in Rome, would, in all probability, happen also in England. If ever it could be shown that there is as much intriguing with Ministers, as there would be with chapters (and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do this), still there would be no gain by a change in this respect; and we have very little doubt that the episcopal order would be taken from amongst the oldest of the prebendaries, instead of being, as they now are, men sufficiently young to act with energy, and yet sufficiently experienced to act with wisdom. We do not conceive that, in making these remarks, we are bringing any charge against the cathedral clergy, whom we heartily respect; but we do consider that any hints thrown out for an alteration in our present system are ill-judged; and while, on the one hand, we would not deprive them of that acknowledgment of their ancient right, implied in the congé d'élire, we should be very sorry, on the other hand, to see the exercise of that right at present revived.
While thus combating Mr. McNeile's objections, and shewing that his desire for change is injudicious, we must speak also of the form of absolution. This is a more important topic, and the lecturer's errors are, therefore, of more consequence. We shall, then, first give Mr. McNeile's views of absolution. He notices, with a clearness that might have led him to the true solution of his difficulties, the differences between the three absolutions; viz., that in the Morning and Evening Prayer, that in the Communion Service, and that addressed to the Sick; and, after dwelling for a time upon the declaratory character of the two former, he remarks
"The form in the Visitation of the Sick is more pointed, because it becomes more personal. The minister is no longer dealing in general declarations, to be appropriated or not, according to the various characters of those who hear him. All that belongs to character has been already investigated, as far as man can investigate the mind and heart of his fellow man. The faith and penitence of the sick man have been enquired into and found satisfactory. If not so found, the subsequent
declaration is not to be made-if so found, this naturally divests the subsequent declaration of all that was hypothetical in it when made in the congregation. There, he invited to self-examination, by describing the true and indispensable character; here, that part of the transaction is already finished, in his personal addresses to the individual, and the answers returned. Here, therefore, the minister has two things ready -God's truth as the donor of forgiveness, and man's prescribed character to be the receiver of forgiveness. All that remains is the exercise of his own office, as the authorized messenger from God to such a man. So situated, he says, 'Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences.' Now, in what sense is absolve here used? not, certainly, to convey the idea of bestowing or conferring pardon-that is conveyed by the word forgive; and the passage contains a prayer that the Lord may forgive the offender. Absolve, then, is here distinguished clearly from forgive."-p. 78.
This is, indeed, coming near to the truth, and yet contriving to miss it. Is it possible that Mr. McNeile could so refine upon the meaning of a word so well understood as absolve? It signifies, simply to "release from ;" and to release from sin, is, virtually, the same as to forgive sin-nor will any lexicographer countenance Mr. McNeile's hyper-criticism: but then it must give the priest the power of forgiving sin; and to avoid this acknowledgement, does the lecturer give a new and most erroneous signification to a word, of which every school-boy knows the meaning. But to absolve, according to Mr. McNeile, does not signify to release from, but to declare a release from; and, if this be the case, to give, by analogy, must signify not to make a donation, but merely to announce one- -and to preach, not to deliver a sermon, but merely to announce it: consequently, when Mr. McNeile preaches a charity sermon on behalf of some Anti-Popish Society, it is not Mr. McNeile who preaches, but the parish clerk who on the previous Sunday gives notice of the intended discourse.
"And when the minister proceeds to say, and by his authority committed unto me, I absolve thee from all thy sins,' the intended meaning is not I forgive, but I declare and pronounce to you-I, God's messenger, entrusted with this truth, declare and pronounce to you, A. B., a penitent believer, the forgiveness of all your sins.”—p. 79.
After this, the lecturer is bound to say what he candidly does say-that he believes the expression to be
"An unwise oversight in the purifiers of the Book of Prayer, inconsistent with our other services, and needlessly prejudicial in wounding the consciences of weak brethren, and multiplying disaffection in various degrees against our Church."-Ibid.
In all this it is easy to see that Mr. McNeile is not satisfied,
as, indeed, how can he be, with his own explanation ?—That he considers the absolution to the sick as a remnant of Popery, and one which ought to be immediately stripped away from the Reformed Church. He is a man of eminence-a man of talent -a man of Christian candour and courtesy, and we would wish to speak of him with respect; but we cannot help asking him if he ever read any treatise on Ecclesiastical Antiquity-any treatise upon Absolution-nay, even any commentary upon the Book of Common Praver? We would not insist upon Palmer and Bingham, but Wheatley and Mant are within the reach of any clergyman. Why did not Mr. McNeile read some one of these authors, before he came forward to condemn our incomparable Liturgy? Let us now, out of the above-mentioned writers, explain to Mr. McNeile the Church's theory of absolution, and show him that she uses words in their true sense, while she allows not her priesthood to usurp the Divine prerogatives,
Every open sin committed by a man making profession of Christianity is triplex in its character; it is an offence against God-an offence against society-and an offence against the Church. It is an offence against God, for his holy law is violated; it is an offence against society, for its regulations are broken through; and it is an offence against the Church, because a disgrace is brought against the Christian name. So fully is this last position understood, that, in all ages, public acknowledgment has been required by the Church, and that, not only when the Church was apostolically constituted, but even when Presbyterianism or Independency had taken the place of Episcopacy. Penance is required in the Kirk of Scotland, in the Establishment of Geneva, and-even in the Independent congregations of our day, "a brother who walks disorderly," or who avows heretical opinions, is excommunicated.
Having premised thus much, we shall illustrate our statement by taking an instance--that of fraudulent gain-the party guilty has, evidently, offended God, his neighbour, and the Church. He may obtain forgiveness of God on repentance-from his neighbour on restitution (we put the law of man out of the question here, as it is but the generalized expression of "our neighbour ")—but how shall he obtain forgiveness of the Church? She, if her discipline be strictly carried out, has forbidden him to approach her altars-has cut him off from her communion, and this she has done by the voice of her priest, speaking her laws and in her name. He must, then, acknowledge his guilt and request forgiveness, and then the priest, again acting as the organ of the Church, declares, if he believes the
penitence sincere, "I absolve thee from all thy sins." This is a plain, absolute, and unconditional declaration-" By his (that is Christ's) authority, committed unto me, I absolve thee." Now that our Church neither does, nor ever did, consider this to be a mere declaration of God's pardon, is evident from two circumstances: first, because she subsequently requires the penitent to pray that God would "not impute unto him his former sins:" but if the form of absolution implied that God had forgiven them, why should the succeeding prayer--dictated by a truly humble and contrite spirit, and the whole tenor of which is to implore the Divine forgiveness-be offered at all? It would be absurd to pray for pardon after the pardon had been declared. But, no-the framers of our Liturgy meant no such absurdity: they directed the priest to absolve-that is, to forgive, absolutely; so far as the Church was concerned, to remove any ecclesiastical censure, if such had been incurred, and to dispense with them if they would have been incurred (for this absolution only takes place after confession, and not then, unless humbly and heartily desired). Then, after having been absolutely forgiven, on behalf of the Church, the penitent is again led to address the Almighty, in order that the moral and spiritual guilt may be forgiven.
But there is another reason which supports our view of the case, and it is-that a priest is required to read this or any other absolution; and a deacon is not permitted to do so. a layman has authority to declare, to all within hearing of him, that God's mercy will be extended to the truly penitent: but he has no authority to forgive, on the part of the Church, those who have offended against the Church; and, consequently, the very requirement of a priest to pronounce it, shows that it is something more than a mere declaration in fact, that it means what it says. This too will explain, and explain satisfactorily, what has very much puzzled Mr. McNeile, and hundreds beside him-viz., those words in the Ordination Service, addressed by the bishop to the priest, "Receive thou the Holy Ghost for the work of a priest in the Church of God; whose soever sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose soever sins thou dost retain, they are retained !" This is the dread commission, the exercise of which we have seen in the visitation office-both perfectly intelligible when viewed in the light of antiquity, both monstrous and blasphemous, in the highest degree, if understood as Mr. McNeile would explain
But herein lies the difficulty to him and to all amenders of our Liturgy; they view it in connection with our present ecclesias
tical condition, and, perceiving the discrepancies between them, forget that our formularies are adapted to a strict and godly discipline, and that it is our duty not to lower the forms of the Church to the cold and lax standard of modern expediency, but to raise our practice to the warmth and self-devotedness required by the Church. Well did the Archbishop of Canterbury observe, when a petition was presented, praying that the rubrics might be altered to be conformable to the practice of the clergy "that if there were any discrepancy, the practice of the clergy must be altered and made conformable to the rubrics." We have one or two more remarks as to our three absolutions, which we must make before we quit the subject. The first is merely a declaration that God "pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel”—and goes on to pray for repentance. This is read in the full congregation, where, from the very nature of the case, no other form can be used, and many wicked, impenitent persons, and many absolutely excommunicate, may be present. The second is used at the administration of the Holy Eucharist, and, inasmuch as no excommunicate persons are present, and it is charitably presumed that all come in the fear of God, the declaration is
changed into a prayer. Now, in these two forms, the forgiveness referred to is the forgiveness of God, not the forgiveness of the Church; because the last, in the former case, could not reasonably be conferred-in the latter case it is not needed— whereas, in the form for the Visitation of the Sick, it is both needed and conferred.
This is perfectly reasonable: if a child behaved himself undutifully towards his parent, we should desire him to seek forgiveness, not of God only, but of his parent also: and, if that parent refused to grant forgiveness, we should not suppose that we had authority to confer it in his name, unless the parent commissioned us so to do. It is true that the priest may refuse his absolution, but the penitent has done his duty in seeking it, and, if honest, is thereby absolved "in foro conscientiæ;" just as the child who has behaved undutifully can do no more than express his sorrow for the past, and his determination to amend for the future.
The Funeral Service, too, was intended only for communicants; but excommunication is now a mere brutum fulmen, and nine-tenths of our vast population are in a state of practical excommunication. We know very well that the framers of that sublime service contemplated everlasting happiness by the term "Resurrection to eternal life;" though, alas! in too many