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character of our earthly afflictions and trials, in order to prove that they were not in the nature of penal satisfaction in any case, but rather in that of a kind and paternal discipline, for the purpose of instructing us in the knowledge of ourselves, and in the character of that holiness without which none can see the Lord; weaning us from the love of earth and earthly things, and enabling us to realize the truth, that we are pilgrims and strangers here, whose hearts should be set upon our eternal home in heaven. It was left for the following discourse to complete this part of our discussion, by examining the next branch of the evidence on which the Church of Rome relies, namely, that of the ancient fathers; and by stating the history and progress of these doctrines prior to the Reformation, and their condition and influence in our own day. That I may do this with the greater perspicuity, I shall first notice the inference which they draw from the ancient custom of praying for the dead; next, their popular argument founded upon the use and necessity of an intermediate state; thirdly, the authority of the fathers; and fourthly, the statements of the modern champions of the Church of Rome, together with the present position of the whole question.
First, then, we are to notice the inference which they draw from the fact, that the ancient Church always included a prayer for the departed in their liturgies, so that it was a regular part of the communion service. It also appears to have been the usage of the Jews; and from the history of the Maccabees, which is supposed to be a true history, although not a part of the inspired and canonical Scriptures, this custom seems to have existed a considerable time before our Saviour's advent. Let these facts be granted therefore, since the evidence is certainly in their favour. But the inference derived from them by the Church of Rome is altogether a different matter. For they argue, ingeniously enough, that unless the departed soul were supposed to be in a suffering state, there was no occasion
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for such prayers, nor could there be any possible use in offering them; and hence, concluding that the practice of praying for the dead must have grown out of the belief that their souls were in purgatory, they claim the benefit of all the proof which can be adduced in favour of the one, as being equally conclusive in favour of the other.
In this, however, as it appears to me, they commit an egregious mistake, since their whole argument turns upon the erroneous position, that there can be but one reason for praying on behalf of another, namely, because he is in a state of suffering from which we desire him to be relieved. Now, if this position be true, as respects prayer for the dead, it must be equally true as respects prayers for the living; and therefore we should not offer prayers for any of our brethren on earth, unless we believed them to be in a state of torment. But no allegation can be more absurd than this. The first great reason why we pray for others, is the imperative one, because it is a part of the divine commandment; and when we come to discuss the subordinate reasons which may be assigned for it, we find that they are various. One reason, indeed, accords with the Roman hypothesis, that our prayers, through the mercy of God, may relieve the subjects of them from pain and danger. Thus saith the apostle James: "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him." And St. John saith, "If any one see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, let him ask, (or pray) and life shall be given to him." Here is the principle which approaches most nearly to the argument of the Church of Rome, because it contemplates the benefit obtained by our prayers for those who are suffering under pain, and the consequences of sin. But there is a very different kind of benefit suggested by St. Paul, where he tells
the Ephesians to persevere in prayer and supplication for all the saints, (Eph. vi. 19, 20,) and for me,” saith he, especially, "that speech may be given me, that I may open my mouth with confidence, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, -So that therein I may be bold to speak, according as I ought." Here we perceive another sort of advantage expected from prayer ;— not a relief from suffering, but an increase of ministerial graces. Thus far, therefore, we have plainly set before us three reasons for this duty: First, because it is the will of God; secondly, because our brethren are in affliction; and thirdly and chiefly, because their condition admits of an increase in holiin zeal, or in felicity. Now, of these three reasons, one only can possibly be applied to the doctrine of purgatory; and we shall see presently, when we examine the sort of prayers which the ancient Church offered for the departed, that they will not accord so well with this as with the others.
There is, however, a fourth reason why we should pray for our brethren, quite independent of any benefit which they may derive from our prayers; and this is, because, by such prayers, we cherish and increase, in our own souls, the graces of faith, hope, and charity. Our FAITH is increased, because we are reminded of the promises of that blessed Gospel which binds the whole Church to Christ, and connects our individual salvation with the accomplishment of the stupendous plan, which shall bring myriads to everlasting glory. Our HOPE is increased, because the very act of praying for the various portions of the universal Church, strengthens our longing for that communion of saints, which shall be perfected in the world to come, although here, it is liable to such constant interruption, and is, at best, so poorly realized. And it increases, above all, our CHARITY, or love to the brethren, because the act of prayer for them enkindles our spiritual affections on their behalf, and draws our souls towards them in the temper and disposition, which is our best preparative for heaven. Here then,
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we have a most important reason for the precept to pray for each other, which regards chiefly the progress of our own sanctification; so that of the four motives assignable for such prayers, we perceive one only which can be made at all subservient to the Roman hypothesis, while the other three continue in full force, without the possibility of linking them to the doctrine of purgatory. In speaking thus, however, you will not understand me, I trust, as being an advocate for the practice of the ancient Church in this particular. The principle I have so often had occasion to set before you in religion, is to look for all truth in the written Word of God, as the LAW, and to take the primitive Church as the best expounder or judge of the sense of Scripture. But when the Scripture is perfectly silent, and neither in the Old Testament nor in the New, can a single authoritative sentence be found in favour of a practice, which appears, at best, to be of doubtful expediency, I have no idea of tying our faith to the custom of the ancient Church, as being a sufficient substitute for the Bible. For even with regard to the authority of the Church, we must distinguish carefully between the ancient and the primitive Christians, in an argument where we have no Scripture to guide us: and we must remember, especially, that none of the primitive liturgies have come down to us without many additions; that they were not published until the fifth century; that although all the Churches had liturgies, without any exception, and these were in harmony, as respected their principal parts, yet they differed considerably in their details, and that the earlier were confessedly the more simple.* Hence, while I fully approve the wisdom of our Reformers, who neither retained the prayers for the departed in our liturgy, on the one hand, nor pronounced any censure upon the ancient Church for using them, on the other, I desire to show you that the very ground on which the Church
* See Touttèe, Preface to Cyril of Jerusalem, 23. Cat. p. 323-4.
of Rome rests her argument, can avail her nothing; and that such prayers, however unauthorized and inexpedient they may have been, might have been tolerated for reasons totally distinct from the doctrine of purgatory.
That you may distinctly see how far the ancient Church seems to have carried the practice of praying for the departed, I shall now present to you an extract from the Alexandrian liturgy, which bears the name of the celebrated Basil, bishop of Cesarea, and is printed with his works, although it is acknowledged to be of a later day. (Basil, Op. Tom. II. 676–80.)
First, we meet with it in the prayer which preceded the kiss of peace, where the officiating priest, speaking in reference to the symbols of our Lord's body and blood, saith, "Receive, O Lord, these holy gifts from our hands, although we are sinners, through thy goodness; and grant that they may be accepted, and sanctified by thy Holy Spirit, to the expiation of our sins, and the ignorances of thy people, and to the rest of those souls who have departed this life."
The second appearance of the practice is much more in detail, and immediately preceded the diptychs, or sacred lists of the departed saints, which were constantly, in those days, read at the altar. The language is as follows:
"Remember, O Lord, those who now offer these precious gifts to thee, and those from whom, on account of whom, and through whom, they have been brought in. Grant unto them all, their heavenly reward; and according to the precept of thine only begotten Son, make us to communicate in the memory of the saints. Vouchsafe, O Lord, to remember those, who from the beginning, have pleased thee, the holy fathers, patriarchs, apostles, prophets, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, and every righteous soul who has finished his course in the faith of Christ."
"Chiefly the most holy, most glorious, immaculate, and most blessed Mary, the ever virgin mother of God."