Page images

repentance such as it should be, what doth God demand but inward sincerity joined with fit and convenient offices for that purpose ? the one referred wholly to our own consciences, the other best discerned by them whom God hath appointed judges in this court. So that having first the promises of God for pardon generally unto all offenders penitent; and particularly for our own unfeigned meaning, the unfallible testimony of a good conscience; the sentence of God's appointed officer and vicegerent to approve with unpartial judgment the quality of that we have done, and as from his tribunal, in that respect to assoil us of any crime: I see no cause but that by the rules of our faith and religion we may rest ourselves very well assured touching God's most merciful pardon and grace; who, especially for the strengthening of weak, timorous, and fearful minds, hath so far endued his Church with power to absolve sinners. It pleaseth God that men sometimes should, by missing this help, perceive how much they stand bound to him for so precious a benefit enjoyed. And surely, so long as the world lived in any awe or fear of falling away from God, so dear were his ministers to the people, chiefly in this respect, that being through tyranny and persecution deprived of pastors, the doleful

rehearsal of their lost felicities hath not any one thing more eminent, than that sinners distrest should not now know how or where to unlade their burthen. Strange it were unto

. me, that the Fathers, who so much everywhere extol the grace of Jesus Christ in leaving unto his Church this heavenly and divine power, should as men whose simplicity had generally been abused, agree all to admire and magnify a needless office.

“ The sentence therefore of ministerial absolution hath two effects : touching sin, it only declareth us free from the guiltiness thereof, and restored into God's favour; but concerning right in sacred and divine mysteries, whereof through sin we were made unworthy, as the power of the Church did before effectually bind and retain us from access unto them, so upon our apparent repentance it truly restoreth our liberty, looseth the chains wherewith we were tied, remitteth all whatsoever is past, and accepteth us no less, returned, than if we never had

gone astray.”—Bk. VI. ch. vi. $ 5.

Hooker's teaching in his Sixth Book on the subject of Repentance is quite magnificent : he discusses the matter with characteristic thoroughness and extraordinary balance. In the course of his remarks, he naturally dwells


long upon Confession and Absolution. Some of the more important portions of his teaching on these subjects are quoted above. His arguments, in this section of his work, are mainly directed against the current teaching of the Romanists—the doctrine of Rome,' as he terms it. There was no controversy at the time with the foreign reformers, who, broadly speaking, maintained the usefulness of private confession and the exercise of the power of the keys. “It is not in the reformed churches

. denied by the learneder sort of divines, but that even this confession (i. e. 'confession to man'), cleared from all errors, is both lawful and behoveful for God's people.

.. But concerning confession in private, the churches of Germany, as well the rest as Lutherans, agree all, that all men should at certain times confess their offences to God in the hearing of God's ministers to the end that men may at God's hands seek every one his own particular pardon, through the power of those keys, which the minister of God using according to our blessed Saviour's institution in that case...

It is very difficult to realize the truth of Hooker's statement as to this matter, in the face of the great change of thought which in our own day has taken place amongst Protestants.

1 Bk VI. ch. iv. § 14.

[ocr errors]


Hooker's contention in regard to Confession and Absolution was not with the foreign reformers, but with the Romanists, who taught that “confession in the ear of the priest (was) commanded, yea, commanded in the nature of a sacrament, and thereby so necessary that sin without it cannot be pardoned ;” and made it necessary

for every man to pour into the ears of the priest whatsoever hath been done amiss, or else to remain everlastingly culpable and guilty of sin ;” and maintained that it

“ standeth with the righteousness of God to take away no man's sins, until by auricular confession they be opened unto the priest.” 1 And so Hooker adds finally: “To conclude, we everywhere find the use of confession, especially public, allowed of and commended by the Fathers; but that extreme and rigorous necessity of auricular and private confession, which is at this day so mightily upheld by the church of Rome, we find not. It was not then the faith and doctrine of God's Church, as of the papacy at this present, 1. That the only remedy for sin after baptism is sacramental penitency. 2. That confession in secret is an essential part thereof. 8. That God himself cannot now forgive sins without the priest. 4. That because forgiveness at the hands of the priest must arise from confession in the offender, therefore to confess unto him is a matter of such necessity, as being not either in deed, or at the least in desire performed, excludeth utterly from all pardon, and must consequently in Scripture be commanded, wheresoever any promise of forgiveness is made. No, no; these opinions have youth in their countenance; antiquity knew them not, it never thought nor dreamed of them."

1 Bk. VI. ch. iv. § 5.

To Hooker's personal use of private confession we have already referred in a previous chapter of this work. Of his estimate of the ministerial commission to forgive or to retain sins, the previous section on “ The Christian Ministry” (p. 162) should be consulted.

i Bk. VI. ch. iv. § 13.


« PreviousContinue »