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"Well art thou pointed 'gainst the Poor,
For, when the Beggar Crew
Bring their petitions, thou art paid,

Of course, to " run them through."


"Of course thou art what Hamlet meant-
To wretches the last friend;

What ills can mortals have, they can't
With a bare Bodkin end?"-P. 133.

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ART. XI. An Essay on the Absolving Power of the Church with especial reference to the Offices of the Church of England for the Ordering of Priests and the Visitation of the Sick. With copious Illustrations and Notes. By the Rev. T. H. Lowe, M.A. Vicar of Grimley, in the County of Worcester, and Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Viscount Gage. 8vo. Oxford; Parker. London; Rivingtons.

66 pp.

THIS is an able treatise on a difficult subject; and if we cannot subscribe to all the opinions of Mr. Lowe, they are at least entitled to a respectful consideration. There is nothing extravagant in the doctrines themselves, and they are maintained with learning, acuteness and good sense.

Having commenced by observing, that "a full and final absolution" can be pronounced by Him alone," who is able infallibly to scrutinize the inmost recesses of the human heart," Mr. Lowe proceeds in the following terms :—

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"But if the power of remitting absolutely the future penalties of sin neither is, nor can be, given to ignorant and sinful men, in what sense are we to understand these words of our Lord to his apostles: Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained?' The inquiry is one of great importance; for as the same words are used in the ordination of our priests; and as it cannot be supposed, that those venerable and pious men by whom our Liturgy was reformed designed to mislead by an equivocal sense, when they retained in this form of ordination, without any restriction or qualification of their meaning, the identical words which our Lord employed in the consecration of his apostles; the necessary inference is, that they meant them to be taken strictly in the same sense; and designed to claim for the ministers of our Church the same gift of the Holy Spirit, the same divine authority to absolve and to bind.”

P. 2.

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We are not aware that Mr. Lowe makes any erroneous

deduction from this paragraph; but we cannot admit its accuracy. Is it " a necessary inference" from the ordination service, that our Church supposes her priests to receive precisely the same authority that was conferred upon the apostles by our Lord? That the compilers of the Liturgy did not design to mislead by an equivocal sense, is readily granted. But that a form of words which was originally used in one sense, cannot under any circumstances, be honestly used in another, is not so self-evident as Mr. Lowe imagines. Supposing (as many commentators have supposed) that the words of our Lord conveyed superhuman power to his apostles; supposing, for instance, that it was by virtue of this commission that St. Peter condemned Ananias and Sapphira; and St. Paul delivered Hymenæus to Satan, it is possible that the form of words might remain in use after the miraculous power was withdrawn. The form will bear a larger and a narrower sense, and the practice of the age which succeeded the apostles, would justify our retention of the words, although we employ them in a lower signification than that which they once possessed.

Mr. Lowe observes in his appendix, that the extraordinary powers bestowed upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, were quite distinct from those now under consideration, and he quotes Bishop Stillingfleet to prove that it was "the authoritative power of preaching the gospel" which was conferred upon them in this latter instance. We see no reason to dispute the bishop's declaration; but does it establish Mr. Lowe's inference? That the priestly character was conveyed in the words before us, is agreed; the doubt is, whether that character was the same in the apostles as in the priests of all succeeding times. It is certain that the apostles possessed and exercised greater powers (not merely greater because miraculous, but greater in point of authority) than could now be claimed without impiety. And can Mr. Lowe prove that such powers were exclusively derived from the subsequent gifts of God, and had no connection with that unparalleled scene, in which our Lord himself" breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." The circumstance of being ordained by Christ in person, is enough to place his original priests far above the greatest of their followers. And if on the one hand we cannot be certain that the priestly power was greater in their days than in ours, still less can we admit it as a «، necessary inference" that it was

strictly the same.

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Mr. Lowe proceeds to show, that the primitive Christian church was modelled after the pattern of the Jewish syna

gogue, and contends, that we must consequently interpret the form of ordination in the sense which it would have borne at Jerusalem.

«To understand the extent of those ordinary powers that were originally conferred on the apostles, we must therefore recur to the practice of the synagogue. Now the ordination of the Jewish pres-` byters was performed with solemn imposition of hands, to denote that the person so ordained was, in a peculiar manner, dedicated to God's service; and to invoke the divine blessing on him: and on those who were lawfully ordained, it was believed that the Holy Spirit rested. In these ordinations, which were slightly varied according to the different offices to which they were applied, and the different powers which they were intended to convey, authority was usually given to bind and to loose, to remit and to retain; that is, either as interpreters of the law, or as rulers of the synagogue, to declare what was lawful and what was unlawful; as guides and teachers of the people, to rebuke, to exhort, and to instruct; or as presidents and judges in spiritual matters, if need were, to pass sentence on offenders. That this is the right interpretation of the phrase, which is very comprehensive, and embraces almost the entire circle both of Hebrew theology and jurisprudence, might be shewn, were it needful, by many examples. In some passages of scripture these masters in Israel are recognized as the authorized interpreters of the law and the prophets; in others their power and practice, in the judicial sense of binding and loosing, are no less clearly asserted; and from these, compared with the corresponding passages which relate personally to the apostles, we may best discover the nature and extent of those analogous ordinary powers which were committed to them and to their successors, both as guides and as rulers of the Christian church. In the 18th chapter of St. Matthew there is a remarkable passage, which, through the advantage that has been taken of the equivocal word, ixxAnoia, has been alleged by divines of almost every communion to demon strate the necessity of a visible church to decide controversies of faith. But though such a power is inherent in every church, it can never be proved to be so from this passage, which relates wholly to private offences, and to the power of the synagogue, or ecclesiastical sanhedrin, in the last resort. For our Lord is here prescribing certain rules, in particular cases, for the present direction of his followers. His first rule is, that if any one should treat them injuriously, they should use every charitable endeavour to bring him to a better mind, and have recourse, in the first instance, to private expostulation; if that were unavailing, that they should next remonstrate with him before one or two selected witnesses; and if he still persisted in his injury, that they should bring the matter before the assembled synagogue: but if all these endeavours should fail to reclaim him, then,' said our Lord, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican; let the presbyters pronounce sentence, and expel him from their communion: to which he immediately subjoins the

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very striking declaration, Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' The terms in which this solemn sanction is given by our Lord to the deliberate sentence of the Jewish synagogue, are, it will be observed, the very same, even to the letter, as he used to St. Peter, when he conferred on him the power of the keys; and the same also, in substance, as he addressed to all the apostles, when he ordained them presbyters and rulers of the Christian church.

"Again; in the ninth chapter of St. John's Gospel it is related, that when the man, blind from his birth, whom our Lord had healed on the sabbath day, persisted in acknowledging the divine character and mission of the blessed Jesus, the presbyters, before whom he was arraigned, first judicially pronounced that his sins were bound upon him, and then excommunicated him: Thou art yet,' said they, in thy sins-and they cast him out.'


"Hence it appears, that, in our Saviour's time, the authority to bind and to loose, which the Jewish presbyters received at their ordination, gave them a general power of acting both as teachers and rulers of the people: and it must, I think, be admitted, that our Lord, in using the same form, designed to convey to his apostles the same general authority in spiritual things, and the same power of -discipline for the perpetual edification and government of the Christian church, as the Jewish presbyters at that time possessed in the sanhedrin and synagogue. And with respect to these, as it never was pretended either by them or for them, that, by their faculty of binding and loosing, they were enabled to absolve men from the future penalties of sin, there was no danger that the apostles should imagine, (whatever others may since have imagined for them,) that, by their similar ordination, they were invested with such an unheard of power: for of the presbyters of the synagogue, who received authority to bind and to loose, no less than of themselves, to whom the same commission was given, they had heard our Lord expressly declare, that their sentence, pronounced on earth, should be ratified in heaven. Until, therefore, unanswerable proof be brought from scripture, that the apostles either claimed or exercised such an absolving power, we may confidently repeat our assertion, that the authority to remit the future penalties of sin was never granted by God to man." P. 12.

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We readily subscribe to this conclusion, and have only one objection to the process that leads to it. Mr. Lowe is not quite so guarded as he ought to be in arguing from the Jewish customs. They are excellent interpreters of Scripture language. But if we say, that a phrase, or a promise, or a rite can mean or be no more than it would have meant, or would have been in the synagogue, we shall be involved in great difficulties. Baptism, for instance, was derived from a Jewish custom, and might it not be contended upon Mr. Lowe's principles, that Christian baptism is a mere form,

unaccompanied by those supernatural gifts with which the church has always taught that it is coupled. We have no desire to lay much stress upon the objection, but as a blemish in a good argument, it was our duty to point it out.

We proceed to Mr. Lowe's explanation of the office for the visitation of the sick, and his apology for the form of absolution :-

"But if we openly renounce, as pernicious and unscriptural, the claim to a plenary absolving power, there remains to be discussed a second question of no little difficulty. On what grounds, it may be asked, did our reformers retain, in the private office for the visitation of the sick, the full and authoritative absolution of the church of Rome? 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; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' These words, obvious as their sense appears, undoubtedly admit of two interpretations. But the question with which we are at present concerned, is not, in what sense they may possibly be understood now; but in what sense they actually were understood by the generality of Christians at the period of the Reformation. To discover the reasons which probably induced the fathers of our reformed church to admit into this private office a form of absolution so apparently irreconcileable with the truth, we must therefore take into consideration the inveterate opinions on the subject of priestly absolution, which, at that era, were universally maintained: and then, if I mistake not, we shall be able not merely to vindicate their conduct in this behalf, but to shew, that they were guided by the purest spirit of enlightened Christian charity." P. 19.

"At the era of the Reformation these opinions were so inveterately rooted in the minds of men, that baptism itself was considered not more indispensable to procure their admission into the church of Christ, than priestly absolution to ensure their pardon at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment. To eradicate this mischievous persuasion, our reformers appear to have done all that the soundest wisdom and most enlightened Christian piety could dictate. In the public offices and liturgy they retained none but the declaratory or precatory forms of absolution; and in the elaborate Apologies of Jewell and Hooker it was unequivocally asserted, that the ministerial sentence of absolution, except when it relates to the removal of ecclesiastical censures, is no more than a declaration of what God has done. But, whilst they made use of every prudent caution to remove the grounds of the opposite error, they knew that the great mass of the people could not at once be thoroughly divested of their ancient prejudices; and that, especially in the hour of sickness, when bodily weakness was superadded to mental infirmity, they would be apt to languish for those consolations which both they and their fathers had hitherto thought necessary to their quiet passage out of

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