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ing and binding ! By this overvaluing of the so-called power of the keys, that is, the power of opening and shutting the kingdom of heaven, of retaining and forgiving sins, was laid, even in the first centuries, the foundation of that incredible tyranny, which, in later years, the Popes of Rome exercised over church and state, when every thing trembled at their ban, and when exclusion from church communion was accompanied by exclusion from the greatest advantages of social life, and by persecutions of every kind. In justification of this practice they appealed to the full powers given to Peter, when the Lord said to him, “ I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” But neither was this power confined to. the person of Peter, nor given to him alone, but rather to all the apostles, as is proved incontrovertibly from the gospel, and from the apostles it has proceeded to all the faithful. It is none other than the power of the church to announce to believers forgiveness of sins and reception into the kingdom of heaven, but to unbelievers, as long as they continue in unbelief, condemnation and exclusion from that kingdom, for to the one the gospel by its very nature can be only a savour of life unto life,” to the other it must be “ a savour of death unto death.” In this sense, do we, ministers of the word in our evangelical church, still exercise this power in the name of the church, and every
real Christian who preaches the pure gospel can exercise it. On the other hand, the Romish church teaches that the priesthood have a judicial power, to remit and to retain sins; that they not only as ministers of the church proclaim forgiveness of sins in the name of God, but really forgive sins, and therefore also by denying absolution can condemn and shut out of the kingdom of heaven, of which power the gospel knows and teaches nothing.
Had men held firmly to, and explained the distinction between the visible and invisible church, that the priestly power was confined to the announcement of
the forgiveness of sins given by Christ Jesus, under the condition of faith and repentance, but was by no means a judicial power, to condemn or acquit, because a power such as this can belong alone to the infallible searcher of hearts,—then a third error would have been avoided, into which men fell in the treatment of those who had fallen. The more severe and the milder view of the institution of penance caused grievous contentions between the churches of Rome and Carthage. In both there arose a gentler party, who by degrees became the ruling one. Their principle was, that the church must receive all who had fallen, whatever were their sins, and give them all hope of forgiveness of sin under the condition of genuine repentance, and give them, at least in the hour of death, if they exhibited true repentance, absolution, and the communion. But from attributing an excessive importance to external church communion,
they sought to obtain this alone by all contrivances. For this end those who had fallen, requested the all-powerful intercession of the witnesses to the faith, who amid all tortures on account of their profession of Christ, had yet been found faithful. Many of these men split upon the rock of spiritual pride, for they were treated with over much veneration, Flattered by the consideration with which they were treated, they frequently magisterially demanded the immediate restoration of those who had fallen to church communion, without regard to their feelings of repentance; and one of them in the church of Carthage issued what were called certificates of church communion (libelli pacis), on the strength of which absolution was immediately to be granted to those who had fallen away: Such an abuse was of course calculated to overthrow all discipline and order, and therefore Cyprian resolutely opposed it, and thus declares his sentiments with
peculiar earnestness : “ Let no man deceive himself! The Lord alone can have mercy upon men; He alone can grant pardon to sins committed against Himself, who bore our sins, who suffered for us, whom God has given for our sins. The servant cannot forgive the sins committed against his master. We must pray to the Lord, who proclaims that he will deny all who deny Him, and to whom the Father hath committed all judgment. If the martyrs desire any thing, the fulfilment must depend upon the rectitude of that which they desire.” And yet Cyprian himself was not consistent in his own conduct. He yielded so far as to grant absolution to those fallen brethren, who in mortal illness desired the communion, and supported their claim to it by one of the certificates of the martyrs. It was right that he did not wish to refuse the dying the last consolation, but it was wrong that he gave any weight to these certificates, for thereby he only fostered that false confidence in men, without gaining any thing by such a compliance.
But, besides this moderate party, there arose also an over severe faction, who would not permit, under any consideration, the restitution of fallen brethren to church communion, and this caused violent contentions, especially in Rome. This party supposed that the forgiveness assured by the gospel referred only to sins committed before baptism, but that with reference to later sins (always remembering that this did not regard sins of infirmity, but only mortal sins, among which were reckoned denial of the Lord in times of persecution), no declaration of God's counsel had been revealed, and therefore the church had no right to grant absolution to the fallen. They maintained that those who had fallen ought not to be neglected, but that the church could do no more for them than exhort them to repentance, and recommend them to divine mercy. Rightly might Cyprian exclaim, “Oh what a mockery! To say to thy poor brother, · Mourn and pour forth tears, sigh day and night, do abundant good, to obtain grace, but after all this thou must die without church communion ! To exhort him to repentance, and yet to deny him consolation and cure! Behold, there lies thy brother grievously wounded in battle by the adversary! On one side Satan is striving to kill him whom he has wounded, on the other side Christ exhorts us not to suffer him to be
completely destroyed for whom He died. On whose side shall we stand ? Shall we advance the work of Satan, shall we pass by our brother lying half dead, as did the priest and Levite in the gospel ? Or shall we not rather, as priests of Jesus Christ, and of God, after his example, snatch the wounded from the jaws of the adversary, and after we have done all we can to heal him, leave the final decision of his fate to God ?” This more severe party also declared, again confusing the invisible and the visible church, that it was an essential characteristic of the true church to be pure and holy. That every church which suffered gross sinners to remain in her, ceased to be a true church. The maintainers of this view called themselves accordingly " the pure (or zalagos).” Such men were rightly reminded by Cyprian : Although there are tares to be found in the church, yet this must not disturb our faith and our charity, so that we on that account should be induced to tear ourselves away from the church. We must labour to belong to the wheat, in order that when the wheat is gathered into the garner of the Lord, we may receive the reward of our labours. The apostle says, « In a great house, there are not only vessels of silver and gold, but vessels of wood and clay, and some to dishonour, some also to honour.' Let us, therefore, labour, as far as we are able, to be those golden or silver vessels. But to dash in pieces the earthen vessels is given to the Lord alone, to whom also the rod of iron has been committed. The servant cannot be greater than his master, and none may take that to himself which the Father hath committed to the Son alone, namely, to believe himself capable of bearing the winnowing-fan, to cleanse and purify the threshing-floor, or to think that he can by his human judgment separate the tares from the wheat.”
This severe party formed till the later ages of the church a separate sect, when the church came forth victorious out of the conflict. But there have never been wanting Christians who have defended these views of the true church, and we know them under the title of
“ Separatists." These men have always contributed to point out to the church of the Lord her peculiar office, and thus far have they been a blessing to it. But they have been wanting in the humility which is ready to acknowledge the imperfection of our present posisition, and to bear with the weak in love and patience ; and therefore have these men, who believe themselves exalted over all, seldom withstood the temptation to spiritual príde, and have but rarely continued “the pure ones," which perhaps they really were at the beginning. Let us therefore always think on our own weakness, and labour in love and patience for the improvement of our brethren, and not “judge before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart; and then shall every man have praise of God.”
If, then, we consider of a Christian system of discipline, my brethren,--and that there should be one is the conclusion we draw from what we have said,—this must not be exercised by individual clergymen, but by the church through representatives chosen by itself acting with the clergy, and the distinction between internal and external must be carefully preserved. The church never judges the inward condition of man, for this belongs, and is known only to the Searcher of hearts, but she has certainly the right, and is bound to exercise it, to give judgment concerning the outward deportment of her members. She must besides confine herself to teaching, warning, exhorting, and such kinds of discipline, which pave the way to a reunion with the church, and are calculated to promote it; she must not deny access to the preaching of the word, nor allow her punishments to have any influence on the worldly or civil interests of the offenders. Church discipline, therefore, can only consist in exclusion from sacramental communion with the congregation, and this to continue only as long as the impenitent mind remains, and and there is no desire manifested to return to the communion of the church. " That church,” says a respect