Imatges de pÓgina
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ned against me.” (1) Wherefore it is by the sign of ablution, that we are initiated into the society of his Church; by which we are taught that there is no admittance for us into the family of God, unless our pollution be first taken away by his goodness.

XXI. Nor does God only once receive and adopt us into his Church by the remission of sins; he likewise preserves and keeps us in it by the same mercy. For to what purpose would it be, if we obtained a pardon which would afterwards be of no use? And that the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive, if it were only granted for once, all pious persons can testify to themselves; for every one of them is all his lifetime conscious of many infirmities, which need the Divine mercy. And surely it is not without reason, that God particularly promises this grace to the members of his family, and commands the same message of reconciliation to be daily addressed to them. As we carry about with us the reliques of sin therefore as long as we live, we shall scarcely continue in the Church for a single moment, unless we are sustained by the constant grace of the Lord in forgiving our sins. But the Lord hath called his people to eternal salvation: they ought therefore to believe that his grace is always ready to pardon their sins. Wherefore it ought to be held as a certain conclusion, that from the Divine liberality, by the intervention of the merit of Christ, through the sanctification of the Spirit, pardon of sins has been, and is daily bestowed upon us who have been admitted and engrafted into the body of the Church.

XXII. It was to dispense this blessing to us, that the keys were given to the Church. (m) For when Christ gave commandment to his apostles, and conferred on them the power of remitting sins, (n) it was not with an intention that they should merely absolve from their sins those who were converted from impiety to the Christian faith, but rather that they should continually exercise this office among the faithful. This is taught by Paul, when he says, that the message of reconciliation was committed to the ministers of the Church, that in the name of Christ they might daily exhort the people

(1) Jerem. xxxiii. 8.

(m) Matt. xvi. 19. xviii. 18

() John xx

to be reconciled to God. In the communion of saints, therefore, sins are continually remitted to us by the ministry of the Church, when the presbyters or bishops, to whom this office is committed, confirm pious consciences, by the promises of the gospel, in the hope of pardon and remission; and that as well publicly as privately, according as necessity requires. For there are many persons who, on account of their infirmity, stand in need of separate and private consolation. And Paul tells us, that he “taught” not only publicly, but also“ from house to house, testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ;” (p) and admonished every individual separately respecting the doctrine of salvation. Here are three things therefore worthy of our observation. First, that whatever ho. liness may distinguish the children of God, yet such is their condition as long as they inhabit a mortal body, that they cannot stand before God without remission of sins. Secondly, that this benefit belongs to the Church, so that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in its communion. Thirdly, that it is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the gospel, or in the administration of the sacraments; and that this is the principal exercise of the power of the keys, which the Lord has conferred on the society of the faithful. Let every one of us therefore consider it as his duty, not to seek remission of sins any where but where the Lord has placed it. Of public reconciliation, which is a branch of discipline, we shall speak in its proper place.

XXIII. But as those fanatic spirits, of whom I speak, endeavour to rob the Church of this sole anchor of salvation, our consciences ought to be still more strongly fortified against such a pestilent opinion. The Novatians disturbed the ancient Churches with this tenet, but the present age also has witnessed some of the Anabaptists who resemble the Novatians by falling into the same fol-. lies. For they imagine that by baptism the people of God are regenerated to a pure and angelic life, which can

(p) Acts xx. 20, 21.

(0) 2 Cor. v. 18-20. VOL. III.

E

not be contaminated by any impurities of the flesh. And if any one be guilty of sin after baptism, they leave him no prospect of escaping the inexorable judgment of God. In short, they encourage no hope of pardon, in any one who sins after having received the grace of God; because they acknowledge no other remission of sins, than that by which we are first regenerated. Now though there is no falsehood more clearly refuted in the Scripture than this, yet because its advocates find persons to submit to their impositions, as Novatus formerly had numerous followers, let us briefly shew how very pernicious their error is both to themselves and to others. In the first place, when the saints obey the command of the Lord by a daily repetition of this prayer, “forgive us our debts,” (TM) they certainly confess themselves to be sinners. Nor do they pray for it in vain, for our Lord has not enjoined the use of any petitions, but such as he designed to grant. And after he had declared that the whole prayer would be heard by the Father, he confirmed this absolution by a special promise. What do we want more? The Lord requires from the saints a confession of sins, and that daily as long as they live, and he promises them pardon. What presumption is it, either to assert that they are exempt from sin, or if they have fallen, to exclude them from all grace! To whom does he enjoin us to grant forgiveness seventy times seven times? Is it not to our brethren? And what was the design of this injunction, but that we might imitate his clemency? He pardons therefore, not once or twice, but as often as the sinner is alarmed with a sense of his sins, and sighs for mercy,

XXIV. But to begin from the infancy of the Church: the patriarchs had been circumcised, admitted to the privileges of the covenant, and without doubt instructed in justice and integrity by the care of their father, when they conspired to murder their brother. This was a crime to be abominated even by the most desperate and abandoned robbers. At length, softened by the admonitions of Judah,

(9) Matt. vi. 12.

they sold him for a slave. This also was 'an intolerable cruelty. Simon and Levi, in a spirit of nefarious revenge, condemned even by the judgment of their father, murdered the inhabitants of Sichem. Reuben was guilty of execrable incest with his father's concubine. Judah, with an intention of indulging a libidinous passion, violated the law of nature by a criminal connection with his son's wife. Yet they are so far from being expunged out of the number of the chosen people, that, on the contrary, they are constituted the heads of the nation. (r) What shall we say of David? Though he was the official guardian of justice, how scan. dalously did he prepare the way for the gratification of a blind passion, by the effusion of innocent blood! He had already been regenerated, and among the regenerate had been distinguished by the peculiar commendations of the Lord; yet he perpetrated a crime, even among heathens regarded with horror, and yet he obtained mercy. (s) And not to dwell any longer on particular examples, the numerous promises which the law and the prophets contain, of Divine mercy towards the Israelites, are so many proofs of the manifestation of God's placability to the offences of his people. For what does Moses promise to the people in case of their return to the Lord, after having fallen into idolatry? " Then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee.” (1)

XXV. But I am unwilling to commence an enumeration which would have no end. For the prophets are full of such promises, which offer mercy to the people, though covered with innumerable crimes. What sin is worse than rebellion? It is described as a divorce between God and the Church; yet this is overcome by the goodness of God. Hear his language by the mouth of Jeremiah. “ If a man

(r) Gen. xxxvii. 18, 28. xxxiv. 25. xxxv. 22. xxxviii. 16.
(8) 2 Sam. xi. 4, 15. xii. 13. (t) Deut. XXX. 3, 4.

put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness. Yet return again to me, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you; for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and will not keep anger for ever." (v) And surely there cannot possibly be any other disposition in him who affirms, that he “ hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (w) Therefore when Solomon dedicated the temple, he appointed it also for this purpose, that prayers, offered to obtain pardon of sins, might there be heard and answered. His words are, “ If they sin against thee (for there is no man that sinneth not) and thou be angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives unto the land of the enemy, far or near; yet if they shall bethink themselves, and repent in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent and make supplication unto thee in the land of those that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; and pray unto thee toward the land which thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name: then hear thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven, and forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee.” (x) Nor was it without cause, that in the law the Lord ordained daily sacrifices for sins; for unless he had foreseen that his people would be subject to the maladies of daily sins, he would never have appointed these remedies. (y)

XXVI. Now I ask whether by the advent of Christ, in whom the fulness of grace was displayed, the faithful have been deprived of this benefit, so that they can no

(v) Jer. jj. 1, 2, 12.
(0) 1 Kings viii. 46-50.

(w) Ezek. xxxiii. 11.
(y) Numb. xxviii. 3.

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