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that as long as we reverence and uphold the Apostolical ministry, we are in our line and measure “labouring together" with God himself. We are so far doing our humble part in that system which the all-wise Redeemer has ordained to be the human, visible, secondary instrument of guarding and propagating those truths, on which our communion with Him depends.
This will be seen yet more clearly, on proceeding to examine the doctrinal results, such as they appear on the whole in those Churches, which from error or necessity have parted with the Apostolical succession. This must be attempted on some future occasion.
For the present, reverting to that ineffable mystery, from which on this day especially all our devout thoughts should begin, and in which they should end, I would only ask one question. What will be the feelings of a Christian, particularly of a Christian pastor, should he find hereafter that in slighting or discouraging Apostolical claims and views (be the temptation what it may), he has really been helping the evil spirit to unsettle men's faith in the INCARNATION OF the Son of God?
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TRACTS FOR THE TIMES.
BISHOP WILSON'S MEDITATIONS ON HIS SACRED
There is a public absolution, which is no more than a relaxation of a censure. There is no relation betwixt that and the absolution of sins.
God ratifies in heaven the judgments of His ministers on earth, when they judge by the rules prescribed by His Word.
Whenever Church discipline meets with discountenance, impieties of all kinds are sure to get head and abound. And impieties, unpunished, do always draw down judgments.
The same Jesus Christ who appointed baptism, for the receiving men into His Church and family, has appointed excommunication to shut such out as are judged unworthy to continue in it.
Matt. xviii. 15, &c. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church; but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 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.” So that if baptism be a blessing, excommunication is a real punish
ment: there being the same authority for excommunication as for baptism. And if men ridicule it, they do it at the peril of their souls.
In short, this authority is necessary, if it is necessary to preserve the honour of religion. It is appointed by Jesus Christ. The ends proposed by it are, to reform wicked men, and to remove scandals. If the sentence is duly executed, the offender is really deprived of the ordinary means of salvation. It is indeed a sentence passed by men, but by men commissioned by God Himself; that is, by the Holy Ghost.
The authority of Christ is to be respected in the meanest of His ministers.
Excommunication, the most dreadful punishment which a Christian can suffer, becomes less feared than it ought to be, through the countenance which excommunicated persons meet with, contrary to the express command of God, “ With such a one, no not to eat."
A true penitent will be willing to bear the shame of his sins (where he has given offence) before men, that he may escape the confusion of them hereafter. But then he ought to know, that to submit to the outward part of penance, is not to submit to God, unless it proceed from the fear and love of God.
A man may see his sin, confess it, abhor it, and yet be a false penitent. Judas did all this. What he wanted was the grace of God, to see the mercy of God, as well as His justice.
Those who are first to lead men into sinful courses, seldom trouble themselves to recover them out of them. The ministers of Christ must do it, or they must die in their sin. .
Mark v. 4. “And they laughed him to scorn.” O, my Lord and Master ! let me not be driven from my duty, by the infidelity and scoffs of the world.
How desperate soever the condition of a sinner may appear, we must neither insult over it, nor despair of his conversion.
A person who has offended and scandalized others by his sins, ought, before he be admitted to the peace of the Church, and to receive the Sacrament, to give some good ground of assurance, by a sober life, that he is a true penitent.
Mark vi. 1. “Shake off the dust under your feet, for a testimony against them.” Jesus Christ permits not His Apostles to avenge themselves by their Apostolical power, nor even to
TRACTS FOR THE TIMES.
desire that He should do it; but to leave their cause to God, with full confidence in Him.
Luke xix. 8. “And if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” The judgment, which, of his own accord, this penitent passes upon himself, will condemn those who reject all the remedies offered, and all methods made use of, for their' conversion, and who will not make the least atonement for their crimes. Men show very plainly that they love sin, when they will not suffer any one to put a stop to it, to remove the occasions thereof; and to shame, to reprove, and to punish the sinner. This is a sin which draws after it great judgments.
If a pastor hopes to do his duty without reproving the world, (without testifying that the works thereof are evil, John vii. 7;) or to reprove it without being hated by it, he will deceive 'himself; he may carry it fair with men, but will be condemned by Jesus Christ.
John viii. 7. “ He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone." They whose duty it is to punish offenders, should take great care not to be influenced by pride, hypocrisy, passion, false zeal, or malice; but to punish with reluctancy ; with compassion, as having a sense of their own misery and weakness, which, perhaps, render them more guilty in the sight of God. Let Ecclesiastical Judges always remember, that the Holy Ghost, to whom it belongs to bind and loose, never makes Himself the minister of the passions of men.
John xii. 43. “They loved the praise of men more than the glory of God." And this is the cause that men count it more shameful to acknowledge their crimes than it was to be guilty of them.
We must never insult a sinner ; but, without extenuating his sin, we must comfort him, by showing him the good which God may bring out of it.
Acts viii. 3. “ As for Saul, he made havock of the Church.” The designs of God toward Saul should teach us not to despair of any man's conversion, but to pray for it, and to use our best endeavours, instead of being angry, and using them ill.
Acts ix. 9. “And Saul was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” Jesus Christ Himself, in this instance, teaches His ministers not to be too hasty in receiving
penitents, but to let them fast and pray, and bear the sense of their sin, and of their bad condition, before they be reconciled. It teaches penitents to fast and pray, and to bear with patience the fruit of their own doings.
Acts xix. 18. “Many that believed, came and confessed their deeds,” &c. The Spirit of Grace always inclines men to confess their evil deeds, and humble themselves for their sins. There could not be a more shameful one than dealing with the devil, &c. yet this did not hinder them,—or from sacrificing the most valuable things that had been instruments in their wickedness. This is a proof of a true conversion, &c.
The fall of others is for us a great instruction, and a lesson which we ought to study, not in order to insult our neighbour, but to fear for, and amend, ourselves.
Let us not despise any sinner. God has sometimes very great designs in relation to those who are at present most opposite to Him.
To reprove, when persons are not in a proper disposition for amendment, would be to give both them and ourselves trouble without any prospect of advantage.
To make reproof beneficial, they to whom it is given should see that it does not proceed from humour, or from a design to vex them, but from a true zeal and love for their souls.
A true charity will never insult those that are gone astray, but will use the greatest sinners mildly, lest they should be driven to despair by too great severity.
The Church forgives sins " in the person of Christ" (2 Cor. ii. 10). She remits the temporal punishment of them also, because Christ is the Sovereign High Priest, and because it belongs to God alone to recede from the strictness of His justice, in what manner He thinks fit. An ecclesiastical governor should endeavour to preserve discipline, and the esteem of his people, at the same time, by acts of tenderness, &c.
2 Cor. x. 8. “For though I should boast of my authority, (which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for destruction) I should not be ashamed.” It is necessary, sometimes, to extol the dignity of our office. N. B. Pastors are appointed by Christ to edify the Church; they must, therefore, be honoured and obeyed.
The disorders which a good pastor observes in his flock, will