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allow this number to go forth without some explanatory remarks on the service which, in the absence of the primitive discipline, the Church has provided, both to supply its place and to express the grief she feels at its loss. When we look into our towns, villages and rural districts, we are alike struck with the decay of piety and religion, and cannot help asking the question-How is this? What can be the reason for such a declension? The existence of schism and heresy, which has produced a habit of disputing about religion, rather than practising its heavenly precepts, is the real cause of the declension of piety and discipline in the Church. Should she now seek to correct an offender and bring him to a state of penitence, his rebellious heart would most likely lead him to kick against her authority, and rather than humble himself here, that he may be exalted hereafter, he will offer himself for admission into one of the many sects by which he is surrounded. These will all be too ready to receive any addition to their numbers, without inquiring much into the grounds of the change; the unhappy individual is caressed, he believes himself an injured man, he is confirmed in his rebellion, lives and dies in a state of carnal security, and never is sensible, till he lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment,' of the damning power of unrepented sin.
How very different from this was the state of things in the purest ages of the Church, when all continued in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship! and how very different the results! When any one, by gross sin, violated the sacredness of the Christian profession, he was, by excommunication, cast forth from the body of the faithful. There were two objects kept in view in thus putting to open shame and punishing in this world those who stood convicted of notorious crimes, viz., 'that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.' (Pref. Commin. Office.)
Any one who had thus grossly sullied the purity of his baptismal garments, and was cast out of the Church, had great difficulty in regaining his former position among the faithful. It cost him no little entreaty even to be admitted among the penitents. The customs were no doubt different in the details in various churches, though the substance was every where the same. The following outline is from the pen of our own pious Bishop Jolly :-' Having lost their place in the Church, they were not permitted to enter into it, but stood without to beg the prayers of them that were entering.
When their earnest desire was accepted, they were allowed, and glad they were, to take the lowest place among the hearers, that they might listen to the holy lessons and exhortations upon them; but they had no share in the prayers. Their humble continuance for some time in this state, fitted them for admission among the penitents, for whom the Church offered special prayers appropriated to their state of mourning and lamentation for their sins; the penitents humbly kneeling, while the Bishop or Priest delegated by him, commended them to the Divine mercy, and laid his hands upon them. In this state, which was their most trying and laborious stage, they continued for a considerable time, even for years, less or more, according to their proficiency, retiring after their proper offices, and before the beginning of the service of the faithful, the holy eucharist at which they were, at length, for their last stage, allowed to be present, but not to partake: till by this near approach, their desire being excited to the highest, they were admitted to the antepast of heaven, to eat the Bread of life, and receive the Cup of salvation for remission of their sins.' To this severe and trying discipline the penitents most willingly submitted, as a token of the deep sorrow they felt on account of their past sins, and as an evidence of their reformation. Such was the end and object for which it was instituted; and they who had become sensible of the awful separation which sin had produced between them and their God, and the curse of eternal damnation which had passed upon them unless they had repented of their sin, were too glad to be admitted on any terms to the peace of their offended Father, and His household, the Church. Their restoration was equally a subject of rejoicing to the whole body of believers, who were afflicted in their affliction, and now rejoiced with them in their joy, since their absolution. This absolution no money could purchase, nor could the penance which preceded it be commuted into a pecuniary payment. Even Emperors were obliged to submit to it as well as the meanest of their subjects, when by open and notorious sins they had rendered themselves unworthy to participate in the blessed eucharist. The corruption of commuting penance for money, was reserved for a later period in the Church's history. So long as the ancient discipline remained in its purity, rich and poor were treated alike, but no sooner was it superseded by a system which produced and nourished covetousness among churchmen, than they began to have men's persons in honour, and to make a distinction between the
rich and poor man, contrary to the express teaching of the apostle St James.
The Church, when she began to throw off the accumulations of a lax and worldly system, found herself so weakened by its long continuance, that she was unable to restore in its perfection the primitive discipline. In the time of the good Bishop Wilson, this was done in the Isle of Man, and there, in consequence, the Commination Office was neither needed nor used. In our own church too, there was, and is to this day, a considerable degree of discipline maintained, so that a notorious offender considered himself as excommunicated, and would not have dared to present himself at the Altar, until he had made confession of his sin, professed repentance, and made resolutions of amendment, and so received absolution from God's minister. For this purpose the Bishops of the Church composed offices, which, with slight alterations, are in pretty general use to this day. Still the discipline of the Church is far-very far from perfect; and, therefore, the Church from year to year laments the want of that godly and perfect discipline, which was practised in primitive times, and thus tended so greatly to prepare souls for heaven. She also expresses her hope that a time will come, when she may be able to restore this salutary discipline; and till that happy period shall arrive, she has appointed the use of the heart-stirring office which the Most High Himself gave to his ancient people, in order to excite in the minds of her children the greatest abhorrence of sin, and by the fear of the just judgments of an offended God, to arouse the sinner from his sleep of death, and by repentance to restore him among the number of God's children, and the heirs of immortality.
This office is called a Commination, or denouncing of God's anger and judgments against sinners; and is to be regularly used on Ash Wednesday; but may also be used at other times when the ordinary shall direct. The object of this office is to make every man judge and condemn himself that he may be led to repent him truly of his past sins, and be induced to guard in future
* For the information of our Southern readers, we shall endeavour to obtain a copy of one of these offices for publication. We need hardly say they had reference to one of the mortal sins, which the laxity of Romanism and the change of the 'Cutty-stool' for a money payment, as the condition of absolution by the Presbyterian Establishment, have unfortunately rendered too common in Scotland.
more carefully against those offences which draw upon man the just judgments of Almighty God. To promote this, the general sentences of God's cursing are read; and at the end of each the people are to answer audibly,-Amen. This is a divine institution twice enjoined by Moses, and though in the circumstances of their recital, it was a ceremonial observance, the end designed by it was moral, viz., to proclaim the truth and equity of God, and to make known the sanctions of his laws as a means of glorifying Him, and converting sinners from the error of their ways; and consequently it cannot be unsuited to the times of the Gospel nor to our Christian worship. For, to use again the words of the late revered Bishop of Moray, 'such a fear as deters from sin is surely as much to be inculcated under the Gospel as it was under the law. Mount Calvary exhibits the Divine displeasure against sin, and the tremendous punishment of it, more than did even all the thunders of Mount Sinai; showing sin to be so great an evil that nothing but the death of Christ-both God and man-could expiate it.' It is therefore meet and right that all should acknowledge the truth of God's word, and his threatening against sin and all impenitent sinners. This will move the good to acknowledge their gratitude for having been made the objects of redeeming love; and the bad to see their exceeding sinfulness, and so to come to God by repentance and amendment of life.
But at this
On these grounds all are required to answer-Amen. some well-intentioned but ignorant Christians have stumbled. say they do not wish to curse themselves or others, and therefore they do not like to join in the office, and would wish that it should not be used. This arises from mistaking the meaning of the word Amen. If they would keep in mind, that God Himself commanded the Amen to be used, they would be convinced of the impropriety of their objection for they may rest assured, that He would not have required his people to pronounce a malediction upon themselves. The word is here used affirmatively, and implies an assent to the truth of God's Word, and the certainty of the punishment that will overtake guilty and impenitent sinners, but does not imply the semblance of a wish. When we conclude the creed we say Amen to express reality of our belief. For indeed, the word is derived from a root signifying truth; and so in the Gospels, our Saviour's Amen, Amen, is translated verily, verily. Here therefore it must mean a declaration of our belief, that he whom God blesseth is blessed, and he whom
God curseth is cursed.' By thus forewarning the sinner of the danger of his continued impenitence, it is intended to arouse him to make an effort to cast off his sins, and to come to God seeking reconciliation through Christ Jesus. Being thus satisfied of the propriety of saying it, every one ought to do it with becoming awe and reverence. It will, if so done, stir up in us a hatred of sin, and make us strive to flee from it for the future. Let us then exercise faith, strive to use aright the helps provided for us, and be more anxious meekly to learn and practise our duty than to cavil at the wise arrangements of the Church, which we have not been at sufficient pains to understand; so shall we ever show our humility, and improve in those holy dispositions which are wrought in the faithful by the Spirit of God to qualify them for Heaven.
This office is followed by a very beautiful and heart-stirring homily taken chiefly out of Holy Scripture. The seven penitential psalms enter into the services of the day ;-the fifty-first forming part of this office; and is followed by suitable prayers.
We trust these imperfect remarks may be useful in drawing attention to the duties of the approaching holy season, and the proper manner of performing some of them. There is now a deeper sense of religion, and a more devout attention to those duties which the Church, in her wisdom, has enjoined to help forward the pious Christian in his heavenward progress. They are now appreciated by many, which is more than could have been said some time ago. Lent is, by many in all classes, kept with some degree of solemnity. They do not mingle, as at other times, in gay society, and they are not ashamed to use means to subdue the flesh to the spirit,-by fasting, self-denial and mortification. Oh! may attention to the outward parts of religion never with us degenerate into formalism! May the deeper sense of religion which has been awakened, ever promote holiness and trust in God, and so bring many into the reward which is laid up for the faithful at God's right hand.
To give force and value to what we have written on this subject, we would conclude with a striking and eloquent passage from the good Bishop Horne: In this hallowed season (Lent) the Church, by the voice of all her holy services, calleth the world to repentance from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof. And if ever there was an institution calculated to promote the glory of God, by forwarding the salvation of man, it is this appointment of a certain set time for all persons to consider their ways, to break off their