ON THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE
Consider first, the infinite goodness of God, who not content with instituting in our favour the sacrament of baptism, for the forgiveness of all forgoing sins, and to give a new birth to our souls, to make us his children; the sacrament of confirmation, to give us the Holy Ghost in our souls, to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Christ; and the sacrament of the blessed Eucharist, to feed and nourish our souls to everlasting life, with the body and blood of Christ; has also considered our frailty and misery, (by which we are so unhappily liable to lose the grace of our baptism, and to fall away from him by sin,) in the institution of the sacrament of penance, for the forgiveness of the sins we fall into after baptism – as a plank by which we may still escape to the happy shore of eternal life, after having by mortal sin suffered shipwreck, and lost the treasures of baptismal grace and innocence. Embrace, O my soul, this infinite goodness of thy God; adore, praise, and give thanks to thy Saviour, for this his merciful institution. Alas! what must have become of thee, after so many sins, if he had not ordained for thee this wholesome bath, of easy access, to wash away, with his own most precious blood, those strains of thine which otherwise must have been the eternal fuel of hell’s merciless flames.
Consider 2ndly, what this sacrament of penance is, and of what extensive virtue and efficacy. We have the account of the institution of it, St. John xx. 21, 22, 23, where he, to whom ‘all power is given in heaven and earth,’ was pleased to impart one branch of this power to his apostles and their lawful successors in the ministry, in thee words ‘As the Father hath sent me, I also send you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained.’ This absolution of penitent sinners we call the sacrament of penance. and a sacrament it is: because it is an outward sign of inward grace, even of the grace of the remission of our sins, by virtue of the institution of Jesus Christ, ascertained in the ample commission above rehearsed. A commission that comes to the church stamped with the broad seal of heaven, from him that has in his hands the whole power of heaven; a commission that is not restrained as to time or place, nor makes exception of any sin whatsoever, provided the sinner applies with proper dispositions to the power of the keys, granted by Christ to his church, Matt. xvi. O how rich art thou, O Lord, in mercy! O! how true it is that thy tender mercies to us are above all thy works! The angels committed but one sin, and that it thought only, and they were cast off, and condemned for ever, without being allowed either time or grace to repent, or any means of forgiveness or reconciliation; we sin again and again, and thou hast still a mercy in store for us, in this sacrament of reconciliation. O may all heaven and earth give glory to thee for ever, for the wonders o thy goodness and thy love for us.
Consider 3rdly, that the sacrament of penance, besides the absolution given by the minister of Christ in his name and by his authority, requires also, on the part of the sinner, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; at least in desire: the absolution pronounced by the priest will have no effect, it will only serve to the sinner’s greater condemnation without those three necessary ingredients of this sacrament. Contrition is a hearty sorrow for having offended so good a God, with a full determination, by the help of is grace, not to be guilty of the like for the future. Confession is a full and sincere accusation of ourselves, as to the kind and number of our sins, to the pastors of the church, who have received from Christ the charge of our souls. Satisfaction is a faithful performance of the penance enjoined by them for our sins. Christians, see upon what articles you are to be admitted to a reconciliation with your Father, after you have gone away from him by sin. You must renounce, by sincere contrition, the husks of swine which you have unhappily preferred before him. You must humble yourselves by a sincere and sorrowful confession to his vicegerents, of your past errors and disloyalties. and you must offer yourselves to make all the satisfaction that lies in your power, and then he will receive you with open arms, as he did the prodigal son, St. Luke xv.
Conclude to set a great value upon this sacred institution, and to have a speedy recourse to it whenever you find you have fallen into sin. But see it be with due disposition.