Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 5
(... continued from part 4)
Chapter 4. 
4. Penitence, as explained in the sophistical jargon of the 
Schoolmen, widely different from the purity required by the Gospel. 
Of confession and satisfaction. 
    The divisions of this chapter are, - I. The orthodox doctrine 
of repentance being already expounded, the false doctrine is refuted 
in the present chapter; a general summary survey being at the same 
time taken of the doctrine of the Schoolmen, sec. 1, 2. II. Its 
separate parts are afterwards examined. Contrition, sec. 2 and 3. 
Confession, sec. 4-20. Sanctification, from sec. 20 to the end of 
the chapter. 
1. Errors of the Schoolmen in delivering the doctrine of repentance. 
    1. Errors in defining it. Four different definitions 
    considered. 2. Absurd division. 3. Vain and puzzling questions. 
    4. Mode in which they entangle themselves. 
2. The false doctrine of the Schoolmen necessary to be refuted. Of 
    contrition. Their view of it examined. 
3. True and genuine contrition. 
4. Auricular confession. Whether or not of divine authority. 
    Arguments of Canonists and Schoolmen. Allegorical argument 
    founded on Judaism. Two answers. Reason why Christ sent the 
    lepers to the priests. 
5. Another allegorical argument. Answer. 
G. A third argument from two passages of Scripture. These passages 
7. Confession proved not to be of divine authority. The use of it 
    free for almost twelve hundred years after Christ. Its nature. 
    When enacted into a law. Confirmation from the history of the 
    Church. A representation of the ancient auricular confession 
    still existing among the Papists, to bear judgment against 
    them. Confession abolished in the Church of Constantinople. 
8. This mode of confession disapproved by Chrysostom, as shown by 
    many passages. 
9. False confession being thus refuted, the confession enjoined by 
    the word of God is considered. Mistranslation in the old 
    version. Proof from Scripture that confession should be 
    directed to God alone. 
10. Effect of secret confession thus made to God. Another kind of 
    confession made to men. 
11. Two forms of the latter confession, viz., public and private. 
    Public confession either ordinary or extraordinary. Use of 
    each. Objection to confession and public prayer. Answer. 
12. Private confession of two kinds. 1. On our own account. 2. On 
    account of our neighbor. Use of the former. Great assistance to 
    be obtained from faithful ministers of the Church. Mode of 
    procedure. Caution to be used. 
13. The use of the latter recommended by Christ. What comprehended 
    under it. Scripture sanctions no other method of confession. 
14. The power of the keys exercised in these three kinds of 
    confession. The utility of this power in regard to public 
    confession and absolution. Caution to be observed. 
15. Popish errors respecting confession. 1. In enjoining on all the 
    necessity of confessing every sin. 2. Fictitious keys. 3. 
    Pretended mandate to loose and bind. 4. To whom the office of 
    loosing and binding committed. 
16. Refutation of the first error, from the impossibility of so 
    confessing, as proved by the testimony of David. 
17. Refuted farther from the testimony of conscience. Impossible to 
    observe this most rigid obligation. Necessarily leads to 
    despair or indifference. Confirmation of the preceding remarks 
    by an appeal to conscience. 
18. Another refutation of the first error from analogy. Sum of the 
    whole refutation. Third refutation, laying down the surest rule 
    of confession. Explanation of the rule. Three objections 
19. Fourth objection, viz., that auricular confession does no harm, 
    and is even useful. Answer, unfolding the hypocrisy, falsehood, 
    impiety, and monstrous abominations of the patrons of this 
20. Refutation of the second error. 1. Priests not successors of the 
    Apostles. 2. They have not the Holy Spirit, who alone is 
    arbiter of the keys. 
21. Refutation of the third error. 1. They are ignorant of the 
    command and promise of Christ. By abandoning the word of God 
    they run into innumerable absurdities. 
22. Objection to the refutation of the third error. Answers, 
    reducing the Papists to various absurdities. 
23. Refutation of the fourth error. 1. Petitio principii. 2. 
    Inversion of ecclesiastical discipline. Three objections 
24. Conclusion of the whole discussion against this fictitious 
25. Of satisfaction, to which the Sophists assign the third place in 
    repentance. Errors and falsehoods. These views opposed by the 
    terms, - 1. Forgiveness. 2. Free forgiveness. 3. God destroying 
    iniquities. 4. By and on account of Christ. No need of our 
26. Objection, confining the grace and efficacy of Christ within 
    narrow limits. Answers by both John the Evangelist and John the 
    Baptist. Consequence of these answers. 
27. Two points violated by the fiction of satisfaction. First, the 
    honor of Christ impaired. Secondly, the conscience cannot find 
    peace. Objection, confining the forgiveness of sins to 
    Catechumens, refuted. 
28. Objection, founded on the arbitrary distinction between venial 
    and mortal sins. This distinction insulting to God and 
    repugnant to Scripture. Answer, showing the true distinction in 
    regard to venial sin. 
29. Objection, founded on a distinction between guilt and the 
    punishment of it. Answer, illustrated by various passages of 
    Scripture. Admirable saying of Augustine. 
30. Answer, founded on a consideration of the efficacy of Christ's 
    death, and the sacrifices under the law. Our true satisfaction. 
31. An objection, perverting six passages of Scripture. Preliminary 
    observations concerning a twofold judgment on the part of God. 
    1. For punishment. 2. For correction. 
32. Two distinctions hence arising. Objection, that God is often 
    angry with his elect. Answer, God in afflicting his people does 
    not take his mercy from them. This confirmed by his promise, by 
    Scripture, and the uniform experience of the Church. 
    Distinction between the reprobate and the elect in regard to 
33. Second distinction. The punishment of the reprobate a 
    commencement of the eternal punishment awaiting them; that of 
    the elect designed to bring them to repentance. This confirmed 
    by passages of Scripture and of the Fathers. 
34. Two uses of this doctrine to the believer. In affliction he can 
    believe that God, though angry, is still favourable to him. In 
    the punishment of the reprobate, he sees a prelude to their 
    final doom. 
35. Objection, as to the punishment of David, answered. Why all men 
    here subjected to chastisement. 
36. Objections, founded on five other passages, answered. 
37. Answer continued. 
38. Objection, founded on passages in the Fathers. Answer, with 
    passages from Chrysostom and Augustine. 
39. These satisfactions had reference to the peace of the Church, 
    and not to the throne of God. The Schoolmen have perverted the 
    meaning of some absurd statements by obscure monks. 
    1. I come now to an examination of what the scholastic sophists 
teach concerning repentance. This I will do as briefly as possible; 
for I leave no intention to take up every point, lest this work, 
which I am desirous to frame as a compendium of doctrine, should 
exceed all bounds. They have managed to envelop a matter, otherwise 
not much involved, in so many perplexities, that it will be 
difficult to find an outlet if once you get plunged but a little way 
into their mire. And, first, in giving a definition, they plainly 
show they never understood what repentance means. For they fasten on 
some expressions in the writings of the Fathers which are very far 
from expressing the nature of repentance. For instance, that to 
repent is to deplore past sins and not commit what is to be 
deplored. Again that it is to bewail past evils and not to sin to do 
what is to be bewailed. Again, that it is a kind of grieving 
revenge, punishing in itself what it grieves to have committed. 
Again, that it is sorrow of heart and bitterness of soul for the 
evils which the individual has committed, or to which he has 
consented. Supposing we grant that these things were well said by 
Fathers, (though, if one were inclined to dispute, it were not 
difficult to deny it,) they were not, however said with the view of 
describing repentance but only of exhorting penitents not again to 
fall into the same faults from which they had been delivered. But if 
all descriptions of this kind are to be converted into definitions, 
there are others which have as good a title to be added. For 
instance, the following sentence of Chrysostom: "Repentance is a 
medicine for the cure of sin, a gift bestowed from above, an 
admirable virtue, a grace surpassing the power of laws." Moreover, 
the doctrine which they afterwards deliver is somewhat worse than 
their definition. For they are so keenly bent on external exercises, 
that all you can gather from immense volumes is, that repentance is 
a discipline, and austerity, which serves partly to subdue the 
flesh, partly to chasten and punish sins: of internal renovation of 
mind, bringing with it true amendment of life, there is a strange 
silence. No doubt, they talk much of contrition and attrition, 
torment the soul with many scruples, and involve it in great trouble 
and anxiety; but when they seem to have deeply wounded the heart, 
they cure all its bitterness by a slight sprinkling of ceremonies. 
Repentance thus shrewdly defined, they divide into contrition of the 
heart, confession of the mouth, and satisfaction of works. This is 
not more logical than the definition, though they would be thought 
to have spent their whole lives in framing syllogisms. But if any 
one argues from the definition (a mode of argument prevalent with 
dialecticians) that a man may weep over his past sins and not commit 
things that cause weeping; may bewail past evils, and not commit 
things that are to be bewailed; may punish what he is grieved for 
having committed, though he does not confess it with the mouth, - 
how will they defend their division? For if he may be a true 
penitent and not confess, repentance can exist without confession. 
If they answer, that this division refers to repentance regarded as 
a sacrament, or is to be understood of repentance in its most 
perfect form, which they do not comprehend in their definitions, the 
mistake does not rest with me: let them blame themselves for not 
defining more purely and clearly. When any matter is discussed, I 
certainly am dull enough to refer everything to the definition as 
the hinge and foundation of the whole discussion. But granting that 
this is a license which masters have, let us now survey the 
different parts in their order. In omitting as frivolous several 
things which they vend with solemn brow as mysteries, I do it not 
from ignorance. It were not very difficult to dispose of all those 
points which they plume themselves on their acuteness and subtilty 
in discussing; but I consider it a sacred duty not to trouble the 
reader to no purpose with such absurdities. It is certainly easy to 
see from the questions which they move and agitate, and in which 
they miserably entangle themselves, that they are pealing of things 
they know not. Of this nature are the following: Whether repentance 
of one sin is pleasing to God, while there is an obstinate adherence 
to other sins. Again, whether punishments divinely indicted are 
available for satisfaction. Again, whether repentance can be several 
times repeated for mortal sins, whereas they grossly and wickedly 
define that daily repentance has to do with none but venial sins. In 
like manner, with gross error, they greatly torment themselves with 
a saying of Jerome, that repentance is a second plank after 
shipwreck. Herein they show that they have never awoke from brutish 
stupor, so as to obtain a distant view of the thousandth part of 
their sins. 
    2. I would have my readers to observe, that the dispute here 
relates not to a matter of no consequence; but to one of the most 
important of all, viz., the forgiveness of sins. For while they 
require three things in repentance, viz., compunction of heart, 
confession of the mouth, and satisfaction of work, they at the same 
time teach that these are necessary to obtain the pardon of sins. If 
there is any thing in the whole compass of religion which it is of 
importance to us to know, this certainly is one of the most 
important, viz., to perceive and rightly hold by what means, what 
rule, what terms, with what facility or difficulty, forgiveness of 
sins may be obtained. Unless our knowledge here is clear and 
certain, our conscience can have no rest at all, no peace with God, 
no confidence or security, but is continually trembling, 
fluctuating, boiling, and distracted; dreads, hates, and shuns the 
presence of God. But if forgiveness of sins depends on the 
conditions to which they bind it, nothing can be more wretched and 
deplorable than our situation. Contrition they represent as the 
first step in obtaining pardon; and they exact it as due, that is, 
full and complete: meanwhile, they decide not when one may feel 
secure of having performed this contrition in due measure. I admit 
that we are bound strongly and incessantly to urge every man 
bitterly to lament his sins, and thereby stimulate himself more and 
more to dislike and hate them. For this is the "repentance to 
salvation not to be repented of," (2 Cor. 7: 10.) But when such 
bitterness of sorrow is demanded as may correspond to the magnitude 
of the offense, and be weighed in the balance with confidence of 
pardon, miserable consciences are sadly perplexed and tormented when 
they see that the contrition due for sin is laid upon them, and yet 
that they have no measure of what is due, so as to enable them to 
determine that they have made full payment. If they say, we are to 
do what in us lies, we are always brought back to the same point; 
for when will any man venture to promise himself that he has done 
his utmost in bewailing sin? Therefore, when consciences, after a 
lengthened struggle and long contests with themselves, find no haven 
in which they may rest, as a means of alleviating their condition in 
some degree, they extort sorrow and wring out tears, in order to 
perfect their contrition. 
    3. If they say that this is calumny on my part, let them come 
forward and point out a single individual who, by this doctrine of 
contrition, has not either been driven to despair, or has not, 
instead of true, opposed pretended fear to the justice of God. We 
have elsewhere observed, that forgiveness of sins never can be 
obtained without repentance, because none but the afflicted, and 
those wounded by a consciousness of sins, can sincerely implore the 
mercy of God; but we, at the same time, added, that repentance 
cannot be the cause of the forgiveness of sins: and we also did away 
with that torment of souls - the dogma that it must be performed as 
due. Our doctrine was, that the soul looked not to its own 
compunction or its own tears, but fixed both eyes on the mercy of 
God alone. Only we observed, that those who labour and are heavy 
laden are called by Christ, seeing he was sent "to preach good 
tidings to the meek;" "to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim 
liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that 
are bound;" "to comfort all that mourn." Hence the Pharisees were 
excluded, because, full of their own righteousness, they 
acknowledged not their own poverty; and despisers, because, 
regardless of the divine anger, they sought no remedy for their 
wickedness. Such persons neither labour nor are heavy laden, are not 
broken-hearted, bound, nor in prison. But there is a great 
difference between teaching that forgiveness of sins is merited by a 
full and complete contrition, (which the sinner never can give,) and 
instructing him to hunger and thirst after the mercy of God, that 
recognizing his wretchedness, his turmoil, weariness, and captivity, 
you may show him where he should seek refreshment, rest, and 
liberty; in fine, teach him in his humility to give glory to God. 
    4. Confession has ever been a subject of keen contest between 
the Canonists and the Scholastic Theologians; the former contending 
that confession is of divine authority - the latter insisting, on 
the contrary, that it is merely enjoined by ecclesiastical 
constitution. In this contest great effrontery has been displayed by 
the Theologians, who have corrupted and violently wrested every 
passage of Scripture they have quoted in their favour. And when they 
saw that even thus they could not gain their object, those who 
wished to be thought particularly acute had recourse to the evasion 
that confession is of divine authority in regard to the substance, 
but that it afterwards received its form from positive enactment. 
Thus the silliest of these quibblers refer the citation to divine 
authority, from its being said, "Adam, where art thou?" (Gen. 3: 9, 
12;) and also the exception from Adam having replied as if 
excepting, "The women whom thou gavest to be with me," &c.; but say 
that the form of both was appointed by civil law. Let us see by what 
arguments they prove that this confession, formed or unformed, is a 
divine commandment. The Lord, they say, sent the lepers to the 
priests, (Matth. 8: 4.) What? did he send them to confession? Who 
ever heard tell that the Levitical priests were appointed to hear 
confession? Here they resort to allegory. The priests were appointed 
by the Mosaic law to discern between leper and leper: sin is 
spiritual leprosy; therefore it belongs to the priests to decide 
upon it. Before I answer, I would ask, in passing, why, if this 
passage makes them judges of spiritual leprosy, they claim the 
cognizance of natural and carnal leprosy? This, for sooth, is not to 
play upon Scripture! The law gives the cognizance of leprosy to the 
Levitical priests: let us usurp this to ourselves. Sin is spiritual 
leprosy: let us also have cognizance of sin. I now give my answer: 
There being a change of the priesthood, there must of necessity be a 
change of the law. All the sacerdotal functions were transferred to 
Christ, and in him fulfilled and ended, (Heb. 7: 12.) To him alone, 
therefore, all the rights and honors of the priesthood have been 
transferred. If they are so fond then of hunting out allegories, let 
them set Christ before them as the only priest, and place full and 
universal jurisdiction on his tribunal: this we will readily admit. 
Besides, there is an incongruity in their allegory: it classes a 
merely civil enactment among ceremonies. Why, then, does Christ send 
the lepers to the priests? Lest the priests should be charged with 
violating the law, which ordained that the person cured of leprosy 
should present himself before the priest, and be purified by the 
offering of a sacrifice, he orders the lepers who had been cleansed 
to do what the law required. "Go and show thyself to the priest, and 
offer for thy cleansing according as Moses commanded for a testimony 
unto them." (Luke 5: 17.) And assuredly this miracle would be a 
testimony to them: they had pronounced them lepers; they now 
pronounce them cured. Whether they would or not, they are forced to 
become witnesses to the miracles of Christ. Christ allows them to 
examine the miracle, and they cannot deny it: yet, as they still 
quibble, they have need of a testimony. So it is elsewhere said, 
"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for 
a witness unto all nations," (Matth. 24: 14.) Again, "Ye shall be 
brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony 
against them and the Gentiles," (Matth. 10: 18;) that is, in order 
that, in the judgment of Gods they might be more filly convicted. 
But if they prefer taking the view of Chrysostom, (Hom. 12 de 
Muliere Cananaea,) he shows that this was done by Christ for the 
sake of the Jews also, that he might not be regarded as a violator 
of the law. But we are ashamed to appeal to the authority of any man 
in a matter so clear, when Christ declares that he left the legal 
right of the priests entire, as professed enemies of the Gospel, who 
were always intent on making a clamour if their mouths were not 
stopped. Wherefore, let the Popish priests, in order to retain this 
privilege, openly make common cause with those whom it was necessary 
to restrain, by forcible means, from speaking evil of Christ. For 
there is here no reference to his true ministers. 
    5. They draw their second argument from the same fountain, - I 
mean allegory; as if allegories were of much avail in confirming any 
doctrine. But, indeed, let them avail, if those which I am able to 
produce are not more specious than theirs. They say, then, that the 
Lord, after raising Lazarus, commanded his disciples to "loose him 
and let him go," (John 11: 44.) Their first statement is untrue: we 
nowhere read that the Lord said this to the disciples; and it is 
much more probable that he spoke to the Jews who were standing by, 
that from there being no suspicion of fraud the miracle might be 
more manifest, and his power might be the more conspicuous from his 
raising the dead without touching him, by a mere word. In the same 
way, I understand that our Lord, to leave no ground of suspicion to 
the Jews, wished them to roll back the stone, feel the stench, 
perceive the sure signs of death, see him rise by the mere power of 
a word, and first handle hint when alive. And this is the view of 
Chrysostom, (Serm. C. Jud. Gent. et Haeret.) But granting that it 
was said to the disciples, what can they gain by it? That the Lord 
gave the apostles the power of loosing? How much more aptly and 
dexterously might we allegorize and say, that by this symbol the 
Lord designed to teach his followers to loose those whom he raises 
up; that is, not to bring to remembrance the sins which he himself 
had forgotten, not to condemn as sinners those whom he had 
acquitted, not still to upbraid those whom he had pardoned, not to 
be stern and severe in punishing, while he himself was merciful and 
ready to forgive. Certainly nothing should more incline us to pardon 
than the example of the Judge who threatens that he will be 
inexorable to the rigid and inhumane. Let them go now and vend their 
    6. They now come to closer quarters, while they support their 
view by passages of Scripture which they think clearly in their 
favour. Those who came to John's baptism confessed their sins, and 
James bids us confess our sins one to another, (James 5: 16.) It is 
not strange that those who wished to be baptized confessed their 
sins. It has already been mentioned, that John preached the baptism 
of repentance, baptized with water unto repentance. Whom then could 
he baptize, but those who confessed that they were sinners? Baptism 
is a symbol of the forgiveness of sins; and who could be admitted to 
receive the symbol but sinners acknowledging themselves as such? 
They therefore confessed their sins that they might be baptized. Nor 
without good reason does James enjoin us to confess our sins one to 
another. But if they would attend to what immediately follows, they 
would perceive that this gives them little support. The words are, 
"Confess your sins one to another, and pray one for another." He 
joins together mutual confession and mutual prayer. If, then, we are 
to confess to priests only, we are also to pray for them only. What? 
It would even follow from the words of James, that priests alone can 
confess. In saying that we are to confess mutually, he must be 
addressing those only who can hear the confession of others. He 
says, "allelous", mutually, by turns, or, if they prefer it, 
reciprocally. But those only can confess reciprocally who are fit to 
hear confession. This being a privilege which they bestow upon 
priests only, we also leave them the office of confessing to each 
other. Have done then with such frivolous absurdities, and let us 
receive the true meaning of the apostle, which is plain and simple; 
first, That we are to deposit our infirmities in the breasts of each 
other, with the view of receiving mutual counsel, sympathy, and 
comfort; and, secondly, That mutually conscious of the infirmities 
of our brethren we are to pray to the Lord for them. Why then quote 
James against us who so earnestly insist on acknowledgment of the 
divine mercy? No man can acknowledge the mercy of God without 
previously confessing his own misery. Nay, we pronounce every man to 
be anathema who does not confess himself a sinner before God, before 
his angels, before the Church; in short, before all men. "The 
Scripture has concluded all under sin," "that every mouth may be 
stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God," that God 
alone may be justified and exalted, (Gal. 3: 22; Rom. 3: 9, 19.) 
    7. I wonder at their effrontery in venturing to maintain that 
the confession of which they speak is of divine authority. We admit 
that the use of it is very ancient; but we can easily prove that at 
one time it was free. It certainly appears, from their own records, 
that no law or constitution respecting it was enacted before the 
days of Innocent III. Surely if there had been a more ancient law 
they would have fastened on it, instead of being satisfied with the 
decree of the Council of Lateral, and so making themselves 
ridiculous even to children. In other matters, they hesitate not to 
coin fictitious decrees, which they ascribe to the most ancient 
Councils, that they may blind the eyes of the simple by veneration 
for antiquity. In this instance it has not occurred to them to 
practice this deception, and hence, themselves being witnesses, 
three centuries have not yet elapsed since the bridle was put, and 
the necessity of confession imposed by Innocent III. And to say 
nothing of the time, the mere barbarism of the terms used destroys 
the authority of the law. For when these worthy fathers enjoin that 
every person of both sexes (utriusque sexus) must once a year 
confess his sins to his own priest, men of wit humorously object 
that the precept binds hermaphrodites only, and has no application 
to any one who is either a male or a female. A still grosser 
absurdity has been displayed by their disciples, who are unable to 
explain what is meant by one's own priest, (proprius sacerdos.) Let 
all the hired ravers of the Pope babble as they may, we hold that 
Christ is not the author of this law, which compels men to enumerate 
their sins; nay, that twelve hundred years elapsed after the 
resurrection of Christ before any such law was made, and that, 
consequently, this tyranny was not introduced until piety and 
doctrine were extinct, and pretended pastors had usurped to 
themselves unbridled license. There is clear evidence in historians, 
and other ancient writers, to show that this was a politic 
discipline introduced by bishops, not a law enacted by Christ or the 
Apostles. Out of many I will produce only one passage, which will be 
no obscure proof. Sozomen relates, that this constitution of the 
bishops was carefully observed in the Western churches, but 
especially at Rome; thus intimating that it was not the universal 
custom of all churches. He also says, that one of the presbyters was 
specially appointed to take charge of this duty. This abundantly 
confutes their falsehood as to the keys being given to the whole 
priesthood indiscriminately for this purpose, since the function was 
not common to all the priests, but specially belonged to the one 
priest whom the bishop had appointed to it. He it was (the same who 
at present in each of the cathedral churches has the name of 
penitentiary) who had cognizance of offenses which were more 
heinous, and required to be rebuked for the sake of example. He 
afterwards adds, that the same custom existed at Constantinople, 
until a certain matron, while pretending to confess, was discovered 
to have used it as a cloak to cover her intercourse with a deacon. 
In consequence of that crime, Nectarius, the bishop of that church - 
a man famous for learning and sanctity - abolished the custom of 
confessing. Here, then, let these asses prick up their ears. If 
auricular confession was a divine law, how could Nectarius have 
dared to abolish or remodel it? Nectarius, a holy man of God, 
approved by the suffrage of all antiquity, will they charge with 
heresy and schism? With the same vote they will condemn the church 
of Constantinople, in which Sozomen affirms that the custom of 
confessing was not only disguised for a time, but even in his own 
memory abolished. Nay, let them charge with defections not only 
Constantinople but all the Eastern churches, which (if they say 
true) disregarded an inviolable law enjoined on all Christians. 
    8. This abrogation is clearly attested in so many passages by 
Chrysostom, who lived at Constantinople, and was himself prelate of 
the church, that it is strange they can venture to maintain the 
contrary: "Tell your sins", says he, "that you may efface them: if 
you blush to tell another what sins you have committed, tell them 
daily in your soul. I say not, tell them to your fellow-servant who 
may upbraid you, but tell them to God who cures them. Confess your 
sins upon your bed, that your conscience may there daily recognize 
its iniquities." Again, "Now, however, it is not necessary to 
confess before witnesses; let the examination of your faults be made 
in your own thought: let the judgment be without a witness: let God 
alone see you confessing." Again, "I do not lead you publicly into 
the view of your fellow servants; I do not force you to disclose 
your sins to men; review and lay open your conscience before God. 
Show your wounds to the Lord, the best of physicians, and seek 
medicine from him. Show to him who upbraids not, but cures most 
kindly." Again, "Certainly tell it not to man lest he upbraid you. 
Nor must you confess to your fellow servant, who may make it public; 
but show your wounds to the Lord, who takes care of you, who is kind 
and can cure." He afterwards introduces God speaking thus: "I oblige 
you not to come into the midst of a theatre, and have many 
witnesses; tell your sins to me alone in private, that I may cure 
the ulcer." Shall we say that Chrysostom, in writing these and 
similar passages, carried his presumption so far as to free the 
consciences of men from those chains with which they are bound by 
the divine law? By no means; but knowing that it was not at all 
prescribed by the word of God, he dares not exact it as necessary. 
    9. But that the whole matter may be more plainly unfolded, we 
shall first honestly state the nature of confession as delivered in 
the word of God, and thereafter subjoin their inventions - not all 
of them indeed, (who could drink up that boundless sea?) but those 
only which contain summary of their secret confession. Here I am 
grieved to mention how frequently the old interpreter has rendered 
the word confess instead of praise, a fact notorious to the most 
illiterate, were it not fitting to expose their effrontery in 
transferring to their tyrannical edict what was written concerning 
the praises of God. To prove that confession has the effect of 
exhilarating the mind, they obtrude the passage in the psalm, "with 
the voice of joy and praise," (Vulgate, confessionis,) (Ps. 42: 4.) 
But if such a metamorphosis is valid, any thing may be made of any 
thing. But, as they have lost all shame, let pious readers reflect 
how, by the just vengeance of God, they have been given over to a 
reprobate mind, that their audacity may be the more detestable. If 
we are disposed to acquiesce in the simple doctrine of Scripture, 
there will be no danger of our being misled by such glosses. There 
one method of confessing is prescribed; since it is the Lord who 
forgives, forgets and wipes away sins, to him let us confess them, 
that we may obtain pardon. He is the physician, therefore let us 
show our wounds to him. He is hurt and offended, let us ask peace of 
him. He is the discerner of the heart, and knows all one thoughts; 
let us hasten to pour out our hearts before him. He it is, in fine, 
who invites sinners; let us delay not to draw near to him. "I 
acknowledge my sin unto thee," says David; "and mine iniquity have I 
not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and 
thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin," (Ps. 32: 5.) Another 
specimen of David's confessions is as follows: "Have mercy upon me, 
O God, according to thy loving kindness," (Ps. 51: 1.) The following 
is Daniel's confession: "We have sinned, and have committed 
iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by 
departing from thy precepts and thy judgments," (Dan. 9: 5.) Other 
examples every where occur in Scripture: the quotation of them would 
almost fill a volume. "If we confess our sins," says John, "he is 
faithful and just to forgive us our sins," (1 John 1: 9.) To whom 
are we to confess? to Him surely; - that is, we are to fall down 
before him with a grieved and humbled heart, and sincerely accusing 
and condemning ourselves, seek forgiveness of his goodness and 
    10. He who has adopted this confession from the heart and as in 
the presence of God, will doubtless have a tongue ready to confess 
whenever there is occasion among men to publish the mercy of God. He 
will not be satisfied to whisper the secret of his heart for once 
into the ear of one individual, but will often, and openly, and in 
the hearing of the whole world, ingenuously make mention both of his 
own ignominy, and of the greatness and glory of the Lord. In this 
way David, after he was accused by Nathan, being stung in his 
conscience, confesses his sin before God and men. "I have sinned 
unto the Lord," says he, (2 Sam. 12: 13;) that is, I have now no 
excuse, no evasion; all must judge me a sinner; and that which I 
wished to be secret with the Lord must also be made manifest to men. 
Hence the secret confession which is made to God is followed by 
voluntary confession to men, whenever that is conducive to the 
divine glory or our humiliation. For this reason the Lord anciently 
enjoined the people of Israel that they should repeat the words 
after the priest, and make public confession of their iniquities in 
the temple; because he foresaw that this was a necessary help to 
enable each one to form a just idea of himself. And it is proper 
that by confession of our misery, we should manifest the mercy of 
our God both among ourselves and before the whole world. 
    11. It is proper that this mode of confession should both be 
ordinary in the Church, and also be specially employed on 
extraordinary occasions, when the people in common happen to have 
fallen into any fault. Of this latter description we have an example 
in the solemn confession which the whole people made under the 
authority and guidance of Ezra and Nehemiah, (Neh. 1: 6, 7.) For 
their long captivity, the destruction of the temple, and suppression 
of their religion, having been the common punishment of their 
defection, they could not make meet acknowledgment of the blessing 
of deliverance without previous confession of their guilt. And it 
matters not though in one assembly it may sometimes happen that a 
few are innocent, seeing that the members of a languid and sickly 
body cannot boast of soundness. Nay, it is scarcely possible that 
these few have not contracted some taint, and so bear part of the 
blame. Therefore, as often as we are afflicted with pestilence, or 
war, or famine, or any other calamity whatsoever, if it is our duty 
to retake ourselves to mourning, fasting, and other signs of 
guiltiness, confession also, on which all the others depend, is not 
to be neglected. That ordinary confession which the Lord has 
moreover expressly commended, no sober man, who has reflected on its 
usefulness, will venture to disapprove. Seeing that in every sacred 
assembly we stand in the view of God and angels, in what way should 
our service begin but in acknowledging our own unworthiness? But 
this you will say is done in every prayer; for as often as we pray 
for pardon, we confess our sins. I admit it. But if you consider how 
great is our carelessness, or drowsiness, or sloth, you will grant 
me that it would be a salutary ordinance if the Christian people 
were exercised in humiliation by some formal method of confession. 
For though the ceremony which the Lord enjoined on the Israelites 
belonged to the tutelage of the Law, yet the thing itself belongs in 
some respect to us also. And, indeed, in all well ordered churches, 
in observance of an useful custom, the minister, each Lord's day, 
frames a formula of confession in his own name and that of the 
people, in which he makes a common confession of iniquity, and 
supplicates pardon from the Lord. In short, by this key a door of 
prayer is opened privately for each, and publicly for all. 
    12. Two other forms of private confession are approved by 
Scripture. The one is made on our own account, and to it reference 
is made in the passage in James, "Confess your sins one to another," 
(James 5: 16;) for the meaning is, that by disclosing our 
infirmities to each other, we are to obtain the aid of mutual 
counsel and consolation. The other is to be made for the sake of our 
neighbor, to appease and reconcile him if by our fault he has been 
in any respect injured. In the former, although James, by not 
specifying any particular individual into whose bosom we are to 
disburden our feelings, leaves us the free choice of confessing to 
any member of the church who may seem fittest; yet as for the most 
part pastors are to be supposed better qualified than others, our 
choice ought chiefly to fall upon them. And the ground of preference 
is, that the Lord, by calling them to the ministry, points them out 
as the persons by whose lips we are to be taught to subdue and 
correct our sins, and derive consolation from the hope of pardon. 
For as the duty of mutual admonition and correction is committed to 
all Christians, but is specially enjoined on ministers, so while we 
ought all to console each other mutually and confirm each other in 
confidence in the divine mercy, we see that ministers, to assure our 
consciences of the forgiveness of fins, are appointed to be the 
witnesses and sponsors of it, so that they are themselves said to 
forgive sins and loose souls (Matth. 16: 19; 18: 18.) When you hear 
this attributed to them, reflect that it is for your use. Let every 
believer, therefore, remember, that if in private he is so agonized 
and afflicted by a sense of his sins that he cannot obtain relief 
without the aid of others, it is his duty not to neglect the remedy 
which God provides for him, viz., to have recourse for relief to a 
private confession to his own pastor, and for consolation privately 
implore the assistance of him whose business it is, both in public 
and private, to solace the people of God with Gospel doctrine. But 
we are always to use moderation, lest in a matter as to which God 
prescribes no certain rule, our consciences be burdened with a 
certain yoke. Hence it follows first, that confession of this nature 
ought to be free so as not to be exacted of all, but only 
recommended to those who feel that they have need of it; and, 
secondly, even those who use it according to their necessity must 
neither be compelled by any precept, nor artfully induced to 
enumerate all their sins, but only in so far as they shall deem it 
for their interest, that they may obtain the full benefit of 
consolation. Faithful pastors, as they would both eschew tyranny in 
their ministry, and superstition in the people, must not only leave 
this liberty to churches, but defend and strenuously vindicate it. 
    13. Of the second form of confession, our Savior speaks in 
Matthew. "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember 
that thy brother has ought against thee; leave there thy gift before 
the altar; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and 
offer thy gift," (Matth. 5: 23, 24.) Thus love, which has been 
interrupted by our fault, must be restored by acknowledging and 
asking pardon for the fault. Under this head is included the 
confession of those who by their sin have given offense to the whole 
Church, (supra, sec. 10.) For if Christ attaches so much importance 
to the offense of one individual, that he forbids the sacrifice of 
all who have sinned in any respect against their brethren, until by 
due satisfaction they have regained their favor, how much greater 
reason is there that he, who by some evil example has offended the 
Church should be reconciled to it by the acknowledgment of his 
fault? Thus the member of the Church of Corinth was restored to 
communion after he had humbly submitted to correction, (2 Cor. 2: 
6.) This form of confession existed in the ancient Christian Church, 
as Cyprian relates: "They practice repentance," says he, "for a 
proper time, then they come to confession, and by the laying on of 
the hands of the bishop and clergy, are admitted to communion." 
Scripture knows nothing of any other form or method of confessing, 
and it belongs not to us to bind new chains upon consciences which 
Christ most strictly prohibits from being brought into bondage. 
Meanwhile, that the flock present themselves before the pastor 
whenever they would partake of the Holy Supper, I am so far from 
disapproving, that I am most desirous it should be everywhere 
observed. For both those whose conscience is hindered may thence 
obtain singular benefit, and those who require admonition thus 
afford an opportunity for it; provided always no countenance is 
given to tyranny and superstition. 
    14. The power of the keys has place in the three following 
modes of confession, - either when the whole Church, in a formal 
acknowledgment of its defects, supplicates pardon; or when a private 
individual, who has given public offense by some notable 
delinquency, testifies his repentance; or when he who from disquiet 
of conscience needs the aid of his minister, acquaints him with his 
infirmity. With regard to the reparation of offense, the case is 
different. For though in this also provision is made for peace of 
conscience, yet the principal object is to suppress hatred, and 
reunite brethren in the bond of peace. But the benefit of which I 
have spoken is by no means to be despised, that we may the more 
willingly confess our sins. For when the whole Church stands as it 
were at the bar of God, confesses her guilt, and finds her only 
refuge in the divine mercy, it is no common or light solace to have 
an ambassador of Christ present, invested with the mandate of 
reconciliations by whom she may hear her absolution pronounced. Here 
the utility of the keys is justly commended when that embassy is 
duly discharged with becoming order and reverence. In like manner, 
when he who has as it were become an alien from the Church receives 
pardon, and is thus restored to brotherly unity, how great is the 
benefit of understanding that he is pardoned by those to whom Christ 
said, "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them," 
(John 20: 23.) Nor is private absolution of less benefit or efficacy 
when asked by those who stand in need of a special remedy for their 
infirmity. It not seldom happens, that he who hears general promises 
which are intended for the whole congregation of the faithful, 
nevertheless remains somewhat in doubts, and is still disquieted in 
mind, as if his own remission were not yet obtained. Should this 
individual lay open the secret wound of his soul to his pastor, and 
hear these words of the Gospel specially addressed to him, "Son, be 
of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee," (Matth. 9: 2,) his mind 
will feel secure, and escape from the trepidation with which it was 
previously agitated. But when we treat of the keys, us must always 
beware of dreaming of any power apart from the preaching of the 
Gospel. This subject will be more fully explained when we come to 
treat of the government of the Church, (Book 4 chap. 11, 12) There 
we shall see, that whatever privilege of binding and loosing Christ 
has bestowed on his Church is annexed to the word. This is 
especially true with regard to the ministry of the keys, the whole 
power of which consists in this, that the grace of the Gospel is 
publicly and privately sealed on the minds of believers by means of 
those whom the Lord has appointed; and the only method in which this 
can be done is by preaching. 
    15. What say the Roman theologians? That all persons of both 
sexes, so soon as they shall have reached the years of discretion, 
must, once a year at least, confess all their sins to their own 
priest; that the sin is not discharged unless the resolution to 
confess has been firmly conceived; that if this resolution is not 
carried into effect when an opportunity offers, there is no entrance 
into Paradise; that the priest, moreover has the power of the keys, 
by which he can loose and bind the sinner; because the declaration 
of Christ is not in vain: "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall 
be bound in heaven," (Matth. 18: 18.) Concerning this power, however 
they wage a fierce war among themselves. Some say there is only one 
key essentially, viz., the power of binding and loosing; that 
knowledge, indeed, is requisite for the proper use of it, but only 
as an accessory, not as essentially inherent in it. Others seeing 
that this gave too unrestrained license, have imagined two keys, 
viz., discernment and power. Others, again, seeing that the license 
of priests was curbed by such restraint, have forged other keys, 
(infra, sec. 21,) the authority of discerning to be used in 
defining, and the power to carry their sentences into execution; and 
to these they add knowledge as a counselor. This binding and 
loosing, however, they do not venture to interpret simply, to 
forgive and wipe away sins, because they hear the Lord proclaiming 
by the prophet, "I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no 
savior." "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions," 
(Isaiah 43: 11, 25.) But they say it belongs to the priest to 
declare who are bound or loosed, and whose sins are remitted or 
retained; to declare, moreover, either by confession, when he 
absolves and retains sins, or by sentence, when he excommunicates or 
admits to communion in the Sacraments. Lastly, perceiving that the 
knot is not yet untied, because it may always be objected that 
persons are often undeservedly bound and loosed, and therefore not 
bound or loosed in heaven; as their ultimate resource, they answer, 
that the conferring of the keys must be taken with limitations 
because Christ has promised that the sentence of the priest, 
properly pronounced, will be approved at his judgment-seat according 
as the bound or loosed asked what they merited. They say, moreover, 
that those keys which are conferred by bishops at ordination were 
given by Christ to all priests but that the free use of them is with 
those only who discharge ecclesiastical functions; that with priests 
excommunicated or suspended the keys themselves indeed remain, but 
tied and rusty. Those who speak thus may justly be deemed modest and 
sober compared with others, who on a new anvil have forged new keys, 
by which they say that the treasury of heaven is locked up: these we 
shall afterwards consider in their own place, (chap. 5 sec. 2.) 
    16. To each of these views I will briefly reply. As to their 
binding the souls of believers by their laws, whether justly or 
unjustly, I say nothing at present, as it will be seen at the proper 
place; but their enacting it as a law, that all sins are to be 
enumerated; their denying that sin is discharged except under the 
condition that the resolution to confess has been firmly conceived; 
their pretence that there is no admission into Paradise if the 
opportunity of confession has been neglected, are things which it is 
impossible to bear. Are all sins to be enumerated? But David, who, I 
presume, had honestly pondered with himself as to the confession of 
his sins, exclaimed, "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me 
from secret faults," (Ps. 19: 12;) and in another passage, "Mine 
iniquities are gone over my head: as a heavy burden they are too 
heavy for me," (Ps. 38: 4.) He knew how deep was the abyss of our 
sins, how numerous the forms of wickedness, how many heads the hydra 
carried, how long a tail it drew. Therefore, he did not sit down to 
make a catalogue, but from the depth of his distress cried unto the 
Lord, "I am overwhelmed, and buried, and sore vexed; the gates of 
hell have encircled me: let thy right hand deliver me from the abyss 
into which I am plunged, and from the death which I am ready to 
die." Who can now think of a computation of his sins when he sees 
David's inability to number his? 
    17. By this ruinous procedure, the souls of those who were 
affected with some sense of God have been most cruelly racked. 
First, they retook themselves to calculation, proceeding according 
to the formula given by the Schoolmen, and dividing their sins into 
boughs, branches, twigs, and leaves; then they weighed the 
qualities, quantities, and circumstances; and in this way, for some 
time, matters proceeded. But after they had advanced farther, when 
they looked around, nought was seen but sea and sky; no road, no 
harbor. The longer the space they ran over, a longer still met the 
eye; nay, lofty mountains began to rise, and there seemed no hope of 
escape; none at least till after long wanderings. They were thus 
brought to a dead halt, till at length the only issue was found in 
despair. Here these cruel murderers, to ease the wounds which they 
had made, applied certain fomentations. Every one was to do his 
best. But new cares again disturbed, nay, new torments excruciated 
their souls. "I have not spent enough of time; I have not exerted 
myself sufficiently: many things I have omitted through negligence: 
forgetfulness proceeding from want of care is not excusable." Then 
new drugs were supplied to alleviate their pains. "Repent of your 
negligence; and provided it is not done supinely, it will be 
pardoned." All these things, however, could not heal the wound, 
being not so much alleviations of the sore as poison besmeared with 
honey, that its bitterness might not at once offend the taste, but 
penetrate to the vitals before it could be detected. The dreadful 
voice, therefore, was always heard pealing in their ears, "Confess 
all your sins," and the dread thus occasioned could not be pacified 
without sure consolation. Here let my readers consider whether it be 
possible to take an account of the actions of a whole year, or even 
to collect the sins committed in a single day, seeing every man's 
experience convinces him that at evening, in examining the faults of 
that single day, memory gets confused, so great is the number and 
variety presented. I am not speaking of dull and heartless 
hypocrites, who, after animadverting on three or four of their 
grosser offenses, think the work finished; but of the true 
worshipers of God, who, after they have performed their examination, 
feeling themselves overwhelmed, still add the words of John: "If our 
heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all 
things," (1 John 3: 20;) and, therefore, tremble at the thought of 
that Judge whose knowledge far surpasses our comprehension. 
    18. Though a good part of the world rested in these soothing 
suggestions, by which this fatal poison was somewhat tempered, it 
was not because they thought that God was satisfied, or they had 
quite satisfied themselves; it was rather like an anchor cast out in 
the middle of the deep, which for a little interrupts the 
navigation, or a weary, worn-out traveler, who lies down by the way. 
I give myself no trouble in proving the truth of this fact. Every 
one can be his own witness. I will mention generally what the nature 
of this law is. First. The observance of it is simply impossible; 
and hence its only results to destroy, condemn, confound, to plunge 
into ruin and despair. Secondly, By withdrawing sinners from a true 
sense of their sins, it makes them hypocritical, and ignorant both 
of God and themselves. For, while they are wholly occupied with the 
enumeration of their sins, they lose sight of that lurking hydra, 
their secret iniquities and internal defilements, the knowledge of 
which would have made them sensible of their misery. But the surest 
rule of confession is, to acknowledge and confess our sins to be an 
abyss so great as to exceed our comprehension. On this rule we see 
the confession of the publican was formed, "God be merciful to me, a 
sinner," (Luke 18: 13;) as if he had said, How great, how very great 
a sinner, how utterly sinful I am! the extent of my sins I can 
neither conceive nor express. Let the depth of thy mercy engulf the 
depth of sin! What! you will say, are we not to confess every single 
sin? Is no confession acceptable to God but that which is contained 
in the words, "I am a sinner"? Nay, our endeavor must rather be, as 
much as in us lies, to pour out our whole heart before the Lord. Nor 
are we only in one word to confess ourselves sinners, but truly and 
sincerely acknowledge ourselves as such; to feel with our whole soul 
how great and various the pollutions of our sins are; confessing not 
only that we are impure, but what the nature of our impurity is, its 
magnitude and its extent; not only that we are debtors, but what the 
debts are which burden us, and how they were incurred; not only that 
we are wounded, but how numerous and deadly are the wounds. When 
thus recognizing himself, the sinner shall have poured out his whole 
heart before God, let him seriously and sincerely reflect that a 
greater number of sins still remains, and that their recesses are 
too deep for him thoroughly to penetrate. Accordingly, let him 
exclaim with David, "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me 
from secret faults," (Ps. 19: 12.) But when the Schoolmen affirm 
that sins are not forgiven, unless the resolution to confess has 
been firmly conceived, and that the gate of Paradise is closed on 
him who has neglected the opportunity of confessing when offered, 
far be it from us to concede this to them. The remission of sins is 
not different now from what it has ever been. In all the passages in 
which we read that sinners obtained forgiveness from God, we read 
not that they whispered into the ear of some priest. Indeed they 
could not then confess, as priests were not then confessionaries, 
nor did the confessional itself exist. And for many ages afterwards, 
this mode of confession, by which sins were forgiven on this 
condition, was unheard of: But not to enter into a long discussion, 
as if the matter were doubtful, the word of God, which abideth for 
ever, is plain, "When the wicked shall turn away from all his sins 
that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which 
is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die," (Ezek. 
18: 21.) He who presumes to add to this declaration binds not sins, 
but the mercy of God. When they contend that judgment cannot be 
given unless the case is known, the answer is easy, that they usurp 
the right of judging, being only self-created judges. And it is 
strange, how confidently they lay down principles, which no man of 
sound mind will admit. They give out, that the office of binding and 
loosing has been committed to them, as a kind of jurisdiction 
annexed to the right of inquiry. That the jurisdiction was unknown 
to the Apostles their whole doctrine proclaims. Nor does it belong 
to the priest to know for certainty whether or not a sinner is 
loosed, but to Him from whom acquittal is asked; since he who only 
hears can ever know whether or not the enumeration is full and 
complete. Thus there would be no absolution, without restricting it 
to the words of him who is to be judged. We may add, that the whole 
system of loosing depends on faith and repentance, two things which 
no man can know of another, so as to pronounce sentence. It follows, 
therefore, that the certainty of binding and loosing is not 
subjected to the will of an earthly judge, because the minister of 
the word, when he duly executes his office, can only acquit 
conditionally, when, for the sake of the sinner, he repeats the 
words, "Whose soever sins ye remit;" lest he should doubt of the 
pardon, which, by the command and voice of God, is promised to be 
ratified in heaven. 
    19. It is not strange, therefore, that we condemn that 
auricular confession, as a thing pestilent in its nature, and in 
many ways injurious to the Church, and desire to see it abolished. 
But if the thing were in itself indifferent, yet, seeing it is of no 
use or benefit, and has given occasion to so much impiety, 
blasphemy, and error, who does not think that it ought to be 
immediately abolished? They enumerate some of its uses, and boast of 
them as very beneficial, but they are either fictitious or of no 
importance. One thing they specially commend, that the blush of 
shame in the penitent is a severe punishment, which makes him more 
cautious for the future, and anticipates divine punishment, by his 
punishing himself. As if a man was not sufficiently humbled with 
shame when brought under the cognizance of God at his supreme 
tribunal. Admirable proficiency - if we cease to sin because we are 
ashamed to make one man acquainted with it, and blush not at having 
God as the witness of our evil conscience! The assertion, however, 
as to the effect of shame, is most unfounded, for we may every where 
see, that there is nothing which gives men greater confidence and 
license in sinning than the idea, that after making confession to 
priests, they can wipe their lip, and say, I have not done it. And 
not only do they during the whole year become bolder in sin, but, 
secure against confession for the remainder of it, they never sigh 
after God, never examine themselves, but continue heaping sins upon 
sins, until, as they suppose, they get rid of them all at once. And 
when they have got rid of them, they think they are disburdened of 
their load, and imagine they have deprived God of the right of 
judging, by giving it to the priest; have made God forgetful, by 
making the priest conscious. Moreover, who is glad when he sees the 
day of confession approaching? Who goes with a cheerful mind to 
confess, and does not rather, as if he were dragged to prison with a 
rope about his neck, go unwillingly, and, as it were, struggling 
against it? with the exception, perhaps, of the priests themselves, 
who take a fond delight in the mutual narrative of their own 
misdeeds, as a kind of merry tales. I will not pollute my page by 
retailing the monstrous abominations with which auricular confession 
teems; I only say, that if that holy man (Nectarius, of whom supra 
sec. 7) did not act unadvisedly when for one rumour of whoredom he 
banished confession from his church, or rather from the memory of 
his people, the innumerable acts of prostitution, adultery, and 
incest, which it produces in the present day, warn us of the 
necessity of abolishing it. 
    20. As to the pretence of the confessionaries respecting the 
power of the keys, and their placing in it, so to speak, the sum and 
substance of their kingdom, we must see what force it ought to have. 
Were the keys then, (they ask,) given without a cause? Was it said 
without a cause, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound 
in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in 
heaven?" (Matth. 18: 18.) Do we make void the word of Christ? I 
answer, that there was a weighty reason for giving the keys, as I 
lately explained, and will again show at greater length when I come 
to treat of Excommunication, (Book 4, cap. 12.) But what if I should 
cut off the handle for all such questions with one sword, viz., that 
priests are neither vicars nor successors of the Apostles? But that 
also will be elsewhere considered, (Book 4, 6.) Now, at the very 
place where they are most desirous to fortify themselves, they erect 
a battering-ram, by which all their own machinations are overthrown. 
Christ did not give his Apostles the power of binding and loosing 
before he endued them with the Holy Spirit. I deny, therefore, that 
any man, who has not previously received the Holy Spirit, is 
competent to possess the power of the keys. I deny that any one can 
use the keys, unless the Holy Spirit precede, teaching and dictating 
what is to be done. They pretend, indeed, that they have the Holy 
Spirit, but by their works deny him; unless, indeed, we are to 
suppose that the Holy Spirit is some vain thing of no value, as they 
certainly do feign, but we will not believe them. With this engine 
they are completely overthrown; whatever be the door of which they 
boast of having the key, we must always ask, whether they have the 
Holy Spirit, who is arbiter and ruler of the keys? If they reply, 
that they have, we must again ask, whether the Holy Spirit can err? 
This they will not venture to say distinctly, although by their 
doctrine they indirectly insinuate it. Therefore, we must infer, 
that no priestlings have the power of the keys, because they every 
where and indiscriminately loose what the Lord was pleased should be 
bound, and bind what he has ordered to be loosed. 
    21. When they see themselves convicted on the clearest 
evidence, of loosing and binding worthy and unworthy without 
distinction, they lay claim to power without knowledge. And although 
they dare not deny that knowledge is requisite for the proper use, 
they still affirm that the power itself has been given to bad 
administrators. This, however, is the power, "Whatsoever ye shall 
bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall 
loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Either the promise of 
Christ must be false, or those who are endued with this power bind 
and loose properly. There is no room for the evasion, that the words 
of Christ are limited, according to the merits of him who is loosed 
or bound. We admit, that none can be bound or loosed but those who 
are worthy of being bound or loosed. But the preachers of the Gospel 
and the Church have the word by which they can measure this 
worthiness. By this word preachers of the Gospel can promise 
forgiveness of sins to all who are in Christ by faith, and can 
declare a sentence of condemnation against all, and upon all, who do 
not embrace Christ. In this word the Church declares, that "neither 
fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers," "nor thieves, nor 
covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall 
inherit the kingdom of God," (1 Cor. 6: 9, 10.) Such it binds in 
sure fetters. By the same word it looses and consoles the penitent. 
But what kind of power is it which knows not what is to be bound or 
loosed? You cannot bind or loose without knowledge. Why, then, do 
they say, that they absolve by authority given to them, when 
absolution is uncertain? As regards us, this power is merely 
imaginary, if it cannot be used. Now, I holds either that there is 
no use, or one so uncertain as to be virtually no use at all. For 
when they confess that a good part of the priests do not use the 
keys duly, and that power without the legitimate use is ineffectual, 
who is to assure me, that the one by whom I am loosed is a good 
dispenser of the keys? But if he is a bad one, what better has he 
given me than this nugatory dispensation, - What is to be bound or 
loosed in you I know not, since I have not the proper use of the 
keys; but if you deserve it, I absolve you? As much might be done, I 
say not by a laic, (since they would scarcely listen to such a 
statement,) but by the Turk or the devil. For it is just to say, I 
have not the word of God, the sure rule for loosing, but authority 
has been given me to absolve you, if you deserve it. We see, 
therefore, what their object was, when they defined (see sec. 16) 
the keys as authority to discern and power to execute; and said, 
that knowledge is added as a counselor, and counsels the proper use; 
their object was to reign libidinously and licentiously, without God 
and his word. 
    22. Should any one object, first, that the lawful ministers of 
Christ will be no less perplexed in the discharge of their duty, 
because the absolution, which depends on faith, will always be 
equivocal; and, secondly, that sinners will receive no comfort at 
all, or cold comfort, because the minister, who is not a fit judge 
of their faith, is not certain of their absolution, we are prepared 
with an answer. They say that no sins are remitted by the priest, 
but such sins as he is cognizant of; thus, according to them, 
remission depends on the judgment of the priest, and unless he 
accurately discriminate as to who are worthy of pardon, the whole 
procedure is null and void. In short, the power of which they speak 
is a jurisdiction annexed to examination, to which pardon and 
absolution are restricted. Here no firm footing can be found, nay, 
there is a profound abyss; because, where confession is not 
complete, the hope of pardon also is defective; next, the priest 
himself must necessarily remain in suspense, while he knows not 
whether the sinner gives a faithful enumeration of his sins; lastly, 
such is the rudeness and ignorance of priests, that the greater part 
of them are in no respect fitter to perform this office than a 
cobbler to cultivate the fields, while almost all the others have 
good reason to suspect their own fitness. Hence the perplexity and 
doubt as to the Popish absolution, from their choosing to found it 
on the person of the priest, and not on his person only, but on his 
knowledge, so that he can only judge of what is laid before him 
investigated, and ascertained. Now, if any should ask at these good 
doctors, whether the sinner is reconciled to God when some sins are 
remitted? I know not what answer they could give, unless that they 
should be forced to confess, that whatever the priest pronounces 
with regard to the remission of sins which have been enumerated to 
him will be unavailing, so long as others are not exempted from 
condemnation. On the part of the penitent, again, it is hence 
obvious in what a state of pernicious anxiety his conscience will be 
held; because, while he leans on what they call the discernment of 
the priest, he cannot come to any decision from the word of God. 
From all these absurdities the doctrine which we deliver is 
completely free. For absolution is conditional, allowing the sinner 
to trust that God is propitious to him, provided he sincerely seek 
expiation in the sacrifice of Christ, and accept of the grace 
offered to him. Thus, he cannot err who, in the capacity of a 
herald, promulgates what has been dictated to him from the word of 
God. The sinner, again, can receive a clear and sure absolution 
when, in regard to embracing the grace of Christ, the simple 
condition annexed is in terms of the general rule of our Master 
himself, - a rule impiously spurned by the Papacy, - "According to 
your faith be it unto you," (Matth. 9: 29.) 
    23. The absurd jargon which they make of the doctrine of 
Scripture concerning the power of the keys, I have promised to 
expose elsewhere; the proper place will be in treating of the 
Government of the Church, (Book 4, c. 12.) Meanwhile, let the reader 
remember how absurdly they wrest to auricular and secret confession 
what was said by Christ partly of the preaching of the Gospel, and 
partly of excommunication. Wherefore, when they object that the 
power of loosing was given to the Apostles, and that this power 
priests exercise by remitting sins acknowledged to them, it is plain 
that the principle which they assume is false and frivolous: for the 
absolution which is subordinate to faith is nothing else than an 
evidence of pardon, derived from the free promise of the Gospel, 
while the other absolution, which depends on the discipline of the 
Church, has nothing to do with secret sins; but is more a matter of 
example for the purpose of removing the public offense given to the 
Church. As to their diligence in searching up and down for passages 
by which they may prove that it is not sufficient to confess sins to 
God alone, or to laymen, unless the priest take cognizance, it is 
vile and disgraceful. For when the ancient fathers advise sinners to 
disburden themselves to their pastor, we cannot understand them to 
refer to a recital which was not then in use. Then, so unfair are 
Lombard and others like-minded, that they seem intentionally to have 
devoted themselves to spurious books, that they might use them as a 
cloak to deceive the simple. They, indeed, acknowledge truly, that 
as forgiveness always accompanies repentance, no obstacle properly 
remains after the individual is truly penitent, though he may not 
have actually confessed; and, therefore, that the priest does not so 
much remit sins, as pronounce and declare that they are remitted; 
though in the term declaring, they insinuate a gross error, 
surrogating ceremony in place of doctrine. But in pretending that he 
who has already obtained pardon before God is acquitted in the face 
of the Church, they unseasonably apply to the special use of every 
individual, that which we have already said was designed for common 
discipline when the offense of a more heinous and notorious 
transgression was to be removed. Shortly after they pervert and 
destroy their previous moderation, by adding that there is another 
mode of remission, namely, by the infliction of penalty and 
satisfaction, in which they arrogate to their priests the right of 
dividing what God has every where promised to us entire. While He 
simply requires repentance and faith, their division or exception is 
altogether blasphemous. For it is just as if the priest, assuming 
the office of tribune, were to interfere with God, and try to 
prevent him from admitting to his favor by his mere liberality any 
one who had not previously lain prostrate at the tribunicial bench, 
and there been punished. 
    24. The whole comes to this, when they wish to make God the 
author of this fictitious confession their vanity is proved as I 
have shown their falsehood in expounding the few passages which they 
cite. But while it is plain, that the law was imposed by men, I say 
that it is both tyrannical and insulting to God, who, in binding 
consciences to his word, would have them free from human rule. Then 
when confession is prescribed as necessary to obtain pardon, which 
God wished to be free, I say that the sacrilege is altogether 
intolerable, because nothing belongs more peculiarly to God than the 
forgiveness of sins, in which our salvation consists. I have, 
moreover, shown that this tyranny was introduced when the world was 
sunk in shameful barbarism. Besides, I have proved that the law is 
pestiferous, inasmuch as when the fear of God exists, it plunges men 
into despair, and when there is security soothing itself with vain 
flattery, it blunts it the more. Lastly, I have explained that all 
the mitigations which they employ have no other tendency than to 
entangle, obscure, and corrupt the pure doctrine, and cloak their 
iniquities with deceitful colors. 
    25. In repentance they assign the third place to satisfaction, 
all their absurd talk as to which can be refuted in one word. They 
say, that it is not sufficient for the penitent to abstain from past 
sins, and change his conduct for the better, unless he satisfy God 
for what he has done; and that there are many helps by which we may 
redeem sins, such as tears, fastings oblations, and offices of 
charity; that by them the Lord is to be propitiated; by them the 
debts due to divine justice are to be paid; by them our faults are 
to be compensated; by them pardon is to be deserved: for though in 
the riches of his mercy he has forgiven the guilt, he yet, as a just 
discipline, retains the penalty, and that this penalty must be 
bought off by satisfaction. The sum of the whole comes to this: that 
we indeed obtain pardon of our sins from the mercy of God, but still 
by the intervention of the merit of works, by which the evil of our 
sins is compensated, and due satisfaction made to divine justice. To 
such false views I oppose the free forgiveness of sins, one of the 
doctrines most clearly taught in Scripture. First, what is 
forgiveness but a gift of mere liberality? A creditor is not said to 
forgive when he declares by granting a discharge, that the money has 
been paid to him; but when, without any payment, through voluntary 
kindness, he expunges the debt. And why is the term gratis (free) 
afterwards added, but to take away all idea of satisfaction? With 
what confidence, then, do they still set up their satisfactions, 
which are thus struck down as with a thunderbolt? What? When the 
Lord proclaims by Isaiah, "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy 
transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins," 
does he not plainly declare, that the cause and foundation of 
forgiveness is to be sought from his goodness alone? Besides, when 
the whole of Scripture bears this testimony to Christ, that through 
his name the forgiveness of sins is to be obtained, (Acts 10: 43,) 
does it not plainly exclude all other names? How then do they teach 
that it is obtained by the name of satisfaction? Let them not deny 
that they attribute this to satisfactions, though they bring them in 
as subsidiary aids. For when Scripture says, by the name of Christ, 
it means, that we are to bring nothing, pretend nothing of our own, 
but lean entirely on the recommendation of Christ. Thus Paul, after 
declaring that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto 
himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them," immediately adds 
the reason and the method, "For he has made him to be sin for us who 
knew no sin," (2 Cor. 5: 19, 20.) 
    26. But with their usual perverseness, they maintain that both 
the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation take place at once when 
we are received into the favor of God through Christ in baptism; 
that in lapses after baptism we must rise again by means of 
satisfactions; that the blood of Christ is of no avail unless in so 
far as it is dispensed by the keys of the Church. I speak not of a 
matter as to which there can be any doubt; for this impious dogma is 
declared in the plainest terms, in the writings not of one or two, 
but of the whole Schoolmen. Their master, (Sent. Lib. 3, Dist. 9,) 
after acknowledging, according to the doctrine of Peter, that Christ 
"bare our sins in his own body on the tree," (1 Pet. 2: 24,) 
immediately modifies the doctrine by introducing the exception, that 
in baptism all the temporal penalties of sin are relaxed; but that 
after baptism they are lessened by means of repentance, the cross of 
Christ and our repentance thus co-operating together. St. John 
speaks very differently, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with 
the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation 
for our sins." "I write unto you, little children, because your sins 
are forgiven you for his name's sake," (1 John 2: l, 2, 12.) He 
certainly is addressing believers, and while setting forth Christ as 
the propitiation for sins, shows them that there is no other 
satisfaction by which an offended God can be propitiated or 
appeased. He says not: God was once reconciled to you by Christ; 
now, seek other methods; but he makes him a perpetual advocate, who 
always, by his intercession, reinstates us in his Fathered favour - 
a perpetual propitiation by which sins are expiated. For what was 
said by another John will ever hold true, "Behold the Lamb of God, 
which taketh away the sins of the world," (John 1: 29.) He, I say, 
took them away, and no other; that is, since he alone is the Lamb of 
God, he alone is the offering for our sins; he alone is expiation; 
he alone is satisfaction. For though the right and power of 
pardoning properly belongs to the Father, when he is distinguished 
from the Son, as has already been seen, Christ is here exhibited in 
another view, as transferring to himself the punishment due to us, 
and wiping away our guilt in the sight of God. Whence it follows 
that we could not be partakers of the expiation accomplished by 
Christ, were he not possessed of that honor of which those who try 
to appease God by their compensations seek to rob him. 
    27. Here it is necessary to keep two things in view: that the 
honor of Christ be preserved entire and unimpaired, and that the 
conscience, assured of the pardon of sin, may have peace with God. 
Isaiah says that the Farther "has laid on him the iniquity of us 
all;" that "with his stripes we are healed," (Isa. 53: 5, 6.) Peter 
repeating the same thing, in other words says, that he "bare our 
sins in his own body on the tree," (1 Pet. 2: 24.) Paul's words are, 
"God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for 
sin condemned sin in the flesh," "being made a curse for us," (Rom. 
8: 3; Gal. 3: 13;) in other words, the power and curse of sin was 
destroyed in his flesh when he was offered as a sacrifice, on which 
the whole weight of our sins was laid, with their curse and 
execration, with the fearful judgment of God, and condemnation to 
death. Here there is no mention of the vain dogma, that after the 
initial cleansing no man experiences the efficacy of Christ's 
passion in any other way than by means of satisfying penance: we are 
directed to the satisfaction of Christ alone for every fall. Now 
call to mind their pestilential dogma: that the grace of God is 
effective only in the first forgiveness of sins; but if we 
afterwards fall, our works co-operate in obtaining the second 
pardon. If these things are so, do the properties above attributed 
to Christ remain entire? How immense the difference between the two 
propositions - that our iniquities were laid upon Christ, that in 
his own person he might expiate them, and that they are expiated by 
our works; that Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and that 
God is to be propitiated by works. Then, in regard to pacifying the 
conscience, what pacification will it be to be told that sins are 
redeemed by satisfactions? How will it be able to ascertain the 
measure of satisfaction? It will always doubt whether God is 
propitious; will always fluctuate, always tremble. Those who rest 
satisfied with petty satisfactions form too contemptible an estimate 
of the justice of God, and little consider the grievous heinousness 
of sin, as shall afterwards be shown. Even were we to grant that 
they can buy off some sins by due satisfaction, still what will they 
do while they are overwhelmed with so many sins that not even a 
hundred lives, though wholly devoted to the purpose, could suffice 
to satisfy for them? We may add, that all the passages in which the 
forgiveness of sins is declared refer not only to catechumens, but 
to the regenerate children of God; to those who have long been 
nursed in the bosom of the Church. That embassy which Paul so highly 
extols, "we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God," (2 
Cor. 5: 20,) is not directed to strangers, but to those who had been 
regenerated long before. Setting satisfactions altogether aside, he 
directs us to the cross of Christ. Thus when he writes to the 
Colossians that Christ had "made peace through the blood of his 
cross," "to reconcile all things unto himself," he does not restrict 
it to the moment at which we are received into the Church but 
extends it to our whole course. This is plain from the context, 
where he says that in him "we have redemption by his blood, even the 
forgiveness of sins," (Col. 1: 14.) It is needless to collect more 
passages, as they are ever occurring. 
    28. Here they take refuge in the absurd distinction that some 
sins are venial and others mortal; that for the latter a weighty 
satisfaction is due, but that the former are purged by easier 
remedies; by the Lord's Prayer, the sprinkling of holy water, and 
the absolution of the Mass. Thus they insult and trifle with God. 
And yet, though they have the terms venial and mortal sin 
continually in their mouth, they have not yet been able to 
distinguish the one from the other, except by making impiety and 
impurity of hearts to be venial sin. We, on the contrary, taught by 
the Scripture standard of righteousness and unrighteousness, declare 
that "the wages of sin is death;" and that "the soul that sinneth, 
it shall die," (Rom. 6: 23; Ezek. 18: 20.) The sins of believers are 
venial, not because they do not merit death, but because by the 
mercy of God there is "now no condemnation to those which are in 
Christ Jesus" their sin being not imputed, but effaced by pardon. I 
know how unjustly they calumniate this our doctrine; for they say it 
is the paradox of the Stoics concerning the equality of sins: but we 
shall easily convict them out of their own mouths. I ask them 
whether, among those sins which they hold to be mortal, they 
acknowledge a greater and a less? If so, it cannot follow, as a 
matter of course, that all sins which are mortal are equal. Since 
Scripture declares that the wages of sin is death, - that obedience 
to the law is the way to life, - the transgression of it the way to 
death, - they cannot evade this conclusion. In such a mass of sins, 
therefore, how will they find an end to their satisfactions? If the 
satisfaction for one sin requires one day, while preparing it they 
involve themselves in more sins; since no man, however righteous, 
passes one day without falling repeatedly. While they prepare 
themselves for their satisfactions, number, or rather numbers 
without number, will be added. Confidence in satisfaction being thus 
destroyed, what more would they have? How do they still dare to 
think of satisfying? 
    29. They endeavor, indeed, to disentangle themselves, but it is 
impossible. They pretend a distinction between penalty and guilt, 
holding that the guilt is forgiven by the mercy of God; but that 
though the guilt is remitted, the punishment which divine justice 
requires to be paid remains. Satisfactions then properly relate to 
the remission of the penalty. How ridiculous this levity! They now 
confess that the remission of guilt is gratuitous; and yet they are 
ever and anon telling as to merit it by prayers and tears, and other 
preparations of every kind. Still the whole doctrine of Scripture 
regarding the remission of sins is diametrically opposed to that 
distinction. But although I think I have already done more than 
enough to establish this, I will subjoin some other passages, by 
which these slippery snakes will be so caught as to be afterwards 
unable to writhe even the tip of their tail: "Behold, the days come, 
saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of 
Israel, and with the house of Judah." "I will forgive their 
iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more," (Jer. 31: 31, 34.) 
What this means we learn from another Prophet, when the Lord says, 
"When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness" "all his 
righteousness that he has done shall not be mentioned." "Again, when 
the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he has 
committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save 
his soul alive," (Ezek. 18: 24, 27.) When he declares that he will 
not remember righteousness, the meaning is, that he will take no 
account of it to reward it. In the same way, not to remember sins is 
not to bring them to punishment. The same thing is denoted in other 
passages, by casting them behind his back, blotting them out as a 
cloud, casting them into the depths of the sea, not imputing them, 
hiding them. By such forms of expression the Holy Spirit has 
explained his meaning not obscurely, if we would lend a willing ear. 
Certainly if God punishes sins, he imputes them; if he avenges, he 
remembers; if he brings them to judgment, he has not hid them; if he 
examines, he has not cast them behind his back; if he investigates, 
he has not blotted them out like a cloud; if he exposes them, he has 
not thrown them into the depths of the sea. In this way Augustine 
clearly interprets: "If God has covered sins, he willed not to 
advert to them; if he willed not to advert, he willed not to 
animadvert; if he willed not to animadvert, he willed not to punish: 
he willed not to take knowledge of them, he rather willed to pardon 
them. Why then did he say that sins were hid? Just that they might 
not be seen. What is meant by God seeing sins but punishing them?" 
(August. in Ps. 32: 1.) But let us hear from another prophetical 
passage on what terms the Lord forgives sins: "Though your sins be 
as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like 
crimson, they shall be as wool," (Isa. 1: 18.) In Jeremiah again we 
read: "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity 
of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins 
of Judah, they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I 
reserve," (Jer. 50: 20.) Would you briefly comprehend the meaning of 
these words? Consider what, on the contrary, is meant by these 
expressions, "that transgression is sealed up in a bag;" "that the 
iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid;" that "the sin of 
Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a 
diamond." If they mean, as they certainly do, that vengeance will be 
recompensed, there can be no doubt that, by the contrary passages, 
the Lord declares that he renounces all thought of vengeance. Here I 
must entreat the reader not to listen to any glosses of mine, but 
only to give some deference to the word of God. 
    30. What, pray, did Christ perform for us if the punishment of 
sin is still exacted? For when we say that he "bare our sins in his 
own body on the tree," (1 Pet. 2: 24,) all we mean is, that he 
endured the penalty and punishment which was due to our sins. This 
is more significantly declared by Isaiah, when he says that the 
"chastisement (or correction) of our peace was upon him," (Isaiah 
53: 5.) But what is the correction of our peace, unless it be the 
punishment due to our sins, and to be paid by us before we could be 
reconciled to God, had he not become our substitute? Thus you 
clearly see that Christ bore the punishment of sin that he might 
thereby exempt his people from it. And whenever Paul makes mention 
of the redemption procured by him, he calls it "apolutrosis", by 
which he does not simply mean redemption, as it is commonly 
understood, but the very price and satisfaction of redemption. For 
which reason, he also says, that Christ gave himself an "antilutron" 
(ransoms for us. "What is propitiation with the Lord (says 
Augustine) but sacrifice? And what is sacrifice but that which was 
offered for us in the death of Christ?" But we have our strongest 
argument in the injunctions of the Mosaic Law as to expiating the 
guilt of sin. The Lord does not there appoint this or that method of 
satisfying, but requires the whole compensation to be made by 
sacrifice, though he at the same time enumerates all the rites of 
expiation with the greatest care and exactness. How comes it that he 
does not at all enjoin works as the means of procuring pardon, but 
only requires sacrifices for expiation, unless it were his purpose 
thus to testify that this is the only kind of satisfaction by which 
his justice is appeased? For the sacrifices which the Israelites 
then offered were not regarded as human works, but were estimated by 
their anti type, that is, the sole sacrifice of Christ. The kind of 
compensation which the Lord receives from us is elegantly and 
briefly expressed by Hosea: "Take with you words, and turn to the 
Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us 
graciously," here is remission: "so will we render the calves of our 
lips," here is satisfaction, (Hos. 14: 2.) I know that they have 
still a more subtile evasion, by making a distinction between 
eternal and temporal punishment; but as they define temporal 
punishment to be any kind of infliction with which God visits either 
the body or the soul, eternal death only excepted, this restriction 
avails them little. The passages which we have quoted above say 
expressly that the terms on which God receives us into favor are 
these, viz., he remits all the punishment which we deserved by 
pardoning our guilt. And whenever David or the other prophets ask 
pardon for their sins, they deprecate punishment. Nay, a sense of 
the divine justice impels them to this. On the other hand, when they 
promise mercy from the Lord, they almost always discourse of 
punishments and the forgiveness of them. Assuredly, when the Lord 
declares in Ezekiel, that he will put an end to the Babylonish 
captivity, not "for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy 
name's sake," (Ezek. 36: 22,) he sufficiently demonstrates that both 
are gratuitous. In short, if we are freed from guilt by Christ, the 
punishment consequent upon guilt must cease with it. 
    31. But since they also arm themselves with passages of 
Scripture, let us see what the arguments are which they employ. 
David, they say, when upbraided by Nathan the Prophet for adultery 
and murder, receives pardon of the sin, and yet by the death of the 
son born of adultery is afterwards punished (2 Sam. 12: 13, 14.) 
Such punishments which were to be inflicted after the remission of 
the guilt, we are taught to ransom by satisfactions. For Daniel 
exhorted Nebuchadnezzar: "Break off thy sins by righteousness, and 
thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor," (Dan. 4: 27.) And 
Solomon says, "by mercy and truth iniquity is purged" (Prov. 16: 6;) 
and again, "love covereth all sins," (Prov. 10: 12.) This sentiment 
is confirmed by Peter, (1 Pet. 4: 8.) Also in Luke, our Lord says of 
the woman that was a sinner, "Her sins, which are many, are 
forgiven; for she loved much," (Luke 7: 47.) How perverse and 
preposterous the judgment they ever form of the doings of God! Had 
they observed, what certainly they ought not to have overlooked, 
that there are two kinds of divine judgment, they would have seen in 
the correction of David a very different form of punishment from 
that which must be thought designed for vengeance. But since it in 
no slight degree concerns us to understand the purpose of God in the 
chastisements by which he animadverts upon our sins and how much 
they differ from the exemplary punishments which he indignantly 
inflicts on the wicked and reprobate, I think it will not be 
improper briefly to glance at it. For the sake of distinction, we 
may call the one kind of judgment punishment, the other 
chastisement. In judicial punishment, God is to be understood as 
taking vengeance on his enemies, by displaying his anger against 
them, confounding, scattering, and annihilating them. By divine 
punishment, properly so called, let us then understand punishment 
accompanied with indignation. In judicial chastisement, he is 
offended, but not in wrath; he does not punish by destroying or 
striking down as with a thunderbolt. Hence it is not properly 
punishment or vengeance, but correction and admonition. The one is 
the act of a judge, the other of a father. When the judge punishes a 
criminal, he animadverts upon the crime, and demands the penalty. 
When a father corrects his son sharply, it is not to mulct or 
avenge, but rather to teach him, and make him more cautious for the 
future. Chrysostom in his writings employs a simile which is 
somewhat different, but the same in purport. He says, "A son is 
whipt, and a slave is whipt, but the latter is punished as a slave 
for his offense: the former is chastised as a free-born son, 
standing in need of correction." The correction of the latter is 
designed to prove and amend him; that of the former is scourging and 
    32. To have a short and clear view of the whole matter, we must 
make two distinctions. First, whenever the infliction is designed to 
avenge, then the curse and wrath of God displays itself. This is 
never the case with believers. On the contrary, the chastening of 
God carries his blessing with it, and is an evidence of love, as 
Scripture teaches. This distinction is plainly marked throughout the 
word of God. All the calamities which the wicked suffer in the 
present life are depicted to us as a kind of anticipation of the 
punishment of hell. In these they already see, as from a distance, 
their eternal condemnation; and so far are they from being thereby 
reformed, or deriving any benefit, that by such preludes they are 
rather prepared for the fearful doom which finally awaits them. The 
Lord chastens his servants sore, but does not give them over unto 
death, (Ps. 118: 18.) When afflicted, they acknowledge it is good 
for them, that they may learn his statutes, (Ps. 119: 71.) But as we 
everywhere read that the saints received their chastisements with 
placid mind, so inflictions of the latter kind they always most 
earnestly deprecated. "O Lord, correct me," says Jeremiah, "but with 
judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing. Pour 
out thy furry upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the 
families that call not on thy name," (Jer. 10: 24-25.) David says "O 
Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot 
displeasure" (Ps. 6: 1.) There is nothing inconsistent with this in 
its being repeatedly said, that the Lord is angry with his saints 
when he chastens them for their sins, (Ps. 38: 7.) In like manner, 
in Isaiah, "And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise 
thee: though thou west angry with me, thine anger is turned away, 
and thou comfortedst me," (Isa. 12: 1.) Likewise in Habakkuk, "In 
wrath remember mercy," (Hab. 3: 2;) and in Micah, "I will bear the 
indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him," (Mic. 
7: 9.) Here we are reminded not only that those who are justly 
punished gain nothing by murmuring, but that believers obtain a 
mitigation of their pain by reflecting on the divine intention. For 
the same reason, he is said to profane his inheritance; and yet we 
know that he will never profane it. The expression refers not to the 
counsel or purpose of God in punishing, but to the keen sense of 
pain, endured by those who are visited with any measure of divine 
severity. For the Lord not only chastens his people with a slight 
degree of austerity, but sometimes so wounds them, that they seem to 
themselves on the very eve of perdition. He thus declares that they 
have deserved his anger, and it is fitting so to do, that they may 
be dissatisfied with themselves for their sins, may be more careful 
in their desires to appease God, and anxiously hasten to seek his 
pardon; still, at this very time, he gives clearer evidence of his 
mercy than of his anger. For He who cannot deceive has declared, 
that the covenant made with us in our true Solomon stands fast and 
will never be broken, "If his children forsake my law, and walk not 
in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my 
commandments; then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, 
and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving-kindness 
will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to 
fail," (Ps. 89: 31-34.) To assure us of this mercy, he says, that 
the rod with which he will chastise the posterity of Solomon will be 
the "rod of men," and "the stripes of the children of men," (2 Sam. 
7: 14.) While by these terms he denotes moderation and levity, he, 
at the same time, intimates, that those who feel the hand of God 
opposed to them cannot but tremble and be confounded. How much 
regard he has to this levity in chastening his Israel he shows by 
the Prophet, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I 
have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction," (Isa. 48: 10.) 
Although he tells them that they are chastisements with a view to 
purification, he adds, that even these are so tempered, that they 
are not to be too much crushed by them. And this is very necessary, 
for the more a man reveres God, and devotes himself to the 
cultivation of piety, the more tender he is in bearing his anger, 
(Ps. 90: 11; and ibid. Calv.) The reprobate, though they groan under 
the lash, yet because they weigh not the true cause, but rather turn 
their back, as well upon their sins as upon the divine judgment, 
become hardened in their stupor; or, because they murmur and kick, 
and so rebel against their judge, their infatuated violence fills 
them with frenzy and madness. Believers, again, admonished by the 
rod of God, immediately begin to reflect on their sins, and, struck 
with fear and dread, retake themselves as suppliants to implore 
mercy. Did not God mitigate the pains by which wretched souls are 
excruciated, they would give way a hundred times, even at slight 
signs of his anger. 
    33. The second distinction is, that when the reprobate are 
brought under the lash of God, they begin in a manner to pay the 
punishment due to his justice; and though their refusal to listen to 
these proofs of the divine anger will not escape with impunity, 
still they are not punished with the view of bringing them to a 
better mind, but only to teach them by dire experience that God is a 
judge and avenger. The sons of God are beaten with rods, not that 
they may pay the punishment due to their faults, but that they may 
thereby be led to repent. Accordingly, we perceive that they have 
more respect to the future than to the past. I prefer giving this in 
the words of Chrysostom rather than my own: "His object in imposing 
a penalty upon us, is not to inflict punishment on our sins but to 
correct us for the future," (Chrysost. Serm. de Poenit. et Confess.) 
So also Augustine, "The suffering at which you cry, is medicine, not 
punishment; chastisement, not condemnation. Do not drive away the 
rod, if you would not be driven away from the inheritance. Know, 
brethren, that the whole of that misery of the human race, under 
which the world groans, is a medicinal pain, not a penal sentence," 
(August. in Psal. 102, circa finem.) It seemed proper to quote these 
passages, lest any one should think the mode of expression which I 
have used to be novel or uncommon. To the same effect are the 
indignant terms in which the Lord expostulates with his people, for 
their ingratitude in obstinately despising all his inflictions. In 
Isaiah he says, "Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt 
more and more. The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint," 
(Isa. 1: 5, 6.) But as such passages abound in the Prophets, it is 
sufficient briefly to have shown, that the only purpose of God in 
punishing his Church is to subdue her to repentance. Thus, when he 
rejected Saul from the kingdoms he punished in vengeance, (1 Sam. 
15: 23;) when he deprived David of his child, he chastised for 
amendment, (2 Sam. 12: 18.) In this sense Paul is to be understood 
when he says, "When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, 
that we should not be condemned with the world," (1 Cor. 11: 32;) 
that is, while we as sons of God are afflicted by our heavenly 
Father's hand, it is not punishment to confound, but only 
chastisement to train us. On this subject Augustine is plainly with 
us, (De Peccator. Meritis ac Remiss. Lib. 2 cap. 33, 34.) For he 
shows that the punishments with which men are equally chastened by 
God are to be variously considered; because the saints after the 
forgiveness of their sins have struggles and exercises, the 
reprobate without forgiveness are punished for their iniquity. 
Enumerating the punishments inflicted on David and other saints, he 
says, it was designed, by thus humbling them, to prove and exercise 
their piety. The passage in Isaiah, in which it is said, "Speak ye 
comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is 
accomplished that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received of 
the Lord's hands double for all her sins," (Isa. 40: 2,) proves not 
that the pardon of sin depends on freedom from punishment. It is 
just as if he had said, Sufficient punishment has now been exacted; 
as for their number and heinousness you have long been oppressed 
with sorrow and mourning, it is time to send you a message of 
complete mercy, that your minds may be filled with joy on feeling me 
to be a Father. For God there assumes the character of a father who 
repents even of the just severity which he has been compelled to us, 
towards his son. 
    34. These are the thoughts with which the believer ought to be 
provided in the bitterness of affliction, "The time is come that 
judgment must begin at the house of God," "the city which is called 
by my name," (1 Pet. 4: 17; Jer. 25: 29.) What could the sons of God 
do, if they thought that the severity which they feel was vengeance? 
He who, smitten by the hand of God, thinks that God is a judge 
inflicting punishment, cannot conceive of him except as angry and at 
enmity with him; cannot but detest the rod of God as curse and 
condemnation; in short, Can never persuade himself that he is loved 
by God, while he feels that he is still disposed to inflict 
punishment upon him. He only profits under the divine chastening who 
considers that God, though offended with his sins, is still 
propitious and favorable to him. Otherwise, the feeling must 
necessarily be what the Psalmist complains that he had experienced, 
"Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all 
thy waves." Also what Moses says, "For we are consumed by thine 
anger, and by thy wrath we are troubled. Thou hast set our 
iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy 
countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath; we spend 
our years as a tale that is told," (Ps. 90: 7-9.) On the other hand, 
David speaking of fatherly chastisements, to show how believers are 
more assisted than oppressed by them, thus sings "Blessed is the man 
whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law; that 
thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit 
be digged for the wicked," (Ps. 94: 12,13.) It is certainly a sore 
temptation, when God, sparing unbelievers and overlooking their 
crimes, appears more rigid towards his own people. Hence, to solace 
them, he adds the admonition of the law which teaches them, that 
their salvation is consulted when they are brought back to the right 
path, whereas the wicked are borne headlong in their errors, which 
ultimately lead to the pit. It matters not whether the punishment is 
eternal or temporary. For disease, pestilence, famine, and war, are 
curses from God, as much as even the sentence of eternal death, 
whenever their tendency is to operate as instruments of divine wrath 
and vengeance against the reprobate. 
    35. All, if I mistake not, now see what view the Lord had in 
chastening David, namely, to prove that murder and adultery are most 
offensive to God, and to manifest this offensiveness in a beloved 
and faithful servant, that David himself might be taught never again 
to dare to commit such wickedness; still, however, it was not a 
punishment designed in payment of a kind of compensation to God. In 
the same way are we to judge of that other correction, in which the 
Lord subjects his people to a grievous pestilence, for the 
disobedience of David in forgetting himself so far as to number the 
people. He indeed freely forgave David the guilt of his sin; but 
because it was necessary, both as a public example to all ages and 
also to humble David himself, not to allow such an offense to go 
unpunished, he chastened him most sharply with his whip. We ought 
also to keep this in view in the universal curse of the human race. 
For since after obtaining grace we still continue to endure the 
miseries denounced to our first parent as the penalty of 
transgression, we ought thereby to be reminded, how offensive to God 
is the transgression of his law, that thus humbled and dejected by a 
consciousness of our wretched condition, we may aspire more ardently 
to true happiness. But it were most foolish in any one to imagine, 
that we are subjected to the calamities of the present life for the 
guilt of sin. This seems to me to have been Chrysostom's meaning 
when he said, "If the purpose of God in inflicting punishment is to 
bring those persisting in evil to repentance, when repentance is 
manifested punishment would be superfluous," (Chrysos. Homily. 3 de 
Provid.) Wherefore, as he knows what the disposition of each 
requires, he treats one with greater harshness and another with more 
indulgence. Accordingly, when he wishes to show that he is not 
excessive in exacting punishment, he upbraids a hard hearted and 
obstinate people, because, after being smitten, they still continued 
in sin, (Jer. 5: 3.) In the same sense he complains, that "Ephraim 
is a cake not turned" (Hos. 7: 8,) because chastisement did not make 
a due impression on their minds, and, correcting their vices, make 
them fit to receive pardon. Surely he who thus speaks shows, that as 
soon as any one repents he will be ready to receive him, and that 
the rigor which he exercises in chastising faults is wrung from him 
by our perverseness, since we should prevent him by a voluntary 
correction. Such, however, being the hardness and rudeness of all 
hearts, that they stand universally in need of castigation, our 
infinitely wise Parent has seen it meet to exercise all without 
exception, during their whole lives, with chastisement. It is 
strange how they fix their eyes so intently on the one example of 
David, and are not moved by the many examples in which they might 
have beheld the free forgiveness of sins. The publican is said to 
have gone down from the temple justified (Luke 18: 14;) no 
punishment follows. Peter obtained the pardon of his sin, (Luke 22: 
61.) "We read of his tears," says Ambrose, (Serm. 46, De Poenit. 
Petri,) "we read not of satisfaction." To the paralytic it is said, 
"Son, be of good cheer; thy sina be forgiven thee," (Matth. 9: 2;) 
no penance is enjoined. All the acts of forgiveness mentioned in 
Scripture are gratuitous. The rule ought to be drawn from these 
numerous examples, rather than from one example which contains a 
kind of specialty. 
    36. Daniel, in exhorting Nebuchadnezzar to break off his sins 
by righteousness, and his iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, 
(Dan. 4: 27,) meant not to intimate, that righteousness and mercy 
are able to propitiate God and redeem from punishment, (far be it 
from us to suppose that there ever was any other "apolutrosis" 
(ransom) than the blood of Christ;) but the breaking off referred to 
in that passage has reference to man rather than to God: as if he 
had said, O king, you have exercised an unjust and violent 
domination, you have oppressed the humble, spoiled the poor, treated 
your people harshly and unjustly; instead of unjust exaction, 
instead of violence and oppression, now practice mercy and justice. 
In like manner, Solomon says, that love covers a multitude of sins; 
not, however, with God, but among men. For the whole verse stands 
thus, "Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all sins," 
(Prov. 10: 12.) Here, after his manner, he contrasts the evils 
produced by hatred with the fruits of charity, in this sense, Those 
who hate are incessantly biting, carping at, upbraiding, lacerating 
each other, making every thing a fault; but those who love mutually 
conceal each other's faults, wink at many, forgive many: not that 
the one approves the vices of the other, but tolerates and cures by 
admonishing, rather than exasperates by assailing. That the passage 
is quoted by Peter (1 Pet. 4: 8) in the same sense we cannot doubt, 
unless we would charge him with corrupting or craftily wresting 
Scripture. When it is said, that "by mercy and truth iniquity is 
purged," (Prov. 16: 6,) the meaning is, not that by them 
compensation is made to the Lord, so that he being thus satisfied 
remits the punishment which he would otherwise have exacted; but 
intimation is made after the familiar manner of Scripture, that 
those who, forsaking their vices and iniquities turn to the Lord in 
truth and piety, will find him propitious: as if he had said, that 
the wrath of God is calmed, and his judgment is at rest, whenever we 
rest from our wickedness. But, indeed, it is not the cause of pardon 
that is described, but rather the mode of true conversion; just as 
the Prophets frequently declare, that it is in vain for hypocrites 
to offer God fictitious rites instead of repentance, seeing his 
delight is in integrity and the duties of charity. In like manner, 
also, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, commending kindness 
and humanity, reminds us, that "with such sacrifices God is well 
pleased," (Heb. 13: 16.) And indeed when Christ, rebuking the 
Pharisees because, intent merely on the outside of the cup and 
platter, they neglected purity of heart, enjoins them, in order that 
they may be clean in all respects, to give alms, does he exhort them 
to give satisfaction thereby? He only tells them what the kind of 
purity is which God requires. Of this mode of expression we have 
treated elsewhere, (Matth. 23: 25; Luke 11: 39-41; see Calv. in 
Harm. Evang.) 
    37. In regard to the passage in Luke, (Luke 7: 36, sq.) no man 
of sober judgment, who reads the parable there employed by our Lord, 
will raise any controversy with us. The Pharisee thought that the 
Lord did not know the character of the woman whom he had so easily 
admitted to his presence. For he presumed that he would not have 
admitted her if he had known what kind of a sinner she was; and from 
this he inferred, that one who could be deceived in this way was not 
a prophet. Our Lord, to show that she was not a sinner, inasmuch as 
she had already been forgiven, spake this parable: "There was a 
certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred 
pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he 
frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will 
love him most? The Pharisee answers: "I suppose that he to whom he 
forgave most." Then our Savior rejoins: "Her sins, which are many, 
are forgiven; for she loved much." By these words it is plain he 
does not make love the cause of forgiveness, but the proof of it. 
The similitude is borrowed from the case of a debtor, to whom a debt 
of five hundred pence had been forgiven. It is not said that the 
debt is forgiven because he loved much, but that he loved much 
because it was forgiven. The similitude ought to be applied in this 
way: You think this woman is a sinner; but you ought to have 
acknowledged her as not a sinner, in respect that her sins have been 
forgiven her. Her love ought to have been to you a proof of her 
having obtained forgiveness, that love being an expression of 
gratitude for the benefit received. It is an argument a posteriori, 
by which something is demonstrated by the results produced by it. 
Our Lord plainly attests the ground on which she had obtained 
forgiveness, when he says, "Thy faith has saved thee." By faith, 
therefore, we obtain forgiveness: by love we give thanks, and bear 
testimony to the loving-kindness of the Lord. 
    38. I am little moved by the numerous passages in the writings 
of the Fathers relating to satisfaction. I see indeed that some (I 
will frankly say almost all whose books are extant) have either 
erred in this matter, or spoken too roughly and harshly; but I 
cannot admit that they were so rude and unskillful as to write these 
passages in the sense in which they are read by our new 
satisfactionaries. Chrysostom somewhere says, "When mercy is 
implored interrogation ceases; when mercy is asked, judgment rages 
not; when mercy is sought, there is no room for punishment; where 
there is mercy, no question is asked; where there is mercy, the 
answer gives pardon," (Chrysos. Hom. 2 in Psal. 50.) How much soever 
these words may be twisted, they can never be reconciled with the 
dogmas of the Schoolmen. In the book De Dogmatibus Ecclesiasticis, 
which is attributed to Augustine, you read, (cap. 54,) "The 
satisfaction of repentance is to cut off the causes of sins, and not 
to indulge an entrance to their suggestions." From this it appears 
that the doctrine of satisfaction, said to be paid for sins 
committed, was every where derided in those ages; for here the only 
satisfaction referred to is caution, abstinence from sin for the 
future. I am unwilling to quote what Chrysostom says, (Hom. 10 in 
Genes.) that God requires nothing more of us than to confess our 
faults before him with tears, as similar sentiments abound both in 
his writings and those of others. Augustine indeed calls works of 
mercy remedies for obtaining forgiveness of sins, (Enchir. ad 
Laur.;) but lest any one should stumble at the expression, he 
himself, in another passage, obviates the difficulty. "The flesh of 
Christ," says he, "is the true and only sacrifice for sins - not 
only for those which are all effaced in baptism, but those into 
which we are afterwards betrayed through infirmity, and because of 
which the whole Church daily cries, 'Forgive us our debts,' (Matth. 
6: 12.) And they are forgiven by that special sacrifice." 
    39. By satisfaction, however, they, for the most part, meant 
not compensation to be paid to God, but the public testimony, by 
which those who had been punished with excommunication, and wished 
again to be received into communion, assured the Church of their 
repentance. For those penitents were enjoined certain fasts and 
other things, by which they might prove that they were truly, and 
from the heart, weary of their former life, or rather might 
obliterate the remembrance of their past deeds: in this way they 
were said to give satisfaction, not to God, but to the Church. The 
same thing is expressed by Augustine in a passage in his Enchiridion 
ad Laurentium, cap. 65. From that ancient custom the satisfactions 
and confessions now in use took their rise. It is indeed a viperish 
progeny, not even a vestige of the better form now remaining. I know 
that ancient writers sometimes speak harshly; nor do I deny, as I 
lately said, that they have perhaps erred; but dogmas, which were 
tainted with a few blemishes now that they have fallen into the 
unwashed hands of those men, are altogether defiled. And if we were 
to decide the contest by authority of the Fathers, what kind of 
Fathers are those whom they obtrude upon us? A great part of those, 
from whom Lombard their Coryphaeus framed his centos, are extracted 
from the absurd dreams of certain monks passing under the names of 
Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrysostom. On the present subject 
almost all his extracts are from the book of Augustine De 
Paenitentia, a book absurdly compiled by some rhapsodist, alike from 
good and bad authors - a book which indeed bears the name of 
Augustine, but which no person of the least learning would deign to 
acknowledge as his. Wishing to save my readers trouble, they will 
pardon me for not searching minutely into all their absurdities. For 
myself it were not very laborious, and might gain some applause, to 
give a complete exposure of dogmas which have hitherto been vaunted 
as mysteries; but as my object is to give useful instruction, I 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 5

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