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The Confessional

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the May 1877 Sword and Trowel


ACCORDING to the papers a certain reverend "curate in charge" in the south has recently alluded to the subject of confession* in the following select and instructive terms. He says:—"Let them come boldly to God's appointed priest to receive absolution. They did not know what a tender tie would soon spring up between themselves and him—a tie more tender than ever existed between husband and wife or any other relation." This is very frank language and deserves to be well weighed. We do not dispute the truth of the assertion, but, on the contrary, believe it to be only too true. Who are the husbands whose wives are to be bound to the reverend father by this tender tie? With this warning before them are they going each one to march down to the church with his wife on his arm and see the good gentleman who intends to form this tender tie. Will the fathers and brothers of England also contemplate this tying process with cool satisfaction? Is our nation given up to a deadly lethargy upon the matter of popery, and will they allow these false priests for ever to go on from one thing to another till they fetch over the Pope and his cardinals, red hats and blazing stakes and all?
    We are among those who would as warmly defend the liberty of a Catholic as we would our own, but liberty is not license, neither does liberty give leave to a servant to act as a master. The clergy are bound to do the religion of the nation in the way which the nation prescribes, and it has never yet, either by an Act of Parliament or by any other mode of expression, agreed to the practice of auricular confession. Summon the men of England and put it "yea or "nay," "Shall your wives and daughters confess to the parish clergyman, who calls himself a priest?" and it would be carried in the negative amid much enthusiasm and waving of horse-whips. Why then are the Ritualistic gentlemen allowed, in the name of the national religion, to carry on a loathsome practice, which has only to be mentioned to excite universal execration? The peace of families can never be maintained while the confessional exists, the word home may as well be left out from the Englishman's vocabulary when the women of the household have other confidants for their most secret thoughts besides their natural guardians.
    The bishops appear to care very little what the papistical party may next proceed to do, legislative enactments are also impotent to restrain them; our servants have become our masters, and refuse to perform their functions according to order. What then? Would it not be better to give these gentlemen a quarter's salary and their full liberty to find other situations? At any rate if we close the Establishment to which they belong, if they continue at their pranks they will not then have the national authority to back them up. This "tender tie" business is not to John Bull's taste, we are quite sure. In the barbarous days of the past a sour apple tree and a less tender tie would have been the reward of any man who tried to "confess" Mr. Bull's daughters. Happily that period has passed away; but we hope that Paterfamilias will find gentle but equally efficacious ways of protecting the easily beguiled, and will in some way or other put an end to this very "tender tie" business. One of the best ways will be to refrain from entering Anglican mass-houses, and attending only at places where the gospel is preached without the admixture of popish rites. Too many attend Tractarian performances merely to see the embroidery, floriculture, and posturing; but from seeing the softer sort go on to admiring, and thence to accepting. Better cut the connection at once before any of these tender ties are formed.—C.H.S.

In the July 1877 issue, Spurgeon added the following remarks at the end of his monthly "Notes" column:

    Our short article upon the Confessional has gone the round of the papers, and we are glad it should. The more that detestable matter is looked into the better—it is so filthy a business that no decent person could write the whole of what he knows about it: it ought not to be tolerated in civilized society. The questions which we have read with our own eyes fastened up inside the confessional boxes in Italy were so loathsome that we would not like to give a hint as to their subjects. Anglican confession shows strong leanings towards the same putridity. If we must have an Established Church we hope our spiritual pastors and masters will keep their house as sweet as they can, for at present there is an odour of something rather high. Parents write to us about children decoyed by Popish devices, and we are grieved that families should be liable to such invasions; but, whatever we may have to put up with from Romish priests, there can be no reason why we should breed a second set of these creatures inside the church which the nation favours with its partialities.

* Spurgeon's abhorrence of the Catholic confessional is evident in a letter he wrote from Genoa to Mrs. Spurgeon, describing his outrage at finding the directions to priests inside a confessional booth, listing questions that were to be asked of penitents. Those remarks may be found in chapter 74 of the Autobiography.

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