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SOME Christian writers have labored to make it appear that this is exclusively a Christian doctrine, while others have labored as hard to get it out of their bible, or make the people believe that it is not therein taught.
We shall show, upon scriptural and historical authority, that both are wrong.
There can be no question as to this rite having existed outside of Christianity, or of its being much older than Christianity. History proves both. Nor can it be successfully denied that it is taught in the Christian Scriptures, both the confessing of sins and that of forgiving sins. The apostle James, with respect to the former, is quite explicit. He enjoins, emphatically, “Confess your faults one to another.” (James v. 16.) The practice of forgiving sins is also enjoined. “Forgiving one another is recommended both in Ephesians (iv. 32) and Colossians. (iii. 13) “And whatsoever ye shall lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew xviii 18), is interpreted as conferring the power to forgive sins.
And then we remark that the practices both of confessing and forgiving sins are very ancient pagan rites and customs. Speaking of their prevalence in ancient India, the author of the Anacalypsis remarks, “The person offering sacrifices made a verbal confession of his sins, and received absolution.” Auricular confession was also practiced among the ancient Mithriacs, or Persians, and the Parsees proper of the same country. Mr. Volney tells us, “They observed all the Christian sacraments, even to the laying on of hands in the confirmation.” (211.) And the Christian Tertullian also tells us that “The priests of Mithra promised absolution from sin on confession and baptism,” while another author adds, that “on such occasions Mithra marked his followers (the servants of God) in their foreheads,” and that “he celebrated the sacrifice of bread, which is the resurrection.”
In the collection of the Jewish laws called “The Mishna,” we are told the Jews confessed their sins by placing their hands upon a calf belonging to the priest, and that this was called “the Confession of Calves.” (See Mishna, tom. ii. p. 394.) Confessing sins was practiced in ancient Mexico; also under Numa of Rome, whose priests, we are informed, had to clear their consciences by confessing their sins before they could offer sacrifices. The practice of confessing and forgiving sins as recommended in the Christian bible, and practiced by some of the Christian sects, has been the source of much practical evil by furnishing a pretext and license, to some extent, for the commission of crime and sin. While sans can be so easily obliterated they will be committed — perpetrated without much remorse or restraint.” In China (says the Rev. Mr. Pitrat, 232), the invocation of Omito is sufficient to remit the punishment of the greatest crimes.” The same author tells us, “The ancient initiation of the pagans had tribunals of penance, where the priests, under the name of Roes, heard from the mouth of the sinners themselves the avowal of their sins of which their souls were to be purified, and from the punishment of which they wished to be exempted.” (Page 37.) The granting of absolution for sin or misconduct among the early primitive Christians was so common, St. Cyprian informs us, that “thousands of reprieves were granted daily,” which served as an indirect license to crime. And thus the doctrine of divine forgiveness, as taught by pagans and Christians, has proved to be demoralizing in its effects upon society.