« AnteriorContinuar »
“ The doctrine of baptisms and of laying on of hands.”—From the
sixth of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
The thought which involuntarily rises in my mind in coming before you this evening, is, where will my present hearers be, and what will be their state and condition, when it again becomes my duty to address the people of my charge in a series of discourses on the subject of confirmation. Before that period arrives, there may arrive to some who now hear me, the solemn hour which will seal up their doom, and fix their allotment for eternity.
Who can say what will transpire ere another two years shall have passed !* Ah! two years hence, the voice of him who now addresses you may be silent in death! And
of those who sit before me may then be numbered with the sleeping dead !
In preparing this lecture, as I have thought over the past, and looked forward to the future,-to the day when I shall stand before the tribunal of heaven to give an account of my stewardship,—the thought has come up again and again, where will these my hearers be, and what their state, two years hence ? Alas, if my own fleeting life be spared, and I am permitted again to address you on this subject, many of my present hearers I shall not then find in the land of the living!
This conviction sinks the more deeply into my soul when I look back, and memory calls up the assembly I last addressed, on a similar interesting occasion. It is true, those to whom I refer were not convened within these
* As confirmation is only once received, and then from the hands of the chief minister of the church, it is not usually administered in our congregations, especially where the dioceses are large, oftener than once in two years.
walls : but my auditors on that occasion were as young, and had as bright prospects of life, as any in this assembly. And yet many of those who then sat before me, as you now do, full of vigour, and health, and bright expectation, are this evening in the eternal world! I desire that this thought may constrain me to be faithful in declaring to you the whole counsel of God, and may lead you to be attentive in listening to the views and statements which I purpose to make. I desire that this solemn consideration may lead me to bear the same faithful testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus, which I should, did I know that this was the last opportunity I should have to address you before you go to the judgment bar of Christ, to testify in what manner I have preached unto you the gospel of Jesus.
In entering upon a series of lectures explanatory of a religious rite, with whose nature and design I may suppose that a portion of my hearers are but slightly acquainted, it may seem incumbent upon me to offer some remarks upon the name applied to it-its origin, design, propriety, and advantages.
These, therefore, will constitute the several heads under which my remarks in the present lecture will be arranged. Allow me, however, first to observe, that it is my intention, as far as in me lies, to exhibit in these lectures such spiritual views of experimental religion as will be instructive and profitable to every class of hearers—I wish to present to the bosom of every careless sinner the naked point of the sword of the Spirit; and by the help of that sword, which is the word of God, to cut away from the mere nominal professor all that gilded covering which appears so fair to the outward eye; but which, when removed, will be found to conceal a mass of rottenness and death. I wish to cut away that gilded covering, as well as to indicate to the candidate for confirmation, the state of mind and the dispositions of heart he should possess, before he presumes to receive this solemn rite. That I may be successful in this effort, I am sure will be the united prayer of all those among us who love the gates of Zion.
1. First we are to consider the name applied to this rite.
Confirmation, as the word implies, refers to the act of establishing one in his religious course. Consequently the
Confirmation-reason of the name.
very name by which this rite is designated, shows that it is to be administered only to Christians—only to the truly converted-only to those who have exercised “ repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ," and have actually set out in the way of life.
“If an impenitent and unbelieving person presents himself for confirmation, in what can he be confirmed ? Not in Christian faith ; for he is destitute of that gracious principle. Not in Christian holiness; for he is manifestly unholy. If confirmed in any thing, it must be in the violation of his sacred vows, and in his disobedience to the commandments of God."* This rite, therefore, is to be administered only to the penitent and believing; and it is to be administered to them for the purpose of strengthening their faith, establishing their hopes, and confirming them in their unalterable determination to walk in the way of God's commandments.
Young Christians need to have their principles strengthened and established. After Paul had made a circuit through the whole of Syria and Asia Minor, preaching the everlasting gospel, “ he determined to go again and visit his brethren in every city where he had preached the word of the Lord.” And we read that “ he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches."
The power by which, in this rite, the soul is expected to be strengthened, settled, and established in the love and service of the Redeemer, is sought directly from God. The administrator, laying his hands upon the head of the recipient, and looking up to heaven with the eyes of faith, thus invokes the Eternal : “ Defend, O Lord, this thy child, with thy heavenly grace, that he may continue thine for ever, and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he comes unto thy everlasting kingdom.”
Again, this rite is properly denominated confirmation, from the fact that the person who receives it, thus ratifies and confirms the covenant obligation previously made to the Lord Jesus Christ. None but baptized persons are deemed fit subjects for this ordinance. In baptism, we make a solemn vow and covenant-promise to God, that we
* Dr. Henshaw's Instructions on Confirmation, p. 32.-An admira. ble work.
Origin of confirmation.
will be his people. In the rite of confirmation, we renew the promise, and ratify this vow. Those who were baptized in infancy, thus voluntarily assume the covenant engagement that was entered into in their name, and avow themselves, by their own act, disciples and followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, by their own mouth, and deliberate choice, they ratify and confirm what had before been done on their behalf.
In this rite, “ they make a declaration, not of what they wish to do, but of what they actually do; not of what they would be, but of what they are. The grace that is prayed for at this ordinance is not that they may be able to devote themselves to God, but that, having devoted themselves, and now making the profession of it, they may be able to maintain their course to the end."*
2. But, secondly, we are naturally led to inquire, Is this scriptural, or is it the invention of men ; what was the origin of this rite?
It would not necessarily follow that confirmation is wrong, though it had not its origin in divine appointment. It has been found expedient and useful to establish many things in our churches which cannot claim a divine origin. But we do not offer a defence for confirmation on this ground. We fully believe that this rite originated with the apostles themselves. They were empowered by the Saviour to settle and arrange every thing connected with the spiritual well-being of his church. They were not permitted to go out from Jerusalem, or to enter upon their work, until they were endowed from on high with that divine Spirit which was to lead them into all truth. Acting under such a guidance, they could not err. Let us then attend to the recorded history of their acts, and see whether we are warranted to conclude that the rite of confirmation is of apostolic origin.
The slightest' acquaintance with the evangelical history contained in the New Testament must convince every one, that from the beginning there were different grades in the Christian ministry. The Saviour, during his public ministry, chose not only the twelve, as the heralds of the gospel, but he “ appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face, into every city and place whither
* See Bridge's Christian Ministry, vol. ii. p. 220.
Origin of confirmation.
he himself should come," to proclaim " the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” There was an evident distinction between these two sets of men.
After his glorious resurrection from the dead, the divine Redeemer solemnly invested the twelve with apostolic power, authorizing them to send others, even as he had sent them. The exigences of the church speedily required the exercise of this high official right. A lower order of men in the ministry was needed, who should attend particularly to the concerns of the poor.
This, however, was not the whole of their duty. They were to be employed as missionaries, and in various ways as coadjutors to the higher grades in the ministry. Accordingly, the seven deacons were appointed, and set apart to their office by a solemn ordination, of which transaction we have a particular account in the early history of the church contained in the Acts of the Apostles. From the same inspired historic record we learn that Philip, one of the seven deacons, shortly after having entered upon his holy office, “ went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” His hearers were not altogether inattentive to his message. Many believed, and these immediately received the sacrament of baptism, both men and
“When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John; who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost; for as yet he was fallen upon none of them ; only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
Let us here notice, that the sacred rite of imposition of hands was one that required for its performance an apostolic order of men. Jerome informs us that in his day “the bishops visited all the lesser cities, and by imposition of hands, invoked the Holy Spirit upon those who had been baptized by the presbyters and deacons.”
“ Its administration is confined to the highest officer of the church, because we read no instance in the Scripture in which the power was exercised by any subordinate minister. And, because it is peculiarly fitting that they who have been led by the instrumentality of a subordinate