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Confirmation designed to be continued in the church.
preacher to give themselves thus up to the service of God, should make their profession-an act so serious, and never to be repeated-under circumstances the best calculated to impress their minds with a sense of its solemnity, and to record it as the subject of testimony for the whole church.”*
Another instance incidentally introduced in the nineteenth chapter shows that this was an established rite in the ministrations of the apostles. St. Paul, in one of his missionary tours, having entered Ephesus, and found there certain disciples who had received John's baptism, but were still, to a very great extent, ignorant of the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom, unfolded to them the design of his mission, and the importance of embracing him by faith. " When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them.”
And that this rite was designed to be continued in the church, is abundantly evident,
First, From a declaration in the epistle to the Hebrews. St. Paul, in addressing the Hebrew Christians, notices the distinguished and eminent advantages for religious instruction which they for a long time had enjoyed, and at the same time the little proficiency they had made in divine knowledge. When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.”
Regarding them as in the school of Christ, which, like all other schools, has its elementary instruction, he exhorts them to endeavour to advance beyond the incipient stage of their Christian education, and try to attain to some knowledge of the higher mysteries of the gospel. The language which he uses is the following: “ Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptism, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrec tion of the dead, and of eternal judgment."
Now it is evident that the apostle regarded all these enumerated particulars as the elementary principles of the doc
* Guide to Confirmation. Dr. Tyng.
Testimony of the primitive church.
trines of Christ. Men introduced into the school of Christ, were called upon to repent, to exercise faith, to be baptized, and then followed “the laying on of hands."
If this was really one of the principles of the doctrines of Christ, then “the laying on of hands” was necessary for all Christians, and for all ages of the Christian church. For one has most judiciously remarked, that “ without any dispute, first principles in all institutions, whether civil or religious, are sacred, and can neither be departed from without danger, nor abrogated without guilt."* Who will pretend to say, that the other enumerated particulars, repentance, faith, and baptism, are not necessary for all Christians, and for every period in the Christian church?
Secondly, This conclusion is strengthened by the fact, that this rite was universally practised in the Christian church in the age immediately succeeding that of the Apostles.
Tertullian, who lived only eighty years after the apostle John, speaks of it as a custom universally prevalent in his time.
“ Hands were laid upon those who were baptized, by benediction, calling for and invoking the Holy Spirit.
St. Cyprian who lived only fifty years later, traces the origin of confirmation which was practised in the churches, to the imposition of hands by the apostles. And Jerome, who lived three hundred years after the apostles, as we have already seen, concurs in the same testimony.
" As to the existence of this rite in the church in the first ages of Christianity, we had as well doubt whether baptism or the Lord's supper were practised in those days; for the same books which speak of the latter, speak of the former; and the same councils which legislated on the latter, legislated on the former.”+ We therefore feel confident that this sacred rite originated in the practice of those holy and divinely inspired men, who were the chosen disciples of our Saviour, commissioned by him to preach the gospel, and to establish all necessary ordinances and regulations in the Christian church. This, like baptism, was designed to be continued to the end of time. It was continued up
* Bishop Ravenscroft on Confirmation.
Drs. Owen and Clarke's sentiments.
to the period of the reformation, and I know not that any Protestant churches at that time laid aside this rite, except the followers of Calvin ; and even that eminent reformer and divine, expresses his decided conviction that this was an apostolic institution, as I shall show in a subsequent part of this lecture.
This rite has been retained by the Lutherans, the churches of Bohemia, or the United Brethren, and one sect of the Baptist. The ancient church of the Waldenses retained the substance of it as an apostolic institution.
The most eminent lights of the Reformed churches, among whom are Peter Martyr, Rivet, and Peter des Moulin, give it the weight of their authority. Dr. Owen, who is widely known as a dissenter, and a man of eminent learning and piety, acknowledges that this practice existed at a very early period in the church, and thus describes it. 6. When the children of believers, baptized in infancy, were established in those necessary truths, and had resolved on personal obedience unto the gospel, they were offered unto the fellowship of the faithful ; and here, on giving the same account of their faith and repentance which others had done before, they were baptized, they were admitted into the communion of the church : the elders thereof laying on their hands in token of their acceptance, and praying for their confirmation in the faith.”
Dr. Clarke, the commentator, an eminent divine in the Methodist church, in his autobiography thus speaks of this rite. “ It was at this time that the Bishop of Bristol held a confirmation in the collegiate church. I had never been confirmed, and as I had a high respect for all the rites and ceremonies of the church, I wished to embrace this opportunity to get the blessing of that amiable and apostoliclooking prelate, Dr. Lewis Bagot. I asked permission ; several of the preacher's sons went with me, and I felt much satisfaction in this ordinance; to me it was very solemn, and the whole was well conducted. Mrs. S. who was a Presbyterian, pitied my being so long • held in the odness of the letter.' I have lived forty years
and upon this point my sentiments are not changed.”
3. We are now prepared to inquire what was the design of confirmation.
The name itself conveys a just conception of the pur
Apostolic imposition of hands.
pose for which this ordinance was established. The candidates for this ordinance had previously entered upon the christian course.
If they had received baptism in infancy, having now arrived at years of discretion, and felt the renovating power of God's glorious grace upon their hearts, they thus had an opportunity of assuming in their own person the obligations of the christian covenant, and of publicly professing their faith in Christ. If they had received baptism in adult years, until they received the ordinance of confirmation, they were still regarded as probationers. Having walked for a while onward in their heavenly journey, it seemed proper that they should be called upon to certify whether it continued to be their fixed and unchangeable determination to serve the Lord. In this rite, therefore, they again declared to the world their determination to be the followers of Christ, and their conviction from actual experience that the ways of religion were pleasant, and all her paths peace. They needed the grace of God to confirm them in this purpose and strengthen them in their heavenly course. This grace was sought for them, by the chief minister of the church, by laying his hands solemnly on their heads, and looking up to God in fervent prayer. They were thus solemnly set apart to the service of Him who had bought them with his blood; and the spirit of the living God descended to dwell in them, as temples consecrated to his use.
“ The laying on of hands,” therefore, was one of the appointed means, through which the influences of the Holy Spirit were imparted. Hence we can understand, why
·laying on of hands,” is enumerated among the fundamental principles or elements of Christianity ; and that it is a matter in which all Christians are concerned, as they are in repentance, faith, and baptism. And this also clearly shows that the laying on of hands was intended to be continued in the Christian church to the latest period of time. For to the latest period of time, every member of the Christian church will stand in equal need of the sacred influences of the divine spirit.
“And here let it be observed, that the Apostles' hands were laid upon Christian converts, to commuicate to them, not simply the miraculous gifts, but more generally, the ordinary influences of the Holy Spirit.' It would be pre
Apostolic imposition of hands.
posterous to suppose that the whole church at Samaria were endowed with the power of working miracles. Yet to all those who had been baptized, both men and women, the Holy Ghost was given by the laying on of the Apostles' hands. They experienced the same divine influence that all Christians need at the present day; and this shows the importance and necessity of continuing this sacred rite.
“Of the graces and comforts which are the fruits of the spirit, our blessed Lord prayed that not only his twelve disciples might partake, but all who should believe on him through their word.' And there are facts which show that all Christians did participate in the gift which was signified by the laying on of hands.' The Apostle, in writing to the Corinthians, refers to their having received the Spirit' by his instrumentality ; to the Galatians, to his “ministering the Spirit unto them. And when he expresses his wish to visit the Christians at Rome, .in order that he might impart unto them some spiritual gift,' it is difficult to conceive why the gift might not have been communicated by message or letter, unless it were to be connected with some bodily act on his part.
As it is evident, therefore, that all Christians did receive this gift which was signified by the laying on of hands,' it becomes more than probable, that they all obtained it in the way which is recorded in reference to some individual instances; and that that which was done to the believers of Samaria and Ephesus, was also done to all that in every place called upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. Unless this be allowed, it will be impossible to find in the sacred volume, any trace of such an imposition of hands, as could be with any propriety denominated, a 'first principle' and • foundation of the doctrine of Christ."'*
Do not suppose that we mean to teach the absurd doc trine, that bishops have the power of conferring the Holy Spirit arbitrarily on whomsoever they please. All they can do, is to invoke those spiritual gifts which God alone can bestow. But as in the case of baptism, if the candidate comes forward with suitable dispositions of mind, sincerely desiring the promised blessing, we believe God
* Dr. Tyng's Guide to Confirmation.