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Exhortation to promptness.
rence of a scene so mournful and heart rending as the one I have related.
And let the statements I have now made remind me of my duty to the young in this parish. And may God grant that the course of instruction on which I am about to enter, may be blessed to their never-dying souls. Solemnly would I bid you, my young friends, in the name of God, attend at once to the things that concern your everlasting peace. And if you are the children of pious parents, who dedicated you to Christ in infancy, I am coming to each one of you in private, to ask you with all the tenderness of a kind friend, whether you will now confess your Saviour or deny him! O remember that he has said " Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."
“ Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.”—From the 144th
THERE are two errors into which mankind are perpetually falling in reference to religious rites. They attach either too much or too little importance to them. The adoption of either of these errors leads to hurtful and ruinous consequences.
On the one hand, they who attach undue importance to any of the external rites of religion, will very soon lose sight of the spirituality of the gospel, and become cold, heartless formalists. We see an illustration of this in the Romish church. While they cherish the most profound veneration for all the external forms of religion, and are most conscientious and strict in the observance of all those rites and ceremonies which the superstition of ages has gathered around their church, the great mass of the people, who so conscientiously go through all this mummery and show, seem to have no more idea of the simple religion of Jesus, than those who are living amid the densest shades of pagan darkness.
And some Protestant churches also might be referred to, as illustrative of the sad effects of dependence upon mere external observances. These churches, marked with an awful destitution of spiritual life, which in vain seeks concealment beneath the gay and gilded trappings of worldly splendour, stand like uplifted beacons to warn us of the danger of looking to mere rites, while the heart is left unpurified and uncleansed. Would to God that this picture had no prototype among the churches of our own communion. But I fear that in former days there have been among us too many sad illustrations of this melancholy truth. I hope and believe a happy change has commenced
Causes repressing true piety. and is progressing. The fault was not that of the church. It was a departure from her pure and evangelical principles. . And when the practice of the ministers and members of our communion shall be brought back to her principles, as plainly asserted in our articles and liturgy, the principles which animated her sons at the time of the reformation, a period in which this church threw off the shackles of popery, and though baptized in blood stood up fearlessly to contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints,—when her ministers and members shall be brought back to those principles, then the church will stand foremost in the ranks of spirituality, and be “a praise in the whole earth.”
Perhaps nothing has more tended to deaden true piety in our church, than the loose practice which has in some instances been adopted in reference to the admission of candidates to the rite of confirmation. This is the door that must be strictly guarded if we would keep the church pure.
The declaration made at confirmation is one of the most solemn professions of religion that can be conceived. And no one who has not been converted to God can make that declaration without offering insult to heaven. But in a thousand instances, confirmation has been considered as a religious ceremony which custom has imposed, and which at a certain age it is proper to receive, without any special reference to religious qualifications. No questions have been proposed to the recipient by the minister, and nothing has been known of his religious views and feelings. I am not now speaking at random. From several communications now in my possession, written by eminently pious persons, deploring the lax practice that has prevailed in reference to this matter in some of our churches, I make the following extracts.
“ The only instructions that I had till I attained my sixteenth year were, to repeat the catechism by rote, attend the service of the sanctuary, and rigidly observe the Sabbath. At this time I was confirmed. I then determined, by my own good deeds and in dependence upon my own strength, to escape the punishment of hell, and obtain admission into the joys of heaven. There never was one word spoken to me on the duties of religion by either
Instances of unprepared candidates.
friend, relation or minister. Had there then been presented to my view the ruined and lost condition of a sinner, with the love of the dying Jesus, I might have known something of my own sinfulness; I might have seen that I was a child of wrath, and justly condemned to the eternal torments of hell, and have sought to obtain an interest in Christ. What a fearful omission of duty is it to neglect the instruction of the young in the things which belong to their eternal safety!"
Another thus writes : “ I had been early taught to pray and read the word of God, and from the mere force of habit practised these duties daily; and when scarcely fourteen, being urged by my parents, I presented myself a candidate for confirmation, and after some preparatory exercises, ratified my baptismal vows. I believe I then first seriously felt the operations of the Holy Spirit. I had not even read the service; and when called upon among the other candidates to give my assent to the several requirements, I was greatly agitated, and would have retired to my seat, being deeply sensible that I had never even intended to dedicate myself to the service of God. I reflected a moment; perhaps I might displease my parents, perhaps draw remarks that I was unable to meet from others, being known to many around me. At length, influenced by these motives, I determined to remain ; and to quiet my conscience, I determined by many resolves on the spot, and in my own strength, to keep the solemn promises."
From a third, I make the following extract: “I cannot look back to the season of my confirmation but with feelings of sorrow. I was totally ignorant of the nature of the vows I was taking upon me: I tremble, I shudder, to think how careless I then went into the presence of God; I wonder that the wrath of God did not consume me. I was led to go by the persuasion of my friends. They told me, that I was old enough, and that I ought to go. I shall never forget when I first felt the bishop's hand on my head, and heard those solemn words uttered, · Defend, O Lord, this thy servant.' Surely I was not the servant of God, but of Satan. I had not given up my darling lusts, and though I sometimes tried to pray, it was always a wearisome task, and I soon forgot all the obligations I assumed.”
Laxity not confined to one sect.
The testimony from a fourth shall close these extracts : “ At the age of fourteen, I presented myself a candidate for confirmation, agreeably to the custom of the church, without one serious thought on the subject. So far from it, I believe it was the gayest period of my life. I was not examined by any minister, nor did I have a personal interview with any.
My name was handed to the Rev. by my father, and he simply asked my age.
Thus I was confirmed at the giddiest period in my whole history. I believe I came very little behind Miss who had a hair-dresser to arrange her head on Sunday morning, and came in a carriage without a hat, just in time to kneel at the altar. I do not mean to say that I went through all this ceremony, but
my heart was just as vain and worldly. Naturally of a quick temper and volatile disposition, I never dreamed of debarring myself from any pleasure suited to my age and taste. I contented myself with the mere form of godliness, while I was ignorant of its power."
These statements are from persons who now have an experimental knowledge of the divine life, but whose conversion was several years subsequent to their confirmation. I have introduced these extracts for the purpose of exhibiting facts to illustrate the lax mode in which ministers have in some instances presented persons for confirmation: and also to account for the deadness of some churches in all that appertains to vital godliness. This will be the case whenever external ordinances are regarded as every thing, and where they are received as the only tests of piety.
The evils to which I have adverted are not peculiar to the Episcopal church. From a view of the state of the Congregational churches in New England fifty years since, a writer of that denomination complains of the same difficulty. " The easy terms,” says this writer,
on which persons were often admitted into the church, may be mentioned as another cause of the religious declension. The churches were mostly very small, and some of them on the borders of extinction. Revivals being of rare occurrence, and cases of conversion exceedingly few, recruits were obtained to a fearful extent by lowering the standard of admission so as to accord with qualifications which consisted chiefly