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Danger from disregarding ordinances.
in a fair exterior, and a desire to approach the table of the Lord. It became somewhat common for pastors to admit persons thus qualified, without asking more than two or ihree questions respecting their religious experience. Sometimes only one inquiry was made, and that no less general, and indecisive of inward piety, than whether they assented to the standard of faith adopted by the church which they wished to join. Seldom did any make a public profession of religion till they were of an age to be surrounded by a family of children ; and then, a large proportion of them did it principally, it is to be feared, from a desire to procure for their offspring the privilege of baptism. Indeed, we have been
told, by various aged persons in different parts of New England, who united with orthodox churches in those days, that this was their chief motive in the transaction ; and also, that being known to possess a fair moral character, they were received with scarcely the shadow of examination as to their experimental acquaintance with religion.
“It needs not another word on this topic to show that the cause of religion was low. For if churches, gathered on the strictest principles of admission, contain unworthy members, and exert too little healthful influence on the surrounding world, how deplorable must be the state of things within the fold, and without, when its entrance is furnished with scarcely the semblance of a guard, but is left an open pathway for the ingress of all persons, however destitute of spiritual qualifications, provided they cast away the external name of hostility.
Thus we see the great danger of undue reliance upon mere external ordinances.
But I am sensible that there are dangers on the other hand-of regarding too lightly the ordinances and institutions of God. We are so constituted that we need external symbols to impress and influence us in religion, as well as in other things. The great Founder of Christianity, aware of this peculiarity in our nature, has constituted his church with reference to this fact. And hence they who disregard the ordinances of Christ will soon find themselves removed at no slight distance from the faith and spirit of the gospel.
* Christian Spectator, vol. v. No. 2, p. 228.
This rite efficacious through the Holy Spirit.
We have had a striking illustration of this in the schism that has recently rent in sunder a large body of Christians in our land—a sure evidence that the rejection of the divinely instituted ordinances opens a door to scepticism, and ultimately leads to broad infidelity. While, on the one hand, therefore, I would warn you of the danger of resting upon any external rite, I would, on the other hand, admonish you not to esteem lightly the ordinances of Christ.
In our last lecture we were led to the conclusion that “ the laying on of hands” was a rite of apostolic origin, and was designed to be continued in the Christian church. We stated a number of advantages resulting from the proper reception of this rite, and intimated that we should resume the same consideration in this lecture.
Previous to entering upon this consideration, however, allow me to remove an erroneous idea that may exist in some minds, that Episcopalians teach that there is something like a magical charm in this ceremony, or some peculiar virtue in the hands of him who administers it, by which the Holy Spirit is conveyed to the recipient. And I cannot do this better than in the language of one of our own bishops.
“ In order to ascertain the real views of the church on this subject, we must refer to her articles and services. In the twenty-fifth article only, is any thing said on this subject, and there nothing is affirmed as to its virtue or efficacy; it is merely declared not to belong to the sacraments, as the Romanists contend. We must therefore turn to the confirmation service, in which alone are we to look for the doctrine of the church in relation to it. The reader is requested to examine that service carefully, and he will not fail to perceive, from every word of the same, that nothing is further from its design than to encourage presumption in the officer to whom its celebration is committed, or to lead any one to suppose that he, by virtue of his office, or of the ceremony used, bestows the Holy Ghost in any other way than God is pleased to grant it, in answer to humble prayer, and as a blessing attendant upon the due performance of a solemn religious rite by his appointed ministers. It is impossible that a service and prayers could be framed expressive of more entire dependence upon God, and refer ring the whole more humbly to his grace.
Manner of performing the rite.
“ On first entering upon the duty, the bishop looks up to heaven and says, “Our help is in the name of the Lord; Lord, hear our prayer.' The candidates also look up, not to the bishop, but to the Lord, and exclaim, · Let our cry come unto thee.' The bishop then, instead of professing to impart the Holy Ghost, as to those who have never heard of it, returns thanks to God for the gift of his Spirit to them in times past; yea, supposes them to have possessed a measure of the manifold gifts of the Spirit which belong to believers now, and prays to God for an increase of the same, and that they may continue to be thus blessed to the end. Not trusting to the virtue of his own hands, he cries to God, Let thy fatherly hand ever be over them, let thy Holy Spirit ever be with them.
Nor is there any prayer of thanksgiving afterwards, as though God had granted the Holy Spirit, so as to give even plausibility to the charge of a presumptuous belief that the bishop confers the Holy Ghost. He is nothing but an humble suppliant to Heaven for God's gracious favour on those who kneel around him.
6 God forbid that we should think thus arrogantly of ourselves, as though by our own power we could do any thing, when even the
apostles presumed not to impart any gift as of themselves. It was by means of prayer they obtained the Holy Ghost; and they called it the gift of God. But while we ought indeed to beware of any thing like presumption, and be sure to attribute nothing to ourselves, we should, on the other hand, beware, through a false modesty or humility, of doubting God's readiness to bestow the greatest gifts on the poorest of his creatures when they ask in faith. We must go to his word, and see what that encourages us to expect, and not fear to hope for it.
“ What does that word say concerning this Holy Ghost, which we almost fear to name, and think it presumptuous to expect through any medium, appropriating it almost entirely to the apostles and primitive times? of all the gifts which God is so ready to bestow, this is the freest. He begs us to ask for it; he waits to be gracious with it; he declares that he is more desirous to give his Spirit to those who ask it, than tender parents are to give good things to their children. Of this it is written, . Every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth.'
Influences of the Spirit.
“Let us not, then, through unbelief, lose the blessing. What Christian but daily prays for this Spirit ? and is it presumptuous to expect to receive it? Can his soul live without it? What Christian minister but prays that this Spirit may descend upon his people? and except it descend, , are any of his people quickened into new life, or those who have been renewed, strengthened to hold on their way? And especially on certain solemn occasions, when God's ministers and people meet together to perform holy ordinances, and prepare their hearts to ask a great blessing; when they cry mightily unto God, and plead his promises, and exhort one another earnestly, may they not look for a richer portion from above? Thus do we look for the blessing of God on those who have been preparing their hearts for this solemn occasion, and who now, in the presence of God and his people, bind themselves by holy vows, 'whereunto imposition of hands and prayer being added, our warrant for the great good effect thereof (says the pious and judicious Hooker) is the same which patriarchs, prophets, priests, apostles, fathers, and men of God have had for such their particular invocations and benedictions, as no man, I suppose, professing truth and religion, will easily think to have been without fruit.'»*
All the institutions of God confer great and exalted blessings upon those who through them seek his favour and regard. Streams of divine mercy may be expected richly to descend upon those heads that are lowly bent around the chancel to receive the solemn laying on of hands. Even were this not a divine institution, it ought to be regarded as an exalted privilege to be permitted to stand up before God, and angels, and men, and testify our determination to renounce the devil, and devote ourselves to the service of the Most High. Even were this not a divine institution, is there not an evident fitness and propriety on the part of those baptized in infancy, in their coming forward and signifying, by an act of their own, their determination to be on the Lord's side ? Even on the supposition that it is a human institution, might not the divine blessing be expected on a transaction so sacred, and strictly in keeping with the various exhortations of the word of God?
* Meade on Confirmation, p. 26.
Confirmation, a profession of religion.
Consider, for a moment, the scene. gathered together from various families, in one solemn group, prepared to go forward in one united company, to testify their faith in and devotion to the Saviour. The hearts of their parents, ready to burst with deep emotion, lifted up in devout aspiration to God for these their beloved offspring. And in the midst, clothed in sacerdotal vestments, the highest dignitary in the church, looking up to the great Eternal's throne, in earnest prayer for the descent of his heavenly grace upon these young immortals, to strengthen them in their holy resolutions, that they may “continue his for ever, and daily increase in his Holy Spirit more and more, until they come unto his everlasting kingdom :" then solemnly laying his hands upon their heads, and earnestly supplicating for them the influences of the life-giving Spirit. O happy group! Methinks, if sincere, and having Jesus for their intercessor at the right hand of the Most High, they cannot fail, in this interesting attitude, to draw down upon them the delighted gaze of angels and the smile of God.
But, after all, this is but an external rite; and whether it be a channel of grace to the soul or not, depends entirely upon the disposition of mind and the internal purposes of the individual who comes forward to receive it. Hence, in this series of lectures, your attention will be particularly directed to the qualifications absolutely requisite to form the basis of any reasonable expectation of benefit derived from this holy ordinance. My object is not so much to prove the apostolic origin of this rite, as to exhibit the qualifications which those who receive it should possess, I regard the declaration made in this rite, a profession of religion.
In relation to this form of religious profession, I will only add, that “all denominations of Christians have adopted for themselves some peculiar form in which this public personal profession, which is common to all, shall be made, previous to the admission to the Lord's supper, of those who apply for this privilege. By some there is demanded a public acknowledgment, in the presence of the church, of adherence to certain articles of faith. By others there is required a public account of religious experience, a history of the candidate's conversion. By others the form of im.