« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
I have dwelt too long upon the subject of Practical Religion, now you see what is meant by the expression. If you use rightly the intellectual powers, and the means of improving them, with which God has blessed you, you will study many a treatise upon the practical application of science, far longer, and far more difficult than that wbich I now offer to your attention. But whether it relate to the system of the material universe, or the political relations of society, to the powers of the buman mind, or the structure of the human body, it relates to a subject which is as dust in the balance, in comparison with the subject of this letter. The more you know of such matters the better ; but it is possible to be totally ig. norant of them, and still to be happy, but Practical Religion is the one thing needful for the bappiness of your eternal existence; and that God may give you grace to choose, and to hold fast this better part, is the wish and prayer of your faithful Friend and Pastor,
Acts viii. 14-17.-xix. 1-7. HEBR. V. 12.-vi. 1-2.
CONFIRMATION, as it is now practised by the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country, is a religious ceremony, in wbich those who have been baptised during infancy, and are now capable of understanding the nature of the covenant into which they then entered, appear before the assembled church, publicly to ratify and confirm the promise and vow originally entered into in their name. On the other hand, the Church of Christ, believing and accepting their declaration and adherence, joins in prayer to Almighty God, for their per severance in the faith; and through the laying on of bands by her bighest officer, the Bishop, testifies her belief that the blessings supplicated are really conveyed to the young Christian in and by the rite of Confirmation.
With respect to the origin of this rite, it is not my intention to say much in this place ; nor, for the purposes which I have at present in view, is the inquiry a very important one. By a comparison of the texts which I have
enumerated, you will perceive, that in the apostolic age, the laying on of the apostles' bands, wherever it could be had, followed the sacrament of baptism, and was accompanied by a peculiar action of the Spirit in the communication of supernatural gifts. But the texts referred to, from the Epistle to the Hebrews, appear to shew, that the blessing which accompanied the laying on of the apostles' hands, was something more important to the individual, and more spiritual in its nature, than those miraculous powers which were conferred on the Church in its first age, merely as an evidence of the truth of its doctrines. For we find that the apostle joins it with baptism, and describes them as being equally im. portant, and as standing equally among " the first principles of the oracles of God.” It seems therefore rational to conclude, that the Spirit, as conveyed by the imposition of hands, not merely gave miraculous powers, but also strengthened and confirmed the penitence and the faith which had rendered the person on wbom it acted, a fit subject for the previous sacrament of baptism; for, on no other supe i position could it bear any analogy to baptism, or be fairly put on a footing of equality with it. And this view is confirmed by the indisputable fact, that the Cburch, in the age immediately succeeding that of the apostles, and wben the miraculous gifts had confessedly ceased, still practiced the imposition of bands,
and considered it as a continuation of the apostolic usage, 1;":
u os hiA detailed enquiry into the evidence of the Christian Fathers on this subject, would, bowever, be quite out of place here; it will be more to the purpose, if I proceed at once to lay before you the manifest expediency of Confirmation, and then endeavour to show how you may best use it to your own eternal advantage. se In Baptism, you were admitted as members of that society which Christ founded upon earth, to be a school for forming the members of a bigher society bereafter to be justituted in Heaven. That Christ did not only reveal a certain system of doctrine, but did also institute a visible Church upon earth, a religious society, with a particular right of admission, particular conditions of continuance, and with different officers for its government; that is to say, distinguished by every thing requisite to constitute a separate association or society, is in my opinion equally true and important; but I shall postpone a more particular inquiry into this fact, until I come to address you on the institution of the CHURCH. In the mean time, taking for granted that there was from tbe day of Pentecost, and ever has continued, a visible Church of Christ upon earth, con. sisting of all those wbo have been baptized according to Christ's ordinance, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Ghost; and considering that you were ad mitted into this society during your earliest infancy, long before you could understand any thing of the conditions under which you were placed, or the privileges to which you were admitted ; it will not be difficult to shew the expediency, and, I might almost say, the necessity, either of confirmation, or of some equivalent rite.
The Church into which you were admitted at your baptism, bas provided, that as soon as you are capable of understanding them, you sball be instructed in all the conditions of the Christian covenant; and after baving allowed a reasonable time for the acquisition of this knowledge, nothing can be more reasonable than that she should call upon you to declare whether you consider the covenant as a beneficial one, and are willing to abide by its conditions. It is also reasonable, that if any baptized persons, arrived at the years of discretion, should refuse to make such a renewal of their baptismal vow, then the Church should withhold from them admission to the higher privileges of Christian communion. For, as the Church is a society founded for the promotion of a particular quality, Holiness; the person who refuses to declare that he desires to attain this quality, or who refuses to declare his agreement with the Church, as to the means by which it may be attained, ought not to be treated as a Christain brother, and is mani