Page images
PDF
EPUB

unbelievers, extraordinary powers were required for their conversion : with which view, the gifts of miracles, and of speaking with tongues, were communicated by the laying on of hands. In those days, the members of the Church were not only endued with such grace as operated inwardly upon their affections for the retaining of them in the ways of Truth and Holiness, but with such power likewise as manifested itself outwardly to the senses of men, and thereby led them to consider and assent to a Religion so miraculously attested. Their prejudice was too great to be conquered by the force of Reason. The internal merits of the Gospel, and the native excellence of Truth, would have no effect on those who were incapable of discerning them. Therefore God in his great mercy condescended to the shorter method of leading their Reason and Philosophy captive, by operating upon them through the medium of their bodily senses. But when the Gospel was spread abroad in the world, and children were every where trained up under Christian parents, these extraordinary powers became unnecessary, and were consequently withdrawn. A wrong education hath such an influence upon the mind, that many persons are rendered proof against miracles and all the clemonstrations which the Power and Wisdom of God can present to them. It has such an effect upon the faculties, that a good-natured man will be soured into malice and cruelty, a learned man (though surrounded with light) will be groping is darkness, and a sensible man will talk like an ideot. When this grand obstacle is removed, and people are no longer brought up to heathenism, the work of conversion may be left to Education; the mind of a child will imbibe what is offered; and as it grows to maturity, Reason will be able to maintain what simplicity rea ceived.

On these considerations, it is not to be wondered at, that the extraordinary powers which attended Confirmation were discontinued after the establishment of Christianity, and nothing retained but those internal powers which were always requisite for the salvation of individuals, and were therefore conferred at the same time with the others. The Grace of God to dispel the darkness of the understanding, and restrain the frowardness of passion, was as necessary to those who were confirmed by St. Peter, St. John, or St. Paul, as to those who are confirmed in this latter Age of the Church; and therefore it is equally communicated in all times. What though the greatness of the Apostolical character may now be sunk in the eyes

of those who know not how to distinguish between times and seasons; yet God, who promised to be with his Apostles to the end of the world, will not be wanting to his promise, nor leave his Church without such helps as are necessary toward the perfecting and saving of its Members.

Wherefore we may safely depend upon it, that the benefit of Confirmation to the faithful receiver is as real as that of baptism ; though it is not subject, in either case, to immediate observation. A learned Author, who was a man of great piety, had much experience of the world, and never was in any degree addicted to Enthusiasm, assured me, that in the course of his life, he had met with persons troubled in their consciences, who had opened to him the state of their minds, though he was not a Clergyman. It was his custom to ask such, whether they had been Confirmed? If they answered in the negative, he advised them not to defer it any longer; and said he had been witness

Сс

VOL. II.

to an bappy change in several instances. It does by no means follow from this relation, that I think signs and wonders are to be expected from the present Governors of the Church. For Confirmation is one of the ordinary means of Grace, and if it is found in some cases to answer the purpose intended, the effect is as properly within the common sphere of the Christian economy, as the increase of a plant from the operation of the Elements is within the common course of Nature. If the Sun were to shine, the clouds to send down rain, the winds to vary according to their season, and notwithstanding all these advantages nothing should be found to grow, it would be more wonderful than any thing we have yet observed: and it would not be less wonderful, if the Institutions of God were to do no good in his Church. What? shall God establish the means of Grace amongst us, and shall no benefit attend them? Shall be confer his grace to strengthen the mind, and shall the mind be no stronger with it than without it? Doth God amuse his people with forms which have no power, and shadows which have no corresponding substance? This would be more incredible, because more opposite to the nature of God, and contradictory to Reason, than any thing that ever was or will be believed concerning an Efficacy in the Christian Institutions. To those indeed who expected nothing from them, they always were lifeless and ineffectual. The Jews, who were such only in outward profession, reduced their Law to a dead Letter; and Christians of the like spirit reduce the Gospel to an insignificant Ceremony. The Enthusiast boasts of finding a shorter road to the Grace of God without condescending to the use of the means; and the squeamish improver of the Christian Mysteries is ashamed of the Form, unless you give him leave to suppose that it is void of the Power. But the rational Believer takes a middle way between them, neither despising the form nor denying the power of it.

Yet we must be careful not to carry things beyond their line: we must distinguish between the ordinary and extraordinary influences of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning of the Gospel, when the hearts of the disobedient were to be turned to the wisdom of the just, and a people was to be prepared for the Lord, the progress was rapid, and the effects of the Spirit were visible and immediate. At the Formation of the World, when things were rising out of the Chaos, the Earth was hastily furnished with all its productions. Herbs were in seed, Trees had their fruits upon them, Animals had their full stature, and Man was arrived at maturity, in the space of a single day. But now, under the settled laws of Nature, all things are carried on so silently and slowly, that to vulgar Eyes they seem to stand still. The Sun and Moon in the heavens, the verdure of the Spring, the fruits of the Autumn; all are progressive in every moment; but while we look upon them their motion is insensible. So the progress of Grace, like that of nature, is not all at once, but by degrees, with a motion imperceptible to the Eyes. Yet both are real. The God who conducts the system of physical causes in such a manner as to satisfy the expectations of the Philosophical Observer, will not disappoint those who look up to him, according to his own direction, for things of much higher importance.

VI. The outward sign or form of Confirmation is the last thing described to us in that account, upon which I have been making these Remarks. We are told, that when Peter and John had first prayed for the Samaritan converts, they layed their hands'on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. We rarely or never meet with any instance of a gift communicated from God to man without some external sign to illustrate the nature of it and assure us of its reality. The water in Baptism, and the bread and wine in the Lord's supper, are applied with this intention; and the application is so strict and proper, that the whole visible world cannot supply us with any other signs so accommodated to the nature of the things signified. The laying on of hands, as a sign, is not restrained to Confirmation, but common to Ordination, and to other occasions, to denote the power and authority of God. Moses laid his hands

Moses laid his hands upon the head of Joshua when he gave him a commission to succeed as Prophet, Pastor, and Captain, to the people of Israel. The Apostles used the same form when they healed the sick; and our blessed Saviour laid his hands on the little children when he gave them his benediction. A sign so frequently applied, and upon such important occasions, cannot be without its proper signification; and a few words will be sufficient to shew what it is. The hands are the instruments of action and

power. If any gift is presented, any assistance offered, or any commission given, froni one man to another, the hands are the means of communication. The power of the human body is so eminently fixed to the hands, that hand and power are put for the same thing in the sacred language. And anciently among the Latins, manumission or a sending away from the hand, signified the releasing of a servant from the power of his mas

So that if any thing is visibly communicated from God through the ministration of man, no outward sign can express this so properly as the stretch

ter.

« PreviousContinue »