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miraculous gifts, it would be very improper to class this, as one of the elements; so properly contrasted with the "going on unto perfection:" which must have been either intellectual or moral; or most probably both.
We do not allege any other text of scripture, as relative to the institution: But in the way of sustaining our sense of scripture, by a recurrence to facts; we have much to offer from primitive practice. We find the ordinance in question celebrated in very early times, in the Churches throughout the Christian world. It is impossible to account for this, but on the principle of its having been handed down from the beginning: which accordingly rests this fact on some of the clearest principles of moral evidence. After the best ages of the Church had passed over; the opinion of the necessity of the ordinance grew to so extravagant a height, that there was introduced the practice of administering it to infants: which was a natural attendant on another faulty practice-that of administering the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, to persons of the same description. And these two corruptions prevailed for a time only.
At the reformation, the Church of England saw the propriety of continuing the ancient and apostolick rite of Confirmation. It was also continued by the Churches, which reformed under the direction of Dr. Martin Luther; with this difference, that there being no bishops over them, their presbyters confirm.* But the ordinance was dropt by some, although retained by others of the Churches, which reformed on the maxims of the celebrated John Calvin. And yet, this eminent man gives the following testimony in favour of the ordinance, in the first chapter of the fourth book of his principal work, called "The Institutions of the Christian Religion"" It was an ancient custom, that the children of Christian parents, when they were
This is to be understood with the exception of the Churches of Sweden and Denmark, which are Episcopal
grown up, should be presented to the bishop, to do that office which was required of persons who were baptized at adult age. Forasmuch as that being baptized in infancy, they could not then make any confession of their faith before the Church, they were again brought by their parents before the bishop, and examined by him in the Catechism, which they had then in a certain form of words. And that this act, which ought to be grave and sacred, might have the greater reverence, the ceremony of the imposition of hands was used in the exercise of it. And so the youth, after their faith was approved, were dismissed with a solemn benediction." Soon after he adds-" Such an imposition of hands as this, which is used purely as a blessing, I very much approve of, and wish it were now restored to its pure and primitive uses.”*
The same Calvin, commenting in another work on the second verse of the sixteenth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, considers it as abundantly proving, that the origin of Confirmation was from the apostles. He explains the passage as meaning a rite, administered either to persons not within the Church, who had not made a profession of their faith, antecedently to baptism, or to those who had been baptized in infancy, and being afterwards instructed in the faith, presented themselves at Catechism.t
Between the two passages quoted from the Institutions of Calvin, he considers Jerome as mistaken in representing Confirmation as an apostolick appointment: by which he is here understood as denying, not its being practised by the apostles, but its being appointed by them for perpetual observance. See the next note..
† Calvin's interpretation of the passage, is the reason of the construction put in the preceding note, on a sentence in his Institutions, between the two quotations from that work.
His sense of Heb. vi. 2. is taken as it stands in Poole's Synopsis. The present author has not access to the particular work of Calvin, in which the exposition is given: but Poole. is considered as accurate. And he was a Calvinist in doctrine, belonging also to a communion, among whom the rite of Confirmation did not obtain.
The immediate successour of Calvin to the theological chair of Geneva-the learned Theodore Beza-delivers the same opinion in his annotations on the same place. His words (rendered) are "The doctrine which used to be delivered, especially to the ignorant, in baptism, and in the imposition of hands: that is, when there was an assembling for the baptizing of either infants or adults; also for the laying on of hands on such." Beza evidently speaks of the rite as originating in apostolick times, and as here sanctioned by the apostle of the Gentiles.
Although we look to divine appointment and to that only, for the obligation of the ordinance; yet we may allow it to be the more venerable in our eyes, and to be the more perseveringly adhered to, because of its obvious uses in practice.
However great the errour of rejecting from baptism those children of believers, whom Christ acknowledg ed as the members of his Church; yet it is undeniable, that infants are unconscious of what is transacted in their behalf; and that in this heavenly citizenship, as in the earthly one, it lies on certain persons, whether in the character of parents or of sponsors, to instruct them in the duties bound on them by the act of others, and in which they bore no part. An ordinance which provides for the child's assuming of the duties in due time, does away even the appearance of imperfection in the system: and therefore it should be acceptable, even on the grounds of expediency; and as helping to obviate those prejudices, which represent Christianity as less beneficial to the children of believers, than was Judaism; which contemplated them as objects of a divine covenant.
Another use, is the calling of the attention of
The result of the testimonies from Calvin, taken together, is, that whatever he may have thought of the perpetuity of the obligation of the ordinance, he believed it to have been prac tised by the apostles, and to have been very beneficial in the ensuing ages of the Church
young people to the primary principles of religious truth and duty, at the very crisis when they are the most likely to profit by the consideration of them; that is, when they are about to encounter the temptations of the world, which will be sure to meet them, in all the different employinents wherein they may be engaged; and for which they cannot be prepared, but by the holy armour of religious principle and resolution. If it were only the summons brought on parents, to attend to this important department, in the cultivation of the minds and the manners of their children; it may be beneficial to both, that thus there is an especial occasion for the performance of a duty; which, because it may be performed at any time, is, on that very account, in danger of being neglected.
There is a further use, in revering and perpetuating this ancient ordinance: ancient, not in the sense to which the term is sometimes applied, to sanction errours introduced many centuries after the apostolick age; but as including that age itself. The use referred to, is a general tendency to uphold whatever of doctrine or of discipline, being found in the ages immediately subsequent to the age of the apostles, and received as of indisputable authority, must be supposed to have been delivered by them. In late ages, there are many matters propagated with great zeal, and held to be of the last importance, which are so absolutely unknown in the remains of the ages here referred to; that if such matters were really in the minds of the apostles, it may be truly said of them, that in this respect, their memorial had perished with them, until it revived under modern illumination. We need not to be ashamed to avow the sentiment, that all novelty in religion-and under the term novelty, may be comprehended whatever has come under that name for at least fifteen hundred years past, carries the brand of errour on the very face of it. We go back far beyond that period, even to the beginning, for the origin of the rite of Confirmation: And being thus ancient, it will never
be duly respected, without proportionate respect for whatever comes under the same description.
I pass to the intended notice of some particulars in the service.
It begins with an admonition, against the presenting of children at too early an age. This caution appears to have been inserted, at a period subsequent to the compiling of the service; and was doubtless designed for the remedy of an abuse. The precise age is wisely left undetermined, because of the difference in capa. cities. In England, the age of fourteen is generally recommended; although not without allowance of coming forward sooner or of being detained longer, according to the circumstances of cases. It has been my desire, to follow that example; from an opinion, that the generality of young people may be made to comprehend, at the time of life specified, the grounds of their duties to God and to their neighbours; and to have distinct ideas of the several articles in the creed. For it would be a mistake, to confine the preparation to an ability to repeat the Catechism. The form here referred to, supposes them to have learned what their sponsors promised for them; which cannot be, without their knowledge of the sense, as well as of the letter of the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. On this subject of age, there is evidently an extreme to be avoided on each side. At too early a period, the promise of the sponsor would be unsuitably exchanged for that of the child: but more than useful postponement, is the loss of the fittest season of holy resolution; to serve as preparation for the ensuing season of temptation.
The demand made by the bishop, goes simply to the ratifying of the baptismal vow: And the answer is merely an assent to the proposition.
We are well aware, that this is far from amounting to what would be called for, by sentiments current in the religious world; and which would imply an examination into the question of the sensible conversion of the parties. But our whole ecclesiastical system is