« AnteriorContinuar »
was his habit so to do:-"He laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them." No one then will dispute, after these passages, the propriety of the act by which Confirmation is administered; seeing the saints, and Christ himself, and as we shall shew hereafter, the Apostles also used this form. We may be challenged further: "Give us some proof of Confirmation as an ordinance or means of grace following upon Baptism, and administered only by the Bishop?" This is done to our hand in the next passage to which I must refer you.Acts, chap. viii. verses 12 to 19.
Upon this passage I remark first, that the act here alluded to, was one which Peter and John, as Apostles, did,—and which Philip, as a Deacon, could not do, and we shall hereafter identify this act with the theory of Confirmation. Read the passage over, at your leisure, and that you may not suppose that we have put merely a Churchman's comment upon it, I subjoin the interpretation of an eminent Wesleyan, Dr. Adam Clarke, who, in his note on this place, observes—“It seems evident, from this case, that even the most holy Deacons, though full of the Holy Ghost themselves, could not confer the heavenly gift on others. This was the prerogative of the Apostles."
I observe, secondly, however the apostolic derivation of episcopacy may be denied by the sectaries, the unanimous voice of the Church concurs with our view, of the Bishops standing in the Apostle's order, as the Scribes and Pharisees were said to "sit in Moses's seat," and therefore that the Church is justified in reserving to the Bishops, those functions which were peculiar to the Apostles.
In like manner there is another case, where a number of converts to the truth of Christianity had gathered themselves together in a Church, but who had not been confirmed in their faith, until St. Paul, as a Bishop and Apostle of the Church, visited their community. The Bishop, as the superior minister of the Church, should have the power and authority to judge between the ordinary ministers and people; there should be somewhere a living tribunal, to whose judgIment and ratification should be referred the administration of the Sacraments. The office of the Bishop, in confirming, stands between the sacraments, so that the disciple shall not pass from one to the other without Him-shall not enter into the full privileges of the Church, without the approbation, nor without personal fellowship with her ruling Elder. It is well that the whole body of the faithful, in their passage from the waters of Baptism to the wine of the Eucharist, should meet with their Bishop's blessing on the way. Besides the effect of thus endearing the Prelate's person to his people, on this the only occasion in which they necessarily receive the means of grace at his hands, it is needful for the order and discipline of the Church; as St. Jerome saith:-"If there be not attributed a more than common power and authority (to the Prelates), there will be as many schisms as priests." Hence the ministry of Confirmation was, in the New Testament times, exclusively performed by the Apostles. See Acts, chap. xix. verses 1 to 6.
If it be assumed that these cases are not analogous with the modern rite of Confirmation, since the Holy Ghost is not now communicated by the hands of the Bishop, we reply though
it is true that the age of miracles is past, yet that the ordinance itself is substantially the same as that administered by the Apostles, with this difference, that the kind of grace received in the ordinance, is in keeping with the dispensation under which it is administered. In ordinary times we are to be content with ordinary means of grace; though, as we observed in the introduction to this discourse, we believe that the little grace administered and received, in the ordinances of the Church, is the result, not of the inefficiency of the ordinances themselves, but of the little faith of those who use them. the mean time, it is clear that the ordinance may remain in force, though the miraculous gifts that used to accompany its ministration by the Apostles, have been withdrawn; and grace abundantly enough to induce our obedience to the rite of Confirmation, is still left for the edification of every soul who receives it in faith and prayer. Indeed, if even the grace were wholly withdrawn from the ordinance, I humbly think. we should have no right to abolish its observance. The Law did not absolve its subjects of their obedience, because "righteousness came not by the Law." It was still the duty of the Jew to worship in the Temple, though the cloud of God's presence, and the spirit of prophecy, and the pot of manna were withdrawn; and so in like manner it is our duty to maintain the ordinances of the Church, though schism has afforded cities of refuge from the exercise of her discipline-though it has become the fashion, alike of the sectaries and of the world, to disparage her canons-though the fullness of the Spirit is withheld as a punishment for our want of faith, or as a trial of the remnant that is left :—and though there are not a few, even of the children of the Church, who read nothing in her rubric
beyond the lettering of the ordinance, forgetting that as in the Law, so in the Gospel,-the mere formal, external "letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”
I refer you but to one more passage, where Confirmation occurs in its proper order, as succeeding Baptism, and the profession of repentance and faith. See Heb. vi. 1 and 2. The pious Matthew Henry's note,-another Non-conformist divine,-upon this place, is the following. "Laying on of hands, on persons passing solemnly from their initiated state. of baptism, to the confirmed state, by returning the answer of a good conscience towards God, and sitting down at the Lord's table. This passing from incomplete to complete Churchmembership, was performed by laying on of hands, which the extraordinary conveyance of the gift of the Holy Ghost continued." This is, so far, an admission of our own view of the subject. I observe further, that the passage is addressed to the whole Church; "the laying on of hands" could not therefore refer to the ordination of the ministry, which are only parts of the Church, but to some privilege, in which the whole body were partakers: this privilege could be none other than the communication of the Holy Ghost, which act we have already shewn to be sufficiently analogous to the present rite of confirming, in their profession of faith, the baptized members of the existing Church of Christ. The Apostle speaks of "the doctrine of laying on of hands." Then to charge Confirmation as a device of the Church, is to charge St. Paul with the taxation of the Pharisees, "in teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men." We shall introduce the testimony of the Church Catholic to the ordinance, in this even