OF CONFIRMATION. Of answering the ends of this apostolical institution.
THERE is no question to be made of it but that most of that ignorance, impiety, profaneness, want of charity, of union and order, which we complain of, is owing to the neglect or abuse of this one ordinance; which being appointed by the Apostles, and practised even when baptism was administered to people of full age, it is no wonder that God punishes the contempt of it, by withholding His Holy Spirit and those graces which are necessary and would certainly accompany the religious use of it.
If this were well considered, and pastors would resolve to discharge their duty in this particular faithfully, we should soon see another face of religion: Christians would be obliged to study their religion, and to think it something more than a work of the lips and of the memory, or the mere custom of the place where they live. And being made sensible of their danger (being liable to sin, to death and to damnation) this would make them serious and thoughtful and inquisitive after the manner of their redemption and the means of salvation; and their consciences being awakened and informed, sin would become more uneasy to them and virtue more acceptable. In short, by this means people would know their duty, the Sacraments would be kept from being profaned, and pastors would be respected and obeyed, as being very truly the fathers of their flock.
And certainly no greater injury can be done to religion than to suffer young people to come to confirmation before they know the reason of this service, and have been well instructed in the principles and duties of Christianity. This being the very time of seasoning their minds with sound knowledge, of fortifying their wills with sober resolutions, and of engaging them to piety, before sin has got the possession of their affections; this being also the time of qualifying them to receive benefit by all our future labours, and of arming them against apostasy, heresy, schism, and all other vices to which we are subject in this state of trial.
In short, I do not know how a clergyman could possibly spend one month better than by leading young people, as it were, by the hand, into the design of Christianity, by some such easy method as this following: which, if deliberately proposed to every single person in the hearing of all the rest (who should be obliged to be every day present) and familiarly explained, not the most ignorant (supposing he had learned, as he ought, the Church Catechism) but would be able to give a reason of the hope that is in him; and his faith being thus built upon a solid and sure foundation, would, by the grace of God now imparted to him in a greater measure, withstand all future trials and temptations.
The method of dealing with young Christians, in order to fit them for Confirmation.
I DO not ask you, whether you believe in God: you cannot open your eyes but you must, by the world that you see, acknowledge the God that made it and does still preserve it;--that He is infinite in power, in wisdom and in goodness;--that in Him we live and move and have our being;--that He is therefore worthy of all the love and service that we can possibly pay Him.
How then do you think it comes to pass, that so many who profess to know God, do yet in works deny Him? Why, this shews plainly that man is fallen from that good estate in which God created him. He knows that he ought to live righteously, as in the sight of an holy and just God;--that he should be afraid of doing any thing to offend so powerful a Being;--that he should love and strive to please Him upon whose goodness he depends; and that he should obey all His laws. And yet he cannot prevail with himself to do what he is persuaded he ought to do.
This may convince you that man's nature has been sadly corrupted some way or other; we having in every one of us the seeds of all manner of wickedness, which if not kept under will certainly grow up and be our ruin.
Now the Holy Scriptures tell you how this came to pass; namely, that our first parents being created perfect (that is, able to know and obey any law that God should give them) God gave them the law of nature and right reason to live by, and required of them a perfect obedience, with this assurance, that they should never die, if they did not transgress one particular command--of not eating the forbidden fruit, which command was given them both to try their obedience and to keep their appetites in subjection.
Now they did transgress this command and thereby became subject to sin, to death the reward of sin, and to the wrath of God; for God withdrew the supernatural powers and graces which He had given them, so that now, though they knew what was fit to be done, yet had they no longer power to perform it; which would certainly have driven them to despair, but that God was pleased immediately to comfort them with this promise, that a time was coming when He would send One to redeem them and their posterity from this miserable bondage; and that He would then receive them again into favour, upon reasonable conditions.
In the mean time, Adam begat a race of children after his own likeness; that is, with such a corrupt nature as his own was now become; and his posterity grew every day more and more wicked, till at last God destroyed the whole world (except eight persons) by a flood.
But this did not destroy the seeds of sin which was in them, for by these eight persons the world was peopled with a race of men, who in a short time did quite forget and forsake God; and for the most part became the subjects of the devil and were led captives by him at his will.
At last, God remembered His promise, and resolving to mend that disorder which sin had caused in the world, He sent His Son to take our nature upon Him, and to give mankind assurance that God would be reconciled to them upon very merciful conditions; namely, if they would renounce the devil, who first tempted man to sin, and accept of such laws and rules as were necessary to change their nature, which was now become prone to evil continually.
Now, to assure them that Jesus Christ came with this message from God, He did such miracles as none but God could do; and to convince us how much He loved us and what a sad thing sin is (which nothing but His death could atone for) He gave His life a ransom for us, the punishment due to us being laid on Him.
And God, to let us know that He was well pleased with what His Son had done and taught and suffered, raised Him to life, after He had been crucified, and received Him up into heaven, and gave Him all power in heaven and in earth, and sent down the Holy Ghost, with mighty power, to set up His kingdom, which is His Church, among men;--to destroy the kingdom of Satan, who hitherto had ruled without control;--and to free mankind from the tyranny and slavery of sin.
In order to this, the Holy Ghost appointed certain persons (who are called Christ's ministers) and gave them power to receive into His Church all such as would promise to obey His laws.
Your parents therefore took care (as the Jews did by their children) to consecrate you to God and Christ as soon as you were born. And this they did by baptism (as Jesus Christ had commanded) by which holy ceremony you were dedicated to God, who made you; to Jesus Christ, who redeemed you; and to the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth all God's chosen servants.
Thus you were translated (or taken) out of the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom, protection and government of Jesus Christ: and being thus received into Christ's Church, you became a child of God and an heir of the kingdom of heaven.
But then you are to consider, that before you were admitted to this favour, your sureties promised for you, that when you should come to age, you should in your own person and with your own free consent, renounce the devil and all his works, the world and all its wicked customs, and the flesh with all its sinful lusts:--that you should believe in God, that is, receive the Gospel as a rule of faith;--and obediently keep God's commandments.
You are now therefore called upon to do this before God, who knows all the secrets of your hearts;--before God's minister, who will charge you very solemnly to be sincere;--and before the congregation, who will be witnesses against you, if you shall break your vows.
I must tell you further, that to root or keep out evil habits, and to get habits of virtue and to live as becomes a Christian, is not so easily done as promised.
You will be obliged to take pains, to watch and pray and deny yourself and even lay down your life, rather than deny your profession or dissemble it.
But then you will not think this too much, when you consider that it is for your life and that it is to escape eternal death.
For Jesus Christ has made known to us that this life is a state of trial and only a passage to another life, where God will take an account how all men have behaved themselves here, and appoint them a portion suitable to what they have done in the body, whether good or bad: When they that have done good, shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting misery.
Now, that you may not despair of going through the work of your salvation and getting the victory over all your enemies, Jesus Christ hath sent down His Holy Spirit to be communicated by the laying on of hands, to all such as are disposed to receive Him; by which Almighty Spirit all your enemies shall be subdued, all your lusts mortified, your corruptions rooted out and your soul purified; so that, when you die, you will be fit to be carried to the quiet and happy regions of paradise, where the souls of the faithful enjoy perpetual rest and happiness.
Every Christian, who is preparing himself for confirmation, ought to have this or some such short account of the method of divine grace read to him distinctly (and explained where there is need) once every day for one month, at least, before that holy ordinance; that he may remember it as long as he lives and be able to give a reason of the hope that is in him.
But, forasmuch as he is to renew his vows before God, who will be provoked with the hypocrisy and impiety of those, who promise what they do not understand, or what they do not think of performing, a good pastor will not fail to ask every person, in the presence of the rest (that by hearing them often they may be better able to remember them) some such questions as these following:
ARE you convinced that you ought to love God, as He is the Author of all good, and upon whom you depend for life and breath and all things?
Why then consider that you cannot possibly love God, unless you renounce the love of everything that may displease Him.
Do you know that all sin is displeasing to God, as being the transgression of His law g?
Do you therefore renounce all sin and everything that would draw you from God?
Do you renounce the devil, the great enemy of God and man; all his works, such as pride, malice, revenge and lying; and wicked men, which are his agents?
Do you know that this is not the world you were made for; that it is only a passage to another?
Do you then renounce the world; that is, all evil customs, all that is wicked or vain, all covetous desires and inordinate love of riches or pleasures or honours,--which are the world's idols and draw the heart from the love of God?
Will you renounce and abhor all youthful lusts, all sins of impurity and uncleanness, and all sins which lead to these; such as gluttony and drunkenness, filthy words and songs, intemperance and an idle life?
Do you know that it is a very hard thing to break off evil habits?
Will you then call yourself often to an account, that you may repent and amend, before sin and hell get dominion over you?
Will you be careful to avoid all temptations and occasions of sin, and especially of such sins as you are most apt to fall into?
Will you keep a strict watch over your heart, remembering that adulteries, murders, thefts, and all manner of wickedness proceed from thence?
Since heaven and happiness eternal are blessings too great to be attained without labour and pains, will you resolve in earnest to enter in at the strait gate, cost what trouble it will?
Will you be temperate in all things, deny yourself and use such abstinence as, the flesh being subdued to the spirit, you may in all things obey all godly motions?
Are you convinced that the power to do good is from God?
Will you then pray to God daily that His Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule your heart?
And will you take care to remember this great rule of the Gospel,--that he that makes use of God's grace shall have still more grace; and he that neglects it shall lose what he hath?
Of faith in God, in Jesus Christ, &c.
You know it is your duty to believe in and to love God.
That you may do so truly, you must often think of God as the Author and Fountain of all good; you must pray to Him, give Him thanks, and always speak of Him with great reverence.
Will you resolve to do this?
And if you set God always before you and remember that He hates all iniquity, that He sees all you do or speak or think, this will fill your heart with godly fear.
Are you persuaded that nothing does happen in the world without God's knowledge and permission?
Will you then trust in the Lord with all your heart, and rest assured that neither men nor devils can hurt you without His leave?
Will you consider afflictions as coming from the hands of a good God and therefore to be borne with patience, submission, and a firm faith that all things work together for good to those that fear God?
The Holy Scripture, as well as sad experience, assures us that our nature is corrupt and prone to evil continually. Are you truly sensible of this?
If you are, then you know for certain that you are liable to the wrath of God, and that there is a necessity of a Redeemer to make your peace with God and to shew you how to please Him.
Know then that it was for this reason that the Son of God took our nature upon Him, that He might suffer what we had deserved to suffer, and that God laid on Him the iniquities of us all, and that He hath obtained everlasting redemption for all them that obey Him.
Are you then persuaded that such as do not lay hold of this mercy must suffer the wrath of God in their own persons?
Are you then resolved to fly to God's mercy for Christ's sake, to obey His laws and follow His example?
Will you always endeavour to do what you believe Christ would do, if He were in your place and circumstances?
Will you set before your eyes His sufferings, His humility, His patience, His charity and His submission to the will of God, in order to direct, to support and comfort you in all your troubles?
And remember that Jesus Christ is now in heaven, in His human nature, evermore interceding for all that go to God by Him.
Do you firmly believe all that God hath made known to us by His Son?
Do you believe that we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, by whose righteous sentence, they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting misery?
Will you then live like one that believes all this; being careful of all your thoughts, words and actions, which must then be judged?
Do you know that in baptism we are dedicated to the Holy Ghost, because it is He who must sanctify our nature and fit us by His graces for heaven?
Will you then pray earnestly to God, and especially at this time, to give you this blessing, since He Himself hath promised to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?
Will you order your life according to that word, which He inspired, and take care not to grieve Him by continuing in any known sin?
And since you are taught and governed by a bishop and pastors commissioned by the Holy Ghost, will you therefore live in obedience to them, to whom Jesus Christ made this promise: Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world?
Will you treat all Christian people with love and charity, as being members of that body of which Jesus Christ is the Head?
Will you hope for forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake only, and believe that the goodness of God ought to lead you to repentance?
Do you believe that there will be a resurrection both of the just and unjust?
Do you faithfully believe that after this life there will b e a state of endless happiness or endless misery?
Remember then that a saving faith purifieth the heart; and that a good faith must be known by its fruits, as one tree is known from another.
Of obedience to God's commands, &c.
ARE you persuaded that the design of all true religion is to make men holy, that they may be happy?
Do you think that man is able to find out a way to please God, and to govern himself by his own reason?
So far from it, that when God left men to themselves (as He did the heathens), they chose the most foolish and abominable ways of serving their gods, and fell into wickednesses scarce fit to be named k.
Will you then make the law of God the rule of your life?
1st. Will you be careful not to love or fear anything more than God? for that would be your idol.
2nd. Will you worship God with reverence; that is, upon your knees, when you ask His pardon or blessing; standing up, when you praise Him, and hearing His word with attention?
3rd. Will you honour God's name, so as not to use it but with seriousness?
Will you abhor all manner of oaths, except when you are called before a magistrate; and will you then speak the truth, as you hope the Lord will hold you guiltless?
4th. Will you remember to keep holy the Lord's Day, as that which sanctifies the whole week?
5th. Will you honour your parents and be subject to the higher powers, obeying all their lawful commands?
Will you reverence your pastors and take in good part all their godly admonitions?
6th. Will you be careful not to hurt or wish any man's death, not be glad at misfortunes or grieve men without cause?
Will you be gentle and easy to be entreated, that God for Christ's sake may be so towards you?
7th. Will you remember that whoredom and sins of impurity will certainly keep men out of heaven?
8th. Do you believe that restitution is a necessary duty (where it can be made) without which there is no forgiveness?
If you believe this, you will never wrong any body by force, by fraud or by colour of law; you will pay all your just debts, and never take advantage of any man's necessity.
9th. Will you remember that the God of truth hateth lying,--that the devil is the father of lies,--and that liars, slanderers and backbiters, are to have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone?
10th. Will you endeavour to be content with your own condition, neither envying that of others nor bettering your own by unjust ways?
Will you in all your actions have an eye to God; and say to yourself, I do this or forbear that, because God hath commanded me?
Will you remember this good rule, never to undertake any thing which you dare not pray God to prosper?
Are you convinced that all power to do good is from God; and that without His grace you cannot keep His commandments?
Will you then pray to God daily that His Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule your heart?
May the gracious God enable you to do what you have now resolved upon.
You are now going to profess yourself a member of the Church of Christ.
Will you then endeavour to become a worthy member of that society?
Will you make the Gospel of Christ your rule to walk by, and obey them that are over you in the Lord?
Will you promise, by the grace of God, to continue in the unity of this Church, of which you are now going to be made a complete member?
If you should be so unhappy as hereafter to fall into any scandalous sin, will you patiently submit to be reformed by godly discipline?
Will you be very careful not to let wicked and profane people laugh you out of these holy purposes and resolutions, remembering the words of Jesus Christ; He that denieth Me, him will God deny?
If this short method were conscientiously observed by every curate of souls, for thirty or forty days before every confirmation, and two or three hours every day spent in reading deliberately the short account of religion and in asking every particular person the questions, in the hearing of all the rest (which according to our constitution ought not to be above thirty or forty at one time) I will venture to say that the remembrance of this duty would be of more comfort to a pastor on his deathbed than of all the rest of his labours.
A prayer which may be used every day during the time of instruction.
O LORD, graciously behold these Thy servants, who, according to the appointments of Thy Church, are going to dedicate themselves to Thee and to Thy service.
Possess their hearts with such a lively sense of Thy great mercy, in bringing them from the power of Satan unto God;--in giving them an early right to Thy covenant and an early knowledge of their duty; that, with the full consent of their wills, they may devote themselves to Thee; that so they may receive the fulness of Thy grace and be able to withstand the temptations of the devil, the world and the flesh.
Continue them, O Lord, in the unity of Thy Church, and grant that they may improve all the means of grace vouchsafed them in this Church, of which they are members.
Preserve in their minds a constant remembrance of that love, which they are going to renew before Thee and Thy Church.
That knowing they are the servants of the living God, they may walk as in Thy sight, avoid all such things as are contrary to their profession and follow all such as are agreeable to the same.
O Lord, who hast made them Thy children by adoption, bring them in Thy good time to Thine everlasting kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.