A FEW WORDS
BY THE REV. ARTHUR RITCHIE.
We all know that the Bishop comes to our Parish Church every year and administers Confirmation. We know also that it is the custom of our Priests to gather together what is commonly called a Class for Confirmation, against the time of the Bishop's visitation. This Class is generally composed of a few adults, who have either been brought up outside the Church, or whose early training in the ways of the Church has been neglected; and of a number of children and young people from the ages of twelve or fourteen upwards. The Priest is supposed to meet his Class constantly before the Bishop comes, in order to see that they are properly instructed in the ways of Christian living, and that they are in earnest in their desire to serve God. When the Bishop comes, the Candidates are brought to him, and confirmed by the laying on of his hands with prayer. To most people this ceremony of Confirmation means that the Candidates have made up their minds to devote themselves wholly to the service of God and to forsake sin. They therefore solemnly take upon themselves the vows which their Sponsors made for them in Baptism, and receive the Bishop's blessing on this profession, with the prayer that they may continue Christ's faithful soldiers and servants unto the [2/3] end of their lives. This confirmation also admits the members of the Class to the Holy Communion, and is therefore often regarded, and called by people, "Joining the Church."
It is plain to everyone that if this idea of Confirmation be the true one, no child ought to be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed until he is old enough, and serious enough, to understand what a solemn profession he is making. Certainly few children under fourteen years of age would be qualified for such an act of self-dedication. Moreover if Confirmation be really an ordinance of this character, parents ought to wait until their children have reached a considerable age before they bring them to the Class, and ought to withhold them altogether if they think the children are not seriously inclined and disposed to persevere.
But is this the true and Scriptural idea of Confirmation?
If we turn to our Bibles we certainly find the "Laying on of hands" alluded to more than once as an Apostolic ordinance. There is no doubt among Church people that this is the origin of what we call Confirmation. We find that those who had been baptized were brought to the Apostles, and that those Apostles laid their hands upon them. The purpose of this "Laying on of hands" is also plainly told us. It was that the persons upon whom hands were laid might receive the Holy Ghost. In Acts VIII. 14-17, we read: "Now when the Apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them [3/4] Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet He was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost." Again in Acts XIX. 5-6, we read: "When they heard this they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them." We see, therefore, that the purpose of Confirmation in the Apostolic days, was the bestowal of the Holy Ghost upon the baptized.
What, then, is meant by the gift of the Holy Ghost? The Holy Ghost is the especial Minister of Divine grace. It is only by His power, and not by our own strength, that we can resist the assaults of the Devil. If by the "Laying on of hands" the Holy Ghost is given to the individual soul, so that that soul may be said to be "filled with the Holy Ghost," we must believe that the gracious Spirit comes really to dwell in the soul and to make it strong to serve God and to resist sin.
Confirmation, therefore, in the Bible sense of the ordinance, is not making a profession of religion, nor joining the Church, nor yet the solemn taking upon one's-self of his Baptismal vows; but it is the making strong of the baptized soul by the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost.
If all this be true, to whom ought the "Laying on of hands" to be given? Plainly to every one who is exposed to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, for it is the special help of God against [4/5] these very temptations. Of course, if one has come to mature years, it would be idle of him to present himself for Confirmation unless he were truly penitent for the sins of his past life, and earnest in his desire to serve God for the future. But this is no more than would be required of the same person should he seek Holy Baptism. Indeed, in Bible times, and in all the ages of primitive Christianity, no other preparation was required for Confirmation than what was required for Baptism, for the former ordinance was considered as merely the perfection and completion of the latter, and was administered immediately after it. In the case of children too young to receive any preparation for Baptism, no preparation was given for Confirmation, for it was believed that God's grace would always work in souls not yet able to resist its operations by conscious sin. In the Bible idea of this ordinance, no one was too young to be confirmed.
It may be objected that the Prayer Book requires the person to be confirmed to be old enough to renew his baptismal vows, and to answer the questions in the Catechism. That is unfortunately true, and it is a remnant of the unhappy Puritan influence which overcame the purity of the English Reformation, and substituted a human notion of Confirmation for the Divinely appointed "Laying on of hands." Yet with a little effort on the part of parents and teachers, children could be taught to say the Catechism by the time they were seven or eight years old; and as for the renewal of their Baptismal vows they must do that every time they make [5/6] answer to the question in the Catechism: "Dost, thou not think that thou art bound to believe and to do as they (the Sponsors) have promised for thee?" For the child answers: "Yes, verily; and by God's help so I will."
No one can doubt that a child is morally responsible and so able to commit actual sin, long before he is fourteen years of age, the usual time of Confirmation. And if God meant the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is bestowed in Confirmation, to be the defence of that child's soul against that very commission of actual sin, parents and sponsors are guilty of the most criminal folly in delaying to bring their children and Godchildren to the Bishop, on the plea that they are not old enough to receive the "Laying on of hands" intelligently.
There are two practical conclusions that grow out of these considerations.
1. Those who have come to mature years without ever being confirmed, yet who believe in religion, and are desirous of living good Christian lives, should consider that God has provided this wonderful gift of the Holy Ghost through the "Laying on of hands," for the express purpose of enabling our natural weakness, aided by that gift, to overcome the temptations which surround us on every side, and to which we so often fall a prey. Therefore, it is most important that all such earnest people should present themselves to the Bishop for the reception of this grace.2. Those who have children to bring up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," should remember how easily and how craftily Satan finds an [6/7] entrance into the soul, and poisons it by his wicked suggestions; and that therefore they cannot, as they value their children's salvation, be too solicitous to have them early confirmed by the grace of God's Holy Spirit. All that is required of them in early years is that they should be able to answer to the questions in the Church Catechism; and a little attention given to instruction upon this subject would enable even the most backward child to master it at an early age. Then, if afterwards they should be exposed to sin and temptation, their parents can have the comfort of knowing that God the Holy Ghost dwells in them, and that against His heavenly defence, Satan's malice can avail nothing.