THE precedent which this act of the apostles furnishes for the practice of the rite of confirmation, which, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, is reckoned among the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and which has ever since been continued in the Church, was considered on the last Sunday. [See preceding sermon.] The nature of the rite, as being a confirming or renewing of the baptismal vow to God, and a conveying or confirming of the ordinary graces of his Holy Spirit, and an assuring also of his goodness and favour towards the individual, was then set forth, and for the views and dispositions with which it should be undertaken, reference was made to that summary of faith and practice [374/375] in which the Church requires every candidate to be previously instructed, and especially to that leading answer in the Catechism, which contains the promise to fulfil the duties which it teaches and enjoins. The things which in baptism were promised by our sponsors in our name, are summed up in these three, "First, that we should renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh; Secondly, that we should believe all the articles of the Christian faith; And thirdly, that we should keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of our life." In respect of these things, which are more largely explained afterwards, the question is then put, "Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe and to do as they have promised for thee?" And to this, the answer is returned, which binds the individual, and which confirms his vow, "Yes, verily; and by God's help so I will: and I heartily thank our heavenly Father, that he hath called me to this state of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Saviour: and I pray unto God to give me his grace, that I may continue in the same unto my life's end."
Lightly as we may regard these rudiments of our Christian duty, there is here expressed such an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God, and of the justice of his requirements; such an [375/376] humble resolution to obey and keep them; such a sense of gratitude for his mercy in admitting fallen man into covenant with him; such a conviction of dependence upon him, together with prayer for the continual aids of his grace; as constitute, if any thing can, a fitness for his service; justifying him who is their subject, in coming into his presence to ratify his vows, and entitling him to receive in return the assurance of his favour and goodness, the defence of his heavenly grace, and the increase of his Holy Spirit. There is indeed in this, as well as in many other parts of our offices and liturgy, a very large and comprehensive view of Gospel truth, comprised in very few words. Even were there nothing else to render this answer important, and worthy of our attention, as I conceive it justly to be, the fact to which I have before alluded, that it is the one which contains the promise or undertaking on our part, to fulfil the obligations of our baptism, would be sufficient to give it an interest with those especially who, in the rite of confirmation, intend to assume, in their own persons, the vows which were made in their behalf. That this answer contains a test of Christian character, I have also suggested; and I again propose it to those who are about to be confirmed, as one of the best criteria by which to judge of their fitness for the rite before us; and as exemplifying the dispositions and, qualifications required in those who [376/377] would worthily and profitably approach it. Such being, in my view, the importance of this answer, I shall, even at the hazard of some repetition, briefly recapitulate its contents, in order to a further illustration of them.
The first thing on which I remarked, on the last Sunday, was the fulness of the acknowledgment, that we are bound to believe and do all that our sponsors promised. This arises from the reasonableness of the things themselves, which, being such as God has a right to require, and such as our own best interest and advantage Concur in recommending, we cannot do otherwise than say, that we are verily bound to fulfil them.
This acknowledgment being made, it still remains with us to determine whether we will pledge ourselves to this reasonable service; and the answer, "and so I will," fully expresses the determination on our part, so far as our own ability extends. This, however, of itself, can carry us but a very little way, and if we are at all acquainted with ourselves, if we have ever been made to perceive our own weakness and insufficiency, we shall consent to that view of it which is given in the tenth article of our Church, and shall confess that "the condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he could not turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works [377/378] pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God, by Christ, preventing us; that is, going before us, that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will."
Observe here that it is not said, abstractly and absolutely, that we have not that power; but that we have it not naturally, and in ourselves; that we have it only through the grace of God by Christ. If, indeed, having no power of our own, we also had it not from God, all our resolutions to do his will would be ineffectual and vain. But this is far from being the case. God has not left us without power to perform that which he requires and expects us to do. That grace which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. We are all the subjects of a power from on high, and of a grace which is sufficient for us, of a strength which shall be made perfect in our weakness. And the consideration of the origin of that ability which we possess, and of its perfect sufficiency for all our needs, throws upon us the vast responsibility of our own salvation; and we are, therefore, commanded to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, and that from this very motive, that it is God who, of his good pleasure, worketh in us to will and to do.
Rightly, therefore, are we instructed by the Church, that when we promise to fulfil our religious obligations, we promise to do so by God's [378/379] help. His power must concur with our will, his grace with our determination to obey him. Not, however, that we are to doubt of that help being afforded; for we may be assured that the fault is our own if we do not experience its salutary and efficacious influence. Nothing can be more certain, than that God desires the happiness of all his intelligent creatures. He is a good and gracious being, the lest and most gracious of all beings, the uncreated source and fountain of goodness; for in the language of Scripture, God is love. And strange indeed would it therefore be, if he could will the misery, of man, or have pleasure in the death of him that dieth. Such is not the character of God. What greater proof can we require that it is not, than the fact, which his revelation declares, that God so laved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life 1 Was he bound to redeem us? Had we any right to claim his interference I Assuredly net. Our deserts were very different; for the wages of sin is death. But it was goodness which prompted, and goodness which executed, the plan of salvation. It is therefore declared in Scripture, we are saved by grace, by the favour of God. And eternal life, to which we all are called, (instead of death eternal, which is our just desert,) is said to be the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. If then [379/380] God has been pleased to purchase our redemption at so dear a price; if with so costly a ransom he has made atonement for our guilt, what folly, what madness, what injustice, may I not add, what impiety, is it to suppose that he would, in any way, willingly restrain the benefit, or withhold any power or help from us which is necessary to render it effectual. What can be more reasonable or conclusive than the argument of St. Paul, he that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, (and not for a few, as some would make the same apostle, in contradiction to himself, maintain,) how shall he not with him also freely give us all things necessary, not for our temporal life merely, but much more for our spiritual and eternal life? And our Saviour himself makes this appeal to all who are capable of imagining a parent's tenderness and care; and it must come home to all who have been the subjects of parental kindness, as well as to those who have realized the pure and holy feelings of the paternal relation--"If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" When, therefore, we promise to fulfil our baptismal obligations by God's help, we should do so, as under the confidence and certainty that his help will be afforded in answer to our prayers, that as, by his special grace preventing us, he has [380/381] put into our minds good desires, so by his continual help, he will enable us to bring the same to good effect. For it is declared he never faileth them that put their trust in him. He is nigh to all them that call upon him--to all that call upon him faithfully. His throne is a throne of grace, and from thence, to all who seek it, he will give grace to help in time of need.
Now if we fairly consider what has just been stated, that God, the author of all goodness, desires our salvation; that to effect it he has given his Son, in order thereby to enable him to pardon us consistently with his justice; that regarding our weakness, he imparts his Spirit to qualify us do his will, that so our nature may be renewed, and we be fitted for his everlasting kingdom; for the enjoyment of a happiness pure, spiritual, exalted, and eternal, in his own immediate presence, and at his right hand; if, I say, we believe all this, we must certainly confess, in the words of this answer, that our heavenly Father has called us to a state of salvation through Jesus Christ our Saviour; and in the words of this answer also, we should heartily thank him for it.
Of all who hear the offers of the Gospel it may be said, that they are called unto a state of salvation, because it is one in which salvation may be attained. For Jesus Christ having overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life, and the Holy Spirit being freely vouchsafed [381/382] to all who will employ his sacred influences, these are such motives and such helps as make salvation possible to all. But more especially to those who have been admitted into the Church by baptism, does this language belong. They are particularly called to a state of salvation, because they have been devoted to God in the terms of that covenant of mercy which he has vouchsafed to make known. They are his soldiers and servants, pledged to obedience and faithfulness in the pursuit of the rewards which he has promised. They have his word, his ministry, his worship, his ordinances, to build them up in their most holy faith. They bear the name of Christ, they have his seal on their forehead; and the hopes, the glorious, and elevated, and ennobling hopes of immortality, should be written on their hearts. I say these hopes should be written there; for so clearly are they revealed in God's word, that if they believe that word to be true, they cannot doubt that those hopes are freely offered to all, and may be their's. To every objection arising from their unworthiness, the Gospel presents them with an answer in the worthiness of Jesus Christ. To every objection arising from their liability to punishment, it replies by pointing to the Saviour's satisfaction in their behalf, and declaring that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing to men their trespasses. Every objection arising from their inability to [382/383] keep the law, it meets with the assurance that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth. And in answer to every plea of want of merit, by which to purchase or deserve salvation, it says, Fear not; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. For this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Pleading these promises, trusting with all your heart in him who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, repenting of your sins, believing the Gospel, confessing the name of Christ before men, and by the help of his grace walking worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called, you may be assured of his favour here, and of eternal happiness hereafter. Not, however, that we are to suppose that this our state of salvation, safe as it certainly is, so long as we are faithful and sincere, is therefore indefectible; or that being brought into it, we have nothing more to do, and nothing more to fear. It is a strait gate by which we enter, and a narrow way in which we are commanded to walk, and all our diligence will be required not to wander from it. We must, therefore, continually strive for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. We must hold fast the rejoicing of our confidence firm unto the end. We must beware lest, going back to sin and to the [383/384] world, we become castaways. And a promise being left us of entering into his rest, we are admonished to fear lest any should come short of it. But if we are diligent in all the appointed means of grace; if we continually listen to the voice which says, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation;" if we keep ourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life, we may confide in him for safety. Much as we have to fear from our own instability, nothing is to be apprehended from change in the purposes of God. He is faithful that promised. And you may be confident that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. So that as respects his fidelity and care, you may say with St. Paul, "I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Into such a state of salvation has God called all those who, believing the Gospel of his Son, make it their study, by his grace, to walk in all his ordinances and commandments blameless. It is of such as these, who are led by the Spirit of God, that St. Paul asserts, "they are the sons of God." "The Spirit itself beareth witness [384/385] with their spirit, that they are the children of God; and if children then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that they suffer with him, that they may be also glorified together." What a privilege is this which the Gospel offers! what motives are here presented to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion, to give diligence to make their calling and election sure! and what encouragement for those who are sincere, to dedicate themselves to God, by assuming in his Church those reasonable engagements which bind them to his service!
Oh! why is it that any are to be found who shrink from this acknowledgment of their Saviour's claim upon their affections! Who hesitate at this avowal of their bounden duty to their God! Is there nothing in the goodness of him who calls you to this state of salvation, to awaken in your hearts a sentiment of gratitude? Have the exalted hope of heaven, the assurance of God's favour and love, the certainty of his protection here, and the promise of a glorious immortality hereafter, no power to influence the mind! And is there nothing among them all, which even upon a cold and calculating estimate, the most selfish, the most insensible, the most hardened in the ways of the world, would not acknowledge to be worthy of embracing, even from interested and prudential views! Especially might I appeal to [385/386] the young, to whom the Church most especially appeals in that rite which is this day to be administered. I might appeal to them to consider haw great are the privileges to which God in his covenant of mercy and of grace invites them. And shall it be that youthful minds, awake as they ought to be to all affections that are kind, and generous, and pure, and disinterested--shall youthful minds and ardent dispositions, and those buoyant feelings which look out every where in quest of joy--shall these be uninterested on a subject which most of all gives cause of gratitude, demands the homage of just acknowledgment, and opens to view the brightest visions of undying hope? Shall earthly benefactors be esteemed and cherished, and God be forgotten? Shall time so occupy the thoughts as to exclude eternity? The passions be indulged to the ruin of the soul? Earth pursued to the loss of heaven? And life--this little life--be heedlessly entered upon, and perhaps as heedlessly permitted to pass away, without an effort to secure the blessedness of eternity? That this is done, that it is done in youth, in that best, and purest, and most favourable season of this probationary state; that it is done by the majority of those whom God has granted to attain to it, is a most convincing proof that the soul is debased, that the mind is darkened, that the affections are depraved and worldly, that the heart is deceitful above all [386/387] things and desperately wicked, that man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, that "the carnal mind is enmity against God." But there are some, God be thanked! who are not insensible to the appeals of his mercy; in whom are exemplified that cultivation of his grace and Holy Spirit which he requires; and the exercise of those feelings of gratitude, of confiding faith, of sincere and reverential affection, which his goodness and favour so abundantly demand. But while we rejoice in the exhibition of those better feelings which have survived the fall, and which, in youth especially, reflect back somewhat of the divine original of man, somewhat of the purity and excellence of our first estate, I would not rely exclusively upon these. That grace which has made you what you are, and that alone, can maintain you in your course of duty, and carry you forward towards that perfection of obedience to which you are commanded to aspire.
Upon those whose hearts, by grace, are disposed to acknowledge the obligation, and to avail themselves of their Christian privilege, I would impress the two-fold duty of thankfulness to God, and of unceasing dependence upon him. While, therefore, with gratitude to him who has invited you to seek his favour, you present yourselves to assume your baptismal vows, you should do so, not in your own strength, which is weakness; [387/388] but confiding in his help, trusting in his ability--an ability and help to be obtained only by diligent and earnest prayer. Seek it then of him, not with unmeaning or thoughtless lips, but in the fervent supplication of a sincere heart; entreating of your heavenly Father, that as he has called you to this state of salvation through Jesus Christ Our Saviour, so he would give you his grace that you may continue in the same unto your life's end.