A Guide to the Holy Sacraments in a Series of Lectures on the Baptismal Service, Delivered in Trinity Church, New Haven, Preparatory to Confirmation.
By Harry Croswell.
New Haven: G.B. Bassett and Co., 1857.
"Train up a child in the way he should go."--Prov. xxii: 6.
How do you understand the term "sufficiently instructed," in the charge to sponsors at the close of the baptismal service for infants? And what duty does this charge impose on sponsors?
There is nothing about which the church seems more solicitous, than the training up of her children in the way of holiness and godly obedience. This is observable in all her institutions. From the tenderest infancy, she commences her oversight and fostering care. And she proceeds, step by step, from the time when the child is presented at the baptismal font, to the momentous period, when maturity of judgment, and suitable instruction, have fitted the catechumen for the personal assumption of his vows, to guide and direct him in his course.
In the first place, all proper care is taken that there shall be no reasonable ground for neglecting the baptism of infants. "The minister of every parish" is required often to admonish the people, that they defer not the baptism of their children; and although "Sundays and other holy days, or [109/110] prayer days," are specially designated as most suitable for the administration of baptism, yet, "if necessity so require," great latitude is allowed, not only with regard to the time, but also as to the place and circumstances. The object evidently is, to provide against the neglect or omission, on the part of parents, of a duty so important as the baptism of little children. And, in the next place, we observe, that when infants are presented at the baptismal font, there is nothing wanting in the prescribed service, to impress upon the minds of parents and sponsors, the sacredness of the obligations imposed on them, or the high responsibility incurred in this holy office. For mark some of the peculiarities of this service. The vows and promises are so solemn, and the covenant relationship is so tender and interesting, that it would seem incredible that any one could engage in this transaction, and turn away from the baptismal font unaffected by the scene. But still the Church does not rely on these general impressions, to secure the object of her solicitude. For she goes on to specify the duties incumbent on the sponsors, and to enforce them, as by the authority of her divine head and Sovereign. She charges the sponsors, "to take care that the baptized child be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him, so soon as he can say the Creed, the Lord's prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and is sufficiently instructed in the other parts of the Church Catechism set forth for that purpose." Thus, she not only [110/111] points out the very course of instruction to be pursued, but she is equally careful to guard against all possible neglect in this matter, by enjoining upon her ministers, as well as her people, the indispensable duty of imparting this instruction. For such is her imperative charge, which is appended to the Catechism: "The minister of every Parish shall diligently, upon Sundays and Holy Days, or oil some other convenient occasions, openly in the Church, instruct or examine so many children of his Parish, sent unto him, as he shall think convenient, in some part of this Catechism. And all fathers, mothers, masters and mistresses shall cause their children, servants and apprentices, who have not learned their Catechism, to come to the Church at the time appointed, and obediently to hear and to be ordered by the minister, until such time as they have learned all that is here appointed for them to learn." And it is when the catechumens "are come to a competent age," and are thus "sufficiently instructed," that they are to be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him.
Thus we perceive, with what tender care and solicitude the Church provides for the nurture and training of her children, in the way of holiness and godly obedience: and with what maternal fidelity she guards against that culpable negligence, which might lead to their eventual ruin. We see how she begins in their infancy--how diligently she leads them along through the incipient stages of spiritual [111/112] knowledge--and how sedulously she aims to prepare them, when they come to maturity of years and judgment, to stand up before the world and take upon themselves the vows of discipleship.
And with these preliminaries, we find no difficulty in answering the question which forms the basis of our present lecture. We understand what is meant by this term, "sufficiently instructed." It is obvious that the Church considers a thorough knowledge of the doctrines and principles contained in the Catechism, as a sufficient foundation for the commencement of a religious life. The Catechism, though brief and simple, is an admirable compendium of the Christian system. It plainly teaches what we are to believe, and what we are to practice, to secure the salvation of the soul. It draws out, and explains the several parts of the baptismal covenant with sufficient minuteness, to show how they are to govern the life and conduct. We have the fundamental Articles of our Faith, as collected in the Creed--the whole moral Law, as comprised in the Decalogue--the perfect model of Prayer, as prescribed by our Lord--and also the Sacraments, those sublime mysteries, ordained by Christ himself, as outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. And all these accompanied by such familiar expositions as to bring them down to the comprehension of every intelligent catechumen. Such, indeed, is the completeness of this short compendium, that it is not too much to say that no person who thoroughly [112/113] understands the teachings of this Catechism, can he ignorant of the way of salvation. It is easy to perceive, then, what the Church means by this term. Her catechumens are sufficiently instructed to he brought to confirmation when they have learned the Catechism. But how must they have learned it? Surely not superficially, or merely so far as to be able to rehearse it by rote. For this may be accomplished by very young children, without comprehending the force or meaning of the words or expressions which they utter with great fluency. No one can imagine, for a moment, that such a rehearsal would come within the scope, or meet the demands of the Church. No! to learn the Catechism in such a manner as to qualify the catechumen to come to confirmation, must mean something more than this. The doctrines and principles taught in the Catechism must be understood and appreciated. For example, of the renunciation, professed in baptism. It signifies, says the Catechism, a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness, and constitutes the very essence of that repentance whereby we forsake sin. To profess, therefore, to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, in any other sense, would be but an idle employment of the language of the covenant. And the catechumen who should affect to ratify and confirm this covenant with the lips, without the hearty acquiesence of the mind and will, would betray not only gross ignorance of the teaching of his church, but a total unfitness for the [113/114] confirmation of his baptismal vows. And so with regard to the faith taught in the Catechism. It is an easy matter to rehearse the articles of this faith, and so far as they relate to historical facts, the simplest child may understand them. But it requires much deep and serious reflection, and devout application and meditation, before the mind can be sufficiently matured, to form any adequate conception of the nature and attributes of the Godhead, as set forth in the Creeds and the Catechism. A belief in "God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth," implies all those filial affections which a dutiful child naturally owes to a kind and beneficent parent--all the submission and obedience which are justly due from a dependent being to a wise and gracious Protector--and all the awe and reverence which an all-powerful Sovereign has a right to demand from his creatures. A belief in "God the Son," as "the Redeemer of all mankind," implies a realizing sense of the nature of his mediatorial sacrifice for the sins of the world--of our personal concern in the benefits of this mediation--and of the necessity of seeking an immediate interest in these benefits. And a belief in "the Holy Ghost, as the Sanctifier of the people of God," implies such trust and confidence in the power and efficacy of his influences, that we can look to Him, and Him only, to help our acknowledged infirmities, to cleanse our hearts, to purify our affections, to renovate the deep defection of our nature, and to render us fit and [114/115] meet to become partakers of the blessedness of the kingdom of glory. Such is the substance of the faith taught in the Catechism, touching the nature and attributes of the Godhead. And until the catechumen can bring his mind to some just conception of the truth of these articles, he has done little to qualify himself for the ordinance of Confirmation. He has yet much, nay everything to learn, before he can consistently or safely come up to the presence of God, to renew the vows of his baptismal covenant. And so with regard to the moral obedience taught in the Catechism. What is the rule of this obedience? The commandments of God, given by Moses, as recorded in the Decalogue. And how must the catechumen learn these commandments? To rehearse them with the tongue, is one thing--but to impress them on the tablets of the heart, is quite another thing. Obedience to these commandments implies our whole duty to God, and our whole duty to man. And to destroy the mischievous pretext, that the law, as given by Moses, is no longer binding under the new dispensation, the Savior has given it the force and sanction of his own authority, in this most beautiful summary of practical moral obedience:--“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it--Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." But the [115/116] Church does not leave the catechumen to infer that he can keep these commandments, or perform any other moral or religious duty, in his own strength. Hence, in the baptismal promises, as well as in the Catechism, the necessity of prayer to God is plainly inculcated. And accordingly a form is set forth--perfect as a model of prayer--because it is the very form prescribed by our Lord himself. But because the catechumen is thus taught to pray by a form, does it therefore follow that the mere repetition of these words, even though inspired as they are, constitutes the whole duty of prayer? By no means. For though the model be perfect, and though the words be divinely taught, they are but words, unless the breathings of the soul accord with the language of the lips. He who really prays the Lord's Prayer, does indeed ask for all that the necessities both of his body and his soul can require. For this simple and comprehensive form includes the essence and substance of every thing for which a helpless mortal needs to pray. But we shall greatly mistake the meaning of the Church, if we imagine that we can offer an acceptable and prevailing prayer to God, without a corresponding spirit of devotion and supplication. Against such a mistake every one will be well guarded who learns, as he ought, the Catechism of his Church.
Thus we perceive how the Catechism must be learned before the catechumen can be sufficiently instructed to come to Confirmation. We perceive [116/117] how the principles and doctrines, taught in this comprehensive manual of the Christian system, must be understood and appreciated. But if a single doubt could still remain, it would at once be cleared away by the manner in which the Catechism treats of the Sacraments.
Inasmuch, therefore, as Confirmation is the intermediate rite which follows Baptism, and precedes the Lord's Supper, and as the Church prescribes that "none shall be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed," we cannot close our present lecture without a brief examination of this lucid and satisfactory exposition of the Sacraments of the Church. The Catechism teaches that Christ has ordained in his Church the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, "as generally necessary to salvation." And then the nature and object of these sacraments are clearly defined. But what is most essential for us to observe is the distinction drawn between the two parts of a sacrament. These parts are the sign, and the thing signified, as in the language of the Catechism, "the outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual grace." And although we are taught that a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof;" yet, as we perceive, there may be circumstances under which the inward grace [117/118] may not accompany the outward sign. For example, in Baptism, the inward and spiritual grace is "a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness: for being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace." But mark the conditions required of persons to be baptized: "Repentance, whereby they forsake sin; and Faith, whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that sacrament." And so in the Lord's Supper--“the inward part, or thing signified," is "The Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper." And the benefits of this participation are "The strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the Bread and Wine." But mark again the conditions required of those who come to the Lord's Supper: "To examine themselves, whether they repent them truly of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life--have a lively faith in God's mercy, through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death--and be in charity with all men."
Here then are we brought to the result of our inquiry. We see what must be learned, and understood, and appreciated by every candidate for Confirmation, before he can rightly comply with that sacred ordinance. And with this result before us--and after the allusions already made to the duty of sponsors--it would seem hardly necessary to enlarge [118/119] upon the remaining branch of our question. It must be fairly implied that no sponsor can have fully discharged his trust to the child presented at the baptismal font, until he has faithfully and diligently employed all the means provided by his Church for training him up in the way he should go, and in fitting and preparing him, by the help of divine grace, for ratifying and confirming his baptismal vows before God and his people.
We thus bring to a close our course of lectures on the rite of Confirmation, in its relative connection with the two sacraments of the Church, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. In this series it has been our object to present and explain every topic necessary to convey a clear understanding of the scheme of salvation, with a view, ultimately, of preparing a class for Confirmation. How far we may have succeeded in awakening attention to this subject, and in exciting a personal interest in the matter, we know not. Upon the presumption, however, that some few at least, may have appropriated our instruction to themselves, and applied it to their own case, we will venture to address them respectively, in the words of the last question embraced in our plan: "Are you now ready, with your own mouth and consent, openly before the Church, to renew the solemn promise and vow that you made, or that was made in your name, at your baptism, ratifying [119/120] and confirming the same? And is it your desire and intention to prepare yourself, by serious reflection, devout meditation, and earnest prayer, to receive, at the earliest convenient opportunity, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper?"From all, without regard to age, circumstances, or condition, who are suffering their baptismal vows to remain as a dead letter on the records of the Church below, and who are doing nothing to redeem their solemn pledge recorded in heaven, may we not hope to receive a prompt and affirmative reply to this question? Among the candidates for Confirmation, may we not hope to see the young gathering round the altar, and preparing, as in the early morning dawn, to enter, like fresh and vigorous laborers, into the vineyard of our Lord? And may we not also hope to find many who, for a series of years, have suffered their baptismal engagements to remain wholly unredeemed and neglected? If they have hitherto entirely overlooked the very nature of their baptismal covenant--if they have, for a time, apparently lost sight of the meaning and design of this initiatory sacrament, or forgotten its requirements--may we not hope that they will now come to a better mind, and stand ready to present themselves before the Lord, and, for the remainder of their days, conform, in the humble spirit of dutiful children, to all the holy ordinances of their God?