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.
In offering to your consideration this short series of Lectures on the subject of Confirmation, it cannot be necessary to speak at large on the relative importance of this holy rite among the ordinances instituted in the Gospel, and adopted and practised by the Church from its earliest foundation.
That the rite itself is of apostolic origin, is sufficiently clear from the testimony of scriptural history. And we cannot but recollect that St. Paul, in writing to the Hebrews, (ch. vi,) ranks it among the first "principles of the doctrine of Christ," placing it, under the term of the "laying on of hands," immediately after baptism. The Church, therefore, in obedience to this apostolic institution, has seen fit to give it the same place; as an intermediate ordinance, between Baptism and the Lord's Supper. This is done in the preface to the office of Confirmation, where baptized persons are required to come forward, and with their own mouth and consent, openly before the Church, to ratify and confirm their baptismal promises; and also in the rubric which follows this office, "that none shall be admitted to the Holy [5/6] Communion until such, time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed."
Confirmation, then, follows Baptism, and precedes the Holy Communion. This not only shows its importance, but will sufficiently explain my reasons for adopting the plan of instruction to be pursued. This plan may be stated in few words. The course will consist of a series of lectures, founded on questions embracing substantially the whole scheme of salvation, and drawn from the baptismal service. The reason for making this service the basis of the lectures, must be obvious.
Baptism lies at the very foundation of the gospel scheme of salvation. It is the beginning, the first act of conformity to the divine requirements. It is the initiatory sacrament, by which the promise of remission of sin is sealed to fallen man, "and by which he enters the Church of God, and becomes a partaker, by covenant, of the benefits of Redemption. From this service, therefore, it seems proper that we should draw our first lessons of instruction. And it may not be amiss, in the outset, to state in substance the form of the questions on which the lectures will be founded:
1. What doctrine is taught in the first exhortation in the baptismal service, (both for infants and adults,) with regard to the natural condition of every person born into the world?
2. What provision has been made by divine [5/6] goodness for changing this condition? and by what means are we taught to avail ourselves of the benefits of this provision?
3. What is meant by being "regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Ghost?" and in what sense does baptism effect this regeneration?
4. When you promise, "by God's help,” to "renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, and all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh,"--and also "obediently to keep God's holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of your life," what duty is implied in this peculiar form of the promise?
5. What do you understand by "the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles' Creed?" and when can you truly say that you believe all the articles of this Faith?
6. What is meant by the prayer that the old Adam in the baptized person, may be so buried that the new man may be raised up in him; that all sinful affections may die in him, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him?
7. What is implied by the "sign of the cross,” and what obligations are imposed on those who receive that sign in baptism?
8. To what body are you united in baptism? Why is it called grafting into that body? and what are the chief benefits conferred by this union?
 9. How do you understand the term, "sufficiently instructed," in the charge to sponsors at the close of the baptismal service? and what duty does this charge impose on sponsors?
And these questions being answered in as many several lectures, the tenth and last will be entirely practical, and will be founded on the following:
10. 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 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?
It will be perceived that these questions embrace every topic necessary to convey a clear understanding of the scheme of salvation. In treating of them, it will be our object to show the perfect harmony of all the offices and standards of the Church on these several topics; how the Liturgy, the Catechism and the Articles, sustain each other, and how they are all sustained by the infallible authority of Scripture. It will be found that the Church of God, in her offices and standards, is the best and safest expositor of the Word of God; and that, so long as we follow her rules, and conform to her teaching, she will prove to us the very Pillar and Ground of [8/9] the Truth. Instructed by her, we shall not be liable to wander into the devious paths of error, nor become bewildered by the contradictory theories of ignorant or designing expounders of Holy Writ. So far as we can make our religious teaching conformable to the system marked out by the Church, we shall find our course orderly and consistent. As in every other science, so in the science of salvation; we must begin with fundamental principles; we must proceed step by step; the superstructure must rise by regular advances; every intermediate part must be faithfully adjusted, before the work can be finished and the top-stone laid.
In the present case we begin with rudiments. But let it not be therefore supposed that our instruction is to be inapplicable to any class of hearers. We are indeed desirous of preparing a class for Confirmation. This is our special object. But our subject is nevertheless applicable to all--and designed for the instruction of all. We see before us hundreds who have been baptized and confirmed, and who have been admitted to the Holy Communion. But we see also a much larger number, who, with few exceptions, have been baptized,--but who have never proceeded a single step beyond this initiatory ordinance. With the latter we must earnestly plead. We must endeavor to persuade them of the inconsistency, the folly and the danger, of neglecting their baptismal vows, and of remaining in a state of alienation from their brethren in the [9/10] Church of God. But in all that we say to them, we must necessarily employ arguments and persuasives, every word of which may awaken considerations of the deepest interest to those who have already been confirmed. They may be reminded again of the first principles of the doctrine of Christ; early impressions may be recalled; old resolutions may be revived; comparisons may be instituted touching the beginning and progress of their Christian course; failures and backslidings may be detected; and as they turn over the record of their life and conversation, they may learn wherein they have fallen short in the performance of their duties, and wherein they need immediate amendment and reformation. To this class, therefore, it is to be presumed our course will prove neither inapplicable nor uninstructive. But to that larger class 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, our application will be more direct. To them, without regard to age, circumstances or condition, would we speak; not in the language of reproach--because it is not our right--but in the language of persuasion, expostulation and entreaty.
Let us begin with the young, The Church seems to suppose that the young are the proper subjects for Confirmation. She directs that those who receive baptism in their infancy, shall be brought to the Bishop to [10/11] be confirmed by him, so soon as they are sufficiently instructed in those rudiments of religion which she has provided for them. And in her preface to the order of Confirmation, those who have "now come to the years of discretion," and who are prepared by suitable instruction, are expressly recognized as the persons who "may themselves, with their own mouth and consent, openly before the Church, ratify and confirm" their baptismal vows. All this is done conformably to that judgment of charity which the Church exhibits in all her offices. It is founded on the presumption that parents and sponsors do not present their children for baptism as an idle ceremony; that they are in earnest in what they do; that they mean what they say; and that they intend to train up and instruct their children in exact accordance with the directions of the Church, in the reasonable hope that every baptized child "may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning." Upon this presumption she supposes that every well-trained and well-instructed youth, will look with eagerness and joy to the time when he may come before his God and before the whole congregation of his people, and redeem the pledge of his pious sponsors, and pay his vows unto the Lord, and set the seal to his faith, in the holy ordinances of his Church. Hence, then, arises the supposition, that among the candidates for Confirmation, the young are to be found crowding round the altar, and preparing, as in the early [11/12] morning dawn, to enter, like fresh and vigorous laborers, into the vineyard of their Lord. But suppose, unhappily, that glaring and undeniable facts contradict this charitable presumption? Suppose that parents and sponsors have neglected their sacred duties to their children, and violated their promises, and abandoned their young and precious charge to all the assaults and temptations of a wicked world, without counsel, without instruction, without that nurture and admonition of which God has made them the rightful dispensers? What then? It doubtless leaves a fearful account for them to settle. But it does not release the young themselves from their obligations. It is indeed their misfortune--and a sad misfortune, too--to have fallen into such unfaithful hands. But it will be their own fault, and a fault for which they will have to answer, if they avail not themselves of the helps with which God has abundantly furnished them, through the instrumentality of other hands. Let us, then, admonish the young! Let us expostulate with them! Let us entreat and persuade them to follow us in our proposed course of instruction! We intend to teach them the importance--and we hope they will feel the necessity--of devoting the spring-time of their days to the delightful service of their God and Savior. They bear upon their brow the "sign of the cross." Was it placed there in mockery, or as an empty ceremony? Or are the young anxious to show with how much scorn and contempt they can [12/13] treat that sign? If not, let them beware that they prove not recreant to their vows. Let them hasten, at the earliest opportunity, to stand forth, in their own name and on their own responsibility, and in view of the final awards of eternity, as the faithful soldiers and servants of Christ.
But while we deem it our duty thus to address and admonish the young, it is to be remembered that they constitute but a comparatively small portion of those to whom our expostulations are applicable. They are far outnumbered by those who, for a series of years, have suffered their baptismal engagements to remain wholly unredeemed and neglected.Now with regard to these, we must say that we think they have entirely overlooked the very nature of their baptismal covenant. They must have lost sight of the meaning and design of this initiatory sacrament. They must have forgotten some of its most essential requirements, and even the vows and promises by which they have bound themselves to a religious life. In no other way can we account for the apparent unconcern with which so many view their sacramental pledges. Men do not often treat their ordinary vows to God in this manner. When they stand before a magistrate, and promise, with uplifted hand, to affirm the truth, or to perform a specified duty,--they would shudder at the thought of giving a false affirmation, or of neglecting the performance of that duty. And is there anything [13/14] less solemn or less binding in the baptismal vow than in an ordinary oath? Is not the record of the one, as well as the other, on high? And does man possess the power to obliterate it, or to destroy its obligations? Surely a strange oblivion must have come over the minds of those who can thus fall into forgetfulness. They must riot imagine, however, that God has forgotten their vows, because they are not willing to remember them. But whatever may be the cause of the negligence--which is but too apparent--it is high time to endeavor to awaken some attention to the subject. If there are any who have overlooked the nature of the baptismal covenant, any who have lost sight of the meaning and design of this initiatory sacrament, any who have forgotten its essential requirements, and even the vows and promises by which they have bound themselves to a religious life, it shall not be our fault if even these excuses for negligence be not stripped away. For we intend to bring all these things to remembrance. We intend to examine the several parts of the baptismal service, comparing them with the other standards of the Church, and with the Scriptures. We intend to show the nature, meaning and design of the sacrament of baptism, its essential and indispensable requirements, and the sacredness of the vows and promises by which every baptized person is bound to the cause of Christ and his Gospel. This examination need not, it will not, lead to debatable ground. With the Bible for our guide, and the [14/15] Prayer Book for its exposition, our course of instruction will be plain and simple, and strictly conformable to the old, and stable, and well settled standards of the Church. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." [Matt. xi: 15.]