We have also admitted all along that there may be some who will go through with this whole process and yet not be disciples of Christ at the end. They wilfully resist the operations of divine Grace, and cast away the pearl. This class we leave, for the present. We will consider them further on.
We speak now of those who have been made disciples; who have not resisted the gracious influences of the Spirit of God, working through the sacramental and written Word. Their minds are enlightened; they know something of sin and Grace and the bestowal and reception of Grace; they have an intelligent understanding of the plan of salvation revealed in the Word of God. But this is not all.
Their hearts also have been drawn ever nearer and closer to their dear Saviour; they believe in and love the Lord Jesus Christ; they are ready to give an answer to every man that asks of them a reason of the hope that is in them. In the ardor and fervor of their young hearts' devotion they can repeat these beautiful words of their catechism and say: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord; who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, secured and delivered me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil ... in order that I might be His, live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness."
Further, they can joyfully say: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason and strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Ghost has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me by His gifts, sanctified and preserved me in the true faith," etc.
But this happy faith of their hearts has never been publicly professed before men. And yet the word of God demands not only faith in the heart, but also confession by the lips. Rom. x.9-10: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Jesus also says, Matt. x.32: "Whosoever, therefore, shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven."
And should any one be ashamed of this public profession and refuse to make it, Jesus clearly tells such an one that of him He also will be ashamed in the judgment day. The Bible nowhere recognizes a secret discipleship. There are no promises to him who does not confess.
If our catechumens would therefore still follow God's Way of Salvation he must now also take this step, and publicly confess Jesus as his Lord and Redeemer and himself as His disciple. And for this there is no time so appropriate as when he desires to be numbered among the communicants of the congregation and participate with them in the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
For this also our Church has made fitting arrangement. It is done at, or is rather a part of, the impressive ceremony of confirmation. Who has not witnessed this beautiful and touching rite? And what could be more interesting or impressive than to see a company of young hearts encircling the altar of Christ, confessing their faith, and bowing the knee to their Saviour amid the prayers and benedictions of the Church? This is confirmation.
The catechumen has been examined by the pastor as to his fitness for this important step. The pastor has found that he possesses an intelligent understanding of the doctrines taught in the Catechism, and that the experience of his heart bears witness to their truth and power. On this account he is adjudged as fit and well prepared to be admitted to the holy communion. He now comes of his own accord -- not because he is old enough, or knows enough, or because father, mother, or pastor wants him to -- before the altar of Christ. There, in the presence of the assembled congregation and the all-seeing God, his lips confess the faith of his heart, the faith into which he was baptized as a child: He now voluntarily takes upon himself the vows and promises that parents or sponsors took for him at baptism. He receives an earnest admonition from his pastor to hold fast that which he has and be faithful unto death. The whole congregation, together with the pastor, lift their hearts in earnest intercessory prayer to God for His continuous blessing and protection on the young confessor; and, the catechumen kneeling at the altar, the pastor directs the intercessions of the Church to each kneeling one in turn, by laying his hands on him and offering up for him a fervent petition in inspired words.
This is the simple and appropriate ceremony we call confirmation. We claim for it no magical powers. It is not a sacrament. It adds nothing to the sacrament of baptism, for that is complete in itself. There is no conferring of Grace by the pastor's hands, but simply a directing of the Church's prayers to the individual.
The confirming, strengthening and establishing of -- the catechumen in Grace, is effected primarily alone through Christ's own means of Grace, viz.: the Word and the Sacraments. The Word has been applied to mind and heart all along from tenderest childhood. It is now brought home in the review and admonition of the pastor, amid specially solemn surroundings. The previous administering of baptism, and the perpetual efficacy of that sacrament, are now vividly recalled and impressed. And this unusually impressive application of the power of Word and Sacrament confirms and strengthens the divine life in the catechumen. Thus the means of Grace do the confirming, or rather the Holy Spirit through these means. Instrumentally also the pastor may be said to confirm, since he, as Christ's ambassador or agent, applies His means of Grace.
In still another, though inferior sense, the catechumen confirms. He receives the offered means of Grace, assents to their truth and efficacy, obtains divine virtue and strength through them, and with this imparted strength lays hold on Christ, draws nearer to Him, is united to Him as the branch to the vine, and thus confirms and establishes the covenant and bond that unites him to his Saviour.
We do not claim for the rite of confirmation a "thus saith the Lord." We do not claim that it possesses sacramental efficacy, or that it is absolutely essential to salvation. We do claim, however, that there is nothing unevangelical or anti-scriptural in this ceremony. On the contrary, we believe it is in perfect harmony with the whole tenor and spirit of the Gospel. If we cannot trace it to apostolic usage, we can find it in all its essential features in the pure age of the Church immediately succeeding the Apostles. In some form or other it has been practiced in the Church ever since.
True, it has often been and is still grossly abused. It has often been encumbered and entangled with error and superstition; and therefore there have not been wanting radical purists who have not only set it aside, but cried it down as Romish and heathenish. The more sober and conservative churches have been content to purge it of its error and superstition. In its purified form they prize it highly, cherish its use, practice it, and find it attended by God's richest blessing.
It is a significant fact also that some of those who were once its most bitter opponents are gradually returning to its practice. We find, for example, that certain Presbyterian churches confirm large classes of catechumens every year.
Certain Methodist book concerns and publishing houses also-publish confirmation certificates, from which we infer that some of their churches also must practice this rite. Again, we find in certain "pastors' record books," gotten up to suit all denominations, columns for reporting the number of confirmations.
All churches must indeed have some kind of a ceremony for the admission of the young among the communicants of the church. And there certainly is no more befitting, beautiful and touching ceremony than confirmation, as described above and practiced in the Lutheran Church.