Imatges de pÓgina

intended to serve, it might be, in many respects, matter of indifference what particular action were selected; yet, if in the one preferred there should be found any natural propriety of signification, some probability at least, however low, would exist, that it was selected with an intentional reference to that its natural meaning. More especially when we reflect, that in the case of the Christian sacraments, the choice was made by a wisdom, remarkable even in its most trivial works, for the refinement, if I may so speak, with which its various arrangements are at the same time adapted to their own particular ends, and made to bear upon

the remoter parts of the system; it seems impossible to imagine, that though of innumerable acts, by which men might have been initiated into the Christian church, or have maintained their connection with it, any one would have answered the single and simple purpose thus assigned to it, the one actually selected was not the fittest and the best. And if, in the cular action preferred, we can trace the reason of the preference in any peculiar pro

partipriety of meaning, we cannot refuse to 'admit the consideration of this, as of importance in determining the character of the rite we are investigating. Our first inquiry therefore will be into the natural meaning of the particular action enjoined in each sacrament; what idea it is primarily calcu

lated to convey.

Closely connected with this, is the consideration of the history and circumstances of their appointment, and especially of the words of institution, by which the natural significancy of the action is more accurately defined and limited to the particular purposes of the rite established: and to this therefore our attention will in the next place be directed.

In corroboration of the conclusions drawn from the natural significancy of the rite, thus limited by the words of institution, an appeal to the conventional significancy of the action will not be out of place. By the conventional significancy, I understand, not only that which we find either universally or very generally existing in different ages and different countries; (in which cases its analogy to the natural signification is almost necessarily obvious ;) but that which has in any particular place, or among any particular people, been prevalent, and of which the origin, though perhaps the connecting steps may be no longer traceable, was probably in every case owing to a like analogy. Of the one sort are the joining of hands in token of friendship, almost universal; the slaying of a victim in confirmation of a league, very generally prevalent; of the latter, are the custom of anointing, as a mode of designation or appointment to particular offices; or the putting the hand under the thigh, as a form of binding or giving force to an oath; which seem to have been confined to eastern nations, and the latter to very remote antiquity. The most universally prevalent and most intelligible of these, cannot be said to be significant of that for which it is used, in the same degree or in the same sense that washing signifies purification, or eating nourishment and festivity, that a gift in itself of little value is expressive of gratitude, that tears denote sorrow, smiles joy,

embracing affection, or the turning away of the head aversion or disgust. The last have by nature that which the others enjoy by convention only.. And if, in addition to their natural significancy, we find reason to insist upon any further meaning of the actions which constitute the Christian sacraments, it will not be indifferent to the success of our inquiry, whether or not our conclusions are supported by a conventional use of such actions in other religions, corresponding to that we claim for them in the Christian church.

The nature of the rites themselves, and the inferences fairly to be drawn from their natural or conventional significancy, being ascertained, I shall proceed to the consideration of the language of Scripture concerning them; on which subject I must however premise an observation or two. It cannot of course be expected, that in a course of Sermons like the present I should enter into a full discussion of every text, even of the New Testament, in which a reference, real or supposed, is made to the sacraments, or to doctrines immediately connected with

[ocr errors]

them. But the limited nature of my undertaking will enable me to confine my notice to those, which either directly assert, or by very obvious inference imply, some benefit to be derived from their use. These are contained, either in the Gospels, giving an account of the discourses of our Lord and his forerunner, and in which the references are of necessity anticipative; or in the historical narration of the proceedings of the apostles in the Acts; or lastly, in the apostolical Epistles themselves.

Now inasmuch as some obscurity is almost unavoidably attached to anticipative declarations, concerning a rite to be instituted, which disappears when the rite is established and practically carried into effect; it seems advisable to begin our investigation of the scriptural notices of each sacrament with those passages, from which we may ascertain the sense in which it was received by its original and authorized administrators; and with the information thence derived, to proceed to the consideration of the references made to it by way of anticipation. From a review of the man

« AnteriorContinua »