What's the point of the Anglican rite of Confirmation?
The Christian life is marked by two notable events that ought not be bypassed; Baptism which is the sacramental beginning of the Christian life, and Confirmation by which the Church confirms (attests to) what God has already done (or alternatively confirms what God has not done).
It is all explained in Acts 8:4-25
4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went to and fro preaching the word.5 Then came Philip into the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.6 And the people gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, with one accord, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.7 For unclean spirits crying with a loud voice, came out of many that were possessed of them: and many taken with palsies, and that halted, were healed.8 And there was great joy in that city.
The Church at Jerusalem, under severe persecution, especially from Saul had fled to the regions of Judea and Samaria. There they continued in the fellowship of God's Word with the help of the evangelist Philip who also saw to it that they were cleansed from unclean Spirits. We may reasonably assume that they had already been recognized as members of the Church by means of Baptism. This is the apparent reason the Apostles sent Philip to them.
9 And there was before in the city, a certain man called Simon, which used witchcraft, and bewitched the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was some great man,10 To whom they gave heed from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is that great power of God.11 And they gave heed unto him, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.12 But as soon as they believed Philip, which preached the things that concerned the kingdom of God, and the Name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women.13 Then Simon himself believed also, and was baptized, and continued with Philip, and wondered, when he saw the signs and great miracles which were done.
These Samaritans heard not only Philip but also various human philosophies and even teachers of witchcraft. Some of them "gave heed" to the sorceries, and if they had already been baptized they apparently fell away from the Christian gospel. The Elect among them thankfully were persuaded by the Christian Gospel and did not follow after other gods. The Church meanwhile had determined that it should baptize even those that held to confused and immature doctrines. Baptism did NOT attest to salvation.
14 Now when the Apostles, which were at Jerusalem, heard say, that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John.15 Which when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Ghost.16 (For as yet he was fallen down on none of them, but they were baptized only in the Name of the Lord Jesus.)17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the holy Ghost.
The Church was anxious to give to the faithful members of the church in Samaria (whom Philip apparently had tested) a form of official recognition which would distinguish them from those that had turned away from the Gospel, and to confirm in them what they needed for the work of the Church, namely the Holy Ghost. To these two ends they sent the two most prominent apostles, Peter and John to lay hands on them.
18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles’ hands the holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay the hands, he may receive the holy Ghost.20 Then said Peter unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou thinkest that the gift of God may be obtained with money.21 Thou hast neither part nor fellowship in this business: for thine heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, that if it be possible, the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.23 For I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken, come upon me.25 So they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the Gospel in many towns of the Samaritans.
The apostles were careful to maintain a clear distinction between those that were CONFIRMED in the faith and those that had been merely baptized. Indeed, the line was so clearly marked that those whom they would not confirm by the laying on of hands became jealous and even offered bribes. Their behavior was itself a confirmation of their apostasy from the Gospel of Christ. Cry as they might to the apostles, they would not be confirmed until they had repented.
Confirmation is a double-edged sword wielded by the Church to make a visible separation between "the quick and the dead" (the Elect and the Reprobate), which is to say those that have been quickened by the Holy Ghost and those that remain dead in their sins. This does not mean that those who are not "Confirmed" are not "Elect", which is ultimately an invisible state to men, but it does mean that apart from repentance the Church will not recognize the Election of any man. We are "baptized for the remission of our sins" but if sin remains unrepented then it remains unforgiven.
The Anglican rite of Confirmation (1662 Book of Common Prayer) is a fairly simple liturgy containing no superstition about what is conferred by the laying on of hands. It is an official recognition of what the Church has witnessed concerning the Christian faith of a member. It also recognizes his or her spiritual gifts and welcomes the mature member to the table of Holy Communion.
The Order of Confirmation
Or Laying on of Hands upon Those That Are Baptized and Come to Years of Discretion.
Upon the day appointed, all that are to be then confirmed, being placed, and standing in order, before the Bishop; he (or some other Minister appointed by him) shall read this Preface following.
O the end that Confirmation may be ministered to the more edifying of such as shall receive it, the Church hath thought good to order, That none hereafter shall be Confirmed, but such as can say the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments; and can also answer to such other Questions, as in the short Catechism are contained; which order is very convenient to be observed; to the end, that children, being now come to the years of discretion, and having learned what their Godfathers and Godmothers promised for them in Baptism, they may themselves, with their own mouth and consent, openly before the Church, ratify and confirm the same; and also promise, that by the grace of God they will evermore endeavour themselves faithfully to observe such things, as they, by their own confession, have assented unto.
Then shall the Bishop say,
O ye here, in the presence of God, and of this congregation, renew the solemn promise and vow that was made in your name at your Baptism; ratifying and confirming the same in your own persons, and acknowledging yourselves bound to believe, and to do, all those things, which your Godfathers and Godmothers then undertook for you?
And every one shall audibly answer, I do.
Bishop. OUR help is in the Name of the Lord;
Answer. Who hath made heaven and earth.
Bishop. Blessed be the Name of the Lord;
Answer. Henceforth, world without end.
Bishop. Lord, hear our prayers.
Answer. And let our cry come unto thee.
The Bishop. Let us pray.
ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by Water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins: Strengthen them, we beseech thee, 0 Lord, with the Holy Ghost the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength; the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, 0 Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever. Amen.
Then all of them in order kneeling before the Bishop, he shall lay his hand upon the head of every one severally, saying,
DEFEND, 0 Lord, this thy Child [or this thy Servant] with thy heavenly grace, that he may continue thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen.
Then shall the Bishop say, The Lord be with you.
Answer. And with thy spirit.
And (all kneeling down) the Bishop shall add, Let us pray.
OUR Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil. Amen.
And this Collect.
ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who makest us both to will and to do those things that be good and acceptable unto thy divine Majesty; We make our humble supplications unto thee for these thy servants, upon whom (after the example of thy holy Apostles) we have now laid our hands, to certify them (by this sign) of thy favour and gracious goodness towards them. Let thy fatherly hand, we beseech thee, ever be over them, let thy Holy Spirit ever be with them; and so lead them in the knowledge and obedience of thy Word, that in the end they may obtain everlasting life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
ALMIGHTY Lord, and everlasting God, vouchsafe, we 0 beseech thee, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the ways of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments; that, through thy most mighty protection both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then the Bishop shall bless them, saying thus, The Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be upon you, and remain with you for ever. Amen.
And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed.
by Philip Schaff
written and influenced by James Ussher.
The Protestant clergy in Ireland accepted the English Prayer-Book in 1560. Whether the Elizabethan Articles of Religion were also adopted is uncertain. At all events, they did not fully satisfy the rigorous Calvinism which came to prevail there for a period even more extensively than in England, and which found an advocate in an Irish scholar and prelate of commanding character and learning.
The first Convocation of the Irish Protestant clergy, which took place after the model of the English Convocation, adopted a doctrinal formula of its own, under the title 'Articles of Religion, agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops, and the rest of the clergy of Ireland, in the Convocation holden at Dublin in the year of our Lord God 1615, for the avoiding of diversities of opinions, and the establishing of consent touching true religion.'
They were drawn up by James Ussher, head of the theological faculty and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, afterwards Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of all Ireland. He was born in 1580, died 1656, and was buried in Westminster Abbey by order of Cromwell. He was the greatest theological and antiquarian scholar of the Episcopal Church of his age, and was highly esteemed by Churchmen and Puritans, being a connecting link between the contending parties. He was elected into the Westminster Assembly of Divines, but the King's prohibition and his loyalty to the cause of the crown and episcopacy forbade him to attend. He had an extraordinary familiarity with Biblical and patristic literature, and, together with his friend Vossius of Holland, he laid the foundation for a critical investigation of the ecumenical creeds. Whether formally commissioned by the Convocation or not, he must, from his position, have had the principal share in the preparation of those Articles. They are 'in strict conformity with the opinions he entertained at that period of his life.
By a decree of the Synod appended to the Dublin Articles, they were to be a rule of public doctrine, and any minister who should publicly teach any doctrine contrary to them, and after due admonition should refuse to conform, was to be 'silenced and deprived of all spiritual promotions.' The Viceroy of Ireland, in the name of King James, gave his approval. James, with all his high notions of episcopacy and 664hatred of Puritanism, was a Calvinist in theology, and countenanced the Synod of Dort. It is stated that the adoption of this Confession induced Calvinistic ministers of Scotland to settle in Ireland.
But in the reign of Charles I. and his adviser, Archbishop Laud, a reaction set in against Calvinism. An Irish Convocation in 1635, under the lead of the Earl of Strafford, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and his chaplain, John Bramhall (one of the ablest High-Church Episcopalians, who was made Bishop of Londonderry, 1634, and Archbishop of Armagh, 1661 died, 1663), adopted the Thirty-nine Articles 'for the manifestation of agreement with the Church of England in the confession of the same Christian faith and the doctrine of the sacraments.' This act was intended quietly to set aside the Irish Articles; and hence they were ignored in the canons adopted by that convocation. Ussher, however, who continued to adhere to Calvinism, though on terms of friendship with Laud, required subscription to both series, and in a contemporary letter to Dr. Ward he says: 'The Articles of Religion agreed upon in our former Synod, anno 1615, we let stand as we did before. But for the manifestation of our agreement with the Church of England, we have received and approved your Articles also, concluded in the year 1562, as you may see in the first of our Canons. After the Restoration the Dublin Articles seem to have been lost sight of, and no mention was made of them when, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the English and Irish establishments were consolidated into 'the United Church of England and Ireland.
The Irish Articles are one hundred and four in number, arranged under nineteen heads. They are a clear and succinct system of divinity, in full harmony with Calvinism, excepting the doctrine of the ecclesiastical supremacy of the crown (which is retained from the English Articles). They incorporate the substance of the Thirty-nine Articles and the Lambeth Articles, but are more systematic and complete. They teach absolute predestination and perseverance, denounce the Pope as Antichrist, inculcate the Puritan view of Sabbath observance, and make no mention of three orders in the ministry, nor of the necessity of episcopal ordination. In all these particulars they prepared the way for the doctrinal standards of the Westminster Assembly. They were the chief basis of the Westminster Confession, as is evident from the general order, the headings of chapters and subdivisions, and the almost literal agreement of language in the statement of several of the most important doctrines.
Works of the Most Rev. James Ussher, D.D., Lord Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of all Ireland. With a Life of the Author, and an Account of his Writings. By Charles Richard Elrington, D.D. Dublin, 1847, 16 Vols. See Vol. I. pp. 38 sqq. and Appendix IV.
Ch. Hardwick: A History of the Articles of Religion, pp. 181 sqq., 351 sqq.
James Seaton Reid, D.D.: History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Belfast, 1834, 3 vols.
W. D. Killen, D.D. (Presb. Prof. of Eccles. Hist. at Belfast): The Ecclesiastical History of Ireland from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. London, 1875, 2 vols. (Vol. I. pp. 492 sqq.; Vol. II. pp. 17 sqq.)
The Irish Articles are printed in Vol. III. pp. 526 sqq. of this work, in Dr. Elrington's Life of Ussher (Vol. I. Append. IV.), in Hardwick (Append. VI.), and in Killen (Vol. I. Append. III.).
 Archbishop Ussher, in a sermon preached before the English House of Commons, 1621, declared: 'We all agree that the Scriptures of God are the perfect rule of our faith: we all consent in the main grounds of religion drawn from thence; we all subscribe to the Articles of Doctrine agreed upon in the Synod of the year 1562.' But he must have understood this in the general sense of assent, as he was addressing laymen who never subscribed the Articles. Elrington, p. 43, and Hardwick, p. 182. The Irish Church adopted, in 1566 (1567), a 'Brief Declaration' in XII. Articles of Religion; but these are substantially the same as the XI. Articles prepared by Archbishop Parker, 1559 or 1560, and provisionally used in England till 1563. In Ireland they continued in force till 1615. See Elrington, Append.; Hardwick, pp. 122, 337; and Killen, Vol. I. pp. 395, 515, 520.
 He and his family spell the name with double s (Latin, Usserius), but it is often spelled Usher.
 Dr. Elrington, Life of J. Ussher, pp. 43, 44. Comp. also the 'Body of Divinity,' which was published in Ussher's name during the sessions of the Westminster Assembly, and which, he admitted to have compiled, in early life, from the writings of others.
 Killen, Vol. I. p. 495.
 Killen, Vol. II. p. 23: 'The silence of the canons in respect to the Calvinistic formulary, now nearly twenty years in use, was fatal to its claims, and thus it was quietly superseded. Heylin errs in stating (Life of Laud) that the Dublin Articles were actually 'called in.'
 Elrington, Life, p. 176.
 Hardwick, p. 190.
 This agreement has been proved by Professor Mitchell, D.D., of St. Andrews, in his tract The Westminster Confession of Faith, 3d ed., Edinburgh, 1867, and in the Introduction to his edition of the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly, 1874, pp. xlvi. sqq. We shall return to the subject more fully in the section on the Westminster Confession.