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long with them, as being unwilling to punish. In the prophecy of Ezekiel, we read, “ As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And again, “ I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” (Ezek. xxxiii. 11, and xviii. 32.)
2. Then in the second place we appeal to the grace of God. " Who dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent.” How fully and how clearly is this truth displayed in Scripture; it is bright as a sun-beam. To Moses the Lord reveals himself as a God “ forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” (Exod. xxxiv. 7.) He says to us, “ Repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” (Ezek. xviii. 30.) Again he declares, “ I am merciful, and I will not keep anger for ever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity.” (Jer. iii. 12, 13.) He is indeed so merciful, that St. Paul declares, “ Where sin abounded, there did grace much more abound.” (Rom. v. 20.) In the beautiful words of the Psalmist, we may cry out, “ Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Psalm 1xxxv. 5.)
3. In this confidence of faith, we next implore of God that he would “ create and make in us new and contrite hearts.” Contrition is altogether a new thing to those who have lived carelessly. Sippers naturally go on with their old, hard heart; never grieving, never ashamed, never alarmed at their sins: or if now and then they are somewhat frightened at the thoughts of death, yet a little grief satisfies them, and their consciences are soon at ease again. The prophet describes the unconverted as being “ stout-hearted, far from righteousness.”
Even those who have repented, yet need to have their repentance oft renewed. Backsliders also should lose no time in praying, as David did, “ Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Blessed be God, this is a petition which is never presented in vain. While we offer it, the heart begins to melt : our stubbornyess is subdued by that spirit of grace and of supplications which is poured out upon us; and we begin to delight even in the tears that accompany true penitence. Thus the heart of stone is taken away, and we receive from the Holy Ghost a heart of flesh. From David we learn how acceptable this frame of mind is to the Lord. “ The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
4. But contrition should be followed by Confession : not that we need tell our sins to any fellow-creature; but we should mourn over them in God's presence; worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness.” But, oh! what is it to do this worthily ? What confessions can ever equal the amount of our guilt, or how can our grief come up to the real wretchedness of our condition ? Think how many are our actual sips; both before our conversion, and since, (if indeed we are converted :) consider our guilty actions and our sinful words. And 0, when we come to look at our hearts, how vile, how utterly lost and undone must we appear! This is true confession, when the overwhelmed heart can only pour out sighs and groans before the Lord, feeling its load of sins too great to be described. “ The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable.” “Wo is me, for I am undone !”—was Isaiah's hum. ble cry; “ O wretched man that I am !” was St. Paul's. “ I abhor myself," was the language of Job. And in the xxxvijith Psalm, you see how a genuine penitent describes his feelings : he is “ troubled, bowed dowo greatly, mourning all the day long, sore broken with disquietness of heart.” Where grief like this is felt, a man has no need to scourge bis flesh with whips, or to lie in ashes, as superstitious persons would direct him to do. The heart is broken : that is enough. The genuine sigh bursts forth, “ Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee.” (Ps. xxxviii. 9.)
5. Lastly, we pray for perfect remission and forgiveness. Since we ask it from “ the God of all grace,” we shall not be disappointed of our hope. When Moses intreats, “ Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt, even until now;" immediately follows the declaration, " And the Lord said, I bave pardoned according to thy word.” (Numbers xiv. 19, 20.)
But for whose sake does he thus pardon? For the sake of his own dear Son, who died for sin. " In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sin, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephes. i. 7.) So dear a price purchases for us a perfect remission : God will « abundantly pardon." When the believer mourns over the greatness of bis debt, which he himself can never pay, Jesus seems to say to him, " That load is on me; I bore it; I have discharged it: I forgive thee all that debt.” Comfortable truths to the believing heart! Well may our prayers he turned to praises, while we thus contemplate the riches of the Redeemer's love !
Should my tears for ever flow,
And let us not forget that when Christ speaks pardon and peace to our souls, he always intends us to apply these words of his to our. selves" Go and sin no more !"
FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT. In studying the history of our Lord, it is important to keep in view this doctrine that all which Jesus did and suffered, was “ for man.” He lived, and laboured, preached, wrought miracles, fasted, hungered, endured pain and shame, and at length died and then rose again, for our sake. Each word, each action, each suffering, was a part of his work of redemption.
Our Lord's fasting is the subject of this Collect. In this act he was directed and sustained by the Spirit of God : for we read that he was “ led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.” He endured this long fast by miracle : just as Moses and Elijah had done, for the same space of time, before him. (Exod. xxxiv. 28; 1 Kings xix. 8.) This was followed by extreme hunger: and in this state, he endured the temptations of Satan. The design of this, as the Apostle Paul tells us, was, that he might be able to sympathize with all his tempted servants. " In that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. ii. 18.)
We are to consider Christ, however, not only as our suffering High Priest, but also as our example. The duty of fasting is clearly recommended in several parts of Scripture : and during the season of Lent, it is specially brought to our attention. But since in this, as in other points, the ignorant may err, it will be necessary to explain clearly what is the proper use of abstinence. In doing this, the present Collect will greatly assist us.
1. First, let us consider some needful Cautions on the subject.
It is plain that we are not to carry fasting to excess. Without a miracle, we could not fast forty days and forty nights: and we are not to expect such a miracle to be wrought for us. Neither should we fast so long, as to make this duty a snare; for it is well known that excessive fasting occasions bad humours in the body, and bad tempers in the mind. Some persons, especially those in delicate health, cannot fast at all : neither are they required to do so : for in such cases fasting might be injurious both to soul and body. Such persons should take a prudent, not a violent, course : and if they desire the counsel of others, they should ask advice from wise men, not from those who are fanciful or superstitious. We are not required to torment or hurt our bodies. Such practices savour of Satan's cruelty; not of the Gospel.
Yet, on the other hand, those who are in good health and of good constitution, ought not to regard fasting as needless or of no value. This caution is as much needed as the former. Perhaps the best way of fasting is, to diminish our food at several meals, rather than wholly to abstain from food a long time together. Things grateful to the taste should, at such times, be avoided : for denying the palate will not hurt the health ; and abstaining from what Daniel calls “ pleasant bread," (chap. x. 3.) helps to keep the mind free, quiet, and serious. :
Our Saviour has moreover warned us against ostentation in fasting. We are not to put on " a sad countenance, that we may appear unto men to fast: ” on the contrary, this duty is to be performed with every outward mark of cheerfulness. « Anoint thine head, and wash thy feet; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father wbich seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." (Matt. vi, 16-18.)
We should guard also against a self-righteous spirit in fasting ; for there is no merit in this act, nor in any thing that we do. It was the proud Pharisee who boasted before God," I fast twice in the week.” Yet this is a superstition into which many Christians have fallen. Fasting is not a thing in itself holy; it is only a means to an end ; and if, by using it, we become self-righteous, we manifestly pervert its design.
What that design is, we now proceed to consider. Our first remarks were concerning cautions. Let us next offer
2. Some practical Directions concerning this Christian duty.
Consider the design of the duty ; it is two-fold : the subduing of sin, and the promotion of holiness.
Concerning the first of these, the Collect uses a language highly scriptural : * our flesh being subdued to the Spirit.” By “our flesh” is meant, not merely the body, but the whole of the natural man, body and soul, considered in its sinful propensities. The appetites of the body, and the imaginations of the heart, tend naturally to sin. These are to be subdued. To this end we should make no provision for them : the lusts of the body and the passions of the soul, are active enough towards evil, without any aid from indulgence. So far from yielding to them, we should “keep under” the body: we should be “ temperate in all things; ” we are to “ mortify our members which are upon the earth : " we are to “ crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Now although fasting be not in itself the mortification of our sinful fleshly nature, yet, when properly used, it helps that mortification.
Observe, the flesh is to be subdued “ to the Spirit:" that is, to the Spirit of God. Our appetites and our imaginations are to be sanctified by the Holy Ghost : then po unholy use will be made of them.
On the other hand, consider how greatly pampering the body injures the soul. It grieves the Holy Spirit, and unfits us for communion with God. A man who is overcharged with eating or drinking, is either too heavy, or too light-hearted for pure and serious devotion ; he cannot “watch unto prayer.” Then together with surfeiting, there comes on a sad perturbation of the soul: many lusts gain entrance : declension and backsliding from God readily ensue : and in this way those who seemed to have clean escaped from the pollutions of the world, are again overtaken and overcome by them. " Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked.” “ Pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness,” open a broad road to all those fleshly lusts which war against the soul.
Reflect now on the benefit of abstinence as promoting holiness. Those who live under the influence of the Spirit, pray for grace to obey bis godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to the honour and glory of Christ. Godly motions, that is, holy thoughts, desires, and purposes, are put into their hearts: these they strive to obey. And oh, how greatly are they assisted herein, by a habit of temperance and moderation ; occasionally also by a more severe abstemiousness than usual! It is thus that their mind is made clear and calm, fitted for prayer and meditation : their affections are rendered pure, spiritual, and heavenly: and in their daily duties their will grows decisive, vigorous, and self-denying. In private they listen more attentively to the still small voice of the Spirit : and in the public walks of life, they suffer not the world, the flesh, or the devil, to binder them from following that heavenly counsellor. All these blessings, and more than could in few words be named, attend on holy abstinence. Since Christ therefore himself practised this sacred duty, let us ask of Him to bestow His grace on us, that we likewise may use “ such abstinence," as may tend to our greater sanctification.
SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT.
It is a truth of which we need constantly to be reminded, that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.' Especially when we come in prayer to our Almighty God and Father, we ought to feel how weak, helpless, and unworthy we are. " O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” We depend wholly on the providence and on the grace of God. Without these safe-guards, both our bodies and our souls would be in continual jeopardy.
1. We pray therefore in this Collect, first of all, that God would "keep us outwardly in our bodies : so that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body.” In these words we beseech the Lord to keep us in health, peace, and safety; to give us day by day our daily bread ; and to secure us from every kind of adversity. We pray that our dwellings may be protected, our families kept from harm, our property not injured, stolen or destroyed. We ask for safety at home, and in our journies. We pray that we may be kept from sickness, or recovered from it, if at any time we fall ill. We pray for deliverance from all evil accidents. Many a man has left his house in the morning sound and well in health, and been brought home with a broken limb. We pray that no enemy may hurt us: and that death may not come upon us suddenly. All these things we lawfully may ask ; only with submission to God's good pleasure ; saying, “ If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that." “ The will of the Lord be done.”
We have every reason thus to confide the care of our outward man to God's good providence: for reflect through what surprising scenes of difficulty and danger he frequently hath carried his servants ! To wandering Jacob he says, “I will keep thee in all places whither thou goest.” Of persecuted David, when Saul hunted him from place to place, it is said, “ The Lord preserved David whithersoever be went.” When they sought Jeremiah and Baruch to put them to death, it is related, “ the Lord hid them." To St. Paul when almost despairing of life, the Lord said, “I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee.”
Mark these promises also : “ He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." « Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befal thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” From passages such as these we learn that till God sees fit to call his servants home, nothing shall hurt them. “ The very hairs of their head are all numbered.""
2. But we need also the grace of God; and this too for a far more important end; namely, the preservation of our souls. Therefore we pray, “ Keep us inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all evil thoughts, which may assault and hurt the soul.”
The evils which we have to fear, in reference to our souls are such as these following:- Evil thoughts, vain imaginations, sinful lusts and pleasures, worldly desires, harassing fears, overwhelming sorrows, foolish and idle curiosity, fond hopes, bitter disappointments,