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made inconsiderate, can think fit to blame an Institution so well framed to promote Piety and Devotion; especially when it is enjoined with so much Moderation
Q. After what Manner did the Primitive Chrisa tians observe their Fasts in Lent?
A. There was Variety in their Manner of Fasting, as well as in the Number of their Days. In the Holy Week, they that were strict would eat nothing but Bread and Water, and Salt, or Nuts and Almonds, or such like Fruits, which was called the dry Diet. In the Rest of Lent, some abstained from Flesh and Wine; and others forbore all Fish likewise as well as Flesh, which was the Custom of the Greeks. Some contented themselves with Eggs and Fruits, others forbore both, and lived upon Bread, Herbs, and Roots; and in this Variety they agreed in one Thing, which was, not to eat till the Evening, and then such Food as was least delicate.
Q. How did the Primitive Church treat notorious Offenders in this holy Season?
A. Such Persons as stood convicted of notorious Sozom. Sins were put to open Penance and punished in this World, that their Souls might be saved in the 19. Day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their Example, might be the more afraid of offending; the whole Church supplicated God in their Behalf, that he would be pleased to grant them Repentance and perfect Remission and Forgiveness of their Sins.
Q. But, since the Life of a Christian ought always to be governed by the Rules of our holy Religion, is it not superstitious to set apart any such particular time as Lent for this Purpose?
A. It is certain it ought to be the constant Endeavour of a Christian, at all Times, and in all Places, to have his Duty in his Eye, and to have always a great Regard to what God requires from him. But, considering the great Corruption of the World, and the Frailty of our Natures, and how
Hist. Eccl. ib. vii. c
often we transgress the Bounds of our Duty, and how backward we are to cross our fleshly Appetites, it is very happy we have such a solemn Season stated for Recollection and the Exercise of Repentance; when the Command of our Superiors, and the Provision of fit Means to assist us, and the Practice of devout Christians in all Ages, call loudly upon us to reform our Lives. For that which is a Duty at all Times, when our Follies niake it necessary, cannot be less so when we are required to give outward Proofs and Demonstrations of it.
Q. How does it become a devout Christian to spend his Time during the whole Season of Lent?
A. Some Part ought to be spent in Fasting ; more in Abstinence, according to the Circumstances of his Health, and outward Condition in the World; and this with a Design to deny and punish himself, and to express his Humiliation before God for his past Transgressions. The Ornament of Attire may be laid aside, as improper to express the Sense of Mourners, and the Frequency of receiving and paying Visits may be interrupted, as unseasonable when our Minds are oppressed with Sorrow. Public Assemblies for Pleasure and Diversion should be avoided, as Enemies to that seriousness we now profess. Our Retirements should be filled with reading pious Discourses, ard with frequent Prayer, and with examining the State of our Minds. The Public Devotion should be constantly attended, and those instructing Exhortations from the Pulpit, which are so generally established in many Churches in this Season. We should be liberal in our Alms, and very ready to employ ourselves in all Opportunities of relieving either the temporal or spiritual Wants of our Neighbours. And we should frequently exercise ourselves in the Meditation of divine Subjects, the best Means to make all Discourses from the Press and the Pulpit, effectual to our Salvation.
Q. What do you mean by Meditation in a religious Sense?
A. Such a serious Application of the Mind to the Consideration of any divine Subject, whether any Mystery of the Gospel Institution, or any Truth and Virtue of the Christian Religion, as may dispose it firmly to believe and embrace it, and stir up all the Faculties of the Soul to a vigorous prosecution of it. And it is this exercise of the Will and Affections that distinguishes Meditation from what we call Study.
Q. How ought we to prepare ourselves for the Exercise of this Duty ?
A. By remembering that we are in the Presence of God, who knoweth all our Thoughts, and searcheth out all our Ways; that we are unworthy, by reason of our Sins, to present ourselves before him; and that we are incapable, without his Assistance, to think any Thing that is good; and therefore, adoring his infinite Majesty with profound Reverence, we should humbly beg bis Aid and Help, so to enlighten our Understandings, and to influence our Wills, that the present action may tend to his Glory, and the Good of our own Souls.
Q. How is the Understanding exercised in Meditation?
A. In setting the subject of our Meditation in such a Light, as may excite the Will and Affections to pursue and embrace it. Ifitconcernsour Saviour's Life or Death, it considers the Dignity of his Person upon whose Account the Action was performed; the End for which it was done; the Place and Circumstances, the Fruits and Effects of it. If the Subject relates to any Virtue of a Christian Life, it considers the Nature of the Duty, and wherein it consists; who are properly the Objects of it; the Obligations there are from Reason and Revelation to practise it; the Temptations that chiefly seduce from it, and those particular instances whereby the Virtue : may be exercised; and the great Advantages that
accrue to us, both in this Life and the next, by the diligent Performance of it.
Q. How are the Will and Affections exercised in this Duty?
A. In chusing and pursuing what by the Understanding is represented as good and advantageous to us; and in shunning and avoiding what is represented as evil and destructive to our Happiness. In order hereunto, firm Purposes are formed of governing our Lives, with such a Prospect for the Time to come; the Use of the best Means is resolved upon, and we are determined when, and upon what Occasions, we will put such a Virtue in Practice, or imitate such an Action; in what Places, and in what Company, we will stand upon our Guard, lest we be surprised by such a Vice. From hence we proceed to exercise ourselves in holy Affections; as in Love and Desire of what is good ; in Hatred and Detestation of what is evil; in Sorrow, Shame, and Self-abhorrence for having transgressed in any particular, in Praise and Thanksgiving, for having been enabled, in any tolerable Measure, to have done our Duty; in Adoration and Imitation, in Faith, in Hope, and Charity, and in Resignation of ourselves to God..
Q. What are the blessed Fruits of holy Meditation?
A. It has an universal Influence upon the whole Life of a Christian, and is an admirable Instrument to quicken our Progress in all the Graces of God's Holy Spirit. It illuminates our Understandings with the Knowledge of our Duty, and stores our Memories with all such Arguments as are proper to excite us to the Performance of it. The Voice of Conscience is, by this Means, attended to, and we can never make any considerable Breaches upon it without being alarmed with severe Reproaches. It wings our Prayers with Reverence and Devotion, and increases our Importunity, by impressing a lively Sense of the Necessity and Importance of those Things we beg of God. It habituates our
Minds to spiritual Objects, and raises them above the perishing Things of this Life. It strengthens our holy Purposes, arms us against Temptations, and inflames all the Faculties of our Souls with earnest Desires of attaining and enjoying our chiefest Good. i . '.,.is
Q. How ought we to conclude our Meditation ?
4. By begging God to affect our Minds with a constant Sense of our Duty in all the Particulars of it; chiefly that he would enable us to perform those Resolutions we have made of advancing in Piety and Virtue; that he would not leave us to ourselves, but to assist us with his Grace, that what we perceive and know to be our Duty, we may faithfully fulfik all the Days of our Life.
..i 1: THE PRAYERS. ,
..tri: ; I. 1 . . ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art for Foralways more ready to hear than we to pray, and are
avond are giveness wout to give more than either we desire or deserve ; Sios. pour down upon me the Abundance of thy Mercy, forgiving me those Things whereof my Conscience is afraid, and giving me those good things which I am not worthy to ask, but through the Merits and Mediation of Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
. . .
GRANT, I beseech thee, Almighty God, that I, for the
Comforts who for my evil Deeds do worthily deserve to be of Grace punished, by the Comfort of thy Grace may mercifully be relieved through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. , , '. '
ALMIGHTY God, give me Grace to use such For AbstiAbstinence during this Season, dedicated to the Mortifica Exercise of Repentance, that my Flesh may tion.