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but stewards. Every thing that we enjoy, we hold at the disposal of God; and it is the extreme of folly, therefore, to pride ourselves on what we hold on such a dependent tenure. Pride leads us to overlook our defects, and thus hinders our improvement; and inflaming us with an opinion that we deserve more than we possess, excites discontent and fretfulness, which entirely mar our enjoyment. The proud man also misses the very end at which he aims; for, instead of receiving the honour and applause of mankind, he becomes the just object of their scorn and contempt.
Q. Is not humility the foundation of all other virtues?
A. The distinguishing excellence of humility arises from its being the foundation of all other virtues. Inspiring a sense of our own frailty and unworthiness, and of the majesty and infinite excellence of God, it removes our vanity and self-sufficiency, which are the great obstacles of faith, and makes us ready to believe what God reveals, and to render implicit obedience to him. It excites us to put our confidence in God, from the sense that, being weak and miserable ourselves, without him we can do nothing. It increases our love to God, by making us sensible how unworthy we are of the least of those favours we receive from him. It teaches us to rejoice in the prosperity of our neighbour, by disposing us to form the most favourable opinion of his worth. It disposes us to relieve those wants and compassionate those afflictions in others, which we ourselves have deserved. It makes us patient under all the troubles and calamities of life, from the conviction that we deserve these calamities as the punishment of our sins. The most exalted acts of virtue will lose their value in the sight of God, if stained with pride and vain-glory.
Q. What are the most powerful considerations to excite and cherish the virtue of humility?
A. The most powerful considerations to excite humility are, that all the advantages we enjoy are the unmerited gifts of God's bounty; and that, being liable daily to transgress against him, we are dependent on the succours of his grace, and stand daily in need of his pardoning mercy.
OF THE SOLEMN FAST OF LENT.
HAT do you mean by the season of Lent? A. Lent, in the old Saxon signifying the Spring, has been applied to the Spring fast, or the time of humiliation observed by Christians before the festival of Easter.
Q. What was the probable origin of this fast?
A. This fast probably, like other Christian observances, is of Jewish origin, corresponding with the preparation of the Jews for the yearly expiation; their humiliation being forty days before the expiation, and ours is forty days before the expiation of the sins of the whole world, by the death of Christ.
Q. Is not this fast of great antiquity?
A. From the very first ages of Christianity, it was customary for Christians to set apart some time for mortification and self-denial, to prepare for the solemn feast of Easter.s
Q. Why is this solemn season limited to forty days?
A. The number forty was very anciently appropriated to seasons of repentance and humiliation. This was the number of days, during which God covered the earth with the deluge; the number of years in which the children of Israel did penance in the wilderness; the number of days Moses fasted in the mount, and Elijah in the wilderness :k the Ninevites had this number of days allowed for their repentance; and our Lord, when he was pleased to fast in the wilderness, observed the same length of time."
Q. Wherein consists the propriety of observing this fast? A. The duties of humiliation and repentance are of constant obligation, and are the essential and uniform characteristics of the sincere Christian. But there is great propriety in setting apart a season for the more particular and solemn discharge of duties, which otherwise might be entirely forgotten, or only imperfectly and superficially discharged. When the mournful anniversary approaches of the sufferings and death of Christ, it is highly proper that
g Euse. Eccle. Hist. lib. v. cap. 24.
k 1 Kings xix. 8.
h Gen. vii. 4. i Jonah iii. 4.
Num. xiv. 34. m Matt. iv. 2.
the Church should lay aside the songs of praise and triumph. which distinguished the preceding joyful festivals, and in humility and penitence prepare to sympathize in the sorrows of her Lord; it is highly proper that Christians should call to mind the sins which brought their Saviour to the cross, and express their deep sorrow for them by acts of humiliation and self-denial. The solemn and devout exercises of this holy season tend also to strengthen in the soul the sentiments of piety and virtue, and to prepare us for successfully encountering the temptations of the world.
Q. How was the season of Lent observed by the primitive Christians?
A. This season of humiliation was observed by the primitive Christians with the most rigid strictness. No marriages were allowed. Their festivals were transferred from the ordinary week days to Sunday or Saturday; which last day, among the eastern Christians, was a festival like Sunday. Except on these two days, the Eucharist was not consecrated during Lent; that being an act more suitable to festivals than fasts. The primitive Christians, during this season, exhibited every external mark of deep penitence and sorrow, particularly abstinence and fasting. They extended the fasting, on every day in Lent, beyond the hour of three in the afternoon, at which time other fasts ended, to the evening.
Q. How should devout Christians spend their time during this season of Lent?
A. With a design to punish ourselves for our past transgressions, and to express our sorrow for them, we should practise the duties of abstinence and fasting, according to the circumstances of our health, and our outward condition in the world. Our external behaviour should correspond with the humiliation and seriousness we now profess. Public assemblies for pleasure and diversion should therefore now be avoided, and the festivities of social intercourse in some degree abated. The public services of the Church should be regularly and reverently attended; and we should devote a more than usual portion of our time to religious retirement; to self-examination, penitence, and prayer; to acts of charity and mercy; especially to devout and serious me ditation on religious subjects.
Q. Explain the duty of religious meditation.
A. The duty of religious meditation consists in such a serious application of the mind to any Christian doctrine or
virtue, as will dispose firmly to believe and embrace it, or earnestly and vigorously to endeavour to acquire it.
Q. How ought we to prepare ourselves for the exercise of this duty?
A. Before we enter on this duty, we should impress upon our minds a lively sense of the holy presence and inspection of God; that we are unworthy, on account of our sins, to present ourselves before him; and that we are incapable, without his assistance, to think any thing that is good. Adoring his infinite majesty with profound reverence, we should humbly beseech him to enlighten our understandings, to discern the nature and excellence of the divine truths and duties that are to be the subjects of our meditations, and to incline our wills to embrace and choose them.
Q. In what manner ought we to conclude the duty of religious meditation ?
A. We should conclude the exercise of this duty, by earnestly beseeching God to affect our minds with a constant sense of our obligations to him; that he would enable us to perform those resolutions which we may have made of advancing in piety and virtue; that he would not leave us to ourselves, but would so assist us with his grace, that we may persevere in his love and service to the end of our lives.
Q. What are the advantages that result from the exercise of holy meditation?
A. Religious meditation will have a powerful influence on our hearts and life, and is admirably calculated to quicken our progress in all the graces of God's Holy Spirit. It will illuminate our understandings with the knowledge of our duty, and store our memories with the most powerful reasons to excite us to the performance of it. It will quicken the sensibility of conscience, and powerfully urge its remonstrances. It will tend to increase the reverence and ardour of our supplications to God, by impressing us with his greatness, and our unworthiness. It will habituate our minds to spiritual objects, and raise them above the perishing things of this life. It will strengthen our holy purposes, arm us against temptation, and inflame our souls with earnest desires to obtain the favour of God, as our supreme and satisfying good.
ASH-WEDNESDAY, OR THE FIRST DAY OF LENT.
Q. WHY does the fast of forty days, called Lent, begin on Ash-Wednesday, which is forty-six days before Easter? A. Sunday, being the day on which we commemorate the resurrection of our Saviour, does not allow of fasting. If, then, the six Sundays are deducted out of the six weeks of Lent, there remain only thirty-six days of fasting. To make up, therefore, the number of forty, four days are added from the week preceding, which makes Wednesday the first day of Lent, called Ash-Wednesday.
Q. Why is the first day of Lent called Ash-Wednesday ? A. This name is derived from the custom that prevailed in the primitive Church, for penitents at this time to express their humiliation, by lying in sackcloth and ashes. By the coarseness of sackcloth, they ranked themselves among the meanest and lowest condition of men. By ashes, and sometimes earth, cast upon their heads, they made themselves lower than the lowest of the creatures of God, and put themselves in mind of their mortality, which would reduce them to dust and ashes.
Q. What was the discipline of the primitive Church at the beginning of Lent?
A. In the primitive Church, such persons as stood convicted of notorious crimes, were put to open penance: they were excommunicated by the Bishop, and not admitted to reconciliation with the Church, until after the most public testimonies of sorrow and repentance, and the greatest signs
Q. How were penitents readmitted into the Church?
A. When they had finished the time prescribed for undergoing these severities, if their repentance, upon examination, was found to be real, they were readmitted into the Church, by the imposition of the hands of the clergy; the party to be absolved kneeling before the Bishop, or, in his
n Tertulliap. De Penitentia,