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mind of their duty, who in their prosperity are apt to forget God. Moreover, by spending this day in religious exercises, we acquire new strength and resolution to perform God's will in our several stations for the future.
IV. Beside this weekly day of the Lord, there are other principal times or days set apart by the church, either for the remembrance of some special mercies of God, such as the birth and resurrection of Christ, the coming down of the Holy Ghost from heaven, &c. or in memory of the blessed apostles, and other saints; who were the happy instruments of conveying to us the knowledge of Christ Jesus, by preaching his gospel through the world, and most of them attesting the truth of it with their blood. These days ought to be observed in such a manner, as may answer the ends for which they were first appointed; that God may be glorified by an humble and grateful acknowledgment of his mercies; and that the salvation of our souls may be advanced, by believing the mysteries of our redemption, and imitating the examples of those primitive patterns of piety that are set before us. Therefore we should be so far from looking upon them as common days, or making them instruments of vice and vanity, or spending them in luxury and debauchery, intemperance, excess, and sensuality, as the manner of some is, who look upon a holyday as designed for a loose to their passions and unbounded pleasure; that our greatest care should be to improve our time in the knowledge and love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord, by constantly attending the public worship, and partaking of the blessed sacrament, if it be administered, and in private by enlarging our devotions, and withdrawing ourselves as much as possible from the affairs of the world, particularly expressing our joyfulness by love and charity to our poor neighbour. If the holyday is such as is intended for our calling to mind any mystery of our redemption, or article of our faith, we ought to confirm our belief of it, by considering all those reasons upon which it is built, that we may be able to give a good account of the hope that is in us. We should from our hearts offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and
resolve to perform all those duties, which arise from the belief of such an article. If we commemorate any saint, we should consider the virtues for which he was most distinguished, and by what steps he arrived at so great a perfection; and then examine ourselves how far we are wanting in our duty, and earnestly beg God's pardon for our past failings, and his grace to enable us to conform our lives to those admirable examples, which the saints have left for our imitation.
V. As we are thus to express our thankfulness to God for mercies received, and the good examples set before us for our imitation; we are with the same view of honouring God, by acts of humiliation and repentance, to keep holy those fast-days set apart by the church, or by civil authority, or by our own appointment, to humble ourselves before God, in punishing our bodies, and afflicting our souls, in order to a real repentance; by outward tokens testifying our grief for sins past, and by using them as means to secure us from returning to those sins, for which we express so great a detestation. And this must be done, not only by interrupting and abridging the care of our body, but by carefully inquiring into the state of our souls; charging ourselves with all those transgressions we have committed against God's laws, humbly confessing them with shame and confusion of face, with hearty contrition and sorrow for them; praying that God will not suffer his whole displeasure to arise, and begging him to turn away his anger from us; by interceding with him for such spiritual and temporal blessings upon ourselves, and others, as are needful and convenient; by improving our knowledge in all the particulars of our duty; by relieving the wants and necessities of the poor, that our numiliation and prayers may find acceptance with God. And, if the fast be public, we must attend the public place of God's worship, always taking particular care to avoid all vanity, and valuing ourselves upon such performances; and therefore in our private fasts, we must not proclaim them to others by any outward show; that we may not appear unto men to fast. We must not despise or judge our neighbour, who doth not, and it may be he hath not the
same reason to tie himself up to such methods. We must not destroy the health of our bodies by too great austerity, lest thereby we make them unfit instruments for the improvement of our minds, or the discharge of our worldly employments. Particular care ought to be taken that we grow not thereby morose and sour, peevish and fretful toward others, which severity to ourselves may be apt to incline us to; for that is so far from expressing our repentance, that it makes a fresh work for it by increasing our guilt. And therefore, when thou fastest, be not as the hypocrites are, of a sad countenance, &c. Wherefore,
The church of Christ having in all ages appointed solemn fasts to be observed by her members on particular occasions, we still retain some of them; among which the fast of Lent deserves our particular regard; concerning which I would have you make these observations. As to the limitation of time for the keeping of this fast, the church had, supposse, a respect to the space of time wherein our Saviour fasted, which was forty days, as what was esteemed a proper penitential season: and as to the intention, end, or design of this fast of Lent, it is set apart as a proper season for mortification, and the power of self-denial; to humble and afflict ourselves for our sins; not by endeavouring to fast continually forty days, but by frequent fastings, as may be learnt from the practice of the church in all ages; and to punish our too often abuses of God's creatures, by abstinence, and by forbearing the lawful enjoyment of them; to form and settle firm purposes of holy obedience; to pray frequently to God both in private and public for pardon, and his holy spirit to put us in mind of that sore trial and temptation, which Christ then endured for our sakes; particularly to perpetuate the memory of our Saviour's sufferings; and to make, as it were, a public confession of our belief, that he died for our salvation; and consequently, for fitting ourselves to receive the tokens and pledges of his love with greater joy and gladness.
For which reason, this christian institution of Lent ought to be spent in fasting, and in abstinence, according to the circumstances of our health, and outward condition in the
world; and this with a design to deny and punish ourselves for past transgressions: the ornament of attire may be laid aside; the frequency of receiving and paying visits may be interrupted: public assemblies for pleasure and diversion should be avoided: our retirement should be filled with reading pious discourses, and with frequent prayer, and with examining the state of our minds: and the public devotion, and those instructing exhortations from the pulpit, which are so generally established in many churches in this season, should be constantly attended. Besides, we should be liberal in our alms, and very ready to employ ourselves on all opportunities of relieving either the temporal or spiritual wants of our neighbour: for the Lord says by the prophet Isaiah, Is not this the fast I have chosen, to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house; when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
SUNDAY II. PART II.
VI. Fourthly, we are in a more especial manner, to express our reverence to God by honouring his HOLY WORD; and we honour his holy word by hearing, reading*, and practising what is therein contained for our comfort and instruction. This word of God is commonly called by way of eminence the holy scriptures, which we are obliged to search, because they contain the terms and conditions of our common salvation; without the knowledge and practice of which we can never attain eternal happiness. I say, whatever is necessary for us to know and believe, to hope for and practise, in order to salvation, is fully contained in those holy books. This then is the rule of our faith. Every doctrine that is there delivered we must believe: but as for any doctrine that is not there plainly delivered, nor can be clearly deduced thence; we are not bound to believe that as an article of faith, let it
See the Help to reading the Scriptures at the end of this Book.
come ever so well recommended. Therefore our church has decreed, that the Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation*. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man, being both God and man.' And the things declared in scripture to be the terms and conditions of salvation, are repentance from all wicked works, and faith toward God and our Lord Jesus Christ: the belief of a resurrection from the dead, and of a judgment to come; and a life of virtue, or suitable obedience to our Lord's express commands in the gospel. And
Those necessary things are there treated with so much plainness and clearness, as to be sufficiently understood by those who make a right use of their reason, and read them with that respect and reverence which is due to the oracles of God; with humility and modesty, from a sense of our own weakness, and God's perfection; and with earnest prayer for the divine assistance. Moreover, they who expect to reap benefit by reading the holy scriptures, must diligently consider the design of the author of each book of scripture; and what is the subject he chiefly handles, with the occasion of his writing: they must explain difficult places by those that are more clear, distinguish between literal and figurative expressions; and never have recourse to metaphors, and figures, but when somewhat absurd arises from their being taken in a proper and literal sense they must confine themselves to the natural signification of words, the usual forms of speech, and the phrase of scripture: they must acquaint themselves with the common usages and customs of those times in which
See the 6th and 7th Articles of Religion.