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serious application of the mind to any Christian doctrine or virtue, as will dispose firınly to believe and embrace it, or earnestly and vigorously lo 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 our. selves, 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
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 con. victed 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 of humiliation."
Q. How were penitents re-admitted 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 re-admitted into the Church, by the imposition of the hands of the clergy; the party to be absolved kneeling before the Bishop, or, in his
absence, before the Presbyter; who, laying his hand upon his head, solemnly blessed and absolved him ; whereupon he was received with universal joy, and restored to the communion of the Church.
Q. What have you to observe in regard to the form of service for the day?
A. On this day, some solemn forms of supplication and humiliation are appointed to be used at morning prayer ; and the penitential psalms of David are appointed to be used instead of the psalms for the day. The first lesson for the morning, taken from Isaiah, displays the guilt and depravity
and concludes by pointing out to him the way of salvation through a Redeemer. The second lesson, from St. Luke, is an excellent summary of our Saviour's sermon on the mount, and enforces those Christian graces and virtues, without which all expressions of penitence are empty and vain. The first lesson for the evening contains an animating encouragement to repentance, in God's declaration of mercy to the Ninevites ; and the second lesson enforces the same duty, by displaying the second coming of Christ to judge the world. The epistle and the gospel caution us against resting in external expressions of sorrow, while our hearts are devoid of the emotions of real contrition. Thus admirably calculated is the service of the day, to enforce the duties of humiliation and repentance.
Q. Explain the nature of true repentance.
A. Repentance consists in such a lively sorrow for our past sins, and in such sincere and effectual resolutions, through divine grace, to forsake them, as produce a complete change in our principles, desires, and conduct; a change so great and universal, that it is styled in Scripture, a new nature.
Q. What are the considerations that should excite us to sorrow for our sins ?
A. Who can forbear grieving, when he reflects, that by his transgression he has forfeited the favour of God, the only source of bliss, and incurred shame, remorse, everlasting misery? Who can forbear grieving, when he reflects, that he has been inattentive to the salvation of his immortal soul; that he has been ungrateful to his gracious Benefactor, and best Friend ; that he hath affronted Heaven with the very blessings he received from thence ; that he hath fallen under the heavy displeasure of God, whose infinite patience he has abused; that he has " despised the riches of God's goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, which should have led him to repentance ?"
Q. In what manner ought we to express our sorrow for our sins?
A. We should express our sorrow for our sins, by sincere and humble consession of them ; by sasting, and other acts of humiliation and self-denial;" hy humble and earnest supplication of the mercy and grace of God, in steadfast reliance on the merits of his Son Jesus Christ.
Q. How should our resolutions of amendment be formed in order to their being effectual?
A. Our resolution of amendment should be formed on a serious consideration of the difficulties and discouragements of a pious and virtuous course, and of its succours and rewards : they should extend to every sacrifice that we are required to make, to every duty that we are enjoined to perform; and they should lead us to avoid all the indulgences and situations that may betray us into sin. Above all, we should frequently and earnestly beseech God to strengthen our weakness, and confirm our holy resolutions; and we should often repeat and renew these resolutions, particularly when we approach the holy table of the Lord.
Q. Are not reparation and restitution necessary fruits of repentance?
A. If we have wronged or injured our neighbour, we must make him all the reparation in our power. We must earnestly and sedulously endeavour to reclaim all those whom we may have drawn into sin, either by our bad example, or by neglect of duty towards them. If we have injured the good name of our neighbour, we must acknowledge our fault, and vindicate his reputation : and if we wronged him in his estate, either by fraud or force, we must make restitution, either to himself or his heirs; or when they cannot be discovered, we must appropriate whatever we have thus unjustly acquired, to pious and benevolent purposes. These fruits of repentance will always accompany it when it is genuine; and without these fruits, all expressions of repentance are vain and presumptuous, and will only aggravate our condemnation.
Q. Whence arises the necessity of repentance ?
A. Repentance is one of the indispensable conditions of sa!vation. The meritorious cause of our salvation, is the
Ezra x. 6, &c. Psal. Ixix 10. Neh. ix. 1. Matt. xxvi. 75. Acts ir. 9.
atonement made for sin by our blessed Saviour. But this salvation is not absolute, but conditional. Remission of sin, through the merits of Christ, is granted only to the penitent; for our Saviour hath joined these together, in his commission to the apostles : “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name throughout all nations.” Until that change in our evil tempers and dispositions, which true repentance is designed to produce, takes place, we are not fit for enjoying the fruition of God's holy presence.
“ Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”
Q. What do you mean by the forgiveness of sins ?
A. By the forgiveness of sins, is meant a discharge and release from the punishment due to sin. By transgressing God's laws, we contract guilt, we become obnoxious to divine justice; but, by the forgiveness of our sins, we are freed and delivered from that punishment which we have deserved. Our Saviour Christ having rendered a perfect obedience to the divine law, and sustained in our stead the awful penalty annexed to transgressing it, God can now be just, and yet justify the sinner who repents and believes.
Q. Wherein consists the guilt of delaying repentance ?
A. To delay our repentance, by which alone we can be restored to the favour of God, to some future period, which is always uncertain, is not only the greatest folly, but it is a criminal abuse of his long-suffering patience, an impious preference of the slavery of sin to the joys of his service, a presumptuous contempt of his laws, and of the denunciations of his justice. Offended at our impiety and presumption, he may swear in his wrath, that we shall not enter into his rest.
Q. Is not a death-bed repentance very uncertain?
A. Though a death-bed repentance is not absolutely impossible, since it may please God, who sees the heart, to rccept the sincerity of our sorrow and the ardour of our desires; yet a sincere repentance, amidst the distresses, the agitations, and pangs of a sick-bed, appears very improbable. At such a period, repentance will most probably be founded more on an apprehension of divine wrath, than on a just sense of the evil of sin, and of its ingratitude and baseness; and will not be, therefore, that sincere, sober, and genuine repentance which God will vouchsafe to accept, or which would produce sincere and thorough reformation of heart and life.