Sermon X. Fasting.
Septuagesima. I Corinthians 9:27.
"I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
As the strictness of Lent is a preparation for the joys of Easter, so the Church would not bring us all at once unprepared, upon that strictness, but, in the services of the three preceding Sundays, gives us notice of its approach, and, on the very first, gives us serious warning of our need of it. Discipline of the body is the subject of the Epistle of today; suffering, with fasting, of the next; charity, wherewith alone austerity is acceptable, of the third. To-day an Apostle sets forth, in himself, the necessity of self-affliction; on the next, his actual sufferings; on the last, the love wherewith, by God's Gift, he so suffered. To-day, Apostolic awe of failure; then, Apostolic discipline and sufferings; lastly, Apostolic charity.
The whole context sounds very awefully. First he warns, that, as many who seek, but strive not, shall not find, so many shall run but shall not obtain. It is not indeed as in earthly prizes, that while "all run," "one" only "receiveth the Prize." In this our blessed course, He Who crowns is willing to crown not the first only, but the last, not those only who have, from the first, ever run, steadfastly, untiringly, but those who, sluggish at first, have at last been quickened and run. Yet must all run in a certain way; "so run that ye may obtain." And then, as one chief difference between this running whereby men shall obtain, and others, the Apostle singles out self-discipline. "Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things." They whom he singles out for our examples, endured much, deprived themselves of much. An ancient father1 setting them forth as examples to those looking for a martyr's crown, "they are kept from luxury, from the richer sorts of food, from the pleasanter kinds of drink; they are constrained, harassed, tired. The more they have toiled in their exercises, the more they hope for the victory. 'And they,' saith the Apostle, 'that they may obtain a corruptible crown.'" "Virtue "he adds, "is built up by hardness, by softness is destroyed."
And then the Apostle concentrates this teaching in himself. He had exhorted to a certain kind of running; "so run that ye may obtain: "he had instanced self-restraint, as the characteristic of this running; and then of himself he says, "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly, so fight I, not as one that beateth the air;" not with empty, unmeaning gestures and a show of unreal fighting, but one earnest strife, and that with his body. I deal hardly with my body, strike it severe heavy blows, (so the word means) like those wherewith the countenance is disfigured; and this lest he, who had "fully preached the Gospel of Christ, "" the chosen vessel to carry the Name of Christ before kings and the people of Israel, "should himself suffer shipwreck, "lest that by any means, when I had preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." He upon whom so much suffering had been bestowed from without, he who was "in stripes above measure; in prisons more frequent; in deaths oft; in weariness and painfulness; in hunger and thirst; in cold and nakedness;" he knew it to he necessary, over and above to ill-treat and subdue his body, "in fastings often." He "brought it" by voluntary discipline "into subjection," lest it should master him, and he be "a castaway!"
My brethren, these can have been no idle fears; they cannot be the misgivings of a humble and over-sensitive conscience: they have God's Seal stamped upon them, in Whose Word they stand, by Whose Spirit they were written. Strangely mysterious then as it must be, that one so highly in God's Favour, so chosen, so honoured by sufferings for Christ's Sake, so "exalted by revelations," should need, not discipline of spirit only, but subdual of this poor body, it must have been so, since it is written.
Since then the Apostle did not deceive himself in thinking such discipline necessary for himself, we, in this day, must be sorely deceiving ourselves, whosoever think it not necessary for us. We know that St. Paul was spiritual: what he spake, he spake by the Spirit of God; what he did, he did as one "led by the Spirit;" when he went to suffer at Jerusalem, he went "bound in the Spirit;" the words he spake, it was not he "who spake, but the Spirit of The Father, Who dwelt in him." When then he, thus spiritual, relates in words thus given him by The Spirit, what that Same Spirit taught him to do, as an ensample to us, we must have strange thoughts of ourselves and a different mind from that of the Spirit, as many as think these things "carnal ordinances," or that the Spiritual life can be upheld or have soundness without them. Shall we, so poor in attainment as we mostly are, our prayers so languid, our love so cold, our alms deeds so sparing, our bearing of the Cross so faint, not need, what he needed who had been in the third Heaven, whose life was a "longing to be dissolved and be with Christ, "whose death was but the completion of his sufferings in life, which made his life one death? We need this self-discipline indeed for different ends. They whom God has raised to the height of spirituality, are still beset by the same enemies as we; they are watched by the same Adversary; they tread on the high places of the earth, yet, on the very account of the height whereat they walk, they need the more humility, lest, looking below whereat they have attained, they turn dizzy. Satan's chief assaults are oil them. Triumph over them, nay, their very stumbling or halting, were a more blasphemous joy to the Evil One, than the perdition of those who struggle not. And so they need the same arms as we. But if they, so spiritualized, still, as being in the flesh, need this constant warfare with the flesh, how much more such as we, whose victories, it is to be feared, have been so few, our defeats so manifold!
Rather it must be feared, that it is one of the subtlest devices of the Enemy, to persuade us that we may become spiritual, through means merely spiritual; that we can cherish better the things of The Spirit, by neglecting those of the flesh; that we can have the victory over the flesh without fighting against it; that, being in the body, we can transfer the conflict, wholly, to the soul; that we can cultivate spiritual feelings, desires, longings, love, without discipline of the body, which would obstruct them and weigh them down. This self-deceit is not a snare of these times only. It has been practised, on system, before as now; only then by heretics, who, thinking the spirit alone worthy of God, the body, which He also created, all evil, thought it no evil to do all evil with it. It is so not unfrequently now with those, who make spiritual feelings the test of holiness. It will ever be, that they who think themselves more spiritual than the Church, or seek these easier, shorter roads, will find their spirituality to be sickly and carnal, puffed up by some false spirit, rather than borne aloft by the Indwelling Spirit of God.
The end they would attain is right, but not the means. Spiritual Communion with God, spiritual affections, fervor, zeal, contemplation, are the ends of our being, the rewards of well-being: without them, life spent in duty is imperfect. The question is not whether they be good, but how they are to be attained; how the eye is to be fitted to see God, whether by gazing only, or by being itself purified, that it may have its Saviour's Blessing and see Him.
Fasting and self-discipline may seem, in these days, a long, toilsome, circuitous, unspiritual course; yet as it is the lowliest, and therefore likely to be the truest, so it is the only way acknowledged by Holy Scripture. By self-indulgence Adam lost Paradise; by self-denial are we to regain that more blissful Paradise, which by Suffering was purchased for us. For penitent or saint no other course is taught. "Fasting, and weeping, and mourning" did God appoint, that He might "return, and repent, and leave a Blessing behind Him." Through fasting and sackcloth was the penitence of Ahab and Nineveh accepted. David, the Scripture model of penitence, lay on the ground and fasted. The Day of Atonements the great type of our reconciliation to God, was, from evening to evening, one unbroken fast. "I humbled," says the Psalmist, and we take his words into our own mouths, "I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned into my own bosom." Amid fasting for forty days, was it vouchsafed to Moses twice to receive the Tables of the Law, written with the Finger of God, and to Elijah, on the same Mount Horeb, to hear the Voice of God. Amid fasting did Samuel conquer the Philistines, and Esther save her people, and Jehoshaphat obtained a great deliverance, when God's people "knew not what to do by reason of the great company, which came against them, "and Ezra a safe return for the people amid "the enemy on the way," and Nehemiah the restoration of Jerusalem in its "great affliction and reproach," and renewed the covenant. After seeking the Lord by prayer, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes, was it vouchsafed to Daniel to know of the times of the restoration of the Holy City and the coming of the Redeemer, and of the "bringing in the everlasting Righteousness;" and again to hear "the Scripture of Truth," and the scaled order of God's Providence to the end, and that in the Resurrection he should "stand." Anna saw at length Him she had so long looked for, the Lord's Christ, after "fourscore and four" years, wherein she had "served God, with fastings and prayers, night and day."
And when He came, He took not away suffering and self-discipline, but hallowed them, uniting them with His Own Sufferings, and giving them thereby efficacy, which, in themselves, they had not. He sanctified fasting by His Example; gave it virtue by His Passion; filled it with His Spirit; and so made it a token of His disciples, and a channel of His Grace. He placed it at the outset of His Teaching; He prefixed it, in His Own Person, to His Ministry; He left it as a solemn Memorial of Himself, as a part of the bridal-dowry of the Church, a mark that we are the children of the Bride-Chamber, now widowed for the time, and in sorrow for His Absence, until we be admitted to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. "The days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast, in those days." How then are we His Disciples, if we fast not? should we not rather wonder that we do any thing but fast, since all our days are days of His Absence? The whole state of the widowed Church is one mourning for the Bridegroom.
Again, our Lord has taught us how we should fast, as well as how we should pray and give alms. He bids us, in all alike, seek, not the praise of man, but of God. In all alike, He says, of those who do it for man's sake, "Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward." In all alike, He promiseth, that if done for no by-ends, but only and purely for God, "thy Father Which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly." All then alike can be done to God; all alike God will reward. All belong to us as sons; all are to be done by us, not as servants, (as under the law) but as children in our Father's House, out of love to our Father. All, our Father beholdeth Unseen; He considereth us as we are doing them; He remembereth them and us, if we do them for Him; all are laid up with Him; for all, He has His Reward in store for those who, in them, seek Him. How can man then put asunder, what our Lord has so solemnly conjoined? Shall men dare to call that an unspiritual service which our Lord taught us to do to God, as our Father? or can we, if we indeed love, venture to neglect that, for which He promised that the Father shall "reward "us? do we slight the Treasures of His Love, which are His Reward? or should we not rather fear that our prayers shall be hindered and be beaten back to the earth, if unaccompanied with self-denying act", wherewith He hath united them? "Fasting and alms," they said of old, "are the wings of prayer." Our Lord places between them, His Rules for prayer. Will He then accept a maimed sacrifice? Or will our prayers thus fly up straight to the Throne of God? Or how shall a Christian venture to leave that wholly undone, which His Lord vouchsafed to instruct him how to do to His Father?
By fasting only with prayer were even Apostles enabled to prevail against some "kind" of devils: amid fasting were Apostles separated1 to carry on their warfare against Satan's kingdom: by fastings, as by other suffering, no less than "by pureness, by knowledge, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, "by the Power of God," does St. Paul testify that he approved himself as a Minister of God. And what should we dare to say of our Blessed Lord's Own Fast? Our Church rightly counts it among the Merciful Mysteries of His Life, as well as the Temptation for which it prepared, and beseeches Him "by Thy Fasting and Temptation," "have mercy upon us." Strange Mystery, that it should be fitting that His Sinless Nature should suffer through fasting, the appointed means to discipline our rebellious appetites, or humble ourselves for their rebellion! Strange, that when God, in Him, so consecrated fasting, man should not think lhat a privilege, which was hallowed in his Master and Redeemer! Strange, that when the Spotless Son entered into temptation through fasting, we, sin-stained as we are, impure from our mother's womb, and defiled with all our own added transgressions, should think that needless for us, whereby the Ever-Blessed Son, as Man, was perfected! Strange that when all, Saints and sinners, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, righteous kings, leaders of God's Heritage, types of the great Mediator, yea, and that Mediator Himself, employed fasting as acceptable with God, persons in this day should think they might neglect or despise it, as a carnal and unprofitable service! Strange would it indeed be, were there any thing strange in Satan's wiles or man's self-deceit!
And yet, after a few years, my Brethren, if God, as we trust, continue to restore our Church as He is now doing,, we shall think it strange, that members of a Church who, in her prayers, have besought God to be gracious unto them, as "turning to Him in weeping, fasting, and praying," should not do that for which they beseech Him to be gracious!--that they should ask Him to give them "grace to use abstinence," and not seek to practise it!--that they should plead to their Lord, that He fasted for them forty days and forty nights, and themselves fast not at all, with Him or for themselves. It will seem strange that what nature herself suggests, heathens have practised, Scripture directs, the Church enjoins, whereby Martyrs girded themselves to bear their last witness to their Lord, the whole white-robed army of Saints, (until such, as in these later years may, in their ignorance of its use and duty, have been brought through without it), subdued the flesh, deepened their penitence, humbled their souls, winged their prayers, died to the world that they might live to their Lord,--members of a Church should acknowledge in words, in practice neglect.
But men say, they "fast from sin." Would we did! for to fast is to abstain entirely. There is indeed a spiritual fasting and mortification, which is the end of deadening the body; but are we, then, who would make fasting thus wholly spiritual, so eminent in this sort of fasting which alone we acknowledge? Do we attain the substance so fully, by neglecting what we deem the shadow? Reach we the end by neglecting the means? Be then fasting simply self-denial. They then fast in speech, who never make the tongue the instrument of evil-speaking, reproaches, unkind, or harsh, or angry words, repeating evil, though true, of a neighbour, exalting self, depressing a neighbour, feeding vanity or contention. They fast with their eyes, who gaze not after the pomps and vanities of the world, look not on what causes sinful thoughts, use not sight to covet the things of others, gratify it not with empty show and vain attire, forbid it to minister to the appetite, self-indulgent with the sight, before they indulge their other appetites. They fast with their ears, who refuse to hear words that do hurt, backbiting speech, tales of evil, idle rumours of others, corrupting language, their own praise. They fast with their limbs, who avoid luxury, and softness, and sloth, and indolence, use simple ways, and are "not slothful in business, serving ths Lord." They fast as to money, who deny themselves to give to the poor; as to attire, who use modest apparel; as to eminence, who willingly take the lowest place, and see others first; as to esteem, who in honour prefer one another, and for themselves, long for that honour which cometh from God only; who conceal, as much as they may, their good deeds, looking to the reward from their Father's Hands. In anger, it is to return good-will for hatred, blessing for cursing; in a word, it is in all things to forego self, one's own will, desires, pleasures, longings, hopes, fears, thoughts, acts, to seek, not how to have one's way, but to give up one's way; not how to bend others' wills, but one's own; not how to be first, but how to be last; not how to have the best things, but the worst; it is to desire nothing without us, nothing but God; to have r.o will but that God's Will be done, not only in and by us, but upon us; to be willing, if He wills, to lose the treasures we have, and have the evils we shrink from: yea, to pray Him to withhold from us the outward goods we think are coining to us and which we most long for, to send us the losses we are threatened with, though they seem to part asunder soul and body, if so He sees best for us.
Are then we who, as a nation, despise the fasting of the body, such proficients in the fasting of the desires, the weariedness of the soul? We, who would fain never hunger in the body, except to be filled, do we so hunger and thirst after righteousness? Is our speech withheld from evil, or our very delight to tell and to hear some new uncharitableness? Is our very converse on religion, most of the Goodness of the Lord, or to tell evil of men? The very instruction in this House of God, love we most to profit by it, or to censure it? to take home to our souls what may heal them, or to spread abroad evil of those who deliver it? Are we luxurious or simple, watchful or relaxed, stern with self or remiss, meek towards others or harsh, self-denying or self-indulgent, seeking advancement or content, humble or boastful, fair speakers about the Cross, or do we bear It?
It cannot be otherwise. God has wonderfully blended together our souls and bodies, so that they must ever be in harmony with each other, act upon one another; God drawing up the body to the soul, by giving it the mastery, or man drawing down the soul to the body, by making it the slave of the body, whose lord God made it. Nature herself teaches us that we cannot mourn with the soul and be at ease with the body. How does sorrow furrow the cheek, dim the eyes, make the whole frame heavy and languid and weary, dry up and waste the flesh! Feasting and joy, fasting and heaviness, are by nature and our very speech joined together. When we do mourn, dainty meats become loathsome, sweet sounds discordant, fragrant smells oppressive; we refuse our bread, or eat bread of affliction, and drink water of affliction.
And shall we then think that we can reverse this law of our nature and pamper our bodies, fare sumptuously every day, and yet be true mourners for our sins, and be in heaviness for them? "My heart, "says the holy penitent, "was smitten and withered like grass, so that I forgat to eat my bread.'" Our Blessed Lord sunk for weakness under His Cross; and shall we think to bear ours in buoyancy and fulness of bread? Our Lord pronounces a special blessing on those who mourn, and weep, and hunger, and pronounces . woe on those who laugh and are full. Shall we, then, think to join what He has separated, fulness and mourning, be joyous in our bodies, and true penitents in our souls?
Or take we the very words wherein Holy Scripture speaks of fasting, and see how these strange sayings which, to evade an irksome duty, men palm upon their souls, will fit in with them. To fast, men say, is "to fast from sin." What means, then, our Lord's Word, "When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces, that they appear unto men to fast?" Was the hypocrite's fast a fast from sin? or did the Pharisees mean that "John's disciples fasted often" from sin? or our Lord, that His disciples should not fast from sin while His Blessed Presence was with them, but that they should then fast from sin, when He should be taken away? or when St. Paul joins "fastings often" with "cold and nakedness," means he spiritual fastings and spiritual cold and nakedness, dullness of heart, and nakedness of the Robe of Righteousness? Or meant he, again, little self-denials of dainty meats now and then, in the midst of plenty? Was this the ill-treating and subdual of his body, this the hardship, whereby he would avoid being "a cast-awav?" Or which other meant he of our easy ways, by which we would avoid the sterner duties of God's law, which cost us something?
My brethren, it shames one to have so to speak, to have to go about to prove, in a Christian Church, what the whole Church, from the Apostles until these last days, ever practised; to prove, in this age which has "Search the Scriptures" for ever on its lips, what lies upon its very surface, what is on the very way-side, did not ths fowls of the air, even the evil spirits, carry it away and devour it. In other times people have deceived themselves how they would fast, and to what end, and have fasted for the praise of men, and indulged themselves in one way, while they denied themselves in another. The arch self-deceit was reserved for these days; for Christians to deem themselves spiritual, for neglecting the letter of their Lord's Words, for the religious to use the irreverence of the profane; for some who really wish to reverence God's Word, to neglect whatever in it contradicts their own thoughts; for some who "make their boast of the" Gospel, "through breaking the" commands of the Gospel, to "dishonour God;" for some who really wish to love their Lord, to decry, under names of reproach, what He said His disciples should do.
It is high time, my Brethren, that we should shake off these irreverent, careless ways. Ye that would serve God, tamper not thus with His Holy Words. Put not yourselves off with words and vain excuses, "wood, straw, hay, and stubble," which will not stand in that Day, in which "every man's work shall be tried with fire." Shrink not from God's Word, or from seeing that it does impose a duty upon you, at first a hard, but afterwards a joyous duty; that it has a yoke, although, in your Saviour's Strength, a light one. Venture to look into God's Word, and trust your ways to Him, and He will teach you that the outward ordinances which He gives are spiritual, for He accompanies them with His Blessed Spirit; that His labours and toils are rest, for He is the Rest of the weary.
Rather, if this be any one's first Lent, I would give some simple rules, which might smooth some difficulties. Let it be an act of obedience. A sacred Poet of our own says, "The Scripture bids us fast, the Church says now." [G. Herbert.] Thus shall we do it more simply, not as any great thing; not as of our own will, but as an act of obedience; so will the remarks of others (if such there be) less disturb us, as knowing that we are doing but little, and that not of our own mind. But little in itself, it is connected with high things, with the very height of Heaven and the depths of Hell; our Blessed Saviour and our sins. We fast with our Lord, and for our sins. The Church brings us nigh to our Lord," Whose Fast and the merits of Whose Fasting and Passion we partake of. We have to "humble our own souls with fasting" for our own sins. Remember we both. Review we our past lives; recal to our remembrance what chief sins we can; confess them habitually and in sorrow, with the use of the Penitential Psalms, and especially that daily medicine of the penitent soul, the fifty-first. Fast we, in token that we are unworthy of God's creatures which we have misused. Take we thankfully weariness or discomfort, as we before sinned through ease and lightness of heart. And thus, owning ourselves unworthy of all, think we on Him, Who, for us, bore all, so shall those precious Sufferings sanctify thy discomfort; the irksomeness shall be gladsome to thee which brings thee nearer to thy Lord.
Then for the mode of fasting, begin gently, it is for the most part the most humble. God leads us in all things step by step. They who begin impetuously, do it mostly over-corifidently, and so have often soon grown weary of hardness which they sought to bear in their own strength. We have some time before us. One object of our Lenten fast is a long continued discipline. Till thou knowest thine own strength, it is best to make a rule week by week, which may be relaxed or tightened as each is able to bear. Some things which health requires not, we most naturally give up for the whole season. In health itself, though care is to be used, God has, upon prayer, to some given strength, who before were unequal. He also gradually adapts the body to fasting. "Nature," says good Bishop Wilson, "does with little, Grace with less." But He will guide each who humbly looks to Him. He will accept the least done in penitent sincerity to please Him, Who only gives value to what is harder. Only let it be real self-denial and a rule; so shall thou escape caprice and debate with thyself, and He Who rewardeth the gift of a cup of cold water in His Name, will not despise any self-denial even in these lesser things, whereby thou wouldest bring thyself under His training, confess thyself unworthy of His gifts, deny thyself as thy Lord denied Himself, to die for thee, and through thy self-denial minister to the wants of others, as He took upon Him our infirmities, and miseries and sins, and bare them in our flesh upon the Cross, that He might instead make us partakers of His Glory, and Joy, and Holiness, and Divinity. Give to the poor what thou savest by fasting, and to God the time which thou rescuest by the retirement which befits it; so shall charity sweeten thy self-denials, and prayer shall sanctify them, and with charity and fasting shall thy prayers the more ascend before God, offered in love to man and humility to God. And they of our households, who eat of our bread, who of silver and gold have but little, will, cheered by our example, gladly join with us in denying themselves, that they too may with us "deal of their bread to the hungry," and partake of the blessings promised to the merciful. Thus joining in fasting and almsgiving those with whom in Christian families we join in prayer, shall we the more be holy households, "acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
And even the poor, who ordinarily are exempt from fasting, because labour brings clown their bodies, and, compared to ours, their life is one fast, still may forego some things which to them are luxuries, that they may fast with their Lord, Who, for their sakes, became poorer than even they, not having where to lay His Head, and humble themselves for their own sins. The very poor might thus shew charity to those yet poorer.
Think not these things valueless or irksome. Ye will be tempted to both. Try them and ye will find them neither, but gladness and a blessing. It is the very character of the Gospel to change every thing, sanctify every thing, brighten every thing. For the Spirit of God sheds over every thing His Holiness and Light; the Blood of Christ purifies our dross and makes it gold, imparts to our worthlessness Its Own inestimable Value. The Cross of Christ changes all It touches. It brought in life for death, holiness for sin, Heaven for Hell, the Love of God for Almighty Wrath. How shall It not change all besides? It makes weakness strength; sorrow, joy; fasting, a feast; sickness, health; weariness, rest; suffering, gladness; loss of all things, to win Christ; loneliness, the Redeemer's Presence; poverty, riches; darkness, light; humiliation, honour; contempt, glory; our broken offerings, acceptable service; petty self-denials, Angelic crowns. For It enables us to love Him Who first loved us, and to those who love Him makes all things an earnest of His Love, all partaking of His Cross health and life. It drops Life-giving Blood from that Sacred Side, on every sorrow borne patiently, and taken willingly, as His gift to His penitent disciples. It gives our blind and maimed sacrifices, if the best which we can offer, some portion of that Death of Value Infinite, which gives Life and Value to all which lives and loves.
Only, while too many neglect all fasting, of body and soul, let us beware that in the humiliation of the body, we fail not to mortify the soul. Fasting, especially in its revival, has its own snares and trials. Satan would make the very means of Grace a hindrance. To some few, he might give high thoughts as though it were some great thing; more he might make ashamed of what is Christ's Cross. He can use against us the weakness of our body as well as its strength, disappoint us as though we reaped no spiritual profit, or elate us at what we think we have; employ our weakness to irritate the flesh which in the end it subdues, rouse the evil tempers which in the end by God's Grace it mortifies, distract us in the prayers, which in the end it wings.
Our remedy is, to wait in patience on our God Do we it not as some great thing, but as a simple duty, and we shall not think much of ourselves or be disturbed by the reproaches of others. Judge we not others who have not been taught it, but conform the rest of our own lives to it. Do we it because we have been taught, and feel that many who have not been taught it are more self-denying than we; explain we ourselves gently to those who ask, "what means this service?" not as though we knew more than they, but that having been taught, in us not to do what we have been taught were sin. Be we the more watchful, lest by any evil temper we bring reproach on what is God's Ordinance; yet be not anxious to see its fruits, for no medicine heals at once, but perform it as a duty and entrust the reward with God.
Especially in this holy season, which gradually deepens until it brings us to Calvary, give we diligence, that it pass not from us without a blessing. Seek we, while we chasten the flesh, to "chasten our souls" also, "by fasting." We should labour to bring our whole souls and minds in harmony with our fast, in reverent sympathy with Him Whose Sacred Fast we follow, Whose Meritorious Cross and Passion we prepare to witness, and, bewailing ourselves and our sins, to rejoice in Him.
We should, none of us, by God's Grace, go forth out of Lent, as we entered it. So solemn a season of stillness, collectedness, subdual of self, will not pass over us, without the distilling of His Grace, if we seek to gather and store it up within us. Seek we to have some definite aim. If we have never yet examined our whole lives, as a whole, by the rule of God's Commandments, this were a blessed work now; so shall we mourn more really than we ever did before at the season of His Bitter Passion, and, mourning, shall be comforted; yet, first healed by penitence and lowly confession to Him, then comforted. If we have already done this, and so learnt to know ourselves and our besetting faults, seek we in earnest to subdue one. Each fault has some pain accompanying it, which will give us notice of its approach. In whatever degree we have learnt to know ourselves, we know its occasions, the pleas whereby we are wont, at the time, to hide its character from ourselves, when and where we are in peril of it. Unwatchfulness or ignorance of self alone are altogether surprised. God has placed sentinels around us, if we will heed their still, gentle warnings. Watch we the first motions and stirrings of the enemies of our Lord. Give them no entrance. As the case may be, silence them or escape them. Some will die, if only no breath be given them, and they be pent up within. Some we must escape, by quickly taking refuge with the Lord our God. From some we must escape, as out of 'the mists of this earth, rising, with, thoughts of God, into the upper air, and there we shall meet the Light of His Countenance, or some Ray from It. In any case, so soon as the temptation comes, betake thyself to some brief prayer, or some thought of God, which shall be prayer. For forty days thy Saviour was for thee in one unbroken fast, "with the wild beasts" in the wilderness, and tempted of the devil. Strive thou, for forty days, against any one sin, using what strictness thou mayest, and, by His Grace, thou wilt receive of Him a power thou knewest not before; thou wilt know, in thy degree, "the fellowship of His Sufferings," and wilt be conformed to His Death;" thou wilt "know Him, and the Power of His Resurrection." Thou wilt know what His Might is, for thou wilt know what it is, earnestly and with perseverance, to desire that His Might be put forth in thee and for thee; thou wilt have followed Him, like the blind man on the way, and have cried after Him, and He Who taught thee that cry will hear thee, and say to thee, "Be it unto thee as thou wilt."
"Have I not commanded thee? Only be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." "I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee," saith the Faithful and Almighty Lord, thy God."