HOW TO KEEP LENT
NOTES OF A
From the Fifth Thousand of English Edition
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2013
THE simplicity of the following Address (delivered in 1872) has made it useful to many, who are not prepared for deeper teaching. It is published with the hope that it may be made the foundation of such a definite use of this Holy Season, as shall issue in the fulfilment of that teaching of the HOLY SPIRIT given to us through the Apostle: "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high Calling of GOD in CHRIST JESUS."
HOW TO KEEP LENT.
THE object of my speaking to you today is—not so much to preach a sermon, as quietly to give you some practical helps, to make the best use you can of that Holy Season. The fact of your being here to-day proves that you wish to keep it aright.
I am not here to prove the advantages of Lent. For 1800 years, the Church in all ages, and Christian people of all temperaments, have combined to thank God for the blessings derived from such a time.
In these days, I have observed (specially in the last few years) a great tendency to exaggerate, on the one hand, and to undervalue, on the other, the importance of Lent. [5/6] Just as, in older times, the Puritan part of the community allowed all their religion to concentrate in the due observance of the Sabbath day, so there is now a marked tendency to compress the whole of religion into Lent. If that is strictly kept, a reaction may come after Easter, if it will; people may then be as worldly as they please!
And even while these holy weeks of Lent are passing away, there is an undue amount of fuss and fidget, as to whether every possible means of grace is being employed, every possible blessing obtained,—most destructive to spiritual growth. There is a tendency to act as little children do, who are so anxious to see the flower come up, that they dig down and destroy the root of their plant.
Such a Lecture as this seems to me to be yet more needed at the beginning of the "London Season," than now; it is much more difficult to live through that, without injury to our spiritual state, than through the [6/7] quiet weeks on which we are now entering.
Still, we hail such a quiet and holy time; knowing from past experience the blessing that it has been to our souls, and to the souls of others. And in this Lecture, which is intended to help you to lay hold of these blessings, I cast myself on your prayers, and on the aid of the HOLY SPIRIT, that He may remove all prejudices, over-rule all that is said amiss, and apply, to each individual soul here, the individual help needed.
The first important point is this:—before Lent arrives, make up your mind to be definite; set before yourself a definite aim and object.
The great defect of Christianity, in the present day, is its vague and shadowy character. There is no definite knowledge of our own individual guilt, and of the power of the Blood of CHRIST; there are no definite victories over any special sin; no mile-stones [7/8] passed, year by year; there is very little, in short, of the spirit of S. Paul: "Forgetting those things which are behind,—I press towards the mark." (Phil. iii. 13, 14.)
How, then, are we to begin to be definite?
We must begin by being definite in our Self-Examination. Unless we know something of ourselves, and something of our spiritual state, Lent will be of but very little use to us.
I.—First of all, try to find out your sins.
I should recommend those of you who are used to Self-Examination, to begin Lent by taking any ordinary set of questions for Self-Examination. [*Refer to "Some Week-Days in Lent," and "Break up your Fallow Ground," for further details.] Place yourself in the presence of God. Use some short prayer, such as, "Search me, O GOD. Shew me my sins, for JESUS CHRIST 's sake." And then try to break up your life into portions, [8/9] beginning with the portion nearest to you. Write down all that you can remember. The power of finding out your sins will grow wonderfully as you go on. The HOLY SPIRIT will come, with increased power; and that which was at first a mere blank will stand out in definite lines of omission and commission. And yet, even then, numberless sins will still remain unremembered!
Those who are in the habit of Self-Examination should pursue the same plan; but taking, instead of the whole life, a general examination of the time since they last examined themselves in this way—perhaps, since last Lent.
Think of your sins in the light of to-day's Epistle; (I Cor. xiii.) of that love to GOD, and to men for GOD's sake, without which all good deeds are as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
II.—Tell your sins to GOD.
In the prophecy of Hosea (Hosea xiv.) [9/10] you will find ample guidance for this part of your work. "Take with you words, and turn to the LORD." Put the confession into words.
At this point, there is offered to you, by our Church, the choice of two methods—one ordinary, the other, reserved for more rare and special occasions.
But, in one way or another, sin must be acknowledged—put into words; it matters little how;—whether in the quiet of your own room, or alone with GOD in this Church (which is always open for private prayer), or in the quiet Vestry, with one of GOD's Ministers to help you with the acknowledgment. In one way or the other, GOD must be honored, and sin confessed.
As far as I understand the teaching of our Church, I should say that it recommends the confession to be made privately to GOD, but that it offers always the help which comes in acknowledging the sin to GOD before one of His Ministers.
 Little it matters how; but it must be done. And no one who has not tried knows how Satan will put forth all his strength to hinder the acknowledgment of sin—how he will send distracting thoughts, etc. It seems so simple, yet it is so difficult; and Satan seems to say, "What good is it?"
This is the "good:" GOD has commanded it; and it brings down a blessing from Him. As our life lies thus spread out before Him, the HOLY GHOST co-operates with us, and works in us a deeper sense of sin, a more earnest purpose of renewed life—more holy resolves—than we should obtain by a whole year's general and vague confession that we are "sinners."
And here the dear old Prayer-Book puts into your mouth the very words you want. In those prayers, you can find help for every need.
III.—It is necessary to lay hold, by an act of Faith, on the Atonement of JESUS CHRIST; [11/12] to believe that GOD has been pleased to anticipate our guilt, and to lay it all on JESUS,—so that, whenever we will come back to Him, there is free forgiveness ready for us—for every sin of the past. (Acts xiii. 38, 39.) See, in the Bible, how God is longing to receive us! He does not wish us to work up to the Cross, but from the Cross. [*See "Instructions in the Way of Salvation," and "Some Week-Days in Lent," ch. iii.]
Therefore, I repeat it, Believe! By an act of faith, touch JESUS CHRIST; lay hold—with all the power of your own individual will, for yourself,—of the unspeakable mercy that GOD scatters far and wide for all who will receive it. If your Lent does no more for you than this—if you merely acknowledge the guilt of your past life, and believe on JESUS CHRIST, it will be a well-spent forty days.
IV.—Sorrow for Sin. To you that have [12/13] seen your sin, and have believed on JESUS CHRIST, there comes, naturally, the wish to be sorry for sin. The selfish feeling is gone, now; but we feel it to be a want in us, not to be sorry for what we have done wrong. If the GOD who knows all our sin, still loves us, we feel that at least we ought to be sorry.
Now, remember, we are quite unable to make ourselves sorry. [*See "Some Week-Days in Lent," chapter vi.] If we were to think of our sins, and go over books of Self-Examination for twenty years, still, we could not make ourselves love, so as to sorrow for sin with true contrition of heart. It is the work of the HOLY SPIRIT.
But GOD gives us a distinct promise of this very grace. (Zech. xii. 10.) Take the story of the sufferings of JESUS CHRIST, or any touching part of His Life; and, casting yourself on the HOLY GHOST, thank Him that His Blood was shed for you, and that you are reconciled to Him. Let the HOLY SPIRIT have your heart. [13/14] He loves to witness to JESUS CHRIST. And as you think of the sufferings of JESUS, a strange feeling of softening will come over your spirit; you will "mourn for Him." And yet, the sorrow will be worth all the joy that you have ever felt in mere worldly amusements.
V.—Amendment of Life. Bearing in mind what we have spoken of already,—i.e., (1) Finding out, and (2) Acknowledging our sin; (3) Believing in the power of the Blood of JESUS, to take away sin; (4) Being sorry for our sin; then comes, next, the wish to do better for the future.
Take some Collect—e.g., the one after the LORD'S Prayer, in the Communion Office, or the first Sunday after Epiphany. Nothing will help you so much as taking a Collect like this, and expanding it for yourself, according to your own need; dwelling on each word, and adding words of your own. It gives you the outline of what you ought [14/15] to pray for, without the formality of a written prayer.
And then, take that book in which your sins are written down. Do it calmly and quietly. Do not let Satan say to you: "You are bad altogether; it is hopeless." He hates what you are doing; so he brings up a mist and a darkness, that you may give it all up. Everything in yourself may be bad, it is true; but you have the HOLY SPIRIT working in you.
Look quietly over the past; read what you have written down; e.g., consenting to what is wrong; deceitful ways; pride of birth, or of intellect; want of sympathy with others; undue love of popularity, and dependence on the opinion of others; bad temper; want of attention to relatives; unguarded use of the tongue, etc. Ask GOD to help you in digging down into motives; in finding out the roots of your sins. [* See "Break up your Fallow Ground."]
 After this, decide what sin specially tempts you at the present time. Do not take more than one, or two at the most; and settle what sin specially to fight against, this Lent. Think of it for a day or two, before you make up your mind. Do not be in a hurry.
Leave the other sins, for the present; and make up your mind that you will fight with that particular sin; that you will have a hand-to-hand struggle with Satan over it,—relying on the help of the HOLY SPIRIT.
Be prepared for conflict. Satan is sure to tempt you, on that point, more than anywhere else. So do not be surprised, if, for the first week or two, you fail more than ever, at that particular point.
Remember, you are fighting with a living enemy. Never mind, if you fail more than ever. Each night, cast yourself afresh at the foot of the Cross, and start again, the next morning, as a free man, with the HOLY SPIRIT to pour new life into your heart for a fresh conflict.
 Still going on—as Lent passes away—lift up the heart to GOD, and take some quiet time (on Sunday perhaps) to ask GOD what will have to be altered or amended in your way of life, after Lent;—what habits or amusements will have to be given up; what new habits will have to be learnt.
While fighting against the one special sin, look up to GOD for guidance on this point. And an answer will come, quietly, in the way you least expect. It may be very disagreeable. Some one may be very unkind, and tell you of some fault, or some home truth, in a way that will make you very angry at the time. But when you come to think over it, you will find that it is the very thing which is marring your whole Christian character! Although you never knew it, that is the weed which is choking all the flowers.
VI.—Passing on, then, quietly, [17/18] through our (1) Self-Examination, (2) Acknowledgment of Sin, (3) Belief in JESUS CHRIST, (4) Sorrow for Sin, (5) Amendment, and the earnest effort to conquer some particular sin, there comes a wish to do something for GOD—to give something to Him:—the same instinct that prompts a child to give something of its own to its father or mother —a love-offering, a token of the love that we feel. In proportion as the knowledge and love of CHRIST grow up in your hearts, more and more strong becomes the wish to make some offering to Him Who gave up His Life for us.
Great care and caution are necessary, before you decide on anything. Very often, the advice of a wise friend, or even of a physician, is needed. If Satan can persuade you to undertake something beyond your strength, he will. For he knows that he can come with tenfold power, when the body is weak, and the mind irritated through that bodily weakness.
I can only now give you a few simple instances [18/19] of what can be done,—sacrifices that might be made.
Could not some of you have a box, and put aside for GOD'S service anything saved from your usual enjoyments and pleasures—from things quite harmless in themselves, but curtailing your powers of giving? (Smoking, for instance.) Or, could not you give more simple dinners, drink less wine, or give one or two dinner-parties less, during Lent?
Or, could you not ask some District Visitor to tell you of one or two people to whom you could go, that you may tell them about our LORD, and show Him, by trying to help others in soul and body, that you have not forgotten Him?
Then, our LORD does not want us merely to give Him something. He likes to have us more with Him—nearer to Him—during that Holy Season on which we are now entering. Could you not rise earlier, and give Him one hour more in the morning? Or could you not take one night in the week [19/20] from society, quietly to read the Gospels, with some Commentary, and learn more of CHRIST'S Life on earth?
The world will call all this "folly." So it did the offering of the alabaster box of ointment! The difference between that woman and those who rebuked her was this:—they did not love Him, and she loved Him "much."
As the love of CHRIST springs up in the heart, the words of S. Paul rise unbidden to the lips: "LORD, what may I do? What can I do for Thee? What wilt Thou have me to do?"
Make a new Plan of your life. In everything you arrange, "seek first the Kingdom of God." [*See "Guide to a Devout Life."]
Remember that CHRIST has inseparably linked together, in the Sermon on the Mount, three great duties: Almsgiving, Fasting, and Prayer. Ask guidance [20/21] in detail, as to carrying them out in your own case. There are many other ways of Fasting, for those who are forbidden to fast in a literal sense.
And of course you will remember, that you cannot expect to grow in grace, without HOLY COMMUNION. Study, very carefully, the Communion Office in the Prayer Book. "Consider the great dignity of that Holy Mystery." Come more frequently. Prepare more carefully. Thank GOD afterwards, more scrupulously. If you love CHRIST, keep His Commandment: "THIS DO, IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME."
VII.—Lastly, I wish to give you some CAUTIONS. You realize the blessing of having this quiet time; of not going much into society; of helping others. Certain cautions are much needed, lest you lose the blessing.
(1) Use Common Sense. Do not attempt too much. Whatever you settle upon to try to do, let it be only half of what you [21/22] think you can do. It is better to begin with half, and carry it through Lent, than to make grand plans, and throw them up in disgust, half way through Lent.
(2) Make your arrangements before-hand. I heard many, last Lent, saying: "We wish we had arranged better, so as not to travel just then, and break into Holy Week; we might as well have arranged to stay in London till after Easter." Use common sense, in thinking before-hand; and make your plans with this principle in view: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God."
(3) Think of others; not only of your own good. Remember that GOD is the GOD of the family, as well as of the individual, and of the Church. Do not turn the house upside down, in order that you may be satisfied, at the end of Lent, with having kept your "Rules!" Read again today's Epistle (I Cor. xiii.), and make your rules in that spirit, of considering others;—of love to men, for GOD'S sake.
(4) Balance private and public prayer. Of course, all Christians must feel that they must come to GOD'S House, to pray and praise; only, give the right proportion to each kind of prayer. Too much time given to private prayer—neglecting His public Service,—dishonors GOD, and tends to make us selfish. Too much time given to Church Services, fosters unreality.
(5) Do not be disheartened. Even if you feel that you are getting on worse than ever;—that your prayers are more distracted and wandering, your thoughts less under control; do not lose heart. Remember that our LORD was led up by the SPIRIT, on purpose to be tempted by the Devil. It is no sin to be tempted. However much you are tried, remember that you are, in mercy, being exempted from the curse of those that are "at ease in Zion."
And do not be disheartened, if the Lenten Blessing comes differently to what you expect. You may have made up your mind [23/24] to sorrow for your sins, and yet you may feel so happy, that you think it cannot be right! Whether your LORD gives you light or darkness, joy or sorrow, must be as He wills. Trust in Him, and take the Blessing, in whatever way He may give it.
(6) Beware of a fussy, fidgety feeling, during Lent; as if the number of Services you attend or the exact Plan you are following, must bring the Lenten Blessing! It is not from any special Church or Clergyman,—it is not from any outward helps,—but only from the FOUNTAIN OF LIFE, that the true Blessing can come. "I believe in the HOLY GHOST, the LORD, and Giver of Life."
Therefore, look away from your Clergyman, and all outward helps, up to the FOUNTAIN OF LIFE; and then, whether through one means or another, sooner or later, the blessing will come. The HOLY GHOST will give you whatever you need, so far as you need, so far as you are now able to receive it.
To sum up the whole: keep our Lent from a Gospel point of view. [24/25] Again and again, fall back on your LORD, in your helplessness; fall at the foot of the Cross.
If we wish to get strong, we cannot do it by battling and struggling; that will only make us more paralyzed. Of course we must fight against evils. Of course we must keep the channel clear, between God and our own souls, so that the living water may flow in. But we must remember this:
GOD'S Will is that we should lie low at the foot of His Cross; even if only able to say: "Thou art the Light; shine in, on my darkened soul. Lord, I cannot drive out the death from my soul; I am helpless. But Thou art the Living Sap. Flow into me, the branch!" (S. John xv. 5.) "When I saw Him, I lay at His feet as dead." (Rev. i. 17.)
That is the secret of power:—striving and struggling, of course; but saying, day by day: "I am helpless; intercede for me! Undertake for me! Reveal to my soul what it can never find out for itself."
So, watching and struggling, and acknowledging that you can do nothing by yourself, you will, each in your different way, gather the blessing that you need, during this Lent;—whether your Easter be kept here on earth, or in Paradise!