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A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Bath and WELLS ; to his Clergy, concerning their behaviour during Lent. · Printed in 1688.
All glory be to God. • REVEREND BROTHER, THE time of Lent now approaching, which has been
T'anciently and very Christianly set apart, for penitential humiliation of soul and body, for fasting and weeping and praying, all which you know are very frequently inculcated in Holy Scripture, as the most effectual means we can use, to avert those judgments our sins have déserved; I thought it most agreeable to that character which, unworthy as I am, I sustain, to call you and all my Brethren of the Clergy to mourning; to mourning for your own sins, and to mourning for the sins of the nation. .
In making such an address to you as this, I follow the example of St. Cyprian, that blessed Bishop and Martyr, who from his retirement wrote an excellent Epistle to his Clergy, most worthy of your serious perusal, ex· horting them, by public prayers and tears to appease the anger of God, which they then actually felt, and which we may justly fear. . Remember that to keep such a Fast as God has chosen, it is not enough for you to afflict your own soul, but you must also according to your ability, deal your 'bread to the hungry: and the rather, because we have not only asual objects of charity to relieve, but many poor protestant strangers are now fed hither for sanctuary, whom as brethren, as members of Christ, we should take ir and cherish.
That you may perform the office of a public intercessor the more assiduously, I beg of you to say daily in your closet, or in your family, or rather in both, all this time of abstinence, the 51st Psalm, and the other prayers which follow it in the commination. I could wish also that you would frequently read and meditate on the Lamentations of Jeremy, which holy Gregory Nazianzen' was wont to do, and the reading of which melted him into the like Lamentations, as affected the Prophet himself when he penned them.
But your greatest zeal must be spent for the public prayers, in the constant devout use of which, the public stfety both of church and state is highly concerned:
be sure then to offer up to God every day the morning and evening prayer; offer it up in your family at least, or rather as far as your circumstances may possibly permit, offer it up in the Church, especially if you live in a great town, and say over the Litany every morning during the whole Lent. This I might enjoin you to do, on your canonical obedience, but for love's sake I rather beseech you, and I cannot recommend to you a inore devout and comprehensive form, of penitent and public intercession than that, or more proper for the season. . . .
Be not discouraged, if but few come to the solemn assemblies, but go to the House of Prayer, where God is well known for a sure refuge: Go, though you go alone, or but with one besides yourself; and there as you are God's remembrancer, keep not silence, and give him no, rest, till he establish, till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
The first sacred Council of Nice, for which the Christian world has always had a great and just veneration, ordains a provincial synod to be held before Lent, that all dissensions being taken away a pure oblation might be offered up to God, namely of prayers and fasting and alms, and tears, which might produce a comfortable communion at the following Easter: and that in this Diocese, we may in some degree initate so primitive a practice, l exhort you to endeavour all you can, to reconcile differences, to reduce those that go astray, to promote universal charity towards all that dissent from you, and to put on as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you,
I passionately beseech you to read over daily your ordination vows, to exainine yourself how you observe them; and in the prayers that are in that office, fervently to importune God for the assistance of his good spirit, that you may conscientiously perform them. Teach publicly, and from house to house, and earn every one night and day with tears; warn them to repent, to fast and to pray, and to give alms, and to bring forth fruits meet fors repentance; warn them to continue stedfast in that faith once delivered to the Saints, in which they were baptized, to keep the word of God's patience, that God may keep them in the hour of temptation; warn them against the sins and the errors of the age; warn them to deprecate
ban come whole saints have
No one can read God's holy world but he will see, that the greatest Saints have been the greatest mourners: David wept whole rivers; Jeremy wept sore, and his eyes ran down in secret places day and night like a fountain; Daniel mourned three full weeks, and did eat no pleasant bread, and sought God by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth and ashes; St. Paul was humbled and bewailed and wept for the sins of others; and our Lord himself when he beheld the city wept over it. Learn then of these great Saints, learn of our most compasisionate Saviour, to' weep for the public, and weeping to pray, that we may know in this our day, the things that belong to our peace, lest they be hid from our eyes.
To mourn for national guilt, in wbich all share, is a duły incumbent on all, but especially on Priests, who are particularly commanded to weep and to say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine herituge to reproach, thut God may repent of the evil, and become jealous for his land, and pity his people.
Be assured that none are more tenderly regarded by God than such mourners as these; there is a mark set by him on all that sigh and cry for the abominations of the land, the destroying angel is forbid to hurt any of them, they are all God's peculiar care, and shall all have either present deliverance, or such supports and consolations, as shall abundantly endear their calamity.
Now the God of all grace, who hath called you unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, setile you in the true catholic and apostolic faith professed in the Church of England, and enable you to adorn that apostolic faith with an apostolic ex ample and zeal, and give all our whole church that timely repentance, those broken and contrite hearts, that both priests and people may all plentifully sow in tears, and in God's good time may all plentifully reap in joy.
Your affectionate From the Palare in H'ells, Friend and Brother, . · Feb. 17, 1687.
Tuo. Bath and WELLS.
Copy of a Leiter from the Bishop of LONDON to the
Clergy of his Diocese.
T HAVE judged it expedient to address you and the rest I of the clergy of this diocese on a subject which may
not perhaps have hitherto attracted your observation, but which appears to me, as I hope it will to you, after you have perused this letter, well worthy of your most serious attention.
For many years past I have observed with extreme concern, in different churches and chapels, both in the metropolis, and in various parts of the country where I happened to be present, a practice prevailing (and evidently gaining ground every day) of a considerable part of the congregation sitting during those parts of Divine Worship where the rubric expressly enjoins every one to kneel. It may be thought, perhaps, that the posture of the body in offering up our prayers, is a circumstance too trivial to deserve such serious notice as this. But can any thing be trivial that relates to the Almighty Governor of the universe? Does not every one know too, that the mind and the body mutually act upon, and influence each other; and that a negligent attitude of the one will naturally produce indifference and inattention in the other? Look only at the general deportment of those who sit at their devotions, (without being compelled to it by necessity) and then say whether this remark is not founded in truth and in fact. Let me appeal to every man addicted to this practice, let me ask him whether, if he found it necessary to request a favour from any earthly sovereign, or even from any superior whatever, he would prefer his petition in the alli: ude of sitting? Common decency, common usage, and common sense, revolt at the very idea of such a thing. And are we then to treat the Great Lord of all with less ceremony and with less respect than we should observe towards a fellow creature in any degree superior to us? No one, I think, can seriously maintain so monstrous a doctrine as this. Consider too, for a moment, what it is we are asking in our prayers. Nothing less than the supply of all our daily wants, the pardon of our daily sins, protection from danger, support under affliction, the comforts and conveniencies of the present life, and everlasting felicity in the life to come. And are these such trivial, such contemptible things, that we may ask them perfectly at our ease, and in the very same indolent and familiar attitude in which we should hold a conversation with a friend on the news of the day, or view a public spectacle for the umusement of the moment? I shall be told, perhaps, that there, are some dengminations of Christians that stand, and others that sit at their devotions. It is very true; and they must be left to judge for themselves: but my concern at present is not either with any particular description of christians in foreign countries, or with any particular sectaries in this; but with meinbers of the church established by law in these realms. That church, in her admirablc form of public prayer, allows in different parts of the service, the different postures both of stunding and sitting; which with its usual wisdom and discretion it adapts to the respective circumstances of those particular parts. But where the solemnity and importance of our supplications require it, there it positively enjoins the posture of kneeling; and to disobey that injunction, is unquestionably an offence against the discipline and usage of that venerable church to wbich we have the happiness to belong."
It is also contrary to the practice of the best, and greatest, and wisest men, both before the promulgation of the Gospel, and after it. The exhortation of king David in the 95th pslm, which we have adopted into our liturgy, is, “O come let us worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our maker.” When Solomon dedicated his magnificent temple to God, he kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands towards heaven, while he poured forth one of the most sublime and affecting prayers that ever fell from the lips of man. It was the custom of the prophet Daniel to kneel upon his knees three times a day, and pray and give thanks unto his God. Our Saviour hiinself in his last agony kneeled down and prayed; St. Stephen in his last moments kneeled down and prayed for his murderers; and St. Paul, when he took his last solemn leave of his brethren, kneeled down even on the sea-shore, and offered up his petitions to Heaven for their everlasting welfare.
After these injunctions of the church, and tliese examples from Scripture, no one I think, who calls himself
will (unless prevented by illness or infirmity, where the necessity of the case most evidently gives a a claim to indulgence) refuse to kneel down before the Lord his maker. But if you perceive any part of your congregation habitually neglecting to do so, I must request you to represent to them in forcible terms, the great impropriety and indecency of such a practice. It is very possible that they may have fallen into it from mere thoughtlessness