The Second Sunday in Lent


The Woman of Canaan, 17th century, Michael Angelo Immenraet


ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

WE beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk, and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication; that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God; that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter; because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit.


St. Matthew 15:21-88

JESUS went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.


from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year, Melville Scott, Vicar of Castlechurch, Stafford,
Second Edition, Bemrose & Sons, London, 1903.

Temptations of the Flesh

From the temptations of the evil one we pass to a solemn warning against the sins of the flesh. As not infrequently, the keynote of the day is struck most clearly in the Epistle.

THE EPISTLE (I Thess. iv. i.)

This falls naturally into the following divisions:–

A. The Importance of this Subject.

The Apostle’s loving earnestness is seen in the opening words–he beseeches, he exhorts as speaking in the Name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus. He reminds his readers how distinct and strong had been his teaching, and that they must never rest in the pursuit of holiness, but “abound more and more.” The lesson once taught must never be put aside as completely learned.

Such primary instructions on plain matters of faith and duty was part of the Gospel message. If such definite instruction is not always found in the New Testament, it must never be forgotten that it is always pre-supposed. The high doctrine of the Epistles was for those who had received a solid foundation of elementary truth, given in the form of definite commandments.

B. Sensual Sins are Sins against Ourselves.

The will of God for each of us is that we should attain to holiness: He will, therefore, give us the help we need to carry out His commands. Every individual Christian was entrusted by God with his or her body as a “vessel” or instrument to be used for the Giver, and every individual must, therefore, learn how to “possess” or acquire mastery over that instrument, to keep it clean, to regard it with honour, and not debase it as Gentiles might who had never learned the intention of their Creator. To sin against our bodies is to sin against ourselves.

C. Sensual Sins are Sins against Our Brethren.

We must read “in the matter,” i.e., of purity, in place of “in any matter.” S. Paul is not exhorting against dishonesty, but showing that impurity is dishonesty, as a fraud on family life, a robbery of the peace and life of homes, and especially of Christian homes. Our Lord and Master will avenge such dishonour done to the life of the family and of the Church. Sensual sins–all the sins of the flesh, in thought, word, and deed–are the worst form of selfishness. Hence our Divine Lord takes such earthly sins into His own hands.

D. Sensual Sins are Sins against God.

The call of God given in our baptism was a call into a state of holiness. This call was no empty form, but was accompanied by the power to obey through the perpetual assistance of the Holy Spirit. Hence “he that rejecteth [for this is the face of ‘despiseth’] rejecteth not man, but God.” He is false to the position of grace and salvation in which God has placed him. He may not plead that sins of the flesh are natural, for as baptized he is not in a state of nature, but of grace. The fact that we have such temptations is no sign that we have not received grace but if we fall it is a sign that we have not made use of the grace given. The fault is not in God’s grace, but in man’s rejection; not in baptism, but in the baptized who have neglected the pledged assistance of grace. We must not frustrate the purpose of God, which is our sanctification by grace, and which is no mere willingness, but a thing of strength; it is a will, to carry out which we have the help of the Holy Spirit.

THE GOSPEL. (S. Matthew xv. 21.)

From this miracle we learn to look to our Lord for deliverance from sins of the flesh, and how to seek His help by earnest prayer.

A. An Unclean Spirit.

We learn from S. Mark vii. 25 that the girl was possessed by “an unclean spirit,” and both accounts follow immediately after our Saviour’s teaching on the things which proceed out of the heart and defile a man. The miracle is, therefore, most appropriately chosen for the present Sunday. Our condition of covenant grace and favour is contrasted with that of the woman of Sidon, who was outside the Covenant, and yet by earnestness won an interest in Christ, which is ours before we ask. Our Lord, Who loved “the dogs,” will not neglect His sheep.

B. The Unclean Spirit Cast Out.

“This kind goeth not out but by prayer,” and we are to learn from the woman of Canaan the nature of true prayer. True prayer must show sincerity of faith, perseverance and determination, reverence and humility; it will in due time be rewarded with victory.

The woman of Canaan had faith not only in the power but also in the love of our Lord, a faith which enabled her to see through His continued silence, to be patient under His rebuff, and to turn a seeming insult into a prevailing argument in behalf of her child. Let our prayers be thus earnest, taking no denial, regarding no obstacle, humbly confident that in spite of all appearances they shall find an answer, and then it shall again be said, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Christ waits to be conquered before He will conquer the spirit of evil. Let no Christian, therefore, be discouraged as to his sinful tendencies, but pray and faint not till prayer is turned to praise.


A prayer for those tempted in spirit through the lusts of the flesh.

A. Our Plea.

Our very weakness and defencelessness is our plea. We have “no power of ourselves to help ourselves,” and He Who knoweth whereof we are made sees, as we cannot see, the justice of our plea. Our argument rests on grounds even stronger than we know, but God knows them.

B. Our Petition.

We pray for the defence of Divine providence for our bodies, and for the defence of Divine grace for our souls. We are outwardly and inwardly weak, and the weakness of the spirit is intensified by the weakness of the flesh. We need continual “keeping,” for we know not what temptation each day and hour may produce.

C. Its Desired Consequence.

A body safe from all adversities, and a soul safe from the evil thoughts which assault and hurt it through its connection with the body. The ancient form of this collect is even more appropriate–“we may be cleansed from all evil thoughts.”

We who thus pray against evil thoughts must learn not to harbour them. We who are gunpowder must avoid sparks.

Saint Matthias’s Day


Saint Matthias, 14th century, Workshop of Simone Martini


O ALMIGHTY God, who into the place of the traitor Judas didst choose thy faithful servant Matthias to be of the number of the twelve Apostles: Grant that thy Church, being alway preserved from false Apostles, may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Acts 1:15-end

IN those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of the names together were about an hundred and twenty,) Men and brethren, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus: for he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem, in so much as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and, His bishoprick let another take. Wherefore, of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen; that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven Apostles.


St. Matthew 11:25-end

AT that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The First Sunday in Lent


The Temptations of Christ, 12th century mosaic, Anonymous, St Mark’s Basilica, Venice


O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.


2 Corinthians 6:1-10

WE then, as workers together with him, beseech you also, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain; (for he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation;) giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed; but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God; by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left; by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.


St. Matthew 4:1-11

THEN was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an-hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down; for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.


from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year, Melville Scott, Vicar of Castlechurch, Stafford,
Second Edition, Bemrose & Sons, London, 1903.

THE first three Lenten Sundays are devoted to the consideration of temptations as proceeding from the devil, the flesh, and the world.


A. When Our Lord was Tempted.

After a season of highest spiritual elevation, and when, therefore, He might have been least upon His guard; at the hour also of His greatest weakness, and on the side of His weakness. Unlike the first Adam, tempted in the midst of every advantage, the second Adam was tempted with every outward circumstance in favour of the tempter. We may thus expect temptation when least we fear it, but at our weakest moment, and through our frailties and the sins which most beset us.

B. Why Our Lord was Tempted.

It was for us men and our salvation; that we might not, when tempted, feel guilty and doubt of God’s assistance in our hour of greatest need; that we might not lack an example to inform us, nor an assurance of sympathy to encourage us, and of sufficient grace to give us the victory.

C. How Our Lord was Tempted.

Every temptation, both of Christ and ours, is directed against sonship, and its object to interfere between the sons of God and their Heavenly Father, and to separate man from the favour and grace of God. Christ came to “destroy the works of the devil and make us sons of God.” Satan comes to unmake the sons of God. Christ was tempted in three ways; we in many ways, but always with the same end in view, that we may lose our birthright; for as long as we can retain this we are safe, nor can Satan rob us but by our own consent.

Our Lord was tempted, and we are tempted —

(1) To Distrust Sonship.

To cast away faith in the care of a Heavenly Father Who had just claimed Him as His beloved Son. To use His miraculous powers as His own to gratify His own wants rather than as a Son dependent on His Father’s will.

We are thus tempted both to distrust our Father’s care, and to employ unlawful, because unfilial, means to supply our wants, for Satan has not let his favourite weapon rust in its sheath against Christ’s servants, though of no avail against their Master. He still urges the necessity of bread, and so also of sin; but our Lord tells of the greater necessity of obedience, by which alone men live, and not by bread.

(2) To Presume upon Sonship.

Having failed to conquer Christ’s weakness, the tempter attacks Christ’s strength; His very faith shall be His temptation, that His confidence in God may lead Him to presumption. Our Lord lays open the deception in the words: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” To presume is to tempt God; it is to ask Him to bless our disobedience. We presume when faith in God’s care leads us to extravagance, or faith in His protection into needless danger, or faith in His mercy into careless conduct; whenever we expect to receive the promise without observing the conditions.

(3) To a Disloyal Sonship.

The Father must be everything or nothing. The intention of the temptation is revealed in the answer: “Him only shalt thou serve.” The temptation was to do evil, that good might come; and the answer must ever be that “that which cometh will not be good.” That for which our Lord desired empire was indeed good, for He desired to rule the world in righteousness. Satan can tempt us with baser gains, e.g., some temporal advantage won by sin, or escape from difficulty by means of untruth. We are tempted to reject the crown of righteousness when it seems a crown of thorns. Thus we are in danger whenever the turmoils of the world and the heat of them, the pleasures of the world and the mirth of them, the riches of the world and the glory of them, so take us up that we love them more than God, Whom only we must serve.



A. Our Position of Grace.

In baptism we received the grace of adoption to be sons of God. We have not to wait for this grace, for it is ours already. Ours is the grace of acceptance in spite of sins that are past, and the grace of salvation by which to conquer the power of inward sin; and ours now, for now is “a time accepted and a day of salvation.” What we have to do is to see that this twofold grace be not received in vain, for received it has certainly been. Every temptation is directed against our position as redeemed children of God. To help us we must remember how much we stand to lose by sin, if by sin we should forfeit our birthright. To realise the blessed of sonship is so to value it as never to be willing to suffer loss of it. Realised sonship is, in fact, the conquest of evil.

B. The Example of the Saints.

Their labours show the intense importance of the message we have received at their hands, as the weariness and wounds of a dispatch-rider testify the urgency of his tidings. Such as messenger was S. Paul, ever anxious not to hinder his message by offense, to deliver it in spite of all and every danger, to exhibit its power in his own spiritual life, careless of honour or shame, success or failure, counting every sorrow a joy, every privation a privilege.

The labours of the saints show the importance of their message, and their example of self-denial reproves our weakness. Let us not disappoint those who have brought us the grace of God. If on argument against sin is our own loss, a second is surely what others lose by our fall.


A. Its Address.

It is addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ as the great denier of self for our sake. His Birth, Life, and Death were on long act of self-denial–“He emptied Himself.”

B. Its Petition.

We ask for grace to use abstinence, not as an end, as if it had any merit in itself, but as means of self-control, and for this very self-control as itself a means to more perfect obedience to the impulses of the Spirit, however gentle. Not abstinence, but obedience, is the pathway to true holiness; but we must follow and obey the motions of the Spirit; for thus alone can any high Christian character be attained, or, indeed, any Christian character at all.

C. The Object of all Resistance.

It is nothing but the greater glory of God to be manifested by our increasing likeness to our Lord, and by our union with Him in all things, and especially in His victory over temptation and constant denial of self.


Ash Wednesday

The First Day of Lent


The reproach of Nathan and the penance of King David, 10th century, Paris Psalter.

Psalm 51

Miserere mei, Deus

HAVE mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness : according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.
2. Wash me throughly from my wickedness : and cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my faults : and my sin is ever before me.
4. Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight : that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou art judged.
5. Behold, I was shapen in wickedness : and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
6. But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
7. Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean : thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8. Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness : that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9. Turn thy face from my sins : and put out all my misdeeds.
10. Make me a clean heart, O God : and renew a right spirit within me.
11. Cast me not away from thy presence : and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12. O give me the comfort of thy help again : and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
13. Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked : and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health : and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
15. Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord : and my mouth shall shew thy praise.
16. For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee : but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
17. The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit : a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
18. O be favourable and gracious unto Sion : build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations : then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
   As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Psalm 38

Domine, ne in furore

PUT me not to rebuke, O Lord, in thine anger : neither chasten me in thy heavy displeasure.
2. For thine arrows stick fast in me : and thy hand presseth me sore.
3. There is no health in my flesh, because of thy displeasure : neither is there any rest in my bones, by reason of my sin.
4. For my wickednesses are gone over my head : and are like a sore burden, too heavy for me to bear.
5. My wounds stink, and are corrupt : through my foolishness.
6. I am brought into so great trouble and misery : that I go mourning all the day long.
7. For my loins are filled with a sore disease : and there is no whole part in my body.
8. I am feeble, and sore smitten : I have roared for the very disquietness of my heart.
9. Lord, thou knowest all my desire : and my groaning is not hid from thee.
10. My heart panteth, my strength hath failed me : and the sight of mine eyes is gone from me.
11. My lovers and my neighbours did stand looking upon my trouble : and my kinsmen stood afar off.
12. They also that sought after my life laid snares for me : and they that went about to do me evil talked of wickedness, and imagined deceit all the day long.
13. As for me, I was like a deaf man, and heard not : and as one that is dumb, who doth not open his mouth.
14. I became even as a man that heareth not : and in whose mouth are no reproofs.
15. For in thee, O Lord, have I put my trust : thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God.
16. I have required that they, even mine enemies, should not triumph over me : for when my foot slipped, they rejoiced greatly against me.
17. And I, truly, am set in the plague : and my heaviness is ever in my sight.
18. For I will confess my wickedness : and be sorry for my sin.
19. But mine enemies live, and are mighty : and they that hate me wrongfully are many in number.
20. They also that reward evil for good are against me : because I follow the thing that good is.
21. Forsake me not, O Lord my God : be not thou far from me.
22. Haste thee to help me : O Lord God of my salvation.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
   As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This Collect is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.


Joel 2:12-17

TURN ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return, and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meat-offering and a drink-offering unto the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts; let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet; let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?


St. Matthew 6:16-21

WHEN ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year, Melville Scott, Vicar of Castlechurch, Stafford,
Second Edition, Bemrose & Sons, London, 1903.

Upon this day the Church teaches the duty and nature of fasting, as the expression of earnest penitence and the accompaniment of special prayer. Few realize the extent of the disciplinary provisions of the Church as shown not only in the forty days of Lent, but also in the provision of Ember weeks, the three Rogations days, the sixteen vigils, and the weekly fast on every Friday in the year. Equally remarkable is the strenuous care with which she guards these special seasons from misuse. We have already noted the three Sundays of Lenten preparation. On Ash Wednesday the whole teaching of the day is intended to ensure the spiritual use of abstinence as an aid to the devotional life, and as a check upon worldliness and unspirituality, and against its misuse as fostering pride.

FOR THE EPISTLE — Joel 2:12-17 — Fasting under the Old Testament

A. Its Inward Reality.

It was to be the accompaniment of the true conversion of a heart turned to God; of a penitence which mourns and weeps for sin; of a contrition which rends the heart and not the garments; of an entire trust in the mercy of God, Who is slow to anger and of great kindness.

B. Its Outward Expression.

All classes and ages are to unite in this true and heartfelt repentance. The call is to be public; there is to be a solemn assembly: the whole people are to be gathered. The elders are not too old, nor the children too young. None are to consider themselves too deeply engaged with the pleasures or the duties of life to attend. The priests are to plead on behalf of the people, standing as the people’s representatives “between the porch and the altar.”

They are to plead the covenant relation of the nation as God’s people and inheritance. We are not to turn to God to make Him ours, but because we are His. God is so graciously concerned in us that we can plead that our loss will be His reproach, and our restoration His glory. Our covenant position conferred in baptism is our plea for grace, and our regeneration our encouragement to “arise and go” to our Heavenly Father, though unworthy to be called His children.

Our position given by grace is a pledge that sufficient grace will be given us to walk worthily of it, and that our Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.

It is much to be noticed that the Church year does not begin with Ash Wednesday, but that Christmas and Epiphany precede the penitence of Lent. Thus the Church of both Testaments argues from covenant to conversion, and not, as is so often done, from conversion to covenant.


THE GOSPEL — S. Matthew 6:16-21 — Fasting under
the New Testament

Still greater stress is laid by our Saviour upon inward reality. He warns us against mingling any shallow vanities, self-applause, or imagined meritoriousness with our spiritual efforts, our approaches to God, our works done for Him.

Christ does not forbid public fasting any more than public prayers, so that all be done for His sake and to Him alone. The Gospel may be considered as teaching the rewards of self-discipline.

A. The Reward of Men.

This is not to be sought. We may not indulge in thoughts of self in our charities, prayers, or fastings. The less we think of that very doubtful character the better, and if we never thought of him except to mend him we should not go far wrong. We are to restrain and silence him all we can, and are to do this in fear:—

(1)Of a most humiliating word.
The word hypocrite is the portion of those who serve self while appearing to be serving God. They are play-actors at religion, representing thoughts they do not think, and uttering words and prayers they do not feel. They worship not God, but self.

(2) Of an alarming truth.
Such “have received their reward”—i.e., they shall have no other. The transient delight of their own self-approval and the approval of others is all the reward they shall ever know. Self has been their God—self must be their rewarder.

B. The Reward of God.

We are to be perfectly simple and natural in our religious life, and to make no parade of religious observance. If we fast, the world is to know very little about it, and we are to be as well dressed, as cheerful, and as self-forgetting as possible. We are not to be ashamed of God’s service, nor to shrink from confessing Christ before men, for this passage forbids not duty, but only all motives lower than duty.

Such forgetfulness of self shall not miss its reward. As the self-remembering shall be forgotten, so the self-forgetting shall be remembered. Truly astonished shall such be in the day of God’s remembrance (cf. S. Matt. 25:37-39).

C. The Comparison of the Two Rewards.

Earthly rewards are corruptible and precarious, but those of God are incorruptible and secure. Our hearts will follow our labours. If we have laboured for earthly treasure our hearts will be set on earth; if for heavenly, they will rise heavenwards. The pursuit of heavenly duties is the way to get a heavenly mind.


THE COLLECT — The Lenten Prayer

This Collect, though suitable to the day as teaching the true motive of abstinence, belongs to the whole Lenten season, during which it is to be repeated daily, and shews how we are to regard Lent as the passage from sin to penitence and pardon.

A. The Motives of Penitence.

These are found in the character of God—in His love in Creation which has not been removed by the Fall, in His special promises through Christ to those who truly repent. It is very noticeable that Epiphany must ever come before Lent, for sin is only realized by comparison, and only when we have seen the manifestation of holiness in Christ can we repent in the dust and ashes of Ash Wednesday.

B. The Source of Penitence.

This also is from God. A contrite heart is not natural to us, but must be created and fully formed in us before we can lament our actual sins or deplore the wretchedness of our condition in any sense worthily or adequately.

C. The Blessings of Penitence.

These are the remission of the sins which we lament, and the forgiveness of our inward condition of sinfulness. These benefits are only to be obtained from God, Who is the God of all mercy. Our repentance cannot pardon us, but God alone, yet He can only pardon repentance. His pardon is not, however, proportioned to our repentance, for it is perfect, while our repentance can, at best, only be worthy.