A DISCOURSE Concerning the Holy Fast of Lent: Together with the Sentiment of Dr. John Cosens, late Bishop of Durrham, Concerning the same Holy Fast.

THE Sacred Penitential Time of Lent is at hand, what shall I do? Shall I take notice of it, or no? If I do not take notice of it, some will stigmatize me as a Black Non-Conformist; and if I do take notice of it, others will calumniate me as a Papist in Masquerade. O Times! O Manners! Unhappy Age in which we live! Dissipavit Deus ossa eorum qui hominibus placent: God has broken the Bones of those who please Men. If I seek to please Men, or fear to offend them, I am no longer a Servant of Jesus Christ, but a base Slave to the vile World. If I Christianly observe this Sacred Time, my own Conscience, I am sure, will applaud me, what­soever my Neighbours may say or think of me: And a good Conscience, even when it dictates Fasting and Abstinence, is a continual Feast. But will not the Holy Gospel say, I am Superstitious? God forbid. I know they are the words of our Blessed Lord himself, Matth. 15.11. Not that which goes into the mouth, defiles a Man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a Man. And had he spoken these words, when it was objected to him by the Disciples of St. John, that they and the Pharisees fasted often, but his Disci­ples fasted not the Objection would not so easily have been answered: But consulting the Sacred Text, I find he is so far from disparaging the Holy Ex­ercise of Fasting, by saying, Not that which goes into the mouth defiles, that he tacitly commends it, as a Duty too sublime, for such Novices in Religion as his Apostles as yet were, but the time would come when they should fast, to wit, after he should be taken away from them, and should have strengthn'd them for so hard and necessary a Duty, by a plentiful effusion of the Holy Ghost upon them. The new Wine of rigorous Abstinence and Fasting was too strong for the frail Bottles of our Lord's Disciples, before their Confir­mation from the Holy Ghost upon the day of Pentecost. But can then that [Page 2]which goes into my mouth defile me? Yes, when I eat or drink in contempt of the equitable and just command of my lawful Superiour, Ecclesiastical or Ci­vil. Though strictly speaking, it is not the Meat then which defiles me, but my disobedience to my Superiour.

Not to engage in long disputes: For these Reasons methinks every good Christian ought Religiously to observe The Holy Fast of Lent.

1. Because Fasting in it self has ever been look'd upon by all Christians as a Christian Duty, and is not only highly commended by all the ancient Fa­thers of the most Primitive times, but also by the Holy Scripture it self; as having a singular Power to drive out the Devil: This Devil goes not out but by Prayer and Fasting: To obtain the Holy Ghost for our selves or others: (The Holy Apostles fasted and prayed, that the Holy Ghost might descend upon those on whom they conferred Holy Orders.) To avert God's anger from a particular Person, City, or Country: Thus Ahab and the Ninivites appeased the wrath of the Almighty: To suppress Concupiscence; to dispose the Mind for Prayer; to encrease all Vertues in us in this Life, and our Crown of Glory in the other. If we fast in a due manner, we have our Blessed Saviour's words for it, that we shall have a Reward in Heaven. If I fast, to afflict and humble my self before God Almighty for my Sins, my Fasting is an Act of Repentance. If I eat less my self, that I may have more to give to those that are in necessity, my Fasting is an act of Charity. If I fast the better to dispose my self for Prayer, 'tis an Act of Religious Devotion. If I fast, judging my self not worthy of any Delicacies, nor of my fill even of the coursest Fare, 'tis an act of Humility, and disposes my Soul moreover as little to affect fine Clothes or commodious Lodgings, as I do good Victuals, & con­sequently moderates my desires of Money and Riches; which are not desire­able by corrupt Nature, but for these or such like uses. If I fast, that I may be better able to pay my Debts, or provide my Children Portions, 'tis an act of Justice, and Christian Paternal Piety. If to moderate my inordinate Appetite of Meat and Drink, 'tis an act of Temperance; and exceedingly disposes to Temperance in the whole couse of my life, when by experience I find my self as chearful and contented, or rather more, upon a fasting day, than when I indulge to excess in eating and drinking. In fine, 'tis hard to name a Vertue which fasting does not strangely help to procure, maintain, and increase. As for the four Cardinal Vertues, 'tis the formal exercise of the highest degree of Temperance; nor is Fortitude less seen in abstaining from what pleases us, than in sustaining what afflicts us. It makes Justice easie, and is the Mother of wise and sober Thoughts. It moderates our Passions, defecates our Understandings, and makes us more fit for Contem­plation of Natural or Supernatural Verities. O Angelical Abstinencè!

2. Fasting then being of so singular use in a Christian life, and Experience telling us, That those who fast only when they please, are pleased to fast very seldom, or not at all; our Spiritual Prelates, who watch for our Souls good, can do no less than oblige us by a Law to fast some times, nor ought we do no less than Religiously observe their equitable Commands.

3. I have all reason to think the Holy Fast of Lent was first appointed by [Page 3]the Holy Apostles themselves, and consequently ought to be Religiously ob­seved by all good Christians. For it cannot be imagined, that so many seve­ral Countries, Kings and Subjects, Priests and People, both of the Eastern and Western Churches, could by chance fall upon the yearly practice of ob­serving so solemn a Fast, and all at the same time before Easter: They must therefore either all at the first have been taught so by their first Masters of Christianity, which is the Conclusion intended to be proved; or some univer­sal Supreme Authority, Ecclesiastical or Civil, must so have commanded them to do; or some Preachers first in one Country, & then in an other, must so have persuaded them to do in some Age since, that is, as a Pious thing, but not as instituted by the Apostles, and so received. But no Annals of our own, or other Christian Countries, make any mention of any such Preachers, or any such Ordination made by any General Council, Pope, Prince, or Em­perour: Nor yet have we, or any other Christian Countries, wanted Eccle­siastical Historigraphers, who in their Memorials have taken notice of far lesser matters than such an Innovation as this must needs have been, had the Apostles taught the World no such observance. And the truth is, 'tis pure Ignorance in Ecclesiastical History, and the Works of the Primitive Fathers, that makes so many waver in the Belief of the Apostolical Institution of Lent; in which, if they were well conversant, they could not possibly doubt of it.

Further: Not only two hundred years ago, but twelve hundred years ago, Lent was universally observed in the whole Christian World, both in the Eastern and Western Church, as is manifest out of the pious Works of the prime Pillars and Pastors of Christ's Church, in the fourth and fifth Century of Christianity. Nor do the opposers of Lent deny so much, and therefore appeal to the first 300 years after our Saviour; for which time, and which only, they pretend the Christian Worship was untainted, and not infected with the superstitious Observation of Lent. Let us suppose then, that for the first 300 years of Christianity, the Church of Christ in England, Italy, Greece, and other Countries, observed no such thing as Lent-Fast; and consider by what means possible, the fourth Age could not only bring it in all over the Christian World, but bring it in so secretly or covertly, that the prime Doctors of the fifth Age should not be able to discern, that this new burden was superadded to Christianity by their immediate Progenitors, but should be verily perswaded, that such an Observation had immemorially from Generati­on to generation descended from the first planters of Christianity, the Apostles: And yet it is evident, that the fifth Age did not only keep Lent, but also kept it as an Apostolical Institution; and the prime Christian Doctors of that Age have left it upon Record, in their deservedly admired Works, that they kept this Holy Fast as an observance taught them by Tradition from the Apostles. Hear their own words; S. Hierom, in his Epistle to Marcella: We fast one Lent (Quadragesimam) within the compass of a whole year, according to the Tra­dition of the Apostles, in a season fit for us. The Montanists keep three Lents in the year, as if three Saviours had suffered. Now if for the first 300 years there had been no such observance by Christians at Rome, but in the fourth Century some Bishop of Rome, or some Provincial or General Council, or Christian [Page 4]Emperour, had first introduced it, could a Learned Priest of Rome of the fifth Age, who had lived and conversed with the prime Fathers of the fourth Age no less than 70 years, for he died Anno Dom. 420. Aetatis Suae, 91. And one so well versed in all Ecclesiastical matters, as S. Hierom was, err so grosly, as to mistake so new an institution for an Apostolical Tradition, that is, for an observance taught the City of Rome, from Father to Son, from the Apo­stles? For the Greek Church, hear the Testimony of Theophilus, who was con­temporary with St. Hierom and Patriarch of Alexandria, (to the Patriarchs of which See, it was entrusted by the first General Council, That they should yearly signifie before-hand, to the rest of the Churches, as well as their own, the true time of Easter.) In his first Paschal Epistle, he writes thus: Let us cure the divers wounds of Vices, &c. And so may we enter the Fasts at hand, begin­ing Lent the 30th day of the month Mechir, (as it were our February, the Egyp­tians reckoning 30 dayes in every Month.) The Week of the Salutary Pasch on the fifth day of the Month Pharmuth (or April,) and ending the Fasts according to the Evangelical Traditions on the evening of the Saturday, being the tenth of Phar­muth; and on the next Lords day, the 11th. of the same month, let us celebrate the Feasts. I add the Testimony of S. Cyril. in his 20th. Homily The immedi­ate Successor to the same Theophilus in the Patriarchship of Alexandria. De Festis Paschalibus: So let us keep a pure fast, (saith he) beginning the Holy Lent from such a day, ending also the Fasts on the 7th day of Pharmuth, late in the Evening, according to the Traditions Apostolical. The same S. Cyril, in nine­teen other of his Homilies, De Festis Paschalibus, preached in so many seve­ral years, refers the same Fast of Lent to Tradition, Appointment, or In­struction Evangelical. The Law of abstaining in Lent, was always in the Church, says the above-cited Theophilus Alexandrinus. Now can it be imagined, that these two Learned Patriarchs (to whom by the whole Christian Church was committed the care of signifying the due time of Lent and Easter) had the Holy Fast of Lent been so lately brought in by some Universal, Ecclesiastical or Civil Authority, could be ignorant of it, and tell all the World also, that they had been so taught to end Lent from Generation to Generation from the Apostles? Add hereunto the Discourse of Learned Dr. Beverage against Dallee the French Huguenot, in his Codex Canonum Vindicatus. The Council of Nice the first General Christian Council little more than 300 years after our B. Saviour, ordered that there should be in all Christian Provinces, two Provin­cial Councils every year; the one in Lent, the other in Autumn: whence that Learned Dr. inferrs that then Lent-Fast was as well known all over the Christian World as Autumn; and consequently that Lent must of necessity have been appointed by the Apostles, otherwise such an Universal Practice could not possibly have overspread the Christian World so early: Note also wheresoever Lent is observed, the Observers of it profess from Generation to Generation to have observed it, from the first planting of Christianity amongst them; nor does any of their Annals, Ecclesiastical or Civil, make any men­tion of a later Institution of it, and reflect, if the Holy Apostles had appoint­ed Lent by Oral Preaching, what other Arguments could we have had for its Apostolical Institution?

Hence it is, that the Holy Fathers of the Primitive Times, looked upon the observance of Lent, not as a matter only of Counsel, as left to our choice, whether we would observe it or no, but of Precept and O­bligation. Hear what St. Ambrose saies, Ser. 26. To fast on other daies, may serve to promote either our Cure or our Reward; but not to fast in Lent is a Sin. He that fasts at another time, shall receive his reward; but he who does not fast in Lent shall be Punished. Nor is it a light Sin to break the fast of Lent, which was enjoyned by our Lord to the Faithful.— If thou wilt therefore be a Christian, thou must do as Christ did. Thus That Great and Holy Prelate, who flourished in the 4th. Age, and enlightned the whole Church of God with his Learning and Sanctity.

But if the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, did recommend a year­ly observation of the Holy Fast of Lent, to the several Countries by them Converted to the Christian Faith, and such an observation be of such Singular benefit, and Spiritual advantage to all Christians, how comes it to pass that none of all their Writings which have come to our hands, makes express mention of it? Hear Bishop Gunning, p. 138. Ritual Observances be­ing visible, and as it were legible in the universal Churches constant practice, needed not to be set down in her written Rule: Or those which are therein set down, not ne­cessarily so evidently, but that they might need the interpretation of such the Churches practice. And indeed, whoever will impartially consider the nature of the Books of the New Testament, will be so far from wondering, that all the Rituals of Christianity are not expresly declared in them, that he will rather wonder there is so much in them of the exterior Rites of Christian Religion as there is. Had any of the Sacred Christian Pen-men written a Book, on pur­pose to declare the whole manner of Christian Worship, like Moses his Ex­odus or Leviticus, we might reasonably have expected an account, what days Christians were to set a apart for Fasting or Religious Feasting, what Gar­ments they were to use for Divine Worship, &c. But they only, as is mani­fest Writing Books for other intents and purposes, by way of History, for example, or moral Exhortations, and making mention only by the by of some of our Christian Rites, as they occurr'd; nothing can be more unreasonable then to expect in their said Writings and express clear mention of every Chri­stian Ceremonial Observance. And why St. Paul, or other of the Apostles, should make mention of Lent in the Epistles they wrote to persons already in­structed in the Christian Faith, I understand not, unless perchance the persons they wrote unto, had been deficient in observing it.

But then again. What though the Holy Apostles did not first institute the Lent Fast, but it grew by little and little from the pious Observation of some particular Christians into an universal Practice, ought not the Universal Practice of the whole Christian Church, both Eastern and Western, of above 1200 years continuance, to have more poyse with us, than the Non confor­mity of a few New-fashioned Christians, sprung up in the Night of this last Age? Besides, we are commanded by our Civil and Ecclesiastical Superiours assembled in Parliament, to fast Lent upon a Religious account, as appears by the Statute, 2 & 3. of Edw. 6. c. 19. For as much as divers the Kings Subjects have of late time, more than in times past, broken and contemned such Abstinence, [Page 6]which has been used in this Realm upon the Friday and Saturday, the Emb'ring days, and other days, commonly called Vigils, and in the time commonly called Lent, and other accustomed Times, the King's Majesty considering that due and godly Ab­stinence, is a means to Vertue, and to subdue men's Bodies to their Soul and Spirit; and considering also that Fishers, &c. doth Ordain and Enact, with the assent of the Lords Temporal and Spiritual, &c. That no person or persons, of what Estate, De­gree, or Condition he or they be, shall at any time after the First day of May, 1549. willingly or unwillingly eat any manner of Flesh upon any Friday or Saturday, or the Ember-daies, or on any day in the time commonly called Lent.

Moreover if Lent be not to be observed upon a Religious account, In the name of God what does it in the Calender of the Liturgy or Book of Common-Prayer, more than Fairs and Markets? Reflect also with B. Gunning upon the Prayer for the first Sunday in Lent. O Lord, who for our sakes did'st 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, &c. How unworthy it would be to make that Holy Prayer to bear such a sense as this; O Lord, who for our sakes did'st fast forty Days and forty Nights, give us Grace to use such Abstinence, that our Sea-faring Men, and Mariners, and young Cattel, and the like may be maintained.

To conclude, we offend the same all holy and all just God, by the same, if not worse sins than our fore-fathers Offended him, why should we not seek to appease his anger by the same Humiliations of Fasting and Abstinence as they did? We have Bodies no less subject to concupiscence than theirs, why not keep them in subjection by the same chastizements as they have done? We stand in need of the same Holy Ghost they did, why should we expect to draw him down upon us but by Fasting and Prayer, as they did? Nor can our living in a Northernly Country excuse us; our An­cestors who lived under the same climate fasted often and rigorously. If we expect to go to the same Heaven with them, we must expect to go by the same rough path of Christian Temperance as they went. Be­sides the abounding of all iniquity amongst us, Covetousness, Drunken­ness, Glutony, Lasciviousness, Pride, Malice, Shedding of Innocent, blood, Profaness, Perjury, Blasphemy, Infidelity, Atheism, cry aloud to Gods Venge­ance against us, and call every devout Christian to Fasting, Weeping and Mourning to prevent those temporal Judgments we may justly fear, and re­move those spiritual plagues of Divisions, Ignorance and Error, which we too sensibly feel, In that day, saies the Holy Prophet, Esay. Chap. 22. V. 12, 13, 14. Did the Lord God of Hosts call to Weeping, and to Mourning, and to Baldness, and to girding with Sackcloath; and behold joy and gladness, slaying Oxen and killing Sheep, eating Flesh and drinking Wine: let us eat and drink for to morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of Hosts, surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till you die, saith the Lord God of Hosts. Reflect here how the Holy Prophet, by Gods own Command declares, The eating of Flesh and drinking Wine, when God calls to fasting, weeping, and mourning, to be an iniquity, which shall ne­ver be forgiven. And when does Almighty God call to fasting, weeping, and mourning, if he do not call then, when our own and others sins re­quire [Page 7]it, and when the practice of the whole Christian World in all Ages invites to it, and when our lawful Superiors, who watch for our Souls good, positively command it?

Whom all that has been said cannot perswade to a Religious observation of the Penitential time of Lent, I have yet this one reasonable request to make them, that they would but for one year, fast as many days out of Pri­vate Devotion, as they do who fast at set-times and days, commanded by an extrinsecal Authority; and I perswade my self, they would find so great spi­ritual benefit thereby, that they would clearly see, fasting being good in it self, its being commanded by our Superiors can never make it Superstition. I deny not, but the change of the Primitive Christian way of fasting into a meer abstinence from Flesh, by Set-Fasters, fasting from one sort of meat and feasting upon others, making up what they wanted in Meat, by Wine and strong Drink, at meals and betwixt meals, gave but two great occasion to many simple well meaning people, to look upon all fasting as a meer su­perstition. But a practise good and holy in it self, as this has been shew'd to be, ought not to be cast away for some abuses, committed by disordered li­vers in the observance of it: none will do this, but such as are led by the Spirit of Contention. If we will needs contend, let it be who shall spend most of our time in devout prayers, and diligent reading, or hearing Gods word; and most of our worldly wealth in charitable Alms upon our indigent neighbour, and least upon our selves in meat and drink: Let none revile or injure his brother, but let our great quarrel be against our selves, Judging and Punishing our selves for our sins, by Fasting and Abstinence in this world, that we may not be Judged and Punished for them by Almighty God by Hell-fire in the other. By such Contentions and Emulations as these, we shall sooner come to an amicable union amongst our selves, and to the happy favour of our common Lord and God, than by all our uncharita­ble unchristian Brawls and Contests.

The Sentiment of Dr. John Cosens, late B. of Durham, concerning the H. Fast of Lent.

BY the Antient Laws, and Custom of the Church of Christ, We still Ob­serve a Yearly, and a more solemn Time of Fasting and Prayer, than ordinary; which, from the Season wherein it falls, we call ourOr, Spring-Fast; for Lent sig­nifies the Spring in the Saxon Language. Lent Fast: A Time, wherein the Church Commemorates the Miraculous Fasting of our Saviour, and by it commendeth the like Ghostly and Religious Exercise un­to us, as being the readiest Means we can use against the Temptations of the Devil, and the sinful Desires of our pamper'd Flesh. Not, as if She thought we were able to Fast as Christ did, and Live altogether without Meat and Drink: Or, as if Her meaning were, to Tye us unto any such scru­pulous Abstinence, which refuseth some kinds of Meats, as being unclean in themselves; but, as far as our Imperfections and Infirmities would suffer us, we should Tye our selves to such a Religious Fast and Abstinence, as thereby, either interrupting, or otherwise abating, not only the kind, but, the quantity of our Diet; and so taking the less care of our bodily Suste­stance, [Page 8]we might the more earnestly hunger and thirst after Righteousness, which is the Food of our Souls; and by mortifying our sinful Flesh, fix our Minds on heavenlier and better Desires. A Lent so kept, will Conform us the better to our Saviour's Sufferings, which are now remembred; and make us the more capable, and more sensible of the Joy which the ChurchBoth by the Eu­charist, and by o­ther holy Offices. ex­presseth, in the Joyful Solemnity of Easter, as well in Commemoration of His, as in hope of Our glorious and gladsom Resurrection.

And after this manner, hath it been religiously observed throughout all Ages, both in the Greek and Latin Church.

For the Greeks first, It is mentioned by Ignatius, who was St. John's Dis­ciple, in his Epistle to the Philippians, a Writing unquestioned by most Men: Then by Irenaeus, who was St. John's Schollar also, but once removed: by Origen, who lived not long after them, in the tenth Homily upon Levi­ticus: by the famous General Council ofCan. 5. Nice, not much above three Hun­dred Years after Christ, where they mention the Qua­dragesi­ma. Forty dayes of Lent, as a known thing Instituted and Observed by all Men, long before their time: After them, by St. Cyril, in his Catechism: and by St. Chrysostom, in his Sermons upon Genesis, which were preach'd in this time of Lent: by St. Basil, in his second Homily of Fasting, where he tells us, That there was no age, nor no place, but both knew it, and observed it: by Athanasius, in his Relation ad Orthodox: by St. Gregory Nyssen, in his Sermon of Baptism: and by Nazianzen, Surnamed the Divine, in his Sermon of Almes-Deeds.

Then for the Latins, By Tertullion first, who was the first of the Latin Fathers, and spake more concerning the Lent-Fast, than perhaps the Church would have had him: by St. Cyprian after him, who was also his Scholar: By St. Ambrose, St. Hierom, and St. Augustin, in more than Forty several places of their Writings: After them, by a whole Cloud of Witnesses, even to our own Times. All which, being put together, will prove abundantly, that the Lent which we now keep, is, and ever has been, an Apostolical Con­stitution: As St. Hierom said in his Epistle to Marcella; Nos unam Qua­dragesimam, secundum Traditionem Apostolorum, tempore nobis Congruo jejuna­mus: That is, We observe a Lent-Fast of Forty Dayes, as we have been taught by the Apostles, in a fit and seasonable time of the year. We add out of St. Augustin, in his 119 Epistle to Ianuaríus, a known place; Quadragesima Jejuniorum habet authoritatem, &c. The Lenten-Fast (saith he) is authorized, both by the Old and New-Testament; there by Moses, and here by Christ. And out of Chrysologus, in his eleventh Sermon, Quod Quadragesimam j [...]junamus, non est humana Inventio, &c. It is no Human Invention (as they call it) but it comes from Divine Authority, that we Fast our Forty-dayes in Lent.

Quod universa tenet Ecclesia, n [...]c Conciliis constitutum, sed semper retentum est; non nisi Apostolica autoritate traditum rectissime creditur. St. August. de Bap­tismo contra Donatistas. That which the Ʋniversal Church observeth, and was not instituted by Councils, but has been ever retained; we most rightly believe to have been no other, than a Tradition from Apostolical Authority.


Printed for the Author, William Francis. 1686.


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