Against a weird Lent

From a 1694 sermon by John Sharp, Archbishop of York, preached on the Second Sunday in Lent.  Addressing 'The government of the thoughts', the conclusion of the sermon was an expression of an Anglican distrust of Enthusiasm ('the Weird') for undermining the ordinary, normal routines and rhythms of our lives as embodied, social beings.  In the midst of Lent, this has some particular relevance, reminding us that Lenten disciplines should not detract from or undermine our ordinary, normal duties, interactions, and well-being.  Lent, in other words, should not be Weird.

Notwithstanding what I have hitherto said, concerning the Diligence with which we are to keep our Hearts; yet this is always to be remembered, That with our Diligence we must be careful to join Discretion.

My Meaning is this, We must have a care not to intend our Thoughts immoderately, and more than our Tempers will bear, even to the best things: But we must so keep our Hearts, as at the same time to preserve our Healths, and keep up the Vigour of our Minds.

And the way to do that, is, Not to put them too much, or too long, upon the stretch at any one time: But to relax them when there is occasion, and to let them run out, and entertain themselves upon any thing that comes next to hand, so long as it is Innocent.

It is a vain thing to imagine, that we can always be thinking of our great Business; or that we can always be a Praying, or Reading, or Meditating; or, that, as our Condition is in this World, even the greater part of our Thoughts should be such as we call Devout and Religious Thoughts.

God hath provided a great deal of other Business for us to apply our Minds to, so long as we live in this World. And by minding that diligently and conscientiously, we do serve God as acceptably, as if we were Reading or Praying.

Nay, even then, when we have no urgent Business upon our hands to take up our Minds, it is not necessary that we should be always thinking of Religion. Nor would I call every Thought a vain, or an idle, or a sinful Thought, that hath not God, or our Spiritual Concernments for its Object. Even the most Spiritually-minded among us, must oftentimes be content to be entertained with such Thoughts as our Company, or our Temper, or the present Circumstances we are in, do suggest to us. And provided those Thoughts be innocent, and do not intrench upon the Laws of Piety, and Purity, and Charity; be they otherwise very trifling and impertinent: I say, I would not look upon them as ill Thoughts, nor have any one angry at himself upon account of them.

The truth of it is, So long as we consist of Bodies and Souls, we cannot always be thinking of serious things. They indeed are the wisest that think of them most, but it is even dangerous to attempt to think of them always. For, as most Men's Constitutions are, that is the ready way to spoil the Habit of our Bodies, and by that means to render our Minds perfectly unfit for Thinking at all to any good Purposes.

Thus have I laid before you the Main Things wherein, as I do believe, the right Governing our Thoughts doth consist. And I doubt not, they are so safe, and so effectual, that whosoever will sincerely practise them, as far as he can, will so keep his Heart, that the Issues from thence in his Life and Conversation will be Happy and Prosperous. I conclude all with the Collect of this Day.

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of our selves 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, thro' Jesus Christ our Lord.


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