'No merit or goodness in the fasting or abstinence themselves': a Keble sermon for Ash Wednesday

From a Keble sermon for Ash Wednesday (in his Sermons for the Christian Year: Lent to Passiontide), an extract demonstrating a Reformed Catholic understanding of Lenten fasting no different to that found in Old High sermons for the day and season: there was no hint at all here of a view of fasting incompatible with the doctrinal commitments of the Articles of Religion. We might also note that the sermon (and the other sermon for the day in this collection) includes no references to the past ceremony of ashing and, in referring to receiving the holy Sacrament at Easter, suggests that most of those who heard the sermon were not receiving regularly throughout Lent. All of this points to an Ash Wednesday sermon which differed little - if at all - from those delivered in Old High pulpits on the first day of Lent.

For the reason why fasting and abstinence is good at this season, is no merit or goodness in the fasting or abstinence themselves, but because they are useful helps to us in diverting our thoughts from vain cares and pleasures, and fixing them on eternal things. That is what the Church wants; that is the use of Lent, for which we shall be called to account at the last day: and if we be too sick or too poor to change our usual diet and mode of living, still we are not the less bound, at this holy season, to do that for the sake of which others are called to mortify their bodies. The poorest man is just as much bounden as the richest, to use Lent for his help, in repenting truly of his former sins. He may turn his thoughts that way more earnestly than he has been used to do ; may spend a little more time in his prayers, and strive more incessantly to keep his attention while he is praying. Surely no one can imagine that such discipline and self- denial as this, carefully persisted in, all through the forty days of Lent, would be of no use in making a man a truer penitent, and a worthier communicant at Easter.

He who desires thus to improve himself, cannot begin better, than by deeply meditating on the weighty and overpowering call to repentance contained in the words of the text. "We," (i.e. the ministers of Jesus Christ) "as workers together with Him, beseech you also, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain."


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