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opened, heaven became accessible, men and angels were joined together, the middle wall of partition was broken down, the barriers were taken out of the way, the God of Peace made peace between things in heaven and things on earth; therefore it is called the Great Week: And as this is the head of all other weeks, so the great Sabbath is the head of this week, being the same thing in this week, as the head is in the body. Therefore in this week many increase their labours: some adding to their fastings; others to their watchings; others give more liberal alms, testifying the greatness of the Divine goodness by their care of good works, and more intense piety and holy living. As the Jews went forth to meet CHRIST, when he raised Lazarus from the dead; so now not only one city, but all the world go forth to meet him, not with palmbranches in their hands, but with almsdeeds, humanity, virtue, fastings, tears, prayers, watchings, and all kinds of piety, which they offer to CHRIST their LORD. And not only we, but the emperors of the world honour this week, making it a time of vacation from all civil business, that the magistrates being at full liberty from business of the law, may spend all these days in spiritual service. Let the doors
of the courts, say they, now be shut up. Let all disputes and all kinds of contention and punishment cease; let the executioner's hands rest a little. Common blessings are wrought for us all by our cominon LORD, let some good be done by us his servants. Nor is this the only honour they shew to this week, but they do one thing more no less considerable. The imperial letters are sent abroad at this time, commanding all prisoners to be set at liberty from their chains For as our LORD, when he descended into hell, set free those that were detained by death; so the servants according to their power imitating the kindness of their LORD, loose men from their corporal bonds, when they have no power to relax the spiritual* "
Speaking of the season of Lent, the same author observes, that "for the further advancement of piety, and encouragement of religious assemblies at this season, all public games and stage-plays were utterly forbidden by the laws of the Church." Now Passion-Week being a part of that holy season, and that part of it in which the most important transactions were carried on by our blessed
* Bingham's Antiquities, &c. book xxi. ch. 1. sect. 24.
LORD for the sake of sinful men, those Christians could not be thought less culpable indeed "it appears that they were judged to be incapable of pardon, who were so eager after publick diversions as to follow them, when men's publick professions of repentance, humiliation and sorrow, made it utterly unreasonable and absurd to pursue the vain recreations and pleasures of the world, which at such a juncture could become none but those who lived in darkness and heathenish superstition*."
Were an injunction to be issued, that the strictness of the primitive times should be revived, and that those who would not comply with it, should renounce Christianity; how many, alas! in these degenerate days of religion, when the recommendation of a little self-denial is considered almost intolerant-how many would waver and halt between two opinions†, and at last, it is to be feared, yield to their own delusions! How many, without hesitating at all, would instantly quit the distant, but certain, prospects, which Christianity exhibits, for the present bewitching, but transitory gratifica tions of worldly pleasure!
* sect. 22. +1 Kings xviii. 21.
But happy it is for us, my Brethren, that we are under the government of a Church which sends forth no such coercive mandates: a Church which wisely moderate in all her discipline, has relaxed much of that primitive strictness, which was looked upon, in the early ages, as essential to penitential rites: a Church which by recommending and encouraging a prudent abstinence from innocent pleasures, as well as from the common liberties of food, directs the thoughts and affections of her devout members to the serious consideration of such things as concern their eternal salvation; that by reflecting upon the guilt of their sins, and disposing their minds to an abhorrence of them, they may be qualified for the benefit of their Saviour's expiation*. She has preserved enough in her discipline, to excite a becoming spirit of devotion, and by the additional service of each day in this week has directed our thoughts to those exercises of religious retirement, which our interest in the Redeemer's sufferings, if not our gratitude, will naturally suggestt.
I would not willingly be too diffuse in my observations, at once to convince your
Nelson. + Knowles's Passion.
understandings, and direct your practice to the important duty of hallowing the Passion-Week with more than ordinary solemnities of devotion, after the example, although but in a small degree, of our Christian forefathers in the primitive Church; whom, as we have already observed, the return of those hours which had been marked by the most important transaction that ever passed on earth, called to peculiar acts of publick, as well as private worship*. But that I may afford you some assistance in this necessary, and, I think, indispensable duty, I have yet something more to add.
Early in this discourse I observed two sorts of persons: one consisting of those, who through a necessary attention to their business, and to supply the wants of their families, could not possibly spare time to join in the additional service of each day in the week; and who could not, after the fatigue of the day, sit down to private meditation, ignorant how to proceed, or too weary to attempt it of themselves. The other sort were those who acknowledged the necessity, and practised the duty, of both publick and private devotion; but could not think it necessary to
* Sandford's Lectures on the Epistles in Passion-Week.