A Pastoral Letter from Thomas Ken

THE time of Lent now approaching, which has been anciently and very
Christianly set apart, for penitential humiliation of Soul and Body, for Fasting
and Weeping and Praying, all which you know are very frequently inculcated in Holy
Scripture, as the most effectual means we can use, to avert those Judgments our sins
have deserv’d; I thought it most agreeable to that Character which, unworthy as I am,
I sustain, to call you and all my Brethren of the Clergy to mourning; to mourning for
your own sins, and to mourning for the sins of the Nation.

In making such an address to you as this, I follow the example of St. Cyprian
that blessed Bishop and Martyr, who from his retirement wrote an excellent Epistle to
his Clergy, most worthy of your serious perusal, exhorting them, by publick Prayers
and Tears to appease the Anger of God, which they then actually felt, and which we
may justly fear.

Remember that to keep such a Fast as God has chosen, it is not enough for you
to afflict your own soul, but you must also according to your ability, deal your bread
to the Hungry: and the rather, because we have not only usual objects of Charity to relive, but many poor Protestant Strangers are now fled hither for Sanctuary, whom as
Brethren, as members of Christ, we should take in and Cherish.

That you may perform the office of a publick Intercessour the more
assiduously, I beg of you to say daily in your Closet, or in your Family, or rather in
both, all this time of Abstinence, the 51st Psalm, and the other Prayers which follow
it in the Commination. I could wish also that you would frequently read and meditate
on the Lamentations of Jeremy, which Holy Gregory Nazianzen was wont to do, and
the reading of which melted him into the like Lamentations, as affected the Prophet
himself when he Pen’d them.

But your greatest Zeal must be spent for the Publick Prayers, in the constant
devout use of which, the Publick Safety both of Church and State is highly concern’d:
be sure then to offer up to God every day the Morning and Evening Prayer; offer it
up in your Family at least, or rather as far as your circumstances may possibly permit,
offer it up in the Church, especially if you live in a great Town, and say over the Litany
every Morning during the whole Lent. This I might enjoyn you to do on your
Canonical Obedience, but for Love’s sake I rather beseech you, and I cannot
recommend to you a more devout and comprehensive Form, of penitent and publick
Intercession than that, or more proper for the Season.

Be not discourag’d if but few come to the Solemn Assemblies, but go to the
House of Prayer, where God is well known for a sure Refuge: Go, though you go
alone, or but with one besides your self; and there as you are God’s Remembrancer,
keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, till he make Jerusalem a
praise in the earth.

The first sacred Council of Nice, for which the Christian world has always had
a great and just veneration, ordains a Provincial Synod to be held before Lent, that all
Dissensions being taken away a pure oblation might be offered up to God, namely of
Prayers and Fasting, and Alms, and Tears, which might produce a comfortable
Communion at the following Easter: and that in this Diocese, we may in some degree
imitate so Primitive a practice, I exhort you to endeavour all you can, to reconcile
differences, to reduce those that go astray, to promote universal Charity towards all
that dissent from you, and to put on as the Elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of
mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one
another and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you.

I passionately beseech you to read over daily your Ordination Vows, to examine
your self how you observe them; and in the Prayers that are in that Office, fervently to
importune God for the assistance of his good Spirit, that you may conscientiously
perform them. Teach publickly, and from house to house, and warn every one night
and day with Tears; warn them to repent, to fast and to pray, and to give Alms, and to
bring forth fruits meet for repentance; warn them to continue stedfast in that faith once delivered to the Saints, in which they were baptiz’d, to keep the word of God’s
Patience, that God may keep them in the hour of Temptation; warn them against the
sins and errors of the age; warn them to deprecate publick judgments, and to mourn
for publick provocations.

No one can read God’s holy Word but he will see the greatest Saints have been
the greatest Moruners: David wept whole Rivers; Jeremy wept sore, and his Eyes ran
down in secret places day and night like a Fountain; Daniel mourned three full weeks,
and did eat no pleasant bread, and sought God by prayer and supplications, with
fasting, and sackcloth and ashes; St. Paul was humbled and bewailed and wept for the
sins of others; and our Lord himself when He beheld the City wept over it. Learn then
of these great Saints, learn of our most compassionate Saviour, to weep for the publick, and weeping to pray, that we may know in this our day, the things that belong to our peace, lest they be hid from our eyes.

To mourn for National Guilt, in which all share, is a duty incumbent on all, but
especially on Priests, who are particularly commanded to weep and to say, Spare They
People, O Lord, and give not Thine Heritage to reproach, that God may repent of
the evil, and become jealous for His Land, and pity His People.

Be assured that none are more tenderly regarded by God than such Mourners
as these: there is a mark set by Him on all that sigh and cry for the abominations of
the Land, the destroying Angel is forbid to hurt any of them, they are all God’s peculiar
care, and shall all have either present deliverance, or such supports and consolations,
as shall abundantly endear their Calamity.

Now the God of all Grace, who hath called you unto His eternal Glory by Christ
Jesus, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you in the true Catholick and
Apostolick Faith profes’d in the Church of England, and enable you to adorn that
Apostolick Faith with an Apostolick Example and Zeal, and give all your whole
Church that timely repentance, those broken and contrite hearts, that both Priests and
People may all plentifully sow in Tears, and in God’s good time may all plentifully reap
in Joy.

From the Palace in wells,
Febr. 17 1687

Your affectionate
Friend and Brother,
Tho. Bath and Wells

Thomas Ken

Thomas Ken Thomas Ken (July 1637 – 19 March 1711) was Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells, and is considered the most eminent of the non-juring bishops.

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