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By purchasing through this page you get all 34 volumes in this set of Puritan (Westminster, Covenanter) Fast Sermons (1640 to 1653). The download for this set consists of 3 archive (Zip) files, containing 34 individual PDFs, one for each volume. You can use the unzip utilities available with Windows and Mac OS X to extract the files in the archive to your computer.
Concerning the complete 34 volume set of Puritan Fast Sermons (1640-1653), republished by SWRB, Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson write, "This is a collection of sermons preached to England's Parliament during the glory days of the Puritan preaching on days of public humiliation... These sermons richly combine prayer and thanksgiving on England's behalf. They encourage and admonish Parliament to govern in the fear of God. The volumes include sermons of preachers who were frequently invited to Parliament, including William Ames, Samuel Bolton, William Bridge, Thomas Brooks, Anthony Burgess, Jeremiah Burroughs, Joseph Caryl, Thomas Goodwin, William Greenhill, Christopher Love, Thomas Manton, Stephen Marshall, Philip Nye, John Owen, Obadiah Sedgwick, and Ralph Venning (and many others - RB)" (from pages 632-633 of the important and useful book by Beeke and Pederson on Puritanism and Puritan books, entitled, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide To Modern Reprints).
This remarkable set of rare Puritan sermons is made up of facsimile copies of sermons preached before the "Long Parliament" in England during the second Reformation -- on appointed fast days between 1640 and 1653.
- Linus Chua, The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Brief Historical Survey of the Westminster Assembly and Standards.
The following 238 sermons are contained in the 34-Volume Set of Puritan Fast Sermons:
Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 6, "The Fast Sermons of the Long Parliament," gives us some useful context to these fast sermons in the selected quotes below (emphases added throughout).
"It was an observation of that time," wrote Clarendon of the Puritan Revolution, "that the first publishing of extraordinary news was from the pulpit; and by the preacher's text, and his manner of discourse upon it, the auditors might judge, and commonly foresaw, what was like to be next done in the Parliament or Council of State."
General fasts, with appropriate sermons, were, of course, nothing new in 1640. Great occasions had always called them forth. There had been a general fast on the approach of the Armada in 1588, a weekly fast in 1603 until the plague was over, and another general fast for the great plague of 1625. More recently, fasts had also been held at the beginning of Parliament. The first episode in this history comes at the very beginning of the Parliament. When Parliament met, its very first act was to propose a general fast. . . . All business was to be suspended. There were to be sermons morning and afternoon. . . . At the same time the House of Commons, following earlier precedents, also appointed a day on which all its members should take the sacrament and listen to further sermons.
Thus from the start the stage was set. . . . Pym 's message: from his earliest days in Parliament he had advocated a "covenant" among the enemies of popery and tyranny. Now both Burges and Marshall sang to the same tune. In the universal peril, said Marshall, all hope lay in a covenant such as had been made to defend religion in the days of Queen Elizabeth. It was not enough, added Burges, "to pull down and cut off some of the Nimrods" who had invaded English laws and liberties: "there must be a thorough joining of themselves to God by covenant."
Thus the regular series of "monthly fasts" began. They would continue for seven years. The routine was soon established. When one ceremony was over, the next would be prepared. The two Houses would separately choose and invite their preachers. The invitation of the Lords was impersonal, that of the Commons conveyed by named members -neighbours, friends, kinsmen: presumably their original sponsors. Sometimes, of course, there were refusals and substitutes had to be found. When the fast-day came, official parliamentary business was omitted or cut down to a minimum. The Lords normally gathered in King Henry VII's chapel of Westminster Abbey, the Commons in St. Margaret's, Westminster. The two preachers delivered the sermons, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The ceremonies were open to all: unless expressly excluded by a parliamentary order, the public was free to attend and (according to the fashion of the time) to take notes of the sermons. Next day, or within a few days, votes of thanks would be passed and conveyed to the preachers, generally with a request to print their sermons, by named members, generally their original sponsors. Then the process was repeated. Similar ceremonies took place all over the country. Nor was it only on the last Wednesday of the month that Parliament subjected itself and the people to this heavy dose of religion. Special crises called forth special fasts also: fasts to celebrate the opening of the Westminster Assembly, to desire blessings on the parliamentary armies when in difficulty, to persuade God to remove "a great judgment of rain and waters" or "abundance of rain and unseasonable weather," and to abate such calamities as the miseries of Scotland during the triumphs of Montrose, the incidence of the plague, divers crying sins and enormities of the Church, the spread of heresies and blasphemies, etc. There were also, when occasion called for them, special days of thanksgiving. All these entailed special sermons, whose preachers were chosen, thanked and invited to print in the same way.
There was also, in London, a good supply of preachers. From the start, as "scandalous" ministers were ejected, country preachers, encouraged by their local Members of Parliament, poured in to compete for their places, and from 1643 the Westminster Assembly provided a constant reservoir of clerical talent . . . . . . The preacher was John Arrowsmith, who had been proposed by Pym 's step-brother, Francis Rous. His text was Leviticus xxvi.25, "I shall bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant," and his message was that bloody civil wars were peculiar signs of God's blessing on a country, and that England, having now been singled out for this favour, must fight it out, exacting "like for like and, particularly, blood for blood (Rev.xvi.5 -6)." After listing the sins which called most loudly for blood, and which included especially the neglect of God's covenant and disrespect for its messengers, the clergy, he gave his specific instructions. He reminded his hearers that the English victory over the Scots at Musselburgh, a century before, had been won at the hour when Parliament, in London, ordered the burning of "idolatrous images." Thus if Pym held out his right hand to treat with the king, with his left he pointed the way to a more radical war and a new campaign of iconoclasm. Five days later he emphasized his threat by pushing through Parliament an ordinance abolishing episcopacy and including the ratification of the ordinance in the terms of the treaty.
Ellis was chiefly concerned to expose the dangers of "a false peace" - that is, one which did not guarantee the future by "putting Christ into the treaty." He urged his hearers to remember the message of his predecessor Mr. Arrowsmith and make no peace till the false brethren and enemies of Christ had been trodden down . . .
On 24 April Sir Robert Harley asked for a committee to destroy superstitious monuments in London churches and himself at once set about the work. Two days later it was among headless statues and shivered stained-glass windows that the Commons gathered in St. Margaret's to hear the monthly fast sermons. The first, appropriately enough, was by a protege of Harley himself, a country clergyman from Cheshire who served up the now familiar texts "Curse ye Meroz" and "Cursed be he that keepeth his sword back from blood." The second was by William Greenhill, another of Bishop Wren's victims, famous for his commentary on Ezekiel. His sermon once again was a pointer to immediate policy. He chose the ominous text, "The axe is laid to the root of the tree."
Like Samuel Fairclough two years before, Greenhill demanded "justice on delinquents." Indeed he referred back explicitly to the execution of Strafford. "When your justice fell upon that great cedar-tree above a year and a half ago," he cried, "did not all England tremble?" And now too much time had passed without a second stroke. Though great "delinquents" still lived, the executioner's axe had culpably been allowed to rust. That was most improper. However, he added, regretfully, "if justice be at a stand and cannot take hold of living delinquents to keep the axe from rust, let justice be executed upon lifeless delinquents. Are there no altars, no high places, no crucifixes, no crosses in the open street that are bowed unto and idolized? Lay your axe to the roots and hew them down!"
The message was clear, and was instantly obeyed. Two days after the sermon, the terms of Harley's committee were extended to include the destruction of idolatrous monuments in streets and open places. On 2 May Cheapside Cross, that bugbear of the Puritans, the pride and glory of the City, was at last ceremonially hewn down.
. . . 1644 began as the year of the Scots. In December 1643 the Scotch commissioners and Scotch ministers returned to London . . . In 1641 they had been sent empty away, but this time they meant business. . . . If they were to come as deliverers, they must receive the price; and the price had long ago been stated: in order to guarantee the revolution in Scotland, England too must adopt a full Presbyterian system, on "the Scots model." . . . They obtained seats in the Assembly; they organized a party, gave orders, reported home. And they secured invitations to preach not merely, as in 1640-41, to the gaping populace of London, but to the Parliament itself. This was an opportunity not to be missed.
The Scotch ministers preached to the Commons on the four successive fast-days after their arrival. The series was opened by Alexander Henderson, the framer of the National Covenant of Scotland. He delivered, according to his colleague Robert Baillie, "a most gracious, wise and learned sermon" urging the English legislature to repair its past errors and now, though late, build the house of the Lord in England. The other three ministers, Samuel Rutherford, Baillie himself and George Gillespie, pressed the same message. England, said Gillespie, had been culpably slow in following the good examples of Scotland. The whole nation was guilty of scandalous laxity in the past, still unredeemed. Why had not the idolatrous high places been taken away? The trouble was, England was intolerably Erastian: it put its trust in the laity, not the clergy: "it did even make an idol of this Parliament and trusted to its own strength and armies." No wonder God had been greatly provoked and had visited the guilty country with defeat, until it had drawn the correct deductions and appealed to Scotland. From now on, given due obedience, all would be well: "Christ hath put Antichrist from his outer works in Scotland and he is now come to put him from his inner works in England." Baillie, in printing his sermon, rubbed it in even deeper. He was astonished, he told Francis Rous, the chairman of Parliament's committees on religion in England, that "the wheels of the Lord's chariot should move with so slow a pace." This "wearisome procrastination to erect the discipline of God" was inexplicable "to mine and every common understanding." It caused millions to live in every kind of carnal sin "without the control of any spiritual correction."
On one occasion, indeed, Baillie could report "two of the most Scottish and free sermons that ever I heard anywhere." This was in the autumn of 1644, on the special fast-day for the armies of the Lord General, Essex, then in straits in the west: the two preachers then "laid well about them and charged public and parliamentary sins strictly on the backs of the guilty." And frequently the London clergy . . . let fly at the error of toleration, at antinomian doctrines or at preaching tradesmen.
These were the sermons to the Commons. But sentence must be passed by the Lords, and the Lords were still sticklers for legality. What preacher, in these circumstances, would the Lords choose? In fact, they found a way of evading the problem. For the fast-day of 30 October they did not choose their own preachers but, only five days before the ceremony, invited the Westminster Assembly to appoint them. The Assembly, of course, was glad to do so; the Scots, naturally, were delighted and the Lords heard a predictable sermon. The Rev.Edmund Staunton admitted that he had had "short warning"; but he did not have to look far for his matter. The City petition for the blood of delinquents, he said, had suggested his subject. So he sang the praises of Phinehas, who did not wait for legal authority before spearing Zimri and the Midianite woman, and of the eunuchs who threw down Jezebel so that "her blood was sprinkled on the wall"; he lamented the wickedness of Saul who omitted to hew Agag in pieces; "and now," he ended, "could I lift up my voice as a trumpet, had I the shrill cry of an angel which might be heard from east to west, from north to south, in all the corners of the kingdom, my note should be Execution of Justice, Execution of Justice, Execution of Justice! That is God's way to pacify wrath: Then stood up Phinehas and executed judgment, and so the plague was stayed."
The Scots did indeed find one opportunity of fighting back, at least from the pulpit. This came in the summer of 1645. By that time their own position had become very delicate. On the one hand they had, as they felt, triumphed in the Westminster Assembly and, through it, were demanding the instant, overdue establishment in England of a Calvinist theocracy, complete with . . . General Assembly, ruling elders, and full powers of excommunication. On the other hand, even as they pressed their claims abroad, their position at home was in jeopardy. While Cromwell was winning victory after victory in England, in Scotland Montrose was master of almost the whole country. It was therefore significant that at this moment the Commons appointed as fast-preacher a man who, in the Westminster Assembly, was already known as an Erastian friend of Selden, an enemy of Scotch claims. This was Thomas Coleman, formerly a rector in Lincolnshire, now -- as once before -- sponsored by the two members for his county, Sir John Wray and Sir Edward Ayscough. In his sermon Coleman urged that the lay legislature of England "establish as few things jure divino as can well be," allow no rules to have divine sanction without clear scriptural warrant, and "lay no more burden of government upon the shoulders of ministers than Christ hath plainly laid upon them." The clergy, he said, should be content to be secured in learning and supplied with maintenance: Church government they should leave entirely to Parliament, for "a Christian magistrate, as a Christian magistrate, is a governor in the Church." In this manner the English Parliament, triumphant at Naseby, gave its answer to the Scotch General Assembly, reeling under the victories of Montrose.
Coleman was not an Independent. He explicitly opposed Independency. He was a "Presbyterian" - but an English "Presbyterian," and the Scotch Presbyterians were aghast at his doctrines. They had already been very busy in the Assembly: a "blasphemous book" had taken up much of their time "before we got it burnt by the hand of the hangman." Now they found themselves faced by Coleman. To be silent under such an attack was impossible; but where could they counter-attack? The House of Commons was no good: the majority there were "either half or whole Erastians." But by good luck [providence - ed.] another opportunity presented itself. The House of Lords, commiserating with the military disasters of the Scots, had invited the four dominies (ministers -- ed.) to preach at four successive fasts and the last of these occasions was still to come. It was to be on 27 August, and the preacher was to be the youngest, most learned, most argumentative of the four, George Gillespie.
Gillespie seized his opportunity. . . . he turned on Coleman. Coleman, he said, had been neither active nor passive on the side of reformation "but will needs appear on the stage against it." His views struck at the root of all Church government, were contrary to the Word of God, the Solemn League and Covenant, the opinions of other Reformed Churches, and the votes of Parliament and Assembly. They had given no small scandal and offence . . . The controversy thus roused rumbled on, with increasing acrimony, for six months. Sides were taken; pamphlets proliferated. But whatever the . . . clergy of London thought, inside the Parliament the views of Coleman prevailed.
But in the afternoon a different, discordant voice was heard. Thomas Watson, pastor of St. Stephens, Walbrook, was a "Presbyterian" who had been proposed by the "Presbyterian" London merchant John Rolle. But the revolution which had occurred since he had been nominated, and which had probably excluded his sponsor from the House, did not deter him. To a congregation of furious or frightened men, hurrying or hurried blindly forward, he preached one of the boldest sermons that was ever uttered to the Long Parliament. It was a sermon against hypocrisy, and the preacher sketched, in apposite detail, the character of the hypocrite. The hypocrite, he said, is "zealous in lesser things and remiss in greater . . . zealous against a ceremony, a relic or painted glass . . . but in the meantime lives in known sin, lying, defaming, extortion, etc." He is zealous against popery, but makes no conscience of sacrilege, starving out the ministry, "robbing God of his tithes." Then he drew nearer and struck deeper. The hypocrite, he declared, "makes religion a mask to cover his sin." So "Jezebel, that she may colour over her murder, proclaims a fast." Already the congregation of parliamentary saints must have begun to tremble for what would come next. And well they might, for it came hot and strong, even personal. "Many," said the preacher (and there could be no doubt of whom he was thinking), "make religion a cloak for their ambition. Come see my zeal, saith Jehu, for the Lord. No Jehu, thy zeal was for the kingdom. Jehu made religion hold the stirrup till he got into the saddle and possessed the Crown. This is a most exasperating sin."
Predictably, the Rump did not thank Watson, or invite him to print his sermon. Even the Levellers, who would soon echo his sentiments about Cromwell's "hypocrisy," rejected such an ally. "This Presbyterian proud flesh," they said, "must down with monarchy, one being equal in tyranny with the other." But Watson ignored the implied veto. He published his sermon himself. He had no difficulty in finding a printer. The sermon came out under the same imprimatur as the Serious and Faithful Representation, the protest of the London clergy against the trial of the king and against the charge that they, by their opposition, had ever intended the destruction of the monarchy (Watson's sermon was published as God's Anatomy upon Man's Heart).
Immediately after the fast-day, Cromwell made up his mind, and on 28 December the obedient Rump passed the ordinance for the king's trial. Two days later it chose its preachers for the next fast, which was due to fall on 30 January 1649. This time there was to be no chance of error. The two preachers were proposed by two safely radical members, Gilbert Millington and Francis Allen, both of whom would sign the king's death warrant. They were John Cardell and John Owen. Furthermore, regarding John Owen, in The Correspondence of John Owen (1616-1683) edited by Peter Toon (James Clarke & Co., 1970), we find this comment,
The first occasion that Owen preached at a monthly fast was Wednesday, 29 April 1646. His name was suggested on 25 March by Sir Peter Wentworth and Thomas Westrow; the vote of thanks after the sermon was proposed by Robert Jenner and Sir Peter Wentworth.1 The sermon was preached in St Margaret's Church, Westminster, but, in good Puritan style, the Journal of the House of Commons simply speaks of "Margaret's Church." It was published as A Vision of Unchangeable Free Mercy in sending the means of Grace to undeserving sinners. His fellow preacher was James Nalton whose sermon was published under the title Delay of Reformation provoking God's further indignation. Owen sought to show that whatever happens on earth, especially in events and matters connected with the propagation of the Gospel, is controlled by the will and counsel of God. The sermon was from Acts of the Apostles 16:9, "A vision appeared to Paul in the night; there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, 'Come over into Macedonia and help us.'" From the words "come over and help us" he deduced that the people who are in the greatest need are those who do not have the richness of the Gospel message proclaimed unto them; and, he pointed out, there were many people in England who had no preacher of the Gospel in their parish. The sermon closes with an eloquent appeal for the Gospel to be taken to the parts of the nation ravaged by war and destitute of a godly ministry.
Here is another interesting quote related to these Puritan fast sermons: In the early 1640s, as power passed from Charles I (who largely supported the existing rituals and festivals) to the Long Parliament, parliament began the process of clamping down on the celebration of Christmas, pressing that "Christ-tide" (as they preferred it called, thus doing away with the "mass" element and its Catholic echoes) should be kept, if at all, merely as a day of fasting and seeking the Lord. In January 1642, shortly before civil war began, Charles I had agreed to parliament's request to order that the last Wednesday in each month should be kept as a fast day; many hoped that Christ-tide, 25 December, would come to be seen and kept as just an addition to these regular fast days. The Long Parliament, in fact, met and worked as usual on 25 December 1643. In late 1644 it was noted that 25 December would fall on the last Wednesday of the month, the day of the regular monthly fast, and parliament stressed that 25 December was strictly to be kept as a time of fasting and humiliation, for remembering the sins of those who in the past had turned the day into a feast, sinfully and wrongfully "giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights." Both Houses of Parliament attended intense fast sermons on 25 December 1644.
Tentmaker Publishers is working on releasing this Puritan Sermons set in printed format. For details please see http://tentmaker.org.uk/content/?p=41. Here are some of their comments,
"This remarkable set of rare Puritan sermons comprises facsimile copies of sermons preached before parliament on appointed fast days between 1640 and 1653 . . . . It was our plan to reprint the facsimile edition, but possibly in 24 evenly sized volumes (to economise on production costs). We have already scanned in all the original pages but there is much work still to be done. We have now decided to reprint them in a new typeset edition with modern spelling. In addition, we plan to issue two volumes of sample sermons from the set.
The sermons are especially valuable, being as they are the work of the leading Puritan preachers of the day and addressed to those with the responsibility of government. We are hoping in the reprint to include some indication of the events occurring at the time that will give the context to the sermons and also a brief biographical sketch of each preacher.
We are cautious in giving a date when they will be available but we are aiming for late this year or early next. The offer price on the 24 volume set will be about £400 . . . . The set will be produced with sewn sections and bound in Buckram cloth with d/w. If you wish to reserve a set then please email Fast Sermons (at FastSermons@tentmaker.org.uk) with your details. This will help us to assess possible interest but there will be no commitment until final pricing has been calculated at which time we will notify you (emphases added)."
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