Consider first, how God calls upon us, by his Prophet, in the lesson of this day: ‘Be converted to me,’ saith he, ‘with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning – and rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God,’ Joel ii. 12,13. Christians, hearken to this summons from heaven. O let it sink deep into your souls; and if this day you hear the voice of God sweetly inviting you, turn to him in good earnest; now at this holy season harden not your hearts, lest provoked by your impenitence he turn away from you, and you die in your sins. O let us repeat and amend, as we are admonished by the Church on this day, whilst we have time, lest being overtaken by death, which is ever following at our heels, we should seek for time of penance, and not be able to find it.
Consider 2ndly, the meaning of the ashes which are put on our heads this day with these words: ‘Remember that thou art dust; and into the dust thou shalt return.’ Sackcloth and ashes were the ancient habit of penitents. The Ninevites by fasting in sack-cloth and ashes found mercy. Let these ashes then, which we receive on our heads at the beginning of this penitential fast, be a lesson to us to enter upon it with the like penitential spirit. They are an emblem of contrition and humility; let us receive them with a contrite and humble heart. They are also a remembrance of our mortality, of our frail composition, and of our hasty return to our mother earth. O let us think well on this, and renounce henceforward our unhappy pride and presumption; O let us make good use of this our time, and prepare for that moment which shall ere long send away our souls into another region, and turn our bodies into dirt and dust.
Consider 3rdly, Christian soul, those words, as if, they were addressed to thee: ‘Yet forty days and Nineve shall be destroyed,’ Jonas iii. 4. Alas have not thy sins, like those of Nineve, called to heaven this long time for vengeance? And hast thou not too much reason to fear, lest the mercy which thou hast so long abused should now quickly give place to justice, and should suffer thee to die in thy sins? Perhaps this is the last reprieve that God will grant thee. In all appearance the good use, or the abuse of these forty days, may determine thy lot for an eternity.
Conclude then to spare no pains to avert the judgment that hangs over thy head, and so spend these forty days of reprieve in suing for mercy, after the manner God has appointed, that is, by fasting, weeping, and mourning, that thou mayest effectually find it.