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that airiness of mind, that levity of temper, that gay inatceution to things of the deepest concern, that giddiness and carelessness of spirit, which were no other than drunkenness of soul, which stupified all their noblest faculties, no less than excess of wine or strong drink. To remove, therefore, the effect, they remove the cause : they keep at a distance from all excess. They abstain, as far as is possible, from what had well nigh plunged them in everlasting perdition. They often wholly refrain ; always take care to be sparing and temperate in all things.
4. They likewise well remember, how fulness of bread increased not only carelessness and levity of spirit, but also foolish and unholy desires, yea, unclean and vile affections. And this experience puts beyond all doubt. Eveu a gentecl, regular sensuality, is continually sensualizing the soul, and sinking it into a level with the beasts that perish. It cannot be expressed what an effect a variety and delicacy of food have on the mind as well as the body; making it just ripe for every plcasure of sense, as soon as opportunity shall invite. Therefore, on this ground also, crery wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wcan it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which vaturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debasc it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections.
5. Perhaps we need not altogether omit (although I know not if we should do well to lay any great stress upon it) another reason for fasting, which some good men have largely insisted on ; Hamely, The punishing themselves for having abused the good gifts of God, by sometimes wholly refraining from them; thus exercising a kind of holy revenge upon themselves, for their past folly and ingratitude, in turning the things which should have been for their health into an occasion of falling. They suppose David to have had an eye to this, when he said, "I wept and chastened (or punished) my soul with tasting ;" and St. Paul, wbcu lie mentions “what revenge ”godly sorrow occasioned in the Corinthians,
6. A fifth, and more weighty reason for fasting is, that it is an help to Prayer ; particularly, when we set apart larger portions of time for private prayer. Then especially it is, that God is often plcascd 10 lift up the souls of his servants above all the things of earth, and sometimes to rap them up, as it were, into the third heavens. And it is chiefly, as it is an help to prayer, that it has so frequently been found a means, in the hand of God, of confirming and increasing, not one virtue, not chastity only, (as some have idly imagined, without any ground either from Scripture, reason, or experience,) but also seriousness of spirit, earnestness, sensibility and tenderness of conscience, deadness to the world, and consequently the love of God, and every holy and hearenly affection.
7. Not that there is any natural or necessary connection between fasting and the blessings God conveys thereby. But he will have mercy as he will have mercy; he will convey whatsoever seemeth him good by whatsoever mears he is pleased to appoint. And he hath, in all ages, appointed this to be a means of averting his wrath, and obtaining whatever blessiogs we, from time to time, stand in need of.
How powerful a means this is to avert the wrath of God, we may learn from the remarkable instance of Abab. “There was none like [him,] who did sell himself,"_wholly give himself up, live a slave bought with moncy,-" to work wickedness.” Yet, when he “rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and went softly, the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, “Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me ? Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days."
It was for this end, to avert the wrath of God, that Daniel sought God “ with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.” This appears from the whole tenor of his prayer, particularly from the solemn conclusion of it: “O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, (or mercies,] let thy anger be turned away from thy holy mountain. -Hear the prayer of thy servant, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate.
-O Lord, hear; O Lord forgive; O Lord, hearken and do, for thine own sake.” (Dan. ix. 3, 16, &c.)
8. But it is not only from the People of God that we learn, when his anger is moved, to seek bim by fasting and prayer ; but even from the Heathens. When Jonah had declared, 6 Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown," the people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest of them unto the least. “For the King of Nineveh arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh, Lct neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let thein not feed, nor drink water : " (Not that the beast had sinned, or could repent; but that, by their example, man might be admonished, considering that, for his sin, the anger of God was hanging over all creatures :) “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not ?" And their labour was not in vain. The fierce anger of God was turned away from them. “ God saw their works ; ” (the fruits of that repentance and faith, which he had wrought in them by his Prophet ;) “ and God repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.” (Jonah ii. 4, &c.)
9. And it is a means not only of turning away the wrath of God, but also of obtaining whatever blessings we stand in necd of. So when the other tribes were smitten before the Benjamites, “ all the children of Israel went up unto the house of God, and wept and fasted that day until even;" and then the Lord said, “Go up (again ;] for to-morrow I will deliver them into thine band.” (Judges xx. 26, &c.) So Samuel gathered all Israel together, when they were in bondage to the Philistines, " and they fasted on that day” before the Lord : and when “the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel, the Lord thundercd [upon them) with a great thunder, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.” (1 Sam. vii. 6.) So Ezra : “I proclaimed a fast at the river Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to scek of bim a right way for us, and for our little ones; and he was cntrcated of us.” (Ezra viii. 21.) So Nehemiah : “ I fasted and prayed before the God of heaven, and said, Prosper, I pray thce, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man:” and God granted him mercy in the sight of the King. (Neh. i. 4-11.)
10. In like manner, the Apostles always joined fasting with prayer, when they desired the blessing of God on any important undertaking. Thus we read, (Acts xiii,) “ There vere in the Church that was at Antioch certain Prophets and Teachers : as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, [doubtless for direction in this very affair,] the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had [a second time] fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (Ver. 1-3.)
Thus also Paul and Barnabas then selves, as we read in
the following chapter, when they “returned again to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and when they had ordained them Elders in every Church, and had prayed with fasting, commended them to the Lord.” (Ver. 23.) i grad
Yea, that blessings are to be obtained in the use of this means, which are no otherwise attainable, our Lord expressly declares in his answer to his disciples, asking, “ Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit, this kind [of devils] goeth not out but by prayer and fasting :” (Matt. xvii. 19, &c. :)—these being the appointed means of attaining that faith, whereby the very devils are subject unto you.
11. These were the appointed means: For it was not merely by the light of reason, or of natural conscience, as it is called, that the people of God have been, in all ages, directed to use fasting as a means to these ends : But they have been, from time to time, taught it of God himself, by clear and open revelations of his will. Such is that remarkable one by the Prophet Joel: “ Therefore saith the Lord, Turn ye to me, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping and with mourning :- Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him ? Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly :-Then will the Lord be jealous for his land, and pity his people. Yea, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil :-I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen.” (ch. ii. 12, &c.)
Nor are they only temporal blessings which God directs his people to expect in the use of these means. For, at the same time that he promised to those who should seek him with fasting, and weeping, and mourning, “I will restore to you the years which the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmer-worm, my great army;" he subjoins,“ So shall ye eat and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God.—Ye shall also know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God.” And then immediately follows the great Gospel promise, “ I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall
dream dreams, and your young men shall sce risions : Avi also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.”
12. Now whatsoever reasons there were to quicken those of old, in the zealous and constant discharge of this duty, they are of equal force still, to quicken us. But above all these, we have a peculiar reason for being “in fastings often," namely, the command of Him by whose name we are called. He does not indeed in this place expressly enjoin either fasting, giving alms, or prayer ; but his directions how to fast, to give alms, and to pray, are of the same force with such injunctions. For the commanding us to do any thing thus, is an unquestionable command to do that thing; seeing it is impossible to perform it thus, if it be not performed at all. Consequently, the saying, Give alms, pray, fast, in such a manner, is a clear command to perform all those duties; as well as to perform them in that manner, which shall iu no wise lose its reward.
And this is a still farther motive and encouragement to tlie performance of this duty; even the promise which our Lord has graciously annexed to the due discharge of it: “ Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Such are the plain grounds, reasons, and ends of Fasting ; such our cricouragement to persevere therein, notwithstanding abundance of Objections which men, wiser than their Lord, liare been continually raising against it.
NII. 1. The most plausible of these, I come now to consider. And first, It has been frequently said, “Let a Christian fast from sin, and not from food: this is what God requires at his hands. So be does; but he requires the other also. Therefore this onght to be done, and that not left undone.
View your argument in its full dimensions; and you will easily judge of the strength of it.
“ It a Christian ought to abstain from sin, then he ought not to abstain from food :
But a Christian ought to abstain from sin :
That a Christian ought to abstain from sin, is most true; but how does it follow from heno: that he ought not to abstain from food? Yea, let him do both the one and the other. Let him, by the grace of God, always abstain from sin; and let him oftco abstain from food, for such reasons and ends as espe. rience and Scripture plain's shoes to be anstrered thereby.