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dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will 1 pour out my Spirit."
12. Now w hatsoever 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 docs 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 tiling 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 in no wise lose its reward.
And this is a still farther motive and encouragement to the performance of this duty; even the promise which our Lord has graciously annexed to the due discharge of it: "Thv Father which secth in secret shall reward thee openly." Such are the plain grounds, reasons, and ends of Fasting; such our encouragement to persevere therein, notwithstanding abundance of Objections which men, wiser than their Lord, have been continually raising against it.
III. I. 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 he does; but he requires the other also. Therefore this ought to be done, and that not left undone.
View your argument in its full dimensions; and vou will easily judge of the strength of it.
"If a Christian ought to abstain from sin, then he ought not to abstain from food:
But a Christian ought to abstain from sin:
Therefore he ought not to abstain from food."
That a Christian ought to abstain from sin, is most true; but how does it follow from henr ; 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 often abstain from food, for such reasons and ends as cxpericr.ee and Scripture plainly show to be answered thereby.
2. 'But is it not better (as it has, secondly, been objected) to abstain from pride and vanity, from foolish and hurtful desires, from peevishness, and anger, and discontent, than from food?' Without question it is. But here again we have need to remind you of our Lord's words: " These things ought ye to have done., and not to leave the other undone." And, indeed, the latter is only in order to the former; it is a means to that great end. We abstain from food with this view, that, by the grace of God conveyed into our souls through this outward means, in conjunction with all the other channels of his grace which he hath appointed, we may be enabled to abstain from every passion and temper which is not pleasing in his sight. We refrain from the one, that, being endued with power from on high, we may be able to refrain from the other. So that your argument proves just the contrary to what you designed. It proves, that wc ought to fast. For if we ought to abstain from evil tempers and desires, then we ought thus to abstain from food; since these little instances of self-denial are the ways God hath chose, wherein to bestow that great salvation.
3. 'But we do not find it so in fact:' (this is a third objection :) 'we have fasted much and often; but what did it avail? We were not a whit better; we found no blessing therein. Nay we have found it an hinrlerance rather than an help. Instead of preventing anger, for instance, or frctfulness, it has been a means of increasing them to such a height, that we could neither bear others nor ourselves.' This may very possibly be ihe case. It is possible, either to fast or pray in such a manner, as to make you much worse than before; more unhappy, and more unholy. Yet the fault does not lie in the means itself, but in the manner of using it. Use it still, but use it in a different manner. Do what God commands, as he commands it; and then, doubtless, his promise shall not fail: his blessing shall be withheld no longer; but, when thou fastest in secret, " He that seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
4. 'But is it not mere superstition, (so it has been> fourthly, objected,) to imagine that God regards such little things as these?' If you say it is, you condemn all the generations of God's children. But will you say, these were all weak, superstitious men? Can you be so hardy as to affirm this, both of Moses and Joshua, of Samuel and David, of Jehoshaphat, Ezra, Nehemiah, and all the Prophets? Yea, of a greater than all*
Vol. I. No. 8. 2 A
the Son of God himself? It is certain, both our Master, and all these his servants, did imagine that fasting is not u little thing, and that He who is higher than the highest doth regard it. Of the same judgment, it is plain, were all his Apostles, after they were "filled with the Holy Ghost, and with wisdom." When they had the "unction of the Holy One, teaching them all things," they still approved themselves the Ministers of God, "by fastings," as well as " by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left." After "the bridegroom was taken from them, then did they fast in those days." Nor would they attempt any thing (as we have seen above) wherein the glory of God was nearly concerned, such as the sending forth labourers into the harvest, without solemn fasting as well as prayer.
5. 'But if fasting be indeed of so great importance, and attended with such a blessing, is it not best,' say some, fifthly, 'to fast always? Not to do it now and then, but to keep a continual fast? To use as much abstinence, at all times, as our bodily strength will bear?' Let none be discouraged from doing this. By all means use as little and plain food, exercise as much self-denial herein at all times, as your bodily strength will bear. And this may conduce, by the blessing of God, to several of the great ends above mentioned. It may be a considerable help, not only to chastity, but also to heavenly mindedncss; to the weaning your affections from things below, and setting them on things above. But this is not fasting, scriptural fasting; it is never termed so in all the Bible. It, in some measure, answers some of the ends thereof; but still it is another thing. Practise it by all means; but not so as thereby to set aside a command of God, and an instituted means of averting his judgments, and obtaining the blessings of his children.
6. Use continually then as much Abstinence as you please; which, taken thus, is no other than Christian Temperance; but this need not at all interfere with your observing solemn times of Fasting and Prayer. For instance: Your habitual abstinence or temperance would not prevent your fasting in secret, if von were suddenly overwhelmed with huge sorrow and remorse, and with horrible fear and dismay. Such a situation of mind would almost constrain you to fast; you would loathe your daily food; you would scarce endure even to take such supplies as were needful for the body, till God " lifted you up out of the horrible pit, and set your fert upon ;i rock, ami ordered your goings." The same would be the case if you were in agony of desire, vehemently wrestling with God for his blessing. You would need none to instruct you not to cat bread till you had obtained the request of your lips.
7- Again, had you been at Nineveh when it was proclaimed throughout tbe city, "Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed or drink water, but let them cry mightily unto God; "—would your continual fast have beeu any reason for not bearing part in that general humiliation? Doubtless it would not. You would have been as much concerned as any other not to taste food on that day.
No more would abstinence, or the observing a continual fast, have excused any of the children of Israel from fasting on the tenth day of the seventh month, the great anuual day of atonement. There was no exception for these in that solemn decree, "Whatsoever soul it shall be, that shall not be afflicted, [shall not fast,] in that day, he shall be cut off from among his people." , .
Lastly, had you been with the brethren in Antioch, at the time when thoy fasted and prayed, before the sending forth of Barnabas and Saul, can you possibly imagine that your temperance or abstinence would have been a sufficient cause for not joining therein? Without doubt, if yon had not, you would soon have been cut off from the Christian community. You would have deservedly been cast out from among them, as bringing confusion into the church of God.
IV. 1. I an>, in the last place, to show, in what Manner we are to fast, that it may be an acceptable service unto the Lord. And, first, Let it be done unto the Lord, with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven; to express our sorrow and shame for our manifold transgressions of his holy law; to wait for an increase of purifying grace, drawing our affections to things above; to add seriousness and earnestness to our prayers; to avert the wrath of God, and to obtain all the great and precious promises, which he hath made to us in Jesus Christ.
Let us beware of mocking God, of turning our fast, as well as our prayers, into an abomination unto the Lord, by the mixture of any temporal view, particularly by socking tbe praise of men. Against tbis our blessed Lord more peculiarly guards us in the words of the text. "Moreover, when ye fast, be ye not as the hypocrites:"—such were too many who were called the people of God; "of a sad countenance;" sour, affectedly sad, putting their looks into u peculiar form. "For they disfigure their faces," not only by unnatural distortions, but also by covering them with dost and ashes; "that they may appear unto men to fast;" this is their chief, if not only, design. "Verily I say unto you, They have their reward ;" even the admiration and praise of men. "But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face :*' Do as thou art accustomed to do at other limes; "that thou appear not unto men to fast;"—let this he no part of thy intention; if they know it without any desire of thine, it matters not, thou art neither the better nor the worse;—" but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."
2. But, if we desire this reward, let us beware, secondly, of fancying we merit any thing of God by our fasting. Wc cannot be too often warned of this; inasmuch as a desire to "establish our own righteousness," to procure salvation of debt and not of grace, is so deeply rooted in all our hearts. Fasting is only a way which God hath ordained, wherein we wait for his unmerited mercy; and wherein, without any desert of ours, he hath promised freely to give us his blessing.
3. Not that we arc to imagine, the performing the bare outward act will receive any blessing from God. "Is it such a fast that I have chosen, saith the Lord; a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?" Arc these outward acts, however strictly performed, all that is meant by a man's "afflicting his soul ?"—" Wilt thou call this a fast, ami an acceptable day to the Lord?" Xo surely: if it be a mere external service, it is all but lost labour. Such a performance may possibly afflict the body; but as to the soul, it profiteth nothing.
4. Yea, the body may sometimes be afflicted too much, so as to be unfit for the works of our calling. This also we i?re diligently to guard against; for we ought to preserve our health, as a good gift of God. Therefore care is to be taken, whenever we fast, to proportion the last to our strength. For wc may not offer God murder for sacrifice, or destroy our bodies to help our souls.
But at these solemn seasons, wc may, even in great weakness of body, avoid that other extreme, for which God condemns those who of old expostulated with him for not ac