« PreviousContinue »
was fasting and praying, when he was favoured with the extraordinary vision which taught him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. And Cornelius was engaged in the same manner, when he received, by supernatural means, the special commission to send for him. Besides, is it not proper that such an act should be joined with repentance? So the king of Nineveh thought, when he commanded it to be done with a view to avert the judgments of Jehovah from the guilty city. Not “ that meat commendeth us to God, for neither if we eat are we the better, neither if we eat not are we the worse."* But when adopted with a view to promote and strengthen the sacred desires of the soul, and to assist its serious meditations, self-examinations, and fervent prayers, it has often proved an eminent means of accomplishing these desirable purposes.
Secondly. I hasten to offer a few brief remarks on the manner in which this commendable duty may be observed. It is evident, both from the genius of Revelation and the nature of the action itself, that there should be the careful avoidance of every ostentatious and affected display of piety. This would bring it into accordance with the precepts here given us. The desire of human applause was the rock against which the Pharisees stumbled, and their downfall teaches us to watch our motives lest we fall likewise. We may not be exposed to the temptation of assuming the appearance of extraordinary humiliation like them, but we can never be too jealous of the principles from which we perform religious duty. The hypocrisy which our Lord condemned in these individuals may not discover itself in the affectation of grief, or the mode of our apparel ; nevertheless, we may commit the same crime in a variety of ways besides these. Let us, therefore, pray with David, in reference to every spiritual exercise : “ Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." But in addition to this, we should carefully aim at the accomplishment of its design. Its scriptural intention is, “to rend the heart and not the garment.” If it be adopted as a bodily penance, or from a penurious spirit,-or if it be merely reduced to a change of diet, as in the case of some who boast of their “ vigils and fasts,” it is utterly offensive in the sight of God. Let us hear the prophet Isaiah on this point, in his spirited reproof to the Jews, and which places the whole subject before us in an evangelical light: “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our souls, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
1 Cor. viii. 8.
Behold ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen ?–a day for man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him ? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free; and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh ?"* In the conclusion of our present reflections, permit me to make two remarks which the subject suggests.
First. The prosperity of personal religion may be promoted by it. Our forefathers practised it, and they
* Isaiah lviii. 3__7.
“ walked in the fear of God, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost." I recommend not the total absence of food indiscriminately to you, on a day of religious fasting; for it is probable, there are some of my hearers whose health would not allow such a course, even for the shortest period. It is impossible to fix one general rule for all in this case,--seeing what may be useful to one may be injurious to another. But it is the more sparing use of the gratifications of the body, and the more entire humiliation of the heart before God, that I affectionately press upon your attention as of great importance in the religious life.
And finally, remember, that the abridgment of earthly comforts does not sanctify devotion, but devotion sanctifies that. Neither bowing the knee in prayer, the use of proper expressions in that exercise, or the mortification of our appetites in retirement, are worship, any more than the garments are the man. You may fall on your face, and never pray; and you may fast, yet never humble your soul. So also you may offer acceptable supplications without changing your attitude; and mortify your affections without abstaining from provisions. The prostration of the body, and the suppression of its natural desires, are only means, though confessedly important ones, to an end, and should be employed as such. Let us, therefore, labour in all things, to approve ourselves unto Christ, and to his name be the glory. Amen.
MATTHEW vi. 19-21.
" LAY NOT UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES UPON EARTH,
WHERE MOTH AND RUST DOTH CORRUPT, AND WHERE
These words stand in close connection with the spirit of the preceding exhortations. The Saviour has referred his auditory to the pompous deeds of the Scribes and Pharisees, and has forcibly exhibited the corrupt motive of all they performed. He now goes a step farther into their hearts; and although He does not mention them by name, yet He implies, that covetousness was at the root of this evil in these persons, and therefore it was most important that such a disposition should be subdued. In perfect accordance with this sentiment, He shows the folly of accumulating worldly possessions, and setting the heart upon them as the chief good.
as the chief good. In this precept there is nothing of local or private interpretation; it is equally necessary for man in every situation of life, and degree of society, he may sustain. Circumstances may diversify the more palpable shades of his character, and paint them with lighter or darker hue; but the worldliness of the heart is substantially the same. The strong and masterly delineation given of certain “enemies of the cross of Christ,” in the primitive days of the gospel, is faithfully correct in its application to the predominant disposition and pursuits of the world in every age, “who mind earthly
“ But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil : which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”+ The passage under consideration is formed on the same truth, and is a powerful dissuasive from so miserable a course. It is as though the Divine Prophet had said, “I have thus admonished you against the wortbless and sinful devotions of these · hypocrites,' out of love to your souls, that you may take warning from their errors, and learn wisdom from their mistakes. In order to this, however, you must place a constant watch against the governing motive and bias of your mind, and renounce the destructive selfishness which actuates their steps. Let the smile of your God, and the blessings of his love treasures that never decay, and which no man taketh from you—be the chief and absorbing object of your pursuit, and warmest attachment. This will be the most effectual means of preserving you from sordid motives, and of transferring your regard from this dying world to the solid and indestructible glories of heaven. “ For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Phil. iii. 18, 19.
t1 Tim. vi. 9, 10.