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true Christian faith and love: and also the strength which it imparts to resist temptations, particularly such as he underwent, temptations to worldly and carnal lusts. And the forty days fastings of Moses and Elijah deserve to be considered, when you reflect that these were they, who appeared with our Lord in glory at his transfiguration, and spoke of his decease, that is, his suffering which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. I believe the thought is not amiss, that they, who most resemble Christ in mortification and self-denial, shall be most favoured with spiritual views and refreshments here, drawn by faith from Christ crucified. The fasting of the Ninevites on Jonah's preaching had something in it acceptable to the Lord, as may appear to any who attend to the story.
Our Lord did not institute any particular fasts, but he evidently, in his Sermon on the mount, recommends fasting as an occasional duty of real believers, and as an evidence of their humbling their souls for their sins. While he directs that it be practised sincerely, and guards against ostentatious abuses, he evidently inculcates the thing itself.
Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly *' We find also, that when the Pharisees reproached our Lord, because their disciples, and likewise those of John, fasted often; but HIS disciples ate and drank like other people, they were given to understand, that, though the proper season
* Matthew vi. 16.
for their fasting was not while He, the bridegroom, was present with them, yet the days would come, when he should be taken from them; and then they should fast: after our Lord's ascension, they should have troubles and dangers, which would make fasting seasonable. Besides, this is a duty not so proper for young converts, as for those more advanced in grace.
Our Lord, with beautiful tenderness, and agreeably to his character of a shepherd *, who gently leads those of his flock that are with young, illustrates the case, by comparing it to that of “ putting new wine into old bottles, or a piece of new garment upon an old.” He then
“ that no man having drunk old wine, straightway desireth new f.” Christ's disciples are
" not hastily to be driven into rigorous duties. They must learn to practise them gradually; otherwise, the unsuitableness of the things themselves to their state wiil be like that of new cloth to an old
garment; and they will get only legal bondage and misery by them.
No good reason can be assigned why these rules of fasting should not belong to Christ's disciples in all ages as well as to those in the days of the Apostles. But let them be modified by that discreet tenderness and compassion, which our Lord himself expresses. Disciples of proud Pharisees may fast with ease and with pleasure; their pride is feasted thereby : but to fast with humility, with tenderness of conscience, without extremes and, above all, to find the end answered in being led more to Christ by it,--all this exceeds, * Isaiah xl. 11.
+ Luke v. 36-39.
generally, the wisdom of beginners in religion. To neglect it altogether, as some professors of christianity do, cannot be right : to practise it improperly may be hurtful; but if we are looking to the Lord, he will lead us safely and profitably; his own words on the subject will direct us. His sincere people feel snares and weaknesses, which are apt to entangle them continually ;-and may God keep me from hurting any soul, in the least, by excessive strictness, or by injudicious advice, unsuitable to their condition !
We find also that Jehosaphat, in time of great danger, proclaimed a fast. Ezra also, and the people fasted and besought their God; and he was intreated of them. Nehemiah too, in affliction for his country, fasted privately, and the Lord blessed his labours. Fasting was practised also by Daniel, who set himself to seek instruction by prayer and fasting; and it deserves to be remembered, that, in consequence of this religious exercise, he was favoured with one of the richest views of Christ to be found in the Old Testament. It is in the ninth chapter of the book of Daniel. Why need I mention the fastings spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles ? The lives of the first believers were full of self-denial ;-" In fastings often,” says St. Paul. ;
. He recommends also the occasional use of it to married persons, who know the Lord, 1 Cor. vii. 5. Anna, the old prophetess, served God with fastings and prayers night and day, Luke fi. and we know the happy event which followed : She was favoured with a glorious view of Christ. Cornelius also, the first fruits of the Gentiles, teaches us Gentiles the
use of fasting, as one among the many means of grace and spiritual improvement *, which God has been pleased to bestow upon us. You know he was brought to rejoice in Christ, and had the comforts of the Holy Ghost. One reason why we have so little joy in God, and they had so much, is, that they did not seek to gratify the flesh, as we do.
But enough has been said to show, how much fasting was practised by God's people of old. Those, who deride it, can hardly, with decency, call themselves Christians: and those who would be always and altogether excused from the observance of it, should consider that our Lord said, this kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting. There are particular evils, strong lusts and stubborn habits, which it may be necessary to resist by fasting. It must shew arrogancé in any one to set aside, without ceremony, a mean which we see has always been used by the Church of God in its best state. But I suspect such men will find by examining themselves, that self-indulgence and unwillingness to bear Christ's cross, lies at the bottom of their total disregard of fasting.
2: It is now time that I should proceed to set forth the ends and uses of this duty. Let none set about it in his own strength, or rest in the thing itself, to pacify conscience. He will find, if he does, as too many in former ages have found, that he will be led farther from Christ, rather than be brought nearer to him, by fasting. Let him be more careful about the ends and the uses than the thing itself. By evangelizing the duty you will grow more holy; you will be more comfortable; and, you will find Christ more precious : On the contrary, by using a little abstinence, MERELY as a duty, without knowing or seeking any distinct useful purposes to be answered thereby, you will only feed self-righteousness, and gain nothing at all in real holiness. The Evangelical uses of fasting are, I apprehend,
* Acts x
I directly or indirectly set forth in the very excellent Collect of our church. It is a prayer addressed to our Lord himself: and, by the suppliant who unites, in his idea, the power of the Godhead with the sympathy and compassion of the man, it will be found an encouraging address indeed to the Son of God. “O Lord, who for our sakes didst fast forty days and forty nights; give us grace to use such abstinence, that our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.”
The various uses of fasting, as a suitable mean of humbling the soul, of weaning it from the world, of subduing the flesh to the Spirit, and of bringing us into nearer and sweeter communion with Christ, are all expressed in this Collect. For thus sanctifying our abstinence, we must wholly rely on the grace and strength of Christ. Fasting was practised by himself in the days of his flesh: the benefit is to be received from him, by faith alone: and, in this admirable prayer, it is asked of him. When the soul is humbled by fasting it will be disposed to express itself in the following manner.
« O Lord Jesus, alas ! that I should have a nature so wicked, blind, sensual and corrupt as to prefer any worldly or animal gratification before Thee! I have chosen