Images de page

For on that Day the Priest small make an Atonement for you to cleanse you, that je may be clean from all your

Sins before the Lord: Il shall be a Sabbath of Refl unto you, and ye fall aflict your Souls by a Statuia for ever. In this Passage the distinguishing Marks of a most folemn Fast are set down. Tbey were to rest from all Manner of Labour, as on the Sabbath; and they were to abstain from Meat and Drink, and all other Pleasures whatsoever. This is signified by the Phrase, je fall afilia your Souls; for aflifting the Soul, in the Scripture Language, signifies Fasting and SelfDenial, as appears from Isaiah lviii. 3. Wherefore have we fafted and thou feest not? Wherefore have we AFFLICTED OUR Soul, and thou takes no Knowledge? Again, ver. 5: Is it such a Fast as I have chosen? A Day for a Man to AFFLICT HIS SOUL? The Word Soul, in both these Places (as in many other Parts of Scripture) denotes the sensitive Part of Man, which is amicted by Fasting ; not the Mind, or rational Part, which is afflicted by Sorrow and Compunction; for this kind of aflicting the Soul (which is indeed the Sacrifice of a broken and a contrite Heart) God would not have despised. Now the Jews having so plain a Law for fasting on this great and folemn Occasion; it is natural to suppose that they transferred this Practice to all other Occasions, both publick and private, whenever they thought it seasonable to humble themselves before God. And that this was proper and useful, and that God approved it, we have alrea dy Mewn. But it is carefully to be observed; chat under the Jervish Law, Fafting had not the Force and Virtue of an Inflitution, any otherwise than as it stood connected with the great Day of Atonement; because this was the only Day on which they were commanded to fait by a Statute for ever.

Fast they mighi, and did, upon diverse Occasions, besides this; but as the Humiliation of such Seasons was a free and vo. luntary Service, so was the Fafting that attended them; insomuch, that if they had omitted Fasting on such Occasions, though their Services might have been leis


perfe&, and therefore less effectual to the Purposes in. tended, yet they could not have been charged with a formal Violation of the Law of Mofes.

This Observation will help us to determine the Ob. ligation to fast, as it now stands under the Gospel Dir. pensation. With Fasting, considered as an Institution of Mofes, it is plain we have nothing to do : Consequently, the Obligation to Fast cannot be stronger upon a Christian, than it was upon a Jew, with respect to those other Fallings which the Jews customarily observed, but which the Law of Mofes prescribed not; unless our Saviour, by his Authority, hath made it a positive Institution; which does not seem to have been the Case. The only Place in which our Saviour hath spoken to the Point, is Matt. ix. 15. where the Dir. ciples of John object to Chrif, We and the Pharisees

fast OFTEN, but thy Disciples faft not. Of whac Sort of Faling do they speak? Of their voluntary Fasting, no doubt: for the Law of Moses did not oblige them to fast often. Our Saviour auswers, that though they did not now fast, yet the Time was coming, when they should fast. Can the Children of the Bride. Chamber mourn,

as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the Days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then fall they fall. In which Words Christ intimates; that as to Matters of this Kind, the Dispensation which he was come to in. troduce thould make no Difference. As Fews they fasted often, and so they might as his Disciples, when it should become seasonable so to do: Which was leaving the Practice of Fafting just as he found it, a free and a voluntary Service; to be done, or to be left undone, as the Circumstances of Times should direct; not binding it upon them as a Gospel Insticution. Therefore, though it will be a culpable Omillion in a Chrillian to neglect Fafting at proper Seasons, in Consequence of that general Obligation which all Men are under to make the best Use of the Means and Op. portunities of Improvement which lie before them ; and to pay due Regard to Rules appointed by the


Church for Order and Edification; yet it will not be an Offence of the same Nature, as if he should neglect to receive Baptism, or to partake of the Communion of Cbrif's Body and Blood, when he is called upon to do it, and has no reasonable Impediment to keep him back. These are Duties ftri&ly commanded; and with the wilful Omiffion of them the Obedience of . Christian cannot stand. The other is a Pradice approved and recommended as useful to the Purposes of Reli. gion ; not infifted upon as a constituent Part of that Obedience which the Gospel requires as accesary to Salvation.

Let us now therefore enquire, how Palting comes to be useful to the Purposes of Religion; or by what Virtue it is a Service acceptable to God. And here'i is plain, that the Virtue lics not in the Work itfelf: For, as moral Agents, we must be approved or dirapproved of God, in Consequence of some moral Quality; but in Falting (the Work only confidered) there is aoching morally good, or morally evil: For, a St. Paul says, Neitber if we eat, are we the better ; neisheri if we cal noi, are we be worse. Meal, therefore, commendesb us not to Godo: No more does Abftinence, confidered merely as Abstinence. And this is the Nae sure of all external A&ts of Worship whatsoever ; that, confidered in themselves, or separate from all Relation -80 fomething further, they are of no Value. God bad commanded Sacrifices under the Law; yet to the

Jews he faith, To wbal Purpose is the Multitude of your Sacrifices urto me? I am fudll of the Burnt Offer. ings of Rams, and the Fat of fed Beafis ; and I deligbe not in the Blood' of Bullocks, or of Lambs, or of He Goats t? The Meaning is; not that Sacrifices, ab. solutely, were unacceptable to God, but, that God delighted not in Sacrifices merely for the Sacrifices Sake. And how indeed should he ? Think we that God cat. th the Flesh of Bulls, or drinketb the Blood of Goats I? In like Manner, with respect to Fafting ; God alks by the Mouth of the same Prophet, is it such a Fafi thay . ; Corviiia 8 4. Ifaiab i. 11,

1 Pjala 1, 13 1

[ocr errors]

I have chofen? a Day for a Man to affii&t his soul? Is it to bow down his Head like a Bull rush, and to Spread Sackcloth and Ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, an acceptable Day unto the Lord *God doch nor condemn these outward Services; he doch not reprove them for afflicting their Souls by Abstinence and Self. Denial, nor for appearing in the Guise and Fathion of those who sorrowed, by spreading Sack. cloth and Alhes d'der them. But he tells the Jews, that if they did this and nothing more; if they falt. ed and mourned, and, no:hing came of it; it should nothing avail them. What then were they to do? You have it, Jaiah i. 16. Wash ye, make you clean, put away the Evil of your Doings from before mine Eyes, ceafe to do evil, learn to do siell. Again ; Chap. Iviii. ver. 6. Is not this the Fall that I have chojen to loose the Bands of Wickedness, to undo the heavy Burdens, and to let the oppresjed go. free. Is it not to deal thy Bread to the hungry? When thou Jeeft the naked, that thou cover him, &c. These are plain Descriptions of ihat Repentance and Righteousness towards God, which the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Ter. tament, set forth to us as the proper Ground of our Acceptance to his Favour. So that whatever Virtue there is in Fafting, it must needs arise from fome Re. lation it bears to Repentance and Righteousness. And ir hath, whenever there is any sincere Meaning in it, First, the Relation of an Evidence, to thew the inward Sorrow of the Heart; which is precisely the Thing that avails with God. When the Niñevites proclaimed a Fast, upon the preaching of Yonah. it is said, that God repented of the Evil that he had said that he would do unto them, and he did it not. Why? not merely because they fafted ; but because God law heir Works, that they turned from their evil Way, Jonah iii. 10. God wants not any outward Evidence to thew him how the Heart is inwardly di'posed; but Men do: And therefore when National Offences call for National Humiliation, pablick Falts are highly ex-* Ijaieb lviii. si


pedient; for they are a publick Admonition, and a publick Example. Secondly; Fating hath the Relation of an Inftrument, serving to promote and help forward Repentance; and to strengthen and improve every virtuous Disposition of Mind which Repentance producech. Virtue is properly the Work of Realon, directed by the Law of God, and supported by the Expectations of a Life to come. By how much the less therefore Reason is.difturbed by Passion, by so much the more regular and certain will it be in its Operations; and Virtue not only stand more secure, but ex. tend itself more in every Respect in which it is capa. ble of Growth and Improvement. Now this is the proper Use of Abstinence, to keep the Body under, and bring it into Sudjetilion, as St. Paul Ipeaks: To with. draw that Fuel which is apt to provoke and inflame sensual Appe:ite; to cut off the Opportunities of Sin and Vanity; and to bring ourselves to a sober, considerate, and devour Frame of Mind; and in this View there is a great deal to be said to recommend the Practice. But if we imagine that there is in Fasting, or Auferities of any other kind, a Virtue to atone for paft Transgreffions; this is not only a foolish, but a dangerous Superftition. God hath given us (as free Agents) the Power of finning; but when we have sinned, he hath not put it in the Power of any Creature in Heaven, or on Earth, to say what shall satisfy his offended Justice. It is his, and not ours, both to punish and to forgive Offences committed against himself; and he hath cold us, that there is no Atonement but the Blood of Chrift; 1o Means of Acceptance to the Grace offered by this Atonement, but fincese Repent·ance; which is like to go but flowly on, if Men fall once come to believe that by submitting to a certain stated Course of Discipline impo!ed by a Priest, or voluntarily undertaken by themselves, they shall bave Peace, though they walk in the Imaginations of their own Heartst.

Cor. ix. 27,

+ Deut, xxix, 19.

I 2


« PrécédentContinuer »