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SECTION IV.

ON ABSTINENCE AND SELF-EXAMINATION, AS MEANS

OF PROMOTING PRAYER.

WHOEVER considers the nature of Christianity, as it appears in the New Testament, cannot peruse the pages of church history, without instantly perceiving how grievously the great body of nominal Christians, in every age, have departed from the principles and spirit of the Gospel. In nothing has this perversion been more evident, than in substituting servile fear for filial love, as the chief motive of obedience, and consequently putting external ceremonies and corporeal austerities, in place of moral duties and spiritual exercises. Hence the secluded and sordid habits, the penances, rigid fastings, and flagellations of the monastic orders. John Climachus, who was an abbot of the sixth century, gives a most striking account of a monastery near-Mount Sinai, which would appear incredible, did we not know that superstition has a power of degrading man so far, as almost to extinguish reason.

The inmates of

this gloomy prison voluntarily immured themselves, and spent their time in prayer, with every possible external mark of self-denial and wretchedness. They did not allow themselves one comfort of human life. They did not dare to ask in their prayers to be entirely delivered from punishment: they only begged not to be punished with the utmosť rigour. The voluntary torments they endured were amazing; and this voluntary humility of theirs continued till death.* It is impossible to read such accounts, without condemning the folly, or pitying the ignorance and weakness of such miserable vassals. The age and the country in which we live, are not much exposed to danger in this direction: there is far more to apprehend from the opposite extreme of laxity. It is no easy matter to find and keep the true medium. Whatever has, for a length of time, been greatly abused, is apt to be laid aside or neglected. It is but too evident that fashion finds its way into religion, as well as exerts its power over the ordinary habits and manners of life. Those who would follow the dictates of divine truth, and consult their own best interests, must, as far as possible, emancipate themselves from its capricious sway. pose, therefore, to consider, amoug the means

I pro

* Milner's Church History.

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of promoting prayer, Abstinence, and Self-examination. These, I am aware, may not, to some, be very alluring topics: they may, nevertheless, be useful,

I. Abstinence is, in some cases, calculated to revive and promote prayer.

Let not the reader start, as if I were about to send him to the Jewish synagogue, or Mahometan mosque, for examples. It was cast as a reproach upon Christ, that his disciples bore no resemblance to the Pharisees and the disciples of John, in self-mortification and abstinence. To this he replied, “ Can ye make the children of the Bridegroom fast; while the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.” (Luke v. 33, &c.) As fasting is obviously a duty of a moral, not a positive kind, it must be obligatory under every dispensation of religion. Teacher, indeed, has cut off occasion of using it as an expedient of self-righteousness, and forbidden all unnatural rigours, and the appendages of pride and ostentation, which have too frequently accompanied it. (Mat. vi. 16–18.) It is not a stated, but an occasional duty, incumbent upon Christians in peculiar

Our great circumstances. Religiou sfasting,” says one, “ consists in abstinence from every animal indulgence, and from food, as far as health will admit; in humble confession of our sins to God, with contrition or sorrow for them; and in earnest deprecation of God's displeasure, and humble supplication that he would avert his judgments." It does not appear that our Saviour instituted any particular fast, but left it optional. Any state of calamity and sorrow, however, naturally suggests this.

How long a person should abstain from food, depends on circumstances. The great end to be kept in view is humiliation for, and abstinence from sin. If,” says Marshall, “ abstinence divert your minds, by reason of a gnawing appetite, then you had better eat sparingly, as Daniel in his greatest fast.” (Dan. X. 2, 3.) They, however, who in times of public distress, when the judgments of God are in the earth, and when his providence seems to call for humiliation, will not relinquish any of their sensual enjoyments, or deny themselves in the least, cannot be justified; since good men, in all agès, more or less, have humbled themselves on such occasions; and reason, as well as Scripture, evidently prove it to be our duty.

As the Apostles and the primitive Christians, both when called to meet unusual dangers and distresses, and to enter upon engagements peculiarly solemn and momentous, gave themselves for a time to fasting and prayer, their example is unquestionably worthy of imitation. What Christian has not some such calls and occasions, which require an extraordinary abstraction and detachment from the world, that the soul may, with firmer grasp of faith, and more intense ardour of devotion, renew her hold of the God of grace, and realize her interest in his providence, care, and love? And who ever yet, with pure motives and by proper means, thus solemnly prepared and set himself to supplicate the Almighty Giver of all good, without finding importaut benefits to be the result? The appeal may be confidently made to Christian experience, where knowledge, benevolence, and active zeal, have risen to the greatest height, and diffused around the brightest lustre.

But besides abstinence, in the strict sense of the term, when events or circumstances clearly dictate its propriety; it well deserves to be considered, whether a more cautious and measured enjoyment of temporal comforts and blessings, might not, in many instances, prove very conducive to the spirit of prayer and supplication. The sympathy between the body and the soul, their reciprocal influence and operation, are not to be explained ; but there are certain facts, which it would betray an indifference to our

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