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minds them, that they are taught from their own scriptures, " that the sacrifices of the wicked are an "abomination in God's sight; and that he will not "hear sinners," (though they call to Him in distress) without Repentance and Amendment of life.
"Behold, says the prophet, in the day of your "Fast, you find pleasure and exact all your labours"— Amidst all your pretended Humiliations before me, you still find a way of gratifying your own Passions and Covetousness, grieving and oppressing the Poor, and exacting every labour of those over whom you rule—Nay, instead of fasting from the Love and Fear of God—" Behold ye fast for strife and debate, "and to smite with the fist of wickedness." Your Fasts have only an outward appearance of devotion, while their true design is to promote some selfish or party view, or to sanctify in the sight of men some enormous wickedness; for such was the conduct of Jezebel; who, having determined to destroy Naboth, and rob him of his^vineyard, ordered a fast to be proclaimed, and to have him falsely arraigned and condemned of blasphemy, as a part of that day's solemnity.
But, saith the Prophet, all this is abomination; and if you would truly Fast, it shall not be as you Fast this day, to make your " Voice to be heard on high," as if noise and outward vehemency could supply the place of true humiliation of soul and inward piety— Instead of having the fear and love of God reigning in your hearts; instead of bending in humble adoration before his throne; purging away the dross of your iniquity, and setting your whole affections, your hopes
of relief and deliverance, on the most High, “You Fast to appear righteous before men, and to promote your own unjust views.” But, continues the prophet—“Is it such a Fast as this that the Lord has “chosen—For a man to bow down his head as a bul“rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? “Wilt thou call this a Fast, and an acceptable Day “unto the Lord?” These are all vain pageantries and insignificant ceremonies of themselves, and no way tending to renew and purify the heart.
But, continues our sublime Prophet, would you know the true Fast which the Lord hath chosen, is it not this?—
“To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo “the heavy burdens; to let the oppressed go free, “ and to break every yoke 2 Is it not to deal thy “bread to the hungry and that thou bring the poor “ that are out cast to thy house? When thou seest “ the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide “ not thyself from thine own flesh.”
Here is a glorious catalogue of Virtues, a divine frame of Soul to bring with us in our humble approaches to God. For, without this divine frame of Soul, what are all the Mortifications of the flesh; what are all the penances inflicted on the Body, what is bowing down the head to the earth, the prostrating ourselves on sackcloth, the wallowing in ashes, or any outward rite or performance compared to this holy, humble and benevolent frame of mind, and those deeds of Virtue, Beneficence, Mercy and Justice which Isaiah prescribes as the true Requisites of a fast?
As far as Heaven is exalted above the earth, so far the latter transcends the former! and all Bodily Abstinences and Humiliations, are of no other value, than as they tend to Purify and Spiritualize the Inner Man.
What would it avail us, on this solemn day, to have abstained from our usual food and labours? What would it avail us to have humbled ourselves and bewailed our sins, and to have prayed to God to avert His anger from us, and to deliver us from the judgments with which we are threatened, unless wc resolve to " loose every band of wickedness; and to do away every unjust burden which we can remove from our fellow-creatures?" Of this we may be assured, that nothing but our own sins, can stand between us and the propitious smiles of Heaven. When these are done away, through the mercies of Christ leading us to repentance and amendment, we shall no longer 44 fast and the Almighty not see—we shall no longer afflict our souls, and He take no knowledge."
For what purpose God has thought fit to permit a continuance of our present calamities, whether in judgment or mercy or both, is a matter which it becomes every man to consider in his own conscience. I hope but few of the crying offences for which the Jews were reduced to the extremest misery, and delivered over to the power of their enemies, can be justly chargeable to the people of this land; nor can we poor short-sighted mortals pretend to open the mysterious volumes of Providence and read its future purposes either of mercies or judgments towards ourselves—Nor am I fond of ascribing
VOL. II. T
every striking dispensation of Providence, to any particular Interposition of its power. It is sufficient for us that we consider ourselves always under its general government—and that we look upon our own fortunes as suspended at all times in the uplifted hand of the Almighty! And therefore, such questions as the following will never be improper—viz. Whether an incorruptible spirit prevails in all our public measures? Whether the cries of the Widow, the Orphan, the helpless, never ascended, unpitied and unredressed, among us? Whether no rapacious and extortionate men, lifted into power by us, have sought to heap up wealth for themselves at the expense of their bleeding and suffering country?— But I forbear these and the like questions; because, as I believe, the guilt of none of these things can be chargeable to any who now hear me; so neither is the Redress of such evils so immediately in our power; and a thorough Redress, there is reason to think, will be endeavoured by the proper authorities— What chiefly concernsus, is Repentance, accompanied with earnest endeavours to amend our Lives, and fervent Prayers for Grace to enable us to resist Temptation, “to overcome the world,” and to turn from all Iniquity. For this we may be assured of that nothing but our own Sins and Unworthiness can come between us and the propitious smiles of our merciful Creator. When these are done away, through the Grace of God, leading us to Repentance and Amendment, “We shall no longer Fast, and
the Almighty not see—We shall no longer afflict our souls, and He take no knowledge," or pity of our distress. We shall be raised from Sorrow, and receive the blessing promised to the Jews, on the like conduct—" Our Light shall break forth as the morn, ing, our Health [or political salvation] shall spring forth speedily; our Righteousness shall go before us, and the glory of the Lord shall be our Rere-ward. We shall call, and the Lord shall answer: We shall cry, and He shall say, Here I am! If thou take away from the midst of Thee the Yoke, the puttingforthof the Finger and speaking Vanity; If thou draw out thy soul to the Hungry, and satisfy the afflicted Soul; then shall thy Light rise in [or out of] obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon-day: The Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: Thou shalt be like a watered Garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not— They that shall be of you [or remain of you, your reformed and happy posterity] shall build the old waste places; [that is, the Houses and Cities, that have been destroyed and made desolate, shall again be built up, and become the joyous dwellings of a happy people, by dependence upon God and turning to the ways of his commandment, as warned by his late visitation of you in judgment.]—Ye shall yet be raised up, as the foundations of many generations,—[Millions shall spring from your loins to possess an immense and happy country; and every Hero, every Patriot, every Wise and Good Man who tontributes his share towards the promotion of the