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As a preliminary observation upon the subject now before us, it may be said, that, in respect to this, or any other difficulty upon points of conscience, the difficulty and doubt arise, not so much from the subject matter itself, as from something wrong in the mind and will of man, from the want of what the scripture calls, a "single eye,” that is, an undoubted sincerity in searching after, in order to obey, the will of God.
The Christian, who has given up his heart to God, cannot long err in matters of real moment: if he honestly seek, and consistently apply spiritual wisdom, he will not be left in material error, error affecting the great question of the salvation of his soul; for we know who hath said, in His encouraging mercy towards his creatures, that “ The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will shew them His covenant."* And that's
If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”+
As the great duty of personal mortification, (whether it consist in fasting, or other instances of bodily abstinence) is, without all contradiction, often spoken of in Scripture as an enjoined duty, and has for ages been practised and recommended by the holiest servants of God, it should not be lightly esteemed, nor
+ St. John,
judged, without fair examination, as a superseded or an obsolete practice of times less enlightened than our own. At that period of the
year, especially, when our church in its ecclesiastical round, once more brings this duty more immediately before us, we shall do well to consider herein. · Let us, then, first speak of the duty itself; and then of the manner of performing it.
The positive command of God, and the scripture characters of the Old Testament, clearly show how much the duty of fasting was practised in the Jewish Church; and the history of the early times of Christianity also proves that the duty was not considered to be done away by the introduction of the second covenant of grace. We also learn, that from the times of the primitive Christians, to the present hour, it hath ever been deemed a safe and necessary thing for those, who are in a state of probation for a spiritual existence, to subdue the tempting spirit within, and the alluring inducements from without, by the means of bodily mortification and self-denial.
There must, then, be some strength in the argument of long observance among the wise and good of all ages, and many reasons may be added in support of what was once an expressly enjoined, and, however it may have been perverted and abused, hath never ceased to be considered an existing duty, in some shape or other, for all.
We come into the world with a nature corrupted, and strongly prone to evil. Evil tempers, impure desires, eager passion after, the short-lived pleasures of animal and temporal enjoyments, are the inward temptations to our final ruin. Our natural appetites, prone to exceed the measure of their design, are all confined in their use and satisfaction, to the mere things of time, instrumental only to some real and future good, and not intended as the chief object of our desires. If, then, these be suffered to take the full range of their, natural tendency,and to goon in theirstrength, they will undoubtedly get the mastery over us; and the animal part will so swallow up the spiritual, that the concerns of eternity will be made to yield to the allurements of time, and the passing gratification of sense will overpower the better rule of conscience, pointing to the in-dwelling soul. Something, therefore, of a proper restraint each must place for the safe indulgence of natural appetite.,
The duty of self-denial seems also needful from the consideration of the exceeding shortness of life. Here is a truth in which all unite. The scriptural assurance, the scriptural illustrations, the “weaver's shuttle,” the “arrow in the air,” the "ship through
the waves,” the personal experience of all, will teach how short our time is; and then we see the strong necessity of the duty before us, that by lessening the power of those ties which link us to the world, we may be in habitual preparation for them to be taken from us, or ourselves from them.
We also need the discipline of frequent opposition to our natural will and appetite, from the abundance of temptation, which surrounds us everywhere, to love even the allowed and innocent things of this world too well : to love them to the injury of the love we owe to God, and the real charity due to one another.
These things are continually creeping upon us, imperceptibly, and oftentimes fatally to the
progress of the spiritual life; when, perhaps, we think not of our danger, and say
in the fulness of our enjoyments, “to-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundant.” Now a judicious and frequent habit of self-denial in things in themselves indifferent, for the express purpose that they shall not have dominion over us, that they shall be our servants, not our masters, must be a wise and necessary duty in those, who well know and confess that earth is not their home, and that their abode upon earth is short, transient, and uncertain.
Other reasons might be'urged as to the use and expediency of the duty of self-denial in the ordinary enjoyments of this present life. But these are sufficient for our present purpose of this discourse. That the wisdom and necessity of these rules are not the mere lessons of human prudence, we see very plainly shown in the answer which our Lord Jesus Christ gave to those who had objected the omission of the duty of fasting to the character of His own disciples: “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, can the children of the bride-chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them ? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.”*
During the Saviour's short abode upon earth, His apostles had too much to learn, too much to rejoice at, too much to bear of personal hatred and difficulty, through the per. secuting spirit of the Jews against their Divine Master, to admit of the stricter rules, in their case, as means of personal holiness. Our Lord acted; in their behalf, upon His own divine knowledge, that during His mis nistry among them, His grace and presence would be sufficient for them; reserving the
** Mark, ü. 18, 19, 20.