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and live in a new one of their own creation. Now according to the degree, in which there is danger of any such inconveniences, we ought either to avoid intirely what causes them, or observe a due moderation in it: else our abstinence may easily do us much more hurt, than service.
And another important rule is, never to make vows, or even resolutions that we will fast so often, with such or such rigour, for any particular time to come, especially to any distant time. For it seldom or never happens that such things are of real advantage. And they have so frequently been snares and distresses, that all persons ought to be warned against them : and they who are most prone to them, ought to be most afraid of them.
But supposing we are, by nature, ever so well qualified to receive benefit from the practice of this duty: yet none will follow, unless we guard against mistakes.
Fasting consists in abstaining, wholly or in part, from our ordinary food. Abstaining, wholly, the former part of the day, is undoubtedly the natural, and should be the general method of doing this. But they, in whose case good reasons forbid it, may, by properly restraining themselves in the latter part, keep their fast to all good purposes, after they have, in common speech, broken it. Continuing a total abstinence longer than a day, can hardly ever be, and so long seldom is, either useful or safe. And though a considerable approach towards total abstinence for the whole day, if conducted prudently, may be allowed at proper intervals for some small time, when designed for self-punishment in great faults : as indeed lessening our fast into a trifle, on any occasion, public or private, would be mocking God, cheating ourselves, and giving scandal or bad example to
others *: yet when subduing irregular appetites and passions is the end in view, moderate severity, and barely, if at all, exceeding the strictness of an exact and rigorous temperance, but long continued, will be most effectual.
Abstaining from particular sorts of food, from fleshmeat for instance, as the strongest and most pleasing sort, if it be not hurtful, is very proper; and on public fasts especially, as being the common and most visible mark of compliance with what public authority enjoins. But still this abstinence, besides that laying a great stress upon it leads to superstition, or at least affords it countenance, may, to some persons, be no self-denial at all, but consistent with the most luxurious indulgence. There are many, to whom several sorts of fish are more delicious, than land aminals; and perhaps full as nutritive. Nay, methods have been invented, by which the palate is hardly ever so much pleased, as when it is pretended to be mortified. The true direction then concerning the fare of our fasting seasons, is that, which the example of the Prophet Daniel furnishes : In those days I ate no pleasant breadt: that is nothing contrived to gratify or provoke the appetite, but the plainest of wholesome diet. That we ought to be full as abstemious in what we drink, as what we eat, is very clear; and both are put on a level in the same passage of Daniel : Neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth. The Scripture also condemns every other needless indulgence at such times. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find
. And therefore Hermas, ubi supra, directs, that on fasting days nothing be taken, besides bread and water.
+ Dan. x. 3. One moderate meal, of flesh or fish, without delicacy, was appointed by Queen Eliz, on an occasional fast. Strype's Life of Parker, p. 1914-191.
pleasure *. Nor can there be a doubt, but intemperance, or even excess of gaiety, either designedly preceding a fast, as is common in the Romish carnival, or following one, as I fear may sometimes be the case in other churches, intirely destroys the religious use of it.
But though we observe, in the rightest manner, every thing that relates to the outward act: yet, bodily exercise, of this or any other kind, profiteth little t, unless it be performed with good and proper dispositions of soul. When the Jews, in Isaiah's time, fasted for strife and debate, to serve the purposes of animosity and contention ; far from being an act of piety, it was only smiting with the fist of wickedness I. When the hypocrites, in our Saviour's time, made, by their mournful looks, a public ostentation of their private abstinence, he told them plainly, as the words immediately following the text inform us, that being seen and admired of men should be their only reward, and directed his disciples to conceal, as far as conveniently might be, not their obedience to authority when it enjoins days of humiliation, though doubtless it should be obeyed without affectation or unnecessary singularity, but their voluntary self-denials of this kind : that thou appear not unto men to fast; but unto thy Father which seeth in secret. When the vainglorious Pharisee fasted twice a week, and despised the poor Publican , he had infinitely better never have fasted once in his life, and been humble in his heart. Fasting is in general a remedy, or needful precaution: therefore whoever takes it, confesses, by so doing, either a disease or a peculiar liableness to onell, of which nobody sure hath ground to boast;
Is. Iviii. 3. + 1 Tim. iv. 8. $ Is. lviii. 4. Luke xviii. 11, 12. || Taylor, Holy Living, c. 4. §. 5. No. 9.
and making our humiliation a matter of pride is turning our medicine into a poison. Yet, of the two, condemning others is still worse, than being vain of ourselves. Let not him therefore, which eateth not, judge him that eateth, for very possibly God hath received and accepted him * ; but remember, that both the Apostles, and our Saviour himself, were unjustly censured by the Jews on this very account f. The persons, whom you blame for not fasting, may fast, in effect at least, more than you know of; or may have little or no need of it, and be possessed without it, of all the good, that was designed to be attained by it. For it is but an instrument: and whether the work be chiefly done by this instrument or that, provided it be well done, is not material: and, if it remain undone, having used the instrument ever so much will intitle us to no reward. Fasting, as managed by some, is or appears to be extremely difficult: and hence they are apt to think, that heaven is much indebted to them for it: whereas perhaps they are much in fault for making it so difficult; or, if they are not, at best they have done only their duty, and so are unprofitable servants 5. Even the truest and the greatest virtues cannot deserve the pardon of our past iniquities, and the recompence of future happiness; but only qualify us to receive them from Go s mercy, granted for the sake of our blessed Redeemer; much less then can bodily austerities, which are only means of virtue, do either of these things. But, least of all, will they be able to do it for those, who on the supposed merit of them, venture on such transgressions as they like, and so make Christ the minister of sin g. Deluding ourselves by such contrivances, and at* Rom. xiv. 3.
+ Matth. ix. 14. xi, 19. Luke xvii. 10.
Gal. ii. 17.
tempting to impose upon God the performance of some small part of what he requires, instead of the whole, is as real, and more absurd and fatal hypocrisy, than endeavouring to deceive our fellow-creatures. It therefore comes directly under the prohibition of the text: and we have peculiar need to be on our guard against it at present. Of late years we have observed public fasts with more strictness and devotion, than had been seen amongst us in the memory of man. And so far all was well. But have we been afterwards uniformly pious and virtuous, watchful against all sin, and occasions of sin, attentive to our spiritual state and the great concerns of eternity? Or have we thought, that crowding the churches for a day, and abstaining from a folly or two for a winter, perhaps with an ill-will, was religion enough to save the nation and our souls? If any thing like such imaginations have taken hold of us, we have adulterated and debased a powerful remedy into an useless and mischievous palliative, and while we trust to it, are farther from the hope of a radical cure than
And were we to amend more thoroughly but for a short time only, our case will be very little better. 0 Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah what shall I do unto thee For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
*. Let us therefore, now and at all times, conscientiously beware of this, and every error, in respect of religious mortifications. Let us neither superstitiously over-value, nor profanely despise, institutions for that purpose: neither treat ourselves with unprofitable harshness, nor with hurtful indulgence: neither be influenced by servile dread, nor by irreverent presumption: neither submit our consciences to the com
* Hos. vi. 4.