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For on that Day the Prieft fhall make an Atone
ment for you to cleanse you, that je may be clean from all your Sins before the Lord: It shall be a Sabbath of Reft unto you, and ye shall afflict your Souls by a Statute for ever. In this Paffage the distinguishing Marks of a moft folemn Faft are fet down. They were to reft from all Manner of Labour, as on the Sabbath; and they were to abstain from Meat and Drink, and all other Pleasures whatfoever. This is fignified by the Phrafe, ye shall affli&t your Souls; for afflicting the Soul, in the Scripture Language, fignifies Fafting and SelfDenial, as appears from Ifaiah Iviii. 3. Wherefore have we fafied and thou feeft not? Wherefore have we AFFLICTED OUR SOUL, and thou takeft no Knowledge? Again, ver. 5. Is it fuch a Faft as I have chofen? A Day for a Man to AFFLICT HIS SOUL? The Word Soul, in both thefe Places (as in many other Parts of Scripture) denotes the fenfitive Part of Man, which is afflicted by Fafting; not the Mind, or rational Part, which is afflicted by Sorrow and Compunction; for this kind of afflicting the Soul (which is indeed the Sacrifice of a broken and a contrite Heart) God would not have defpifed. Now the Jews having fo plain a Law for fafting on this great and folemn Occafion; it is natural to fuppofe that they transferred this Practice to all other Occafions, both publick and' private, whenever they thought it feasonable to humble themfelves before God. And that this was proper and useful, and that God approved it, we have alrea dy fhewn. But it is carefully to be obferved; that under the Jewish Law, Fafting had not the Force and Virtue of an Inflitution, any otherwife than as it ftood connected with the great Day of Atonement; because this was the only Day on which they were commanded to faft by a Statute for ever. Faft they might, and did, upon diverfe Occafions, befides this; but as the Humiliation of fuch Seafons was a free and voluntary Service, fo was the Fafting that attended them; infomuch, that if they had omitted Fafting on fuch Occafions, though their Services might have been lefs
perfect, and therefore lefs effectual to the Purposes intended, yet they could not have been charged with a formal Violation of the Law of Moses.
This Observation will help us to determine the Obligation to faft, as it now ftands under the Gofpel Difpenfation. With Fafting, confidered as an Inflitution of Mofes, it is plain we have nothing to do: Confequently, the Obligation to Faft cannot be ftronger upon a Chriftian, than it was upon a Jew, with respect to those other Faftings which the Jews customarily obferved, but which the Law of Mofes prefcribed not; unless our Saviour, by his Authority, hath made it a pofitive Inftitution; which does not feem to have been the Cafe. The only Place in which our Saviour hath fpoken to the Point, is Matt. ix. 15. where the Dif ciples of John object to Chrift, We and the Pharifees faft OFTEN, but thy Difciples faft not. Of what Sort
of Fafting do they fpeak? Of their voluntary Fasting, no doubt: for the Law of Mofes did not oblige them to faft often. Our Saviour aufwers, that though they did not now faft, yet the Time was coming, when they should fast. Can the Children of the BrideChamber mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the Days will come, when the Bridegroom hall be taken from them, and then shall they fafl. In which Words Chrift intimates; that as to Matters of this Kind, the Difpenfation which he was come to introduce thould make no Difference. As Jews they fasted often, and fo they might as his Difciples, when it fhould become feasonable fo 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 Circumftances of Times fhould direct; not binding it upon them as a Gofpel Inftitution. Therefore, though it will be a culpable Omiflion in a Chrillian to neglect Fafting at proper Seafons, in Confequence of that general Obligation which all Men are under to make the beft Ufe of the Means and Opportunities of Improvement which lie before them and to pay due Regard to Rules appointed by the Church
Church for Order and Edification; yet it will not be an offence of the fame Nature, as if he should neglect to receive Baptism, or to partake of the Communion of Chrift's Body and Blood, when he is called upon to do it, and has no reasonable Impediment to keep him back. These are Duties ftrictly commanded; and with the wilful Omission of them the Obedience of Christian cannot stand. The other is a Practice approved and recommended as useful to the Purposes of Religion; not infifted upon as a constituent Part of that Obedience which the Gospel requires as necessary to Salvation.
Let us now therefore enquire, how Fasting comes to be useful to the Purposes of Religion; or by what Virtue it is a Service acceptable to God. And here is is plain, that the Virtue lies not in the Work itself: For, as moral Agents, we must be approved or disapproved of God, in Confequence of fome moral Quality; but in Fafting (the Work only confidered) there is nothing morally good, or morally evil: For, as St. Paul fays, Neither if we eat, are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse. Meat, therefore, commendeth us not to God ® : No more does Abstinence, confidered merely as Abstinence. And this is the Nature of all external Acts of Worship whatsoever; that, confidered in themselves, or separate from all Relation to fomething further, they are of no Value. God had commanded Sacrifices under the Law; yet to the Jews he faith, To what Purpofe is the Multitude of your Sacrifices unto me? I am full of the Burnt Offer ings of Rams, and the Fat of fed Beafls; and I delight not in the Blood of Bullocks, or of Lambs, or of He Goats? The Meaning is; not that Sacrifices, abfolutely, 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 eatath the Flesh of Bulls, or drinketh the Blood of Goats ? In like Manner, with refpect to Fafting: God alks by the Mouth of the fame Prophet, Is it fuck a Faft that 1 Cor. viii 8. ↑ Isaiab i. 11, ↑ Pfalm 1. 13. I
I have chofen a Day for a Man to affli&t his Soul?" Is it to bow down his Head like a Bull rush, and to Spread Sackcloth and Afbes under him? Wilt thou call this a Faft, an acceptable Day unto the Lord God doth not condemn thefe outward Services; he doth not reprove them for afflicting their Souls by Abftinence and Self Denial, nor for appearing in the Guise and Fashion of those who forrowed, by fpreading Sackcloth and Ashes under them. But he tells the Jews, that if they did this and nothing more; if they fast. ed and mourned, and, nothing came of it; it should nothing avail them. What then were they to do? You have it, saiah 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 well. Again; Chap. Iviii. ver. 6. Is not this the Fast that I have chojen? to loose the Bands of Wickedness, to undo the heavy Burdens, and to let the oppressed go free. Is it not to deal thy Bread to the hungry? When thou Jeeft the naked, that thou cover him, &c. Thefe are plain Defcriptions of that Repentance and Righteoufnefs towards God, which the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Tef tament, fet 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 Relation it bears to Repentance and Righteoufnefs. And it hath, whenever there is any fincere Meaning in it, First, the Relation of an Evidence, to thew the inward Sorrow of the Heart; which is precifely the Thing that avails with God. When the Ninevites proclaimed a Faft, upon the preaching of Jonah. it is faid, 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 fhew him how the Heart is inwardly di pofed; but Men do: And therefore when National Offences call for National Humiliation, publick Fafts are highly ex
pedient; for they are a publick Admonition, and a pub'ick Example. Secondly; Fafting hath the Relation of an Inftrument, ferving to promote and help forward Repentance; and to ftrengthen and improve every virtuous Difpofition of Mind which Repentance produceth. Virtue is properly the Work of Reafon, directed by the Law of God, and fupported by the Expectations of a Life to come. By how much the lefs therefore Reafon is difturbed by Paffion, by fo much the more regular and certain will it be in its Operations; and Virtue not only stand more secure, but extend itself more in every Refpect in which it is capa ble of Growth and Improvement. Now this is the proper Ufe of Abftinence, to keep the Body under, and bring it into Subjection*, as St. Paul fpeaks: To withdraw that Fuel which is apt to provoke and inflame fenfual Appetite; to cut off the Opportunities of Sin and Vanity; and to bring ourselves to a fober, confiderate, and devout Frame, of Mind; and in this View there is a great deal to be faid to recommend the Practice. But if we imagine that there is in Fafting, or Aufterities of any other kind, a Virtue to atone for paft Tranfgreffions; this is not only a foolish, but a dangerous Superstition. God hath given us (as free Agents) the Power of finning; but when we have finned, he hath not put it in the Power of any Creature in Heaven, or on Earth, to fay what fhall fatisfy his offended Justice. It is his, and not ours, both to pu nifh and to forgive Offences committed against himself; and he hath told us, that there is no Atonement but the Blood of Chrift; no Means of Acceptance to the Grace offered by this Atonement, but fincere Repentance; which is like to go but flowly on, if Men fhall once come to believe that by fubmitting to a certain ftated Courfe of Difcipline impofed by a Prieft, or voluntarily undertaken by themselves, they shall bave Peace, though they walk in the Imaginations of their own Hearts t.
I Cor. ix. 27.
↑ Deut, xxix, 19.