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Isaiahı, and the Prophets which followed, or of our Lord and his Apostles; all agreeing in this, that to fast, is, not to eat for a time prescribed.
2. To this, other circumstances were usually joined by them of old, which had no necessary connection with it. Such were the neglect of their apparel ; the laying aside those ornainents which they were accustomed to wear; the putting on mourning; the strewing ashes upon their head; or wearing sackcloth next their skin. But we find little mention made iu the New Testament of any of these indifferent circumstances. Nor does it appear, that any stress was laid upon them by the Christians of the purer ages; however some penitents might voluntarily use them, as outward sigus of inward humiliation. Much less did the Apostles, or the Christians coteniporary with them, beat or tear their own flesh: such discipline as this was zjot unbecoming the priests or worshippers of Baat. The gods of the heathens were but Devils; and it was doubtless acceptable to their Devil-god, when his priests (1 kings xviii. 28) “ cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner, till the blood gushed out upon them :" but it cannot be pleasing to Him, nor become His followers, who « çame rot to destroy men's lives, but to save them."
3. As to the degrees or measures of fasting, we have iustances of some who have fasted several days together. So Moses, Elijab, and our blessed Lord, being endued with supernatural strength for that purpose, are recorded to have fasted without intermission," forty days and forty nights." But the time of fasting, more frequently mentioned in Scripture, is one day, from morning till evering. And this was the fast commonly observed anong the ancient Christians. But beside these, they had also their half-fasts (Seniijejunia, as Tertullian styles them) on the fourth and sixth days of the week, Wednesday and Friday,) throughout the year; ou which they took no suistenance till three in the afternoon, the time when they recurren from the public servicc.
4. Nearly related to this, is what our Church seems preenjarly to mean by the term Abstinence; which may be 178c4] when we cannot fast entirely, by reason of sickness or bodily weakness. This is the cativg little; the altaining in pari; the taking a smaller quantity of food than isual. I do noe remember any scriptural instance of this. But neither can I condemn it; for the Scripture does not. It may have its 115, and receive a blessing from God.
3. The lowest kind of fasting, if it can be called by that pame, is the abstaining from pleasant food. Of this, we have several instances in Scripture, besides that of Daniel and his brethren, who from a peculiar consideration, namely, that they might “ not defile themselves with the portion of the King's meat, nor with the wine which he drank," (a daily provision of which the King had appointed for them,) requested and obtained, of the prince of the eunuchs, pulse to eat and water to drink. (Dan. i. 8, &c.) Perhaps from a mistaken imitation of this might spring the very ancient custom of abstaining from flesh and wine, during such times as were set apart for fasting and abstinence;-if it did not rather arise from a supposition, that these were the most pleasant food, and a belief that it was proper to use what was least pleasing, at those times of solemn approach to God.
6. In the Jewish Church, there were some Stated Fasts. Such was the fast of the seventh month, appointed by God himself to be observed by all Israel, under the severest penalty. “ The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, On the tenth day of this seventh month, there shall be a day of atonement: and ye shall afflict your souls,-to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatsoever soul it shall be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.” (Lev. xxiii. 26, &c.) In after ages, several other stated fasts were added to these. So, mention is made, by the Prophet Zechariah, of the fast not only " of the seventh, but also of the fourth, of the fifth, and of the tenth month.” (Chap. viii. 19.)
In the ancient Christian Church, there were likewise Stated Fasts, and those both annual and weekly. Of the former sort was that before Easter; observed by some for eight and forty hours; by others, for an entire week; by many, for two weeks; taking no sustenance till the eveniog of each day. Of the latter, those of the fourth and sixth days of the week, observed, (as Epiphanius writes, remarking it as an undeniable fact,) ev orn on omnevn,-in the whole habitable earth; at least in every place where apy Christians niade their abode. The annual fasts in our Church are, “ The forty days of Leut, the Ember days at the four seasons, the Rogation days, and the Vigils or Eves of several solemn festivals ;-the weehly, all Fridays in the year, except Christmasday.”
But beside those which were fixed, in every nation fcar. ing God there have always been Occasional Fasts, appointed from time to time as the particular circumstances and occasions of each required. So, when “the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, came against Jehoshaphat to battle; Jehoshaphat set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” (2 Chron. xx. 1-3.) And so,
in the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, in the ninth month,” when they were afraid of the King of Babylon, the Princes of “Judah proclaimed a fast before the Lord, to all the people in Jerusalem.” (Jer. xxxvi. 9.)
And, in like manner, particular persons, who take heed unto their ways, and desire to walk humbly and closely with God, will find frequent occasion for private seasons of thus afflicting their souls before their father which is in secret. And it is to this kind of fasting, that the directions here given do chiefly and primarily refer.
11. 1. I proceed to show, in the Second place, What are the Grounds, the Reasons, and Ends of Fasting.
And, first, men who are under strong emotious of mind, who are affected with any veliement passion, such as sorrow or fear, are often swallowed up therein, and even forget to eat their bread. At such scasons they have little regard for food, not even what is needful to sustain nature, much less for any delicacy or variety; being taken up with quite different thoughts. Thus, when Saul said, “I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me;" it is recorded, “He had caten no bread, all the day, nor all the night.” (1 Sam. xxviii. 15—20.) Thus those who were in the ship with St. Paul, “when no small tempest lay upon them, and all liope that they should be saved was taken away,” “continued fasting, having taken nothing,”—(Acts xxvii. 33, no regular meal,--for fourteen days together. And thus David, and all the men that were with him, when they heard that the people were fled from the battle, and that many of the people were fallen and dead, and Saul and Jonathan his son were dead also; “mourued, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul and Jonathan, and for the house of Israel.” (2 Sam, i. 12.)
Nay, many times they whose minds are deeply engaged, are impatient of any interruption, and even loathie their needful food, as diverting their thoughts from what they desire should engross their whole attention. Even as Saul, when on the occasion mentioned before, he had “fallen all along upon the earth, and there was no strength in him,” yet said, “I will not eat; till his servants, together with the woman, compelled him."
2. Here, then, is the natural ground of fasting. One who is under deep affliction, overwhelmed with sorrow for sin, and a strong apprehension of the wrath of God, would, without any rule, without knowing or considering whether it were a command of God or not, “forget to eat his bread,” abstain, not only from pleasant, but even from needful food ;-like St. Paul, who, after he was led into Damascus, was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink.” (Acts ix. 9.)
Yea, when the storm rose high, when “an horrible dread overwhelmed ” one who had long been without God in the world, his soul would “loathe all manner of meat;” it would be unpleasing and irksome to him; he would be impatient of any thing that should interrupt his ceaseless cry, “Lord, save! or I perish!
How strongly is this expressed by our Church in the first part of the Homily on Fasting : “When men feel in themselves the heavy burden of sin, see damnation to be the reward of it, and behold, with the eye of their mind, the horror of hell ; they tremble, they quake, and are inwardly touched with sorrowfulness of heart, and cannot but accuse themselves, and open their grief unto Almighty God, and call unto him for mercy. This being done seriously, their mind is so occupied, (taken up,) partly with sorrow and heaviness, partly with an earnest desire to be delivered from this danger of hell and damnation, that all desire of meat and drink is laid apart, and loathesomeness [or loathing] of all worldly things and pleasure cometh in place. So that nothing then liketh them more than to weep, to lament, to mourn, and both with words and behaviour of body to show themselves weary of life.”
3. Another reason or ground of fasting is this: Many of those who now fear God, are deeply sensible how often they have sinned against him, by the abuse of these lawful things. They know how much they have sinned by excess of food; how long they have transgressed the holy law of God, with regard to temperauce, if not sobriety too; how they have indulged their sensual appetites, perhaps to the impairing even their bodily health,-certainly to the no small hurt of their soul. For hereby they continually fed and increased that sprightly folly, that airiness of mind, that levity of temper, that gay inattention to things of the deepest concern, that giddiness and carelessness of spirit, which were no other than drunkenness of soul, which stupified all their voblest faculties, no less than excess of wine or strong drink. To remove, therefore, the effect, they remove the cause : they keep at a distance from all excess. They abstain, as far as is possible, from what had well nigh plunged them in everlasting perdition. They often wholly refrain ; always take care to be sparing and temperate in all things.
4. They likewise well remember, how fulness of bread increased not ouly carelessness and levity of spirit, but also foolish and unholy desires, yea, unclean and vile affections. And this experience puts beyond all doubt. Eveu a genteel, regular sensuality, is continually sensualizing the soul, and sinking it into a level with the beasts that perish. It cannot be expressed what an effect a variety and delicacy of food have on the mind as well as the body; making it just ripe for every pleasure of sense, as soon as opportunity shall invite. Therefore, on this ground also, cvery wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which vaturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections.
5. Perhaps we need not altogether omit (although I know not if we should do well to lay any great stress upon it) another reason for fasting, which some good men have largely insisted on ; Hamely, The punishing themselves for having abused the good gifts of God, by sometimes wholly refraining from them; thus exercising a kind of holy relenge upon themselves, for their past folly and ingratitude, in turning the things which should have been for their healih into an occasion of falling. They suppose David to have had an eye to this, when he said, "I wept and chastened (or punished) my soul with listing; and St. Paul, wbeu le mentions “what revenge” godly sorrow occasioned in the Corinthians.
6. A fifth, and more weighty reason for fasting is, that it is an help to Prayer; particularly, when tre set apart larger portions of time for private prayer. Then especially it is, that God is often pleased to lift up the souls of his servants above all the