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tation of the love of God towards a sinful world might dwell with stronger impression on the mind, she has protracted this season of humiliation to forty days, with a happy reference to our Lord's abstinence during the same period, indirectly insinuating thereby our conformity by fasting, to this his most holy example. But not a word is said on the manner of this abstinence—what mortifications or self-denials are to be observed—what days or hours are sentenced to restraint-what meals are to be omitted or restricted_what food is proper or improper, and what kinds or quantities of it are holy and unholy. She merely reminds ns of what is alone important,—the reason and the end of such a service, whilst the manner and the measure of its use and application are left entirely to the candid and judicious regulation of every truly Christian mind.
The result of all is this: Have we made such a progress “in holy conversation and godliness” as may qualify us to fast ? Does communion with our own hearts discover that great impediments to such a progress arise, in our particular case, from the opposition of the body and its intemperate passions ? And do we perceive how extenuation of the body ministers to the increase of spiritual strength ?
Shall we not do wisely then in denying ourselves such things as tend to inflame the passions, and not only with regard to meat and drink, “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes,” in the way of mortification and of penalty, but also in the way of temperance, with regard to the “pride of life,” and to various worldly enjoyments and pursuits, lawful, perhaps, and innocent in themselves, but indulged in exclusively, and with too much levity, or followed with too much anxiety? For, these as well as vice itself, and frequently with more lasting effect than vice, steal away the heart from God. Vice debilitates, or vice disgusts, and may cause the satiated prodigal to exclaim, “who will shew” me “any good;" but a constant round of worldly dissipation leaves the heart unoccupied by what is truly good, seeking as much its own will, and engaged as much with its own thoughts, as if it were wholly devoted to the service of sin. It is plain, therefore, that such avocations and pursuits as these, when detected and acknowledged, should be corrected by frequent abstinence from them. We should literally hold a solemn fast upon such things as these, and by often breaking in upon the habit, gradually repel its influence.
Is the body disorderednot endeavour to remove whatever obstructs, whatever irritates, whatever renders it incapable of its natural functions? Let us deal with equal justice by its dear invisible companion. They require correctives and restoratives, each in its own way. The fevers, the agues, the numerous host of contagious and deadly distempers that afflict the one, find their parallel in the stubborn habits, the unruly lusts, the lukewarmness, the inconstancies, the inconsistencies, and the infidelities of the other. The disease and the nature of the disease, in both cases will suggest the character and the proper application of the remedy. In the case before us, experience from the most remote antiquity, and example in the most illustrious instances, warrant the experiment; and we require only an awakened conscience, a correct judgment, an honest heart, and a willing mind to try its efficacy. And here, in the last place, let it be carefully remembered how ungrateful a task this is to flesh and blood, and how little reason we have to expect that it will be performed faithfully in our own strength. We all desire to “speak” to ourselves, “smooth things,” to “ prophesy deceits.” We are averse to admit that our case is bad ; that the internal war which the flesh carries on against the spirit threatens to prevail, or that the citadel, at least, is in any danger; and, therefore, when we fast, we should also pray.
We should pray for the influence of the Holy Spirit to enable us to enter on so unpalatable a duty in sincerity, and “ without hypocrisy.” Thus shall these sacred exercises join in promoting the same common interest. To neglect either of them, when conscience recommends it, cannot be right; to practise them without meaning, must be wrong. But aiming, as the discipline now before us evidently should, at the subjugation of whatever is sensual and impure within us, and ranking, even in the estimation of our Lord himself, so high in the scale of spiritual exercises that he scruples not to associate it with prayer, in the performance of a supernatural work, “ this kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting ;” it detracts no more from its moral tendency that so many “ fast as do the hypocrites,” than it lessens the value of genuine prayer, that so many repeat a form of sound words with their lips, in which the heart has no concern.
Both the one and the other may be eminently useful, if done in compliance with the precept of the text. They may both become, not only unprofitable, but injurious, if the end and the spirit there suggested are liness without the power.” And, finally, with what
prayer can we appear on such occasions, before the throne of grace, which embraces more completely and piously all that has been said than with that most beautiful collect of our Church—“Oh! Lord, who for our sakes, didst fast forty days and forty nights; give us grace to use such abstinence, that our flesh being subdued to the spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.”—Amen.