Page images

elect. He, in whose bouse I lodged, was of the former sort. I myself was ranked among the latter. With them I fancied myself perfectly sinless, and laid the blame of the evils I committed on another nature, that sinned within me,* and my pride was highly gratified with the conception. My attachment to this sect, however, grew more lax, as I found the impossibility of discovering truth, and felt a secret predilection in favour of the academic pbilosopby, which commends a state of doubt and uncertainty.t My landlord, who had not 80 much experience as I of the sect, was elevated with their fancies. I checked his sanguine views, and though the intimacy I had contracted with this people, (for a number of them live at Rome,) made me backward to seek elsewhere for truth, I was, however, little solicitous to defend the reputation of their tenets. It was a deplorable evil with me, that my prejudice was so strong against the Cbristian faith. When I thought of thee, my God, I could not conceive any thing but what was corporeal, though of the most exquisite subtilty ; but what was immaterial appeared to be nothing. And here I seemed incurable in error, I did not conceive it possible that a good Being should create an evil one, and therefore chose to admit limits to the infinite Author of nature, by supposing him to be controlled by an independent evil principle. Yet, though my ideas were material, I could not bear to think of God being flesh. That was too gross and low in my apprehensions. The only begotten Son appeared to me as the most lucid part of thee afforded for our salvation. I concluded, that such a nature could not be borne of the Virgin Mary without partaking of human flesh, wbich I thought must pollute it. Hence arose my fantastic ideas of Jesus, I so destructive of all piety. Thy spiritual children may smile at me with charitable sympathy, if they read these my confessions : such, however, were my views. Indeed wbile I was at Carthage, the discourse of one Helpidius had moved me

Every human soul was supposed by the Manichees to have in it a mixture of the good and the evil principle.

+ A very natural and common effect of reasoning pride. When a man attempts to discover and adjust religious truth by leaning to his own understanding, he frequently finds scepticism the sole result of his most painful investigations, and every thing appears doubtful to him, except the incompetency of fallen man to understand these thipgs, and the propriety of seeking a new nature and a spiritual understanding from above. if the errors of Manicheism appear very absurd, there are other modes of deviation from Seripture truth, which would appear no less so, were they as unfashionable in our times.

It is evident, that this sect comprehended in it the fundamental er. rors of the Docites.

in some degree, who produced from the New Testament several arguments against their positions, which appeared invincible; and their answer appeared to me to be weak, which yet they did not deliver openly, but in secret; namely, that the Scriptures of the New Testament had been falsified by some, who desired to insert Judaism into Christianity, while they themselves produced no uncorrupted copies.* Still, did I pant under those masses of materialism, and was prevented from breathing the simple and pure air of thy truth.

Some unexpected disadvantages in the way of my profession laid me open to any probable offer of employ in other parts of Italy. From Milan, a requisition was made to Symmachus, prefect of Rome, to send a professor of Rhetoric to that city. By the interest of my Manichean friends, I obtained the honour, and came to Milan. There I waited on Ambrose the bishop, a man renowned for piety through the world, and who then ministered the bread of life to thy people with much zeal and eloquence. The man of God received me like a father, and I conceived an affection for bim, not as a teacher of truth, which I had no idea of discovering in thy Church, but as a man kind to me; and I studiously attended his lectures, only with a curious desire of discovering whether fame had done justice to bis eloquence or not. stood indifferent and fastidious with respect to his matter, and at the same time was delighted with the sweetness of his language, more learned indeed, but less soothing and agreeable than that of Faustus. In their thoughts there was no comparison ; the latter erred in Manichaen fallacies ; the former taught salvation in the most salutary manner. But salvation is far from sinners, such as I then was, and yet I was gradually approaching to it, and knew not. As l' now despaired finding the way to God, I had no concern with sentiments ; language alone I chose to regard. But the ideas which I neglected came into my mind, together with the words with which I was pleased. I gradually was brought to attend to the doctrine of the bishop. I found reason to rebuke myself for the hasty conclusions I had formed of the perfectly indefensible nature of the law and the prophets. A number of

* The Manichees, like all other heretics, could not stand before the Scriptures. They professedly rejected the Old Testament, as belonging to the maligpant principle ; and when they were pressed with the authority of the New, as corroborating they Old, they pretended the New was adulterated. Is there any new thing under the sun ? Did not Lord Bolingbroke set up the authority of St. John against St. Paul ? Have we not heard of some parts of the Gospels as not genuine, because they suit not Socinian views » Genuine Christian principles alone will bear the test, nor fear the scrutiny of the whole word of God.

difficulties, started upon them by the Manichees, found in the expositions of Ambruse a satisfactory solution. The possibility of finding truth in the Church of Christ appeared; and I began to consider by what arguments I might convict Manicheism of falsehood. Could I bave formed an idea of spiritual substance, their whole fabric bad been overturned ; but I could not. Moreover, I found the philosophers in general explained the system of nature better than the Manichees. It seemed shameful to continue in connexion with a sect replete with such evident absurdities, that I could not but prefer the Pagan philosophers to them, though I dared not trust these with the bealing of my soul, because they were without the saving name of Christ. In conclusion, I determined to remain a catechumen in the Church recommended to me by my parents, till I saw my way more clearly,


The duty of fasting must either be moral or ceremonial. If the former, its obligation on us will not be disputed by any one that believes the Bible to be the Word of God: if the latter, its obligation is passed away, being only one of the shadows of good things to come. As this is the grand hinge on which the controversy turns, I shall endeavour to prove, first, that it was not a part of the ceremonial economy, which was abrogated by the death of Christ; and shall, in the second place, add positive evidence to prove its morality and obligaiion on us.

J. That it was not a part of the ceremonial economy, which was abrogated by the death of Christ, All ceremonial institutions were shadows of good things to come. The whole Epistle to the Hebrews speaks conclusively on this subject, and goes to prove their abolition by the introduction of a more excellent, because a more spiritual, dispensation. The writer speaks very expressly on this subject, in Heb. ix. 9, 10,“Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make bim that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation." All institutions, which were merely ceremonial, are included in the above quotation. At the memorable time of reformation, when the Son of God became incarnate, and shed bis blood on Calvary, they were all abrogated, the substance being substituted in place of the shadow. The strength of the argument, then, turns on this, since all ceremonial insti. tụtions were shadows of good things to come; if the duty


of fasting were only a shadow, where is its substance? What duty is enjoined under the New Testament economy that answers to the duty of fasting, under the Old Testament dispensation? Shall it be said, the duty of religious mourning? of true repentance unto life? Then we say that these duties were as positively enjoined under the Old Testament dispensation as under the New. A broken spirit and a contrite heart,” were always called for, and these were more pleasing to God than offerings of bullocks and goats. God never loved sacrifice in itself,-the blood of innocent victims, shed by the hands of sinful men, was never pleasing to him absolutely, but relatively ;-the acceptable worshipper must of necessity be the possessor of religious mourning, and true repentance unto life. The answer, therefore, is far from being satisfactory, because it involves in it a gross absurdity. It is as much as to say, “ that repentance unto life was not necessary under the Mosaic economy,—the ceremony of fasting occupied its place,—that is now done away by the death of Christ, and, instead of it, we are called on to repent and believe the Gospel.". This is surely an unhappy expedient to get rid of a positive duty. All the religious internal exercises, which are binding on Christians, were obligatory on the Jews, and vice

In the use of appointed means they were to expect the blessing of God, and these we are as conscientiously to observe. "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land." This furnishes an evidence, that fasting was not a ceremonial but moral duty.

The nature of the duty itself is a proof of its morality. A religious fast is a day of religious humiliation, in which believers look to him whom they have pierced, and mourn,--a day on wbich their deep convictions, on account of sin, and their benevolence to humanity at large, are eminently discovered. This is apparent from the description of the prophet: “ Is not this the fast that I have chosen ? to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” The exercises here specified, as going to the constitution of a religious fast, are moral, and of perpetual obligation. Can sinners ever obtain a licence from the duty of loosing the bonds of wickedness ?-undoing heavy burdens that may oppress and weigh down themselves and others ? Shall they ever be exempted from the duty of endeavouring to break the galling yoke from the neck of the oppressed, and letting them go free? Deists would not answer in the negative; though Christians, who dispute the morality of the duty, do. Personal, congregational, and national humility, are solemnly called for in the Word of God; while religious fasting is positively declarrd to be an excellent mean for their advancement.

To dispute, therefore, the necessity of the mean, is totally to deny the ne


cessity of the end. It is not a day for a man to afflict his soul, or to bang down his head as a bulrush,--that is, it ought not to be performed by way of penance, as if there were something meritorious in the exercises of looking dull, and of punishing the body with instruments of cruelty. Such a fast the prophet reprobates, in strong, pointed terms, wbilst he explains the acceptable fast, by an enumeration of the duties to be performed in it. These sentiments are rational and scriptural. Sin has pierced the Saviour: national sins dishonour him. Can is, therefore, be improper to observe a fixed time, during which, detached from all worldly concerns, we may mourn for our sins, and the sins of the people? To maintain that this duty was merely ceremonial, and not incumbent on Christiane, is just as sound divinity, as to maintain, that because the Jews observed a Sabbath, Christians should omit it, and shew that they are brought into perfect liberty.

Religious fasting realizes the dependance of intelligent beings on the Lorci, for things temporal and spiritual. This is a corroboratory proof of its morality. We are bound to acknowledge God as the author of all the good we have, or expect to evjoy,--“in him we live and move, and have our being." The acts of a rational being should resemble bis rational, active nature. The beasts that perish have no moral principle, of course no moral feeling, and are therefore incapable of the refined and active energies of immortal beings : “These wait all upon God, and he gives them their portion of meat in due season,” from the young raven to the fierce and howling monster of the wilderness. A different line of conduet, however, is marked out for rational beings, and sanctioned by those principles their Almighty Lord hath implanted in their natures. They are bound to realize God as the author of their present good, and the fountain of their future happiness. All means must be lawful and moral that have a direct tendency to promote this general rule. I say di. rect tendency; for evil means may be productive of good effects,-not in a direct, but in an indirect way. They may, and are ordered by God, in bis infinite wisdom, to be subservient to most valuable and truly importaut ends. This distinction is necessary. All means must be lawful and moral which have a direct tendency to godliness. But religious fasting has a direct tendency to impress on the mind of the faster a firm conviction of his dependance on God for things temporal and eternal. The religious faster voluntarily recognizes God as the author of bis all, acknowledges bis own dependance, unworthiness, and ingratitude; the duty must, iberefore, be moral, and obligatory on all God's inteli, gent, much more bis believing family.. Mind and body being detached from the world and its concerns, the soul communes with God, and acknowledges him as the Lord its righ

« PreviousContinue »