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teousness. It is well known, however, to those who have any real acquaintance with the deceitfulness of the human heart, that such extraordinary means are necessary, in order that it may be under an abiding impression of divine things. Men are disposed to forget that God, who daily loadeth them with his benefits. Like Jeshuran, they wax fat, and kick against the Lord Most High. Instead of opposing, therefore, it is certainly a duty to call on them to perform those religious acts, by which they realize their dependance on God.
The morality of religious fasting is obvious, from many positive injunctions contained in the Word of God. It is particularly taught in the following words of the prophet:
Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders, and all the inhabitants of the land, into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord: Alas, for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come." Numerous passages might be collected of the same kind. It is unnecessary to detail them; for if, reader, you are a believer in Jesus, one will convince you as well as a thousand. You will do well to read over the first and second chapters of Joel. In all their injunctions and directions, there is not the smallest appearance of any thing ceremonial. The priests are not called on, as on other days, to kill victims, and to approach the altar with their blood. No; they and the people are to be engaged in earnest cries and supplications to the Lord, saying, "Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thy heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them; wherefore should they say among the people, where is their God?" Such was the substance of the prayer which the fasting priests of the Jews were to offer to the Lord. Joel called on them to engage in this duty, with the evident intention of thus supplicating the Majesty of heaven, Can the Church of Christ be ever free from the duty here recommended, and most pathetically called for? Can it be unreasonable in the friends of Zion to fast, and pray, spare, O Lord, thy people, and give not thy heritage to reproach ?" Surely not. If the Church under the Old Testament dispensation was bound to fast and pray, I know no good reason that can be assigned, that the Church, under a better dispensation, should omit the duty, since the Church is still the same. On the contrary, I see many strong reasons why her ministers should more seriously and regularly observe it. Their privileges are greater: their gratitude should also be greater, and so should their humility. We must, therefore, either cut the two first chapters of Joel from our Bibles, or admit the morality of the duty.
It is possible that some may say, all this is nothing to the purpose. You go for your proofs to the Old Testament. Prove the duty from the New. This objection is deistical,
for, in its direct consequences, it goes to prove that the Old Testament is not a part of the regulating standard of faith and manners. We can, however, prove the morality of the duty from the words of the Saviour. Jesus preached a long and truly memorable sermon, on one of the mountains of Judea. Among the precious directions he gives for the performance of their relative duties, he adverts to fasting: "Moreover, when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy father which is in secret; and thy father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." This passage is corroborative of the duty,―Jesus does not enjoin it as a new duty, one that was not already established, and obligatory on the multitude; he takes it for granted. Far from disputing its validity or obligation, he is careful to describe the method of properly performing it," but thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast," &c. But, had not the duty been moral, it is not likely that the glorious Author of our religion would have approved of it, or have given rules for its observance. We might rather have expected to have heard him say," the hypocrites fast with out a warrant; for so doing they also fast to be seen of men: but as for you, my disciples, fast not at all, this duty was merely ceremonial; it is not obligatory on you, observe it not." This was the language, we may properly allege, the Divine Saviour would have used, had not the duty been moral. But you see the contrary. He takes it for granted that they would fast, and specifies the method of fasting aright.
The duty of fasting is recognised by our blessed Lord. The disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus for a solution of this question, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? Jesus said unto them, can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast." Here was a fit occasion for the teacher of righteousness, the great Prophet sent from God, to discover the impropriety of the conduct of John's disciples, who fasted oft, had there been any impropriety in it. If the exercise had been ceremonial, he would have certainly directed these primitive Christians to give over an exercise which the self-righteous Pharisees so often practised. But not a word of reproof do we find offered, on the occasion so far from it, he tells them that his own disciples would one day be engaged in a similar exercise: they would drop the tear of sorrow when he was removed from them. He speaks in most definite terms,-" then shall they fast,"
then shall they be called on to engage in this sacred and necessary duty.
Look, now, at the example of the Old and of the New Testament saints. It would, indeed, be tedious to attempt to go through the many examples which are to be found in either of them. Let a few be taken from the latter. Cornelius the centurion was engaged in this exercise when he was approved, and, as a mark of God's approbation, a celestial inhabitant was sent down, who stood before him in bright raiment, and gave him certain instructions concerning his future conduct. Here is his own testimony: " And Cornelius said, four days ago I was fasting until this hour, and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold a man stood before me, in bright clothing, and said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God." Here a convert to Christianity was engaged in the exercise, and was favoured with very gracious communications: I say a convert to Christianity; for his prayer was heard, and, therefore, it must have been the prayer of faith. Immediately after this, he was formally introduced into the visible Church. To the same purpose is the case of the teachers at Antioch, who, by fasting and prayer, set apart Barnabas and Saul to the work of the ministry.
I may here mention the happy effects which have resulted from a conscientious discharge of the duty, both under the Old and the New Testament economy. This argument may be considered equally conclusive with any of the foregoing; for it is not likely that God would sanction improper means with his divine blessing. If this could be the case, then it were immaterial whether we attended to means of God's ap pointment, or our own invention. Whilst Jacob fasted and wrestled with the angel, he obtained the blessing. The Ninivites fasted, and their city was not destroyed. The experience of many worthies, in times more modern, goes to prove the same thing,-their souls have been filled, as with marrow, and with fatness; they have been glad in the Lord, and have rejoiced exceedingly in the God of their salvation.
We trust that the morality of the duty is established from the foregoing arguments. It will follow now, that they who despise the duty of fasting do err, not knowing the ScripThe duty rests on a firm foundation,-a foundation more permanent than the flinty rocks, or the everlasting hills. It is registered in the book of life, among the duties observed by those who are faithful unto the death. We are willing to admit, that many neglect, and many perform it in a heedless, formal, and sinful way: but this cannot be introduced as an argument against it.
If the duty be moral, then it will follow, that they do sin who neglect it, and are never concerned religiously to observe it.
It is an open violation of an express command,-" sanctify ye a fast." With equal propriety would men reject the binding obligation of that precept, "remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy." Both are contained in the holy Word of God, and both are contained in the Old Testament; so that all arguments of the morality of the one militate against the morality of the other. Indeed the latter injunction is as little attended to in its spirit, as the former is in its letter. To overlook, however, such a plain positive precept, must be treating it with the greatest contempt. What fair pretext can be offered for such conduct? Alas! for the degeneracy of man! Woe to us, we have sinned; and, under the influence of our carnal hearts, we are disposed to disobey the plainest precepts of God. Ballyvester, Nov. 17th, 1836.
Questions for Visitation Presbyteries,
TO THE ELDERS.
Quest. 1. What is your opinion of the moral deportment of your Minister?
2. Do you believe that he is generally regarded as a man of good character?
3. Is he a man of temperate habits?
4. Is he of an inoffensive disposition?
5. Do you believe that he is not avaricious?
6. Do you believe that he is not of an overbearing temper?
7. Do you believe that he maintains the worship of God in his family?
8. Do you believe that he attends to the religious instruction of his children and servants?
9. Do the members of his family regularly attend public worship? 10. Is he diligent in the work of the ministry?
11. Is any part of his time regularly employed in any other avocation? 12. Do you believe that he is a studious man?
13. Is he grave in his deportment?
14. Is there such a variety in his discourses from the pulpit, as is calculated to keep alive the attention, and to increase the knowledge of his hearers?
15. Does he regularly lecture as well as preach?
16. Does he preach the doctrine of Original Sin?
17. Does he preach the doctrine of the Trinity?
18. Does he preach the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ?
19. Does he preach the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone? 20. Does he preach the doctrine of Regeneration?
21. Does he preach the doctrine of Sanctification by the Spirit? 22. Does he preach the doctrine of an eternal state of Rewards and Punishments?
23. Does he preach the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body?
24. Does he preach, that without personal holiness no man shall see the Lord ?
25. Have you ever known him to impugn any of the doctrines laid down in the Westminster Confession of Faith?
26. What are his Services in Summer?
27. What are his Services in Winter?
28. How often does he visit his Congregation?
29. How does he announce his visitations from the pulpit ?
30. In what way does he conduct his visitations?
31. When visiting his Congregation, does he admonish those whom he knows to be addicted to gross sins; such as drunkenness, rioting, fornication, Sabbath-breaking, or profane swearing?
32. Is he attentive to the visitation of the sick?
33. Is he attentive to the duty of catechising?
34. Is he a peacemaker?
35. Does he inculcate upon his Congregation the duty of contributing to the Missionary cause?
36. Are immoral characters excluded from the Lord's Supper?
37. Is Baptism administered only to the children of those parents who are of blameless character, and who attend on public worship?
38. Have you a Session Book? 39. Can you produce it?
TO THE COMMITTEE.
Quest. 1. What is your opinion of the moral character of your Minister?
2. Do you think that he presents a good example to his Congregation? 3. Is he just in his dealings?
4. Is he charitable to the poor?
5. Do you think that he makes due preparation for preaching? 6. Are his discourses calculated to instruct and improve his Congregation?
7. Does he preach the doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith?
8. Do you believe that he celebrates marriage regularly?
9. Do you believe that the Elders are men of piety?,
10. Do they maintain family worship?
11. Do they visit the sick of their districts?
12. Do they visit and admonish those who neglect public worship?, 13. Are they of sober habits?
14. Are they sound in the faith?
15. Do they regularly attend public worship?
16. Are they men of unblemished reputation?
17. Do their families regularly attend public worship?
18. Do you think that they are not of a penurious disposition?
19. What is the amount of yearly Stipend paid to your Minister?
20. How is it collected?
21. Are there any arrears?
22. Is there any debt upon the Congregation?
23. Are there any bequests or properties belonging to the Congregation?
24. How are they disposed of?
25. What is the tenure of your Meeting-house?
26. What is its state of repair?