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Vol.ii. p. 17
Melancholy and Distress. And therefore, if the last Ingredientof Repentance be in us to any becoming degree; this will be so far from needing a fresh Injunction, that it will almost necessarily attend, and preventour Choice, by following it of course.
2. It is no doubt a very fit Exercise of Revenge, and Holy Indignation against ourselves; when, by voluntary deprivations of our usual Sustenance, we acknowledge our selves unworthy, not only of those spiritual Mercies and special Favours, peculiar to God's faithful and elect; but even of that daily bread, and those ordinary Blessings, which he vouchsafes to distribute so liberally, to all Mankind in common.
3. It is of considerable advantage, by assisting us against our Lusts, and bringing the Sensual under the Government of the Rational part of the Mind. It hath been observed heretofore, that our Bodies are the Instruments, and the Gra Ep. 1. Sun. afi. tification of their Appetites the End, of Epiph. Epiftle
for Septuages. all the Sins we commit; and that these act in constant opposition, to the Dictates of sober Reason and Religion. Upon which account our safety from Temptations in a great measure depends, upon bringing these under, and keeping them in Subjection. But now the Case of Good and Evil Habits is thus far the same, that Both are acquired and strengthned by renewed Acts of their own kind : Both, broken and lost by frequent Acts of a contrary kind. As therefore Pleasure insaves us by often indulging ; so there is no way to break and free our selves from those Chains, but often denying it. And altho' abstaining now and then from a Meal may seem, and indeed is, no great matter in it self; yet it is very great in its Consequences. For Custom in all Cases hath more force than Men are generally aware. By mastering our desires in less Instances, we establish our Dominion, and insensibly get ground upon them, in
greater and more difficult Trials. And, in no one Instance more than this, which does not only try us in a very sensible part; but draws away that Fewel to our Vices, which Ease, and Luxury, and Fulness of Bread minister. Thus we at once strengthen our Selves and weaken our Enemy: vanquish and kill our hurtful, our carnal and worldly Affections, and dispose our Minds more freely, more chearfully, to those that are pure, and heavenly, and for our true Happiness. In which view 'tis, that we are taught in the Collect for next Sunday, to pray for Grace to use such Abstinence, that, our Flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey our Lord's Godly Motions, in Righteousness and true Holiness.
4. Once more. Fasting is a very suitable Companion of, and mighty Help to Prayer. It carries off the Dregs of undigested Fumes, lightens the weight of that Clog, which the Body is to the Soul; and generally renders us active, and nimble, and vigorous, in our Flights Heavenward. Hence we fo often find these two joined in Scripture. Hence it was made a part of Devo
tion, upon all extraordinary occasions,
and a preparation for all important UnAQs xiii. 2, &c. dertakings, where the Blessing of God
was to be implored, his Honour more especially to be advanced, and his People edified. Moses at receiving the Law, Elias at his being admitted to a nearer approach to God, Nay, our Blessed Lord after his Baptism vouchsafed to enter upon his Prophetick Office, with a Fast of forty Days. And whatever may be said of the Kelt, our Lord must probably have condescended to it, for its agreeableness to a State of solemn Devotion. He had no Failings to lament, no Sins to chastise himself for, no corrupt or rebellious Lufts to subdue ; but, tho' in these Respects he could not, yet did he not disdain, in the quality of a Supplicant to his Father, to fast, as our Pattern.
1 Sam. viii. 14. 2 Chron. xx.
Can any Man now, after all this, retain a doubt, whether Fasting be still a Duty? Can we suppose our Lord would here direct the manner of doing that, which is not necessary to be done at all? The mention of which Direction puts me in Mind to observe, that the Scripture takes notice of Private, and of Publick Fasts, The One of our Own, the Other of our Governor's appointment. Those Humiliations for Personal, These for National Calamities and Guilt. Of the Publick the Prophet Joel speaks in the Epistle; Of the Private our Saviour, in the Gospel, for this Day. Hence is the seeming Difference reconciled, between the Solemnity and Pomp required by the Prophet, and the Secrecy enjoined by our Lord. In the Publick we are to be Spurs and Examples to Others, and therefore our Zeal here, if sincere, will be solemn. For the Private, matters are here transacted between God and our own Consciences.
And when our whole concern should be to recommend our felves to Him, from whom nothing can be concealed ; to affect Pomp and Solemnity then, is to confess we have some indirect Views, and proclaims our Zeal to be tricking and unsincere. In a Word, By the publick we are prescrib’d to ; so that the testifying our Obedience by visible Acts there, is no more than our Duty. By the Private we prescribe to our felves; and should take heed here of gratifying that most dangerous of all Temptations, the Pharifaical Vanity of voluntary Mortification, and uncommon Merit.
IV. The Fourth Qualification, requisite to Repentance, is Prayer. Concerning which, intending to treat more at large very shortly, I at present only fay, that 'tis fit this Applica- Gorpel for fe:
cond Sunday in tion to the Divine Majesty be attended with all that Humility, which a due Sense of our own Vileness and Unworthiness can infpire; With all that Reverence, which the awful
Remembrance of fo Holy, and Just, and Great a God can beget ; With all the Earneftness, which our own Wants, and the Importance of the Blessings we ask, require ; With all the humble Confidence, which Faith in the Son of God's Love, content to be made a Sacrifice of expiation for the Sins we confess and implore the Pardon of, is a reasonable Encourage
With Hearts thus disposed, we may come boldly to the Throne of Grace, rehearse the black Catalogue of our Faults and Follies, acknowledge all our Wretchedness, shew our Lord allour Trouble, implore the Comforts of his Forgiving, and the Supplies of his assisting Grace, to heal our Spiritual Sickness, to invigorate and confirm all our good Purposes and Resolutions, to take away our Heart of Stone, and to put into us an heart of Flesh, to infuse new Thoughts, and Desires, and Affections, and to inable us so to persevere in this Change of Life, that our growth in Goodness here may be hereafter consummated in Glory. These are the Petitions proper for Penitents, who have reason to be very importunate for those Helps, without which they can do nothing; and for that Mercy and Remission, without which it were happy for them, if they could cease to be, and fall back to, nothing.
V. A Fifth thing requisite on these Occasions is, Almsgiving. By this we few our Love to our God and
Saviour, who hath declared, that the Poor
are his Receivers, and that our kind Offices, and liberal Contributions to Their Relief, shall all be placed to account, as done to Himself. By this we wean our Affections from the World, and learn to master those Enjoyments of it, which, if not got above, prove the most fatal Snares to us. By this we perform that, which is the very Life and Soul of a Sinner's Conversion, despise the Creature, and devote our selves to God. This is the thing, which
Matt. XXV. 40.
God rejects the most folemn Humiliation of the Jews, for being defective in. This is the Testimony, our Lord requires of our Sincerity in Fasting : and for that purpose 'tis thus connected with it, in the Gospel now before us. This is the Proof where Men have their Hearts, according as the discharge, or the neglect of it, discover the place, in which they lay up their Treasure ; This, lastly, the Design of our wise and excellent Church, in reading so many Lectures of Charity, on the Preparatory Sundays, and this Day; to instruct us, that, without this Virtue, the Season they introduce, and the strictest Austerities and Devotions of it, are frivolous and vain.
VI. The only Particular now remaining to be spoken to is, that every one of those already mentioned, be free from Ostentation and Vain-glory. The reason of this Condition depends upon a Maxim, often intimated before : which is, That, as the Sinner's Corruption is all resolved at last into loving the Creature more than God; so the Conversion of a Sinner, called upon this account the Turning of bis Heart, consists in being brought to such a Change, as makes him love God above any, above all the Creatures. Now, to contrive for pomp and shew, those Acts of Piety and Worship, which, by the Nature of them, immediately refer to, and ought to terminate in God; thews, that there is still a Partner (and every Partner is in this case a Rival) in our Affections. This taints all the Goodness of the seemingly best Actions: and is a Temptation, threatning the greater danger, because none but good Actions can miniłer occasion to it. Thus are we liable to be undone, not only by our Faults and Frailties ; but, if they be not nicely guarded, and wisely manag'd, even by our Virtues. These naturally draw the Observation first, and then the Praise, of Men. If we are content to let thefe come of their own