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things of earth, and sometimes to rap them up, as it were, into the third heavens. And it is chiefly, as it is an help to prayer, that it has so frequently been found a means, in the band of God, of confirming and increasing, not one virtue, not chastity only, (as some have idly imagined, without any ground either froin Scripture, reason, or experience,) but also seriousness of spirit, earnestness, sensibility and tenderness of conscience, deadness to the world, and consequently the love of God, and every holy and heavenly affection.
7. Not that there is any natural or necessary connection between fasting and the blessings God conveys thereby. But he will have mercy as he will have mercy; he will convey whatsoever seemeth him good by whatsoever means he is pleased to appoint. And he hath, in all ages, appointed this to be a means of averting his wrath, and obtaining whatever blessings we, from time to time, stand in need of.
How powerful a means this is to avert the wrath of God, we may learn from the remarkable instance of Abab. “There was none like [him,] who did sell himself,”—wholly give himself up, live a slave bought with moncy,-"to work wickedness." Yet, when he “rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and went softly, the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, “ Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me ? Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days."
It was for this end, to avert the wrath of God, that Daniel sought God “with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.” This appears from the whole tenor of his prayer, particularly from the solemn conclusion of it: “O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, [or mercies,] let thy anger be turned away from thy holy mountain.-Hear the prayer of thy servant, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate. - Lord, hear; O Lord forgire; O Lord, hearken and do, for tbine own sake." (Dan. ix. 3, 16, &c.)
8. But it is not only from the People of God that we learn, when his anger is moved, to seek bim by fasting and prayer ; but even from the Heathens. When Jonah had declared, “ Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” the people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest of them unto the least. “For the King of Nineveh arosc from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh, Lct ncither
man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let thein not feed, nor drink water:" (Not that the beast had sinned, or could repent; but that, by their example, man might be admonished, considering that, for his sin, the anger of God was hanging over all creatures :) " Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not ? And their labour was not in vain. The fierce anger of God was turned away from them. saw their works ;” (the fruits of that repentance and faith, which he had wrought in them by bis Prophet ;) “ and God repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.” (Jonah ii. 4, &c.)
9. And it is a means not only of turning away the wrath of God, but also of obtaining whatever blessings we stand in necd of. So when the other tribes were smitten before the Benjamites, “all the children of Israel went up unto the house of God, and wept and fasted that day until even;" and then the Lord said, “Go up (again ;) for to-morrow I will deliver them into thine band.” (Judges xx. 26, &c.) So Samuel gathered all Israel together, when they were in bondage to the Philistines, " and they fasted on that day” before the Lord : and when “the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel, the Lord thundered (upon them) with a great thunder, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.” (1 Sam. vii. 6.) So Ezra : “ I proclaimed a fast at the river Ahava, that we might alllict ourselves before our God, to scek of bim a right way for us, and for our little ones; and he was entreated of us." (Ezra viii. 21.) So Nehemiah : “I fasted and prayed before the God of heaven, and said, Prosper, I pray thce, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man:” and God granted him mercy in the sight of the King. (Nch. i. 4-11.)
10. In like manner, the Apostles always joined fasting with prayer, when they desired the blessing of God on any important undertaking. Thus we read, (Acts xiii,) “ There Trere in the Church that was at Antioch certain Prophets and Teachers : as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, [doubtless for direction in this very affair,] the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had (a second time] fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (Ver. 1-3.)
Thus also Paul and Barnabas themselves, as we read in
the following chapter, when they “returned again to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and when they had ordained them Elders in every Church, and had prayed with fasting, commended them to the Lord.” (Ver. 23.)
Yea, that blessings are to be obtained in the use of this means, which are no otherwise attainable, our Lord expressly declares in his answer to his disciples, asking, “ Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to' yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit, this kind [of devils) goeth not out but by prayer and fasting :” (Matt. xvii, 19, &c. :)—these being the appointed means of attaining that faith, whereby the very devils are subject unto you.
11. These were the appointed means : For it was not merely by the light of reason, or of natural conscience, as it is called, that the people of God have been, in all ages, directed to use fasting as a means to these ends : But they have been, from time to time, taught it of God himself, by clear and open revelations of his will. Such is that remarkable one by the Prophet Joel: “ Therefore saith the Lord, Turn ye to me, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping and with mourning :-Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him ? Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly :—Then will the Lord be jealous for his land, and pity his people. Yea, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil :-I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen.” (ch. ii. 12, &c.)
Nor are they only temporal blessings which God directs his people to expect in the use of these means. For, at the same time that he promised to those who should seek him with fasting, and weeping, and mourning, “I will restore to you the years which the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmer-worm, my great army;" he subjoins,“ So shall ye cat and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God.—Ye shall also know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God.” And then immediately follows the great Gospel promise, “ I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall
dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions : Avi also upon the servant, and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.
12. Now whatsoever reasons there were to quicken those of old, in the zealous and constant discharge of this duty; they are of equal force still, to quicken us. But above all these, we have a peculiar reason for being “in fastings often," namely, the command of Him by whose name we are called. He does not indeed in this place expressly enjoin either fasting, giving alms, or prayer ; but his directions how to fast, to give almis, and to pray; are of the same force with such injunctions. For the commanding 11s to do any thing thus, is an unquestionable command to do that thing; seeing it is impossible to perform it thus, if it be not performed at all. Cousequently, the saying, Give alms, pray, fast, in such a manner, is a clear command to perform all those duties; as well as to perform them in that manner, which shall iu no wisc lose its reward.
And this is a still farther motive and encouragement to thie performance of this duty; even the promise which our Lord has graciously annexed to the due discharge of it: “
“ Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Such are the plain gronnds, reasons, and ends of Fasting ; such our cricouragement to persevere therein, notwithstanding abundance of Objections which men, wiser than their Lord, have been continually raising against it.
111. 1. The most plausible of these, I come now to consider. And first, It has been frequently said, 'Let a Christian fast from sin, and not from food : this is what God requires at his hands. So be does; but he requires the other also. Therefore this onglit to be done, and that not left undone.
View your argument in its full dimensions; and you will easily judge of the strength of it.
“ Ifu Christian Ouglit to abstain from sin, then he ought not to abstain from food :
But a Christian ought to abstain from sin :
That a Christian ought to abstain from sin, is most true; but how does it follow from here that he ought uot to abstain froin food? Yea, let him do both the one and the other. Let him, by the grace of God, always abstain from sin; and let him oficu abstain from foodd, for such reasons and ends as espe. rience and Scripture plainly short to he anstrered thereby
2. “But is it not better (as it has, secondly, been objected) to abstain from pride and vanity, from foolish and hurtful desires, from peevishness, and anger, and discontent, than from food ?' Without question it is. But here again we have need to remind you of our Lord's words: “ These things ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” And, indeed, the latter is only in order to the former; it is a means to that great end. We abstain from food with this view, that, by the grace of God conveyed into our souls through this outward means, in conjunction with all the other channels of his grace which he hath appointed, we may be enabled to abstain from every passion and temper which is not pleasing in his sight. We refrain from the one, that, being endued with power from on high, we may be able to refrain from the other. So that your argument proves just the contrary to what you designed. It proves, that we ought to fast. For if we ought to abstain from evil tempers and desires, then we ought thus to abstain from food; since these little instances of self-denial are the ways God hath chose, wherein to bestow that great salvation.
3. “But we do not find it so in fact :' (this is a third objection :) we have fasted much and often; but what did it avail? We were not a whit better; we found no blessing therein. Nay we have found it an hinderance rather than an help. Instead of preventing anger, for instance, or fretfulness, it has been a means of increasing them to such a height, that we could neither bear others nor ourselves. This may very possibly be the case. It is possible, either to fast or pray in such a manner, as to make you much worse than before; more unhappy, and more unholy. Yet the fault does not lie in the means itself, but in the manner of using it. Use it still, but use it in a different manner. Do what God commands, as he commands it; and then, doubtless, his promise shall not fail: his blessing shall be withheld no longer ; but, when thou fastest in secret, “He that seeth in secret shall reward chee openly.”
4. “But is it not mere superstition, (so it has been, fourthly, objected,) to imagine that God regards such little things as these?' If you say it is, you condemn all the generations of God's children. But will you say, these were all weak, superstitious men ? Can you be so hardy as to affirm this, both of Moses and Joshua, of Samuel and David, of Jehoshaphat, Ezra, Nehemiah, and all the Prophets? Yea, of a greater than all, Vol. I. No. 8.