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thankful; and our warm recommendation of the God, whom we have proved, to our friends and offspring, will be rational and impressive.
“ Bless the lads,” says the pious and affectionate Patriarch. On this last clause I would just observe, that all parents when they come to die, naturally wish that the blessing of God may attend their children. “ God bless you,” all can say to their children, without meaning much more than to express their hearty concern for their welfare. But consider; Do
you know who the God is whom you desire to bless
your children? Do you see in Jesus the foundation for trusting in him? Have you loved, served, and pleased him; and have you set your children an example of serving and obeying him ? If you have, you may recommend him to them with some authority; but how cold and unmeaning are your prayers for them, if you have not; if, by your life, you have rather led them to neglect and despise him !
To conclude. If you would experience that peace and hope in your death, which Jacob felt, you must make his God, in Christ, your portion and guide through life.
You may then lie down in your graves, in sure and certain hope of a resurrection to ETERNAL life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
THE DUTY AND USES OF RELIGIOUS FASTING.
Joel ii. 12.
Therefore also now, saith the Lord, Turn ye even to me
with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.
The duty of fasting, attended with humiliation of soul on account of sin, and with hearty conversion to God, as the choice and portion of our souls; is here recommended to his people by the Lord God of Israel. “ Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with weeping, and with mourning.” Such are the circumstances, which accompany religious fasting, when it is acceptable to the Lord. Bare fasting, as such, has nothing in it well-pleasing to God or profitable to the soul. It is not godliness, but bodily exercise. Now, “ bodily exercise profiteth little; but godliness is profitable to all things.” However, fasting profits something, when it is not pharisaically relied on as godliness itself, but is used as an outward mean of godliness, commanded by God himself, as we see in the Text; and it is helpful, under his Spirit, to promote godly sorrow and sincere turning to the Lord. If men do not use it with a view to these ends, they might as well do nothing : They act as insignificantly as those who eat fish instead of flesh during the season of Lent, and call that fasting. Much therefore is spoken in Scripture against ostentatious, and hypocritical, and self-righteous fasting, as also something against tormenting the body by excessive abstinence, because the Jews were addicted to this practice, at the same time that they lived in abominable iniquity. The Holy Ghost also foresaw the abuses of Antichrist,—that is of Popery,—on this head.
But then there is an extreme on the other side. To prove that fasting is commanded of God, no more needs be said than barely to repeat the Text; for the Lord does not appear to be speaking here of temperance and self-denial, and fasting from sin, as some express it; THAT is a christian's duty at all times; but he is here to be understood as enjoining the particular duty of fasting, as an occasional and extraordinary thing. This meaning must, I think, be sufficiently manifest to every one who will read the chapter before us without prejudice. And if we attend to matter of fact, it may truly be observed, that self-indulgence, and the neglect of fasting and of the other severer duties of the same kind, are evils, which, in the practice of many who profess to be religious, need to be rebuked.— While we have shunned one extreme, we have run into another.
After all, fasting profiteth but little in comparison of other means of grace, such as searching the word, hearing it, praying, and meditation; but it cannot be proper to neglect it entirely, since it is commanded, though not statedly, yet occasionally, to be observed. The present holy season of Lent, and particularly the approaching day of our Lord's
crucifixion, a day worthy indeed to be peculiarly observed with fasting, while we look to Christ crucified ;- these things, together with the conviction of the danger of hardening our hearts, by living in the breach of the least of the Lord's commands, have induced me to attempt to show you,
ist, The Scripture evidence of the practice of this duty by Saints of old;
2d, The uses and proper ends of fasting.
1. Be it so that this is one of the least commandments, nevertheless, if it is a commandment, a threat attends the neglect of it, Matt. v. 19. The same sermon on the mount, in which our Lord utters this threat, contains directions which relate to fasting. Pray, my Brethren, even ye who know the Lord, that Christ Jesus may be exalted in our souls by the work we have before us, and then it shall not be in vain. For if we are not led to know, to trust in, and to love Christ better, by every means of grace, nothing effectual is done to profit us. But I hope to show our present subject to be a Gospel-one, and fruitful to the glory of Christ, and the comfort of our souls, through your prayer and the supply of the spirit of our Lord and Saviour.
Let us trace religious fasting in some measure through the Bible. It is an exercise that has been ever much in use, in times of mourning and affliction. Though there is no example of fasting to be seen before Moses, yet it is probable that the patriarchs fasted, since we see that there were very great mournings among them. Moses enjoins no particular fast in his five books, excepting THAT on the solemn day of expiation, which was strictly
observed. Levit. xxiii. 27. “On the tenth day of this seventh month ye shall afflict your souls,” inwardly by humility and self-abhorrence, and outwardly by abstinence from all carnal comforts. Though I am far from thinking that the consciences of Christians are bound by Jewish rites, yet surely in the way of expediency, fasting may be strongly recommended, as a mean of helping us in humiliation and solemn contrition, on the day in which we commemorate the real expiation, our suffering Lord bleeding for our sins. Joshua and the elders, we find, remained prostrate before the ark from morning till evening, after the Israelites were defeated by the men of Ai, on occasion of Achan's sin*. And, surely, we have public evils sufficient to induce us, if we had the humble spirit of that godly generation, to imitate their example. We have several subsequent accounts of the Israelites fasting in times of national distress, which show that affliction of soul for sin should be one grand end, in view, to be promoted by fasting, whether public or private. Of David's fasting we have an account both in his history, on occasion of the sickness of the child he had by the wife of Uriah; and also in the Psalms, “I humbled my soul with fasting.” As to the forty days fasts of Moses, of Elijah, and of our Lord, no doubt they were miraculous, and out of the common rules of nature: But they surely recommend the thing to us very strongly, to be practised in our measure. Our Lord's fasting, before he was tempted by the devil, demonstrates the utility of this practice when accompanied by
* Joshua vii.