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ing word of God. Now, it has a little softened down one offensive feature, and now another. Here, it has given a polluting touch to the snow-white purity of the Sabbath; there loosened the reins of family government, or shortened the lessons of family instruction. Here, it has warned away from the pulpit a severe or a mysterious doctrine; there mingled a little vain philosophy with heaven-descended truth. Here, it has taken from some vice a portion of its deformity; there disarmed the rod of church discipline of half its terror, and plead for a conformity to the spirit of the age. It has even exalted the favorite and pliable doctrines of expediency and interest above the plain commands of God. These officious and profane intrusions of public opinion into our holy of holies, faith is called to resist. She must make a bold stand in the name of the Lord. She must insist on the punctilios of revealed truth, fearless of consequences.
But our faith has other foes to encounter. See you not those giant forms, Infidelity and Popery, the enemies alike of God and man? They lift up their heads to the clouds. They stretch abroad their arms from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They "speak great swelling words." They defy the armies of Israel. They threaten extermination. What has faith to do now? She looks in her Bible. She reads: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God"-" Upon this Rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. "Then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." "Tis enough. She takes the sword of the Spirit; fixes upon the foe her steady eye it brightens, as she cries to God for help. The Most High gives strength and skill. The champions, locked arm-in-arm, fall to the ground.
Look again. See vice, gross and shameless, stalk through the length and breadth of the land-Sabbath-breaking and intemperance, with their whole natural, numerous family of evils. Shocking sight! Faith opens her Bible, and reads a glowing description of the time, when nothing shall hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain; when holiness shall be universal. She sees no cause to tremble. She puts forth new efforts against these combined and formidable foes, sure that they will yet wither before the breath of the Almighty.
But the faith of Zion has victories to gain on a far broader scale. Before we gaze in rapture on the full glories of the Millennium, we may expect many hard-fought battles. Look away to the pagan world. Is the darkness of ages broad and deep? Are Satan's strong holds, which he has been forming and fortifying for centuries, "walled up to heaven ?" Are his legions--nerved with uncommon wrath--prepared at all points for desperate conflict? Faith reads the charter which gives to Christ "the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession," and takes courage. She.reads again; "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature ;"—and now farewell ease, and wealth, and honor. The missionary breaks away from every tie, like the father of the faithful, and from earth's strongest allurements, like the deliverer of Israel's tribes. I see him as another Paul, "in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea; in weariness and pain
fulness, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness." Yes, he penetrates fearlessly to the very center of Satan's earthly empire. He counts not his life dear. He takes the most difficult, hazardous posts. He soon falls in glory, or rather ascends to his reward. A kindred spirit follows, and another, and another. Unbelief calls it a wanton waste of life. insists that youth should reserve themselves for better services. urges the abandonment of these perilous stations. But faith, consulting the record, finds no spot on earth, trodden by the foot of man, excepted by our Savior as too hot or too cold, or too fatal to health or life, to receive the gospel. His command is, "Go ye into all the world." And why should it be disobeyed? Shall a Parry be lauded for his enterprise, while he wraps himself in triple furs, and ventures amid the eternal ice of polar seas? Even after repeated failure, shall he be met on his return by the loud applause of a world? And must the devoted missionary receive the sneer of this same world for his perils, and sufferings, and toils among the shivering and depressed Esquimaux? Shall men dare the blaze of a tropical sun in Asia for luxuries, and fortunes, and posts of honor, but not for souls? Or, in Africa, to fasten the chains of slavery, but not to loosen and remove the heavier chains of sin? Or, in South America, to bring away silver, and gold, and diamonds, but not to carry thither the unsearchable riches of Christ? Shall the thinned ranks in deadliest battle be promptly filled, and must a dangerous missionary post be relinquished, because the men to occupy it are mortal? No, while love of the world can crowd stations of greatest peril, let faith show itself an equally powerful, as it is a more noble, principle of action. Go, then, some Hall, some Fisk, some Martyn; go, take the places of these loved missionaries. These pioneers had a short campaign. Their indulgent Captain took them early from the conflict "to the crown. And if others are alike faithful, they too may receive an early discharge.
The church must not hold back these daring, elevated spirits. Christ bids them go. He shows them his torn hands and bleeding side, and, pointing to the dark world of idolatry, asks, in a tone of love and pity, if they can suffer nothing in a cause which has cost him life. Yes, he engages to be their company.—“ Lo, I am with you alway." "Tis enough. Their eyes sparkle to be away. Faith disregards every obstacle, and urges their departure. And shall we stay them now? It would be treason against the King of kings. It must not be. In this day of religious revival and holy enterprise the voice from heaven is, "ONWARD, ONWARD TO CERTAIN TRIUMPH."
Faith has yet to gain her noblest victories. We look forward, and see the circle of her influence rapidly widening, and widening to earth's remotest bounds. Thrones of despotism all crumble. Temples of idolatry fall. Human sacrifices cease. The darkness of ages rolls off from the face of the earth. The empire of Jesus becomes universal: and the nations rejoice in his reign:
And now, who among you, my brethren, is "doing what he can" to hasten this blest consummation? Who "shows by works," that he really believes? Here is the eternal standard-" the same that shall judge you in the last day." O, “JUDGE YOURSELVES NOW, THAT YE MAY NOT BE CONDEMNED WITH THE WORLD !"
NEW-YORK, MARCH, 1831.
SERMONS XCVIII. & XCIX.
BY SAMUEL MILLER, D. D.
THE DUTY, THE BENEFITS, AND THE PROPER METHOD OF RELIGIOUS FASTING.
DANIEL, IX. 3. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication with fasting.
THIS is the language of the prophet Daniel. He is speaking of that which occurred in Babylon, where he and his brethren were in captivity. It was a dark and distressing day. Religion was at a low ebb among the professing people of God. Even their deep adversity had not led them to repentance and reformation. And idolatry, attended with the most deplorable moral corruption, reigned among the heathen around them. Every thing, to the eye of sense, appeared in the highest degree discou raging, not to say desperate. But this holy man trusted in God; and in the exercise of faith, saw, beyond the clouds which encircled him and his people, a ray of light which promised at once deliverance and glory. He perceived nothing, indeed, among the mass of his Jewish brethren which indicated a speedy termination of their captivity; but he "understood by books," that is, he firmly believed, on the ground of a recorded prophecy, delivered by Jeremiah, that the period of their liberation was drawing nigh. In this situation, what does he do? Instead of desponding, he " encourages himself in the Lord his God." And, instead of allowing himself to indulge a spirit of presumption or indolence, on account of the certainty of the approaching deliverance, he considers himself as called to special humiliation, fasting and prayer; to humble himself before God under a sense of the deep unworthiness of himself and his companions in captivity; and to pray with importunity that their unmerited emancipation might be at once hastened and sanctified. Such is the spirit of genuine piety. It neither despairs in adversity, nor is elated with pride at the approach of help. On the contrary, the firmer its confidence in the Divine fidelity, the lower does it lie in humility and penitence, and the more powerfully does it excite to holy action, and to holy desires to be a "worker together with God." It was when this man of God distinctly understood that the desolations of seventy years were coming to an end, that he "set his face to seek unto the Lord God by prayer and supplications with fasting."
The captive Jews in Babylon, as a body, seem to have been in the habit, before this time, of observing certain stated days of fasting and prayer; but they were evidently observed in a formal and heartless manner; and, therefore, instead of proving a blessing, had but increased their guilt. The exercise of the servant of God, to which our text refers, was of a very different character. It was with him a season of special, earnest, elevated devotion; prompted by special feelings; consecrated to a special object; and accompanied by those special circumstances of humility which indicated a soul deeply abased before God, and fervently engaged in pleading for his blessing.
I shall take occasion from the example of Daniel to consider the duty of FASTING, as a suitable and very important accompaniment of special humiliation and prayer. And in pursuance of this design, I shall request your attention to the DUTY, the BENEFITS, and the PROPER METHOD of RELIGIOUS FASTING. After which the way will be prepared for some remarks more immediately practical.
I. The DUTY of religious fasting will claim our attention in the first place.
It is unnecessary to say that fasting is abstinence from food. It is not, however, every kind of abstinence that constitutes a religious fast. Some abstain from their usual aliment because, from indisposition, they loathe it ; others, because they cannot obtain it; and a third class, because abstinence is enjoined by medical prescription. But the Christian, as such, refrains from choice, denying his appetite from religious principle, and with a view to spiritual benefit. Now, when it affirmed that occasional fasting, in this sense, and with this view, is a Christian duty, it is not intended to be maintained that it is one of those stated duties which all are bound to attend upon at certain fixed periods, whatever may be their situation, or the aspect of Providence towards them. There is no precept in the word of God which enjoins the observance of a particular number of fast days in each year. It is to be considered as an occasional, or, perhaps, more properly speaking, a special duty, which, like seasons of special prayer, ought to be regulated, as to its frequency and manner of observance, by the circumstances in which we are placed. But although the times and seasons of religious fasting be left, as they obviously must be, to the judgment and the conscience of each individual, it may be confidently affirmed that it is a DIVINE INSTITUTION; that it is a duty on which ALL CHRISTIANS are BOUND, at PROPER SEASONS, to attend. This, it is believed, may be firmly established by the following considerations.
1. The LIGHT OF NATURE seems to recognise this duty. Abstinence from food, either as an aid or an expression of piety, has been common in all ages, and among all nations. Those who have attended to the various forms of Paganism, know that in all of them fasting has had a place, and in some of them a very prominent place. In entering on important undertakings, and in preparing for sacrifices of more than common solemnity, their fasts were often protracted and rigid to an almost incredible degree. Now, the question is, how came this practice to be so general, nay universal, among those, whether polished or barbarous, who enjoyed no written revelation? Was it a dictate of nature? Then our position is established. If abstinence from food be a natural expression of deep humiliation and mourning, no further argument is necessary to show that it ought to accom
pany seasons of special prayer, and peculiar approach to God. Was it the result of tradition, handing down to all generations the practice of the first parents of our race, received from Him who made them, and placed them, with the knowledge of his will, under a dispensation of mercy? Then is our position still more firmly established. From one or the other of these sources, the practice must have been derived; and either of them will go far towards furnishing the warrant in question.
2. The EXAMPLES of religious fasting recorded in the word of God, are multiplied and very decisive in their character. Out of many which might be selected, the following are worthy of special notice.
Joshua, and the Elders of Israel, evidently kept a solemn fast, when their people were defeated by the men of Ai; for they remained all day, from morning till eventide, prostrate on their faces before the ark, with dust on their heads, in exercises of the deepest humiliation and prayer. David, we are expressly told, fasted, as well as prayed, while he humbled himself under a heavy judgment of God, sent on him for his sin in the matter of Uriah. Even the hardened Ahab fasted and cried for mercy, when the judgments of God were denounced against him by the prophet Elijah. The pious and public-spirited Nehemiah, while he was yet in Babylon, set apart a season of special prayer accompanied with fasting, when he heard of the desolations of the city and people of God:—and afterward, when he came to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a public and solemn fast, to deplore the low state of religion, and to pray for pardoning and restoring mercy. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, appointed a day of fasting and prayer throughout his kingdom, when the confederated forces of Ammon and Moab came up against him. The inhabitants of Nineveh, though Pagans, when the prophet of God proclaimed his approaching judgments, immediately set apart a season of special prayer and fasting, in which not only all the adult inhabitants, but also their infants, and the very beasts that served them, were required to abstain from all aliment. "For it was proclaimed and published by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,-Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed nor drink water; but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God." When queen Esther felt herself and her people to be in danger from the conspiracy of Haman, she set apart a season of solemn prayer and fasting; that is, as she explains it, neither eating nor drinking for three days in succession, in which all her maidens in the palace, and all the Jews in Shushan, were united. The devoted and inspired Ezra, when setting out on his important mission to Jerusalem, assembled the returning captives at the river Ahava, and there "proclaimed a fast, that they might afflict themselves before God, and seek of Him a right way for themselves and their little ones, and for all their substance." And it is remarkable that the blessing of God attended the exercise of fasting in every one of these cases. The armies of Joshua were, thenceforward, victorious. David, though deprived of the child for whose life he prayed, was forgiven his great sin. Ninevah, though exceedingly guilty, was spared. Jehoshaphat was made to triumph over his formidable enemies. Even the impenitent Ahab was favored with the delay of that dreadful judgment which had been denounced against him. Esther and her people experienced a signal deliverance. And Ezra obtained the blessing which he sought with such humble importunity.