Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

power even when it has been read simply as an act of duty, and when but for this direction it would not have been read at all?

The like has undoubtedly taken place even in the celebration of the Supper of our LORD. Individuals have been induced to join, and that beneficially to themselves, in the Communion even of their SAVIOUR'S Body and Blood, just so often in the year as their Church has prescribed to them. This is not so unusual a case as it might seem. One cannot doubt, that in many cases, where the Holy Communion is celebrated but three times in the year, this is so done, because such is the smallest number, of which the Church admits, and the Minister supposes that his flock would not join with him more frequently. Had the Church made no such regulation, many probably, who now partake three times a year, might not have joined even thus often; yet it would not be true to say that such persons in all cases partook without real devotion, or any love to their SAVIOUR. Again, where there are opportunities of a monthly Communion, there may be some, who would not have desired the privilege, unless the provision had been made for them, and they had been invited by the Church so to do; yet will it not of necessity follow, that they partake coldly or unacceptably. A warmer love would indeed lead the one to a more frequent, the other to a more glad Communion; nor have such persons well understood the principles of their Church; still, GOD forbid that we should judge that they had not partaken worthily and devotionally.

Here again then is protection: in each case, we have a command of God, obeyed in such wise as is prescribed by the Ministers, whom He has made the Stewards of His Word and Sacraments; and since in these cases we admit their regulation, why should we think it strange or incongruous, that they have given us their pious admonitions in another ordinance of God?

Nor is it to the undecided, or the timid, or the hesitating, or the novice only, that this protection is beneficial; although no reflecting Christian will speak lightly of the value of any means, which tend to strengthen the bruised reed or to kindle anew the smouldering flax. The comparison of our own times with those of the Reformers were proof enough of the benefit of authoritative interposition in these matters. Is human nature changed? or have we discovered some more royal road, by which to arrive at the subju

gation of the body, the spiritualizing of the affections? or have we even from without, fewer temptations to luxury and self-indulgence? or will not even the more pious and decided Christians among us confess, upon reflection, that they had probably been now more advanced, had they in this point adhered to the Ancient Discipline of our Church? Our Reformers kept and enjoined one hundred and eight days in each year, either entirely or in part, to be in this manner sanctified: two-sevenths of each year they wished to be in some way separated by acts of self-denial and humiliation. Let any one consider what proportion of each year he has himself so consecrated, and whether, had he followed the ordinances of the Church, his spirit would not probably have been more chastened and lowly, more single in following even what he deems his duty, whether self would not have been more restrained, whether he would not have walked more humbly with his GOD.

Yet authority is a valuable support against the world, even to minds which yet are not inclined to compromise with the world unlawfully. There are many situations in life, in which it were almost impossible to continue, without observation, a system of habitual and regular Fasting, certainly not one, attended with those accompaniments, which the Fathers of our Church thought it desirable to unite with it. It is true, that every Fast may be made a Feast, and every Feast a Fast; that as far as self-denial is concerned, if there be a stedfast purpose, the object may perhaps be as well accomplished in the midst of plenty and luxury, as by the purposed spareness of a private board; it is possible also, that the acts might be in some measure concealed; still there are very many minds, and those such as one would be the most anxious to protect, to whom the very suspicion that they might be observed, would be matter of pain and a species of profanation; they would shrink from any thing which might be construed into Pharisaic abstinence, or which would seem to pretend to more than ordinary measures of Christian prudence. To such mild and unobtrusive spirits, the recommendation or direction of the Church is an invaluable support: they may now adopt the line of conduct which they love, unimpeded by any scruple, lest their good should be evil spoken of; they are acting under authority; they pretend to do nothing more than the Founders of their Church have deemed expedient for every one; their conduct involves no

lofty pretensions; they follow in simplicity and faithfulness an old and trodden track, which has been marked out for them as plain and safe.

The first advantage then which may result from the authoritative interposition of the Church in regulating this duty, is the securing of greater regularity and more uniform perseverance in its performance; not undoubtedly as in itself an end, but as leading to great and important ends; for as those pious men, who laid so much stress thereon, themselves say, "when it respecteth a good end, it is a good work; but the end being evil, the work is also evil 1." "Fasting is not to be commended as a duty, but as an instrument; and, in that sense, no man can reprove it, or undervalue it, but he that knows neither spiritual acts, not spiritual necessities "."

But further, it is not even true, that all the purposes of Fasting can be attained by mere self-denial in the midst of luxury. For this acquisition of the habit of self-denial, although an important object, is by no means the sole end of Fasting3. The great purpose, in connexion with which it is chiefly mentioned in Holy Scripture, is prayer. The influences of Society, rightly chosen, may dispose the mind to more fervent (possibly only more excited) prayer; it is solitude generally, or communion with a single friend, which brings us to a humble, contrite, lowly intercourse with our GOD. In the present day, the first paramount evil which destroys its tens of thousands, is probably self-indulgence; the second which hinders thousands in their progress heavenwards, is the being "busy and careful about many things," whether temporal or spiri

1 First Part of the Homily on Fasting.

2 Bishop Taylor, Works, iv. 212. 3" Much hurt hath grown to the Church of God through a false imagination that Fasting standeth men in no stead for any spiritual respect, but only to take down the frankness of nature, and to tame the wildness of the flesh. Whereupon the world being too bold to surfeit, doth now blush to fast, supposing that men, when they fast, do rather bewray a disease, than exercise a virtue. I much wonder what they, who are thus persuaded, do think, what conceit they have, concerning the Fasts of the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Apostles, our LORD JESUS CHRIST himself." Hooker's Eccl. Pol. B. v. § 72.

"If the Church intend many good ends in the Canon, any one is sufficient to tie the law upon the conscience, because, for that one good end, it can be serviceable to the soul; and indeed Fasting is of that nature, that it can be a ministry of repentance by the affliction, and it can be a help to prayer, by taking off the loads of flesh and a full stomach; and it can be aptly ministerial to contemplation. Now, because every one is concerned in some one or more of these ends of Fasting, all people are included within the circles of the law, unless by some other means they be exempted." Bp. Taylor, Rule of Conscience, b. iii. c. 4. rule 19. See also Hammond's Practical Catechism, b. iii. § 3.

tual.

"We have kept the vineyards of our mother's children, but our own vineyards have we not kept." The tendency of the age is to activity, and we have caught its spirit; if we be but active about our Master's calling, we deem ourselves secure; we think not, until we are precluded from active exertion, "how much activity belongs to some (ages and some) natures, and that this nature is often mistaken for grace '." Meanwhile an activity which leads us not inwards, has taken place of that tranquil retiring meditation on the things of the unseen world which formed the deep, absorbing, contemplative, piety of our forefathers; even the conception of the joys of heaven, which very many of us form, is but a glorified transcript of our life here; we look, when through God's mercy in CHRIST we shall be delivered from the burthen of the flesh, to be like the "Ministers of His who do His pleasure;" but we look not, comparatively at least, to that which our Fathers longed for, to be with CHRIST, and to see Him as He is. Our age is in general too busy, too active, for deep and continued self-observation, or for thoughtful communion with our God. It would not be too broad or invidious a statement to say, that for real insight into the recesses of our nature, or for deep aspirations after GOD, we must for the most part turn to holy men of other days: our own furnish us chiefly with that which they have mainly cherished, a general abhorrence of sin; they guide us not to trace it out in the lurking corners of your own hearts: they teach us to acknowledge generally the corruption of our nature, the necessity of a Redeemer, and the love we should feel towards Him; but they lead us not to that individual and detailed knowledge of our own personal sinfulness, whence the real love of our Redeemer can alone flow. A religious repose and a thoughtful contemplation would be a second advantage of complying in this respect with the instructions of our Church'.

1 A Fragment, written in illness by the Rev. Richard Cecil.

2 "It is best to accompany our Fasting with the retirements of religion and the enlargements of charity; giving to others what we deny to ourselves." Bishop Taylor, Works, iii. 102.

"Fasting, saith Tertullian, is an act of reverence towards GOD. The end thereof, sometimes elevation of mind; sometimes the purpose thereof clean contrary. The reason why Moses in the mount did so long fast, was mere divine speculation; the reason why David, humiliation." Hooker, l. c.

Our Church recognizes the union of these objects both in her Homilies and in the 72nd Canon, which forbids "Ministers of their own authority alone, to appoint or keep any solemn Fasts, either publicly or in private houses;" thereby implying that the acts of abstinence were accompanied with devotional exercises.

Braced and strung by retirement into ourselves, and tranquil meditation upon God, we should return to our active duties with so much more efficiency, as we ourselves had become holier, humbler, calmer, more abstracted from self, more habituated to refer all things to GOD. Were human activity alone engaged on both sides, then might we the rather justify the prevailing notions of the day, that energy is to be met by counter-energy alone: but now, since "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world," it especially behoves us too look wherein our great strength lies, and to take heed that "the weapons of our warfare be not carnal." It is tempting to adopt into the service of God the weapons or the mode of warfare, which in the hands of His enemies we see to be efficacious; but the faithful soldier of CHRIST must not go forth with weapons which he has not proved; the Christian's armoury, as the Apostle goes on to describe it, is mainly defensive; and when he has urged his brethren to assume it, he exhorts them to add that whereby alone it becomes effectual-a duty in which again we appear to ourselves to be inactive-" praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." Fasting, retirement, and prayer, as they severally and unitedly tend to wean us from ourselves and cast us upon God, will tend to promote singleness of purpose, to refine our busy and over-heated restlessness into a calm and subdued confidence in Him, in whose strength we go forth. Nor shall we, until the day of Judgment, know how much of the victory was granted to those, who in man's sight took no share in the conflict; how far the "unseen strength" of Fasting, humiliation, prayer, put forth by those of whom the world took no account, was allowed by God to prevail. The world saw only that the Apostle whom they had imprisoned, escaped their power; they knew not that the prayer of the Church had baffled their design'. In the present conflict throughout the world, in which the pride of human and Satanic strength seems put forth to the utmost, humility and a chastened dependent spirit would seem to have an especial efficacy. On these, as the graces most opposed to the world's main sin, we might look the more cheerfully for God's blessing; thus shall we at least be saved from augmenting the evil

1 Acts xii. 5.

« PoprzedniaDalej »