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we would oppose.
“ Fasting directly advances towards chastity, and by consequence and indirect powers to patience, humility, and indifference. But then it is not the fast of a day that can do this ; it is not an act, but a state of fasting, that operates to mortification ?."
A third benefit, which might be hoped to result from the more assiduous practice of this duty, would be a more self-denying extensive charity. “Fasting without mercy, is but an image of famine ; Fasting without works of piety, is only an occasion of covetous
2:” and an Apostolic Fathers gives us this excellent instruction, “ A true Fast is not merely to keep under the body, but to give to the widow, or the poor, the amount of that which thou wouldest have expended upon thyself; that so he who receives it may pray to God for thee."
It may perhaps seem strange to some that the present age should be thought wanting in self-denying charity. And yet let men but consider with themselves not what they give only, but what they retain ; let them inquire a little further, not only what wants are relieved, but what remediable misery remains unabated ; or let them but observe generally the glaring contrasts of extremest luxury and softness, and pinching want and penury ; between their own ceiled houses, and the houses of God which lie waste; or let them only trace out one single item in the mass of human wretchedness, disease, insanity, religious ignorance, and picture to themselves what a Christian people might do, what the primitive Christians would have done, to relieve it, --and then turn to what is done, to what themselves do, and say whether means to promote self-denying charity can well be spared.
A further important object of the stated and frequent recurrence of the prescribed Fasts of our Church, is the public recognition of the reality of things spiritual. Here also very many have felt, (and it is a feeling whose strength is daily increasing,) that some public protest is needed against the modes of acting, tolerated (would one must not say, reigning !) in our nominally Christian land : that the Church, or the body of believers, ought to have some recognized modes of distinguishing themselves from those, who manifest by
1 Bp. Taylor, Works, iii. 97.
3 Hermas Pastor, 1. iii. c. 3. p. 105. ed. Coteler. Fasting without almsgiving, says Augustine, is a lamp without oil.
their deeds, that although “ amongst us, they are not of us ;" and who, on the principles of our Church, ought to have gone out or to have been removed from us. It has been with a right view of what the ideal of the Christian Church should be, its holiness, and its purity, although not, I must think, with a just conception of the nature of the Church, that men jealous for the honour of their God and their REDEEMER, have in some measure formed Churches within the Church. The plan has, I think, been defective, sacred and praiseworthy as was the object contemplated. It is true, that the mere union in the celebration of the weekly festival of our Lord's Resurrection does not, as things now are, furnish a sufficient condemnation of the maxims and offences of the World ; that the Church and the World are too much amalgamated ; that while the light of the Church has in part penetrated the gross darkness of the World, there is yet danger, lest that light itself should be obscured. Yet the remedy for this, under God's blessing, is not to be sought in rescuing or concentrating some scattered rays of that Church, while the Church herself is abandoned to the World. Her own Ordinances afford the means of her restoration. Not to speak of those ulterior and fearful powers committed to her, (and which other Communions exercise,) of ejecting from her bosom "the wicked person,” the observance of her own other institutions would virtually eject them. Not indeed at once, (as indeed God Himself has thought fit to allow even His own Blessed Spirit but gradually to leaven our corrupted mass,) not at once, (for at present, long continuance in opposed habits would prevent many from receiving the Ordinances of the Church,) but yet, one should trust, steadily and increasingly ; the mists which now encircle the Church, would disperse, and its glorious elevation on Zion's hill would more effectually be seen. Those, whom the easy Service of the Lord's Day repels not, who would fain serve God on the seventh day, and Mammon on the remaining six, would by these severer or more continuous services, be brought to some test of what spirit they were; more frequent Communions, more constant Worship, more regular Fasting, would show men, whether they belonged to the Church or to the World : and if the Church, like Him, who is its Head, and because joined to that Head, becomes a stone of stumbling, if some shall more openly fall back unto perdition, still it will have performed its office ; many, one may be sure, (for our assurance rests on God's Word,) would also be awakened from their lethargy of death ; and if it be to some a savour of death,” it will, by God's mercy, be to many more a "savour of life, unto life.” Yet the result of any system, sanctioned by God's Word, belongs to us. Were the consequences of more Apostolic practice a great apparent defection and desolation, we dare not hesitate. “It must be made manifest that they are not all of us." Meanwhile a beacon will be held out by those, who would wish to see their path : the Church would, in example, as well as in her theory and directions, hold up a higher standard of performance : she, in theory the most perfect, would no longer be in proportion the least influential'; the plea, that every show of religion, which the world tolerates not, is the mere excess and badge of a party, could no longer be held : those who shrink from what might seem a voluntary or ostentatious forwardness, would no longer be deterred from uniting in observances, which, if authorized, they would love: and there might again be no separation but between those who serve God, and those who serve Him not. The world has seen that its own principles are leading to its own destruction: it acknowledges that its increased laxity has fearfully increased its corruption ; offences, which even it abhors, are multiplied ; vices, which disturb even its peace, stalk more openly ; yet while it reaps the bitter fruits of its own ways, it dares not strike the root.
The Fasts, appointed by our Church, appear eminently calculated, not in truth as a panacea of all evil, but as one decided protest against the “corruption which is in the world by lust,” as one testimony to the conviction of men of the reality of things eternal.
Men may “ fast for strife and to smite with the fist of wickedness," as they may also " for pretence make long prayers :" yet men will not, in general, submit to inconvenience and privation except for a real and substantial object: the world has easier paths for its followers; he, who suffers hardship for an unseen reward, at least gives evidence to the world of the sincerity and rootedness of his own conviction ; he attests that he is a pilgrim journeying to a better country, and however men may for a while neglect his testimony, yet if it be consistent and persevering, it cannot be silenced.
1 See Knox 'on the Situation and Prospects of the Established Church.' Remains, v. i. p. 51.
Such are some of the advantages, which a recurrence to the system of our Church in respectof Fasting might, in dependence upon God's blessing, tend to realize: a more uniform, namely, and regular observance of an injunction of our Blessed Saviour; a deeper humiliation, and a more chastened spirit in carrying on His will; a more thorough insight into ourselves, and a closer communion with our God; a more resolute and consistent practice of self-denying charity; a more lively realizing of things spiritual; a warning to the world of God's truth and its own peril. I have spoken with reference to prevailing habits and general character only, partly because they are these habits which the regulations of a Church must mainly contemplate'; in part also, because, in whatever degree, they will probably form a portion of our own. The evil or defective character of any period is not formed by, nor will it exist in those only who are evil; it encompasses us, is within us : we also contribute in our degree to foster and promote it ; nay, it is from us rrobably that it receives its main countenance and support. Our own standard is insensibly lowered by the evil with which we are environed. A self-indulgent age is not a favourable atmosphere for the growth of self-denial ; nor an age of busy and self-dependent activity for that of a calm and abiding practical recognition, that every thing is in God's hands; nor a period absorbed in the things of sense for thoughtful meditation on things eternal. The predominant evils will indeed appear in the Christian in a subdued form ; yet whether the temptation be to an unconscious compliance with them, or unwittingly to oppose evil with evil, the danger lies nearer here than in
of duty. And if the salt in any wise lose its savour, wherewith shall the self-corrupting world be preserved ? wherewith the salt itself be salted ?
The benefits above named are such as depend on the increased degree of Fasting, exercised in compliance with the directions of the Church, independently of the consideration of the days or seasons selected for that purpose. The results to be anticipated from a more general adherence to these rules appear, however, to be heightened by that selection. The general objects of the
1 “We must observe all that care in public Fasts, which we do in private ; knowing that our private ends are included in the public, as our persons are in the communion of saints, and our hopes in the common inheritance of sons." Bishop Taylor, Works, iv. 103.
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Church were, 1. to impress upon the mind and life the memory of her Saviour's sufferings ; 2. to prepare the mind for different solemn occasions, which recur in her yearly service. The first, or the Friday Fast, as above stated, was universally adopted in the early Church, and in all probability was coeval with the Apostles; it was continued uninterruptedly, alike in the Eastern and the Western Church, and preserved in our own, through the respect which she bore to primitive antiquity, and the experience of the elder Church. It was perhaps at the first adopted, as the natural expression of sorrow for the loss of their Lord and for His bitter sufferings. With this would soon connect itself, almost to the exclusion of the former, sorrow for the sins, which caused those sufferings. “We do not fast'," says Chrysostom, "for the Passion or the Cross, but for our sins ;—the Passion is not the occasion of fasting or mourning, but of joy and exultation.—We mourn not for that, God forbid, but for our sins, and therefore we fast." As then the Lord's day was the weekly festival of their Saviour's resurrection, a weekly memorial of our rising again, in Him and through Him, to a new and real life ; so was the Friday's Fast a weekly memorial of the death to sin, which all Christians had in their Saviour died, and which, if they would live with Him, they must continually die. Thus each revolving week was a sort of representation of that great week, in which man's redemption was completed : the Church never lost sight of her Saviour's sufferings ; each week was hallowed by a return of the “Good Friday?.” One need scarcely insist upon the tendency of such a system, deeply to impress on men's hearts the doctrine of the Atonement, by thus incorporating it into their ordinary lives, and making them by their actions confess this truth. In the early Church its efficacy was
1 Ap. Bingham, B. xxi. c. 1. $ 14. Chrysostom is there speaking of the Lent Fast, but the application is the same.
2 “ Forasmuch as Christ hath foresignified that when Himself should be taken from them, His absence would soon make them apt to fast, it seemed that even as the first Festival Day appointed to be kept of the Church was the day of our Lord's return from the dead, so the first sorrowful and mournful day was that which we now observe, in memory of His departure out of this world. It came afterwards to be an order, that even as the day of Christ's resurrection, so the other two, in memory of His death and burial, were weekly. The Churches which did not observe the Saturday's fast, had another instead thereof, for that when they judged it meet to have weekly a day of bumiliation, besides that whereon our Saviour suffered death, it seemed best to make their choice of that day especially, whereon the Jews are thought to have first contrived their treason, together with Judas, against Christ.” Hooker, I. c.