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It is granted, then, that the proportion of the Fast Days enjoined by the Church will, to persons unaccustomed to observe them, appear over-large, and the variety of the occasions for which they are adapted, over-minute and arbitrary. The question, however, occurs, whether we ought to be influenced by such considerations to reject the entire system, or whether, we ought not rather to be moved by the indications of a practical character evinced in some regulations, to make the trial of those, whose benefit we do not at present discern. Now it would seem plain that, in a practical matter, he who from the traces of wisdom or thoughtfulness in one regulation should infer the probable wisdom and reasonableness of others emanating from the same source, would act more wisely than one, who, on account of the apparent unreasonableness and superfluity of some provisions, should proceed to condemn the whole. For in practical matters, the great test of the expediency of any habit, for which we have not direct divine authority, is experience : they only who have tried a line of conduct, or narrowly watched its effects upon others, can speak with certainty as to its result. Of all the lesser courses of action, which tend so powerfully to form our moral habits, it would be impossible probably, for one who had not tried their effect, to predict certainly what that effect would be: or if we could guess the nature of the effect, certainly we should be able to foresee its degree and amount. With the exception of gross and flagrant sins, whose character and wages we know from authority, there is probably no one line of action, with regard to which we might not before hand prove very plausibly to ourselves, that it would not have the effects, to which it is in fact tending, and which we afterwards perceive to have been its natural results. Yet such abstract reasonings about the possibilities or tendencies of things would not be listened to in any other case. When sick, men easily listen to the means, however improbable, by which any disease, resembling their own, was removed. Be it a poison, which they are bidden to take, yet if it be proved satisfactorily that, in cases like their own, that poison has been the messenger of health, they would not hesitate. They would listen to no abstract reasonings, that it was improbable that what had been an instrument of death could be their life; they would look to those, whom it had restored to health, and would do the like. The sight of one person, undeniably raised from a state of death to life, would affect men more than any à priori demonstration that the medicine was pernicious or deadly. Much more then, since this medicine has been recommended to us by the great Physician of our souls ; since it has been beneficial, wherever it has not been substituted for all other means of restoring or maintaining our spiritual health. The only question open to us, is,---not whether Fasting be in itself beneficial, this has been determined for us by God Himself', but—whether certain regulations concerning it tend to promote or to diminish its efficacy; and in this case, the testimony of those who have proved their value, is manifestly of primary importance; the pre-conceived opinions of such as have not tried them, are but mere presumptions. When then, in the regulations preserved in our Church, we find instances of thought which imply that the framers of these rules formed them upon their own experience, or again, when in the histories of these holy men, we see that they habitually practised what they inculcated, we have evidence of the value of their advice, which we may not, without peril of injury to our souls, neglect.
It was in part, by some such process as the preceding, that the writer of these pages was led to consider what people have come habitually to regard as the less solemn Fasts of the Church, and now ordinarily pay less regard to; for the first day of Lent, and the annual commemoration of our Saviour's sufferings, are, I suppose, still very commonly observed. As the history of every mind is, under some modifications, the mirror of many others, it may to some be useful to see by what course of reflection or experience an individual was brought to feel the value of the regulations of the Church in this respect.
It will perhaps to some seem strange to find placed among the foremost of these advantages, the Protection thereby affordedprotection against one's self; protection against the habits and customs of the world, which sorely let and hinder one in systematically pursuing what one irnagines might be beneficial. I speak not, of course, of any known duty; in that case the opinion or practice or invitations of the world were nothing : but with regard to those indefinite duties or disciplines, which one thinks may be performed as well at one period as at another, and which on that very account are frequently not performed at all, or at best occasionally only,
I See Tract 21.
and superficially. No thoughtful Christian will doubt of the propriety and duty of fasting, whatever he may understand by the term. “ The bridegroom is taken away from us, and so we must fast in these days!:" the Apostles were “ in fastings often ":" in fastings', as well as in sufferings for the Gospel, or by pureness, by knowledge, by all the graces which the Holy Ghost imparted, they approved themselves the Ministers of God. Our blessed Saviour has given us instructions how we ought to fast 4, and therefore implied that His disciples would fast: He has promised that His Father, in the sight of all the Holy Angels, shall reward the right performance of this exercise : how then should it not be a duty ?
“ Our LORD and Saviour,” says Hooker“, “ would not teach the manner of doing, much less propose a reward for doing, that which were not both holy and acceptable in God's sight." And yet, after all the allowances which can be made for that fasting which is known to our FATHER only who seeth in secret, one cannot conceal from one's self that this duty is in these days very inadequately practised. It is, in fact, a truth almost proverbial, that a duty which may be performed at any time, is in great risk of being neglected at all times. The early Christians felt this, and appointed the days of our Blessed Saviour's betrayal and crucifixion, the Wednesday and Friday of each week, to be days of fasting and especial humiliation. Those days, in which especially the bridegroom was taken away, the days, namely, in which He was crucified and lay in the grave, were, besides, early consecrated as Fasts by the widowed Church. Nor was it because they were in perils, which we are spared ; because they were in deaths oft, that they practised or needed this discipline. Quite the reverse. Their whole life was a Fast, a death to this world, a realizing of things invisible. It was when dangers began to mitigate, when Christianity became (as far as the world was concerned) an easy profession, it was then that the peril increased, lest their first simplicity should be corrupted, their first love grow cold! Then ' those who had spiritual authority in the Church increased the stated Fasts, in order to recall that holy earnestness of life, which the recentness of their redemption, and the constant sense of their Saviour's presence, had before inspired. Fasts were not merely the voluntary discipline of men, whose conversation was in heaven; they were adopted and enlarged in periods of ease, of temptation, of luxury, of self-satisfaction, of growing corruption.
1 Matt. ix. 15. Mark ii. 20. Luke v. 35.
? 2 Cor. xi. 27. These were voluntary Fasts; St. Paul had just spoken of involuntary privation, ' in hunger and thirst.' On c. vi. 5. even Calvin says, * St. Paul doth not mean hunger which arose from want, but tlie voluntary exercise of abstinence.' So Whitby paraphrases v. 4, 5, constantly enduring all sorts of sufferings, and exercising all kinds of self-denial for the Gospel's sake.' 3 Ibid. vi. 5.
4 Matth. vi. 16-18. * Eccl. Pol. b. v. $ 72. Bp. Taylor, Rule of Conscience, b. ii. c. 3. rule 0.
See Bingham, Antiq. of the Christian Church, b. xxi. c. 3.
To urge that Fasts were abused by the later Romish Church, is but to assert that they are a means of grace committed to men; that they would subsequently be unduly neglected, was but to be expected by any one, who knows the violent vacillations of human impetuosity. It was then among the instances of calm judgment in the Reformers of our Prayer-Book that, cutting off the abuses which before prevailed, the vain distinctions of meats, the luxurious abstinences, the lucrative dispensations, they still prescribed, Fasting " to discipline the flesh, to free the spirit, and render it more earnest and fervent to prayer, and as a testimony and witness with us before God of our humble submission to His high Majesty, when we confess our sins unto Him, and are inwardly touched with sorrowfulness of heart, bewailing the same in the affliction of our bodies ?."
Our Reformers omitted that, which might be a spare to men's consciences; they left it to every man's Christian prudence and experience, how he would fast; but they prescribed the days upon which he should fast, both in order to obtain an unity of feeling and devotion in the members of Christ's body, and to preclude the temptation to the neglect of the duty altogether. . Nor is the interference in this matter any thing insulated in our system, or one which good men would object to, had not our unhappy neglect of it now made it seem strange and foreign to our habits. In some things we are accustomed to perform a duty, which is such independently of the authority of the Church, in the way in which the Church has prescribed, and because she has so appointed. We assemble ourselves together on the Lord's day, because God has directed us by His Apostle not to forsake such assemblies; but we assemble ourselves twice upon that day rather than once, not upon any reason of the abstract fitness of so doing, but because the Church has prescribed it. And yet we should rightly think, that it argued great profaneness of mind and a culpable carelessness of our privileges, if we were habitually to neglect this ordinance, on the ground that God has not in His Word directly enjoined it, And probably, at an early period of our lives, (perhaps even later, when indisposition or indolence or any prevailing temptation has beset us,) there are few amongst us who have not owed their regular perseverance in public worship to this ordinance of the Church : there is no one assuredly who having broken this ordinance, has afterwards by God's mercy been brought back to join more uniformly in the public worship of his God and SAVIOUR, who has not been thankful for this restriction. This then is protection'.
1 Cassian. Collat. xxi. c. 30. ap. Bingham, b, xxi. c. 1. 2 First Part of the Homily on Fasting,
Again, to search the Scriptures is a duty expressly enjoined by our SAVIOUR. The Church has stepped in to direct this study, and prescribed that nearly the whole of the 0. T. should be read in each year, the N. T. thrice in the same period, the Psalms once every month. Since our Daily Service has been nearly lost, many pious individuals, it is well known, have habitually read just that portion which the Church has allotted. Now, laying aside certain cases in which this duty will be lifelessly performed, (for such there will be under any system,) can any one doubt, that those who have from childhood been trained to follow this direction of the Church, have read their Bible more regularly and more fully than others ? and has not the Word of God often exerted its
1 “No doubt that penitency is, as prayer, a thing acceptable to God, be it in public or in secret. Howbeit, as in the one, if men were only left to their own voluntary meditations in their closets, and not drawn by laws and orders unto the open assemblies of the Church, that there they may join with others in prayer, it may soon be conjectured what Christian devotion would that way come unto in a short time; even so in the other, we are by sufficient experience taught, how little it booteth to tell men of washing away their sins with tears of repentance, and so to leave them altogether to themselves. O LORD, what heaps of grievous transgressions have we committed, the best, the perfectest, the most righteous among us all, and yet clean past them over unsorrowed for, and unrepented of, only because the Church hath forgotten utterly how to bestow her wonted times of discipline, wherein the public example of all was unto every particular person a most effectual means to put them often in mind, and even in a manner to draw them to that, which now we all quite and clean forget, as if penitency were no part of a Christian man's duty." Hooker, I. c.