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Waggoners paffing and repaffing on the Lord's Day, with their Wares and Merchandizes. If this should happen; with what Decency can Magiftrates interpofe to correct fuch Diforders? It is not furely lefs excufable to tranfgrefs for Gain, than to offend out of mere Wantonnefs.
But the great Hindrances of Religious Duties, lie frequenly within private Walls, where human Laws cannot reach. In thefe Cafes, Confcience fhould serve instead of Law. When private Bufinefs, or private Diverfions, or private Ceremony, are foffered (cuítomarily) to encroach upon the Duties of the Day, all reafonable Men mult condemn them as unlawful; but when the Duty of the Day is over, there are many who think that they have a Right to difpofe of their Time as they pleafe. I will not go fo far as to say, that any Action, in itself innocent, is fimply and aofolutely unlawful on the Lord's Day; but I think that letting ourfelves loofe to Recreations of any kind that call the Mind off from all ferious Thought, or border nearly upon a vicious Excels, is quite inexcufable. the fift Place, it is not fafe, for Liberties grow by In. dulgence, and infenfibly steal up from leis to greater. I may venture to fay, that expofing Goods to pub. lick Sale, is at least as innocen: as fome Diversions which are allowed in many Families on the Lord's Day; yet our Laws forbid it: And with Reafon. Why? why becaufe, when a Breach is once made, and an Inlet is given to Worldly Bufinefs, no one can tell were it will ftop. To affign Part of the Lord's Day to Bufinefs, and Part to Religion, would be like fetting up two Rival Powers; where, each induftrious to enlarge its Boundaries, the ftronger would, by Degrees, wallow up the weaker. We all know which draws ftrongest with most Men, this World or the next; and therefore the fafe and prudent Way in this Cafe, was to fuffer no Competition. It was eafier and better for the Law to take away the Snare, than to watch to keep People from running into it. publick Wisdom in this Cafe, is a proper Direction
for private Wisdom in like Cafes. When Recreations are apt to encroach too much; ftop them in the first Intance, and you may be fecure they will do no Harm. You would think it prudent to act thus in other Cafes. If a Man was afraid of the Plague; he wou'd never fuffer the infected Thing to enter into his Doors: And where, I pray, is the Hardship? Is it reasonable that Men should be debarred the Means of their neceffary Sustenance for one Day in feven; and not reafonable that they fhould fufler the like Reftraint in Matters of Recreation? It were much to be wished, that fome Kinds of Diversion were lefs in Vogue than they are, even on common Days: But it fhews a Degree of Fondness not to be juftified, if we cannot forbear on fuch Seafons, when even commendable Employments are publick Offences, and Authority calls upon us to attend to better Things. The private Tranfactions of Families, as I faid juft now, are not within the Reach of publick Laws; but our Laws, if we will mind them, recommend to us the Exercife of the Duties of Piety, privately as well as publickly. Thefe Things may be run up to too much Precifenefs, no doubt; but Prudence, under the Direction of an honett and ferious Mind, will eafily fhew us how to make the proper Distinctions.
I do not wonder at a free Indulgence even of publick Diversions of all Kinds on the Lord's Day in Popish Countries, where People are bred up under an Opinion, that the whole Virtue of Religious Worship lies in the naked Act of faying over fo many Prayers. If this was right, the Work done, it would be of no Significancy what went before, or what follows after, fuppofing that Men kept themfelves barely within the Bounds of Innocency. But the founder Notions which obtain in Proteftant Communions, direct to a different Kind of Behaviour. We fay, (and we fay rightly) that outward Acts of Religion are of no Value, any farther than as they fuppofe an honest and a good Heart, or help to make one. If a Man fays his
* Stat. 29 Car. II, Chap. 7. and 5 & 6 Edw. VI, Cb. 3.
Prayers as a Thing of Cuftom only, it is not Religion: If he receives the Sacrament often, and does not mend his Life, it will avail him nothing. Now I would afk any reafonable Man, what Construction will arife when a Perfon comes to Church, and brings his Family with him (perhaps) on a Sunday Morning; and fhews by his Behaviour all the reft of the Day, that he has not one ferious Thought about Religion, or any Thing that has the most diftant Alliance to Religion? A Form of Religion is eafily put on; what affects the Heart is not presently laid aúde. If a Man worships God with Serioufnefs and Devotion, and comes away from Church with good Impreffions on his Mind, he will find himfelf more difpofed to go into his Clofet, and, when Religion hath had its Turn, to relieve himself by fober Conversation with his Family, or with his Friend, than to fit down to a Card Table. And therefore to thofe who afk, Where is the Offence? I anfwer, not in the mere A&t, but in the Habit. and in the Conftruction that hangs upon it. The Thing, you fay, is lawful. Be it fo. What is lawful may not be expedient; which is always the Cafe, when by allowing ourselves in Things lawful, but on no Account neceffary or ufeful, we bring our own Virtues into Question, and deftroy the Force of a good Example.
In the Ufe of Things in themselves indifferent, Regard fhould always be had to the Opinions of others, fo far as not to give Offence, when it may as well be avoided. At prefent, the Abuses I am speaking of are generally offenfive to the more ferious Part of this Nation, and will be fo, till the Spirit of Religion is worn out among us; for the Offence is not founded in fuperftitious Notions, but in the Reafon of Things. A ferious Concern for Religion, naturally makes Men induftrious to improve all Means to the best Advantage; and will not fuffer them lavishly to throw away thofe Opportunities, which, if properly employed, would. help them forward in a virtuous Life: And therefore, whenever it is observed that a
Spirit of Careleffnefs prevails, and that Men are induftrious, not to do as much but as little as they can, to fhew their Refpect to Religion, the Prefumption will lie, that the Senfe of Virtue is but cold; and that whatever Forms are kept up for outward Decency's fake, there is very little of Serioufnefs of Heart.
When Men obferve a Confcience in
refpect of the Duty of the Lord's Day, Of FASTS. it is to be hoped that they will not think
it burdenfome to pay a due Regard to other Seafons appointed for the Worfhip of God; the next of which are our yearly Fafts and Fefivals. Thefe have both of them this in common, that they are Calls to God's publick Worfhip: But as our publick Fafts have this in them fpecial, that they are alfo Calls to Religious Abftinence; fomething I would fay very briefly, to fhew how far Religion is concerned in this Practice; that Chriftians may act upon fome reafonable Principle, when they eat, and when they abftain; when they regard a Day, and when they regard it not.
It should be obferved in the firft Place, that Fafting is not a Custom peculiar to Chriftianity; for we read of it in the Old Teftament as well as in the New: And if we will confider the Occafions on which it was used, we fhall eafily difcern what was propofed by it. Now this you may conftantly obferve: That whenever Men were in Diftrefs; whenever they were awakened by any Accident into a Senfe of their being under God's Difpleasure; whenever Good feemed diftant, or Evil threatened near at Hand: In a Word, whenever they flood in more than ordinary Need of the Protection of God's Providence, or the Comforts of his Grace; these were the Seafons for Fafting: Which evidently imports that fome Virtue, fome Efficacy, was conceived to belong to it as a Means to avert God's Anger, and to engage his Goodness on their Behalf. Wherefore have we fafted (fay the Jews *) and thou feeft not? Why were they aftonifhed that God had not regarded their * Ifa, lviii. 3.
Fafting, but from a Belief that Fafting was an acceptable Service? And Reafon enough was there for this Belief, fuppofing Fafting to have been as it ought. For the Old Teftament contains many Evidences of God's approving this Service; as in particular thất well known Paffage in Joel, Chap. i. ver. 14. Sanctify ye a Faf, call a folemn Affembly, gather the Elders, and all the Inhabitants of the Land, &c. And that we may not think the Propriety of it to be lefs under the New Teftament than it was under the Old, our Saviour has given Rules about Fafting, and his Apoftles practifed it; of which we have a clear Inftance, Acts xiii, 3. where it is faid, that when certain Teachers that avere at Antioch, had received a Command from the Holy Ghost to feparate Barnabas and Saul for the Work of the Ministry, they fafied and laid their Hands on them ; which was the constant Manner of commending Men to the Grace of God, on all folemn Occafions, as we may fee, Acts xiv. 23. St. Paul tells us, that he was in Fafiings often, 2 Cor. xi. 27. and Chap. vi. ver. 5: that he approved himself to God, among other Things, by Faftings. So that, upon the whole, there can be no Doubt but that to despise Fafting as a mere Superflition, is one Extream in this Cafe that ought to be avoided.
When and whence this Practice had its Beginning, it is very hard, if not impoffible, to fay with Certainty. It is very probable it might originally have taken its Rife, not from any divine Precept, but from the natural Correfpondency it has with a State of Sorrow and Humiliation. But what is certain in this Matter is, That on the great Day of Atonement, when the Priest, once a Year, was to make a Sin Offering for all the People; the Jews were exprefly commanded to hold a Faft. The Law to this Purpose is to be found, Levit. xvi. 29, and runs in these Words: And this fhall be a Statute for ever unto you, that on the feventh Month, on the Tenth Day of the Month, ye fall afflict your Souls, and do no Work at all
* Matt. vi. 16.