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fession, 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.
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 snare 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
Cassian. Collat. xxi. c. 30. ap. Bingham, b. xxi. c. I. 2 First Part of the Homily on Fasting.
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.
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
I "No doubt that penitency is, as prayer, a thing acceptable to God, be it in public or in secret. How beit, 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 onsorrowed for, and unrepented of, only because the Church bath 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.
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 subjugation 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
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.” 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 Fasting”. 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
i First Part of the Homily on Fasting. > 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. 1 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 Curist 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 Hanimond's Practical Catechism, b. iii. & 3.