« AnteriorContinuar »
ordinary instruments of spiritual discipline, until he should be returned to the Father.
There is another point, too, in our Lord's dealings with the people around Him. When He reproved the Jews for their strict observance of the outward means, to the neglect of "the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith;" He does not say that those means, are useless; His words are, These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.'
All this is of exactly the same character with those passages in the Old Testament, wherein God shews, that outward observances are but the instruments of spiritual good. "I will not reprove thee, because of thy sacrifices, or for thy burnt offerings, because they were not alway before me." "Thinkest thou that I will eat bulls' flesh, and drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto The Most Highest."+ These, and similar passages evidently mark the superior duty, but by no means supersede or abolish the lesser one, when used and needful for a spiritual end. Besides too, we must not forget, that the first and only proof of obedience in Paradise, was an injunction laid upon animal appetite.
Having now considered the duty of fasting † Ps. l. 8, 13, 14. !
* Matt. xxiii. 25.
and self-denial, let us proceed, in the second place, to the consideration of the manner of performing it.
There is a great error upon the subject of fasting and self-denial, into which many have fallen, and which has done more towards bringing this part of Christian discipline into disesteem and disuse than any other cause whatever. In a corrupted portion of the true Church in former times, fasting was looked upon rather as something in itself good and propitiatory, than as the means only for spiritual purposes. This is abusing a wholesome remedy, and laying a snare for the consciences of weaker brethren, and tying down those to a specific spiritual medicine, whose case, perhaps, would be injured rather than befriended by its application.
All self-denial in things not in themselves sinful, and bodily mortification especially, in whatever it consist, must be practised only as an instrument for a higher end. If it be not so practised, it will do harm instead of good. Each, therefore, must consider his own spiritual wants, his own besetting sins, his own spiritual infirmities. If under such considerations this duty be duly enforced, it will strike, as a remedy, at the very root of sin; it will deprive the passion that tempts to evil, of the fuel which gives it its strength.
To aid us herein, our church hath undoubtedly done wisely in prescribing rules, and affording regular opportunities for the management of this portion of our spiritual discipline. Our church hath done this, that nothing might seem neglected in the way of an enjoined precept and holy caution, which should be able to assist Christians in general in their adaptation of spiritual discipline to spiritual wants. Not that we are to imagine, that, because the church has apportioned certain days and times for the particular duty of more marked self-denial, we are to indulge in any of our animal and worldly gratifications with intemperate and excessive measure at other times.
The Christian's fast is an habi
bationary state for an existence in eternity, will not allow an interval of any space in the use of all possible human means (in dependance only upon the blessing and the help of the Holy Spirit,) whereby sin and sinful propensities may be weakened more and more, and the spiritual and divine life, beginning in trial and discipline, go on unto its consummation in glory.
Thus considering the rules of our ecclesiastical discipline, (which, in our yearly public service, is confessed to have fallen greatly from its primitive simplicity and wholesome
severity,) it would be well were such wholesome appointments better kept. There are, indeed, cases of a peculiar kind, wherein the particular species of Christian discipline, which, our church at this season more especially enjoins, would not only not promote, but greatly impede the end for which only it is enjoined. There are cases of natural constitutional weakness, or real bodily infirmity or illness, which render the means of bodily abstinence utterly incompatible with real spiritual usefulness. The duty, in such case, ceases to be a duty. But these must be real and undoubted causes of the rightful giving up of a practice which Christianity has purified and improved, and not done away with altogether. If the temper of mind and body be so injured by this, or by any other species of self-denial as evidently to become worse in spiritual matters, instead of better, that, then, at once may be known as an unfit remedy for the spiritual life.
One caution only must be remembered. If the temper of mind be injured by bodily self-denial, and real bodily weakness be not the natural cause thereof, it must not be said that the evil is in the remedy: it is more deeply seated within. The affections are too strongly fixed upon a temporal gratification, and the evil must be met by such continued
and resolute opposition, as, by God's grace, shall remove the cause which makes the necessary discipline itself a cause of greater sin,
With these considerations upon the prescribed means of a holy personal self-denial, each must adapt his remedy to his own peculiar disease, his own besetting sin, ever remembering of all sacrifices, which any of us can make, how infinitely short they fall of the mercifully promised blessing, purchased and already pronounced for those who finally overcome: "He," saith our Lord Himself, "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels."*
In reference to the peculiar instance of self-denial which, in its proper application, ancient times have sanctioned, and our church at this particular season of the year more es pecially prescribes, there is another observation which should not be omitted. The prescribed means of self-denial, in occasional abstinence from those gratifications which we have in common with the dumb animals around us, seems, for the most part, wisely adapted to human spiritual need. Excepting those cases which would be evidently injured
* Rev. iii. 5.