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2dly. Neither, secondly, does fasting effect this great change upon us by way of merit, as procuring and engaging the help of that grace that does effect it : for besides that, it is upon irrefragable grounds of reason evident, that it is impossible for a created nature to merit any thing from God by way of reward. So there is over and above a peculiar poorness and vileness in this action, that degrades it to infinite distances and disproportions, from being able to challenge, at the hands of God, the dispensations of that grace upon which so much depends the weight and moments of eternal glory.
In the next place, therefore, to shew positively from whence this duty derives this great virtue.
1st, It receives it from divine institution. Whatsoever God ordains by his word, he usually owns by his assistance; and therefore, in every thing made a duty by his command, if we bring but endeavour, he will undertake for the success. It is the concernment of his honour, to make his ordinances considerable; and this is done by making them conduits and conveyances of such a power, as may advance them above themselves to be instrumental to great and spiritual purposes.
Thus, when Moses fetched water out of the rock with a stroke of his rod, we are not to imagine that the rod did it by any force inherent in itself; but God having appointed it for such a work, was pleased to attend it with a miraculous effect, and so to credit his institution with the exercise of his omnipotence.
2dly, Fasting comes to be effectual to dispossess the evil spirit, by being a direct defiance to that dis
position of body and mind upon which especially he works.
1st, For the body. The Devil never finds it so pliable to his motions, so instrumental to his designs, as when it is pampered and luxuriant. It is then like a strong liquor, it receives the infusions of poison more intimately and deeply, and diffuses the same with stronger and more insinuating communications.
But a body subdued with abstinence, it is to the evil spirit like an unfurnished house ; and then we know, that though there is no violence used to drive out an inhabitant, yet bad accommodations will make him dislodge.
2dly, For the mind. This is a singular corrective of that pride and garishness of temper, that renders it impatient of the sobrieties of virtue; but open to all the wild suggestions of fancy, and the impressions of vice.
Now, I say, fasting gives a wound to this disposition in a double respect.
1st, That it is a notable act of self-revenge; and self is the only lawful object of revenge. Paul reckons this amongst the heroic performances of an extraordinary repentance: 2 Cor. vii. 11, What care, what zeal has it wrought, nay, what revenge ?
A man by this does as it were retaliate an evil to the author, and by defrauding himself, he does fallere fallentem, which certainly is a pious fraud. It speaks a man hugely in earnest, and intent upon the work of mortification : for of all things in the world, revenge is never in jest; but in returning an evil, it always repays the principal with interest and advantage.
A SERMON ON MATTHEW XVII. 21.
2dly, Fasting corrects and brings down this ill temper of mind, by being an act of self-abasement and prostration. A man by this in a manner awards upon himself the very judgments which he deprecates. He acknowledges a forfeit of all God's creatures, and therefore he neither touches nor tastes, lest in every morsel he should thieve and usurp; being by sin, as it were, an outlaw to the common issues of Providence.
Now the end of God's judgments is not so much to revenge as to convince, and to lay a man low in the apprehensions of his own wretchedness. Wherefore, if a man thus judges himself, and not only kisses the rod, but also inflicts it with his own hand, he by this takes the work out of God's, and makes an affliction superfluous, by anticipating its effect.
Much more might be spoke of this subject ; but when we have took all these courses to eject the evil spirit, we must still remember, that it is to be the work of God himself, whom the blessed spirits adore, and whom the evil obey.
To whom therefore be rendered and ascribed,
as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
REVELATION ii. 16. Repent ; or I will come unto thee quickly, and fight against
them with the sword of my mouth. REFLECTING upon these many and strange methods by which sin prevails upon man's will, collected from an ordinary experience and survey of the practices of the world, compared with the infallible verdict of the scriptures; and amongst the rest, of that signal place in Deut. xxix. 19, which presents to us one blessing himself, and saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imaginations of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: I have, upon such reflections, not without some amazement, considered what should be the ground upon which rational, discerning men can satisfy and speak peace to their consciences in the very career of those sins, the commission of which, even by the confession of those that commit them, leads to assured perdition.
As for that peace that springs from a refined, well-contrived hypocrisy, that is wholly of another nature; for where there is some restraint of sin coloured over with some superficial varnish of duty, considering the weakness of man's understanding, and the treachery of his will, it is no wonder that such a peace is easily attainable ; nay, that it is very hardly avoidable. But here, where sin is let loose
to its full, uncontrolled course, so that men lie and wallow in a free and palpable perpetration of it, even arising to the height of this expression, to add drunkenness to thirst; that is, as some expound it, the outward commission of sin to the inward desire; or as others, a perpetual, continued glut and surfeit in sin. As the abused satisfaction of thirst causes drunkenness, and drunkenness again provokes thirst, men never more liberally call for their cups, than when they have too liberally taken them already.
I say, that any one should find peace in such a course, this seems prodigious, and, did not scripture and experience overrule the disputes of reason, almost incredible. But since there is no human action or course without some cause, it will be expedient to inquire what may be the cause of this. And one would think, that the cause that any man can be jocund and fully satisfied in the eager pursuit of known sins, must of necessity be one of these three.
1st, That he is ignorant of the curse that attends his sin; and so no wonder, if blindness produces boldness : for he that is blind may not only accidentally fall, but soberly go into the ditch. But this cannot be here the cause ; for he that thus blesses himself, is said in the former part of the verse to do so, after he had heard the words of this curse. A curse plain enough and large enough, filling all the foregoing chapter, one of the longest in the Bible. So that if terror set home with evidence, or evidence edged with terror, could convince, ignorance was here unpleadable. The broad light of the word beat full in his face, the discovery was clear, and the conviction unavoidable; and therefore ignorance could not be the cause.