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superstition. And thus much in answer to this objection, and concerning the second observation.
3d Obs. I proceed now to the third; viz. That the nature of a fast especially consists in a real, sincere separation from sin. The truth of this will appear from these considerations.
1st, That fasting, it is a spiritual duty: the humbling of the body indeed is required, not so much as a part, as an instrument of this duty : it is separation from sin that God requires, and the soul must intend; it is thy heart, and not thy stomach, that God would have empty. It is not thy outward mourning or complaining, not the presence of thy body in the church, not thy abstaining from bodily food, that makes a fast; for what does it avail thee to forbear thy meat, if thou dost feed upon thy sin ? What does the sackcloth and the ashes, if thou art not clothed with righteousness? God overlooks and rejects all these services, as a piece of a provoking mockery, if they are not attended with a sincere renouncing of thy sin. Thou mayest have a thin, pining body, and yet a luxurious soul: thou mayest hang the head, like a bulrush, and yet aspire in thy mind, like a Lucifer. Let us not deceive ourselves, for God is not deceived. If our sin abides, after all our fasting, we shall return to it with a greater appetite. To leave our sin, and exercise the opposite duties of holiness, this is that which gives a relish and a savour to all our humiliations before God. In Isaiah lviii. 4, 5, 6, God roundly tells his people what was truly a fast, and what was no fast, in his esteem.-Not to abstain from bread, but to deal it to the hungry; this is properly to fast: not to wrap thyself in sackcloth, but to cover and clothe
thy naked brother; this is to be humbled. Hence, in Jerem. xxxvi. 6, 7, we have the prophet presenting the children of Israel, upon their fasting days, with a catalogue of God's commands : this was their bill of fare upon such days. Take therefore a survey of the state of thy soul. Is there such a corruption in thy heart ? remove it; such a sin in thy hands, such a blot upon thy conscience ? wash it out with the tears of a true repentance. He that only forbears his meat, and not his sin, the beasts of Nineveh kept as good a fast as he. It is as unseemly to come to a fast with a foul heart, as to dinner with foul hands.
2dly, The nature of a fast chiefly consists in our separation from sin, because this is the proper end of it. As the end of eating is to strengthen the body, so the end of fasting is to strengthen the soul. For as our Saviour speaks of some unclean spirits, Matt. xvii. 21, so it is true of some kind of sins, that they are not to be cast out but by fasting and prayer. This is the greatest means of mortification of sin, and that which of all others carries it on most effectually ; it is that which lays the axe to the very root of our corruption. It is a
It is a duty that is marked out by God's institution, for this very purpose. David, that was most in this work of mortifying his sin, that omitted the use of no means that might weaken his corruption, he gives us an account of what course he took; Psalm cii. 4, he tells us, that he forgot to eat his bread ; and Psalm cix. 24, that his knees were weak through fasting. Now all that he aimed at in this, was the getting the upper hand of his corruption, that he might starve his sin. So that it follows, that if our fasting attain not the
proper end for which God designed it, it falls short of its nature, and cannot properly be called a duty. True it is, that one end of a religious fast is to prevent or remove God's judgments; but how does it effect this ? Is it not by removing sin, that is the cause of those judgments ? No humiliation ever took off an affliction, before it first took off the sin. Misery is the natural consequent of iniquity; and he that endeavours to rid himself of one, before he has freed himself of the other, would hinder the streams before he has stopped the fountain. Humiliation ! it quenches the wrath of God, by removing the combustible matter of sin, upon which it preys. When this affords no fuel, God's anger ceases to burn. A plague, or a disease, sent from God, will scarce be able to hurt or infect that soul, which has cleansed and purged off all its ill humours by a thorough humiliation. It is clear therefore, that the removal of sin is the very essence of this duty, without which all other humbling ourselves is so far from being profitable, that it is abominable; Joel ü. 13, Rend your hearts, and not your garments. If the heart be not torn off from sin, to rend only the garment, it further provokes God, and (as I may so speak) makes the breach wider. To what purpose does the riotous drunkard strain himself to a fast, if he does not from this gain strength against his intemperance ? To what end does the profane, the covetous, the neglector of sabbaths, engage in this duty, unless he gathers spiritual strength, to walk more closely with God for the future? This we must know, that there is no religious duty that attains its end, but when it weakens our sin.
And thus much of the third observation.
4th Obs. National sins deserve national humiliation: there must be some proportion between sin and sorrow. Humble repentance is to cure us of our sins and miseries ; and there can be no cure wrought, unless the plaster be as broad as the sore. If a whole nation sins, a whole nation must also repent, or perish. If a whole world corrupts itself before God, it must either be humbled or be drowned. The highest to the lowest have provoked God; there has been a joint concurrence in sin, therefore all must jointly concur in humiliation. When a distemper has seized the whole body, there must be a general change of the whole habit and frame of it, otherwise no sound recovery can be expected. The body of a nation should speak to God, as Peter did to Christ, when he washed his feet; Lord, wash not my feet only, but also my head and my
hands. Let thy Spirit enable, not only the vulgar sort, but the great ones, to abase themselves in tears and repentance. The spirit of humiliation should be like Aaron's precious ointment, running down from the head to the skirts and hem of his garment. This was the custom of the religious princes of Judah, when they were to deal with God about public mercies; they knew their sins were general, and therefore that their humiliation was to be of the same extent; 2 Chron. xx. 3, 4, And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah : and Jerem. xxxvi. 9, it is said of the princes of the people, that they proclaimed a fast before the Lord to all the people in Jerusalem, and to all the people that came from the cities of Judah unto Jerusalem. Now the rea
sons that there is such an universality required in our humiliations, may be,
1st, Because a general humiliation tends most to solve the breach of God's honour. A prince that has been offended by a general rebellion, cannot be appeased but by a general submission. This is a lively acknowledgment of God's majesty ; when a nation shall lie in the dust before him; when he shall be praised and adored in the great congregation : by this we confess him the Lord of nations; and that he is able to destroy us, though we unite ourselves into multitudes; and that we need be humbled, and tremble at his power, as much as if we were but one single person.
2dly, Generality gives force and strength to humiliation. When an army of humble penitents besieges heaven, it is hard, if their prayers do not force their way through: Credidimus junctas fortius ire preces ; many hands give despatch to a difficult business. And humiliation is a very hard task, and justly requires many helping hands to be lift up together in prayer. General sins are strongest to bring down a judgment; therefore, general humiliation must needs be strongest to prevent it. I proceed to the
5th Obs. viz. That the best and most effectual way to avert a national judgment, is for every particular man to inquire into, and to amend his own personal, particular sins.
I shall prove the truth of this assertion by several
1st, Because particular sins oftentimes fetch down general, universal judgments. Sin, like a leprosy,