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stitious austerities. It recommends with great propriety some degree of self-denial during the season of Lent; and were that injunction better complied with than it seems to be, it would be found, I believe, highly conducive both to health of body and tranquillity of mind. But it leaves the observance of it to every man's own discretion, and inflicts no penalty for neglecting it. The fast on which the primitive church seems to have laid the greatest stress, and which till of late years has been usually observed with great seriousness, is that of Good-Friday. And surely, if ever any restraint on our appetites and pleasures can be proper, if ever it can be a reasonable duty to “ turn to the Lord with weeping, fasting, and praying*,” and to bewail our sins with every inward sentiment, and every outward expression of the deepest humiliation and contrition, it must be on that day, when to deliver us from the power and the punishment of those sins, Christ Jesus offered himself up as a sacrifice on the cross; when“ he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto
him * Commination in the office for Ash Wednesday.
him which died for them, and rose again *.” It would certainly be decent, and probably useful too, to make some little sacrifice of our common indulgences on Good-Friday to him, who then made so great a one for us. They who cannot wholly omit their usual refreshments may at least delay them a little, or partake of them more sparingly. This, one would think, must be consistent with the tenderest constitution and most delicate health. But if it should in any case be found otherwise, “ God will have mercy and not sacrifice-t.” Judge for yourselves in this particular: judge fairly in your own case, and charitably in that of others. “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth I. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost ||.” Fasting was intended to disengage the mind from sensual objects, to weaken the passions, to spiritualize the affections, to exalt and enliven devotion. If it does not answer these purposes; if, on the contrary, it be found to render us languid and faint, peevish and morose; if it blunts the edge and deadens the spirit of our religious exercises; it is no longer a duty to practise it; it becomes a duty to omit it.
contrary, * 2 Cor. v. 15. + Matt. ix. 13. Rom. xiv. 3.
|| Rom. xiv. 17.
But they who are incapable of complying with the injunctions of the church in this respect, are certainly able, and ought to be doubly careful, to conform to them in all others. If men cannot fast, they can pray; if they cannot abstain from their ordinary food, they can abstain at least from their ordinary labours, cares, and amusements; they can put this world and its concerns out of their minds, and give themselves up to God; they can attend divine service both parts of the day; they can dedicate the remainder of it to private meditation and prayer ; they can examine into their past and present conduct; they can possess themselves with a just sense of their own natural weakness and depravity ; of the infinite need they have of a mediator, a redeemer, a propitiation for their sins; they can adore the goodness of God in providiny, the goodness of Christ in consenting to become, the very sacrifice they soo much wanted,
the “ Lamb slain” to expiate their guilt, to restore them to the favour of God, and render their best services acceptable in his sight. For let them, let all the world know and acknowledge with the deepest humility and gratitude, “ that not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy God saved us*; and that it is by grace we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.”
It is indeed principally for the sake of imprinting this most important truth strongly, and powerfully upon your souls, so as to render it a constant and effectual principle of action, that I so much press upon you a due attention to the day which is particularly calculated to bring it home to your thoughts. Were it ever, as some contend, nothing more than a mere speculative doctrine ; yet: as it is, without disa pute, the great distinguishing character of the christian dispensation, the wall of partition between natural, and revealed religion, the main foundation of all our hopes of pardon and acceptance kiereafter, it would surely demand
, .,, a most
* Titus ül. 5...
.Ephes. ii. 8.
a most serious regard from us *. But in fact it is far from being a matter of belief only; it has a direct and natural tendency to influence our practice; and they who reject it, or explain it away to nothing, do not seem to be aware that they are destroying one of the most efficacious motives to right conduct. For what can more clearly prove to us the odious nature of sin, and inspire us with a greater horror and detestation of it, than the consideration, that nothing less than the blood of the Son of God himself could wash away the stains of it: and that, without this, not even the sincerest repentance and completest reformation that we are capable of, would be a sufficient satisfaction to the violated laws and offended Majesty of Heaven? What an awful idea does this give us both of the severity and the goodness of God! of that severity to guilt, which becomes the righteous Governor of the uni
verse; • This is the doctrine (says the excellent bishop Sherlock) which, together with the principles on which it is founded, and the consequences naturally Aowing from it, distinguishes the christian religion from all other religions whatever.
- Sermons, vol. iv. d. 3. p. 88.