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A MEMORIAL concerning Per
SONA L and FAMILY FASTING and HUMILIATION, presented to Saints and Sinners:
The Nature of PERSONAL COVENANTINC.
with GOD, is occasionally opened.
Zech. xii. 12.
their wives apart.
СНА Р. І. Of Personal and Family Fasting and Hu
miliation, in the General.
ELIGIOUS falts, kept in secret by a particular perfon apart by himself, and by a particular
family apart by themselves, concerning wbich this Memorial is presented both to faints and finners, are not indeed the stated, and ordinary duties of all times, to be performed daily, or at set times recur. ring; such as prayer, praise, and reading of the word are: but they are extraordinary duties of some times; and to be performed occasionally, as depend. ing entirely, in respect of the exercise of them, on the call of providence, which is variable.
They are authorised, and injoined us, in the word of God: and therefore, when we shall have perform«d them, we must say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do; and muft abhor the least thought of meriting thereby.
The particular seasons of them are determined by providence. Wherefore they who would be practisers of them, must be religious observers of providence: otherways God may be calling aloud for weeping and mourning, and girding with fackcloth, while they, not heeding it, are indulging themselves in joy and gladness, lla. xxii. 12, 13. ; a dangerous adventure! Ver. 14. Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you,
ye die, faith the Lord. Hence the most serious and tender among know. ing Christians, will readily be found the moft frequent in these exercises. It is on the pouring out of the Spirit, that the land is to mourn, every family apart, and their wives apart, Zech. xii. 10, 12. Paul was a scene wherein corrupt nature shewed her curfed vigour, he being, when he was bad, very bad; and grace, in its turn, its sacred power, he being, when he was good, very good, and then in faftings often, 2 Cor. xi. 27.
There duties consist of an external and circuniftantial part, and internal and substantial part.
To the external and circumstantial part of them belong time, place, and abstinence.
1. First of all, a proper time must be set apart for these duties. And this is to be regulated by Christian prudence, as best suits the circumstances of the perfon or family.
We find the faints, in fcripture, ordinarily kept their fasts by day. But we have an instance of a personal fast kepr by night, 2 Sam. xii. Tavid fafted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. This I do the rather notice, to obviate the excuse of those who quite neglect this duty, under the pretence of their not being masters of their own time. If the heart can be brought to it, one will readily find some time or other for it, either by day, or elfe by night. It is recorded to the honour of one of the weaker fex, namely Anna, that the ferved
God with fastings and prayers night and day, Luke ii. 36, 37.
As to the quantity of time to be spent in personal or family falting and humiliation; the duty, I judge, is to regulate it; and not it to regulate the duty. The family fast of Esther with her maidens, ob. served also by all the Jews in Shulhan, lasted three days, Esther iv. 16. We read of the fafting day, Jer. xxxvi. 16. Sometimes, it would seem, it was but a part of a day, that was spent in such exercise ; as in Cornelius his personal fast, which seems to have been over before the ninth hour; that is, before three o'clock in the afternoon; Acts x. 30. Four days ago I was fasting until this hour, and at the ninth bour I prayed in my house, before which time of the fourth day, Peter, to whom Cornelius faith this, might be come; there being but 36 miles from Joppa to Cesarea, whither he came on the second day after he set out from Joppa, verses 23, 24. Compare verses 8, 9, 17. Much about that time of the day, Daniel got the answer of his prayers, made in his, personal fast, namely, about the time of the evening oblation, or the ninth hour, Dan. ix. 21. And the people being assembled with fafting, Neh. ix. 1. they read in the book of the law, one fourth part of the day, and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped, verse 3. So they continued in the work lix hours; from nine o'clock in the morning, as it would seem, till three afternoon : that is, from the time of the morning-facrifice, to the evening-facri. fice, with which the work seems to have been closed, as, it may be presumed, they spent the morning in private preparation for the public duty.
Wherefore I judge, that none are to be solicitous, as to what quantity
of timę, more or less, they spead in these exercises, so that the work of the time be done. Nay, I very much doubt, men lay a fnare for themselves, in tying themselves to a certain quan.
tity of time in such cases. It is sufficient, to resolve, that according to our ability, we will take as much tiine as the work shall be found to require.
II. A proper place is also to be cholen, where the person or family may perform the duty without dif turbance from others. Time and place are natural circumstances of the action : and all places are alike now, under the gospel ; none more holy than an, other. Men may pray every where, whether in the house or in the field, lifting up holy hands, I Tim. ii. 8. Only forasmuch as family-fásting is a private duty, it requires a private place; and personal falting a secret dury, it requires a secret place; accord. ing to the caution given us by our Saviour, Matth. vi. 18. That thou appear not unto men to faft, but unto tby Father which is in secret.
III. Abftinence is included in the nature of the thing; abstinence from meat and drink, and all bodily pleafures whatsoever, as well as ceasing from worldly, business. The Jews are taxed for finding pleafüre, and exacting their labours in the day of their fast, Ila. lviii. 3. A time of religious fasting, is a time for one's afflicting his soul, verse 5. by denying himfelf aven those lawful comforts and delights, which he may freely use at other times : Exod. xxiii. 4. The people-mourned, and
no man did put on him his ornaments. Dan. ix. 3. I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer, and supplications, with fafting, and fackcloth, and ashes. 1 Cor. vii. s. Defraud ye not ' one the other, except it be with consent for time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.
The rule for abstinence from meat and drink, cannot be the same as to all : for fasting, not being a part of worship, but a means to dispose and fit us for extraordinary worshipping, is to be used only as helping thereto; but it is certain, that what mcafure of it would be helpful to fome for that end, would be a great hinderance to others. Wherefore weak
ly persons, whom total abstinence would disfit and indifpofe for duty, are not called to fast at that rate: in their case, that saying takes place, Hof. vi. 6. I desired mercy, and nat sacrifice. Yet ought they not in that case, to indulge themselves the use of meat and drink, with the same freedom as at other times; but to use a partial abstinence, altering the quantity or quality of them, or both, so as they may thereby be afflicted, as the scripture expresseth it, Lev. xxiii. 29. So Daniel in his mourning, Dan. X. 3. ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine into his mouth.
Mean while, all these things are but the outward fhell of thele duties: the internal and fubftantial part of them, lies in the following spiritual exercifes.
- 1. Serious meditation, and confideration of our ways, Hag. i. 5: Such times are to be set apa
from conversing with the world, that we may the more folemnly commune wish our own heart, as to the ftate of matters between God and us.
In them we are diligently to review our past life, search and try our ways, Lam. iii. 40. And we are to search out our sins, by a sorrowful calling to remembrance the fins of our heart and life, and that, as particularly as we can : and so search into them, by a deep con. sideration of the evil of them, and of their aggravations, the light, love, mercies, and warnings, we have finned against; tracing them up to the fin of our nature, the impoisoned fountain, froní whence they have all proceeded. And the more fully and freely we converse with ourselves upon them, we will be the more fit to speak unto God anent them, in confession and pleading for pardon.
2. Deep humiliation of soul before the Lord; the which was signified by the lackcloth and ashes used under the law, on such occasions. The confideration of our ways is to be pursued, till our foul be