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the Injunctions and Commands of our earthly
useful Meaning is, to express our
Owners of them had forfeited the dearest Blessings, and most valuable Conveniences of Life". It is true, a proper Confeffion in Words would have expressed the same Thing, that this Ceremony doth, and fomewhat more clearly, unless it were explained by Words, But in all Likelihood it usually was : of if not, the Difficulty of understanding it cannot be accounted great. And where it is appointed by Authority, or prevails by Custom, as the established Method of fignifying Humiliation, we are as much bound to comply with it, as with any other Appointment or Custom ; and should be as justly thought disobedient or unsociable, if we refused : even though it had no peculiar Advantages to compensate for its being of less obvious Meaning: whereas indeed it hath confiderable ones. For Words alone are far from carrying with them that Energy and Influence upon the Mind, which the superadded Solemnity of such an Abstinence must, even in private Cases ; and much more, when whole Arsemblies, and Cities, and Countries, join in it. But above all, when either Persons or Nations have been remarkably wicked, such moving and afflicting Acknowledgements of * Joel ii. 16. Jonah iii. 7, 8. Judith iv. 10.
it are singularly adapted to produce more
have, as a strong outward Mark of Repentance, it may be a Cause, by its physical Effects, of our feeling greater Degrees of inward Conviction. The Faculties of many Persons are overloaded by continual Excess, and the corruptible Body presèth down the Soul': nor can it exert itself, till the Burthen upon it is lightened. And without what is commonly
I Wird. ix. 15.
called Excess, a constant Course of high or full Living hath so powerful a Tendency to immerse our Thoughts in worldly Objects, and make us, both indolent as to our eternal Interests, and fearless of the Consequences of such Indolence: that all, who pass their Days in the free Enjoyment of Plenty, have Need frequently to interrupt their Indulgences, however lawful in their Nature : to admonish themfelves, hy so doing, that they have much more important Concerns, than the Gratification of Sense and Ease : and to view the State of their Souls with attentive Thoughtfulness; which Abstinence, and its proper Companion Retirement, would beget. Assuredly Numbers of them would then see their Condition in Respect of God, and a future Life, in a very different Light, from that, which warm Blood, gay Spirits, and presumptuous Imaginations place it in. And for Want of such Views it is, that fo many are grossly wicked, and so many more very imperfectly and insufficiently good; whom a Habit of confiderate Selfrestraint would render by Degrees indifferent to earthly Enjoyments, and follicitous for those of a better World. Nay, even single Acts of
such Restraint will usually, for the Time, lower our Passions into some good Measure of Composedness, and make our Sorrow for Sin humbler and deeper : on both which Accounts Fasting is called in Scripture, affitting the Soulm. For it mortifies the Desires of the fenfitive Part, and enlivens the Remorse of the rational. By thefe Means, it contribute much to render our Faith of invisible Things more lively, and our Devotions more fervent: for which Reason Fasting is always understood in Scripture, and always ought in Practice, to be accompanied by Prayer. And in Proportion as it qualifies us to pray as we ought, it assures us of obtaining our Requests; whether they be for averting God's Judgements, or deriving his Mercies upon us, in our public Capacity or private.
But farther yet, Fasting not only affifts Humiliation and Devotion, but is in other Ways also friendly to Virtue. Inflicting it on ourselves as
a Penalty, when we have been
any great Sin, will contribute greatly, and yet with perfect Safety, if it be done with Discretion, to our becoming weary and afraid of finning. Accordingly St. Paul speaks of I. Iviii. 3, 5.