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Yet these are certainly Duties of Christianity. And had he not defigned, that Fasting should be confidered in fome Degree as a Duty also; he would never have promised a Reward to the right Performance of it, as he doth in the next Verfe, but one, after the Text. And befides, he not only fafted himself, in a Manner quite beyond our Imitation, but declared, that though then his Difciples did not fast, yet after he was taken from them, they should": which they verified accordingly. Cornelius indeed was not yet a Chriftian, when he fafted to the ninth Hour: but that was amongst the Means of his becoming one. We read in the following Chapters of the Acts, that Congregations, under the Guidance of Prophets and Apoftles, fafted on more Occafions than one. St. Paul enjoins private Perfons to give themfelves at Times to Fafting and Prayer. The whole Chriftian Church, from the Beginning, hath both esteemed and practifed it not a little and to this Day both the Ecclefiaftical and Civil Powers continue to prescribe it.
If then we have any Regard to the Example and Experience of good Perfons, to
& Acts x. 30. 1 Acts xiii. 2, 3. xiv. 23.
8 Matth. ix. 15.
I Cor. vii. 5.
the Injunctions and Commands of our earthly Superiors, or to the Authority of Scripture itself; we cannot think Fasting an Observance to be either blamed or flighted. But for yet fuller Satisfaction, and indeed for our Direction alfo, let us inquire more particularly, what its Meaning and Uses are.
One ufeful Meaning is, to exprefs our Sorrow for having offended God, and our Sense of not deferving the least of his Favours. By fome it hath been thought, that our first Parents introduced it, as a penitential Me- ' morial of their eating the forbidden Fruit: which indeed it might very properly exprefs. But without infifting on this, for which we have no Warrant, Abftaining for fome Time from our daily Food fignifies, most naturally, that we are unworthy of it; and can take no Comfort in it, whilft we are under the divine Displeasure. And as anciently, every Thing of Importance was denoted, especially in the Eastern Countries, by Actions as well as Words; this was probably the original Purpofe, for which Men used Fafting. And it was then sometimes extended to Children, and Cattle; in Token, that the Parents and Owners
Owners of them had forfeited the dearest Bleffings, and most valuable Conveniences of Life. It is true, a proper Confeflion in Words would have expreffed the fame Thing, that this Ceremony doth, and fomewhat more clearly, unless it were explained by Words, But in all Likelihood it ufually was: or 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 juftly thought disobedient or unfociable, if we refufed: even though it had no peculiar Advantages to compenfate for its being of lefs 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 fuperadded Solemnity of fuch an Abftinence muft, even in private Cafes; and much more, when whole Affemblies, and Cities, and Countries, join in it. But above all, when either Perfons or Nations have been remarkably wicked, fuch moving and afflicting Acknowledgements of * Joel ii. 16. Jonah iii. 7, 8.
Judith iv. 10.
it are fingularly adapted to produce more powerful and lafting Impreffions on those, who make use of them; and by that Means to render them fitter Objects of divine Mercy. Indeed, were every Method, which the warmer Imaginations of the Eastern People fuggefted formerly, and found really conducive to this End, practised now among fuch, as are less accustomed and difpofed to fignificative Actions, confiderable Inconveniences might follow and in Fact, multiplying ritual Obfervances hath contributed almost every where to darken Religion, and corrupt it. But fo fimple and intelligible an Ufage, as mere Fasting, may furely be employed, in any Age and Place, without Danger.
And, befides the good Effects it may 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 Excefs, and the corruptible Body presseth down the Soul': nor can it exert itself, till the Burthen upon it is lightened. And without what is commonly ! Wisd. ix. 15.
called Excess, a constant Course of high or full Living hath fo powerful a Tendency to immerse our Thoughts in worldly Objects, and make us, both indolent as to our eternal Interests, and fearless of the Confequences of fuch 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 themselves, by fo doing, that they have much more important Concerns, than the Gratification of Sense and Eafe: and to view the State of their Souls with attentive Thoughtfulness; which Abftinence, and its proper Companion Retirement, would beget. Affuredly Numbers of them would then fee their Condition in Respect of God, and a future Life, in a very different Light, from that, which warm Blood, gay Spirits, and prefumptuous Imaginations place it in. And for Want of fuch Views it is, that fo many are grofsly wicked, and fo many more very imperfectly and infufficiently good; whom a Habit of confiderate Selfreftraint would render by Degrees indifferent to earthly Enjoyments, and follicitous for those of a better World. Nay, even fingle Acts of