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Melancholy and Diftrefs. And therefore, if the laft Ingredient of Repentance be in us to any becoming degree; this will be fo far from needing a fresh Injunction, that it will almost neceffarily attend, and prevent our Choice, by following it of courfe.
2. It is no doubt a very fit Exercise of Revenge, and Holy Indignation againft ourselves; when, by voluntary deprivations of our ufual Suftenance, we acknowledge our felves unworthy, not only of thofe fpiritual Mercies and fpecial Favours, peculiar to God's faithful and elect; but even of that daily bread, and thofe ordinary Bleffings, which he vouchfafes to diftribute fo liberally, to all Mankind in common.
3. It is of confiderable advantage, by affifting us against our Lufts, and bringing the Senfual under the Government of the Rational part of the Mind. It hath been obferved heretofore, that our Bodies are the Inftruments, and the Gratification of their Appetites the End, of all the Sins we commit; and that these act in conftant oppofition, to the Dictates of fober Reafon and Religion. Upon which account our fafety from Temptations in a great measure depends, upon bringing these under, and keeping them in Subjection. But now the Cafe of Good and Evil Habits is thus far the fame, that Both are acquired and ftrengthned by renewed Acts of their own kind: Both, broken and loft by frequent Acts of a contrary kind. As therefore Pleasure inflaves us by often indulging; fo there is no way to break and free our felves from those Chains, but often denying it. And altho' abftaining now and then from a Meal may feem, and indeed is, no great matter in it felf; yet it is very great in its Confequences. For Cuftom in all Cafes hath more force than Men are generally aware. By mastering our defires in lefs Inftances, we establish our Dominion, and infenfibly get ground upon them, in
Vol. ii. p. 17.
Epiph. Epiftle for Septuagef.
greater and more difficult Trials. And, in no one Instance more than this, which does not only try us in a very fenfible part; but draws away that Fewel to our Vices, which Eafe, and Luxury, and Fulness of Bread minifter. Thus we at once strengthen our Selves and weaken our Enemy: vanquish and kill our hurtful, our carnal and worldly Affections, and dispose our Minds more freely, more chearfully, to thofe that are pure, and heavenly, and for our true Happiness. In which view 'tis, that we are taught in the Collect for next Sunday, to pray for Grace to ufe fuch Abftinence, that, our Flesh being fubdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey our Lord's Godly Motions, in Righteousness and true Holiness.
4. Once more. Fafting is a very fuitable Companion of, and mighty Help to Prayer. It carries off the Dregs of undigested Fumes, lightens the weight of that Clog, which the Body is to the Soul; and generally renders us active, and nimble, and vigorous, in our Flights Heavenward. Hence we so often find these two joined in Scripture. Hence it was made a part of Devotion, upon all extraordinary occafions, and a preparation for all important Undertakings, where the Bleffing of God was to be implored, his Honour more efpecially to be advanced, and his People edified. Mofes at receiving the Law, Elias at his being admitted to a nearer approach to God, Nay, our Bleffed Lord after his Baptifm vouchfafed to enter upon his Prophetick Office, with a Faft of forty Days. And whatever may be faid of the Reft, our Lord muft probably have condefcended to it, for its agreeablenefs to a State of folemn Devotion. He had no Failings to lament, no Sins to chastise himself for, no corrupt or rebellious Lufts to fubdue; but, tho' in thefe Refpects he could not, yet did he not difdain, in the quality of a Supplicant to his Father, to faft, as our Pattern.
1 Sam. viii. 14. 2 Chron. xx.
Acts xiii. 2, &c.
Can any Man now, after all this, retain a doubt, whether Fafting be ftill a Duty? Can we fuppose our Lord would here direct the manner of doing that, which is not neceffary to be done at all? The mention of which Direction puts me in Mind to obferve, that the Scripture takes notice of Private, and of Publick Fasts. The One of our Own, the Other of our Governor's appointment. Thofe Humiliations for Perfonal, These for National Calamities and Guilt. Of the Publick the Prophet Joel fpeaks in the Epiftle; Of the Private our Saviour, in the Gospel, for this Day. Hence is the feeming Difference reconciled, between the Solemnity and Pomp required by the Prophet, and the Secrecy enjoined by our Lord. In the Publick we are to be Spurs and Examples to Others, and therefore our Zeal here, if fincere, will be folemn. For the Private, matters are here tranfacted between God and our own Confciences. And when our whole concern fhould be to recommend our felves to Him, from whom nothing can be concealed; to affect Pomp and Solemnity then, is to confefs we have fome indirect Views, and proclaims our Zeal to be tricking and unfincere. In a Word, By the publick we are prefcrib'd to; fo that the testifying our Obedience by visible Acts there, is no more than our Duty. By the Private we prescribe to our felves; and fhould take heed here of gratifying that moft dangerous of all Temptations, the Pharifaical Vanity of voluntary Mortification, and uncommon Merit.
IV. The Fourth Qualification, requifite to Repentance, is Prayer. Concerning which, intending to treat more at large very fhortly, I at prefent only fay, that 'tis fit this Application to the Divine Majefty be attended with all that Humility, which a due Senfe of our own Vilenefs and Unworthinefs can infpire; With all that Reverence, which the awful
Gefpel for fe
cond Sunday in
Remembrance of fo Holy, and Juft, and Great a God
V. A Fifth thing requifite on thefe Occafions is, Almfgiving. By this we fhew our Love to our God and Saviour, who hath declared, that the Poor Matt. xxv. 40. are his Receivers, and that our kind Offices, and liberal Contributions to Their Relief, fhall all be placed to account, as done to Himfelf. By this we wean our Affections from the World, and learn to mafter thofe Enjoyments of it, which, if not got above, prove the most fatal Snares to us. By this we perform that, which is the very Life and Soul of a Sinner's Converfion, defpife the Creature, and devote our felves to God. This is the thing, which
God rejects the moft folemn Humiliation of the Jews, for being defective in. This is the Teftimony, our Lord requires of our Sincerity in Fafting and for that purpose 'tis thus connected with it, in the Gofpel now before us. This is the Proof where Men have their Hearts, according as the discharge, or the neglect of it, difcover the place, in which they lay up their Treasure; This, laftly, the Defign of our wife and excellent Church, in reading fo many Lectures of Charity, on the Preparatory Sundays, and this Day; to inftruct us, that, without this Virtue, the Season they introduce, and the ftricteft Aufterities and Devotions of it, are frivolous and vain.
VI. The only Particular now remaining to be fpoken to is, that every one of thofe already mentioned, be free from Oftentation and Vain-glory. The reafon of this Condition depends upon a Maxim, often intimated before: which is, That, as the Sinner's Corruption is all refolved at last into loving the Creature more than God; fo the Converfion of a Sinner, called upon this account the Turning of his Heart, confifts in being brought to fuch a Change, as makes him love God above any, above all the Creatures. Now, to contrive for pomp and fhew, those Acts of Piety and Worship, which, by the Nature of them, immediately refer to, and ought to terminate in God; fhews, that there is ftill a Partner (and every Partner is in this cafe a Rival) in our Affections. This taints all the Goodness of the feemingly beft Actions: and is a Temptation, threatning the greater danger, because none but good Actions can minifter occafion to it. Thus are we liable to be undone, not only by our Faults and Frailties; but, if they be not nicely guarded, and wifely manag'd, even by our Virtues. Thefe naturally draw the Obfervation first, and then the Praife, of Men. If we are content to let thefe come of their own U accord,