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those who are hungry from necessity, as when we submit to the privation from choice, and as an aid to prayer, in approaching Him who is the common Benefactor of the rich and the poor? With many people, it is almost as much a matter of mortification and self-denial,—that is, it requires almost as much, and, in some cases, even more, of painful effort,—to give a trifle to the poor, as it does to abstain, when hungry, from a favorite meal.
It appears peculiarly proper, then, for all professing Christians, and especially for those who feel this backwardness to an important duty, always to make their seasons of special prayer occasions of liberality, in some form, to the indigent. Surely there are few things more reasonable and becoming than that, while we are engaged in mourning over our sins, and confessing our unworthiness of the least of all our comforts, we should practically show mercy to others, as our heavenly Father has done to us. Then is the time to devise plans of mercy and benevolence; to cherish forgiveness of injuries ; to make restitution to those whom we may have injured; to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and cause “the widow's heart to sing for joy." Above all, such a solemnity is an appropriate season for devising the best of all charity to the benighted, perishing heathen :—FOR OPENING THE HEART IN PRAYER AND CONTRIBUTIONS, THAT THE PRECIOUS BIBLE AND THE LIVING TEACHER MAY BE SENT TO THE MILLIONS WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD
FAITHFUL SAYING, AND WORTHY OF ALL, ACCEPTATION, THAT JESUS CHRIST CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS."
The foregoing discussion suggests a number of practical reflections; to several of which your serious attention is requested.
1. From what has been said, it is evident that the great duty of religious fasting is by far too much neglected. It is a self-denying duty; having nothing in it adapted to gratify either the reign of appetite, or the love of praise. It is an unfashionable duty. Even many serious professors of religion have no taste for fast-days. Indeed, they are agreeable to the natural inclination of no man. They are seldom, there is too much reason to believe, observed in private ; and when recommended by public authority, either in Church or State, the honest and faithful observance of them is confined, I fear, to a small part even of those who profess to take the word of God for their guide. This is deeply to be lamented. It argues a low standard of piety in the Church generally. If the spirit of the apostolic days were more prevalent, if we had more of the spirit of Baxter, and Flavel, and Brainerd, and Edwards, and Payson, there would be a much more frequent recurrence than there now is, to this important auxiliary of special prayer. It would be much oftener resorted to by individual Christians, and more especially by ministers, in bewailing before God the small measure of their success. We should never hear of an ORDINATION SERVICE being DISGRACED BY A SUMPTUOUS DINNER, instead of solemn fasting. We should be told of Churches in every direction availing themselves of this rational and gospel means of adding interest, and feeling, and humiliation to their seasons of special prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit. In a word, we may say of deep and spiritual piety—“This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” And until the latter shall be extensively restored, we cannot rationally expect to see the former revived and prevalent. Dear brethren, we pray in words, we pray abundantly, for the universal revival of religion and the dawn of millenial glory; and, when we hear of those triumphs of the Holy Spirit's power in various parts of our land, over which, we doubt not, there is “joy in heaven,” as well as on earth, we feel as if we had ample encouragement to prayer. We have the highest encouragement. But we have no reason to expect that we shall receive these blessings, and certainly shall not be suitably prepared for their arrival, unless we are found waiting for them with that deep contrition and humiliation, as well as longing importunity of spirit, which belong to the frequent and faithful discharge of the duty now recommended.
2. We are led to reflect, by what has been said, on the reason why fustdays, even when appointed, and decently observed, are productive of so little beneficial effect. The plain reason is, that religious fasting, when attempted, is seldom attended upon honestly and sincerely, in the appropriate spirit of the institution. The abstinence from food; the deep and peculiar humiliation of soul, which professedly accompanies it; and the solemn vows and efforts to “ crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts,” which it implies, -are all so distasteful to the carnal principle, that they are seldom sincerely, much less thoroughly, carried into effect. The exercise is made, for the most part, a formal and superficial one; and leaves those who undertake to perform it, perhaps, more cold and unfeeling than before. So that, I fear, many of our fast-days, in modern times, as was certainly the case in times of old, become the means of hardening, instead of softening the heart; and of drawing down the hotter displeasure of God upon us, instead of averting his wrath. Unless we enter cordially and in good earnest into the real design of such days, we had better never pretend to observe them. They are but solemn mockery. And, perhaps, on no occasion have we more reason than on the approach of such a season, whether private or public, to pray fervently that the Holy Spirit may enable us to sanctify it in a manner well pleasing to God, and to the furtherance of his cause in our hearts, and around us.
3. Another reflection suggested by what has been said is, that every part of the service enjoined upon us as Christians is a reasonable service.
None of the commandments of God are grievous. For every duty that He requires of us, there is a just and adequate reason ; and a reason which makes as much for our own true welfare and happiness, as for the glory of Him who lays the duty upon us.
We see, for example, that religious fasting is not enjoined for its own sake; or because it has any inherent power to recommend us to God; or because He delights to inflict upon us the pain of privation ; but because, when properly conducted, it tends to promote the benefit of both our souls and our bodies. It is favourable to our bodily health. It is friendly to the culture and strength of our intellectual faculties. It is an important means of mortifying and subduing our corrupt passions, of weaning us from sin, and of promoting our true happiness here and hereafter. Thus the wisdom as well as the goodness of God appears in all that He requires of us.
If our nature were not morally diseased, we should not stand in need of so much discipline, and discipline of the corporeal as well as of the mental kind. But as our nature is deeply diseased, we must not wonder at our constant need of medicine; which, though not com: monly pleasant to the taste, is always salutary when properly applied. Instead of repining that we need it, or, needing it, that our heavenly Sovereign has placed us under a dispensation which requires us to use it ; let us be thankful and submissive. The principles of his government are as
benignant as they are holy. “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
4. Finally; from the foregoing view of the subject, the reflection is obvious, that we have no less reason for fasting and humiliation than our fathers of former ages. Let us not imagine that there was some special character either in the men or the events of ancient times, which rendered the exercise in question more needful to them than to us. By no means ; human nature is the same; religion is the same, and the causes of Christian mourning are the same now, as they were when Joshua, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Paul fasted and laid in the dust before the mercy-seat. What though the number of the hopefully pious be greater in our day than in theirs ? What though the God of all grace has gladdened the hearts of his people in many places, by “pouring out his Spirit," and " reviving his work ?" How many millions of our fellow men around us still remain in hardened rebellion! How many churches in our land, notwithstanding all the precious revivals with which it has pleased God to favor us, are to this hour as cold, as desolate, and almost as lifeless, in a spiritual sense, as the tombs which surround their places of worship! How many personal, domestic, ecclesiastical and national sins press heavily upon us, as a people, and cry aloud for the judgments of a righteous God! Think of the abounding atheism, and various forms of infidelity, the pride, the degrading intemperance, the profanations of the Sabbath, the fraud, the gross impiety, the neglect and contempt of the Gospel, and all the numberless forms of enormous moral corruption, which even in the most favored parts of our country prevail in a deplorable degree, and in the less favored hold a melancholy and undisturbed reign ;-think of these abounding sins,—and think also in how small a degree multitudes even of the professing people of God seem to be awake to the great responsibilities and duties of their high vocation ;-and then say, whether we have not reason for special humiliation and prayer? My beloved hearers, if we see no cause on account of these things for weeping and mourning and fasting before the Lord, it is. because we have never had our eyes opened to see the evil of sin; never yet taken our stand among those who bear Jehovah's “mark upon their foreheads,” and who “sigh and mourn for all the abominations that are done” in the land. Professing Christians ! whatever name you bear, unless you be really found in these ranks of the faithful, how can you expect, when the angel of Jehovah's judgment passés by, (as pass by he assuredly will,) that your habitations will be spared; or that, amid the surrounding darkness, there will be “light in your dwellings ?”
JUDE, 14, 15.--Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to
execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
This passage, as we are informed, is a prophecy of Enoch. It obviously refers to the day of judgment. It places before us in one view the solemn majesty in which God the Judge will appear, the universal personal interest with which men will attend, and the conviction of all the incorrigibly wicked. I invite your attention to but one of these thoughts.
THE UNGODLY WILL BE CONVICTED OF SIN IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.
The text asserts that it is one of the ends of that great trial “ to convince all that are ungodly of their ungodly deeds. It will not only satisfy all holy beings with respect to the perfect rectitude of God's moral government, but it will also fully convince all those who remain his enemies. It will be seen, as we proceed, that the day of judgment will afford peculiar means for producing such a conviction.
I. It will exhibit scenes of such an interest as will arrest the sinner's attention, and fix it upon his character. A principal difficulty in convicting sinners in this world arises from their being so much engrossed with other subjects as to prevent a serious contemplation of themselves. This difficulty will be entirely removed. Before the bar of God, that wealth which was once looked upon as the treasure of the soul will have lost its value. Those fashions which once occupied the mind with their ever-changing vanities will be all forgotten, or only remembered as having been the occasion of ceaseless levity and folly. Ties of earthly attachment will have been sundered. The distinctions of rank will have given place to the distinction between the righteous and the wicked; and the soul will be emptied of all those worldly interests which have diverted the mind from the consideration of its real character and condition. To a mind thus divested of all earthly interests the scenes of the judgment must possess the most affecting character.
VOL 5, No. ll.
If a man be on trial for a single crime of which he knows he is guilty, he turns pale at the sight of a well-known witness. The absence of his diversions, the solemn process, and the open testimony call his attention to his character and conduct with a power which cannot be resisted. How much more must the impenitent sinner's attention be fixed upon himself when he stands arraigned before the infinitely holy and omniscient God. The chief motive for self-deception, that of concealing his character from others, is now taken away. Whether he forms a correct estimate of himself or not, he knows that God and angels and men now see him as he is. All idea of concealment is given up; and while his heart sinks under the expectation of being condemned by all, he cannot conceal from himself the ground of that condemnation. He knows he deserves it. He can no longer refrain from dwelling upon his own character with an unbiassed mind.
He knows, also, that his trial will fix unalterably his eternal state. Whatever pretexts he may have raised in his mind for self-justification, the period has arrived when he must feel that they can avail nothing. There is no motive left for concealing from himself his real character, and indeed no means of doing it. It is not in the nature of the human mind, thus arraigned, to avoid an impartial attention to its own character. When a soul is separated from all earthly attachments ; when scenes of such solemn and amazing interest are rising before it; when its own most secret acts are all unfolded ; and when its destiny is about to be settled for ever-how certainly will every wayward passion be hushed, and the whole soul be fixed with keenest intensity upon its guilt.
II. To increase this conviction of guilt, the perfect law of God will there be held up to the sinner's mind. One difficulty in convicting sinners here arises from the fact, that they set aside God's law, and adopt other rules of conduct. Take one who will have no law but that of honor: undertake to convince him of sin against God. How can you convict him? He admits no divine law. His only law is that of honor. Open the Scriptures and show him that he habitually breaks God's law; still he feels no guilt. That is not his rule of action. Become earnest with him ; charge him with sin, and
urge him to fly to the Lord Jesus Christ for pardon,-he is offended, he fancies you represent him as mean and vulgar. In short, take what course you will, and just so far as his law of honor sets aside God's law, true conviction is prevented.
So, if one makes the common standard of morality his only rule of conduct, you cannot convict him. Talk to him of guilt; he is astonished, -he is perhaps angry. He asks, what have I ever done that is wrong? who can accusé me of any impropriety? And, according to his standard, he is, perhaps, guiltless. That law which reaches to all the thoughts and intents of the heart is cast out of his mind, and the guilty rebel is pleased to see how well his conduct accords with the rule he has adopted—that of mere morality.
But a far different standard will be produced on another day. When the great God is enthroned, and worlds are assembled, these standards, mere inorality and worldly honor, will appear very small. It will no more be in