Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

day of our fast we find pleasure,' or if, what is worse, like the Pharisee in the parable, we think ourselves, on account of our mortifications, better men than others, or even presume, as he did, to boast of them in our prayers to God, we have his own word for it, that they are an abomination in his sight.' We are therefore, according to the admonition by Joel, to sanctify our fast; that is, to make it the instrument of reformation in ourselves, and of charity towards others.

A man cannot call fasting an act of self-denial, till he can say, his belly is himself. 'If the belly only,' says St. Bernard, has offended, let the belly only fast; but if all our members, and affections, and the soul itself, have sinned, let them all share in the austerity. Let the ear fast from its itch of impertinent news and vain conversation; the tongue, from detraction and idle words; and, above all, let the soul fast from its love of vice, and its fleshly will.' The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.' We ought so to chasten our bodies,' says Maximus Taurinensis,'as, at the same time, to feed our souls with all the virtues. Let therefore destructive luxury, and odious contention, and cruel oppression, fast. Let the poor be fed, provided it is not with the spoils of the poor. To what purpose is it to abstain from meat, when that which is more filthy than the vilest kind of meat, reproach, detraction, lies, and oaths, are all the time issuing from our mouths? Are we not sensible, that not that which goeth into the mouth defileth the man, but that which cometh out of the mouth?

Upon the whole, fasting, with other acts of mortification, rightly managed, and properly applied, help to purify the heart, to raise it above the world, and open it to the motions of the Holy Spirit. They add surprising vigour to the resolution of a Christian, in his war with the flesh; or at least, which answers the same end, they greatly enfeeble the enemy. They dry up the sink of our vices,' says St. Cyprian, ‘and so extinguish the Etna of our passions, that the neighbouring mountains are no longer scorched by that furnace of infernal fire. They cast out devils, and, as St. Chrysostom observes, raise us, for the time, above a dependence on earthly food, to the life of angels.' We are, by nature, half angel, half brute. We must rise towards the one, or sink

towards the other, and, at length, associate to all eternity, either with angels or devils. To feed, to strengthen, to exercise, the spiritual part of us, is to rise. To feed, to strengthen, to exercise, the brutal, is to sink, and be lost for ever. We lost the innocence and dignity of our nature by eating,' says St. Athanasius, and must restore ourselves by abstinence.'

A man may say, although I feed well, I hope, by reason and resolution, to keep down my inordinate desires. Vain are the hopes of such a person. The saints and hermits, with all their amazing mortifications, found this no easy task, such is the corruption of human nature, since the fall, in which the soil of the earth, and the soul of man, fell under a like curse. Much labour and violence must be used to both, or they will produce no fruit; and, after our utmost pains and skill, we must expect, along with the crop, to see tares, briars, and thorns, shooting up every day. Men feed themselves up, through an unhappy indulgence to their desires, with hopes of travelling downward, through a broad smooth road, to heaven, and entering into it by a wide and open gate. Although our Saviour gives a contrary account of that journey, yet flesh and blood, relying more on hope in themselves, than faith in him, would needs endeavour to make it a mere jaunt of pleasure. Even those who think self-denial necessary, are often too tender of themselves to put it in practice. They will fast to get rid of a slight bodily disorder; and yet will not do as much to be cured of disorders that threaten the soul with eternal death. O astonishing! that a short, uncertain, miserable life, should seem to a thinking being, more worthy to be preserved and provided for, than that which is eternal, and may be rendered infinitely happy. A man may be as indulgent to his internal enemy as he pleases; yet he may assure himself, the corruptions of flesh and blood are not to be cured by delicate, but severe methods; not to be rubbed with soft cloths and napkins, but rather with the potsherd of Job.

. Nobody hears,' says St. Augustin, ‘the tempter, saying within him, What do you mean by your fasting? Why do you defraud your own soul? You punish yourself; you are your own tormenter : he is a cruel master you serve, if he is pleased with your misery. Answer him thus,' says that

writer: 'I torment myself, that God may spare me; I suffer, that God may forgive, and that the flesh may hang less heavily upon my soul ; knowing well, that the victim must be flayed and mangled, before it is laid on the altar.'

The sickness, which hath been bred out of delicacies, can sometimes be purged away only by bitter or nauseous medicines. Shall we still continue to think the delicacies good, and the medicines evil? No; all is not good that pleases, nor all evil that gives pain. Now, nothing but good is the object of choice; and therefore we ought, after having carefully distinguished the real, from the seeming, good or evil, to embrace that which is good, not that which is pleasant, and shun that which is evil, not that which is painful. If then luxury, and riot, and voluptuousness, are condemned, both by Scripture and experience, as hurtful to the soul, let us, like rational creatures, detest and avoid them, be they ever so grateful to our corrupt inclinations. If, on the other hand, temperance and mortification are, by the word of God, and the trials that have been made of them, found to be highly instrumental in promoting the virtue and real happiness of mankind, let us, in the name of God, as becomes men of sense and Christians, determine to be at all times temperate in all things; and, when occasion requires, if our constitutions will bear it, to mortify the deeds of the flesh, be it ever so irksome to the brutal part of our nature.

And may God, of his infinite mercy, accept our sacrifice herein, and, by the power of his Holy Spirit, crown our warfare with a glorious victory, and an eternal triumph, through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom, in the unity of the ever-blessed Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.

DISCOURSE XXXII.

THE PROGRESS OF MAN.

Psalm VII. 5. Thou hast made him bitt a litile lower than the angels. ALTHOUGH these words, and what follow in the three next verses, are, in their more important meaning, to be understood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and accordingly are by St. Paul applied to him in the Epistle to the Hebrews; yet are they as applicable, in their first, simple, and immediate sense, to man in general. It is plain, David had the infirmity, and the seeming insignificance of human nature under consideration, at the uttering these words of the same psalm : When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou hast ordained ; What is man, that thou art mindful of him ? and the son of man, that thou visitest him ?'

But he is comforted again, when he reflects, 'that God hath inade man only a little lower than the angels; that he hath crowned him with glory and honour;' and that he hath, by the prerogative bestowed on him, as a reasonable creature, in the first of Genesis, 'given him dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every thing that moveth upon the earth.'

The words of my text; together with those that follow, thus understood, shew us, what reason and observation also render probable, that man is placed in the middle, between the angelic and brutal nature, being a little lower than the former, and at the same time holding dominion over the latter.

It is a thing very remarkable, that all the orders of created beings, known to us, form a kind of scale or chain, wherein the lower is always linked to that above, by somewhat common to the nature of both. The nature and qualities of lifeless matter are found in plants; the vegetable life of plants, in brutes; the senses, appetites, and affections of brutes in man; and the reasoning faculty of man, in angels. That this communion of natures ascends still higher than we can possibly trace it, is very probable; since, so far as we are able to pursue it, no breach nor interruption can be discovered; and since, in holy Scripture, a certain distinction of order and dignity among created beings, of a class superior to our own, seems plainly enough pointed out to us by the terms angels, archangels, principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim, which bad never been used in the same sentence, and immediately following one another, had it not been the intention of the Holy Spirit to express to us some distinction or subordination in these superior creatures.

With this chain, or gradation of created beings, there seems to be joined a certain progress of each, at least for a few links, from lower to higher, or the contrary; a rise from the class below, to the excellence of that above; or a fall from the class above, to the insignificance and baseness of that below. This we may observe, in matter, for instance, which rises from dead earth to plants ; from plants to animals; or sinks from the bodies of animals into plants, and afterward, upon the dissolution of those plants, rots, and is reduced to common dirt. That there is a like improvement or degeneracy in the world of spirits is most highly probable, and the rather, as every man may observe somewhat like it in himself; for we are never at a stand, but always ascending to a greater perfection in virtue, or descending to grosser acts of vice and wickedness.

Man borrows one half of his nature from creatures of a superior, and the other, from creatures of an inferior order; and, thus compounded, links together the chain of beings by standing between the angel and the brute, and bearing an equal relation to both. He hath, in common with the first, a reasonable soul, which may render him a free, a moral, and a religious being; and he hath, in common with the last, an animal body, with senses, passions, and appetites, that may engage him in gross and brutal pollutions. So far as he is a spiritual being, he may aspire, through virtue and piety, to the nature and dignity of angels; and, so far as he is an animal being, he may degenerate, through vice and irreligion, to the abject nature of a brute. What

« VorigeDoorgaan »