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"Who will hearken and hear? Who is there that,
by the present judgments, will take warning, and "strive to avert the like judgments in the time to "come?"
Think not that these judgments spring up from the dust, or have come upon you without a cause. "For who was it that gave Jacob for a spoil and "Israel to the robbers? Did not the Lord? He against "whom we have sinned." And for what reason did the Lord thus deliver his people to be robbed and spoiled by their enemies? The prophet answers plainly" Because they would not walk in his ways, 66 nor be obedient unto his Laws-Therefore he hath "poured upon them the fury of His anger, and the strength of battle-and it hath set him on fire round "about, yet he knew it not"-That is, all the horrors and fury of war, and their very city and temple burnt to ashes by the Chaldean army, did not lead them to consider and turn again unto the Lord whom they had offended. They still continued in their sins, despised the Law of God, nor from all His visitations would they learn the righteousness.
'Tis true that so far as outward professions would go, so far as having the name of religion in their mouths, and claiming the privileges promised and covenanted by God to their Fathers for keeping the Law-so far as outward professions and claims of peculiar favour would go, they continued zealous before God-Nay, so far as days of solemn Fasting and Humiliation, on special visitations and calamities, might be thought a duty, they were not backward in the appointment and observation of them. But what
sort of Fasts they were, we shall soon learn from the Sermon of the prophet, in the chapter from which my text is taken.
The first verse is an awful command to him to go among the people on the solemn Fast-day; and to warn them of their sins-" Cry aloud and spare not; "lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my peo"ple their transgressions, and the House of Jacob "their sin." That is to say-In the boldest and most public manner, with all the freedom becoming a prophet and messenger of God, concealing nothing through Fear or Love, declare to the people their many transgressions, and especially their open hypocrisy, and the iniquities of their Holy things."
For to all their offences they add this provoking aggravation, namely-high professions and shew of religion-" They seek me daily," or draw nigh to me in all outward ordinances, as a nation that would be thought to delight in knowing my ways and performing righteousness; and they ask of me the ordi ́nances of justice, the rewards promised to holiness; and, wondering that they do not receive an immediate answer to their Prayers and Fastings, they cry out in the midst of every adversity
"Wherefore have we Fasted and thou seest not? "Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and Thou "takest no knowlege?"
Attend, therefore, Brethren, to the Prophet's answer to these most important questions! Astonished at their blindness to their own faults, and their expecting an immediate answer of favour from God, in all their religious approaches to Him; the Prophet re
minds them, that they are taught from their own scriptures, "that the sacrifices of the wicked are an "abomination in God's sight; and that he will not "hear sinners," (though they call to Him in distress) without Repentance and Amendment of life.
"Behold, says the prophet, in the day of your "Fast, you find pleasure and exact all your labours"Amidst all your pretended Humiliations before me, you still find a way of gratifying your own Passions and Covetousness, grieving and oppressing the Poor, and exacting every labour of those over whom you rule-Nay, instead of fasting from the Love and Fear of God" Behold ye fast for strife and debate, "and to smite with the fist of wickedness." Your Fasts have only an outward appearance of devotion, while their true design is to promote some selfish or party view, or to sanctify in the sight of men some enormous wickedness; for such was the conduct of Jezebel; who, having determined to destroy Naboth, and rob him of his vineyard, ordered a fast to be proclaimed, and to have him falsely arraigned and condemned of blasphemy, as a part of that day's solemnity.
But, saith the Prophet, all this is abomination; and if you would truly Fast, it shall not be as you Fast this day, to make your "Voice to be heard on high," as if noise and outward vehemency could supply the place of true humiliation of soul and inward pietyInstead of having the fear and love of God reigning in your hearts; instead of bending in humble adoration before his throne; purging away the dross of your iniquity, and setting your whole affections, your hopes
of relief and deliverance, on the most High, "You Fast to appear righteous before men, and to promote your own unjust views." But, continues the prophet-" Is it such a Fast as this that the Lord has "chosen-For a man to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? "Wilt thou call this a Fast, and an acceptable Day "unto the Lord?" These are all vain pageantries and insignificant ceremonies of themselves, and no way tending to renew and purify the heart.
But, continues our sublime Prophet, would you know the true Fast which the Lord hath chosen, is it not this?
"To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo "the heavy burdens; to let the oppressed go free, “and to break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy "bread to the hungry and that thou bring the poor "that are out cast to thy house? When thou seest "the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide "not thyself from thine own flesh."
Here is a glorious catalogue of Virtues, a divine frame of Soul to bring with us in our humble approaches to God. For, without this divine frame of Soul, what are all the Mortifications of the flesh; what are all the penances inflicted on the Body, what is bowing down the head to the earth, the prostrating ourselves on sackcloth, the wallowing in ashes, or any outward rite or performance compared to this holy, humble and benevolent frame of mind, and those deeds of Virtue, Beneficence, Mercy and Justice which Isaiah prescribes as the true Requisites
of a fast?
As far as Heaven is exalted above the earth, so far the latter transcends the former! and all Bodily Abstinences and Humiliations, are of no other value, than as they tend to Purify and Spiritualize the Inner Man.
What would it avail us, on this solemn day, to have abstained from our usual food and labours? What would it avail us to have humbled ourselves and bewailed our sins, and to have prayed to God to avert His anger from us, and to deliver us from the judgments with which we are threatened, unless we resolve to "loose every band of wickedness; and to do away every unjust burden which we can remove from our fellow-creatures?" Of this we may be assured, that nothing but our own sins, can stand between us and the propitious smiles of Heaven. When these are done away, through the mercies of Christ leading us to repentance and amendment, we shall no longer "fast and the Almighty not see-we shall no longer afflict our souls, and He take no knowledge."
For what purpose God has thought fit to permit a continuance of our present calamities, whether in judgment or mercy or both, is a matter which it becomes every man to consider in his own conscience. I hope but few of the crying offences for which the Jews were reduced to the extremest misery, and delivered over to the power of their enemies, can be justly chargeable to the people of this land; nor can we poor short-sighted mortals pretend to open the mysterious volumes of Providence and read its future purposes either of mercies or judgments towards ourselves-Nor am I fond of ascribing