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said, that if every man is allowed to be a judge in his own case, few will condemn themselves, and fewer still chastise themselves in this manner; nor, that what is not appointed to be done at some particular time, will be done at no time; for it is better that a thing should never be done, than that it should be done in such a way as to defeat the only valuable end of its institution, deluding the victims of such folly into a belief that they are serving God, and doing a good work, whilst the Lord regards not the multitude of such idle sacrifices, and whilst the evil of a work done as this work generally is, may be estimated by the increase it makes to selfrighteousness, and by the proportion in which it detracts from that tenderness of conscience, and that lowliness in their own eyes, which are the characteristics of those who make a progress in righteousness and true holiness.
But a much better reply to this objection may be found in a more minute examination of that expression in which the objection itself originates. It has been laid down as a position consequent on the whole of the preceding argument, that fasting should be altogether discretionary ;--that is, it should be directed, in every individual, by a pious' and enlightened judgment, which shall weigh well the circumany other
stances of each particular case, and appropriate to it both the duration and the durance of such a discipline. But as the objection justly states, that no man is willing by nature, and of his own deliberate choice, to act with a discretion such as this; and as, in this avowal, it also admits that all men are sensual and selfish, “lovers of pleasure, more than lovers of God," ánd as suffering, in every case, must be grievous, more particularly to the unfveling and the impenitent ;-it follows, that to act with a discretion suited to the ends of spiritual discipline in this, or in
there must be a strong sense of sin, and a desire after holiness ;—there must be a certain progress in self-knowledge, and in the knowledge of divine things, that a man may be duly qualified to judge himself, and candidly to follow up that judgment, or that he may be capable of thus prescribing for himself, and of using with any profit, his prescription. To all others—to the formal professor, fasting is nothing more than temporary bondage ;-tó the ignorant, it is a sort of sanction or an excuse to “ go and sin” again ;-to the self-righteous, it is an couragement to hope against hope ;--and to the sensualist, it is the type and anticipation of å future Purgatory! To these, and to all such as these, it is, at best, an antidote without the
apprehension of a disease, which instead of relieving the constitution by meeting and counteracting the approaches of evil, serves only to foment and to stimulate the latent seeds of it. Who then should fast? The awakened Christian. He who experiences a growth in grace, and is anxious to accelerate it, by wholesome correctives-- he who still feels “ sin warring in his members,” and threatening him with captivity to its ungodly dominion-he that reproves, and is willing to deny himself, and would make use of bodily mortification as auxiliary to a conquest over self. To such a person, and to such only, fasting is suitable, and cannot fail of becoming profitable. Enjoined by the decree of arbitrary and indiscriminating authority, it is the utmost folly ; and he who obeys such authority, and is actuated by no better motive, either blindly resigns his conscience and his reason to the guidance of another, which is degrading to the soul of man; ör impiously disregards the injunction in the text, “when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites.”
You perceive then, that fasting is a religious discipline of no ordinary kind, and not to be engaged in lightly or irreverently :--that it is a spiritual exercise, peculiar to those who are already advanced in the kingdom of God ;
and that, like “ putting new wine into old bottles, or a piece of a new garment upon an old,” it is too rigorous an experiment for such as are weak in faith, and in the knowledge of themselves. Its strictness and austerity is more than they are able to bear, and for which they do not see any necessity. It should, however, be set before them under the seal of Christian experience, just as our Lord prescribed it as a matter, not more of necessity than of use to his disciples, at a certain period of their future progress in the Christian life, “ the days will come when they shall fast in those days.” And in the same spirit does the Church of England introduce it to our notice—without appointing it as an indispensable duty, she permits it as a wise expedient. And whilst she attaches not the observance of it to certain days and seasons, which the very nature of the thing has left to the discretion of the pious and the penitent: she shapes the character of her services in such a manner as to make way for it, more particularly during the season of Lent, or spring-time, (which is the meaning of that word) and amidst the awful recollections which she would excite previous to the approaching commemoration of our Lord's crucifixion. And that such a signal manifestation of the love of God towards a sinful world might dwell with stronger impression on the mind, she has protracted this season of humiliation to forty days, with a happy reference to our Lord's abstinence during the same period, indirectly insinuating thereby our conformity by fasting, to this his most holy example. But not a word is said on the manner of this abstinence-what mortifications or self-denials are to be observed—what days or hours are sentenced to restraint-what meals are to be omitted or restricted—what food is proper or improper, and what kinds or quantities of it are holy and unholy. She merely reminds ns of what is alone important,-the reason and the end of such a service, whilst the manner and the measure of its use and ap- . plication are left entirely to the candid and judicious regulation of every truly Christian mind.
The result of all is this: Have we made such a progress “in holy conversation and godliness” as may qualify us to fast? Does communion with our own hearts discover that great impediments to such a progress arise, in our particular case, from the opposition of the body and its intemperate passions ? And do we perceive how extenuation of the body ministers to the increase of spiritual strength ?