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ISAIAH, lviii. 4, 5, 6, 7.
YE shall not Fast to make your voice to be heard on high. Is
it such a Fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul—to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread
sackcloth and ashes under him! Wilt thou call this a Fast-an acceptable day unto the Lord ?
Is not the Fast that I have chosen To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, break every yoke, deal thy bread to the hungry, to bring the Poor that are cast out to thy house; that when thou seest the naked, thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh ?..*
In the present calamitous situation of public affairs, this day has been recommended, by those exercising the delegated authority of the people of these colonies, as a day of general Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer.
Upon an occasion so interesting, when regular government is convulsed, and its branches or parts, clashing together in dreadful conflict, I shall not seek to increase the general confusion, or add to the distress, by any severe scrutiny, into the right of appointing Special Fasts, for the Church in general, or any particular Church; especially as this Day's Fast is not authoritatively enjoined, but only recommended.
* Psalms, read 34, 46. Ist Lesson, 2 Chron. ch. XX. 2d Lesson, Matthew, ch. vi. 16 to 23, both inclusive.
I know that the members of the Church of England, to which we belong, feel as much as others for the calamities and divisions of our citizens and country, on both sides of the Atlantic; and are equally concerned for the preservation of our just rights; nor averse to lament every danger to which they may be exposed, and to put up fervent supplication to the Almighty, “ that they may be preserved inviolate, , and transmitted safe, to our latest posterity!"
From the first origin of this unhappy strife, it has been my unfeigned Wish and Prayer, that, in the dreadful conflict, wherein this country seems about to engage with the great Nation from which we sprung, a deep and solemn pause might be made, on both sides, for serious meditation; and that all of us, in the first place, might turn our thoughts to God and his Providence; consider the gracious purposes for which he seems to have planted us in this Land; search our own hearts narrowly, and discover how far we conspire with, or counteract his Will and Ways, in the dissemination of human Wisdom, and human Happiness!
I could not, therefore, so ill reward the confidence which these congregations have so long placed in me, as to decline meeting you this day, in order to assist your meditations; lest, I might leave you under the necessity of seeking that assistance from those who might not, perhaps, improve the present opportunity for leading your thoughts into that channel, in which I would wish them to flow at this trying time. For although our temporal calamities have called us to
the present duty, yet I propose to carry you beyond them, into a more extensive field.
Days of Fasting have been in use among all Nations, professing a belief of God's over-ruling Providence. The Scriptures abound in examples of Fasts, for deprecating the righteous visitations and impending judgments of the Almighty.
Moses commanded the people to humble themselves and afflict their souls before God, at certain times, with godly sorrow; judging and loathing themselves.
Joshua, and the Elders of Israel, remained prostrate before the Ark, from morning until evening, without eating
The Israelites, when invaded by the Philistines, assembled before the Lord at Mizpeh, and fasted, in his presence,
till the evening Jehozaphat's fast was the subject read to you as the first lesson for this day's service.
Nay, the very Heathens sometimes make a Fast an act of religion to their gods; and the king of Nineveh not only ordered men, but even the beasts of the field, to fast.
The Jews were sometimes more strict; making the very children at the breast to join in the fast. The act of Fasting, therefore, stands upon sufficient authority; but the true use and design thereof must be learned from scripture and the reason of things, and herein the prophet Isaiah, in the Old Testament, and our blessed Saviour himself, in the New, have given us the best rules.
“ Ye shall not fast (says our text), to make your “ voice be heard on high. Is it such a Fast that I “ have chosen-a day for a man to afflict his soul; si to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread " sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call " this a Fast, an acceptable day unto the Lord?” No, implies the prophet in his answer, the Fast which the Almighty has chosen is far different.
“ It is to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo " the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, " and to break every yoke? It is to deal thy bread to
the hungry, and to bring the poor outcast to thine “ house—when thou seest the naked, to cover him, " and not to hide thyself from thine own flesh.”
Thus, we see that, even in an Old Testament Fast, all outward observances and ceremonies" afficting the Flesh, bowing the head as a bulrush, wallowing in ashes," and the like, were only so far of any value before God, as they were the Fruits of the Spirit, the genuine mark of Hearts loathing ini. quity; striving to loose the strong bands of wickedness; ceasing from evil; learning to do well; and calling forth the soul in all actions of mercy, loving kindness, and true benevolence. This is the genuine Fast, the unfeigned Humiliation of soul, required by the Prophet! And our Saviour himself confirms the doctrine; telling us that our Fasting should not be like that of the Hypocrites; consisting only in sad countenances, and disfigured faces; but in godly sincerity, not regarding the applause of men; but fast. ing in the secrecy of heart, considering ourselves only as in His presence “ who seeing in secret will reward openly all those who come to Him with souls thus sincerely penitent.”
Thus far in general, concerning the nature of a True Fast; and I doubt not many Sermons will this day be delivered, in order to lead to such sincerity of Fasting, by displaying to men the terrors of the Almighty; and the punishments wherewith He now threatens and visits us for past sins, and the neglect of His manifold goodness to us as a people. And much might be said on this subject-But, as I hinted before, I would chuse to lead you farther, and into a field of higher fruits.
Your fears, I trust, are sufficiently alarmed. You have, I hope, turned your thoughts to Almighty God. You have beheld His hand lifted up over this prostrate and afflicted land-afflicted with the worst of evils—the demon of discord and civil distractionYou are all ready to cry out " who will shew us any good? Lord have mercy upon us, and deliver us We repent of our sins, and seek Thy grace for reformation and amendment."
I would, therefore, cherish these good disposi. tions; and what may, peradventure, have begun through Fear, I would ripen into maturity by the more cheering beams of Love. Instead of increasing your afflictions, I would convey a dawn of comfort to your souls; rather striving to woo and to win you to Re. ligion and Happiness, from a consideration of what God hath promised to the Virtuous, than of what He hath denounced against the Wicked, both through Time and in Eternity.