Page images
[ocr errors]

abstain from idolatrous sacrifices, licentious indulgences, and polluted food.

But in this decree no mention is made of fasting, which had always formed a very essential part of the Jewish religion, and which indeed, with the punctilious observance of ceremonials, and ostentatious prayer, was, at the introduction of Christianity, almost all that remained of that ancient and venerable institution. Among the patriarchs no example of fasting is recorded. Nor does Moses, in the Pentateuch, enjoin any particular fast, except on the solemn day of expiation, and this was very strictly observed. In succeeding ages fasting became more general, and was even practised among the heathen.

It does not appear that our divine Master, at any time, authoritatively required this voluntary mortification of his disciples, as an indispensable duty, as a practice necessary to the Christian calling; but he certainly authorizes it by implication, in directing, when they do fast, in what manner they should comport themselves: “When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites of a sad countenance.” It was, however, practised by the apostles and early Christians; but very soon, (as what means of good will not be perverted by the folly

or wickedness of man ?) very soon degenerated into superstition, as gross as that of the formal and sanctimonious Pharisees.

In the Church of Rome, abstinence has long been held forth as an important and absolute duty; and the dispensations and indulgences, which that Church assumed a right of granting, - greatly increased its influence with the weak and credulous, and proved an abundant source of revenue to that trafficking and mercenary hierarchy. Other societies have adopted and recommended the practice of occasional abstinence; and our national Church, with a prudence and moderation, and deference for long established customs very unusual among reformers, has retained whatever was blameless and expedient in the Romish ritual; and has set apart certain days and seasons of abstinence and mortification: not, indeed, so peremptorily and decidedly as she insists on the unquestionable duties of prayer and penitence; not as an act in itself grateful in the sight of God, but as a means of improving our self-government, and of keeping the flesh in subjection to the spirit.

St. Paul, whose authority will scarcely be disputed, has positively pronounced, that “meat

commendeth us not to God; for, neither if we eat, are we the better, neither if we eat not, are we the worse.” This is an express confirmation, from an inspired teacher, of what reason clearly suggests, that the kind of food we take has nothing to do with our religious obligations. Our Creator has plenteously furnished the earth with all things necessary for our use: He hath made it a law of our nature, that our bodily frame should grow and expand, our strength be renewed, and all the functions of life be sustained, by a constant supply of nourishment. He hath planted the ground with fruits and vegetables, peopled the earth, the air, the waters, with creatures, almost countless in number, and inexhaustible in variety ; and He hath given us an undisputed property“ in the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Nor is this abundant supply set before us merely to support life, and maintain the body in health and vigour ; for He hath annexed to every species of food a distinct taste or flavour, and hath endowed us with a sense so exquisitely formed, as to distinguish, at once, the various kinds of animal and vegetable substances, and even the nice and minute peculiarities of each separate class. Thus, by this liberal and wonderful provision, He not only continues our existence, but administers to our gratification ; He not only allows us to eat and live, but to eat and enjoy life. May it not, then, look like a churlish rejection of his bounty, to refuse what nature pours forth at his command; or a weak superstition, to call that unclean which flows from the hand of Divine Providence? This suspicion is further strengthened by the declaration of our apostle,-“I know, and am persuaded, by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself.” How is it then, it may be asked, that the custom of abstaining from particular foods at certain seasons has so generally prevailed, as to be incorporated into almost every system of religion ? To which we may answer in the words of the same apostle, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient.All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power

of any.” Many things in themselves, abstractedly considered, may be perfectly innocent, which, in their effects and consequences, may be extremely injurious; and many actions, no way meritorious, taken apart, may, in their ultimate tendencies and results, prove highly beneficial to ourselves, or to others.

Self-denial has always been regarded as constituting a very essential part in the duty and practice of a good and a wise man. Every one must acknowledge that mind should govern matter,—that the rational faculty should direct and controul the corporeal machine ; and yet every one must see in others, and feel in himself, how continually the animal part of our composition rebels against the intellectual, and must lament how often it is successful in the contest. Whatever method, therefore, can be devised, to strengthen the legitimate authority of reason, and reduce passion and appetite to proper subordination, is, at least, worth the trial; and if it prove efficacious, should be adopted and pursued. No appetite or impulse of our earthly nature is keener than that of hunger, and, (if we may judge by the never-ceasing attention paid to the subject, insomuch that the art of preparing food is absolutely become a science,) if we may judge by the time and thought it occupies, no gratification is more generally sought, or more highly valued. therefore, who can controul this powerful im

The man,

« PreviousContinue »