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Of this Sermon eighteen thousand copies have already been published. It is stereotyped, and such arrangements are made that any quantity will be furnished at $25 a thousand, on application to the Editor, or to A. Russel, 25 Cornhill, Boston, or B. Wells, 17 Franklin-Place, Philadelphia.
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THE DUTY, THE BENEFITS, AND THE PROPER
METHOD OF RELIGIOUS FASTING.
DANIEL, IX. 3. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer
and supplication with fasting. This is the language of the prophet Daniel. He is speaking of that which occurred in Babylon, where he and his brethren were in captivity. It was a dark and distressing day. Religion was at a low ebb among the professing people of God. Even their deep adversity had not led them to repentance and reformation. And idolatry, attended with the most deplorable moral corruption, reigned among the heathen around them. Every thing, to the eye of sense, appeared in the highest degree discouraging, not to say desperate. But this holy man trusted in God; and in the exercise of faith, saw, beyond the clouds which encircled him and his people, a ray of light which promised at once deliverance and glory. He perceived nothing, indeed, among the mass of his Jewish brethren which indicated a speedy termination of their captivity; but he “ understood by books," that is, he firmly believed, on the ground of a recorded prophecy, delivered by Jeremiah, that the period of their liberation was drawing nigh. In this situation, what does he do? Instead of desponding, he "encourages himself in the Lord his God.” And, instead of allowing himself to indulge a spirit of presumption or indolence, on account of the certainty of the approaching deliverance, he considers himself as called to special humiliation, fasting and prayer ; to humble himself before God under a sense of the deep unworthiness of himself and his companions in captivity; and to pray with importunity that their unmerited emancipation might be at once hastened and sanctified. Such is the spirit of genuine piety. It neither despairs in adversity, nor is elated with pride at the approach of help. On the contrary, the former its confidence in the Divine fidelity, the lower does it lie in humility and penitence, and the more powerfully does it excite to holy action, and to holy desires to be a “worker together with God.” It was when this man of God distinctly understood that the desolations of seventy years were coming to an end, that he " set his face to seek unto the Lord God by prayer and supplications with fasting."
The caprive Jews in Babylon, as a body, seem to have been in the habit, before this time, of observing certain stated days of fasting and prayer ; but they were evidently observed in a formal and heartless manner; and, therefore, instead of proving a blessing, had but increased their guilt. The exercise of the servant of God, to which our text refers, was of a very different character. It was with him a season of special, earnest, elevated devotion ; prompted by special feelings; consecrated to a special object; and accompanied by those special circumstances of humility which indicated a soul deeply abased before God, and fervently engaged in pleading for his blessing.
I shall take occasion from the example of Daniel to consider the duty of FASTING, as a suitable and very important accompaniment of special humiliation and prayer. And in pursuance of this design, I shall request your attention to the DUTY, the benefits, and the PROPER METHOD of RELIGIOUS FASTING. After which the way will be prepared for some remarks more immediately practical.
I. The duty of religious fasting will claim our attention in the first place.
It is unnecessary to say that fasting is abstinence from food. It is not, however, every kind of abstinence that constitutes a religious fast. Some abstain from their usual aliment because, fronı indisposition, they loathe it; others, because they cannot obtain it; and a third class, because abstinence is enjoined by medical prescription. But the Christian, as such, refrains from choice, denying his appetite from religious principle, and with a view to spiritual benefit. Now, when it is affirmed that occasional fasting, in this sense, and with this view, is a Christian duty, it is not intended to be maintained that it is one of those stated duties which all are bound to at. tend upon at certain fixed periods, whatever may be their situation, or the aspect of Providence towards them. There is no precept in the word of God which enjoins the observance of a particular number of fast days in each year. It is to be considered as an occasional, or, perhaps, more properly speaking, a special duty, which, like seasons of special prayer, ought to be regulated, as to its frequency and manner of observance, by the circumstances in which we are placed. But although the times and seasons of religious fasting be left, as they obviously must be, to the judgment and the conscience of each individual, it may be confidently affirmed that it is a DIVINE INSTITUTION; that it is a duty on which ALL CHRISTians are BOUND, at PROPER SEASONS, to attend. This, it is believed, may be firmly established by the following considerations.
1. The LIGHT OF NATURE seems to recognise this duty. Abstinence from food, either as an aid or an expression of piety, has been common in all ages, and among all nations. Those who have attended to the various forms of Paganism, know that in all of them fasting has had a place, and in some of them a very prominent place. In entering on important undertakings, and in preparing for sacrifices of more than common solemnity, their fasts were often protracted and rigid to an almost incredible degree. Now, the question is, how came this practice to be so general, nay universal, among those, whether polished or barbarous, who enjoyed no written revelation? Was it a dictate of nature? Then our position is established. If abstinence from food be a natural expression of deep humiliation and mourning, no further argument is necessary to show that it ought to accom