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readiness to make wise to salvation, in the fulness of the time predicted, he sent forth his Son, that prophet greater than Moses, the greatest of the Jewish prophets, that by his mightiness in word, as well as in deed, he might astonish all men with his doctrine, and "preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, and preach the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke iv. 18, 19.)
The memory of man, however tenacious in things purely worldly, is treacherous in the lessons of heavenly wisdom; and however admirable the instructions of the prophets, and even the beloved Son of God were, their utility would have been principally confined to those generations in which such instructions were delivered, had not the goodness of God provided the written word, that standing record of his will, to serve as an ever audible voice, profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. Every thing requisite for man to know, relative to spiritual and eternal subjects, is disclosed in the sacred Scriptures, and conveyed in language the most beautiful and impressive. "There is," says Archbishop Secker, "a peculiar weight and energy in them, which is not to be found in any other writings. Their denunciations are more awful, their convictions stronger, their consolations more powerful, their counsels more authentic, their warnings more alarming, their expostulations more penetrating. There are passages in them throughout so sublime, so pathetic, full of such energy and force upon the heart and conscience, yet without the least appearance of labour and study for that purpose; indeed the design of the whole is so noble, so well suited to the sad condition of human kind; the morals have in them such purity and dignity; the doctrines, so many of them above
reason, yet so perfectly reconcileable with it; the expression is so majestic, yet familiarised with such easy simplicity, that the more we read and study these writings, with pious dispositions and judicious attention, the more we shall see and feel the hand of God in them. But that which stamps upon them the highest value, that which renders them, strictly speaking, inestimable, and distinguishes them from all other books in the world, is this; that they, and they only, contain the words of eternal life. In this respect every other book, even the noblest compositions of man, must fail; they cannot give us that which we most want, and what is of infinitely more importance to us than all other things put together,-ETERNAL LIFE." Such is that book the kindness of heaven has vouchsafed us; and by it the path of duty is made so plain, that a wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.
But, notwithstanding the rich abundance of those sources of instruction which the Lord has opened, man, unhappily, remains the slave of ignorance and error; not because God is reluctant to give, but because man is unwilling to receive. There is in us an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (Heb. iii. 12.), Sin has not only blunted the intellect, but deadened the affections. Our natural repugnance to spiritual truth, induces dulness in the conception of it, and instability in retaining it. Instead of searching for it as for hidden treasures, and seizing it, when found, with the steady grasp of fixed determination, we spare for it but an occasional and hasty glance, and, if our eye chance to meet with it, we toy and sport with the sacred object, instead of binding it to our temples, or hiding it in our hearts.
That this is generally the case, daily experience may convince us. The providence of God has
graciously fixed the bounds of our habitations in a country where the Bible is extensively circulated, yet, how inconsiderable is the number of persons by whom its blessed contents are understood and practised! We have among us an able ministry, as connected with the various Christian denominations, in established and unestablished churches, but how little is the fruit it has produced! We mean not to insinuate, that the circulation of the Scriptures, or the labours of zealous and enlightened ministers, have been useless; but every sincere servant of the Lord Jesus will regret, that the number of true disciples bears but a small proportion to that of religious professors. Search among the millions that statedly resort to the house of God on Sabbath days in this kingdom, and see how many of them there are that savingly know the Lord that bought them! Alas! your inquiry would prove the truth of our statements, and your return would be with the heart-rending exclamation of the prophet; "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people." (Jer, ix. 1.)
How lamentable it is that the profession and practice of religion should be disjoined! That what makes so lovely and inviting a whole, should be torn and mangled into unsightly parts! That there are numerous temptations to assume the character of Christians, is acknowledged; what a pity it is not always supported by that vitality Christianity imparts! Respectability of reputation is now considered as demanding the externals of religion; while the latent evil of the heart rejects its internal influence. Thus what God has united, the presumptuous hands of man have separated.
The truth is, this is the day of fashionable Christianity. It is reckoned a reproach to a
person not to be, at least, a professed Christian And why is a religious profession fashionable? We fear the world is not arrived at such a pitch of goodness as to love and adopt religion for its own sake. Would to God that the sober doctrines, the solemn commands, and the powerful examples of the Gospel, were fashionable. But we fear that
religion is fashionable, because the standard of religion is lowered. Is it not because a person can pass for a good Christian with nothing but the exterior of religion? Does not the name to live suffice, in the public estimation, for spiritual life itself? Has not the world contaminated the church, instead of the church purifying the world? Is not a mere attendance on ordinances, reckoned an equivalent to a new nature, a right spirit, and a zeal for the Lord of Hosts? Is not this the day when the purple and fine linen are in God's house, and when the Agags of the church tread delicately? We would not be censorious, or presume to sit in judgment on any person; but we cannot conceal our fear lest the awful case of the church of Sardis should again be realized: "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God." (Rev. iii. 1, 2.)
The scriptural method of judging of the state of religion, is by examining its results: "the tree is known by its fruits.". Adopting this sacred canon of interpretation, and applying it to professors of the present time, what is the consequence? Of course we expect that true godliness will produce the fruit of undeviating attention to all the revealed will of God, as expressed in the commands and precepts of Scripture. But does this fruit appear? We confess that those parts of the sacred volume which recommend duties, that in their performance
involve no acts of painful discipline, are attended to with apparent delight; yet, it must also be confessed that, to a distressing extent, those parts of scripture which urge a crucifixion of the flesh, and a mortification of the spirit; that bid us deny ourselves, and take up our cross, are passed over with silent neglect, or contemptuous indifference. This abhorrence of painful duties is fraught with fearful consequences; for it not only carries with it an evidence of the superficiality of our religion, but directly militates against the sacred authority of scripture, the solemn commands of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the venerable examples of the most eminent saints of God.
At a time when the severer duties of religion have fallen into disrepute, it cannot be a matter of surprise that Religious Fasting should be neglected. It, however, intimately concerns all who have the glory of the Redeemer, and the welfare of souls at heart, to inquire whether the neglect of this solemn ordinance may not have lowered the tone of religious experience, and have tended to keep the interests of Christianity in a low and depressed state. He, and he alone, can be considered right, in the sight of God, who does all the will of God. "Ye are my friends," said Jesus Christ, "if ye do whatsoever I command you." (John xv. 14.) Šurely then, it is of importance to ascertain the way in which we should go, and, by the grace of God, rouse our sluggish souls to the exercise of walking therein. And not only so, but it is our business to strive to affect others on the important subject, that we may not "suffer sin upon our neighbour," lest his blood should be required at our hands. It is this consideration which induces me to bring the long neglected subject of religious fasting before the Christian public, rather with the design of calling forth investigation, than of expatiating upon