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than the desire which we perceive in most
and that he was ignorant of the nature of self-denial, would be a high offence against his character. This simply proves that all men have in some degree a respect for religion ; but we will endeavour to consider the real nature of the duty contained in the words of the text.
The Jews, amongst their ceremonial observances, had
stated seasons for fasting and humiliation ; but too often they rested in the mere outward ceremony. They even fasted, as the prophet Isaiah tells them chap. lviii. 4, “for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness. They might bow the head like a bulrush ; they might spread sackcloth and ashes under them; but this was not a fast, nor an acceptable day of the Lord. In all these public and national seasons of fasting, there was precisely the same danger that is to be found in any private act of devotion. The mere observance, the outward form, the re
ligious ceremony—these made
up total of the service. And it was on these accounts that our blessed Saviour spake so strongly to the Jews, on the sin of making clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, and being themselves like whited sepulchres, fair to look upon outwardly, but inwardly full of all uncleanness, extortion, and excess. It becomes, then, the duty of the follower of the meek and lowly Jesus, to endeavour, by the grace given to him, to separate all real duties from their counterfeits, and, in his wish to live as in the sight of God, he will take especial care, whilst he follows after holiness, not to put on any appearance of sanctity which does not belong to him. All that the Pharisees did was to be seen of men. Our Lord says, “ Be not ye like unto them.” At the beginning of this season of Lent, which, by the primitive church, and in the
best days of Christianity, was kept most strictly by all professing Christians, there was a l'emembrance of the fasting and temptation of Jesus Christ. He did, and he suffered, these things, to fulfil all righteousness. There is a great deal implied in that answer of our
Lord to John the Baptist, when John had said, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” Jesus said, “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. We may not exactly see the reason : but let us obey. As the first Adam fell by temptation ; the second stood firm, and vanquished Satan, after he had fasted forty days and forty nights. He was then assailed with the strongest temptation to a person in his situation.
" Command that these stones be made bread;"—he answers, Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The other temptations, to trifle with the providence of God, by casting himself down from the pinnacle of the temple to worship the evil one, are answered in the very words of Scripture : « Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Now, whatever was the divine purpose in thus subjecting the Redeemer, at the very opening of his ministry, to these temptations, it is not for us curiously to inquire. It is enough for us to know, that the benefit of his victory, in this and in every other instance of pa
tient suffering, is offered to us. We are the gainers by his privations. We are made richi by his poverty. It was for us men, and for our salvation, that Christ Jesus came into the world. It was for us men, and for our salvation, that he lived, suffered, and died. It was to atone for sin ; and it is by his bright example that we may best learn how to obey his precepts.
It should seem that from thus fasting himself, our blessed Saviour, in his sermon upon the Mount, proceeds to speak of that duty to his disciples and to the multitude. And if we cannot so clearly see why he, who had no sin, subjected himself to the long abstinence of forty days, (as indeed Moses and Elijah had done before him,) we may easily perceive why we are commanded to fast. The very proneness to evil which there is in us, calls for this exercise. If it be not, virtue, it proves the way to virtue. By it, we mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts; we mortify our corrupt inclinations which are in the world. But, alas ! in all
of the church, the shadow has been taken for the substance. Men, especially in the dark ages,
have rested in the mere act of abstinence; they have taken merit to themselves, nay, they have claimed reward for imposing burdens and ritual observances, for which there was no Scripture warrant. They have been, as the hypocrites mentioned by our Saviour in the text, of a sad countenance ; they have disfigured their faces; when their hearts should bave been cleansed from the filthiness which is within ; and they should have known that all things are open and naked to the eye of that God with whom we have to do. That which cometh out of the heart, that defileth the man.
From thus observing the sad delusions which men have practised upon themselves, and, indeed, which we are all too ready to practise in every point of apparent duty, we turn, in the second place, to consider what this duty really is, and how it should be obeyed in the christian church. That it is a duty both as it respects nations and individuals, there can be no doubt; and that blessings have attended
the right performance of it, is equally clear. We gather from Isaiah lviii. 6, 7, that the kind and charitable assistance to others forms a part