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against me. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil thing. For thine is the kingdom, and thou shalt reign in glory for ever and evermore.” Some formularies of prayer, directed in Numbers and Deuteronomy, have been already noticed.
In reference to this prayer, Montgomery beautifully observes, “How many millions and millions of times has that prayer been preferred by Christians of all denominations ! So wide, indeed, is the sound thereof gone forth, that daily, and almost without intermission, from the ends of the earth, and afar off upon the sea, it is ascending to heaven, like incense and a pure offering. Nor needs it the gift of prophecy to foretell that, although 'heaven and earth shall pass away,' these words of our blessed Lord shall not pass away,' till every petition in it has been answered, till the kingdom of God shall come, and his will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
Fasting was often connected with prayer, both in public and private.
The great day of atonement was a solemn national fast, on which the people were “to afflict their souls;” an expression which showed that the service was to be spiritual. They were to lament for their past sins and iniquities, and to humble themselves before the Lord. This was the only public and general fast directed by the law; but fasts were also held on other occasions, by direction of the supreme authority: see Judg. xx. 26; 1 Sam. vii. 6; 2 Sam, iii. 35; 2 Chron. xx. 3; Isa. lviii. 3—12; Jer. xxxvi. 9. The case of the solemn fast ordered by Jezebel in the name of Ahab, 1 King xxi. 9, is an instance of a fast ordered by authority, but to cloak a most wicked purpose. Ezra and his company fasted at the river Ahava, when they implored the Divine blessing on their journey, and the undertaking connected with it, Ez. viii. 21. After the captivity, four regular days for fasting were appointed, which are enumerated Zech. viii. 19. One was in the fourth month, to commemorate the famine in Jerusalem, when there was no bread left in the city, Jer. lii. 6; Lam. ii. 12, 20. This also is thought to have had some reference to the breaking of the tables of stone by Moses, Ex. xxxi. 19, and the erecting an idol in the temple by Manasseh, 2 Ch. xxxiii. 7. One, in the fifth month, for the destruction of the temple, mentioned Zech. vii. 3. In the seventh month, on account of the murder of Gedaliah, Jer. xli. 2. And another in the tenth month, for the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Public fasts were also appointed in times of danger, Joel i. 14; ii. 12. To abstain from food, and publicly to show humiliation and sorrow for sin, is a duty, a proceeding intelligible even to the heathen; there is a striking instance recorded in the book of Jonah, iii. 7, the fast at Nineveh was so general, that even the cattle were kept from food.
The private fasts were numerous in the latter days of the Jewish state; some were observed publicly in the synagogues. Many persons fasted twice in the week, on the second and fifth days; and every month had its fasts. In the month Abib, they fasted on the 1st, for the death of Nadab and Abihu, Num. iii. 4; on the 10th, for the death of Miriam, xx. 1; on the 24th, for the death of Joshua, Josh. xxiv. 29; and the 29th, when they prayed for the latter rain, Deut. xi. 14: but it is needless to enumerate all these fasts; we may suppose that they were not fully observed by the people in general, although the Pharisees might make a public appearance of fasting often. Our Lord's reference to their conduct, Matt. xxiii. 2–33, when he severely censured it, would include their private fasts also: and some fasted on the day before the new moon, on the anniversaries of the death of relatives
, or of other severe calamities; but these fasts were not to be held on the sabbath or any festival, nor on the sixth day of the week. The disciples of John fasted often, Luke v. 33: this was a religious observance, characteristic of the solemn mission of John the Baptist. The fasts always began in the evening, and continued till the following evening. From Zech. xii. 12-14, it appears that the male and female parts of the families were apart from each other on the days of fasting. No peculiar ceremonials were directed, but the public services were those usual at the time when the fasts happened to be held. In 1 Sam. vii. 6, is mention of water being poured out on a fast-day. This might be intended as a symbolical expression of the pouring forth of the heart, required at such a season. In Jer. xxxvi. 6, we find Jeremial was ordered to read the Divine warnings of the approaching national judgments, to the people assembled on that day in the temple. On these occasions, outward appearances of grief were manifested : coarse garments were worn; rent and disordered apparel conveyed an idea of sorrow and grief; ashes were scattered on the head, whether the occasion were public or private, 2 Sam. iii. 31 ; Psa. xxxv. 13;
Isa. Iviii. 5; Lam. ii. 10; Joel i. 13, 14; the countenance was downcast; weeping, and the voice of supplication were heard, as Judg. ii. 4 ; Jer. iii. 21; xxxi. 9. Against assuming such outward appearances of grief our Lord cautioned his disciples, Matt. vi. 16, 17. Thus, also, the prophet Joel exhorted the people to rend their hearts, and not their garments, ii. 13. The fasting of Esther and her attendants, before she ventured into the king's presence to entreat for the lives of her people, is a striking instance, both of the observance of this rite and of its efficacy, when accompanied by the prayer of faith, Est. iv. 14.
Upon the subject of fasting, it is well to observe, that it is of use as a help to a devotional spirit; therefore, when carried to such an extent as to weaken the system, and to render the body unfit for religious exercises, it cannot be rightly considered as an acceptable service. Thus the rigid observances of some of the ancient hermits, and of some popish monastic orders of modern date, are equally distant from the spirit which should actuate the followers of Christ. Such fasts are no better than the fasts of the Pharisees, against which our Lord distinctly cautioned his disciples. That degree of abstinence which will promote liveliness of spirit is desirable; even as the hearty feeding and repletion, which indisposes the mind for communion with God, and attendance on his worship, is to be avoided. Let the reader turn to Isa. lviii. 3—7, where it is clearly stated what abstinence is acceptable to God. Little, however, need be said at the present day to caution persons against carrying abstinence too far. If we look round our public assemblies, we see a very different appearance from that which our Lord often witnessed in the synagogues in his time, and which he describes, Matt. vi. 16. He would doubtless now rather caution against the contrary extreme. Having thus noticed passages which condemn fasting in a wrong spirit and for wrong purposes, let us refer to some texts which show what right fasting is. Let the reader bear these in mind, as the Scripture rule under the Christian, as well as under the Jewish dispensation : Psa. xxxv. 13; lxix. 10; Dan. ix. 3; Joel ii. 12; Luke ii. 37; Acts xiii. 2, 3.
The purifications connected with the worship of the Jews require notice here; although they were often observed by the performance of vows, which belong to another part of our subject, as Acts xxi. 23, 24. Washings, or ablutions, are generally among the most ancient religious ceremonies of every nation; but the simplicity of the rites of purification, directed by the Divine law, was well calculated to guard the Israelites against the use of the superstitious, and often barbarous rites practised by the heathen for lustrations. There was a washing of the whole body, used at the admission of Jewish proselytes in later times, and in some ablutions commanded by the law, Exod. xxix. 4; Lev. xiv. 8, and elsewhere. There was also a pouring of water on the feet and hands, or sprinkling it, Deut. xxi. 6; Num. viii. 7; xix. 18. Sometimes the water was mixed with ashes of the red heifer already mentioned. In the solemn sacrifices, sprinkling the blood was an indispensable ceremony, typifying Christ's shedding his blood for our sins, 1 Pet. i. 2; Lev. i. 5. Also anointing with oil was sometimes used, as with respect to the tabernacle and its furniture, Exod. xxx. 26–28; or, as in the cleansing the leper, Lev. xiv. 27–29; but the anointing was more frequently used in consecrating or setting apart to an office, Êxod. xxviii. 41. The holy oil, as Mather observes, signified the Spirit of God; the anointing therewith, the communication of the Spirit in the saving graces, and in the Divine joys and consolations of it. Also the anointing of the priests, signified the anointing of Jesus Christ with the Spirit beyond measure, Psa. xlv. 7; John iii. 34. This is called the resting of the Spirit upon him, Isa. xi. 2. Those appointed to the kingly office were also anointed with oil: thus “Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon
his (Saul's) head," 1 Sam. x. 1.
The numerous cases in which washing, pouring, and sprinkling of water were enjoined, all intimated the necessity of purity in heart and life, without which God could not be approached acceptably, either in public or private devotions. These observances, also, were conducive to the general health; for attention to the holy precepts of the Bible profits the body as well as the soul.
The custom of washing the hands before and after meals has always prevailed in the east, and has been fully described. But to this simple washing, as in many other matters, the later Jews added superstitious and burdensome observances to the customs of their forefathers, and the plain directions of the law. Our blessed Lord condemns the extent to which the Pharisees carried these requirements. There was to be a certain quantity of water used, and the hands and arms must be washed in a certain manner, and to a certain height; and this repeated, if not done at first exactly as was customary. Again, for some sorts of food more washings were required than for others: before bread was eaten the hands must be washed with care, but dry fruits might be eaten with unwashen hands. Many directions were given on these subjects by the Jewish doctors, and these caused our Lord's dispute with the scribes and Pharisees, Mark vii. 248. This law was even made a hir rance to the reading of the Bible. If a person, otherwise clean, touched any part of the Scriptures, he might not eat till he washed his hands. The reason assigned for this was, that possibly the books, which often had been laid up in secret places, might have been gnawed by mice! Surely this plainly shows what spirit dictated such rules.
So scrupulous were the Pharisees as to these purifications, that the Jewish writers relate a story of a certain