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A MEMORIAL concerning PERSONAL and FAMILY FASTING and HUMILIATION, prefented to Saints and Sinners:
The Nature of PERSONAL COVENANTING with GOD, is occafionally opened.
ZECH. xii. 12.
And the land fhall mourn, every family apart, their wives apart.
Of Perfonal and Family Fafting and Humiliation, in the General.
ELIGIOUS fafts, kept in fecret by a particular perfon apart by himself, and by a particular family apart by themfelves, concerning which this Memorial is prefented both to faints and finners, are not indeed the ftated, and ordinary duties of all times, to be performed daily, or at fet times recur. ring; fuch as prayer, praife, and reading of the word are: but they are extraordinary duties of fome times; and to be performed occafionally, as depend. ing entirely, in refpect of the exercife of them, on the call of providence, which is variable.
They are authorised, and injoined us, in the word of God: and therefore, when we fhall have performed them, we muft fay, We are unprofitable fervants, we have done that which was our duty to do; and must abhor the leaft thought of meriting thereby..
The particular feafons of them are determined by providence. Wherefore they who would be practifers of them, must be religious obfervers of providence: otherways God may be calling aloud for weeping and mourning, and girding with fackcloth, while they, not heeding it, are indulging themselves in joy and gladness, Ifa. xxii. 12, 13.; a dangerous adventure! Ver. 14. Surely this iniquity fhall not be purged from you, till ye die, faith the Lord.
Hence the most serious and tender among knowing Chriftians, will readily be found the most frequent in these exercises. It is on the pouring out of the Spirit, that the land is to mourn, every family apart, and their wives apart, Zech. xii. 10, 12. Paul was a fçene wherein corrupt nature fhewed her curfed vigour, he being, when he was bad, very bad; and grace, in its turn, its facred power, he being, when he was good, very good, and then in faftings ften, 2 Cor. xi. 27.
Thefe duties confift of an external and circumftantial part, and internal and substantial part.
To the external and circumstantial part of them belong time, place, and abftinence.
I. First of all, a proper time must be fet apart for thefe duties. And this is to be regulated by Chriftian prudence, as beft fuits the circumftances of the perfon or family.
We find the faints, in fcripture, ordinarily kept their fafts by day. But we have an inftance of a perfonal faft kept by night, 2 Sam. xii. 16 avid fafted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. This I do the rather notice, to obviate the excufe of those who quite neglect this duty, under the pretence of their not being mafters of their own time. If the heart can be brought to it, one will readily find fome time or other for it, either by day, or elfe by night. It is recorded to the honour of one of the weaker fex, namely Anna, that the ferved God
God with faftings and prayers night and day, Luke ii. 36, 37
As to the quantity of time to be spent in perfonal or family fasting and humiliation; the duty, I judge, is to regulate it; and not it to regulate the duty. The family fast of Esther with her maidens, ob. ferved alfo by all the Jews in Shufhan, lafted three days, Efther iv. 16. We read of the fafting day, Jer. xxxvi. 16. Sometimes, it would feem, it was but a part of a day, that was spent in such exercife; as in Cornelius his perfonal faft, which feems to have been over before the ninth hour; that is, before three o'clock in the afternoon; Acts x. 30. Four days ago I was fasting until this hour, and at the ninth hour I prayed in my houfe, before which time of the fourth day, Peter, to whom Cornelius faith this, might be come; there being but 36 miles from Joppa to Cefarea, whither he came on the fecond day after he fet out from Joppa, verfes 23, 24. Compare verfes 8, 9, 17. Much about that time of the day, Daniel got the anfwer of his prayers, made in his perfonal faft, namely, about the time of the evening oblation, or the ninth hour, Dan. ix. 21. And the people being affembled with fafting, Neh. ix. 1. they read in the book of the law, one fourth part of the day, and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped, verse 3. So they continued in the work fix hours; from nine o'clock in the morning, as it would feem, till three afternoon: that is, from the time of the morning-facrifice, to the evening-facrifice, with which the work feems to have been closed, as, it may be prefumed, they spent the morning in private preparation for the public duty.
Wherefore I judge, that none are to be folicitous, as to what quantity of time, more or lefs, they fpcnd in these exercises, fo that the work of the time be done. Nay, I very much doubt, men lay a fnare for themselves, in tying themselves to a certain quan
tity of time in fuch cafes. It is fufficient, to refolve, that according to our ability, we will take as much time as the work fhall be found to require.
II. A proper place is alfo to be chofen, where the perfon or family may perform the duty without dif turbance from others. Time and place are natural circumstances of the action: and all places are alike now, under the gofpel; none more holy than an other. Men may pray every where, whether in the houfe or in the field, lifting up holy hands, 1 Tim. ii. 8. Only forafmuch as family-fafting is a private duty, it requires a private place; and perfonal faft ing a fecret duty, it requires a fecret place; according to the caution given us by our Saviour, Matth. vi. 18. That thou appear not unto men to faft, but unto thy Father which is in fecret.
III. Abftinence is included in the nature of the thing; abftinence from meat and drink, and all bodily pleafures whatfoever, as well as ceafing from worldly bufinefs. The Jews are taxed for finding pleafure, and exacting their labours in the day of their fast, Ifa. lviii. 3. A time of religious fafting, is a time for one's afflicting his foul, verfe 5. by denying himfelf even thofe lawful comforts and delights, which he may freely ufe at other times: Exod. xxiii. 4. The people-mourned, and no man did put on him his orna. ments Dan. ix. 3. I fet my face unto the Lord God, to feek by prayer, and fupplications, with fafting, and fackcloth, and afbes. 1 Cor. vii. 5. Defraud ye one the other, except it be with confent for a time, that ye may give yourfelves to fafting and prayer.
The rule for abftinence from meat and drink, cannot be the fame as to all: for fafting, not being a part of worship, but a means to difpofe and fit us for extraordinary worshipping, is to be ufed only as helping thereto; but it is certain, that what measure of it would be helpful to fome for that end, would, be a great hinderance to others. Wherefore weak
ly perfons, whom total abftinence would disfit and indifpofe for duty, are not called to faft at that rate: in their cafe, that faying takes place, Hof. vi. 6. I defired mercy, and not facrifice. Yet ought they not in that cafe, to indulge themselves the use of meat and drink, with the fame freedom as at other times; but to use a partial abftinence, altering the quantity or quality of them, or both, fo as they may thereby be afflicted, as the fcripture expreffeth it, Lev. xxiii. 29. So Daniel in his mourning, Dan. x. 3. ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine
into his mouth.
Mean while, all thefe things are but the outward fhell of thefe duties: the internal and substantial part of them, lies in the following spiritual exercifes.
- I. Serious meditation, and confideration of our ways, Hag. i. 5. Such times are to be fet apart from converfing with the world, that we may the more folemnly commune with our own heart, as to the ftate of matters between God and us. In them we are diligently to review our past life, search and try our ways, Lam. iii. 45. And we are to fearch out our fins, by a forrowful calling to remembrance the fins of our heart and life; and that, as particularly as we can and so search into them, by a deep confideration of the evil of them, and of their aggravations, the light, love, mercies, and warnings, we have finned againft; tracing them up to the fin of our nature, the impoifoned fountain, froni whence they have all proceeded. And the more fully and freely we converfe with ourselves upon them, we will be the more fit to speak unto God anent them, in confeffion and pleading for pardon.
2. Deep humiliation of foul before the Lord; the which was fignified by the fackcloth and ashes ufed under the law, on fuch occafions. The confideration of our ways is to be purfued, till our foul be humbled