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From the whole then of what hath been faid, it appears, that Religious Abftinence is a Practice very 'fit to be encouraged in the Chriftian Church. For what if our Saviour hath not bound it upon us as an indifpenfible Law? Is it not enough that he hath recommended it to us as expedient in its Season; and that in the Nature and Reason of the Thing it appears to be an Inftrument serving to an holy Life? It was upon these Accounts that the Apoftles took it up immediately after his Departure; and that it became a Part of the Difcipline of the Church in the pureft Ages (from whence it has been continued ever fince) to fet apart certain Days and Seafons in the Year, as Times of Fafting; that Chriftians might not want frequent Calls and Admonitions to retire from the Bufinefs and Pleafures of the World, and to give themselves up to Religious Exercises. It is certain that Popery has grafted many Superftitions upon this Practice; but this is not a Reason why the Practice fhould be laid afide. It was the Wisdom of our Reformers to diftinguish the Good from the Bad; to pare off thofe Excrefcences which had grown out by Time, and were the Effects of a fickly and diftemper'd State of Religion; but cautiously to withold their Hands from touching any Thing, the Want of which would diminish from its Perfection and Comeliness. In this View it was, that the Order of Fafting was preferved in our Church. That it is little attended to, is owing, not to the Virtues of the Times, but, to a general Decay of Religion; a warmer Senfe whereof till it fhall please God to raise up among us, there can be little Hopes that Fafting will recover its ancient Efteem. Nor would I propofe the Practice of the ancient Church, in all the Circumstances of it, as a Pattern for all Ages. The Abftinences of the firft Chriftians were frequent and fevere; and it muft be faid, that there was great Need of them, when the Church being liable to conftant Perfecutions, an uncommon Degree of Fortitude and Mortification to the World was necessary for their Support. But if the
Severities of Abftinence are not always neceffary, the Thing itself will be always ufeful and proper, in a Degree fuitable to our Conditions and Circumftances. And if fo much Regard (at least) were paid to our Seasons of Abftinence (that of Lent in particular) that you should see Chriftians referved in their Divertions, and frequent in their Attendance upon the publick Duties of Religion (which used to be the Way in more reasonable Times) as this would be fhewing a decent Refpect to publick Authority, fo there can be no Doubt but Mankind would be confiderably the better for it.
I am next to confider our yearly Fefti vals; which were taken up (as our Fafts originally were) from the like Ufages among the Jews. To what Purpose, our Laws will beft thew which tells us, it was to call Men to the REMEMBRANCE of Almighty God's great BENEFIT S— And in Remembrance hereof, to render unto HIM most high and hearty Thanks, with Prayers and Supplications for the Relief of all our daily Neceffities. It is added, That the Times appointed Specially for thefe Works, are called HOLY DAYS for the Nature and Condition of thofe HOLY WORKS wherewith God is to be bonoured, and the Congregation to be edified, whereunto fuch Times and Days are fantified and hallowed, that is to fay, Separated from all profane (or common) Ujes, and dedicated and appointed NOT UNTO ANY SAINT OR CREATURE, but ONLY unto God, and his true Wor ship. From thefe Words we may obferve, that (in the Intention of our first Reformers) Holy Days are not fet apart in Honour of THE SAINTS, confidered as Objects of Religious Adoration; but, to the Honour of GoD, whom we praife and bless for his Mercies, vouchsafed to us by his Saints; whofe Lives are set before us as Enfamples of Virtue and Godliness, And in this Spirit it is, that all our publick. Prayers on uch Occafions, are drawn up, as every one must have 5, 6 Edw. VI,
obferved, who has read over the Common-Prayer Book with an ordinary Care. Some Chriftians object against this, because it is not commanded. To which I answer, That a divine Precept was in no wife neceffary. For in appointing Festivals, the Church only provides us with Opportunities for the Exercise of Publick Worship; with this Circumftance of Diftinction peculiar to thofe Days, that our Prayers are then directed to be offered up under the fpecial Remembrance of fuch Mercies, or in View of fuch Examples as, if confider'd, will quicken our Piety, and help to make us the better Chriftians. And what is there in this that Men should condemn, or which God will not approve? You will fay, perhaps, that St. Paul blames the Galatians for obferving Days, and Months and Times, and Years. So he does: But pray mind how this Charge is introduced. Now after ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn yè again to the weak and beggarly Elements, whereunto ye defire again to be in Bondage? The obferving thefe Days, and Months, and Times, and Years, you fee, was confidered by the Apoftle as turning again to that State of Bondage from which the Gofpel had fet them free; i. e. as a turping again to Judaism; as appears by comparing ver. 3 and 5. of this Chapter; where, to be under the Elements of the World, (which he here calls weak and beggarly) and to be under the Law, are ufed as Expreffions importing one and the fame Thing. Therefore the Feftivals, by the Obfervance of which they must be understood as returning to the Law could not be Chriftian Festivals, but were Jewish Feftivals. To obferve a Jewish Feftival out of Confcience to that Festival, was to declare the Law of Mofes Aill in Force; and mixing Judaism with the Religion of the Gospel. This was what fome Teachers preffed upon the Chriftians of thofe Times, but which the Apofile condemns as an Encroachment upon their Liberty in Chrift. But furely the obferving Days fet apart in Memory of Chrift, or in Memory of an A• Gel. iv. 10,
poftle (if there were any fuch Festivals of fo early a Date) could not import a returning to the Law; nor can any good Account be given why the Apostle fhould have treated them as weak and beggarly Things. The Jewish Rites were, by the Apostle, termed aveak and beggarly, confidered as appertaining to that COVENANT which was weak and beggarly in Comparison to that Covenant of which CHRIST was the Mediator. But a Cuftom borrow'd from the Jewish Worship, and adapted by Chrift into his own Worship, is no longer to be confider'd as appertaining to the Oeconomy of Mofes, but as appertaining to the Oeconomy of Chrift. Therefore the Obfervance of fuch a Cuftom cannot be understood as a returning back to the Law of Moses; for it is obferved not as the Law of Mofes, but as the Law of Chrift. I fay, as the Law of Chrift. For though Chrift directly commanded them not, yet fo long as there is in them a natural Tendency to fet forward the Faith and Piety of the Gofpel, and fo long as they are obferved not as Kewisk, but as useful and profitable Cuftoms; they are virtually Chriff's Law, by that general Maxim of the Gofpel (which is alfo a Maxim of common Senfe) that all Things should be done to Edification.
No Objection then can lie against the Obfervation of Christian Festivals upon the Foot of Scripture Authority; nor yet upon the Foot of Reason, confider'd as directing us to Things in themselves useful and protable. But if, inftead of attending to thofe good Effects which fuch Appointments ought in Reafon to produce; we will confider only thofe bad ones of which they are many Times made the Occafion, great Prejudices may be raised against them. That our holy Seafons are, by many, turn'd into Seasons of Licentiousness and Excels, is a notorious and a fhameful Truth; which gives a Handle, which those who diflike this Part of our Establishment, never fail to make the most of. But let the Objection reft, where it ought to reft; not upon the Appointments themfelves, but, upon those who are guilty of fuch Abufes.
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