ON THE GREAT FAST OF A CHRISTIAN
Consider first, that the great and general fast of a Christian is to abstain from sin. This fast obliges all sorts of persons, young and old, sick and healthy, at all times and in all places. To pretend to fast, and yet to go on in wilful sin, is a mockery rather than a fast. What were the Pharisees the better for their fasting, while their souls were corrupted with pride, covetousness, malice, and hypocrisy? Did not God reject the fast of the Jews, (Isaias lviii.) because on the days of their fasting, they continued to provoke him by their customary sins? And will he be better pleased with us, if we in pretending to fast are guilty of the like disorders? No certainly. If then we would fast to the purpose, ‘Let the wicked man forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and then he will have mercy upon him.’ Isaias lv. 7.
Consider 2ndly, that the true Christian fast should not only put a restraint upon the sensual appetite, in point of eating, but also extend itself to a more general mortification of every one of the senses and faculties, in and by which, we have been liable to intemperance or excess. The eyes, the ears, the tongue, and so of all the rest, ought likewise to fast from curiosity, sensuality, vanity, carnal pleasures, idle conversations, theatrical shows, and other worldly and sensual diversions unbecoming a serious Christian penitent at all times, but much more so on days of fasting. But especially we are warned, Isaias lviii. 3, on the days of our fasting, to fast from our own will, humour, and passion, as that which of all things is the most opposite to the fast which God hath chosen. O my soul, see thou take good notice of this lesson; beware lest thou break thy fast, by indulging self-will, pride, and passion.
Consider 3rdly, and weigh well the description given by the prophet Isaias, ch. lviii., of the fast that is acceptable to the Lord, and of its happy effects in the soul. ‘Is not this,’ said the Lord, 'the fast that I have chosen? Loose the bands of wickedness - and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house; when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear, &c., if thou wilt take away the chain out of the midst of thee, and cease to keep that which is good for nothing. Then thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise up in darkness: and the Lord will give thee rest continually, and fill thy soul with brightness: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain whose waters shall not fail.’
Conclude ever to make it the great business of thy fast to break thy bonds asunder, and to put away from thee the chains of sin, and then, by exercising works of mercy, thou thyself shalt be entitled to mercy, and to all that is good.