HOMILY ON GOOD WORKS: AND FIRST OF FASTING
AN HOMILIE OF GOOD
Workes. And first of Fasting.
THE life which wee liue in this world (good Christian people) is of the free benefit of GOD lent vs, yet not to vse it at our pleasure, after our owne fleshly will: but to trade ouer the same in those works which are beseeming them that are become new creatures in Christ. These workes the Apostle calleth good workes, saying, We are GODS workemanship, created in Christ Iesu to good workes, which GOD hath ordained that wee should walke in them (Ephesians 2.10). And yet his meaning is not by these words, to induce vs, to haue any affiance, or to put any confidence in our workes, as by the merite and deseruing of them to purchase to our selues and others remission of sin, and so consequently euerlasting life, for that were mere blasphemie against GODS mercy, and great derogation to the bloodshedding of our Sauiour Iesus Christ. For it is of the free grace and mercie of GOD, by the meditation of the blood of his Sonne Iesus Christ, without merite or deseruing on our part, that our sinnes are forgiuen vs, that we are reconciled and brought againe into his fauour, and are made heires of his heauenly kingdome. Grace (saith S. Augustine) belonging to GOD, who doth call vs, and then hath hee good workes, whosoeuer receiued grace (Augustine, `De Diver. Questio. ad Simpli.', bk. 1, quest. 28). Good works then bring not forth grace: but are brought forth by grace. The wheele (saith he) turneth round, not to the end that it may be made round: but because it is first made round, therefore it turneth round. So, no man doth good works, to receiue grace by his goodworkes: but because hee hath first receiued grace, therefore consequently he doth good workes. And in another place hee saith (Augustine, `De Fide et Operibus', chap. 4): good workes goe not before in him which shall afterward be iustified, but good works doe follow after when a man is first iustified. S. Paul therefore teacheth, that wee must doe good workes for diuers respects. First, to shew our selues obedient children vnto our heauenly Father, who hath ordained them, that we should walke in them. Secondly, for that they are good declarations and testimonies of our iustification. Thirdly, that others seeing our good workes, may the rather by them be stirred vp and excited to glorifie our Father which is in heauen. Let vs not therefore be slacke to doe good workes, seeing it is the will of GOD that we should walke in them, assuring our selues that at the last day, euery man shall receiue of God for his labour done in true faith, a greater reward then his workes haue deserued. And because somewhat shall now be spoken of one particular good worke, whose commendation is both in the Law and in the Gospel: thus much is said in the beginning generally of all good workes. First, to remoue out of the way of the simple and vnlearned, this dangerous stumbling blocke, that any man should goe about to purchase or buy heauen with his workes. Secondly, to take away (so much as may be) from enuious minds, and slanderous tongues, all iust occasion of slanderous speaking, as though good workes were reiected. This good worke which now shall be entreated of, is Fasting, which is found in the Scriptures to be of two sorts. The one outward, pertaining to the body, the other inward, in the heart and mind. This outward Fast, is an abstinence from meat, drinke, and all naturall food, yea, from all delicious pleasures and delectations worldly. When this outward Faste perteineth to one particular man, or to a fewe, and not the whole number of the people, for causes which hereafter shalbe declared, then it is called a priuate fast: But when the whole multitude of men, women and children, in a Towneshippe or citie, yea, though a whole countrey do fast, it is called a publique fast. Such was that fast which the whole multitude of the children of Israel were commanded to keepe the tenth day of the seuenth moneth, because almightie God appointed that day to bee a clensing day, a day of atonement, a time of reconciliation, a day wherein the people were cleansed from their sinnes. The order and manner how it was done, is written in the. xvi. and xxiii. Chapters of Leuiticus (Leviticus 16.29-30, 23.27-32).
That day the people did lament, mourne, weepe, and bewaile their former sins. And whosoeuer vpon that day did not humble his soule, be wailing his sinnes, as is said, abstaining from all bodily foode, vntill the euening, that soule, (saith the almightie GOD) should be destroyed from among his people. Wee doe not reade that Moses ordeined, by order of law, any dayes of publique fast throughout the whole yeere, more then that one day. The Iewes notwithstanding had more times of common fasting, which the Prophet Zacharie reciteth to bee the fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seuenth, and the fast of the tenth moneth (Zachariah 8.19). But for that it appeareth not in the Lawe when they were instituted, it is to bee iudged, that those other times of fasting, more then the fast of the seuenth moneth, were ordained among the Iewes by the appointment of their gouernours, rather of deuotion, then by any expresse commandement giuen from GOD. Upon the ordinance of this generall fast, good men tooke occasion to appoint to themselues priuate fastes, at such times as they did either earnestly lament and bewaile their sinfull liues, or did addict themselues to more feruent prayer, that it might please GOD to turne his wrath from them, when either they were admonished and brought to the consideration thereof by the preaching of the Prophets, or otherwise when they saw present danger to hang ouer their heades. This sorrowfulnesse of heart, ioyned with fasting, they vttered sometime by their outward behauiour and gesture of body, puting on sackecloth, sprinckeling themselues with ashes and dust, and sitting or lying vpon the earth. For when good men feele in themselues the heauie burden of sinne, see damnation to bee the reward of it, and behold with the eye of their minde the horrour of hell, they tremble, they quake, and are inwardly touched with sorrowfulnesse of heart for their offences, and cannot but accuse themselues & open this their griefe vnto Almighty GOD, and call vnto him for mercy. This being done seriously, their minde is so occupied, partly with sorrow and heauinesse, partly with earnest desire to bee deliuered from this danger of hell, and damnation, that all desire of meate and drinke is layd apart, and lothsomenesse of all worldly things and pleasures commeth in place, so that nothing then liketh them more, then to weepe, to lament, to mourne and both with wordes and behauiour of body, to shew themselues weary of this life. Thus did Dauid fast, when hee made intercession to Almighty GOD for the childes life, begotten in adultery of Bethsabe Vrias wife. King Achab fasted after this sort, when it repented him of murdering of Naboth, bewayling his owne sinfull doings. Such were the Nineuites fast, brought to repentance by Ionas preaching. When fourty thousand of the Israelites were slaine in battaile against the Beniamites, the scripture saith All the children of Israel, and the whole multitude of the people went to Bethel, and sate there weeping before the Lord, and fasted all that day till night (Judges 20.26). So did Daniel, Hester, Nehemias, and many others in the old Testament fast. But if any man will say, it is true, so they fasted in deede, but we are not now vnder that yoke of the law, we are set at liberty by the freedome of the Gospel: therefore those rites & customes of the old law bind not vs, except it can be shewed by the Scriptures of the new Testament, or by examples out of the same, the fasting now vnder the Gospel, is a restraint of meat, drink, and all bodily food and pleasures from the body, as before. First, that we ought to fast, is a truth more manifest, then that it should here neede to bee prooued, the Scriptures which teach the same, are euident. The doubt therefore that is, is whether when we fast, wee ought to withhold from our bodies all meate and drinke during the time of our fast, or no? That we ought so to doe, may bee well gathered vpon a question mooued by the Pharisees to Christ, and by his answere againe to the same. Why (say they) doe Iohns disciples fast often, and pray, & we likewise? but thy disciples eat and drinke, & fast not at all (Luke 5.33). In this smoothe question, they couch vp subtilly this argument or reason: Who so fasteth not, that man is not of GOD. For fasting and prayer are workes both commended and commanded of GOD in his Scriptures, and all good men, from Moses till this time, aswell the Prophets as others, haue exercised themselues in these workes. Iohn also and his disciples at this day doe fast oft, and pray much, and so doe we the Pharisees in like maner: But thy disciples fast not at all, which if thou wilt denie, wee can easily prooue it. For whosoeuer eateth and drinketh, fasteth not. Thy disciples eate and drinke, therefore they fast not. Of this we conclude (say they) necessarily, that neither art thou, nor yet thy disciples, of GOD. Christ maketh answere, saying, Can yee make that the children of the wedding shall fast, while the bridegrome is with them? The dayes shall come, when the bridegrome shall bee taken from them: In those dayes shall they fast. Our Sauiour Christ, like a good master, defendeth the innocencie of his disciples against the malice of the arrogant Pharisees, and prooueth that his disciples are not guilty of transgressing any iote of GODS Law, although as then they fasted, and in his answere reprooueth the Pharisees of superstition and ignorance. Superstition, because they put a religion in their doings, and ascribed holinesse to the outward worke wrought, not regarding to what end fasting is ordeined. Of ignorance, for that they could not discerne betweene time and time. They knew not that there is a time of reioycing and mirth, and a time againe of lamentation and mourning, which both he teacheth in his answere, as shalbe touched more largely hereafter, when we shall shew what time is most fit to fast in.
But here, beloued, let vs note, that our Sauiour Christ, in making his answere to their question, denied not, but confessed that his disciples fasted not, and therefore agreeth to the Pharisees in this, as vnto a manifest trueth: that who so eateth and drinketh, fasteth not. Fasting then, euen by Christs assent, is a withholding of meate, drinke, and all naturall foode from the body, for the determined time of fasting. And that it was vsed in the primitiue Church, appeareth most euidently by the Chalcedon councell, one of the foure first generall councels. The fathers assembled there, to the number of 630. considering with themselues how acceptable a thing fasting is to GOD, when it is vsed according to his word: Againe, hauing before their eyes also the great abuses of the same crept into the Church at those dayes, through the negligence of them which should haue taught the people the right vse thereof, and by vaine gloses, deuised of men: to reforme the sayd abuses, and to restore this so good and godly a worke, to the true vse thereof, decreed in that councell, that euery person aswell in his priuate as publique fast, should continue all the day without meate and drinke, till after the Euening prayer. And whosoeuer did eate or drinke before the Euening prayer was ended, should be accounted and reputed not to consider the puritie of his fast. This Canon teacheth so euidently how fasting was vsed in the primitiue Church, as by words it cannot be more plainely expressed.
Fasting then, by the decree of those sixe hundred and thirty fathers, grounding their determination in this matter vpon the sacred Scriptures, and long continued vsage or practise, both of the Prophets and other godly persons, before the comming of Christ, and also of the Apostles and other deuout men in the new Testament, is, a withholding of meate, drinke, and all naturall foode from the body, for the determined time of fasting. Thus much is spoken hitherto, to make plaine vnto you what fasting is. Now hereafter shall be shewed the true and right vse of fasting.
Good workes are not all of one sort. For some are of themselues and of their owne proper nature alwayes good: as to loue GOD aboue all things, to loue thy neighbour as thy selfe, to honour thy father and mother, to honour the higher powers, to giue to euery man that which is his due, and such like. Other workes there bee, which considered in themselues, without further respect, are of their owne nature meerly indifferent, that is, neither good nor euill, but take their denomination of the vse or ende whereunto they serue. Which workes hauing a good end, are called good workes, and are so in deede: but yet that commeth not of themselues, but of the good end whereunto they are referred. On the other side; if the end that they serue vnto, bee euill, it can not then otherwise bee, but that they must needes bee euill also. Of this sort of workes, is fasting, which of it selfe is a thing meerely indifferent: but it is made better or worse by the ende that it serueth vnto. For when it respecteth a good ende, it is a good worke: but the ende being euill, the worke it selfe is also euill. To fast then with this perswasion of minde, that our fasting, and our good workes, can make vs perfect and iust men, and finally, bring vs to heauen: this is a diuelish perswasion, and that fast is so far of from pleasing GOD, that it refuseth his mercy, and is altogether derogatory to the merites of Christs death, and his pretious bloodshedding. This doeth the parable of the Pharisee and the Publicane teach. Two men (sayth Christ) went vp together into the Temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, the other a Publicane: The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himselfe: I thanke thee, O GOD, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, vniust, adulterers, and as this publicane is, I fast twise in the weeke, I giue tithes of all that I possesse. The Publicane stood a farre of, and would not lift vp his eyes to heauen, but smote his brest, and said, GOD bee mercifull to me a sinner (Luke 18.10-13). In the person of this Pharisee, our Sauiour Christ setteth out to the eye, and to the iudgement of the world, a perfect, iust, and righteous man, such a one as is not spotted with those vices that men commonly are infected with, extortion, bribery, polling and pilling their neighbour, robbers and spoylers of common weales, crafty, & subtile in chopping and changing, vsing false weightes, and detestable periury in their buying and selling, fornicators, adulterers, & vicious liuers. The Pharisee was no such man, neither faulty in any such like notorious crime. But where other transgressed by leauing things vndone, which yet the Lawe required: this man did more then was requisite by the Law. For hee fasted thrise in the weeke, and gaue tithes of all that hee had. What could the world then iustly blame in this man? yea, what outward thing more could bee desired to be in him, to make him a more perfect and a more iust man? Truely nothing by mans iudgement: And yet our Sauiour Christ preferreth the poore Publicane without fasting before him with his fast. The cause why hee doeth so, is manifest. For the publicane hauing no good workes at all to trust vnto, yeelded vp himselfe vnto GOD, confessing his sinnes, and hoped certainely to bee saued by GODS free mercie onely. The Pharisee gloried, and trusted so much to his workes, that he thought himselfe sure ynough without mercy, and that hee should come to heauen by his fasting and other deeds. To this end serueth that parable. For it is spoken to them that trusted in themselues, that they were righteous, and despised other. Now because the Pharisee directeth his worke to an euill ende, seeking by them iustification, which in deede is the proper worke of GOD, without our merites, his fasting twise in the weeke, and all his other workes, though they were neuer so many, and seemed to the world neuer so good and holy, yet in very deede before GOD they are altogether euill and abominable. The marke also that the Hypocrites shoote at with their fast, is, to appeare holy in the eye of the world, and so to winne commendation and praise of men. But our Sauiour Christ sayth of them, they haue their reward, that is, they haue prayse and commendation of men, but of GOD they haue none at all (Matthew 6.2). For whatsoeuer tendeth to an euill end, is it selfe, by that euill end, made euill also. Againe, so long as wee keepe vngodlinesse in our hearts, & suffer wicked thoughts to tarry there, though we fast as oft as did either S. Paul, or Iohn Baptist, and keepe it as straightly as did the Niniuites: yet shall it bee not only vnprofitable to vs, but also a thing that greatly displeaseth Almighty GOD. For he sayth, that his soule abhorreth and hateth such fastings, yea they are a burden vnto him, and he is weary of bearing them (Isaiah 1.13-14). And therefore hee enueieth most sharpely against them, saying by the mouth of the Prophet Esay, Behold, when you fast, your lust remaineth still, for doe ye no lesse violence to your debtters. Loe, ye fast to strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickednesse. Now ye shall not fast thus, that you may make your voice to be heard aboue. Thinke yee this fast pleaseth me, that a man should chasten himselfe for a day? should that bee called a fasting, or a day that pleaseth the Lord (Isaiah 58.3-5)? Now dearely beloued, seeing that Almighty GOD alloweth not our fast for the works sake, but chiefely respecteth our heart how it is affected, & then esteemeth our fast either good or euill by the end that it serueth for: it is our part to rent our hearts, & not our garments as we are aduertised by the Prophet Ioel, that is, our sorrow and mourning must bee inward in heart, and not in outward shew onely (Joel 2.12-13), yea, it is requisite that first before all thinges, wee cleanse our heartes from sinne, and then to direct our fast to such an end as GOD will allowe to be good.
There bee three endes, whereunto if our fast bee directed, it is then a worke profitable to vs, and accepted of GOD. The first is, to chastise the flesh, that it be not too wanton, but tamed and brought in subiection to the spirit. This respect had Saint Paul in his fast, when he sayd, I chastice my body, and bring it into subiection, lest by any meanes it commeth to passe, that when I haue preached to other, I my selfe be found a castaway (1 Corinthians 9.27).
The second, that the spirit may be more earnest and feruent to prayer. To this end fasted the Prophets and teachers that were at Antioch, before they sent foorth Paul and Barnabas to preach the Gospel (Acts 13.2-3). The same two Apostles fasted for the like purpose, when they commended to GOD, by their earnest prayers, the congregations that were at Antioch, Pvsidia, Iconium, and Lystra, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 14.21-23).
The third, that our fast bee a testimonie and witnesse with vs before GOD, of our humble submission to his high maiesty, when we confesse and acknowledge our sinnes vnto him, and are inwardly touched with sorrowfulnesse of heart, bewayling the same in the affliction of our bodies. These are the three ends, or right vses of fasting. The first belongeth most properly to priuate fast. The other two are common, aswell to publike fast, as to priuate: and thus much for the vse of fasting. Lord haue mercy vpon vs, and giue vs grace, that while wee liue in this miserable world, we may through thy helpe bring forth this, and such other fruites of the spirit, commended and commanded in thy holy word, to the glory of thy Name, and to our comforts, that after the race of this wretched life, we may liue euerlastingly with thee in thy heauenly kingdome, not for the merits and worthinesse of our workes, but for thy mercies sake, and the merites of thy deare Sonne Iesus Christ, to whom with thee & the Holy Ghost, be all laud, honour, and glory, for euer and euer. Amen.
THE SECOND PART OF THE HOMILY OF FASTING.
IN the former Homilie (beloued) was shewed, that among the people of the Iewes, fasting as it was commanded them from God by Moses, was to abstaine the whole day, from morning till night, from meat, drink, & all maner of food, that nourisheth the body, & that whoso tasted ought before the euening, on the day appointed to fasting, was accounted among them a breaker of his fast. Which order, though it seemeth strange to some in these our dayes, because it hath not been so generally vsed in this Realme of many yeeres past: yet that it was so among Gods people (I meane the Iewes) whom before the comming of our Sauiour Christ, GOD did vouchsafe to chuse vnto himselfe, a peculiar people aboue all other nations of the earth, and that our Sauiour Christ so vnderstood it, and the Apostles after Christs ascension did so vse it, was there sufficiently prooued by the testimonies and examples of the holy Scriptures, aswell of the new Testament, as of the old. The true vse of fasting was there also shewed. In this second part of this Homilie shalbe shewed, that no constitution or Law made by man, for things which of their owne proper nature be meere indifferent, can binde the conscience of Christian men to a perpetuall obseruation and keeping thereof, but that the higher powers haue full liberty to alter and change euery such law and ordinance, either Ecclesiasticall or Politicall, when time and place shall require. But first an answere shall be made to a question that some may make, demanding what iudgement wee ought to haue of such abstinences as are appointed by publike order and Lawes made by Princes, and by the authority of the Magistrates, vpon policy, not respecting any Religion at all in the same. As when any Realme in consideration of the maintayning of fisher townes bordering vpon the seas, and for the encrease of fisher men, of whom doe spring Mariners to goe vpon the sea, to the furnishing of the nauie of the Realme, whereby not onely commodities of other countries may bee transported, but also may be a necessary defence to resist the inuasion of the aduersary.
For the better vnderstanding of this question, it is necessary that wee make a difference betweene the policies of Princes, made for the ordering of their common weales, in prouision of things seruing to the most sure defence of their subiects and countreyes, and betweene Ecclesiasticall policies, in prescribing such workes, by which, as secondary meanes, GODS wrath may be pacified, and his mercy purchased. Positiue lawes made by Princes, for conseruation of their policie, not repugnant vnto GODS Law, ought of all Christian subiects with reuerence of the Magistrate to bee obeyed, not onely for feare of punishment, but also (as the Apostle saith) for conscience sake. Conscience I say, not of the thing which of it owne nature is indifferent: but of our obedience, which by the Law of GOD wee owe vnto the Magistrate, as vnto GODS minister. By which positiue lawes, though wee subiects for certaine times and dayes appointed, bee restrained from some kindes of meates and drinke, which GOD by his holy word hath left free to bee taken and vsed of all men with thankesgiuing in all places, and at all times: yet for that such lawes of Princes and other Magistrates are not made to put holinesse in one kinde of meate and drinke more then another, to make one day more holy then another, but are grounded meerely vpon policie, all subiects are bound in conscience to keepe them by GODS commandement, who by the Apostle willeth all without exception, to submit themselues vnto the authority of the higher powers. And in this point concerning our dueties which be here dwelling in England, enuironed with the sea as we be, we haue great occasion in reason to take the commodities of the water, which almighty GOD by his diuine prouidence hath layd so nigh vnto vs, whereby the encrease of victuals vpon the land may the better be spared and cherished, to the sooner reducing of victuals to a more moderate price, to the better sustenance of the poore. And doubtlesse hee seemeth to be too dainty an Englishman, who considering the great commodities which may ensue, will not forbeare some piece of his licentious appetite vpon the ordinance of his Prince, with the consent of the wise of the Realme. What good English heart would not wish that the old ancient glory should returne to the Realme, wherein it hath with great commendations excelled before our dayes, in the furniture of the Nauie of the same? What will more daunt the hearts of the aduersaries, then to see vs well fenced and armed on the sea, as we be reported to be on the land? If the Prince requested our obedience to forbeare one day from flesh more then we doe, and to bee contented with one meale in the same day, should not our owne commodity thereby perswade vs to subiection? But now that two meales bee permitted on that day to bee vsed, which sometime our Elders in very great numbers in the Realme did vse with one onely spare meale, and that in fish onely: shall we thinke it so great a burthen that is prescribed?
Furthermore, consider the decay of the townes nigh the seas, which should be most ready by the number of the people there to repulse the enemie, and we which dwell further off vpon the land, hauing them as our buckler to defend vs, should bee the more in safetie. If they be our neighbours, why should we not wish them to prosper? If they be our defence as nighest at hand to repell the enemie, to keepe out the rage of the seas which els would breake vpon our faire pastures, why should we not cherish them? Neither doe we vrge that in the Ecclesiasticall policie, prescribing a fourme of Fasting, to humble our selues in the sight of almighty GOD, that that order which was vsed among the Iewes, and practised by Christes Apostles after his ascension, is of such force and necessitie, that that onely ought to bee vsed among Christians, and none other, for that were to binde GODS people vnto the yoke and burthen of Moses policie, yea, it were the very way to bring vs which are set at libertie by the freedome of Christs Gospel, into the bondage of the Law againe, which GOD forbid that any man should attempt or purpose. But to this end it serueth, to shew how farre the order of fasting now vsed in the Church at this day, differeth from that which then was vsed. GODS Church ought not, neither may it be so tyed to that or any other order now made, or hereafter to be made and deuised by the authoritie of man, but that it may lawfully for iust causes, alter, change, or mitigate those Ecclesiasticall decrees and orders, yea, recede wholy from them: and breake them, when they tend either to superstition, or to impietie, when they draw the people from GOD, rather then worke any edification in them. This authoritie Christ himselfe vsed, and left it to his Church. He vsed it I say: For the order or decree made by the Elders for washing oft times, which was diligently obserued of the Iewes, yet tending to superstition, our Sauiour Christ altered and changed the same in his Church, into a profitable Sacrament, the Sacrament of our regeneration or new birth. This authoritie to mitigate lawes and decrees Ecclesiasticall, the Apostles practised, when they, writing from Ierusalem vnto the congregation that was at Antioch, signified vnto them that they would not lay any further burthen vpon them, but these necessaries: that is, that they should abstaine from things offered vnto idoles, from blood, from that which is strangled, and from fornication, notwithstanding that Moses law required many other obseruances (Acts 15.20). This authoritie to change the orders, decrees, and constitutions of the Church, was after the Apostles time vsed of the Fathers about the manner of fasting, as it appeareth in the Tripartite history, where it is thus written (`Tripartite History,' bk. 9, chap. 38): Touching fasting, we finde that it was diuersly vsed in diuers places by diuers men. For they at Rome fast three weekes together before Easter, sauing vpon the Saturdayes and Sundayes, which fast they call Lent. And after a few lines in the same place, it followeth: They haue not all one vniforme order in fasting. For some doe fast and abstaine both from fish and flesh. Some when they fast, eate nothing but fish. Others there are, which when they fast, eate of all water foules, aswell as of fish, grounding themselues vpon Moses, that such foules haue their substance of the water, as the fishes haue. Some others when they fast, will neither eate hearbs nor egges. Some fasters there are, that eate nothing but drye bread. Others when they fast, eate nothing at all, no not so much as dry bread. Some fast from all maner of foode till night, and then eate, without making any choice or difference of meates. And a thousand such like diuers kindes of fasting may bee found in diuers places of the world, of diuers men diuersly vsed (Eusebius, bk. 5, chap. 24). And for all this great diuersitie in fasting, yet charitie the very true bond of Christian peace was not broken, neither did the diuersitie of fasting breake at any time their agreement and concord in faith. To abstaine somtime from certaine meates, not because the meates are euill, but because they are not necessary, this abstinence (saith Saint Augustine) is not euill (Augustine, `Dogma. Ecclesiast.', chap. 66). And to restraine the vse of meates when necessary and time shall require, this (saith he) doth properly pertaine to Christian men.
Thus yee haue heard, good people, first that Christian subiectes are bound euen in conscience to obey princes lawes, which are not repugnant to the Lawes of GOD. Ye haue also heard that Christes Church is not so bound to obserue any order, law, or decree made by man, to prescribe a fourme in religion: but that the Church hath full power and authoritie from GOD, to change and alter the same, when neede shall require, which hath beene shewed you by the example of our Sauiour Christ, by the practise of the Apostles, and of the fathers since that time.
Now shall be shewed briefly what time is meete for fasting, for all times serue not for all things: but as the wise man saith, All things haue their times. There is a time to weepe, and a time againe to laugh, a time to mourne, and a time to reioyce. &c (Ecclesiastes 3.1, 4). Our Sauiour Christ excused his disciples, and reprooued the Pharisees, because they neither regarded the vse of fasting, nor considered what time was meete for the same. Which both he teacheth in his answere, saying, The children of the mariage cannot mourne, while the bridegrome is with them (Matthew 9.15). Their question was of fasting, his answere is of mourning, signifying vnto them plainely that the outward fast of the body, is no fast before GOD, except it be accompanied with the inward fast, which is a mourning and a lamentation of the heart, as is before declared. Concerning the time of fasting, he saith, The dayes will come, when the bridegrome shall be taken from them, in those dayes they shall fast. By this it is manifest, that it is no time of fasting while the mariage lasteth, and the bridegrome is there present. But when the mariage is ended, and the bridegrome gone, then is it a meete time to fast (Luke 5.34-35, Matthew 6). Now to make plaine vnto you what is the sense and meaning of these words, Wee are at the mariage, and againe, The bridegrome is taken from vs: Ye shall note, that so long as GOD reuealeth his mercy vnto vs, and giueth vs of his benefites, either spirituall or corporall, wee are sayd to be with the bridegrome at the mariage. So was that good olde father Iacob at the mariage, when hee vnderstood that his sonne Ioseph was aliue, and ruled all Egypt vnder king Pharao. So was Dauid in the mariage with the bridegrome, when he had gotten the victory of great Goliah, and had smitten off his head. Iudith and all the people of Bethulia were the children of the wedding, and had the bridegrome with them, when GOD had by the hand of a woman slaine Holofernes, the grand captaine of the Assyrians host, and discomfited all their enemies. Thus were the Apostles the children of the mariage while Christ was corporally present with them, and defended them from all dangers, both spirituall and corporall. But the mariage is said then to bee ended, and the bridegrome to be gone, when Almighty GOD smiteth vs with affliction, and seemeth to leaue vs in the middest of a number of aduersities. So GOD sometime striketh priuate men priuately with sundry aduersities, as trouble of mind, losse of friendes, losse of goods, long and dangerous sicknesses, &c. Then is it a fit time for that man to humble him selfe to Almighty GOD by fasting, and to mourne and to bewaile his sinnes with a sorrowfull heart, and to pray vnfainedly, saying with the Prophet Dauid, Turne away thy face, O Lord, from my sinnes, and blot out of thy remembrance all mine offences (Psalms 51.9). Againe, When GOD shall afflict a whole region or countrey with warres, with famine; with pestilence, with strange diseases and vnknowen sicknesses, and other such like calamities: then is it time for all states and sortes of people, high and low, men, women, and children, to humble themselues by fasting, and bewaile their sinfull liuing before GOD, and pray with one common voyce, saying thus, or some other such like prayer. Bee fauourable O Lord, be fauourable vnto thy people, which turneth vnto thee, in weeping, fasting, and praying, spare thy people whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood, and suffer not thine inheritance to bee destroyed and brought to confusion. Fasting thus vsed with prayer, is of great efficacie, and waigheth much with GOD. So the angel Raphael told Tobias. It also appeareth by that which our Sauiour Christ answeared to his disciples, demanding of him why they could not cast foorth the euill spirit out of him, that was brought vnto them. This kinde (saith hee) is not cast out but by fasting and prayer. How auaileable fasting is, how much it waieth with GOD, and what it is able to obtaine at his hand, can not better bee set foorth, then by opening vnto you, and laying before you some of those notable things that haue beene brought to passe by it. Fasting was one of the meanes whereby Almighty GOD was occasioned to alter the thing which hee had purposed concerning Ahab, for murdering the innocent man Naboth, to possesse his vineyard. GOD spake vnto Elia, saying: Goe thy way and say vnto Ahab, Hast thou killed, and also gotten possession? Thus sayth the Lord, In the place where dogges licked the bloud of Naboth, shall dogges euen licke thy bloud also. Behold, I will bring euill vpon thee, and will take away thy posteritie (1 Kings 21.27-29): Yea, the dogges shall eat him of Ahabs stocke that dieth in the city, and him that dieth in the field shall the foules of the ayre eate. This punishment had Almighty GOD determined for Ahab in this world, and to destroy all the male kinde that was begotten of Ahabs body, besides that punishment which should haue happened vnto him in the world to come. When Ahab heard this, he rent his clothes, and put sackecloth vpon him, and fasted, and lay in sackecloth, and went barefooted. Then the word of the Lord came to Elia, saying, seest thou how Ahab is humbled before me? Because he submitteth himselfe before me, I will not bring that euill in his dayes, but in his sonnes dayes will I bring it vpon his house. Although Ahab through the wicked counsell of Iesabel his wife had committed shamefull murder, and against all right disinherited and dispossessed for euer Nabothes stocke of that vineyard: yet vpon his humble submission in heart vnto GOD, which hee declared outwardly by putting on sackecloth and fasting, GOD changed his sentence, so that the punishment which hee had determined, fell not vpon Ahabs house in his time, but was deferred vnto the dayes of Ioram his sonne. Heere we may see of what force our outward fast is, when it is accompanied with the inward fast of the mind, which is (as is sayd) a sorrowfulnes of heart, detesting and bewayling our sinfull doings. The like is to be seene in the Nineuites: For when GOD had determined to destroy the whole city of Nineue, and the time which he had appointed, was euen now at hand, hee sent the Prophet Ionas to say vnto them: yet forty dayes, and Nineue shall be ouerthrowen. The people by and by beleeued GOD, and gaue themselues to fasting, yea, the King by the aduice of his counsell, caused to bee proclaimed saying, Let neither man nor beast, bullocke nor sheepe taste any thing, neither feed nor drinke water: But let man and beast put on sackecloth, and crie mightily vnto GOD, yea, let euery man turne from his euill way, and from the wickednesse that is in their hands. Who can tell if GOD will turne and repent, and turn away from his fierce wrath, that we perish not (Jonah 3.4-9)? And vpon this their hearty repentance, thus declared outwardly with fasting, renting of their clothes, putting on sackecloth, and sprinkling themselues with dust and ashes, the Scripture saith, God saw their works that they turned from their euill waies, & God repented of the euill that he had sayd that he would do vnto them, and he did it not. Now beloued, yee haue heard first what fasting is, aswell that which is outward in the body, as that which is inward in the heart. Ye haue heard also that there are three ends or purposes, whereunto if our outward fast be directed, it is a good worke that GOD is pleased with. Thirdly hath beene declared, what time is most meet for to fast, either priuately or publikely. Last of all, what things fasting hath obtayned of GOD, by the examples of Ahab and the Nineuites. Let vs therefore dearely beloued, seeing there are many more causes of fasting and mourning in these our dayes, then hath beene of many yeeres heeretofore in any one age, endeuour our selues both inwardly in our hearts, and also outwardly with our bodies, diligently to exercise this godly exercise of fasting, in such sort and manner, as the holy Prophets, the Apostles, and diuers other deuout persons for their time vsed the same. GOD is now the same GOD that he was then. GOD that loueth righteousnesse, and that hateth iniquity, GOD which willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he turne from his wickednesse and liue, GOD that hath promised to turne to vs, if we refuse not to turne to him: yea, if we turne our euill workes from before his eyes, cease to doe euill, learne to doe well, seeke to doe right, releeue the oppressed, be a right iudge to the fatherlesse, defend the widow, breake our bread to the hungry, bring the poore that wander into our house, clothe the naked, and despise not our brother which is our owne flesh: then shalt thou call (sayth the Prophet) and the Lord shall answer, thou shalt crie, and hee shall say, heere am I: Yea, GOD which heard Ahab and the Nineuites, and spared them, will also heare our prayers, and spare vs so, that we after their example, will vnfaynedly turne vnto him: yea, he will blesse vs, with his heauenly benedictions the time that we haue to tarrie in this world, and after the race of this mortall life, he will bring vs to his heauenly kingdome, where we shall reigne in euerlasting blessednes with our Sauiour Christ, to whom with the Father and the holy Ghost, bee all honour and glory for euer and euer, Amen.
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