[from The Reformation Advocate, Vol. I, No. 1, March 1874, pp. 104-107.]
[Causes of Fasting.]
The moral law, revealed in the Bible, is the only supreme and infallible rule of human conduct in individual and social life. It is a revelation of the preceptive will of God. It is the province of the church, through her officers, to interpret and apply this law to individuals, and to society. In making a faithful application of the divine law, however, the church must also have “understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” Her ministry should invite others to “come and see.” (Rev. 6:1-7.) The opening of the seals―the evolution of the purpose of God―is a work assigned to the exalted Mediator. Often times the providences seem to conflict with the word of God; and this seeming conflict has always tried and illustrated the patience and the faith of his saints. The family, the church, and the state are the integral parts of divinely organized society. In attempting to ascertain the relation of these to God’s law, we may readily find manifold causes of deep humiliation before him.
I. Ignorance of God, by neglecting to search the Scriptures, is a fruitful source of irreligion in families. Hence free love, polygamy, desertion, divorce, cruelty by parents to their children, and disobedience to parental authority. The morning and evening sacrifices are not offered unto God in most Christians families. The need of divine help is not felt by parents, and therefore they know not how to rule their own houses: nor are they moved with fear to the saving of their houses by the awful threat in answer to believing prayer, “Pour out thy fury… upon the families,” &c. Jer. 10:25.
II. The foregoing sins and crimes, with many others, are tolerated by the church. With the full cognizance and connivance of her rulers, individuals and families live and act as heathens, while admitted to all covenant privileges. On the one side, parents who are sinfully ignorant of the provisions―the very matter of the covenant of grace―ask and boldly demand an application of its seals to themselves and to their children: and on the other side, the office-bearers too readily comply, both parties seeming to rest in the outward ceremony, disregarding the substance.
In most churches the terms of communion are essentially defective, but even these are generally overlooked in practice. The solemn vows of parents made when presenting their children for baptism, and renewed at the Lord’s table, are soon forgotten and wholly disregarded. Those church guides who change their ecclesiastical relations from caprice or mercenary motives, cannot consistently exercise discipline for breach of covenant while they themselves are guilty of a similar transgression. “It is a snare to a man to devour that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry:” but this species of perjury has almost ceased to be viewed as sinful among most denominations. Hence the confounding of truth and error, of human inventions with divine institutions, the rage for union without sound principle, and the prevalence of the form, without the power of godliness. This disregarding of moral principle is often manifested in the unjust transfer of church property. Part of a congregation, having relinquished their standards and broken covenant with God and with their brethren, elope into another fellowship, carry the property with them, and the robbery is sanctioned by the judicatories of the body to which the covenant-breakers accede. Such transactions have been reprobated by heathens, and betray the low condition of godliness and honesty in the community.
The decline of vital piety is further indicated by the lavish expenditure on edifices for worship, their decorations without and within, their artistic embellishments by statuary, painting, and music, to attract the opulent and repel the poor, whom Christ especially contemplates in the gospel message. Such are the carnal appliances of the Romish harlot (Rev. 17:4), against which Protestant Christendom lifted a public testimony for centuries; but to which most churches evidently incline to return. For these symptoms of backsliding, leading towards apostasy, we should mourn.
III. The nations of this world continue to maintain their attitude of hostility to the Lord and his Anointed. They still break their bands, and cast their cords from them. And while crowned heads and princes are chief in this trespass, the people love to have it so. The policy of all nations in Christendom, however different the internal elements of their respective frames of government, is to ignore the sovereignty of the Mediator, the obligation of his law, and the claims of his church. Those who bear civil rule and those whom they represent, are everywhere harmonious in this impious conspiracy. And it is to be specially deplored, that some who are under solemn covenant to testify against the indignities offered to Immanuel, begin to waver in their ranks, seeming to be in doubt whether or not this conspiracy may acquire legitimacy when it assumes a republican aspect! Of this tendency we have such palpable and lamentable evidence in the New American Covenant, as to leave no intelligent inquirer liable to deception. And although the document is formally ecclesiastical, it is framed in evident adaptation to contemplated civil relations.
IV. Moreover, while most of the European nations have to some extent withdrawn allegiance to the Man of Sin, yet they appear to be as much indisposed as heretofore to enter into alliance with the Lamb. They still give their strength unto the civil beast.
Idolatry, ritualism, profane swearing, desecration of the Sabbath, insubordination, murder, suicide, drunkenness, uncleanness, perjury, embezzlements,—these transgressions of every precept of the divine law, with many others, and some of them perpetrated within the church and by reputed ministers of the gospel, disclose how little impression the Christian religion has made on surrounding society; and call for fasting, and prayer.
CAUSES OF THANKSGIVING.
In the worst of times God’s people are never left without causes of thankfulness. The divine call is, “In everything give thanks.”
I. The Father’s best and unspeakable gift, a mighty and willing Saviour, is freely offered to us in the gospel, and we still enjoy the ordinary means of grace and salvation in the word, sacraments, and prayer, and these in scriptural purity. And although manifold expedients and persistent efforts are made to counteract our influence and stifle our testimony, yet the Lord has permitted and hitherto enabled us to witness for our own and our father’s Covenants from the pulpit and the press. For this privilege, amidst detraction and reproach, we are called to thank God and take courage.
II. In the overruling providence of him who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working, the effect of the Papal council has been to weaken rather than to strengthen the influence of the Romish apostasy. The Old Catholics, as they are called, constitute a considerable rampart which tends to neutralize the thunderse of the Vatican. The German empire also has erected bulwarks of defence against the assaults of the Man of Sin, and hitherto with signal success. Other nations and states, by the law of self-preservation, are curbing the power and repressing the insolence of Popery within their dominions. Thus a way is opened up for the more free and extensive diffusion of the Sacred Scriptures and the preaching of the gospel, that Christ may be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel.
III. We have a special call to thank and praise our covenant God, who has thus far “given us a nail in his holy place,” and of late “a little reviving in our bondage,” by the accession of two congregations, which have been organized by a Commission of Presbytery, one in Butler Co., Pa., and the other in Rochester, New York.
IV. The earth has yielded her increase in this and other lands. While some of our guilty race have been visited with famine on the Asiatic continent, we of this western hemisphere are abundantly supplied with the products of the earth, the bountiful rewards of the husbandman’s labour for the subsistence of man and beast. “I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens; and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel.” Thus in answer to believing prayer, he crowns the year with goodness, and all his paths drop down fatness.
The 4th Thursday of November was appointed for thanksgiving, and the last Thursday of February, 1875, a day of fasting, by the commission of Presbytery.