ON RELIGIOUS FEASTING.
Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, d» all to the glory of Cod. 1 Cor. x» 31.
A SINNER, considered as such, is not only destitute and incapable of spiritual blessings, but has forfeited all right to the comforts, and even the necessaries, of the present life. It is of mere mercy that he is permitted to breathe the air, or walk upon the Vol. II. P
ground. But Jesus the Saviour has not only brought Jife and immortality to light, and opened the kingdom of Heaven to all who believe in his name ; but he has removed, in their favour, the curse which sin had entailed upon the lower creation. And now, to them, every creature of God is Good, and nothing to be refused, if received with thankfulness and moderation ; for all is sanctified to their use by the word of God, and prayer. But these, which, in distinction from the communications of his grace, we call common mercies, are equally derived from his bounty, and the effects of his mediation.
" He sunk beneath our heavy woes,
" To raise us to a throne ;
" There's not a gift his hand bestows,
" But cost his heart a groan."
We are therefore bound by gratitude, as well in the ordinary actions of life, as in those of the most importance, whether we eat or drink, to do all with a regard to his love, and with a view to his g'ory.
It is to be feared, that this apostolic rule is too much disregarded by many professors of the Gospel. However they may seem to differ from the world, by a stated and orderly attendance upon the ordinances, they are not easily distinguished upon many other occasions ; particularly at their meals. The people of the world can scarcely exceed them in the cost, care, profusion, and variety with which their tables are covered. I am willing to allow some regard to a person's situation in life ; but perhaps the excess is more frequently observeable among people in trade, or, as we say, in middling circumstances, than at the tables of the opulent. A friend of mine, since desceased, told me, that, when he was a young man, he once dined with the late Dr. Butler, at that time bishop- of Durham ; and though the guest was a man of fortune, and the interview by appointment, the provision was no more than a joint of meat and a pudding. The bishop apologized for his plain fare, by saying, " that it was his " way of living ; that he had been long disgusted " with the fashionable expense of time and money " in entertainments, and was determined that it " should receive no countenance from his example." The ceconomy of this truly venerable prelate was not the effect of parsimony ; for I have been assured, that though he was some time possessed of the princely revenue of Durham, he might be said to die poor, leaving little more money than was necessary to discharge his debts, and pay for his funeral. But we may accommodate to him, what the apostles said of themselves on another occasion, " He did not think it meet to leave the word of " God, and to serve tables." And at the tables of some gentlemen of very respectable characters and affluent fortunes, who do me the honour to notice me, I have often seen little more that I should have thought it right to have had at my own, if they had favoured me with their company. It is at least certain, that the waste and parade of which I complain, are by no means confined to those, who,, according to the common phrase, can best afford it.
When ministers of the Gospel are invited, they may sometimes have reason to suppose, that some part of the apparatus they meet with, may be intended as a mark of regard and attention to them ; and it has the appearance of ingratitude to blame our friends for their kindness : but some of us would be better pleased to be treated less sumptuously, and in a way more comformable to the simplicity of our Christian profession. We would not wish to be considered as avowed epicures, who cannot dine w«U without a variety of delicacies : and if we could suppose that such c<fct and variety were designed to remind us how much better we fare abroad than at home, we might rather think it an insult than a compliment. I have known, in families where there is no professed house keeper, the mistress of the house has been, like Martha, too much encumbered with cares and anxieties in making preparation for her friends. They could not see her so soon as they have wished, and when she appeared, she could not wholly conceal the discomposure she has felt from some unexpected incident, which has more or less disconcerted the projected arrangement of her feast. Such things may be common amonc those who live without God in the world ; but they should be carefully avoided by those who make a profession, that whether they eat or drink, they do all for his glory. Often we cannot avoid the thought—" this dish, unnecessary in itself, " or unnecessarily expensive, might have been well " spared, and the money given to the poor ;" for there is not a day, in which some of the dear people of God do not find a difficulty in providing bread for their children.
Perhaps there is no one circumstance in the history of our Saviour so little laid to heart, so generally overlooked, by those who acknowledge hinj as their Master and their Lord, as that state of poverty to which he submitted while upon earth. He had no home, he had not a piece of silver to pay the tribute-money : He was hungry when he went to the fig-tree : and when he sat, like a weary, obscure traveller, by the well-side, he was thirsty ; he asked for a little water, and seemed upon the point of being refused. He wrought no miracle solely for his own relief ; but he felt for the necessitous, and miraculously fed them by thousands ; not with dainties, which would have been equally easy to him, but finding a few loaves and fishes
amongst them, he satisfied their wants without changing their diet. Yea, after his resurrection, when he had taken possession of all power and authority both in heaven and in earth, he condescended to dine withhis disciples upon broiled fish and bread, which he likewise provided for them. Alas ! the rich followers of this poor Saviour have more reason to be ashamed of their gorgeous apparel, their fine houses, their elegant furniture, and their splendid entertainments, than to value themselves upon such trifles ! They are un-. avoidable appendages to persons in some situations ; but, I believe, they who have drank deeply into our Lord's spirit, account them rather burdens than benefits. f
I know several persons, whose ability to do much more in this way, if they pleased, than they do, is not disputed ; and whose acknowledged benevolence and bounty secure them from the suspicion of being restrained by covetousness. I have often wished that a number of these would form themselves into a society, for the express and avowed purpose of discountenancing, by their example and influence, that sinful, shameful conformity to the world, which spreads like a gangrene, is the reproach of the Gospel, and threatens the utter extinction of vital religion in multitudes who profess it.
But this religious feasting is peculiarly scandalous and abominable, when it is celebrated on the Lord's day. Some professors are not ashamed to say, they are so taken up with business through the course of the week, that they have no other day in which they can see their friends. But, my dear reader, if you are a man of business, and fear the Lord, I hope you speak very different language. 1 hope you can say, " I *' am indeed necessarily and closely engaged in business a for the six days: but I bless God for the gracious ap^" pointment of a day of rest, which sets me free for " one day, at least, from the snares and cares of the " world, gives me an opportunity of recruiting my " spiritual strength by private and public atttendance " upon the Lord, and affords me a little time to at" tend to the state of my children and servants. " I " love my friends ; but if my business will not permit " me to see them at other times, it is better for me " not to see them at all, than to be interrupted in the " improvement of my privileges on the Lord's day."
But they who then choose to meet in troops, and feed themselves without fear, will still have something to plead. They are all professors, they do not visit the people of the world, nor receive visits from them —They manage so as to hear two good Gospel sermons in the day, and perhaps have a hymn and a prayer after dinner into the bargain—though they go well filled to the evening worship, they are far from being intoxicated. Will they say, Is there any harm in this ? Ask their servants, for whom they are responsible, and who have as good a right as themselves to worship the Lord on his own day. But the poor servants are perhaps more harassed and fatigued on the Lord's day that} on any other day of the week. If they still say, " What harm ? let me only appeal to your own consciences : Is this " to eat and drink to the glory of God ?" If you can persuade yourselves to think so, I pity you, but know not what answer to return.