Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXXIV.: Of Fasting. Part 2. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXXIV.: Of Fasting. Part 2. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743) 
The Independent Whig: or, a Defence of Primitive Christianity, And of Our Ecclesiastical Establishment, against The Exorbitant Claims and Encroachments of Fanatical and Disaffected Clergymen. The Seventh Edition, with Additions and Amendments (London: J. Peele, 1743). Vol. 2.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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Wednesday,September 7. 1720.
IN my 27th Paper, I have made a Dissertation upon Fasting: In this I shall continue it.
Monsieurde Fontenelle, in his History of Oracles, tells us, from Philostratus, that the Oracle of Amphiaraus in Attica delivered its Answers in Dreams; and that those who consulted it, must first fast well in order to dream well: But when Fasting failed to produce a Frensy of Brain, and by it the Meaning of the God, who had no other way of ascending into the Head, but upon the Fumes arising from empty Bowels; then the Priest helped his Master to bring forth a Dream, by wrapping up the devout Querist in the Skins of Victims, which being rubbed and impregnated with intoxicating Drugs, disposed him to dream most divinely, and filled his Noddle with very hopeful Prophecy. This satisfied the believing Querist, saved the Credit of the God, and brought pretty Offerings to his Vicar.
Such Use did the Pagan Priests make of the Duty of Fasting; and that the Romish Priests have perverted it to as wicked and deceitful Purposes, I have shewn in another Paper. It is agreeable to their Cunning, and their Avarice, to make the People poor and mad; and it must be owned a pretty priestly Art, that of driving Men out of their Estates, and their Understandings, with their own Consent; and leading them into a Belief, that Starving is a Duty, and Lunacy is Grace.
By the Law of Nature, we are not obliged to fast at all, unless in the way of Physic, when we are ill, through an Over-fulness of the Vessels, or any other Disorder, which may be removed or lessened by Abstinence. In this Case, we ought to fast for our Health-sake; and whatever is necessary for Self-relief, or Self-preservation, becomes also a Duty, and a Piece of Natural Religion, when it does not contradict a positive Law of God. But to abstain, upon certain Days, from the comfortable Use of God’s good Creatures, which ought to be received with Thankfulness, out of a vain Pretence to please him, or to promote our own Salvation, is a strange and barbarous Chimera, which the Law of Nature abhors; and can be the Effect of nothing but Distraction in the People, or Craft in the Priests. We might as rationally imagine, that going naked at certain severe Seasons of the Year, would draw us nearer Heaven; and that the afflicting our Skins with Frost and Snow would do great Service to our shivering Souls; and that though Self-preservation be an essential Law of Nature, yet Self-destruction is also an essential Law of Nature.
Fasting, therefore, being no Part of the Law of Nature, the Jewish Law of Ceremonies, which is abolished, cannot make it a Duty: And for the Examples of Fasting, taken from the Prophet Daniel, and other holy Men of the Old Testament; they were either voluntary, such as any one may perform when he is in a fasting Humour, which nobody pretends to restrain; or they were the Effect of Sorrow, when Grief had destroyed Appetite, and then there was no Devotion in them; or they were extraordinary and supernatural, and being inimitable, cannot be necessary. Miraculous Fasting cannot be a Duty, where the Gift of Miracles is not given.
As to the New Testament, there is not a stated Fast appointed in it: We are indeed commanded to fast and pray; but we are no-where told how much, or how often, we are to do either; but are left to chuse proper Occasions, and proper Inclinations, for doing both. St. Paul is such a generous Advocate for Liberty of this Kind, that he condemns all those who condemn others for taking it: Let not, says he, him that eateth, despise him that eateth not: And let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth; for God hath received him. One Man esteemeth one Day above another: Another esteemeth every Day alike. Let every Man be fully persuaded in his own Mind (Rom. ch. xiv. ver. 3, and 5.). The same Spirit of Charity, and the same good-natured rational Advice, runs through the whole Chapter.
The Institution of Lent was founded upon our Saviour’s Fast of Forty Days in the Wilderness; as if weak impotent Mortals could imitate the Omnipotent Son of God, in Works done by Divine Power only! They might as well pretend to walk upon the Sea once a Year, or to raise the Dead at all times: Besides, our Saviour performed this Fast but once, and his Apostles never, as far as we know. Once a Twelve-month you must keep Lent, is not a Gospel Precept.
No Society, therefore, of Men can injoin any Time, or Measure, of Fasting (except where the Law directs the same) without departing from the Gospel, contradicting St. Paul, and setting up their own Authority in Defiance of both the Gospel and the Saint. Such an Injunction would be impracticable, and even cruel. To many Constitutions it might be dangerous, and even fatal; and to all Men it would render Life wretched and burdensome. The good God has no-where commanded frail Men to worship him with Pain and Sickness of Body, nor to hasten their own. Death by the Means of their Devotion. This would be to represent him as delighting in human Misery, and human Sacrifices; a sort of Worship suitable to the terrible Spirit of Moloch, or any other Demon, but no wife acceptable to the God of Mercy, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Popish Priests know well, that it is intirely impossible, that all Men should comply with this their Discipline of Hunger; and perhaps that very Impossibility is their best Reason for maintaining it. It is certain, that from hence they draw vast Gain, by hiring out Dispensations for Eating on the Days of Fasting; and the Lucre which they make by breaking the Canon, is an unanswerable Argument for defending it. No Man is denied the Privilege of breaking Lent, who can pay for breaking it. He who cannot fast at all, may, for a competent Fee, eat Fish, which is a more luxurious Diet than Flesh; and he who cannot fast upon Fish, may, for a more competent Fee, fast upon a Belly-full of Roast-beef; which, tho’ a chaster sort of Food than Fish, is more strictly forbidden by that Church.
Indeed, such are the vast Fees arising to the Popish Church, from Licences for a Liberty to eat, when it is a Duty to fast, that the whole Institution of Fasting there, seems only a religious Roguery, design’d for starving the People, to feed the Priests. For myself, I think the Parson has so little to do with this Matter, that I do not think, that any Direction ought to be taken about Fasting, but from our Constitution, or our Physician. If it be our Duty to fast on certain Days, no Tribe of Priests can dispense with the Pleasure and the Laws of Almighty God; though it is a Task which (for Money) they never refuse: And if it be not our Duty, it is insolent and wicked in them to command what neither God nor Nature requires; and it is in us a Sin and a Folly to obey them. Even the Protestant Priests, long since the Reformation, have known how to make the right Use of this Power. I myself have seen several formal Dispensations, signed by Archbishop Sheldon, under the Archiepiscopal Seal, to license the eating of Flesh in Lent; which Dispensations, I presume, were not granted without Application and Fees.
Religion is a voluntary Thing; it can no more be forced than Reason, or Memory, or any Faculty of the Soul. To be devout against our Will, is an Absurdity; and it is ridiculous in others to hope to make us so, in spite of ourselves. We have no Power over the Appetites of others, no more than over their Consciences. Neither a Man’s Mind, nor his Palate, can be subject to the Jurisdiction of another; and whoever takes upon him to regulate one’s Throat and Stomach, and direct one how much to swallow, may (with equa Reason) assume Dominion over the other Offices of Nature, and dictate how much one ought to discharge. If Fasting be good and pious, because it afflicts and mortifies the Human Spirit and Frame; a Surfeit, or a Debauch, or a Kick on the Guts, or a broken Leg, must be good and pious, for the same Reason, if given or taken with the same View.
As Fasting ought to be left to every Man’s Discretion, because every Man is the best Judge of his Constitution and his Conscience, so ought it to be exercised with exceeding Care and Caution; otherwise it will be apt to sour our Tempers, or disorder our Heads, and probably do both. Now, neither Ill-nature, nor Enthufiasm, is any-wife related to true Religion; far otherwise, they are the greatest Enemies which it has. A bitter Spirit, and a raving Brain, may be occasioned or increased by Fasting; but Christianity never produces them, nor owns them. We may fast ourselves into Peevishness, and call it Christian Zeal; and into the Vapours, and call the Wind in our Heads, Inspiration. But, by all this, we only shew, that we know nothing, at least, possess nothing, either of Inspiration or Zeal.
But the same immoderate Fasting does not only render People whimsical and passionate, and has consequently helped to give Birth to many ridiculous and uncharitable Principles of Divinity, which have infatuated and inflamed Mankind; but it also creates narrow Thoughts, and an abject Poorness of Spirit; and renders the Mind prone to Delusion and Slavery. It is manifest, that a moderate Use of the Blessings and Enjoyments of Life, of which Eating and Drinking are not the least, has a wonderful Tendency to create or improve a good and beneficent Disposition of Heart; which, in my Opinion, is as absolutely necessary to Devotion, as to good Neighbourhood. I can never think, that Ill-nature, or Baseness of Mind, can be an acceptable Oblation to the Wise and Merciful God; or that Religion should command what common Sense forbids. I must own, I am always best pleased after a good Meal, and therefore best disposed to love God and my Neighbour, which is the Sum of both Tables: I feel, at the same Juncture, the Love of Liberty, and the Spirit of Whiggism, strongest in me. And if Eating and Drinking makes us thus bold for our Constitution, let us, we beseech you, in the Name of Public-spirit, promote moderate Eating and Drinking.
It is a Principle in Politics, that a happy People will never bear a tyrannical Prince: He must therefore make his Subjects wretched, before he can make himself absolute. And this Principle holds equally true, in the Business of Church Dominion. The Laity must be Fools, before they can think the Priests to be Oracles; and they must be Slaves, before they can think the Priests to be Lords. Here then is an unanswerable Reason, taken from the standing Rules of Ecclesiastical Polity, why the Lay-Beasts of the People, as Mr. Lesley kindly calls us, should be always kept sensless, always starving. I would therefore intreat all my loving Countrymen, that, as they love their Liberty, and the Protestant Religion, they would love their Victuals.