Friday 31 May 2013

The Puritans were Committed to Fasting

"Committed to what?" some may ask as they read this blog post. I must confess that as I write this bite-size article that my doubting thoughts are that many people will probably not be stirred by such a theme as fasting. However, is that a biblical reaction? The Puritans were committed to fasting during the English Civil War when many "fast days" were called and held by the Westminster Assembly. They must have sensed the urgency of the situation and the spiritual plight of the land at that time. It is not surprising to think of the impact of puritan teachings which are eagerly read over 300 years later which would have been bathed in fasting conjoined with prayer. Could we learn a lesson from these spiritual giants?

In Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day", solemn fastings are part of the ordinary worship of God. Additionally in Question 108 in The Larger Catechism, religious fasting is included as part of our duties required in the second commandment. However, what of scripture? Does the New Testament warrant the ongoing practice of fasting for Christians?

In Matthew chapter 6 on "The Sermon on the Mount", the Lord Jesus taught the following: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you, Matthew 6:16–18".

Note the phrase "when you fast" does not read "if you fast". It is anticipated that the people of God will pray, give and also fast, though there is no explicit reference to the frequency. Fasting is referenced in the Book of Acts also:

13:2 the elders in the church at Antioch sought the Lord with fasting
13:3 Paul and Barnabas were sent out with prayer and fasting
14:23 elders were chosen and installed with prayer and fasting

All Christians are invited to fast but there appears to be a special emphasis placed on God's elders to appropriate fasting to their prayer, especially in connection with making important decisions.

May we join in fasting and prayer for the good of Christ's church, for labourers to be thrust forward into the harvest field (Matthew 9:38-39), for the propagation of the gospel and for a spiritual awakening so that our Lord may restore the fortunes of Zion (Psalm 126).

1 comment:

Talldaisydenise said...

Very affirming little post. I want to recapture this discipline in my spiritual/devotional life with the Lord. The WCF reference is helpful. Thank you.