Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
Abstinence from food, more particularly that abstinence which is used on a religious account. The Jews had every year a stated and solemn fast on the 1-th day of the month Tisri, which generally answered to the close of our September. This solemnity was a day of strict rest and fasting to the Israelites. Many of them spent the day before in prayer, and such like penitential exercises. On the day itself, at least in later times, they made a tenfold confession of their sins, and were careful to end all their mutual broils.
See Leviticus 16:1-34 : Numb. 29: 7, 12. Leviticus 23:23; Leviticus 23:32 . Individuals also fasted on any extraordinary distress. Thus David fasted during the sickness of his adulterous child, 2 Samuel 12:21 . Ahab, when he was threatened with ruin, 1 Kings 12:27 . Daniel, when he understood that the Jewish captivity drew to an end, 9th and 10th chapters of Nehemiah, Joshua, &c. However light some think of religious fasting, it seems it has been practised by most nations from the remotest antiquity. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Assyrians, had their fasts as well as the Jews. Porphyry affirms that the Egyptians, before their stated sacrifices, always fasted a great many days; sometimes for six weeks.
The Greeks observed their fasts much in the same manner. At Rome, kings and emperors fasted themselves. Numa Pompilius, Julius Czsar, Augustus, Vespasian, and others, we are told, had their stated fast days; and Julian the apostate was so exact in this observation, that he outdid the priests themselves. The Pythagoreans frequently fasted rigidly for a long time; and Pythagoras, their master, continued his fast, it is said, for forty days together. The Brachmans, and the Chinese, have also their stated fasts. Every one knows how much fasting has been considered as an important rite in the church of Rome, and the extremes they have run into in this respect.
See article ABSTINENCE. The church of England also has particular seasons for fasting, especially that of Lent, which is to be observed as a time of humiliation before Easter, the general festival of our Saviour's resurrection. Fast days are also appointed by the legislature upon any extraordinary occasions of calamity, war, &c.
See art. ROGATION, LENT. Religious fasting consists,
1. "In abstinence from every animal indulgence, and from food, as far as health and circumstances will admit.
2. In the humble confession of our sins to God, with contrition or sorrow for them.
3. An earnest deprecation of god's displeasure, and humble supplication that he would avert his judgments.
4. An intercession with God for such spiritual and temporal blessings upon ourselves and others which are needful." It does not appear that our Saviour instituted any particular fast, but lift it optional. Any state of calamity and sorrow, however, naturally suggests this.
The propriety of it may appear,
1. From many examples recorded in Scripture.
2. By plain and undeniable inferences from Scripture, Matthew 7:16 .
3. From divine commands given on some occasions, though there are no commands which prescribe it as a constant duty.
4. It may be argued from its utility.
The end or uses of it are these.
1. A natural expression of our sorrow.
2. A help to devotional exercises.
3. Keeping the body in subjection.
4. May be rendered subservient to charity. How far or how long a person should abstain from food, depends on circumstances. The great end to be kept in view is, humiliation for, and abstinence from sin. "If, " says Marshall, "abstinence divert our minds, by reason of a gnawing appetite, then you had better eat sparingly, as Daniel in his greatest fast, " Daniel 10:2-3 . They, however, who in times of public distress, when the judgments of God are in the earth, and when his providence seems to call for humiliation, will not relinquish any of their sensual enjoyments, nor deny themselves in the least, cannot be justified; since good men in all ages, more or less, have humbled themselves on such occasions; and reason as well as Scripture evidently prove it to be our duty, Matthew 9:15 . 1 Corinthians 7:5 . Bennet's Christ. Orat. vol. 2: p. 18, 25; Tillotson's Sermons, ser. 39; Simpson's Essay on Feasting; Marshall on Sanc. p. 273, 274.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Fasting'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/f/fasting.html. 1802.