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Bible Dictionaries

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary


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There seems to have been a disposition in all men, and from the earliest ages of antiquity, to testify a somewhat of sorrow in the mind in all abstinence, at certain times, and upon certain occasions, from food, by way of punishment for sin. Indeed, real and unfeigned sorrow of the heart will of itself naturally induce abstinence. For let a man be supposed to return from his labour with a keen appetite, and let it be supposed, that some one meets him at the door of his house with any evil tidings, his child or some beloved friend is dead, or himself threatened with some adversity; we know that the sudden relation of such, or the like calamities, will have an immediate effect to check the propensity of hunger. But whether the first observance of fasts had their origin in those feelings of nature, I would not presume to say; yet certain it is, the very mind of man since the fall hath always leaned to somewhat of doing, or suffering, by way of propitiation for the sins and transgressions of nature. We find this principle very general in the history of mankind. The Jews were very tenacious of their fast days; so were, and so are, the Musselmen of the Turks; and so are modern Christians, who observe the ritual of the form, more than regard the power of godliness. No one can doubt, who knows any thing of the human frame and character, that every individual by nature feels in himself a disposition to enter into a compromise or commutation with God; and if the Lord would but relax in certain demands which are enforced, he shall have offerings, of another kind by way of compensation or atonement. The cry of the heart in that sinner the prophet Micah speaks of, is the cry of every man's heart, more or less, however differently expressed in the various languages of the earth. "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression; the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" (Micah 6:6-7) But the grand question in relation to fasts is, What saith the word of God concerning them? We certainly do not read any thing in the divine appointment of fasts before the days of Moses, and in the patriarchal age. And under the law, excepting the solemn day of atonement, there are no express precepts on the subject. That the people of God set apart days and seasons for the affliction of the soul is most certain, and this by divine command, (Leviticus 23:27; Lev 23:29) but the reader will be careful to observe, that there is a wide distinction between the sorrow of soul and the fasting of the body. It is concerning fasts we are now speaking; and the subject is, what authority do they derive for observance in Scripture? When holy men of old were, in their hallowed seasons, mourning over the sins of fallen nature, no doubt the bodies were neglected, in numberless instances, in refusing to take food. Indeed, when the soul is absorbed in grief, the body will feel but little inclination to meat. Joshua and the elders of Israel fell upon their faces before the ark, and put dust upon their heads, when the men of Ai had a momentary triumph over Israel. (Joshua 7:6) David fasted in the case of his child's sickness. (2 Samuel 12:16) And the apostle Paul, in the time of his conversion, was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. (Acts 9:9) But all these, and many others of a similar kind, were effects from predisposing causes, in which fasting became involuntary, and not enjoined.

Our blessed Lord gives directions how fasts are to be observed, with an eye to the gracious improvement of them, but hath not appointed any particular seasons for their observance. (See Matthew 6:16-18) From whence arose the long ritual in the Romish church, and the special season of Ember Weeks, and the Wednesdays and Fridays in every week, and the vigil before every saint's day, and the whole of Lent, it is difficult to say. But while men of no religion, and strangers to vital godliness, may, and will take up with the outside of piety, and abstain from their ordinary food on fast days, and glut the appetite with dainties on feast days; the great question still again recurs, what can we gather from the word of God of instruction in relation to fasting? I answer in the words of the apostle, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Romans 4:17)

The life of a truly regenerated believer in Christ, is at all times, and upon all occasions, a life of abstinence and self-denial. Every child of God well knows from his own experience, arising from a body of sin and death that he carries about him, that fleshly lusts of every kind war against the soul; that it is impossible to be too strict in abridging every species of indulgence in the body; and that pampering the flesh, is only causing that flesh to rebel. Hence, therefore, he desires to observe a perpetual fast in things pertaining to the body, that through grace he may put on the Lord Jesus Christ, "making no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lust thereof." (Romans 13:14) But after the most rigid observance of humblings in the body, it is the distinguishing character of a truly regenerated believer in Christ, that neither by fastings, nor prayers, nor alms-deeds, nor offerings, no, nor the whole observance of outward or inward things, can poor fallen man recommend himself to God. Well is it for the faithful follower of Jesus, that He, the glorious High Priest of our profession, "beareth away the iniquity of our most holy things." (Exodus 28:38) Our fast sins, our prayer sins, our ordinance sins, all need the cleansing laver of his blood to take away, and but for this there could be no acceptation of our persons, but the holy jealousy of the Lord in the midst of fasting, prayer and humiliation, might consume us on our very knees.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hawker, Robert D.D. Entry for 'Fasting'. Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance and Dictionary. London. 1828.

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