But then care must be taken, lest out of this freedom [from fasting and abstinence] there grows a lazy indifference about killing the wantonness of the flesh; for the roguish [son of] Adam is exceedingly tricky in looking for permission for himself, and in pleading the ruin of the body or of the mind; so some men jump right in and say it is neither necessary nor commanded to fast or to mortify the flesh, and are ready to eat this and that without fear, just as if they had for a long time had much experience of fasting, although they have never tried it. [Martin Luther – A Treatise on Good Works XXI ].
But that there maybe no error in the name, let us define what fasting is; for we do not understand by it simply a restrained and sparing use of food, but something else. The life of the pious should be tempered with frugality and sobriety, so as to exhibit . . . a kind of fasting during the whole course of life. But there is another temporary fast, when we retrench somewhat from our accustomed mode of living, either for one day or a certain period, and prescribe to ourselves a stricter and severer restraint in the use of that ordinary food.
This consists in three things — viz. the time, the quality of food, and the sparing use of it. By the time I mean, that while fasting we are to perform those actions for the sake of which the fast is instituted. For example, when a man fasts because of solemn prayer, he should engage in it without having taken food. The quality consists in putting all luxury aside, and, being contented with common and meaner food, so as not to excite our palate by dainties. In regard to quantity, we must eat more lightly and sparingly, only for necessity and not for pleasure. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 12:18].
I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too. For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law.
I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honour fasting; for the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works! Is it said by what kind of works? If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him! If thou seest an enemy, be reconciled to him! If thou seest a friend gaining honour, envy him not! If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!
In regard, then, to the discipline of which we now treat, whenever supplication is to be made to God on any important occasion, it is befitting to appoint a period for fasting and prayer. Thus when the Christians of Antioch laid hands on Barnabas and Paul, that they might the better recommend their ministry, which was of so great importance, they joined fasting and prayer (Acts 13:3). Thus these two apostles afterwards, when they appointed ministers to churches, were wont to use prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). In general, the only object which they had in fasting was to render themselves more alert and disencumbered for prayer. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion]
A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him . . . In regard, then, to the discipline of which we now treat, whenever supplication is to be made to God on any important occasion, it is befitting to appoint a period for fasting and prayer. [John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion].
The first thing is constantly to urge the injunction of Joel, “Rend your heart, and not your garments” [Joel 2:13]; that is, to remind the people that fasting in itself is not of great value in the sight of God, unless accompanied with internal affection of the heart, true dissatisfaction with sin and with one’s self, true humiliation, and true grief, from the fear of God . . . There is nothing which God more abominates than when men endeavour to cloak themselves by substituting signs and external appearance for integrity of heart. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion].
To this private Easting, which standeth chiefly in a temperat dyet, and in powring furthe of our secrete thoughtes and necessities before God, can be prescrived no certane rule, certane tyme, nor certane ceremonies ; but as the Causes and occasiones why that exercise is used are divers (yea, so divers that seldome it is that many at ones are moved with one cause), so are diet, tyme, together with all uther circumstances, requyred to suche Fasting, put in the libertie of them that use it. To this Fasting we have bene faithfully and earnestly exhorted by oure Preachers, as oft as the Scriptures, which they entreated, offered unto them occasion. And we dout not but the godlie within this Eealme have used the same as necessitie craved, albeit with the Papistes we blew no trumpets, to appoynt thereto certane dayes. [John Knox, a Treatiste on Fasting, p. 172].
A fifth and more weighty reason for fasting is that it is a help to prayer; particularly when we set apart larger portions of time for private prayer. Then especially it is that God is often pleased to lift up the souls of his servants above all the things of earth, and sometimes to rapt them up, as it were, into the third heaven. And it is chiefly as it is a help to prayer that it has so frequently been found a means in the hand of God of confirming and increasing . . . seriousness of spirit, earnestness, sensibility, and tenderness of conscience; deadness to the world and consequently the love of God and every holy and heavenly affection [John Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasions]
I desired as many as could to join together in fasting and prayer, that God would restore the spirit of love and of a sound mind to the poor deluded rebels in America. Is not the neglect of this plain duty (I mean, fasting) ranked by our Lord with almsgiving and prayer, one general occasion of deadness among Christians? Can any one willingly neglect it, and be guiltless?” [John Wesley. “Journal of John Wesley.”]
There is something remarkable in the manner wherein God revived His work in these parts. A few months ago the generality of people in this Circuit were exceeding lifeless. Samuel Meggot, perceiving this, advised the society at Barnard-Castle to observe every Friday with fasting and prayer. The very first Friday they met together, God broke in upon them in a wonderful manner; and His work has been increasing among them ever since. The neighboring societies heard of this, agreed to follow the same rule, and soon experienced the same blessing. . . . Is not the neglect of this plain duty (I mean, fasting, ranked by our Lord with almsgiving and prayer) one general occasion of deadness among Christians? Can any one willingly neglect it, and be guiltless? [John Wesley, Collected Works of John Wesley, Vol. 03, p. 116].
Therefore, on this ground also, every wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which naturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections. [John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, Volume 5, Sermon 27.”Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on The Mount”].
Under special difficulties, or when in great need of, or great longings after, any particular mercy, for yourself or others, set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone; and let the day be spent, not only in petitions for the mercies you desire, but in searching your heart, and in looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God, not as it wont to be done in public prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God of the sins of your past life, from your childhood hitherto, before and after conversion, with the circumstances and aggravations attending them, and spreading all the abominations of your heart very particularly, and fully as possible, before him [Jonathan Edwards, “The Young Professor”].
Ellen G. White
The true fasting which should be recommended to all, is abstinence from every stimulating kind of food, and the proper use of wholesome, simple food, which God has provided in abundance. Men need to think less about what they shall eat and drink of temporal food, and much more in regard to the food from heaven, that will give tone and vitality to the whole religious experience. [Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, LETTER 73, 1896] MM. 283, 305.].
The fire you kindle in your stomach is making your brain like a heated furnace. . . Your animal passions should be starved, not pampered and fed. The congestion of blood in the brain is strengthening the animal instincts and weakening spiritual powers. [Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, page 102, paragraph 1, Physiology of Digestion, Letter 142, 1900, 156].
Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God. [Andrew Murray].
The faith that can overcome such stubborn resistance as you have just seen in this evil spirit, Jesus tells them, is not possible except to men living in very close fellowship with God, and in very special separation from the world–in prayer and fasting. And so He teaches us two lessons in regard to prayer of deep importance. The one, that faith needs a life of prayer in which to grow and keep strong. The other, that prayer needs fasting for its full and perfect development.
And prayer needs fasting for its full growth: this is the second lesson. Prayer is the one hand with which we grasp the invisible; fasting, the other, with which we let loose and cast away the visible. [Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, Lesson 13].
Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, are three great Christian duties–the three foundations of the law, say the Arabians: by them we do homage and service to God with our three principal interests; by prayer with our souls, by fasting with our bodies, by alms-giving with our estates . . .
Fasting and prayer are proper means for the bringing down of Satan’s power against us, and the fetching in of divine power to our assistance. Fasting is of use to put an edge upon prayer; it is an evidence and instance of humiliation which is necessary in prayer, and is a means of mortifying some corrupt habits, and of disposing the body to serve the soul in prayer. When the devil’s interest in the soul is confirmed by the temper and constitution of the body, fasting must be joined with prayer, to keep under the body. [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. V (Matthew to John)].