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Of Fasting.

     Fasting, if it be considered in itself, without relation to spiritual ends, is a duty nowhere enjoined or counselled. But Christianity hath to do with it as it may be made an instrument of the Spirit, by subduing the lusts of the flesh, or removing any hinderances of religion. And it hath been practised by all ages of the church, and advised in order to three ministries; 1. To prayer; 2. To mortification of bodily lusts; 3. To repentance: and it is to be practised according to the following measures:

Rules for Christian Fasting.

     1. Fasting, in order to prayer, is to be measured by the proportions of the times of prayer; that is, it ought to be a total fast from all things, during the solemnity, unless a palpable necessity intervene. Thus the Jews ate nothing upon the Sabbath-days till their great offices were performed; that is, about the sixth hour: and St. Peter used it as an argument, that the apostles in Pentecost were not drunk, because it was but the third hour of the day; of such a day in which it was not lawful to eat or drink till the sixth hour: and the Jews were offended at the disciples for plucking the ears of corn on the Sabbath, early in the morning, because it was before the time in which, by their customs, they esteemed it lawful to break their fast. In imitation of this custom, and in prosecution of the reason of it, the Christian church hath religiously observed fasting, before the holy communion; and the more devout persons (though without any obligation at all) refused to eat or drink till they had finished their morning devotions: and further yet, upon days of public humiliation, which are designed to be spent wholly in devotion, and for the averting God's judgments, (if they were imminent,) fasting is commanded together with prayer: commanded (I say) by the church to this end - that the spirit might be clearer and more angelical, when it is quitted in some proportions from the loads of flesh.
     2. Fasting, when it is in order to prayer, must be a total abstinence from all meat, or else an abatement of the quantity; for the help which fasting does to prayer cannot be served by changing flesh into fish, or milk-meats into dry diet; but by turning much into little, or little into none at all, during the time of solemn and extraordinary prayer.
     3. Fasting, as it is instrumental to prayer, must be attended with other aids of the like virtue and efficacy; such as are removing for the time all worldly cares and secular business; and therefore our blessed Saviour enfolds these parts within the same caution, `take heed, lest your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this world, and that day overtake you unawares.' To which add alms; for upon the wings of fasting and alms holy prayer infallibly mounts up to heaven.[218]
     4. When fasting is intended to serve the duty or repentance, it is then best chosen when it is short, sharp, and afflictive; that is, either a total abstinence from all nourishment, according as we shall appoint or be appointed, during such a time as is separate for the solemnity and attendance upon the employment: or, if we shall extend our severity beyond the solemn days, and keep our anger against our sin, as we are to keep our sorrow, that is, always in a readiness, and often to be called upon; then, to refuse a pleasant morsel, to abstain from the bread of our desires, and only to take wholesome and less pleasing nourishment, vexing our appetite by refusing a lawful satisfaction, since, in its petulancy and luxury, it prayed upon an unlawful.
     5. Fasting designed for repentance must be ever joined with an extreme care that we fast from sin; for there is no greater folly or indecency in the world than to commit that for which I am now judging and condemning myself. This is the best fast; and the other may serve to promote the interest of this, by increasing the disaffection to it, and multiplying arguments against it.
     6. He that fasts for repentance must, during that solemnity, abstain from all bodily delights, and the sensuality of all his senses and his appetites; for a man must not, when he mourns in his fast, be merry in his sport; weep at dinner, and laugh all day after; have a silence in his kitchen, and music in his chamber; judge the stomach, and feast the other senses. I deny not but a man may, in a single instance, punish a particular sin with a propalate, he may choose to fast only; if he have sinned in softness and in his touch, he may choose to lie hard, or work hard, and use sharp inflictions; but although this discipline be proper and particular, yet because the sorrow is of the whole man, no sense must rejoice, or be with any study or purpose feasted and entertained softly. This rule is intended to relate to the solemn days appointed for repentance publicly or privately; besides which, in the whole course of our life, even in the midst of our most festival and freer joys, we may sprinkle some single instances and acts of self-condemning, or punishing; as to refuse a pleasant morsel or a delicious draught with a tacit remembrance of the sin that now returns to displease my spirit. And, though these actions be single, there is no indecency in them; because a man may abate of his ordinary liberty and hold freedom with great prudence, so he does it without singularity in himself or trouble to others; but he may not abate of his solemn sorrow: that may be caution; but this would be softness, effeminacy, and indecency.
     7. When fasting is an act of mortification, that is, is intended to subdue a bodily lust, as the spirit of fornication, or the fondness of strong and impatient appetites, it must not be a sudden, sharp, and violent fast, but a state of fasting, a diet of fasting, a daily lessening our portion of meat and drink, and a choosing such a course diet,[219] which may make the least preparation for the lusts of the body. He that fasts three days without food will weaken other parts more than the ministers of fornication; and when the meals return as usually, they also will be served as soon as any. In the meantime, they will be supplied and made active by the accidental heat that comes with such violent fastings: for this is a kind of aerial devil 0 the prince that rules in the air is the devil of fornication; and he will be as tempting with the windiness of a violent fast as with the flesh of an ordinary meal.[220] But a daily subtraction of the nourishment will introduce a less busy habit of body; and that will prove the more effectual remedy.
     8. Fasting alone will not cure this devil, though it helps much towards it; but it must not therefore be neglected, but assisted by all the proper instruments of remedy against this unclean spirit; and what it is unable to do alone, in company with other instruments, and God's blessing upon them, it may effect.
     9. All fasting, for whatever end it be undertaken, must be done without any opinion of the necessity of the thing itself, without censuring others, with all humility, in order to the proper end; and just as a man takes physic, of which no man hath reason to be proud, and no man things it necessary, but because he is in sickness, or in danger and disposition to it.
     10. All fasts ordained by lawful authority are to be observed in order to the same purposes to which they are enjoined, and to be accompanied with actions of the same nature, just as it is in private fasts; for there is no other difference, but that in public our superiors choose for us what in private we do for ourselves.
     11. Fasts ordained by lawful authority are not to be neglected; because alone they can do the thing in order to which they were enjoined. It may be, one day of humiliation will not obtain the blessing, or alone kill the lust; yet it must not be despised if it can do anything towards it. And act of fasting is an act of self-denial; and, though it do not produce the habit, yet it is a good act.
     12. When the principal end why a fast is publicly prescribed is obtain by some other instrument, in a particular person - as if the spirit of fornication be cured by the rite of marriage, or by a gift of chastity - yet that person so eased is not freed from the fasts of the church by that alone, if those fasts can prudently serve any other end of religion, as that of prayer, or repentance, or mortification of some other appetite; for when it is instrumental to any end of the Spirit, it is freed from superstition, and then we must have some other reason to quit us from the obligation, or that alone will not do it.
     13. When the fast publicly commanded by reason of some indisposition in the particular person cannot operate to the end of the commandment, yet the avoiding offence, and the complying with public order, is reason enough to make the obedience to be necessary. For he that is otherwise disobliged, as when the reason of the law ceases as to his particular, yet remains still obliged if he cannot do otherwise without scandal; but this is an obligation of charity, not of justice.
     14. All fasting is to be used with prudence and charity; for there is no end to which fasting serves but may be obtained by other instruments; and, therefore, it must at no hand be made an instrument of scruple; or become an enemy to our health; or be imposed upon persons that are sick or aged, or to whom it is, in any sense, uncharitable, such as are wearied travellers; or to whom, in the whole kind of it, it is useless such as are women with child, poor people, and little children. But in these cases the church hath made provision and inserted caution into her laws; and they are to be reduced to practice according to custom, and the sentence of prudent persons, with great latitude, and without niceness and curiosity, having this in our first care, that we secure our virtue; and, next, that we secure our health, that we may the better exercise the labours of virtue, lest, out of too much austerity, we bring ourselves to that condition that it be necessary to be indulgent to softness, ease, and extreme tenderness.[221]
     15. Let not intemperance be the prologue or the epilogue to your fast, lest the fast be so far from taking off anything of the sin, that it be an occasion to increase it; and, therefore, when the fast is done, be careful that no supervening act of gluttony or excessive drinking unhallow the religion of the past day; but eat temperately, according to the proportion of other meals, lest gluttony keep either of the gates to abstinence.[222]

The Benefits of Fasting.

     He that undertakes to enumerate the benefits of fasting may, in the next page, also reckon all the benefits of physic, for fasting is not to be commended as a duty, but as an instrument; and in that sense no man can reprove it, or undervalue it, but he that knows neither spiritual arts nor spiritual necessities. But by the doctors of the church it is called the nourishment of prayer, the restraint of lust, the wings of the souls, the diet of angels, the instrument of humility and self-denial, the purification of the spirit; and the paleness and meagerness of visage, which is consequent to the daily fast of great mortifiers, is, by St. Basil, said to be the mark in the forehead which the angel observed when he signed the saints in the forehead to escape the wrath of God. "The soul that is greatly vexed, which goeth stooping and feeble, and the eyes that fail, and the hungry soul, shall give thee praise and righteousness, O Lord!"[223]

[218] Jejunium sine eleemosyna, lampas sine oleo.-St. Aug.

[219] Digiuna assai chi mal mangia.

[220] Chi digiuna, et altro ben non fa.

[221] S. Basil. Monast. Constit. cap. 5. Cassian. Col 21. cap. 22. Ne per causam necessitatis eo impingamus, ut voluptatibus scrviamus.

[222] Amunomenoi tmn hneran.-Naz

[223] Baruch, ii.v.18.

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This document (last modified May 19, 1997) from Believerscafe.com