Thomas A. (Thomas Asbury) Morris.

Miscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel online

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nesses of what Christ taught and did, regarded fasting as
an important part of Christian duty, is certain from the
following facts: 1. They practiced it themselves, "in all
things approving themselves as the ministers of God, in
much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,
in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in
watchings, in fastings," 2 Cor. vi, 4, 5. 2. They enjoined
fasting on others, saying to husbands and wives, "Give
yourselves to fasting and prayer," 1 Cor. vii, 5. And
what inspired apostles practiced themselves, and required
private Church members to practice, must certainly be
regarded as a Christian duty by all who take the holy
Scriptures for the rule of their faith and conduct.

I shall next turn my attention to the occasions of
fasting. And here let it be premised, that stated fasts, at
regularly-recurring periods, such as were practiced by
Pharisees, and are still required by Papists, were not ap-
pointed, commanded, or practiced by our Lord or his
apostles. The Pharisees fasted "twice in the week"
statedly, on certain days of the week ; but all the author-
ity they had for doing so was the "tradition of the elders,"
which, Christ declared, "made void the commandments
of God." The Papists pretend to observe, as regular
fasts, certain days of the week and certain weeks of the
year; but all the authority they have for that practice is
found in the tradition of the fathers, the decrees of coun-
cils, the bulls of popes, and the proclamations of bishops —
all which savors strongly of the work of supererogation,


and is, therefore, not only without any Divine sanction,
but is contrary to the Divine will, as revealed in the new

While considering this point, it is proper to remark,
that, in the ecclesiastical polity of Methodism, "fasting,
or abstinence, " is included among the "general rules, ,,
out without designating any definite or stated time of fast-
ing. Again: among the duties of a preacher in charge
is the following: "He shall take care that a fast be held,
in every society in his circuit, on the Friday preceding
every quarterly meeting." The time of the quarterly
meeting, however, is not regulated by the moon's phases,
nor by a particular Sabbath in the month, nor any thing
of the kind; but is appointed from quarter to quarter,
with reference to convenience and utility, and the quar-
terly fast goes with it. All I claim for this rule is, that
it is a "prudential regulation," not possessing the force of
Divine law. As such, I approve and defend it, as one
calculated to promote uniformity, and secure general
attention on the part of Church members. The fast was
appointed on Friday, because the framers of the rule
intended the quarterly meeting to follow on Saturday and
Sabbath — not because the New Testament Scriptures des-
ignate any particular day of the week as a day of fasting.
It is likewise probable that our fathers fixed on Friday, in
common with other evangelical Churches, as beino: suita-
ble, because it was understood to be the day of the week
on which our Savior suffered. All these considerations
were proper in establishing a prudential regulation. I
maintain that in regard to the duty of fasting, as well as
in regard to other duties enjoined in the word of God,
some things are left to be determined by circumstances.
For example, Christ said to his ministers, "Go ye into all
the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;" but
did not say the Gospel should be preached on the first


day, or some other day of the week — that it should be
preached in the forenoon, afternoon, or evening ; nor that
it should be preached in a house called a church, or some
other building, or in the open air; but simply that it should
be preached in all the world, and to every creature, leav-
ing times and places to be settled according to circum-
stances. In like manner, Christians are required in the
New Testament to fast; but it is not there determined
whether they shall fast on Friday, Monday, or some other
day of the week ; nor yet that they shall fast yearly, quar-
terly, monthly, or weekly; but they are left to regulate
their times of fasting as circumstances may render most
proper. Fasting, therefore, is to be regarded as an occa-
sional duty, to be practiced from time to time, as the
necessities and interests of communities and individuals
may require. And if it should be objected by any, that
this view of the subject tends to weaken the obligation to
fast, let all such objectors remember, that the obligation
to fast exists in the word of God, and not in the time
designated by Church authorities for discharging that obli-
gation. The objection will be further obviated by care-
fully weighing what now follows respecting the occasions
of fasting, which may and doubtless do come up in the
history of nations and individuals.

A time of public calamity and general distress, in pro-
gress or in prospect, is a proper occasion for a general
fast. When the deceitful and intriguing Haman had pro-
cured a decree from King Ahasuerus, that all the Jews in
his extended provinces should be massacred on a given
day, Mordecai the Jew communicated the sad intelligence
to Queen Esther, who was also a Jewess, and she ap-
pointed a three days' fast to be solemnly kept by herself,
her maidens, Mordecai, and their countrymen, as far as
they could give notice, which by God's blessing proved
successful in averting the fearful calamity. Perhaps we,


as a nation, are in no immediate or apparent danger of a
general massacre, by any organized or legalized system
of persecution, at present, whatever may transpire here-
after. Still, we are expecting soon, and have good reason
to expect, a return of that dreadful scourge of nations,
the Indian cholera, in the epidemic form, which, if unre-
strained by Providential interference, may sweep millions
of this generation, and even hundreds of thousands of
our own countrymen, from the face of the earth into the
world of spirits. In anticipation of so terrible a visitation
in our land, a day of general humiliation, fasting, and
supplication would be highly proper. There could not be
any occasion more suitable than that for a national fast;
and as no human foresight can ascertain who shall be
marked as its victims, every individual should consider
himself or herself as personally and deeply interested;
for, when the sweeping pestilence shall break upon us, it
will probably, as on a former occasion, reach all classes of
the community. In 1832-33, though distinguished med-
ical men had prophesied that none but the dissipated,
lewd, and filthy had any thing to fear from cholera, some
of the most wealthy merchants, profound scholars, brill-
iant statesmen, skillful physicians, and godly ministers,
as well as steady farmers and sober mechanics, with their
wives and children, were seen suddenly to fall under its
deadly grasp. So it may be again. Let all see to it that
their peace be made with God, and to this end let them
fast and pray, and use all the appointed means.

There have been, and probably will be, many local and
private events of an afflictive kind which have formed,
and will form, sufficient occasions for sectional and private
fasts. The wicked city of Nineveh fasted, and thereby
escaped general destruction; and every wicked city has
abundant reason to adopt the same measure, lest it be de-
stroyed by whirlwind, earthquake, flood, or flame. "Now


ider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces,
and there be none to deliver," is as worthy of being
regarded now, as it was when first proclaimed in the days
of the Psalmist; for the author of that solemn warning
is unchangeable. Ao-ain : when Kino- David's child was
stricken with mortal sickness, he betook himself to fasting,
lay all night upon the ground, refusing to receive any
nourishment, or to be raised up by his servants, or com-
forted by his friends, till informed the child was dead.
Then he arose from the earth, washed himself, changed
his raiment, worshiped in the Temple, ate bread, and
appeared again among his friends. "And he said, "While
the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said,
Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the
child may live ? But now he is dead, wherefore should I
fast ? Can I bring him back again ? I shall go to him,
but he shall not return to me," 2 Samuel xii, 22, 23.
Though the king lost his son, no doubt he felt better sat-
isfied under his loss than he w T ould have done had he
neglected his duty. With this illustrious example before
us, it would be safe and proper, while laboring under a
sore visitation of family affliction, to betake ourselves to
prayer and fasting, that God might avert or mitigate the
evil, and sustain us through it.

Every man has a personal reason for fasting, in his own
natural depravity and practical sinfulness, calling for deep,
continuous humiliation before God. Have we sinned
grievously? Does the guilt thereof rest heavily upon us?
And, after much penitence and prayer, does our con-
science still trouble and make us afraid? Then Ave should
add fasting, that we may be more deeply humbled in the
sight of Heaven, still pleading the atonement of our dying,
risen, ascended, and interceding Savior, till we obtain the
evidence of pardoning and renewing grace. Again ; if
inbred sin remain and trouble us, after we have prayed


long and much for purity of heart, there is reason to fear
that it is of a kind that "cometh not forth but by prayer
and fasting" — which remedy should be applied in earnest:
for though there is no merit in fasting, more than in any
other means of grace, God's method of salvation is to
bless in the use, and not in the neglect, of the means; and
in extreme cases no one of them should be omitted — all
should be diligently used ; and having used all the means,
we should then trust in Christ only for the end ; for when
we have done all we can, we are still unprofitable serv-
ants, having only done our duty. Whoever pursues this
course, will soon rejoice in possession of a present, free,
and full salvation : it has been tried in thousands of cases,
and always with success.

Another very important point involved in this subject is
the manner of fasting. It should be done in moderation,
not carried to excess — not so as to injure health, much
less to endanger life. There are some individuals, in a
debilitated state from recent affliction, whose health would
not admit of their fasting for the time being; and others,
who have general poor health and feeble constitutions,
who, at best, can scarcely receive nourishment sufficient
to sustain them in active life : these should not impose
upon themselves frequent nor rigorous fasts. Indeed, it
is very questionable whether such individuals should fast
at all, as it might prove injurious, if not fatal. Let it be
remembered, God does not require murder for sacrifice.
Still there is danger of extremes, both ways; and no
doubt there are many more who fast too little, than there
are who fast too much. The inconvenience suffered by
invalids from fasting, is no excuse for us who are healthy
to neglect it.

Again : we should not aim at miracles in the perform-
ance of this duty; the days of miracles have passed away.
Moses and Elijah as types, and our Savior as the antitype,


each fasted forty days ; but those fasts were all miracu-
lous, and therefore do not form any rule of practice for
us. No mere human being could live half of that time
without some nourishment, unless there should be an
immediate and continuous exercise of the power of God
in his case, which is not to be presumed on. Some fanat-
ics have exercised that presumption, and have lost their
lives in consequence — thereby leaving a solemn warning
to all others against yielding to such madness. Of this
description of superstitious devotees, were some members
of a modern sect called Halcyons, which flourished in the
western country about the close of the eighteenth century.
They never became numerous, and are now extinct, as
might have been expected.

Fasting should not be attended with any outward show
of sadness, such as neglect of person, voluntary humility,
or self-inflicted abuse of any kind. If a man should be
seen during his fast sitting on the ground, with rent gar-
ments, long beard, and disheveled hair, sprinkling ashes
upon himself, and setting up a doleful howl or hideous
wail toward heaven, he might excite pity, but not admira-
tion ; he would be regarded as a deranged man, or a
hopeless victim of fanaticism in its worst form. How sig-
nally the Savior of man rebuked such conduct: "When
ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance:
for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto
men to fast. Verily, I say unto you, they have their
reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head,
and wash thy face ; that thou appear not unto men to fast,
but unto thy Father, which is in secret: and thy Father,
which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly," Matt.
vi, 16, 17, 18. From this authority it appears plainly
that a Christian, on his fast-day, avoiding all false show
of piety and all unworthy motives, should shave and wash
himself, adjust his hair, put on clean apparel, and, acting

d2 miscellany.

as in the sight of God, maintain the dignity of a rational,
accountable being. Such are the instructions of Him
from whose authority there is no appeal.

Much light is shed upon this point of my subject — the
manner of fasting — by the fifty-eighth chapter of the
prophet Isaiah. The Jews murmured because their fast
was not accepted of the Almighty: "Wherefore have
we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have
we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge ?"
These were presumptuous interrogatories, and God an-
swered by reproving those who put them: "Behold, in
the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your
labors/' What folly, to set apart a day for fasting, and
then spend it as a mere holiday in worldly amusements,
or in worldly business ! Can a man pray and fast, and at
the same time sport and feast? Can he afflict his soul,
and mourn over his sins, and at the same time mingle
jovially with the ungodly in a ball-room or theater? Can
he employ his fast-day in lucrative business? Can he
scheme and calculate, clamor and drive his hands to make
money, and yet expect God to accept his devotions ? Cer-
tainly not. But those complainers did even worse: "Be-
hold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the
fist of wickedness" — turning the solemn occasion into a
scene of wrangling and violence, or perhaps praying for
the death of enemies in war. No marvel that the inter-
dict should follow, "Ye shall not fast as ye do this day,
to make your voice to be heard on high." Having ad-
ministered this wholesome reproof, the Lord further ex-
poses their hypocritical pretensions, by asking, "Is it such
a fast that I have chosen? — a day for a man to afflict his
soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to
spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call
this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?" No,
verily. After exposing all these abuses, the Lord explains


in detail the kind of fast which he would accept ; saying,
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the
bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and let
the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke ? Is
it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring
the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou
seest the naked, that thou cover him ; and that thou hide
not thyself from thine own flesh?" From this more forci-
ble presentation of the subject, it appears clearly that the
fast which God approves, and has promised to bless, is
attended with w r orks of penitence, justice, and benevo-
lence, as well as piety. We must loose the bands of wick-
edness, or repent of all our sins ; we must undo the heavy
burdens, whether inflicted by heartless creditors, or unjust
task-masters, and let the oppressed go free from under the
galling yoke of bondage. Oppression of our fellow-crea-
tures is unjust and criminal in the sight of God, whether
inflicted by cruel husbands, cruel parents, or cruel mas-
ters ; whether inflicted by the assumed tyranny of political
despots, or by that inhuman traffic — the slave-trade ; and
it is worse than useless for any one guilty of such oppres-
sion and cruelty to fast or pray, till he is fully determined
to forsake the evil of his ways. The fast which God has
chosen for us requires also works of charity, dealing bread
to the hungry — at least as much as is saved by fasting —
sheltering the homeless and friendless, and covering the
naked with garments, so that the blessing of him who is
ready to perish may come upon us. In a word, Chris tians
should keep their fast-days as strictly as they are required
to keep their Sabbaths, refraining from all sinful pleasures,
and from all temporal business, except works of necessity
and works of charity, and devote themselves to God in
prayer and supplication, as well as in watchings and

The last general point to be considered is the beneficial


effects of fasting. They who practice the duty of fasting
properly, as above explained, derive personal benefits
thereby. It aids in subduing the natural enmity of the
heart, mortifying the deeds of the flesh, of the carnal
mind, that our souls may live; it cultivates humility, by
showing us our depravity, unworthiness, and helplessness ;
it inspires us with gratitude for the mercies of God, so
bountifully and constantly bestowed upon us. As we can
scarcely appreciate general good health till we have lost
it, so we can not properly estimate the value of our daily
bread, and return suitable gratitude to God for it, till de-
prived of it long enough to feel the gnawing pains of

There are likewise relative benefits to be derived from
a proper performance of the duty of fasting, or benefits
accruing to others besides those engaged in it, on the
same principle whereby one individual is benefited by the
prayers of another. While Cornelius fasted and prayed,
the Gospel was sent to the Gentiles, who knew nothing of
the deep agony of his heart for them, the result of which
was glorious. When King Darius had been insnared by
Daniel's persecutors to sign an unchangeable decree, con-
signing him to the lions' den, and found that he could not
prevail with his officers to have it reversed, so as to save
Daniel, though he labored with them till the going down
of the sun, he "was sore displeased with himself." It
was with deep, heart-felt reluctance that he had the fearful
sentence executed, but not without some hope that Dan-
iel's God would deliver him. "Then the king went to his
palace, and passed the night fasting : neither were instra-
ments of music brought before him : and his sleep went
from him." Early next morning the king was at the
lions' den, and cried, "0 Daniel, servant of the living
God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to
deliver thee from the lions?" Who can imagine the joy


which thrilled the heart of that monarch, when Daniel
responded: "0 king, live forever. My God hath sent his
angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not
hurt me !" Thus, while wicked courtiers reveled over the
death of the good man, as they presumed, their afflicted
sovereign fasted and prayed for his deliverance ; and God,
who was for him, proved greater than all that were
against him. Great encouragement is here afforded to
the children of God, to fast and pray for the deliverance
of their pious friends in the day of persecution and peril ;
and even for such as are in danger of falling into the
hands of the tormentors, worse than hungry, ferocious
lions, that they may be spared, awakened, and saved.

The beneficial results of fasting, in many cases, have
been general, extending to whole communities. While
Esther, and Mordecai, and their servants and maidens
fasted, enlargement arose to the Jews, and large multi-
tudes of men, women, and children were rescued from
cruel massacre. The prophet Jonah was sent, by Divine
appointment, to make proclamation, "Yet forty days, and
Nineveh shall be overthrown." But the people, moved
by Jonah's preaching, betook themselves to a rigorous
fast. "And God saw their works, that they turned from
their evil way ; and God repented of the evil that he had
said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."
They changed their manner of life, and he changed his
manner of dealing with them. Had they persisted in
their wickedness forty days, he would have destroyed
them ; but they repented, and God relented.

In concluding this article, I take occasion to remark,
that we, as a people, in these United States, have much
reason to be interested in the subject under consideration.
As a nation, though, perhaps, no worse than others, our
sins are numerous and great. Profanity, disregard of the
holy Sabbath, drunkenness, lewdness, fraud, and oppres-


sion exist to an alarming extent. Party political measures
are often corrupt, and, sometimes, marked with violence —
threatening even the disruption of our Union. The polit-
ical press is prostituted to demagogism and slander, as a
general thing, catering to the worst passions of men, and
to party intrigue, instead of supporting the country and
its noble institutions. Men in high places, whc should be
examples of virtue and piety, are too commonly degraded
libertines. Even our Churches are too much conformed
to the world, and too much involved in bitter controversy
among themselves, when they have need to concentrate
their united energy against the powers of infidelity and
sin. Some who are set as watchmen upon the walls of
Zion, to sound a timely alarm, are fast asleep ; and many
who once knew the way of righteousness have turned
aside from the holy commandments delivered to them,
so that their last state is worse than the first. All these
things, and many others, cry to Heaven against us for
vengeance. The judgments of God are abroad on the
earth — famine, war, and pestilence move in quick succes-
sion, sweeping away multitudes of the guilty inhabitants
of this sin-polluted world into a fearful state of retribu-
tion. Surely, then, such as have access to the mercy-
seat, and power with God in prayer, should fast and plead
with him, that we perish not in our sins as a people, but
live and prosper, proving to all the world that "righteous-
ness exalteth a nation." We have much encouragement
to return to the Lord by penitence, prayer, and fasting,
for there is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared.
And here again I earnestly renew the suggestion, that a
national fast, in 1849, would be both opportune and
salutary as anciently. "Therefore also now, saith the
Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with
fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend
your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the


Lord your God ; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to
anger, and of great kindness, and repcnteth him of the
evil," Joel ii, 12, 13.

Partnerships for mere purposes of business and gain,
may be dissolved whenever the interest, convenience, or
pleasure of the parties requires. But there is a partner-
ship for life. It blends names and fortunes, reputations
and destinies, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health, through, weal and woe, till the
parties are separated by death. No other union bears
any comparison to this in point of importance. If formed
suitably and on proper principles, nothing earthly contrib-
utes so much to smooth the rugged path of life, and strew
it with the flowers of peace ; but if otherwise, nothing
is so fruitful in discontent, poverty, and wretchedness.
When a man of honorable principle and fine sensibility
gets taken in by the false appearance of one, who turns
out to be an idle slattern, or busybody in other people's
matters — by one who becomes a by-word and a proverb
among her neighbors, and is shunned by the friends of
her husband, he deserves the sympathy of all who know
him. But of all the sights of woe, save me from that of
a worthy, intelligent, and agreeable Christian lady, bound
for life to a rough, ill-natured, unprincipled husband, with-

Online LibraryThomas A. (Thomas Asbury) MorrisMiscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel → online text (page 4 of 30)