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Archive for the ‘Fasting & Days of Fasting’ Category

Figures_Moab_Leads_Israel_into_SinThe following passage comes from Rutherford’s Trial and Triumph of Faith (1645), treating the story of Christ and the Syro-Phoenician woman.  In it, he deals with a dimension of sin and repentance that often gets very short shrift in our individualistic age, and sadly even in the Church.  Does this square with the contemporary Two Kingdoms approach?

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THE dispute between Christ and the woman goeth on: Christ bringeth a strong reason, (verse 26,) why he should not heal her daughter; because she, and all her nation, not being in covenant with God, as are the Jews, the church of God, are but dogs, and profane, and unworthy of Christ, which is the bread ordained for the children.

When Christ humbleth, he may put us in remembrance of our nation, and national sins: “Look to the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged,” (Isa. 51:1). “I alone called Abraham, he was an idolater,” (Hos. 9:10). I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; they should have been wild grapes rotting in the wilderness, had I not put them in my basket. “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abomination,” (Ezek. 16:2). How? Make them know the stock they came of, ‘And say, Thus saith the Lord unto Jerusalem, thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite,’ (verse 3). When the Jew was to offer the first fruits to the Lord; “And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and went down to Egypt to sojourn there,” (Deut. 26:5). Thus, the forgetting what we are by nature, addeth to our guiltiness: “And in all thine abominations, and thy whoredoms, thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted in thy blood,” (Ezek. 16:22). So the Ephesians must be told how unfit they were by nature for Christ, being the very workhouse and shop of the devil, in which he wrought, (Eph. 2:1-3).

National sins have influence in their guilt and contagion on believers: (1.) When they mourn not for them: God’s displeasure should be our sorrow. (2.) When they stand not in the gap to turn away wrath, (Ezek. 22:30). There were godly men that departed from ill, (Isa. 59), but God’s quarrel was, that there was no intercessor, (verse 15). In fasting, believers, though pardoned, may have on them a burden of the sins of three nations, and be involved in that same wrath with them. National repentance is required of every one, no less than personal repentance. Who sorrows for the blood of malignants and rebels?—for their oaths, mocking, scoffing, massing? The sins of the land, idolatry, superstitious days, vain ceremonies, etc., have influence on a believer’s conscience in his approach to God.

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Here is a tremendous sermon Thomas Chalmers preached on the scourge of cholera in Britain in the year 1832.  In it, we see God as the First Cause hearing and answering prayer either lower or higher up on the chain of secondary causes.  Masterful – and instructive as the world watches the vicious spread of Ebola.

If you’ve never listened to Chalmers before, you might appreciate reading the short summary on the ‘Audio’ page.

Or, download.

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Lincoln_Proclamation_1863While listening to an excellent sermon by Rev. Bill Shishko of the OPC on days of prayer and fasting, I was struck by his final quote of the presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln for a national day of humiliation and fasting.  One can read it here.

I am hardly endorsing Abraham Lincoln’s personal theology and practice, much less making commentary on the merits and demerits of each side during the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you prefer).  But I cannot help but ask the modern (contra Melvillian) Two Kingdom advocates (1) whether this was, in the main, a good thing and not inherently a violation of Reformed principles and (2) whether it is ever commendable for a state or its elected officials to call for national days of fasting and humiliation.

I think that any simple Christian will read this and be impressed with how appropriate such a call was and earnestly sigh and cry that God might give us such magistrates again.  And more, for even better and more consistently Christian ones.

At the same time, I would hope that it would give pause to the more thoughtful modern 2K advocates to ask whether their outlook may at least be somewhat misguided.   Are such national fasts, following Westminster and Dort, inherently flawed?  Is this not a fast that the Lord “has chosen” (Isa. 58)?  But sadly, I fear it will make no dent with the more trenchant ones.

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The following is a section drawn from the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1645).  May we be moved to respond!  “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD” (Joel 1:14).

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39077_lgWHEN some great and notable judgments are either inflicted upon a people, or apparently imminent, or by some extraordinary provocations notoriously deserved; as also when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, publick solemn fasting (which is to continue the whole day) is a duty that God expecteth from that nation or people.

A religious fast requires total abstinence, not only from all food, (unless bodily weakness do manifestly disable from holding out till the fast be ended, in which case somewhat may be taken, yet very sparingly, to support nature, when ready to faint,) but also from all worldly labour, discourses, and thoughts, and from all bodily delights, and such like, (although at other times lawful,) rich apparel, ornaments, and such like, during the fast; and much more from whatever is in the nature or use scandalous and offensive, as gaudish attire, lascivious habits and gestures, and other vanities of either sex; which .i.we; recommend to all ministers, in their places, diligently and zealously to reprove, as at other times, so especially at a fast, without respect of persons, as there shall be occasion.

Before the publick meeting, each family and person apart are privately to use all religious care to prepare their hearts to such a solemn work, and to be early at the congregation.

So large a portion of the day as conveniently may be, is to be spent in publick reading and preaching of the word, with singing of psalms, fit to quicken affections suitable to such a duty: but especially in prayer, to this or the like effect:

“Giving glory to the great Majesty of God, the Creator, Preserver, and supreme Ruler of all the world, the better to affect us thereby with an holy reverence and awe of him; acknowledging his manifold, great, and tender mercies, especially to the church and nation, the more effectually to soften and abase our hearts before him; humbly confessing of sins of all sorts, with their several aggravations; justifying God’s righteous judgments, as being far less than our sins do deserve; yet humbly and earnestly imploring his mercy and grace for ourselves, the church and nation, for our king, and all in authority, and for all others for whom we are bound to pray, (according as the present exigent requireth,) with more special importunity and enlargement than at other times; applying by faith the promises and goodness of God for pardon, help, and deliverance from the evils felt, feared, or deserved; and for obtaining the blessings which we need and expect; together with a giving up of ourselves wholly and for ever unto the Lord.”

In all these, the ministers, who are the mouths of the people unto God, ought so to speak from their hearts, upon serious and thorough premeditation of them, that both themselves and their people may be much affected, and even melted thereby, especially with sorrow for their sins; that it may be indeed a day of deep humiliation and afflicting of the soul.

Special choice is to be made of such scriptures to be read, and of such tests for preaching, as may best work the hearts of the hearers to the special business of the day, and most dispose them to humiliation and repentance: insisting most on those particulars which each minister’s observation and experience tells him are most conducing to the edification and reformation of that congregation to which he preacheth.

Before the close of the publick duties, the minister is, in his own and the people’s name, to engage his and their hearts to be the Lord’s, with professed purpose and resolution to reform whatever is amiss among them, and more particularly such sins as they have been more remarkably guilty of; and to draw near unto God, and to walk more closely and faithfully with him in new obedience, than ever before.

He is also to admonish the people, with all importunity, that the work of that day doth not end with the publick duties of it, but that they are so to improve the remainder of the day, and of their whole life, in reinforcing upon themselves and their families in private all those godly affections and resolutions which they professed in publick, as that they may be settled in their hearts for ever, and themselves may more sensibly find that God hath smelt a sweet savour in Christ from their performances, and is pacified towards them, by answers of grace, in pardoning of sin, in removing of judgments, in averting or preventing of plagues, and in conferring of blessings, suitable to the conditions and prayers of his people, by Jesus Christ.

Besides solemn and general fasts enjoined by authority, we judge that, at other times, congregations may keep days of fasting, as divine providence shall administer unto them special occasion; and also that families may do the same, so it be not on days wherein the congregation to which they do belong is to meet for fasting, or other publick duties of worship.

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