The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, vol. 73

The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Vol. 73


October 20, 1896

“Fasting and Prayer” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 73, 42.


E. J. Waggoner

(London, Eng.)

When Jesus was on earth He taught His disciples how to pray, and the Bible abounds with instruction on this point, both by direct precept and by illustration; yet of the number, of those who profess to pray, comparatively few have rightly understood what real prayer to God is. What wonder, then, that the matter of fasting, which is associated with prayer, has been very generally misunderstood? The Bible, however, gives us as clear instruction, even if less in quantity, on this point as upon the other. ARSH October 20, 1896, page 662.1

In the prophecy of Joel we find fasting explicitly commanded, and that with special reference to the last days-the time just before the coming of “the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” “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. Again: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, and gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children.... Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them; wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? Then will the Lord be jealous for His land, and pity His people, yea, the Lord will answer.” Joel 2:15-18. ARSH October 20, 1896, page 662.2

Christ has also indicated that His people should fast often in the days between His ascension and His return to this earth. When the disciples of John ask Him, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but Thy disciples fast not?” He replied, “Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast in those days.” Matthew 9:14, 15. ARSH October 20, 1896, page 662.3

From the instances recorded in the Old Testament, we find that fasting was resorted to in times of great perplexity and distress, in extreme need, when special help and blessings from the Lord were desired. When Esther was about to go in before King Ahasuerus, to seek deliverance for her people from the destruction decreed against them, she said to Mordecai, “Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also with my maidens will fast likewise, and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law.” Esther 4:16. We all know the successful results. ARSH October 20, 1896, page 662.4

Fasting was resorted to by Ezra, when he was on his way to Jerusalem to restore the city and the worship of God. He had a difficult and dangerous journey before him. “Thus I proclaimed a fast, at the river Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before God, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way; because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon them for good that seek him; but His power and His wrath is against all them that forsake Him. So we fasted and besought our God for this; and He was entreated of us.” Ezra 8:21-23. ARSH October 20, 1896, page 662.5


Fasting, in itself, whether as a religious act or otherwise, is entire abstinence from food and drink. The case of Daniel (Daniel 10:2, 3) is sometimes referred to as indicating that eating to a certain extent is compatible with fasting; but the careful reader will note that Daniel does not say that he was fasting, but that he was “mourning three full weeks,” in which time he “ate no pleasant bread.” A person may mourn without fasting, and this Daniel did. Whenever instances of fasting are recorded in the Bible, we find that neither food nor drink was taken during the time of the fast. It is as impossible for a person to be fasting while eating and drinking, as it is to be awake and asleep at the same time, or to be at once running and sitting still. Our common word “breakfast,” indicates this. The longest period of abstinence from food is in the night, when we are asleep. When the morning comes, we break our fast by partaking of food, and we do this even though our breakfast be very light. At the ninth hour of the day Cornelius said “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour.” Acts 10:30. If we should substitute, “Four days ago I ate very little until three o’clock in the afternoon,” it would make the whole affair ridiculous. So it is senseless when pope or bishops prescribe how much may be eaten during a so-called fast. Each individual must decide for himself whether or not he will fast, and also at what time and how long; but no one can possibly have the choice of eating or not eating during a fast, for as soon as anything is eaten fast ceases. ARSH October 20, 1896, page 662.6


What is the use of fasting? What is it for? From its connection with prayer, and from the Scriptures that we have read, it is evident that it is for the purpose of gaining special help and strength from the Lord, for the performance of some necessary work or the overcoming of some peculiarly strong temptation. This is indicated in the Lord’s description of an acceptable fast, where He says, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to lose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:7. ARSH October 20, 1896, page 662.7

But while fasting means special earnestness and importunity in prayer, it must not be considered as a penance, nor as buying the favor of God by the mortification of the body. God does not delight in human suffering, and we could not buy His favor even with the sacrifice of our lives. He bestows His grace freely, because He is love and mercy; and as an evidence of His favor He has given Himself for us. Christian prayer is not like heathen prayer. The heathen think that they shall be heard for their much speaking (Matthew 6:7), and in their importunity they lacerate themselves and afflict their bodies. See 1 Kings 18:28. God’s servants do not do so, for they know that God is their Father, tender and loving, that He knows what we have need of before we ask Him, and that He has already richly provided every necessary thing for us. Read Matthew 6:8; Romans 8:32; Ephesians 1:3; 2 Peter 1:2, 3. True prayer is therefore simply the claiming of the promises of God with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6); by faith demonstrating the reality of those promises. Since fasting means special emphasis in prayer, it of course means special confidence in God’s word, and an exceptionally strong grasp of and dependence upon His promises. Fasting with prayer indicates such complete dependence on God’s word, that we for a season depend on it instead of on the ordinary means of sustaining life. ARSH October 20, 1896, page 662.8

(Concluded next week.)