Fasting and Prayer
Christ in his sermon on the Mount, [Matt.vi,] introduces the duties of alms-giving, prayer and fasting. He reproves the manner of the hypocrites in these things, and points out the right way. We think it will be admitted by all truth-seekers that all three of these duties are still binding on the church. We see no reason why one should cease and the others continue.
The manner of fasting is introduced as follows: “Moreover, 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.”
The motive of the hypocrite is reproved in appearing unto others to fast. Instead of disfiguring their faces on such occasions, Christ taught his disciples to appear natural, that they might not appear unto men to fast. That they might on such occasions appear natural, as their custom was: they should anoint the head, etc. As anointing the head is introduced that they should not appear unto men to fast, we conclude that it is not now a duty; for, if as often as we fast, we should anoint the head, we should appear to all to fast. Though the ancient custom of anointing the head does not now exist, the duty of fasting remains the same as well as prayer and giving alms.
Luke records the fact that Anna the prophetess served God with fastings and prayer day and night. Chap. ii,36,37.
Christ says, [Matt.xvii,21,] “Howbeit, this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting.” Fasting, in connection with prayer, is here made of great importance.
It is said of Cornelius, [Acts x,] that he was a “devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.” He was told by an angel while in a vision, that his prayers and alms had come up for a memorial before God. When visited by the holy angel, he was engaged in fasting and prayer. Verse 30.
On the important occasions of ordaining Elders in Gentile churches, Paul and Barnabas prayed with fasting. Acts xiv,23.
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” Acts xii,2,3.
“That ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.” 1Cor.vii,5.
See 2Cor.vi,5; xi,27. Here Paul mentions among other things, labors, watchings and fastings. This fasting does not appear to be from necessity, as hunger is mentioned in connection as another thing.
(1) An objection to fasting may arise with some from Isa.lviii. We will here say that in this chapter the spirit and character of two kinds of fasts are pointed out. The wrong is reproved and the right approved; but this does not in the least affect New Testament testimony on this point.
(2) The great object of fasting we understand to be, first, self denial, that the whole being may be especially consecrated to God on such occasions; and, second, that the mind may be clear to receive the teachings of the Spirit and Word, and exercise faith in God.
— James White, Review and Herald, May 15, 1855