And it came to pass, that on the next day, when they were come down from the hill, much people met him.…
Here was a demon of extraordinary strength, and he could be vanquished only by extraordinary prayer and fasting. Fasting is connected with extraordinary spiritual attainments and achievements. These disciples lacked the higher form of prayer, and its profounder spirit. There is a faith which removes mountains; a prayer that unlocks heaven, and vanquishes the powers of hell. But Christ here shows that they are connected with fasting. I would, then, observe that —
I. WE FIND THIS PRINCIPLE CONFIRMED BY THE WHOLE HISTORY OF FASTING, IN THE SCRIPTURES, AND IN THE CHURCH, FROM THE CHRISTIAN ERA DOWNWARD.
1. We turn, first, to the Jewish Church. It is not affirmed whether the patriarchs knew anything of fasting as a religious service; but Moses, in entering into the Mount, to commune with God concerning the foundation of the Old Testament Church, for forty days abstained from food — of course by Divine direction, and by miraculous aid. It is quite remarkable that the three persons who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration had all performed this extraordinary fast of forty days — Moses, Elijah, and Christ. If, now, we look at the several occasions on which it was employed by the devout members and eminent leaders of the Jewish Church, we shall receive a strong impression that it has some connection with the higher exercises, attainments, and achievements, of piety, or with cases of especial appeal to the Most High. When Saul was buried, having been the first King of Israel, and having been slain ingloriously, the people assembled to recover his insulted corpse, and decently inter it. Then they fasted seven days. When David's child was dangerously ill, he lay on his face, and mourned, with fasting and prayer. The psalmist, speaking of the afflictions brought on him by his enemies, says, "I humbled my soul with fasting." The great day of atonement, when the people brought their sins particularly to mind, was a day of fasting. Another use of it was to prepare the mind for specially intimate communion with God, or for very important service to the Church. Ezra's fasts had reference, too, to great reformations; and, in 1 Samuel 7:6, we find a fast to have been the first stage in one of those glorious revivals which refreshed and preserved the ancient Chinch. Another occasion was the looking to God for especial help. When the eleven tribes were driven to the necessity of punishing Benjamin, almost to extermination, they "went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even." So, when Haman had procured the terrible decree that was to annihilate the Jewish people, Esther, with her maids of honour, gave themselves to fasting and prayer for the deliverance of their people; and with what success, you remember.
2. If we now follow the history of fasting into the times of Christ, the apostles, and the early Christian Church, we see it having the same solemn import and connections. We begin with the Great Exemplar. Jesus did many things as a Jew, or a worshipper under the old theocracy, because that system was not yet abolished. In such matters He is not an example, only so far as the spirit of obedience and order is concerned. But this fasting was not Jewish. It obeyed no law of Moses. It was human. It was spiritual in the highest degree, and a most fitting opening to His glorious ministry, and His wondrous life as the Saviour of men. After the apostolic times, the Church preserved fasting; and, at length, when aiming to fix a uniform observance of sacred seasons, she set apart the time supposed to be the same as that of our Saviour's fast and temptation in the wilderness, to be solemnized with the anniversary exercise of abstinence. And I believe all her eminent men, of every communion, have been distinguished for this exercise. I do not remember any of any age who considered it as obsolete or useless. Down to the time of the Reformation, no true Christian any more thought of neglecting fasting than prayer. After the Reformation we find two classes: those who chose to confound the Romish abuse with the institution itself, and so despised it; and those who practised it in primitive simplicity. And I repeat my impression that the men most eminent for piety, in every blanch of the Protestant Church, used this means of grace. What, then, is —
II. THE NATURE OF FASTING AS A RELIGIOUS EXERCISE?
1. It is a spiritual service. "Is this the fasting or day for soul-humbling that I have chosen; the mere bowing down of the head like a bulrush, and spreading sackcloth and ashes under him?" No. He says: I require you to fast in spirit; to cease from your injustice and cruelty. So that the abstinence from food, more or less rigid, is but a means to a spiritual end. It may often, indeed, be bodily beneficial to omit a meal, even in good health; but that is not a religious service, it is a medical regimen.
2. Fasting is in no way a meritorious service, nor a magical instrument.
3. It is the expression of an earnest religious purpose. The heart of him who fasts aright is, at the time, peculiarly concentrated. The heart is fixed on one great object, with peculiar earnestness of desire. Moses did not fast for the sake of laying up a store of merit for himself, or for some other person. The founding of God's Church; the promulgation of Jehovah's law; the opening of a new stage in the work of redemption; these were the mighty charges lying on his soul. And he fasted, as a natural means of aiding his self-abasement and his spirituality of mind. This earnestness of purpose is seen not only in being fixed on a definite object; but also in the consecration of time and person to that specific object. That is an eminent advantage. Our life is wasted with vague intentions and scattered labours; OUT consciences are cheated with good resolutions that we never find time to execute. By making the object definite, the mind is concentrated, clear, calm, and strong. By fixing the purpose, the character is rendered firm. By executing it, the conscience assumes its proper ascendency, and something definite is attained and accomplished. There is gain in another direction by this setting apart time to accomplish a definite object. Hindrances are removed.
4. It is consonant with peculiar degrees of repentance. Repentance includes a distinct contemplation of our personal sins. To that, such a season is very favourable. It includes sorrow for sin. Indeed, the natural effect of sorrow is to diminish the appetite for food. There is also in repentance a congeniality with fasting, because both express a kind of holy revenge against sin.
5. Fasting accords with a season set apart for peculiar efforts to attain to personal holiness.
6. Fasting agrees, too, with the peculiar exercise of love to Christ. He peculiarly desires that we remember His sufferings. "Do this in remembrance of Me." His fasting was a part of His suffering, and a part in which we can imitate and share with Him.
7. A peculiar fitness in making a fast to accompany our peculiar onsets on Satan's kingdom. The first thing we need, in waging the battles of the Lord, is to believe that there are any battles to fight; that Satan and his demons are realities. Then we need to know that they are too formidable for us; and yet that they are not invincible. This kind can be driven forth, but it must be "by fasting and prayer." We can become the organs of the Spirit of God by fasting and prayer. We must look to God in our attacks on Satan. And religious fasting is an acceptable service. He accepted it of Moses and Nehemiah, of Jesus and of the apostles. We see how the Church is to become efficient.
(E. N. Kirk.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, that on the next day, when they were come down from the hill, much people met him.