Mark 2:19
Weak brethren too often do the work of evil men. The disciples of John, who were not hostile to our Lord, were made on this occasion the tools of the Pharisees, whose great object was to damage our Lord's reputation amongst the people, and to weaken the allegiance of his followers. The Baptist had never forbidden his disciples to observe the customary fasts, and his own ascetic life had taught them such lessons of self-denial that they readily observed them, especially at a time like this, when he was languishing in prison. Sore and sensitive in heart as they were, it was easy for the Pharisees to suggest that Jesus owed much to their teacher's testimony; that he had professedly been John's Friend and Fellow-worker; that he was doing nothing whatever to effect his deliverance; that he did not even fast for grief because of his imprisonment, but was enjoying social festivity in the house of a publican. But although the design of the Pharisees was to convict our Lord of disregard of national tradition and pious custom, and to condemn him for forgetfulness of his imprisoned friend, they only succeeded in educing a complete justification of his conduct, and the announcement of a noble principle which we have to consider, viz. that religious observances are only acceptable to God when they are the natural outcome of the religious life of him who offers them. In this passage we see the following facts: -

I. HYPOCRISY IS CONDEMNED. John's disciples were not guilty of this offensive sin. No doubt their fasting was, at this time, a true expression of inward grief; and was on other occasions used by them as a means of spiritual discipline. Our Lord does not imply that they were hypocritical, but asserts that his own disciples would be, if they outwardly joined in a fast which would be an untrue representation of their present feeling. Hopeful and jubilant in the presence of their Lord, his disciples could not fast, and would be wrong to do so. This tacitly condemns all fasts which arise from improper or untrue motives, or which are outwardly kept at the dictation of others. The principle, however, is of general application, teaching us that, under the new dispensation, no outward manifestation of devotion is acceptable to God, except as it is true to the inward feeling of the worshipper. The sin of unreality was often rebuked by the prophets, and still more vigorously by John the Baptist and by our Lord; indeed, the sternest words ever uttered by Christ were levelled against the unreal, insincere, and hypocritical Pharisees. From that sin he would save his disciples, and therefore asserted that as their inward condition did not lead them to fasting, a fast would at that time be unnatural and perilous. Be you who or what you may, be real and true before God and man. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light."

II. EXTERNALISM IS REBUKED. By externalism we mean the putting of external religious ceremonies in the place of spiritual acts of worship. We distinguish this decisively from hypocrisy, as the words are by no means interchangeable - some of the Pharisees, for example, being thoroughly sincere. But many rites enjoined under the old dispensation, which were meant to have spiritual significance and to give utterance to soul-longings, had become mere husks in which the kernel had rotted. Sacrifices were offered without sense of guilt; washings were frequent, even to absurdity, but did not express conscious uncleanness of soul; alms were largely given, but without generosity; fasts were observed without any humiliation of soul before God. Religion had become mechanical and soulless, and from that curse Christ would save his disciples. Hence he commended the mite of the widow, and not the large gifts of the wealthy; he chose his friends not from the priests in the temple, but from peasants in Galilee; he discerned faith not in the long prayers recited by the Pharisees, but in the secret petition of the trembling woman who only durst touch the hem of his garment. To him the unuttered sigh was a prayer, the generous purpose an alms-deed, and a holy aspiration was an evening sacrifice. So here he taught that fasting was not a rite of any value in itself, and that self-inflicted penance was not as such pleasing to God. (Apply this to what is similar in our days.)

III. FREEDOM IS PROCLAIMED. He who condemned fasting and all other rites and ceremonies, when put in a wrong place, allowed any of these to be used by his disciples when they naturally and truly expressed their inward spiritual life. When, for example, the Bridegroom was taken away, when the shadow of Calvary's cross rested on them, they fasted; for they had no heart to do anything else. But when the Resurrection morning dawned, and the gates of the grave were opened, and the Bridegroom came back to his waiting bride, to fulfill the promise, "I am with you always," then, and on the day of Pentecost, they could not fast. If now there are times when to our doubting minds the heavenly Bridegroom seems far away; if now we ever feel that temporary abstinence from food, or from pleasure, or from work, would help our spiritual life, - then let us fast; but even then let us do so in remembrance of the words, "Thou when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast." In regard to this and all other ceremonies, "Ye, brethren, are called unto liberty, only use not that liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."

IV. JOYFULNESS IS INCULCATED. In this respect the practices of our Lord presented a striking contrast to those of John or of the Pharisees. Here he justifies his disciples, as formerly he had defended himself, against aspersions cast upon them for joining in social festivity. Appealing to the consciences of his questioners, and alluding to the last words of testimony their master had uttered concerning himself (John 3:29), he asked, "Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, while the bridegroom is with them?" We ought to be so glad because of our relation to Christ, because of his constant presence and undying love, that, like Paul, we can be "joyful in tribulations also," and sing God's praise in the darkness of a prison. - A.R.

And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast.
Men of opposing faiths are often united by a common scare. They are more zealous for religious custom than for the interests of truth. Jesus here puts fasting on its true basis.

I. FASTING HAS NO MORAL VALUE IN ITSELF. The appetite may have to be denied from prudential motives, and then fasting becomes a duty. But asceticism, per se, is not a virtue. It is the negation of a vice, but it may be the seed of twenty others, e.g., pride, self-righteousness.


III. FASTING IS IMPOSED BY SORROWFUL EVENTS. A natural instinct indicates its fitness.

IV. BENEFICIAL FASTING COMES FROM HEAVENLY FEASTING. It is the time for special activities of the soul. The best rule is — so far as fasting helps you in the elevation and improvement of your highest nature, adopt it; so far as it is injurious to this, avoid it.

(D. Davies, M. A.)

I. The envious are more busied in censuring the conduct of others, than in rectifying their own. This is one vice belonging to a Pharisee, and which is very common.

II. It is another, to desire that everyone should regulate his piety by ours, and embrace our particular customs and devotions.

III. It is a third, to speak of others, only that we may have an opportunity to speak of and to distinguish ourselves. It is very dangerous for a man to make himself remarkable by such devout practices as are external and singular, when he is not firmly settled and rooted in internal virtues, and, above all, in humility.


Fasting is one of the forgotten virtues, from the neglect of which probably we all suffer. The practice grew from a desire to keep down all grossness of nature; to give the soul a better chance in its conflict with the body. The more the appetite is indulged, the less the soul can act with energy, and the more the man shrinks from self-denial. Gluttony spoils sanctity, while self-denial in food and drink aids it. Accordingly, God ordained fasting, and His people have, in most ages, practised it. But in the nature of things it yielded most advantage when it was


(2)voluntary, and


(R. Glover.)

Christ's answer to the Pharisees' objection is one of those clear and unanswerable statements of truth which, like a flash, light up the whole dark confused realm of obligation, where so many stumble sadly and hopelessly. Can you not see that what is within must determine that which is without? The law of appropriateness is supreme in the moral and religious sphere as in the material.

(De Witt S. Clark.)

An aroused, loving, penitent nature will express itself; but a set series of motions will not quicken the torpid spirit. They are like empty shells, in which the life has died, or out of which it has crept. They are curiosities. The hermit crab may tenant in them; and thence come the useless prayers, the languishing hosannas, the weary exhortations, while the world rallies the Church as to the reality of the God it worships.

(De Witt S. Clark.)

I. ITS NATURE. Fasting in a religious sense is a voluntary abstinence from food for a religious purpose.



1. There is a scriptural, a psychological, a moral and religious ground for fasting.(1) Each act of self-denial, the refusal to gratify the lusts of the flesh, even when natural and proper, is an assertion of the supremacy of the soul over the body, and tends to strengthen its authority.(2) It is a general law of our nature that the outward should correspond with the inward. No man can maintain any desired state of mind while his bodily condition and acts are not in accordance. He cannot be sorrowful in the midst of laughter.

2. There is also the further ground of experience and the example of God's people. All eminently pious persons have been more or less addicted to this mode of spiritual culture.(1) It must, however, be sincere. The hypocritical fasting of the Pharisees is at once hateful and destructive.(2) It must be regarded as simply a means and not an end.(3) It must be left free.

(C. Hodge.)

Christ went in the face of many Jewish customs and prejudices.

I. The Jews, as a nation and church, had many fasts.

II. The disciples of John fasted often.

III. The Pharisees and their disciples fasted often — twice in the week, the second and fifth day. Their real state of mind contrasted with this exercise. How reason staggers in the things of God.

IV. These parties naturally complained of the disciples of Christ for not fasting.

1. Fasting seemed so essential.

2. They attributed the conduct of the disciples of Christ to Christ Himself.

3. In this instance, Christ gave His sanction and defence to the conduct of His disciples. His vindication was: — He was with them — they were joyful, fasting not suited, etc. He would leave them — they would be sorrowful, fasting then suitable.This view enforced by two comparisons.

1. Christ sanctions fasting.

2. The time for fasting should be decided by the fact of Christ's presence or absence. Beware of attaching too much importance to forms.

(Expository Discourses.)

I. THAT THE SAME CEREMONIAL OBSERVANCES MAY BE ADVOCATED BY MEN OF STRANGELY DIFFERENT CREEDS AND CHARACTER, ANIMATED BY VARIED MOTIVES. "And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast; and they come and say unto Him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Thy disciples fast not?"

1. That weak, but well-meaning, men may be led astray in their estimate of the ceremonial of the Christian life by proud and crafty religionists.

2. That men of varied creed, character, and conduct may be found contending for the same ceremonial of the Christian life.

3. That even good men are often found in open hostility because of their varied opinions in reference to the mere ceremonial of the Christian life.


1. Men are in danger of neglecting the deeper truths of the Christian ceremonial because they are generally lacking in the habit of penetrating its unseen and hidden meanings.

2. Men are in danger of neglecting the deeper truths of the Christian ceremonial because they are lacking in the pure sympathy needful to such discovery.

3. Men are in danger of neglecting the deeper truths of the Christian ceremonial because they are lacking in that diligence needful to such discovery.

III. THAT MEN SHOULD REGULATE THE CEREMONIAL OBSERVANCES OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE ACCORDING TO THE MORAL EXPERIENCES OF THE SOUL. "And Jesus said unto them, can the children of the bride chamber fast while the Bridegroom is with them?"

1. That Christ is the Bridegroom of the soul. Christ had just revealed Himself as the Great Physician of the soul. But this is a more endearing and condescending revelation of Himself. He loves the soul of man. He seeks to be wedded to and to endow it with all His moral wealth. This is a close union.

2. That the absence or presence of Christ the Bridegroom determines largely the emotions of the soul.

3. That the emotions of the soul, as occasioned by the absence or presence of the Divine Bridegroom, must determine the ceremonial of the Christian life.Lessons:

1. That the moral character cannot be infallibly judged by an attention to the outward ceremony of the Christian life.

2. That if we would cultivate true moods of joy, we must seek habitual communion with Chris.

3. That the feeling of the soul must determine the religious ceremony of the hour.

(J. S. Exell, M. A.)

I. THE BRIDEGROOM. The singular appropriateness in the employment of this name by Christ in the existing circumstances. The Master of these very disciples had said "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom," etc. Our Lord reminds them of their own Teacher's words, and so He would say to them, "In your Master's own conception of what I am, and of the joy that comes from My presence, you have an answer to your question." We cannot but connect this name with a whole circle of ideas found in the Old Testament; the union between Israel and Jehovah was represented as a marriage. In Christ all this was fulfilled. See here Christ's self-consciousness; He claims to be the Bridegroom of humanity.

II. THE PRESENCE OF THE BRIDEGROOM. Are we in the dreary period when Christ "is taken away"? The time of mourning for an absent Christ was only three days. "Lo, I am with you alway." We have lost the manifestation of Him to the sense, but have gained the manifestation of Him to the spirit. The presence is of no use unless we daily try to realize it.

III. THE JOY OF THE BRIDEGROOM'S PRESENCE. What was it that made these rude lives so glad when Christ was with them? The charm of personal character, the charm of contact with one whose lips were bringing to them fresh revelations of truth. There is no joy in the world like that of companionship, in the freedom of perfect love, with one who ever keeps us at our best, and brings the treasure of ever fresh truth to the mind. He is with us as the source of our joy, because He is the Lord of our lives, and the absolute Commander of our wills. To have one present with us whose loving word it is delight to obey, is peace and gladness. He is with us as the ground of perfect joy because He is the adequate object of all our desires, and the whole of the faculties and powers of a man will find a field of glad activity in leaning upon Him, and realizing His presence. Like the apostle whom the old painters loved to represent lying with his happy head on Christ's heart, and his eyes closed in tranquil rapture of restful satisfaction, so if we have Him with us and feel that He is with us, our spirits may be still, and in the great stillness of fruition of all our wishes and the fulfilment of all our needs, may know a joy that the world can neither give nor take away. He is with us as the source of endless gladness in that He is the defence and protection for our souls. And as men live in a victualled fortress, and care not though the whole surrounding country may be swept bare of all provision, so when we have Christ with us we may feel safe, whatsoever befalls, and "in the days of famine we shall be satisfied." He is with us as the source of our perfect joy because His presence is the kindling of every hope that fills the future with light and glory. Dark or dim at the best, trodden by uncertain shapes, casting many a deep shadow over the present, that future lies, except we see it illumined by Christ, and have Him by our side. But if we possess His companionship, the present is but the parent of a more blessed time to come; and we can look forward and feel that nothing can touch our gladness, because nothing can touch our union with our Lord. So, dear brethren, from all these thoughts and a thousand more which I have no time to dwell upon, comes this one great consideration, that the joy of the presence of the Bridegroom is the victorious antagonist of all sorrow — "Can the children of the bride chamber mourn," etc. The Bridegroom limits our grief. Our joy will often be made sweeter by the very presence of the mourning. Why have so many Christian men so little joy in their lives? They look for it in wrong places. It cannot be squeezed out of worldly ambitions. A religion like that of John's disciples and that of the Pharisees is poor; a religion of laws and restrictions cannot be joyful. There is no way of men being happy except by living near the Master. Joy is a duty.

(Dr. McLaren.)

And we have, over and above them, in the measure in which we are Christians, certain special sources of sorrow and trial, peculiar to ourselves alone; and the deeper and truer our Christianity the more of these shall we have. But notwithstanding all that, what will the felt presence of the Bridegroom do for these griefs that will come? Well, it will limit them for one thing; it will prevent them from absorbing the whole of our nature. There will always be a Goshen in which there is light in the dwelling, however murky may be the darkness that wraps the land. There will always be a little bit of soil above the surface, however weltering and wide may be the inundation that drowns our world. There wilt always be a dry and warm place in the midst of the winter; a kind of greenhouse into which we may get from out of the tempest and the fog. The joy of the Bridegroom's presence will last through the sorrow, like a spring of fresh water welling up in the midst of the sea. We may have the salt and the sweet waters mingling in our lives, not sent forth by one fountain, but flowing in one channel.

(Dr. McLaren.)

There is a cry amongst us for a more cheerful type of religion. I re-echo the cry, but am afraid that I do not mean by it quite the same thing that some of my friends do. A more cheerful type of Christianity means to many of us a type of Christianity that will interfere less with any amusements; a more indulgent doctor that will prescribe a less rigid diet than the old Puritan type used to do. Well, perhaps they went too far; I do not care to deny that. But the only cheerful Christianity is a Christianity that draws its gladness from deep personal experience of communion with Jesus Christ.

(Dr. McLaren.)

It is one of the honourable distinctions of Christ's doctrine that He is never taken, as men are, with a half-truth concerning a subject. If there is, for example, a free element in Christian life and experience, and also a restrictive side, He comprehends both and holds them in a true adjustment of their offices and relations. His answer to John's disciples amounts to this Liberty and discipline, movement from God's centre, and movement from our own sanctified inclination and self-compelling will, are the two great factors of Christian life and experience. It is obvious that both these conceptions may be abused, as they always are when taken apart; but let us find now how to hold with Christ the two sides at once. There is then —

I. A RULING CONCEPTION OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE WHICH IS CALLED HAVING THE BRIDEGROOM PRESENT; A STATE OF RIGHT INCLINATION ESTABLISHED, IN WHICH THE SOUL HAS IMMEDIATE CONSCIOUSNESS OF GOD AND IS SWAYED IN LIBERTY BY HIS INSPIRATIONS. The whole aim of Christianity is fulfilled in this alone. Discipline, self-regulation, carried on by the will, may be wanted, as I shall presently show. But no possible amount of such doings can make up a Christian virtue. Everything in Christianity goes for the free inclination. Here begins the true nobility of God's sons and daughters — when their inclination is wholly to good and to God. The bridegroom joy is now upon them because their duty is become their festivity with Christ.

II. WHAT THEN IS THE PLACE OR VALUE OF THAT WHOLE SIDE OF SELF-DISCIPLINE WHICH CHRIST HIMSELF ASSUMES THE NEED OF, WHEN THE BRIDEGROOM IS TO BE TAKEN AWAY. There is, I undertake to say, one general purpose or office in all doings of will, on the human side of Christian experience, viz., the ordering of the soul in fit position for God, that He may occupy it, have it in His power, sway it by His inspirations. No matter what the kind of doing to which we are called — self. government, self-renunciation, holy resolve, or steadfast waiting — the end is the same, the getting in position for God's occupancy. As the navigator of a ship does nothing for the voyage, save what he does by setting the ship to course and her sails to the wind, so our self-compelling discipline is to set us in the way of receiving the actuating impulse of God's will and character. All that we can do is summed up in self-presentation to God, hence the call to salvation is "Come." And as it is in conversion, so it is of all Christian doings afterward. If, by reason of a still partial subjection to evil, the nuptial day of a soul's liberty be succeeded by a void, dry state, the disciple has it given him to prepare himself for God's help by clearing away his idols, rectifying his misjudgments, staying his resentments and grudges, and mortifying his appetites. There will be a certain violence in the fight of his repentances. Let none object that all such strains of endeavour must he without merit because they are, in one sense, without inclination. Holy Scripture commands us to serve, when we cannot reign. Do we "mortify our members," "pluck out our right eye," by inclination? Let us specify some humbler matters in which it must be done.

1. How great a thing for a Christian to keep life, practice, and business in the terms of order.

2. A responsible way has the same kind of value; a soul that stays fast in concern for the Church, for the salvation of men, for the good of the country, is ready for God's best inspirations.

3. Openness and boldness for God is an absolute requisite for the effective revelation of God in the soul.

4. Honesty, not merely commercial, but honesty engaging to do justice everywhere, every way, every day, and specially to God's high truth and God. I could speak of yet humbler things, such as dress and society. These are commonly put outside the pale of religious responsibility. And yet there is how much in them to fix the soul's position towards God! But what of fasting? The very thing about which my text is concerned. Does it belong to Christianity? I think so. Christ declared that His disciples should fast when He was gone, He began His great ministry by a protracted fast, and He discourses of it just as He does of prayer and alms. A certain half-illuminated declamation against asceticism is a great mistake of our time. An asceticism belonging to Christianity is described when an apostle says: "I exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence." If we cannot find how to bear an enemy, if we recoil from sacrifices laid upon us, we shall emulate the example of Cromwell's soldiers, who conquered first in the impassive state, by fasting and prayer, and then, sailing into battle as men iron-clad, conquered their enemies; or those martyrs who could sing in the crisp of their bodies because they had trained them to serve. But none should ever go into a fast when he has the Bridegroom consciously with him, and it must never amount to a maceration of the body — never be more frequent than is necessary to maintain, for the long run of time, the clearest, healthiest condition of mind and body. There ought to be a fascination in the severities of this rugged discipline. Our modern piety, we feel, wants depth and richness, and it cannot be otherwise, unless we consent to endure some hardness. To be merely wooed by grace, and tenderly dewed by sentiment, makes a Christian mushroom, not a Christian man. So much meaning has our Master, when charging it upon us, again and again, without our once conceiving possibly what depth of meaning He would have us find in His words. "Deny thyself take up thy cross and follow Me."

(Horace Bushnell, D. D.)

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