Directory For The Publick Worship Of God
Concerning Publick Solemn Fasting.
Question 1.—When some great and notable judgments are either inflicted or imminent, or notoriously deserved; as also when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, is public solemn fasting a duty expected by God from a nation or people?
Answer.—Yes. Luke 5:34. When our Saviour excuses his apostles for not fasting, he does not say that fasting was abrogated, but reserves it for calamitous times, and conjoins it with mourning. Religious fasting is an appointment of God to humble a people and loose the power of sin over their lives, Isa. 58:5, 6.
Question 2.—Does a religious fast require total abstinence, not only from all food, but also from worldly labour, discourses and thoughts and from all bodily delights?
Answer.—Yes. Jon. 3:5, 7; Lev. 16:29, 31. The Jews were required by the law to abstain from prosecuting their secular employments when engaged in the fast connected with the annual day of atonement, Lev. 23:27, 31. At a subsequent period, when they transgressed this law, they fell under the sharp reproofs of God, Isa. 58:3. Fasting, being a means to humble the soul, Ps. 35:13, all subordinate affairs of life ought to be made to yield to this service lest the offender meet with that same reproof given to the Jews.
Question 3.—May those who, by reason of bodily weakness, are not able to hold out till the fast is ended partake, though sparingly, to support nature which is ready to faint?
Answer.—Yes. Hos. 6:6. The degree of abstinence from meat and drink, when people fast, ought not to be equally bound upon all. Fasting is not a part of worship, but a mean to dispose us for extraordinary worshiping; and therefore should be used only so far as it may be an help to that end. Total abstinence might as much indispose some weakly persons for duty, as it would assist others of stronger constitution. Nonetheless, even those who must partake ought to do so sparingly, abstaining in part, altering the quantity or quality of them, or both, that they might be afflicted, Lev. 23:29; even as did Daniel in his mourning, Dan. 10:3.
Question 4.—Should each family and person apart to use all religious care to prepare their hearts before the public meeting?
Answer.—Yes. Zech. 12:14; 2 Cor. 11:27. It is the duty of all God’s people to prepare themselves for their participation in the religious duties of the assembly, Ps. 26:6.
Question 5.—Should so large a portion of the day as conveniently may be, be spent in public reading and preaching of the word, with singing of psalms, fit to quicken affections suitable to such a duty?
Answer.—Yes. Neh. 9:1-3. Fasting, not being an end in itself, ought to free God’s people to engage in those public acts of worship which most conduce to the humbling of their souls.
Question 6.—Should the fast day be spent especially in prayer?
Answer.—Yes. Acts 13:3; 14:23. Fasting and prayer were joined in the acts of government in the apostolic church. They are joined in the admonitions of both Christ and the apostle, Matt. 17:21; 1 Cor. 7:5.
Question 7.—In what should this prayer consist?
Answer.—1.) Giving glory to the great majesty of God, Neh. 9:6; Dan. 9:3, 4. 2.) Acknowledging of God’s great and tender mercies, Neh. 9:26; Dan. 9:9. 3.) Humbly confessing of our sins, Neh. 9:1-3; Dan. 9:5-8. 4.) Justifying God’s righteous judgments, Neh. 9:29, 30; Dan. 9:10-14. 5.) Humbly and earnestly imploring God for His mercy and grace, Dan. 9:16, 17. 6.) Applying by faith the promises and goodness of God for pardoning, helping and delivering His people, Dan. 9:18, 19. 7.) Applying by faith the promises and goodness of God for obtaining the blessings needed and expected, Neh. 9:32. 8.) Giving up of ourselves wholly and forever unto the Lord, Neh. 9:36-38; 2 Cor. 8:5.
Question 8.—Ought ministers, who are the mouths of the people unto God, so speak from their hearts, upon serious and thorough premeditation of them, that both themselves and the people are much affected, and even melted, especially with sorrow for their sins?
Answer.—Yes. Jer. 13:15-17. It is the duty of the minister of God to seek to communicate not only the truth of the Gospel, but the spirit of a godly heart, 1 Thess. 2:8; 2 Cor. 6:11-13; Rom. 1:11, 12.
Question 9.—Should the fast day be a day of deep humiliation and afflicting of the soul?
Answer.—Yes. Ps. 35:13; Isa. 58:5. God has appointed fasting as a mean to bring men to a humble state acknowledging their soul sins and seek the restoration of his favor.
Question 10.—Should special choice be made of such Scriptures to be read and such texts to be preached as may best work the hearts of the hearers to the special business of the day, and most dispose them to humiliation and repentance?
Answer.—Yes. Eccl. 12:9-11. The minister has a special concern to make the application of God’s word to the hearts of his hearers that they might be disposed to the duties of the day, 2 Tim. 4:2; Ps. 90:12.
Question 11.—Should the minister, before the close of the public duties, engage himself and the people to be the Lord’s, with professed purpose and resolution to reform what is amiss, and to draw near unto God?
Answer.—Yes. Neh. 9:38. It is foretold expressly of the New Testament times that the penitent people of God would engage to be the Lord’s and profess to amend their former ways drawing near to God, Jer. 50:4, 5. This we find the Corinthians doing in the apostolic church, 2 Cor. 8:5.
Question 12.—Should the minister admonish the people that the work of the day does not end with the public duties of it, but that they are to improve the remainder of the day, and of their whole life, in reinforcing in private all those godly affections and resolutions professed in public?
Answer.—Yes. Joel 2:12. Religious fasting has for its end the subduing of the body that the soul might be turned to God. The glory due to God in this duty, includes an acknowledgement of his patience, submission to his sovereignty, and confidence in his favor, as our God, who is pacified notwithstanding all that we have done. We must fast unto him, Zech. 7:5, 6.
Question 13.—May congregations, at other times than those enjoined by authority, keep days of fasting, as divine providence shall administer unto them special occasion?
Answer.—Yes. 1 Cor. 5:2; 2 Cor. 7:7. Particular sins ought to be mourned over particularly in the congregations wherein they appear.
Question 14.—May families do the same, provided that it be not on days wherein the congregation to which they belong is to meet for a fast, or other public duties of worship?
Answer.—Yes. Zech. 12:12-14. Families ought to fast, when providence dictates, provided their private familial fasts do not interfere with those that are enjoined by authority.