Is Fasting a Christian Duty for Protestant Evangelicals?

Matthew 9:14,15; Matthew 6:16

When came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber 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.

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites….

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): For Evangelicals, this whole question of fasting has almost disappeared from our lives and even out of the field of our consideration. How often and to what extent have we thought about it?  What place does it occupy in our whole view of the Christian life and of the discipline of the Christian life? I suggest that the truth probably is that we have very rarely thought of it at all. I wonder whether we have ever fasted?  I wonder whether it has even occurred to us that we ought to be considering the question of fasting?

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Our Lord Jesus Christ never made much of fasting. He very seldom spoke about it; and when the Pharisees exaggerated it, He generally put them off by telling them that the time had not come for His disciples to fast, because the Bridegroom was still with them, and while he was with them their days were to be days of joy. But, still, Holy Scripture does speak of fasting, in certain cases it advises fasting, and there were godly men and godly women, such as Anna, the prophetess, who “served God with fastings and prayer night and day,” Luke 2:37.

ANDREW FULLER (1754-1815): Fasting is supposed to be the ordinary practice of the godly. Christ does not make light of it, but merely cautions them against its abuses.

LANCELOT ANDREWES (1555-1626): “Moreover, when ye fast,” I say first, this very “when” shows Christ’s liking of it, that there is a time allowed for it, else He would allow it no “when”―no time at all; this “when” is a presupposing, at least, for can any man fancy that Christ would presuppose aught that were not required of us by God?

JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): This exercise hath still the warrant and weight of a duty, as well from precepts as examples in both Testaments.

HENRY SCUDDER (died 1659): In the sacred Scriptures we have manifold examples of private fasts, and examples and commandments for public ones. Our Lord and Saviour said that His disciples after His departure from them should fast, and gave directions to all concerning private fasts. The apostle Paul spoke of husbands and wives abstaining from conjugal embraces that they might give themselves to fasting and prayer, I Corinthians 7:5. And we have repeated examples of the apostles and primitive Christians [practising] religious fasts, Acts 13:3. All of which prove fasting to be a Christian duty.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): It is a laudable practice, and we have reason to lament it, that is so generally neglected among Christians…Paul was “in fastings often,” 2 Corinthians 11:27.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: The fact is, is it not, that this whole subject seems to have dropped right out of our lives, and right out of our whole Christian thinking.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Let us, therefore, make some observations on fasting, since very many, not understanding, what utility there can be in it, judge it not to be very necessary, while others reject it altogether as superfluous. Where its use is not well known it is easy to fall into superstition…

Fasting is commended to us, but not on account of itself…Fasting does not of itself displease God; but it becomes an abomination to Him, when it is thought to be a meritorious work, or when some holiness is connected with it―the Papists have this in common with the Jews, that they think that they serve God by it, and that it is a meritorious work. Yet fasting is not the worship of God, and is not in itself commanded by Him―it is an external exercise, which is auxiliary to prayer, or is useful for subduing the flesh, or testifying our humiliation, when, as guilty persons, we implore that the wrath of God may be turned away in adversity.

ANDREW FULLER: It is an appendage to prayer, and designed to aid its importunity. It is humbling, and in a manner chastising, ourselves before God.

JOHN GILL (1697-1771): Christ fasted in the wilderness.

JOHN TRAPP: All Christ’s actions are for our instruction, not all for our imitation.

MATTHEW HENRY: The reference which the Papists make of their lent-fast to this fasting of Christ forty days, is a piece of foppery and superstition.

JOHN CALVIN: It is plain that Christ did not fast to set an example to others―and it is strange how men of acute judgment could fall into this gross delusion, which so many clear reasons refute: for Christ did not fast repeatedly―which He must have done had He meant to lay down a law for an anniversary fast―but once only, when preparing for the promulgation of the gospel. Nor does He fast after the manner of men, as He would have done had He meant to invite men to imitation.

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): He was not an hungred till “he had fasted forty days and forty nights, Matthew 4:2. Here was the Divine power miraculously seen, in upholding the human nature of Christ without anything to eat: this was a miracle…

Nor did He fast as the Jews were wont, of whom we sometimes read that they kept fasts several days; they only fasted in the day time, but ate their food at night―but Christ fasted from all food, and that not only forty days, but forty nights also; from whence may be easily gathered, how idly, if not impiously, the Papists found their forty days fasting in Lent…There can be nothing more sottish than for us to think that because Christ―supported by the Divine nature―fasted forty days, therefore we are obliged to do it; and because we cannot fast forty days and forty nights, without eating something, therefore we may eat fish, though no flesh; or that we are obliged to fast in the day time, though not at night; and because Christ once in His lifetime fasted forty days and forty nights, therefore we must do so every year, or that the church hath any power to enjoin any such thing.

JOHN TRAPP: They ascribe merit unto it, even to the mere outward abstinence, as the Pharisees did, and these hypocrites in Isaiah (Isaiah 58:3).

ANDREW FULLER: There has doubtless been much formality and hypocrisy in some who have attended to it; but it does not follow that the thing itself should be neglected.

JOHN TRAPP: Now since we cannot but condemn their superstition, so neither is our forlorn indolence and dulness to this duty to be excused…So many are departed so far from Popish fasts, that they fast not at all―and He that blamed the Pharisees here for fasting amiss, will much more blame those that fast not at all.

ARCHIBALD ALEXANDER (1772-1851): Because the practice has been turned to superstition, Protestants have too much neglected this duty. But eminently devout men in all ages have found fasting an auxiliary to devotion and to the mortification of sin.


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