Ecclesiastes 3:1,4; Joel 2:12,15
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven―a time to weep…a time to mourn.
Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning…Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly.
JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): Mourning and fasting usually go together.
ADAM CLARKE (1760-1832): “Call a solemn assembly.” עצרה (atsarah) signifies a time of restraint, as the margin has it. The clause should be translated “consecrate a fast, proclaim a time of restraint”―that is, of total abstinence from food.
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): But that there be no error in the name, let us define what fasting is; for we do not understand by it simply a restrained and sparing use of food, but of something else…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…The Papists seek to pacify Him by fasting as by a sort of satisfaction―yet the intention, as they call it, is nothing else but a diabolical error, for they determine that fasting is a work of merit and of satisfaction, and a kind of expiation―Fasting, we know, is not of itself a meritorious work, as the Papists imagine it to be: there is, indeed, strictly speaking, no work meritorious.
ARCHIBALD ALEXANDER (1772-1851): External fasting, without corresponding internal penitence and humiliation, is hypocrisy, and such fasting is severely reproved by the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 58).
C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): There is a fasting which is not fasting, and there is an inward fasting, a fasting of the soul, which is the soul of fasting.
JOHN CALVIN: It is not then approved by God, except for its end; it must be connected with something else, otherwise it is a vain thing. Men, by private fastings prepare themselves for the exercise of prayer, or they mortify their own flesh, or seek a remedy for some hidden vices. Now I do not call fasting temperance; for the children of God, we know, ought through their whole life to be sober and temperate in their habits; but fasting, I regard that to be, when something is abstracted from our moderate allowance: and such a fast, when practiced privately, is, as I have said, either a preparation for the exercise of prayer, or a means to mortify the flesh, or a remedy for some vices.
HENRY SCUDDER (died 1659): As there were some devils that could not be cast out, but by fasting and prayer, so it may be that such hardness of heart may be grown upon a person, or some sinful lusts may have gotten so much strength, that they will not be subdued―some evils, private and public, which cannot be prevented or removed, or some special graces and blessings, which shall not be obtained or continued―but with the most importunate seeking of God by fasting and prayer.
MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): Fasting and prayer are proper means for the bringing down of Satan’s power against us, and the fetching in of divine power to our assistance. Fasting is of use to put an edge upon prayer; it is an evidence and instance of humiliation which is necessary in prayer, and is a means of mortifying some corrupt habits, and of disposing the body to serve the soul in prayer. When the devil’s interest in the soul is confirmed by the temper and constitution of the body, fasting must be joined with prayer, to keep under the body…And it signified the mortifying of sin and turning from it, “loosing the bands of wickedness,” Isaiah 58:6,7.
JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): It ferrets out corruption, and is to the soul as washing to a room, which is more than sweeping; or as scouring to the vessel, which is more than ordinary washing. It subdues rebel flesh, which with fulness of bread will wax wanton, as Sodom, Jeshurun, and Ephraim. It testifies true repentance by this holy revenge, 2 Corinthians 7:11, while we thus punish ourselves by a voluntary foregoing of the comforts and commodities of life, as altogether unworthy.
JOHN CALVIN: The uses and ends of a fast, we know, are various: but when the Prophet here speaks of a solemn fast, he doubtless bids the people to come to it suppliantly, as the guilty are wont to do, who would deprecate punishment before a judge, that they may obtain mercy from Him…True believers may cease for a time to partake of their ordinary food, when, by voluntary fasting, they humbly beseech God to turn away His wrath.
JOHN TRAPP: Hence it is called a day of humiliation, or of humbling the soul.
MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): “I humbled my soul with fasting,” Psalm 35:13. In the Hebrew, it is “I afflicted my soul.”
MATTHEW HENRY: David chastened his soul with fasting, Psalm 69:10…A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it does not express a genuine sorrow for sin, and does not promote a real mortification of sin, it is not a fast; the law of the day of atonement was that on that day they should afflict their souls, Leviticus 16:29-31.
HENRY SCUDDER: Fasting is an open profession of guiltiness before God; and an expression of sorrow and humiliation…but it is not enough that the body be chastened, if the soul be not also afflicted, because it is else but a mere bodily exercise, which profiteth little; nay, it is but a hypocritical fast, abhorred and condemned of God; frustrating a chief end of the fast, which is that the soul may be afflicted. Afflicting the soul worketh repentance―another chief end, and companion of fasting: “for godly sorrow worketh repentance, never to be repented of,” 2 Corinthians 7:10.
MATTHEW HENRY: Fasting, without reforming and turning away from sin, will never turn away the judgments of God, Jonah 3:10.
JOHN WESLEY: Hast thou laboured, by watching, fasting, and prayer, to possess thy vessel in sanctification and honour? If thou hast not been guilty of any act of uncleanness, hath thy heart conceived no unclean thought? Hast thou not looked on a woman so as to lust after her? Hast thou not betrayed thy own soul to temptation, by eating and drinking to the full, by needless familiarities, by foolish talking, by levity of dress or behaviour? Hast thou used all the means which scripture and reason suggest, to prevent every kind and degree of unchastity?
THOMAS BOSTON (1676-1732): A time of personal fasting is a time for the runaway to return to his duty, and to set matters right again, that were put wrong by turning aside from God and His way.
MATTHEW HENRY: When God says, You shall fast, it is time to say, “We will fast.”―Seasons of deep humiliation require abstinence―fasting from bodily refreshments, upon such extraordinary occasions, is a token of self-judging for the sins we have committed and of self-denial for the future; fasting for sin implies a resolution to fast from it, though it has been to us as a sweet morsel.