Dr. George Downame
The Christian’s Sanctuary, pp. 29-49
Inward and spiritual exercise of prayer joined with repentance
What then is the spiritual exercise and the inward fast, whereunto the outward abstinence must be referred? It is an humbling of our souls in a solemn exercise of prayer, joined with repentance, for the obtaining of our special suit, helped forward and testified by the outward fast: as Ezra speaketh, I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble our selves before our God, and seek of him a right way, &c. For as the occasion of our fast is some special suit or request, which we are upon urgent occasion to make to God: so the obtaining of our request is the end of our fast. Now that we may obtain our suit to our comfort, it is necessary that we should beg it at the hands of God by prayer. For as James saith, You have not, because you ask not. And because the Lord doth not hear every prayer of every man, therefore that our prayer may be heard, it is necessary, that both it be qualified in some measure according to God’s will, and our selves also indued with repentance for our sins. For if our prayer be not rightly qualified, we may ask and not obtain, as St. James saith, You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss. Neither, if we repent not of our sins, shall we be heard; because sin maketh a separation between God and us: neither doth the Lord hear impenitent sinners.
But if any shall object that we are to pray and repent continually, and therefore that this exercise is to little purpose: I answer, that howsoever prayer is to be performed of us daily and ordinarily, and repentance is to be practised of us continually in the whole course of our lives: yet this hindereth not, but that as the Lord giveth us extraordinary occasion, so we may and ought after a solemn and extraordinary manner to humble our selves before him by prayer and repentance, which our Savior Christ calleth, repenting in sackcloth and ashes, and likewise Job, repenting in dust and ashes.
Now whereas I said, that this inward fast is an extraordinary exercise of prayer joined with a profession of our repentance for the obtaining of our suit: we are to know, that as of prayer, which expresseth our suit, there be two parts, and two especial properties: so of repentance, which secondeth our prayer, there are also two parts.
The parts of this prayer are, first, deprecation or praying against some evil which we bewail, and desire to be removed, whether it be the evil of sin alone, or the evil of affliction also caused thereby. Secondly, precation for the obtaining of some good, whether it be only the assurance for the remission of our sins, and grace to withstand them, or also some other special blessing which we crave.
The two especial properties of our prayer, are fervency of desire, and assurance of faith. The two parts of repentance are, humiliation in respect of our sins past, which is penitence; and an unfeigned purpose of amending our lives for the time to come, both in forsaking our sins, and also in embracing the contrary duties, which is amendment of life properly. Both these parts of repentance must concur with both the parts of prayer. And both of them afford their necessary help to both the properties of prayer.
For deprecation of pardon, must be joined not only with humiliation in respect of our sins past, but also with a loathing of our sins, and an unfeigned desire and settled purpose to forsake them for the time to come. And prayer for grace and assurance of pardon, must be joined not only with a desire and purpose of amendment, but also with a sense and acknowledgement of our infidelity and want of grace. And our fervency in prayer, as it must proceed from the sense of our want: so may it not be severed from a desire of obedience and purpose of amendment. And lastly, the promise of hearing our prayer, whereon our faith is grounded, is made both to those that are humbled for their sins past, and unfeignedly desire and purpose amendment for the time to come. Notwithstanding, there is a more special concurrence of humiliation with deprecation, and of an unfeigned purpose of amendment with precation: and also a more special reference, as of humiliation to the fervency of our desire, so of repentance, which consisteth in eschewing evil and doing good to the assurance of faith. Yea the inward sense and sorrow, and the outward bewailing and confessing of our sins in deprecation, are acts of humiliation: and the desire, the promise, the vow of obedience and amendment of life expressed in our precation, are acts of repentance. And therefore for plainness and distinction sake, I will first speak of the former part of our suit, consisting in the deprecation joined with humiliation: and after of the second part, which standeth in the precation joined with amendment of life.
Deprecation joined with humiliation
For as touching the former: if we would be humble and earnest suitors for the removing of evil, whether it be sin, or punishment, or both; it behoveth us first to be affected and touched with a sense and feeling of our misery, and to be inwardly grieved for our sins, that by them we have offended God, who hath been so gracious a God, and so merciful a father unto us, and also have provoked him to threaten or to execute his judgements against us for the same. This then is the first thing which we are to labour for in this exercise, that in regard of our sins, which have made us obnoxious to God’s judgements, our hearts may melt within us, and be resolved into a fountain of tears; that they may be pricked with sorrow and remorse, that they may be rent with grief, that they may become contrite and broken with godly sorrow. For mourning is so perpetually annexed to fasting, that our Saviour Christ useth these words of fasting and mourning indifferently, to signify the same thing. For being demanded, why his disciples fasted not; he said, can the children of the marriage chamber 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. For further evidence whereof, we may observe, that where Mathew useth the word mourn, the other Evangelists have fast. And to the same purpose, when the Jews demanded of the Prophets, whether they were still to observe the fast of the fifth month, &c. they propose their question in these words, Should I weep in the fifth month, and seperate my self, viz. from company and delights? And this mourning, they which fasted were wont under the law to signify by outward signs: as by renting their garments, putting on of sackcloth, sitting in the ashes, putting earth upon them. In stead of which signs, the thing signified (that is, the inward mourning of the heart) is commended unto us, according to the example of David, Psalm 69:10. In fasting I wept with my soul: or as others read, I wept in the fasting of my soul. For so the Prophet exhorteth, Rent your hearts and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord with all your hearts, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning (Joel 2:13).
And to this godly sorrow must be added an humble conceit of our selves: that as we be grieved with our selves because of our sin, so also we should think vilely and esteem basely of our selves, as being worthy not only of that judgement which is upon us, but of all the plagues threatened in the law, and unworthy of the least of God’s mercies: unworthy of food, signified by our abstinence therefrom: unworthy of our garments, which therefore we lay aside: unworthy to tread upon the earth, which they were wont to signify by putting earth upon them. In a word, the outward abstinence is therefore ordained, that by afflicting the body, the soul may be humbled. Yea such an usual companion of fasting is the humiliation of the soul, that not only the faithful in the Scripture are said to humble their soul by fasting, but sometimes also even the outward fasting is called the humbling of the soul. This inward humiliation consisting partly in the godly sorrow, and partly in this base estimation of our selves, is very needful for us, if indeed we would be humble suitors unto the Lord, with hope to obtain: For, the sacrifices of God are a contrite spirit, and a broken heart, which the Lord in no wise will despise, yea he hath respect to those who are of a contrite spirit, and he is near unto them when they call upon him.
And that we may attain to this humiliation, we are seriously to meditate of the judgements of God presently either threatened or laid upon us: for therefore the Lord doth threaten his judgements, that by humbling our selves before him, and preparing our selves to meet him, they might be prevented and turned from us: and that judging our selves we might not be judged of the Lord. And therefore also doth the Lord inflict his judgement, that we might be humbled under his mighty hand: For not to sorrow when the Lord smiteth, it is a sign of an hard and incorrigible heart.
And secondly, we are to enter into a serious meditation of the heinousness of our sins, and of our wretched estate in our selves by reason thereof, which we may conceive: first, by the deserts of them; and namely by that judgement of God which perhaps is the occasion of this exercise: For whatsoever other causes there may be thereof, the author and inflicting cause is God, and the meriting cause is sin. And not only that judgement, but also all those plagues both temporal in this life, and eternal in the world to come, which in the word of God are threatened against transgressors. And these threatenings of the law we are both undoubtedly to believe, and also effectually to apply to our selves. Again, the same appeareth by the sufferings of Christ: For hereby it is most evident, that our sins are so heinous and grievous in the sight of God, that nothing in the whole world could be found a sufficient ransom to satisfy God’s justice, and appease his wrath for them, or to expiate us from the guilt thereof, but the precious death of our Saviour Christ the Son of God. And therefore if God hath given us the spirit of grace and supplication, we shall lament and mourn as a man weeping for his only son, when we look upon him whom we have pierced.
And thirdly, our sin will appear exceedingly sinful, if we compare and lay together God’s unspeakable bounties towards us, and our almost incredible unthankfulness towards him: For if thou doest truly and impartially consider, what thou hast rendered to the Lord for all his benefits which he hath bestowed on thee, and findest nothing but a heap of sins, whereby thou hast shewed thy self so ungracious towards him, who hath been so gracious unto thee, and dishonoured him that hath so honoured thee: this, if anything in the world, will make thy heart relent and melt within thee.
And to these former considerations let there be added, when we come to make our request to God who is in heaven full of majesty and glory, a remembrance of our mould, that we are but dust and ashes; which humbled Abraham when he was to intreat the Lord in behalf of the Sodomites, Behold, saith he, I have begun to speak to my Lord, and I am but dust and ashes. And forasmuch as naturally we are self-conceited and hard hearted, we are therefore to pray unto the Lord that he would give unto us soft and fleshly hearts; and that with the eye-salve of his Spirit he would anoint the eyes of our mind that we may see, and with the finger of his Spirit he would effectually touch our hearts that we may be humbled for our sins.
From the inward humiliation two other things arise, which usually accompany deprecations: namely, from the inward sense of our woe and sorrow for our misery, proceedeth an outward bewailing and lamenting of our estate, which in the faithful sometimes breaketh forth into expostulation. And from the base esteeming and judging our selves, ariseth confession of our sins, in respect whereof we acknowledge our selves unworthy of the lest of God’s mercies, but worthy of his greatest judgements. Lamentation is the outward expressing of our inward mourning, whereby we particularly bewail our woeful estate before the Lord, making our mone unto him, and pouring forth our grief as it were into his bosom. Examples hereof we have in David’s Psalms, as Psalm 6. & 22. & 38. & 79, &c. in Jeremy’s Lamentations. In Ezekial, who in his grief did chatter like a crane or a swallow, and mourned like a dove. Thus some expound that place, 1. Sam. 7, where it is said that the Jews bewailing their miserable estate, Drew water and poured it forth before the Lord, that they used this ceremony before the Lord to signify, that without his special mercy and assistance, they were as water spilt upon the earth: to which purpose David saith unto the Lord, Psalm 22:14, I am like water poured out: and the wise woman of Tekoah unto David, 2. Sam. 14, We shall be like water that is spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. And to this bewailing of our estate before the Lord, we may be induced by consideration of God’s mercy, who because he is merciful, doth hear the cry of his creatures in their distress: for if the Lord doth hear sometimes the cry of wicked men in their anguish, although perhaps it be not a prayer, but the voice, which the extremity of their grief expresseth from them; yea the cry of unreasonable creatures, as of the young lions and the ravens, &c. how much more will he have respect to the mournful cry of his own children? But the faithful sometimes in their mourning and lamentations do proceed, as I said, to expostulations, which are vehement interrogations expressed from them by their grief: whereby they do expostulate with the Lord, concerning either the greatness, or continuance of their affliction: As Moses Exod. 5, Joshua, Ch. 7, David, Psalm 6.3. & 22.1, 2. Job oftentimes, the Church afflicted, Psalm 79. & 80, Lam. 5. And our Saviour on the cross, Matt. 27. But here we are to take great heed, that our expostulation be an holy fruit of a lively faith: lest if it proceed from want of patience, it do degenerate into murmuring against God.
The other thing which must concur with deprecation, is confession of our sins, which is both profitable and necessary in these respects.
First, that God in his judgements may be justified. And to that purpose it is very expedient, that the praise of the Lord may appear more glorious, and the sins which we confess, more grievous; to make a rehearsal, as of our sins, so also of God’s benefits towards us: notable examples whereof we have Nehem. 9. from the 5th verse unto 36th and Ezra 9:6.
Secondly, that judging our selves, we may not be judged of the Lord: for if we acknowledge and confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity: But if we conceal our sins we have no promise of forgiveness: for as Solomon saith, Prov. 28, He that hideth his sins shall not prosper, but he that confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy. And this we see notably verified in the example of David, Psalm 32 for whiles he concealed his sin, the hand of the Lord was heavy upon him to afflict him: but when he confessed and acknowledged his iniquity, the Lord forgave his sin. The practise of this duty in solemn fasts is commended unto us in many examples of the holy Scriptures, as 1. Sam. 7. Ezr. 9, Nehem. 1 & Daniel 9.
Thus therefore in an inward sense and sorrow for our sins, and a base estimation of our selves for the same, together with a bewailing of our woe and confession of our sin, we are to make our humble supplication and deprecation to the Lord, pouring forth our soul before him: earnestly beseeching him in the name and mediation of Christ, that he would remove his judgements from us, and for his sake would forgive us our sins which have most justly provoked him to indignation against us. A lively pattern whereof we have Joel 2:17. Let them say, spare thy people O Lord, &c. and other worthy precedents, as Dan. 9, and Nehem. 9. And herein we being summoned as it were before the judgement seat of the Lord, are to imitate the ancient custom of guilty persons among the Romans, when they were arraigned before the judgement seat; who that they might move the judges to mercy and compassion, humbly abased themselves before them, using long and neglected hair, and putting on mourning weeds, &c. And as Benhadad his servants and followers, when they being vanquished by Ahab the king of Israel, desired to make humble suit unto him for their own and Benhadad his life and liberty: We have heard, say they to Benhadad, that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings, we pray thee let us put sackcloth about our loins, and ropes about our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: it may be that he will save thy life. So let us, having sinned against God, and made our selves obnoxious to his judgements, come unto the Lord with all inward humiliation, and outward tokens thereof, as it were with ropes about our necks, suing unto him for mercy and pardon, seeing we have not only heard that he is merciful: but also know that he hath commanded us in our distress to call upon him with promise to hear us: and also hath invited us to turn unto him with all our heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and that we should rent our hearts and not our garments: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
Prayer joined with amendment of life
But forasmuch as we are suitors to the Lord, not only for avoiding that which is evil, but also for obtaining that which is good: we are therefore to make our requests known unto God, not only by supplications and deprecations against evils; but also by petitions and precation (prayers) for that which is good: and therefore the holy Ghost both by doctrine and example hath taught us to join them together: For if we truly bewail our sins, and earnestly desire to be delivered from the guilt thereof: we will also crave assurance of the remission of our sins to be sealed up in our conscience by the spirit of adoption: and not that only, but also we will desire to be renewed and sanctified by the Spirit of God, that sin may die in us, and that we may live unto God in true holiness and righteousness. And lastly, we will crave the assistance of the holy Ghost to strengthen and support us against all the temptations of the flesh, the world and the devil. But if besides the evil of sin we have occasion also to pray against some evil of punishment, then do we commonly pray for the contrary blessing: or if the obtaining thereof be not expedient for us (as in temporal petitions it many times falleth out) we must willingly submit our selves to God’s good will and pleasure, and in steed of asking preservation from that which is present, we are to crave patience and comfort in affliction, and to beseech the Lord that he would bless his visitation unto us, and cause it to turn unto our good. And therefore these temporal benefits are not (as I have elsewhere shewed) to be asked absolutely, but with this condition, If they may stand with God’s glory, and our spiritual and everlasting good.
And these two were the parts of our prayer. Now in them both there are two things required: fervency of desire that we may, and assurance of faith that we shall obtain our request. As touching the former: fervency is required always in our prayers, but especially when upon extraordinary occasion we humble our selves before the Lord in prayer: for then we must not only pray, but also cry unto the Lord; whereby vehement prayer is signified: yea as the Ninevites speak, we are to cry mightily unto him. And forasmuch as this fervency of desire proceedeth from the feeling of our want, and is commonly proportionable thereunto: therefore doth the Lord afflict us, that in the sense of our want we might the more earnestly pour forth our souls before him: and to the same purpose do we afflict our selves by the outward fast, that we might the better give our selves to prayer: for therefore do we abstain from food and delights, that the sense of our want might be increased, and so our fervency inflamed; therefore do we abstain from our bodily labours and worldly business, that we might the better attend and intend our prayer; and therefore also do we abridge our selves of unnecessary sleep, that we might watch unto prayer. For this cause some have called fasting, the wing of prayer: because the earnestness thereof being inflamed by fasting, it doth the more forcibly ascend before the Lord. Fasting (saith Basil) sendeth up prayer unto heaven, being as it were a wing unto it, to help it in the ascent. And to the like purpose, Chrysostom, He that prayeth with fasting hath two wings (saith he) namely to lift him up from the earth. And forasmuch as this is one main end whereunto fasting is referred, hence it is that so often we do read in the Scriptures of fasting joined with prayer. See Jos. 7:7, 1. Sam. 1:10 and 7:5-6, 2. Sam. 12:16, 2. Chron. 20:6, Ezr. 8:23, Nehem. 1:4. & 9:1,6, &c. Psal. 35:13, Dan. 9:3, Joel. 1:14 & 2:15,17, Jonah 3:5,8, Matt. 1:.21, Luk. 2:37, Act. 9:9,11 & 10:30 & 13:3, & 14:23 and 1. Cor. 7:5. For as Bernard saith, Fasting fortifieth prayer: prayer sanctifieth fasting.
The second thing required in prayer, is Faith: for as we are in our prayers to call upon God in the name of Christ; so are we to believe, that for Christ his sake the Lord will hear us, and so far forth grant our requests as shall be most for his glory, and our good: for howsoever when we fast, we are to be humbled in our selves, mourning for our sins and bewailing our wants; yet we must not so cast down our selves, that we cast away hope, but contrariwise we are to cast our selves upon the mercies of God in Christ: yea therefore doth God touch us with a sense of our want, that feeling our misery, we might flee unto him for mercy. And therefore are we to humble our selves before God, that being cast down in our selves, we may be exalted in Christ. Wherefore in our fast we are so to deplore our misery, that withal we implore the mercy of God; being well assured, though in our selves we are unworthy to appear in his presence, or to lift up our eyes to heaven, yet coming unto him in the name of Christ, we and our prayers shall be accepted of him in his Son.
This faith is to be grounded also on the gracious promises of God made unto us in Christ: As namely, that whatsoever we shall ask the father in his name, he will give it unto us, Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me. And more specially the Lord promiseth by his Prophet Joel to the people of the Jews being afflicted with a grievous famine, that if they humbled their souls before him in fasting and prayer, he would grant their desire.
And the same may be confirmed by the experience of those, who having used this exercise, have obtained their requests at the hands of God. Call to mind the examples in the places before alleged, of Hannah 1. Sam. 1, of the Israelites 1. Sam. 7, of Jehoshaphat 2. Chr. 20. of Daniel in Chap. 1 of Daniel, and in Chap. 9 of Ezra, who professeth his experience in this behalf: We fasted, saith he, and besought our God for this, and he was intreated of us. Of Esther, Mordochai and the Jews, who ordained the fast of Purim to be celebrated yearly on the fourteenth and fifteenth day of the month Adar, as days of feasting and joy, and as perpetual monuments of that great deliverance which they had obtained by fasting and prayer: In which sense they are called, Verba seu document a ieiuniorum & clamoris sui, Esth. 9:31.
And for the better confirmation of our faith, let us to this experience of God’s dealing with the faithful, add the examples even of Rehoboam, of Ahab, and of the Ninevites: For if when the Lord had threatened destruction to Rehoboam, by Shemaiah; to Ahab, by Elias; and to the Ninevites, by Jonas: notwithstanding by fasting and humbling themselves, Rehoboam, who with his people had forsaken the Lord; Ahab, who had sold himself to commit wickedness; and the Ninevites who being not only aliens from God, but also the posterity of cursed Ham, had filled heaven and earth with their transgressions, escaped that judgement which was threatened against them: how much more is this exercise to be undertaken of all those that truly repent and believe in Christ, with assurance of good success? Fear not my little flock (saith our Saviour Christ to all the faithful) for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom, and therefore he will not deny you small requests, if they may be for your good. And if the Lord hath so loved us, as that he hath not spared his Son, but hath given him for us all; how shall he not with him, give us all things also that may be expedient for us? He doth not think any thing too good or too dear for us, who hath given his Son to us in pretium, for a ransom, and reserveth himself in pramium, for a reward.
But you will say: If our faith must be grounded upon the promises of God, what help then doth fasting afford unto it? I answer:
First, that fasting being commanded and ordained of God, it is to be undertaken with expectation of a blessing upon his own ordinance.
Secondly, although our faith may not rely upon the merit of our fasting (which indeed is none) but only on the promise of God in Christ; yet being rightly performed, it affordeth a good testimony to our conscience, that the promise belongeth to us: for although we believe in general, the promises of God to be true; yet we shall have small comfort by them, unless we can be persuaded that they belong unto us. And how can we persuade our selves that they belong unto us, if we have not the condition implied in the promise? As for example: The Lord hath promised to have respect to the humble, to be near unto them when they call upon him, to give grace unto them, and to exalt them: Likewise to them that hunger after righteousness, and thirst for his grace, he hath promised, that they shall be satisfied. If therefore thou wouldest apply these promises to thy self, thou must humble thy self before God, and not be lifted up with pride: thou must hunger and thirst after the grace of God and righteousness of Christ, and not be full with a conceit of thine own righteousness. But by fasting, our humiliation, as I have shewed, may be furthered, and our spiritual hunger increased, and so our selves better qualified, according to the condition included in the promise: which condition if we find in our selves, then may we from the promise as it were the proposition, applied to our selves by the testimony of our conscience, as it were the assumption, gather to our selves a comfortable conclusion. Of which comfort they bereave themselves, who perform this exercise in an opinion of meriting thereby: for when fasting is joined with a conceit of merit, it doth not so much humble the body, as puff up the soul, and so make it incapable of the grace of God: for the Lord giveth grace to the humble, and he resisteth the proud. And as the blessed virgin saith, He filleth the hungry with good things, but the rich he sendeth empty away.
Another notable means to confirm our faith in the assurance of obtaining our suit, is to forsake our sins (which make a separation between God and us) and to promise amendment for the time to come, which also is testified by our fast: For it is not sufficient to confess our sins, if we would find mercy with God; but also we must forsake them. And if we desire to be delivered from the evil which doth afflict us, and to obtain the contrary blessing which doth affect us: then it behoveth us to forsake our sin, which is the cause of the affliction, and also an obstacle, and as it were a partition wall betwixt God and us, to keep his blessings from us. Wouldest thou then have thine affliction removed? remove the cause, which is thy sin. And if thou wouldest have God to repent him of the evil of affliction, which he hath either threatened or inflicted, then must thou also repent of the evil of sin, which hath merited the affliction. Now if we shall truly repent of our sins, and unsainedly purpose amendment of life for the time to come, then may we persuade our selves that our preservation and deliverance shall be joined with God’s glory; and consequently may be emboldened with better assurance of faith, to desire the Lord to preserve and deliver us even for his own glory, and for his name’s sake. But here, as we desire any sound comfort, so must we deal soundly with the Lord: and not as the common practise of the most, in the time of affliction, to promise great matters unto the Lord, which they have no true purpose to perform: for this is to flee unto God, and to go about to deceive him with our lips.
And hereby appeareth the great necessity of joining the practise of repentance with the exercise of prayer in our fast. And therefore fasting as it was ordained to be an help unto our prayer, so also to be both a testimony and furtherance of our repentance, as I have shewed. Now our repentance standeth in two things, in the eschewing of evil, and doing of good.
As touching the former: abstinence from evil and ceasing from sin, is signified in our fast, by abstinence from food and delights, and by ceasing from our labours: For therefore the Lord doth the rather require in our fasts the abstaining and ceasing from things in themselves lawful, that thereby we might be admonished much more to abstain from that which is unlawful. In which respect, Basil calleth fasting, a medicine to take away sin. And Augustine, this is (saith he) the profit of fasting, that whiles we fast from lawful things, we are admonished more and more to forbear unlawful things. If therefore we avoid things which sometimes are lawful, let us chiefly avoid sins which are never lawful: if we fast from meats, much more let us fast from sins: What availeth it to keep the body empty from meats, and to fill the soul with sin? For abstinence from things lawful, if it be not joined with abstinence from things unlawful, that is to say, if our fasting from food and other delights be not joined with fasting from sin, it is odious and abominable in the sight of God. A day of rest, and not resting from sin, the Lord cannot endure together. It is not the emptiness of the belly or cleanness of the teeth, but the purity of the soul and cleaneness of the heart; nor the outward rest from labour, but the spiritual rest from sin that is acceptable unto God: without which, the outward fast as it causeth us to smell worse to men, according to the proverbial phrase, so maketh it us to stink before God.
It is well said of the heathen man, that we ought to fast from sin. For as Basil truly saith true fasting is abandoning of evil. And to the like purpose others of the fathers: Chrysostom, True fasting (saith he) is abstinence from evil: and again, the commendation of a fast is not abstaining from meat, but avoiding of sin. Augustine, The fasts of Christians are rather spiritually to be observed, than carnally. Wherefore let us principally fast from sin. For what a thing is this, that any deceiver should abstain from meats which God hath created, and should grow fat with sin? principally therefore let our mind fast from evil: for seeing fasting is the humbling of the soul, what a thing is that, to be humbled and abated in food, and increased in sin? And likewise Cyril, Wilt thou have me shew thee what manner of fast thou must observe? fast from all sin, take no food of malice, receive no dainties of pleasure, inflame not thy self with the wine of lust, fast from bad practises, abstain from evil speeches, contain thy self from wicked thoughts: such a fast pleaseth God. But these testimonies of men were of little weight, if the Lord himself did not avouch the same truth. See therefore Isa 58. and Zach. 7. where the Lord rejecteth the fasts of the Jews, because whiles they fasted and forbear their food, they did not forbear their sins. We must therefore remember when we observe a fast, and consecrate a Sabbath of humiliation unto the Lord, that we turn away our foot, that is, our affections from doing our own will therein: neither must we follow our own ways, nor seek our own delights, nor speak a vain word.
And as we are to abstain from all sin in general: so especially from those wherein we have chiefly offended, and have thereby provoked the Lord either to shake his rod at us, or else to correct us therewith. For they being the cause of the judgement, must be removed away, if we would have the judgement it self removed. And therefore the Ninevites, when they proclaimed a fast, gave in charge, that every one should turn from his evil way and from that violence (for that was the crying sin of the Ninevites) which was in their hand. And when God saw their works, that they turned from their evil ways, he also repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them, that is to say, he did it not. And we must so abstain from our sins, as that we may not seem to have laid them aside for a day or two, but to have cast them off for ever. For that is not the fast which the Lord hath chosen, that a man should afflict his soul for a day, and hang down his head like a bullrush. For as the son of Syrach saith, He that washeth himself because of a dead body, and toucheth it again, what availeth his washing? so it is with a man that fasteth for his sins, and committeth them again: who will hear his prayer, or what doth his fasting help him?
But for as much as Augustine saith, It is but a slender fast to abstain only from sin, unless we also add good works: therefore we must know it is our duty, especially on the day of the fast, not only to eschew evil, but also for the present to be exercised in well doing: and for the time to come to purpose and to promise amendment. The duties wherein we are to be exercised, are both the duties of piety and religion towards God, which in the time of the fast are to be performed in a special manner: and also the duties of love and mercy towards our brethren; as to execute true judgement, to shew mercy and compassion every man to his brother. For is not this the fasting that I have chosen (saith the Lord) to loose the bands of wickedness, to take off the heavy burthens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Among the rest, the duty of alms-giving and reliving the poor is commended unto us, as it followeth in the Prophet: Is it not to deal the bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that wander, unto thine house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and hide not thy self from thine own flesh, for so he calleth thy poor brother. Then shall thy light break forth, &c. then shalt thou call, and the Lord will answer, thou shalt cry, and be will say, here am I. If thou takest away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger (whereby is meant even the least injuries) and wicked speaking: if thou pour out thy soul to the hungry (that is, if with the bowels of compassion thou doest relieve his need freely and cheerfully) and refresh the troubled soul, then shall thy light spring out in the darkness, and thy darkness shall be as the noon day: that is, thine adversity and affliction shall be turned into peace and prosperity.
Wherefore it hath been and is the custom of the godly in the time of their fasts, by doing works of mercy and giving alms, to relieve the poor. For as our Saviour hath joined the doctrine of these three together, alms, prayer, and fasting; so must we after the example of Cornelius join them in practise. For as the Lord hath promised to shew mercy to the merciful, and to answer their cry: so on the other side, he that stoppeth his ear at the crying of the poor, himself shall cry and not be heard. And surely, unless we will fast for sparing, after the manner of niggards, who will be glad of so good a pretence to spare from their bellies, and to deprive their families of their ordinary allowance, for the increase of their worldly estate; we ought to give so much to the poor, as by our abstinence is saved: they that thy fast (saith Jerome) be not the gain of thy purse, but the saturating of thy soul. For as Augustine saith, Then are our fasts acceptable to God, when as they, whom need doth force to fast, are refreshed by us. And again, Let thy fasting chastise thee, but let it comfort another. So fast, that thou mayest be glad that thou hast dined in another that eateth by that means, for the Lord loveth a cheerful giver: for when a poor man eateth of thine allowance, in him Christ, who affirmeth himself to be hungry in his poor members, doth dine. And elsewhere, Let Christ, being hungry in his poor members, receive that which the fasting Christian hath spared. Let the chastisement of him that hath and is willing to forbear, be the sustenance of him that hath not and fain would eat. And to conclude, Cyril, In a certain book (saith he) we find it said of the Apostles, Blessed is he who fasteth to that end, that he may feed the poor.
And as we are thus for the present to be exercised, so for the time to come we must unfeignedly purpose and faithfully promise amendment, in performing duties heretofore omitted, and in eschewing sins heretofore committed. And to this purpose it shall be needful for the better settling of our resolution, to bind our selves by a solemn vow, and with the Jews in the book of Nehemiah to put our seals unto it, that so we may impose a necessity upon our selves of well doing: and we are to know, that it is a happy necessity which forceth us to better things. The necessity of this unfeigned purpose to be had in this exercise, is evident: because without it we remain in our impenitency. And being impenitent sinners, the Lord will not hear us: as the Lord threatened the impenitent Jews, When they fast (saith he) I will not hear their cry, Jer. 14. And therefore unless we repent of our sins, and resolve to amend; this exercise, which we (being suitors) undertake for the obtaining of our suit, is performed of us in vain. For this we are to know and to be assured of, that the Lord heareth not impenitent sinners. Wherefore true is that saying, though of an Apocryphal book: Prayer is good, with fasting, alms, and righteousness.