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Written by John R. Respess   


 Butler, Ga., January 1894

And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.--Mark ix. 29.

I had a meek and intelligent sister who lost her mind and died at my house in Schley county, after several years insanity. A year or two before her mental affliction I had a religious talk with her one day, and among many other things, I remember, that in deep anguish, she said in substance, "Oh, I have prayed and prayed so earnestly, and fasted and fasted, but have received no consolation." I had at that time been a member of the church but a little while, and had probably never before thought seriously of fasting, and certainly had never heard of any one ever fasting under conviction, and it therefore deeply impressed me with the intensity of her conviction.

Whether my sister ever reaped in joy, I do not know further than that "She went forth weeping, bearing precious seed," and that the Lord had said that such "Should doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them." Ps. cxxvi.

In a year or two her mind began to fail her, and she would speak in awe of imaginary dangers, of strange sounds, and whisperings in the wall at night. She never again spoke to me of religion, or to any one else as far as I know; but I cannot believe that the Lord wrought a vain work in her heart. She certainly was a penitent sinner, and I am sure that the Lord has never said to a single one, "Seek ye me in vain," Isa. xlv.; and I am therefore sure that no penitent or contrite tear has ever been shed in vain, and that no unregenerate soul has ever shed one; and that, like the ephah of barley gleaned by Ruth in the field of Boaz, her rich kinsman, that the persistent tear as well as the tear of joy is gleaned only in a field that the Lord has blessed, and can be gleaned only by one whom the Lord has made poor in spirit, and whom Jesus says are blessed and that the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

There may be some dear to many of you whose eyes have closed in death, leaving no other sign behind them known to you, than a penitent heart; but if they were given as much as a penitent tear, whether they died at home or on some distant battlefield unattended and alone, or died raving maniacs and by their own hands, they are with the Lord. Because Jesus loved them and gave himself for them, and would not be satisfied with the loss of the least one of them.

Fasting got on my mind, and I asked the church to fast at my ordination; but I was young and probably wrong, for the church did not do it. But still it seems to me to be proper that the Elders or Presbyters should fast in the ordination of ministers, because it was the practice in the Apostolic Church. When Paul and Barnabas were ordained the Prophets and Elders fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them and sent them away (Acts xiii. 3). And when Paul and Barnabas ordained Elders in their travels they prayed with fasting (Acts xiv.)

It is true that Christ never commanded it. He and his disciples never practiced it in any of their meetings that we have any account of; but in one ease he seems to have taught it, at least indirectly, and that was in the case of a dumb and deaf spirit in a man that his disciples had failed to cast out; and after Christ had cast the evil spirit out, his disciples asked him why they could not cast it out, and he said, "This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting" (Mark ix. 29).

The Apostles would not have practiced it at ail if they had understood Christ to have disapproved of it; and it is therefore probable that his seeming disapproval applied to the hypocritical fasts of the Pharisees, and to obligatory public fasts, the general tendency of which were to superstition, self-righteousness and hypocrisy. We have no account of Christ ever having fasted himself save the forty days in the wilderness, and that was not for an example to be followed by his disciples.

"In short," says Calvin, an advocate himself of fasts, "there was no other reason for his fasting than for that of Moses, when, he received the law from the hand of the Lord; for as that miracle was exhibited in Moses to establish the authority of the law, it was necessary that it should not be omitted in Christ, lest the Gospel should seem inferior to the law. But from that time it never entered into any man's mind to introduce such a form of fasting among the people of Israel under the pretext of imitating Moses."

Lent, the forty days fast of the Roman Catholics, is a pretended imitation of Christ's forty days fast in the Wilderness, and of which Calvin says:

"That it was nothing but a vain and superstitious affectation, to dignify the fasting of Lent with the title and pretext of an imitation of Christ. For in the midst of all the most exquisite delicacies, they seek the praise of fasting; no dainties are then sufficient; they never have food in greater quantity or greater variety and deliciousness. Such splendid provision they call fasting, and imagine it to be the legitimate service of God. I say nothing of the base gluttony more practiced at that season than at any other time by those who wish to pass for Saints. In short, they esteem it the highest worship of God to abstain from meat, and to indulge themselves in every kind of dainties. On the other hand, to taste the least morsel of bacon or salted meat and brown bread they deem an act of the vilest impiety and deserving of worse than death."

The Kehukee Association in 1846 and 1861 recommended fasts, and in 1862 resolved, "That in the present distressed and disturbed condition of our country brought ab6ut by the existence of war in our midst, we recommend to the churches that Friday before' the second Sunday in November be observed as a day of fasting and prayer .to Almighty God."--Hassell's Church History, p. 801.

My manner of fasting was in this way: on that day I suffered nothing to enter my mouth until after the

close of the meeting, if it was a meeting day; and that is my practice in the ordination of ministers. It had a good effect upon me, for it served in impressing my mind that it was a day especially set apart to the

religious service of God; and therefore, if I read anything it should be the Bible, or something religious; or if I talked or meditated, upon anything it should be of that character, and so when I was convened at the place of worship, I did not feel at liberty to talk of worldly things.

In this way it was and is useful to me, and I have no doubt would be useful to others such as I am; but probably to the great majority of Christians it would be altogether unnecessary. For all Christians are not alike; with some it is much easier to live right than with others, because they are not so vain, proud, envious, covetous and ambitious; and some have stronger animal passions and more beastly lusts than others; and others have an almost uncontrollable thirst for intoxicating drinks, and therefore require more grace to control it than others. I knew a brother who had been excluded from the church for drunkenness, and he told me that he had prayed often and earnestly to God to deliver him from the inordinate love of drink, but that in spite of his prayers, he could not go where strong drink was without getting drunk. Now, this was a case in which prayer alone was insufficient of itself to overcome the habit, but it could come forth by nothing but prayer and fasting also. He needed not only to pray, but to fast--that is, to refrain from going where intoxicating drink was. For it is vain to pray to God to deliver us from temptations that we know we cannot resist. Christ does not teach us to pray that we may walk into the way of temptation and be delivered, but to pray that we may not walk in that way at all. Samson was a strong man, but not strong enough to throw himself in the way of temptation without falling. Neither was David strong enough for that. Joseph did not fall from the temptation set before him by Potiphar's wife, because it was involuntary on his part, but even then it required such resistance on his part as to rend his garment from him.

Once in olden times, when the Lord's people were deeply troubled, Jehosaphat, king of Judah, proclaimed a fast (2 Chron. xx). That was a universal fast, for all Judah was in trouble; the little and big, and men and women were all troubled. For enemies stronger than they were, had combined against them, and had invaded the land and threatened their destruction as a kingdom. The fast was a matter of necessity, and in such cases we are made willing to give up the lesser for the greater, as those on board the ship were made willing to cast the wheat, as much as they prized it, into the sea to save their lives; and at last to give up the ship and the cargo to save their lives.

At another time, when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, entered into Judah, and encamped against the fenced cities to win them for himself, Hezekiah took council with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city. And they stopped all the fountains; and the brook that ran through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the king of Assyria come and find much water?--2 Chron. xxxii. In this way they fasted or denied themselves; and in doing it they cut off the water from themselves that would at that time sustain the enemy against them. And when our privileges and worldly blessings are perverted and made to feed the flesh, it is good for us to have them taken from us. It was, no doubt, a time of trial with them, and complaint that it was not as well with them as it had been; that the hand of the Lord seemed against them. But his hand was not really against them, but against their pride, greed, disobedience and worldliness; and it was their love of these things that made the trial sore to them. It was k time of trial when Elijah prayed that it alight not rain for three and a half years; but he prayed it in faith; and the fleshly spirit hated him for it, and sought to kill him. That was a three and a half years' fast, and it humbled and saved Israel, and destroyed the false prophets. The altar of God, that had fallen down, was set up; and may not his altar even now be in some measure fallen down in this day of contention? Where there is no love there is no real altar to God, and no acceptable offerings made. The love of God is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices; more than all mint and anise tithing; more than all mere ceremonialism.

I will suspend, with this issue, writing further on "The Experience of a Sinner", to resume it at some future time, if the Lord's will.---R.

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