“But if fasting be indeed of so great importance, and attended with such a blessing, is it not best,” say some, fifthly, “to fast always? Not to do it now and then, but to keep a continual fast? To use as much abstinence, at all times, as our bodily strength will bear?” Let none be discouraged from doing this. By all means use as little and plain food, exercise as much self denial herein at all times, as your bodily strength will bear. And this may conduce, by the blessing of God, to several of the great ends above mentioned. I may be a considerable help, not only to chastity, but also to heavenly mindedness, to the weaning your affections from things below, and setting them on things above. But this is not fasting, scriptural fasting; it is never termed so in all the Bible. It, in some measure, answers some of the ends thereof; but still it is another thing. Practice it by all means; but not so as thereby to set aside a command of God, and an instituted means of averting his judgments, and obtaining the blessings of his children.
Use continually then as much abstinence as you please; which, taken thus, is no than Christian temperance; but this need not at all interfere with your observing times of fasting and prayer. For instance: Your habitual abstinence or temperance would not prevent your fasting at secret, if you were suddenly overwhelmed with huge sorrow and remorse, and with horrible fear and dismay. Such a situation of mind would almost constrain you to fast; you would loathe your daily food; you would scarce endure even to take such supplies as were needful for the body, till God “lifted you up out of the horrible pit, and set your feet upon a rock, and ordered your goings.” The same would be the case if you were in agony of desire, vehemently wrestling with God for his blessing. You would need none to instruct you not to eat bread till you had obtained the request of your lips.
Again, had you been at Nineveh when it was proclaimed throughout the city, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed or drink water, but let them cry mightily unto God;” – would you continual fast have been any reason for not bearing part in that general humiliation? Doubtless it would not. You would have been as much concerned as any other not to taste food on that day.
No more would abstinence, or the observing a continual fast, have excused any of the children of Israel from fasting on the tenth day of the seventh month, the great annual day of atonement. There was no exception for these in that solemn decree, “Whatsoever soul it shall be, that shall not be afflicted, [shall not fast] in that day, he shall be cut off from among his people.”
Had you been with the brethren in Antioch, at the time when they fasted and prayed, before the sending forth of Barnabas and Saul, can you possibly imagine that your temperance or abstinence would have been a sufficient cause for not joining therein? Without doubt, if you had not, you would soon have been cut off from the Christian Community. You would have deservedly been cast out from among them, as bringing confusion into the church of God.