Project Canterbury

The Lenten Fast
by the Rev. Charles T. Stout

Milwaukee: Morehouse, no date.

1. The Scripturalness of prayer and fasting is undoubted:

And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights (St. Matt. iv. 2).
Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites (St. Matt. vi. 16).
As they ministered to the Lord and fasted (Acts xiii. 2).
And when they had fasted and prayed (Acts xii, 3).
And when they had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord (Acts xvi. 23).
In stripes ... in fastings (II. Cor. vi. 5).

The testimony and practice of the Church from. Apostolic days is just as strong. But men are still found who repeat the trite objections to the observance of Lent. They say, "Dissipation is increased before and after as compensation for its restraints." This objection proves too much. It amounts simply to this: Worldly people in the Church abuse Lent, hence it ought to be abolished. The argument, if good for anything, is good enough to abolish Christianity. Sunday is a day of rest, spiritual enjoyment and peace, for many; some abuse it in every possible way. Hence Sunday ought to be abolished. The Bible is precious and sacred to the Church; but irreverent and unbelieving and fanatical persons have despoiled its pages, perverted its pure precepts, disregarded its teaching, abused it in every way. Hence, abolish the Bible! Services in God's house are made occasions for ostentation and display. Hence, close the churches! The only logical stopping place is to abolish Christianity because crimes have been done and are done in its name. We are thus left in a dangerous predicament.

2. "Uniform moderation of life is the Church's need."

True, it is. But that this can be better secured without Lent than with it, is not proven. All experience corroborates the Lenten principle that some period must be taken to examine our lives, and see whether they conform to the doctrines professed. The reasoning used above is applicable here. Sunday is a day set apart for religious work and worship. But uniform moderation of life can be better secured by making Sunday just like any other day--be religious every day and no need of Sunday! Now, nobody wants this except evil men. Lent is an opportunity a man can waste and abuse just as he wastes Sunday or any religious help. All days should be lived in accordance with Christ's teaching, but the duties of days and seasons differ.

3. The use and principle of Lent is denial of self for a certain season and for a certain purpose. These days of worship and self-denial are to make us strong with new spiritual power. That our daily life should be so lived weighs nothing against having a special season for the training of one's self into this habit. The idea involved is recognized in other ways by those who scoff at Lent. The athlete who hopes to win must submit to abstinence and training greater than he can get in ordinary life. The lawyer preparing for an important case shuts himself up with his books and papers, denies himself the usual harmless pleasures and even comforts until he is ready for trial. The artist who would reach a high place in art thinks the sacrifice of all that interferes with his special purpose none too great for the benefit gained. Illustrative cases are endless.

4. When bodies of Christians who dislike this yearly season for training, discipline, and spiritual culture, keep even one day set apart for special services they yield the whole principle on which Lenten observances rest. Instead of forty days they keep only one day of Lent. So by their revival seasons, when extraordinary services and means are used to awaken spiritual life and power. For such a season, too often a fictitious and violent excitement that must have a harmful reaction, the Church orders a regular and stated revival season wherein can be regained spiritual life and power by such quiet and well-ordered means as are not exposed to the danger of destructive reaction. Following the teaching of Apostolic days, she believes that religion founded on fact and principle and perpetually re-taught by the recurrence of festivals and fasts, is more likely to be lasting and of spiritual edification, than religion the inspiration of which is feeling, and opinions of theology too often its foundation. The Church Year founded on great facts forming our redemption, presents the Person of Christ for study and contemplation; hence actualities take the place of speculations.

5. Christ speaks of fasting as He speaks of prayer and almsgiving--as a matter of course for the Christian. We have largely lost the literalness of the first, as we are in increasing danger of losing the literalness of the others. The last two will increase when the first is made more real. Alone denying the stomach certain kinds of food, without a spiritual purpose, will issue in no moral strength. The denial must be a real struggle against appetite, pride, sin of life, or desire of whatever kind. Self-righteousness may starve the stomach and feed its unspiritual self. Fasting, in its broad meaning, is to cut the communications of the enemy with his base of supplies. Prayer is the bringing in of the stronger Spirit of God to assault the foe in his citadel and cast him out. The neglected Bible hunted up and studied, closets revisited for prayer and self-searching examination, the soul to recover its thoughtfulness and earnestness, public worship resumed, Christian work zealously done, the Sacraments made, in reality, means of Grace by the abiding presence and power of the Holy Ghost, will issue in a good, healthful, fruitful Lent. What was helpful to the Master will be helpful to His disciples.

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