John Wesley was one of the foremost leaders of Christianity in the 18th century. He insisted on the practice of fasting for Christians. This sermon by Wesley provides thorough biblical and practical explanation of the subject.
"Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; That you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret: And your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly." Matthew 6:16-18
- It has been the endeavor of Satan, from the beginning of the world, to put asunder what God has joined together; to separate inward from outward religion; to set one of these at variance with the other. And herein he has met with no small success among those who were "ignorant of his devices."
Many, in all ages, having a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, have been strictly attached to the "righteousness of the law," the performance of outward duties, but in the meantime wholly regardless of inward righteousness, "the righteousness which is of God by faith." And many have run into the opposite extreme, disregarding all outward duties, perhaps even "speaking evil of the law, and judging the law," so far as it enjoins the performance of them.
- It is by this very device of Satan, that faith and works have been so often set at variance with each other. And many who had a real zeal for God have, for a time, fallen into the snare on either hand. Some have magnified faith to the utter exclusion of good works, not only from being the cause of our justification, (for we know that man is justified freely by the redemption which is in Jesus,) but from being the necessary fruit of it, yea, from having any place in the religion of Jesus Christ. Others, eager to avoid this dangerous mistake, have run as much too far the contrary way; and either maintained that good works were the cause, at least the previous condition, of justification, -- or spoken of them as if they were all in all, the whole religion of Jesus Christ.
- In the same manner have the end and the means of religion been set at variance with each other. Some well-meaning men have seemed to place all religion in attending the Prayers of the Church, in receiving the Lord's supper, in hearing sermons, and reading books of piety; neglecting, meantime, the end of all these, the love of God and their neighbour. And this very thing has confirmed others in the neglect, if not contempt, of the ordinances of God, -- so wretchedly abused to undermine and overthrow the very end they were designed to establish.
- But of all the means of grace there is scarce any concerning which men have run into greater extremes, than that of which our Lord speaks in the above-mentioned words, I mean religious fasting. How have some exalted this beyond all Scripture and reason; -- and others utterly disregarded it; as it were revenging themselves by undervaluing as much as the former had overvalued it! Those have spoken of it, as if it were all in all; if not the end itself, yet infallibly connected with it. These, as if it were just nothing, as if it were a fruitless labour, which had no relation at all thereto. Whereas it is certain the truth lies between them both. It is not all, nor yet is it nothing. It is not the end, but it is a precious means thereto; a means which God himself has ordained, and in which therefore, when it is duly used, he will surely give us his blessing.
In order to set this in the clearest light, I shall endeavour to show,
I. First, what is the nature of fasting, and what the several sorts and degrees thereof; II. Secondly, what are the reasons, grounds, and ends of it;
III. Thirdly, how we may answer the most plausible objections against it; and
IV. Fourthly, in what manner it should be performed.
Read the rest of the sermon here: http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/spiritualformation/Texts/Wesley_Sermons/Wesley_WhenYouFast.pdf.