From: Greg Barrow
Sent: July 12, 2003' :46 PM
Subject: RPNA (General Meeting) Fasting Announcement
"And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting" (Daniel 9:3).
Dear Brothers and Sisters under the oversight of the RPNA (General Meeting),
Considering the aggravated trials and difficulties we have together experienced over the past few months, with the defection of David Hart from his testimony of our Covenanted cause, and with Derek Edwards informing the church of his unfaithful position regarding birth control, which resulted in the subsequent dissolution of the Presbytery;
Considering also that we have a Scriptural duty before God to recognize our own sinfulness and weakness in these matters, and that we must sincerely humble ourselves before God's throne both individually and as a body;
Considering furthermore that we ought to earnestly supplicate our Lord to restore and preserve among us and our posterity the great benefit and blessing of an ordinarily established Presbytery;
It is both our desire and duty to publicly "require" those under our oversight (on Saturday, July 26th, 2003, from midnight to midnight), to humble themselves with us by means of biblical fasting and fervent prayer, abstaining from our earthly food and calling upon our God for grace and mercy, in order that we might glorify His name, follow His commandments, and imitate the Scriptural example of the faithful who have gone before us in this important duty ( 2 Chron. 20:3, Esther 4:16, Ezra 8:21, 2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27).
For your instruction in this duty, we bring to your attention the following citation from our subordinate standard entitled, "The Directory for the Public Worship of God," for each of you to review both individually and with your respective family members.
Concerning Publick Solemn Fasting.
When some great and notable judgments are either inflicted upon a people, or apparently imminent, or by some extraordinary provocations notoriously deserved; as also when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, publick solemn fasting (which is to continue the whole day) is a duty that God expecteth from that nation or people.
A religious fast requires total abstinence, not only from all food, (unless bodily weakness do manifestly disable from holding out till the fast be ended, in which case somewhat may be taken, yet very sparingly, to support nature, when ready to faint,) but also from all worldly labour, discourses, and thoughts, and from all bodily delights, and such like, (although at other times lawful,) rich apparel, ornaments, and such like, during the fast; and much more from whatever is in the nature or use scandalous and offensive, as gaudish attire, lascivious habits and gestures, and other vanities of either sex; which we recommend to all ministers, in their places, diligently and zealously to reprove, as at other times, so especially at a fast, without respect of persons, as there shall be occasion.
Before the publick meeting, each family and person apart are privately to use all religious care to prepare their hearts to such a solemn work, and to be early at the congregation.
So large a portion of the day as conveniently may be, is to be spent in publick reading and preaching of the word, with singing of psalms, fit to quicken affections suitable to such a duty: but especially in prayer, to this or the like effect:
"Giving glory to the great Majesty of God, the Creator, Preserver, and supreme Ruler of all the world, the better to affect us thereby with an holy reverence and awe of him; acknowledging his manifold, great, and tender mercies, especially to the church and nation, the more effectually to soften and abase our hearts before him; humbly confessing of sins of all sorts, with their several aggravations; justifying God's righteous judgments, as being far less than our sins do deserve; yet humbly and earnestly imploring his mercy and grace for ourselves, the church and nation, for our king, and all in authority, and for all others for whom we are bound to pray, (according as the present exigent requireth,) with more special importunity and enlargement than at other times; applying by faith the promises and goodness of God for pardon, help, and deliverance from the evils felt, feared, or deserved; and for obtaining the blessings which we need and expect; together with a giving up of ourselves wholly and for ever unto the Lord."
In all these, the ministers, who are the mouths of the people unto God, ought so to speak from their hearts, upon serious and thorough premeditation of them, that both themselves and their people may be much affected, and even melted thereby, especially with sorrow for their sins; that it may be indeed a day of deep humiliation and afflicting of the soul.
Special choice is to be made of such scriptures to be read, and of such tests for preaching, as may best work the hearts of the hearers to the special business of the day, and most dispose them to humiliation and repentance: insisting most on those particulars which each minister's observation and experience tells him are most conducing to the edification and reformation of that congregation to which he preacheth.
Before the close of the publick duties, the minister is, in his own and the people's name, to engage his and their hearts to be the Lord's, with professed purpose and resolution to reform whatever is amiss among them, and more particularly such sins as they have been more remarkably guilty of; and to draw near unto God, and to walk more closely and faithfully with him in new obedience, than ever before.
He is also to admonish the people, with all importunity, that the work of that day doth not end with the publick duties of it, but that they are so to improve the remainder of the day, and of their whole life, in reinforcing upon themselves and their families in private all those godly affections and resolutions which they professed in publick, as that they may be settled in their hearts for ever, and themselves may more sensibly find that God hath smelt a sweet savour in Christ from their performances, and is pacified towards them, by answers of grace, in pardoning of sin, in removing of judgments, in averting or preventing of plagues, and in conferring of blessings, suitable to the conditions and prayers of his people, by Jesus Christ.
Besides solemn and general fasts enjoined by authority, we judge that, at other times, congregations may keep days of fasting, as divine providence shall administer unto them special occasion; and also that families may do the same, so it be not on days wherein the congregation to which they do belong is to meet for fasting, or other publick duties of worship.
Additionally, below is a citation from Samuel Miller's book entitled, "The Duty, The Benefits, and the Proper Methods of Religious Fasting," which we encourage each of you to review personally and with your families prior to the day of our public fast.
"In delineating the method in which a religious fast ought to be kept, let it be observed:
1. First of all, that it will be outwardly kept in vain, unless the heart is sincerely engaged in the service.
Let pagans, Mohammedans, and nominal Christians flatter themselves, as you have heard, with the dream that the mere physical observance of abstinence, independent of the state of the soul, will recommend them to God. But let us remember that the character and exercises of the inner man are everything here.
Yes, my friends, in fasting, as well as praying, the engagement of the heart is the great and essential matter. There is no piety in merely abstaining from food aside from the spirit and purpose with which it is done. It is in this case as in the observance of the sabbath. A man may shut himself up from all the world on that day; or he may spend the whole of it in the house of God; and yet, if his heart is all the time going after the world, he does not sanctify the sabbath at all in the most important sense of the term. So it is with the case before us. We may keep multitudes of fast-days -- with all the external exactness of popish, or even Mohammedan vigor -- and yet be nothing the better for them; nay, instead of receiving benefit, may contract guilt by them all. A holy God might, and doubtless would, still say to us, as he did in substance to his professing people of old, "Is this such a fast as I have chosen?" (cf. Isa. 58:5). "Have ye fasted to me, even to me, saith the Lord?" (cf. Zech. 7:5). "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me" (Matt. 15:8). "Their appointed fasts are an abomination unto me; I am weary to bear them" (cf. Isa. 1:13-14).
The primary consideration, then, in keeping a religious fast, is that the whole soul be truly engaged in the work; that while we use the outward symbol of humiliation, and penitence, we labor to have our minds deeply occupied and affected with the humbling realities which we express with our lips. A heartless and hypocritical prayer, in any circumstances, is a virtual insult to him to whom it is addressed; but a HEARTLESS AND HYPOCRITICAL FAST seems to be a DOUBLE INSULT, because offered under the guise of double solemnity and humility. In searching, therefore, for the characteristics of an "acceptable fast," we must begin here. The more deeply, feelingly, and constantly the heart is engaged in the service, the more pleasing to God, and the more profitable to ourselves will it ever be found.
2. While the state of the heart is everything here, a real abstinence from aliment [food--RPNA] is also essential to the proper and acceptable performance of this duty.
Such a remark as this may appear to many unnecessary; and I should certainly deem it, were there not some serious persons who adopt, and endeavor to inculcate, the strange notion that nothing more is implied in the duty in question than "fasting," as they express it, "in spirit:" meaning, by the phrase, mere moral abstinence, or "abstinence from sin." Hence, those who adopt this opinion suppose that a regular and acceptable gospel fast may be kept, while the animal appetite is fully indulged as usual, provided there be an effort made, for a season, greater than usual, to shut out evil and to maintain a spiritual and devout frame. In this sense they interpret that solemn passage in the fifty-eighth chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah, "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness," etc. (Isa. 58:6)? In this pointed appeal it is manifest we are to understand Jehovah not as saying that "loosing the bands of wickedness" includes everything that belongs to a religious fast; but that the true penitence and moral reformation form, as we have before intimated, its best accompaniment and its most essential fruits.
I am constrained, then, to consider this notion which I am opposing as a mere evasion, and not a very plausible one, of a plain Christian duty. It is nothing less than egregious trifling with the heart-searching God, and cheating ourselves by a miserable subterfuge. We might just as well talk of giving alms "in spirit," or paying our debts "in spirit."
No, my friends, real abstinence from food is, no doubt, intended in all the examples and precepts which are given us on this subject in the word of God. And we "rob him" (Mal. 3:8), and "wrong our own souls" (Prov. 8:36), when we shrink from the literal self-denial implied in the abstinence in question. In fact, those who decline submitting to the literal privation of food of which we speak not only contravene both the letter and spirit of scripture (when describing an acceptable fast), but they entirely give up some of the most important benefits to which, as we have seen, this privation is naturally subservient.
3. It is important to the proper observance of a religious fast that we retire, during its continuance, as much as possible from the world, shut out its illusions, and endeavor to break its hold of our hearts.
One grand object of observing such days at all is that we may occasionally come to a solemn pause; that we may break the spell which is so apt to bind us down to the grovelling pursuits of time and sense; and take an honest retrospect of our infirmities, failures, and sins. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that in solemnities which have such an object, we should sacredly withdraw, for a time, from all worldly cares and allurements, that we should put a firm negative upon every appetite and passion which might tend to drag us down to the dust of the earth; and try to get away from the snares and entanglements of this passing scene. With the utmost propriety, then, when a public fast is proclaimed, it is commonly recommended that all servile labor and recreation be laid aside. This is no less important to the spiritual observance of the day than as a testimony of outward respect. And quite as indispensable is it, when an individual or family resolve to fast in private, that every occupation be as far as possible suspended, which may even remotely tend to draw off the mind from an entire and unreserved devotion to the appropriate exercises of the day.
4. Days of religious fasting are to be devoted to a deep and heartfelt recollection of our sins and unfeigned repentance for them.
It is true, indeed, that in all seasons of special as well as ordinary prayer, our mercies as well as our sins ought to be recollected and acknowledged. And, therefore, in celebrating a religious fast, thanksgiving is by no means inappropriate or to be forgotten. It is a matter of thankfulness to a sinner, in any situation, that he is out of hell; and, surely, the sinner who is truly penitent can never see greater reason for gratitude than when he is deeply pondering before God the number and aggravation of his sins; and remembers that to such a rebel, life and glory are offered.
Still, it is evident that the primary object of a religious fast is evangelical humiliation. To attempt to keep such a fast, then, without entering deeply into the consideration of our sins, and mourning over them, is really to place out of sight the most prominent object of the observance. This is peculiarly "a day for a man to afflict his soul" (Isa. 58:5) for all the pollutions of his nature, for all the evil he has done, and for all the abominations which are committed around him. This is a season in which it is incumbent upon us, if ever, to call to mind with cordial penitence our personal sins, our family sins, the sins of the church, and of the nation; to labor, if I may so speak, with concentrated effort, to take strong, profound, and abasing views of our heinousness in the sight of God; to meditate upon them again and again, until the heart is in some measure broken and contrite; to repent, as in dust and ashes; and to apply anew to that atoning blood, by which alone our guilt can be washed away, and to that "Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13), who alone can destroy the reign of corruption and "heal all our backslidings" (cf. Jer. 3:22). Such exercises, though humiliating, "do good as doth a medicine" (cf. Prov. 17:22). "Blessed are they who thus mourn, for they shall be comforted" (cf. Matt. 5:4).
5. As days of religious fasting ought ever to be marked by a special recognition and a deep sense of our sins, so this recognition, if it is of the right stamp, will ever be followed by genuine reformation.
That confession which is not succeeded by amendment is worse than vain. It is manifestly heartless, and, of course, adding sin to sin. Where the heart is really broken and contrite on account of transgression, that transgression will be sincerely loathed and forsaken. If, therefore, a season of humiliation and fasting leaves us as much in love with sin, and as hardened in habits of iniquity as it found us, there is abundant evidence not merely that we have failed of being profited, but that we have contracted guilt by the observance. Hence we find a holy God expressing his righteous displeasure, and denouncing his severest judgments against his professing people of old, because, while they wearied him with their fastings and prayers, they remained as obdurate and disobedient as ever. To such he declares, "When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence" (Jer. 14:12).
6. In keeping a religious fast, everything like ostentation, or self-righteousness, should be put far from us.
The Jewish hypocrites, in the days of our Lord's ministry, displayed much of this unseemly spirit. As they loved to "pray standing at the corners of the streets, that they might be seen of men (cf. Matt. 6:5);" so even in their private fasts (for to these the Saviour seems to have had a particular reference in reproving them), they put on "a sad countenance, and disfigured their faces, that they might appear to men to fast" (cf. Matt. 6:16). And when the Pharisee went up to the temple to pray, it was one of the grounds of his boasting, and his confidence toward God, that he "fasted twice in a week" (cf. Luke 18:12). In both these cases, our Lord denounces the spirit which they manifested as diametrically opposed to all true religion, and warns his disciples against it.
And, truly, if there is any exercise in the Christian's life from which a spirit of ostentatious display and of proud self dependence ought to be shut out with abhorrence, it is when he is prostrate before the throne of mercy, professing to mourn over his sins, and to acknowledge his ill-desert in the sight of God. Then, surely, if ever, the most unfeigned abasement of soul, the most cordial self-renunciation, the most heart-felt application to and reliance upon the righteousness of the divine Surety, as the only ground of hope, ought not only to be expressed in every word that is uttered by the lips, but to reign in every feeling, affection, and hope of the inmost soul. The only language ever becoming the redeemed sinner, and especially in such a season as this, is "God be merciful to me a sinner!" (Luke 18:13). "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14).
7. Once more: Christian fasting ought ever to be accompanied with more or less of sympathy and benevolence to the destitute.
This point has already been alluded to, but a distinct notice of it in this connection is indispensable. The word of God lays much stress upon it as a concomitant and evidence of acceptable fasting. "Is not this the fast that I have chosen," says Jehovah by the prophet, "that thou deal thy bread to the hungry; that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?" (Isa. 58:6-7). What occasion so appropriate to sympathize with those who are hungry from necessity, as when we submit to the privation from choice, and as an aid to prayer, in approaching him who is the common Benefactor of the rich and the poor?
With many people, it is almost as much a matter of mortification and self-denial -- that is, it requires almost as much, and, in some cases, even more of painful effort -- to give a trifle to the poor, as it does to abstain, when hungry, from a favorite meal. It appears peculiarly proper, then, for all professing Christians, and especially those who feel this backwardness to an important duty, always to make their seasons of special prayer occasions of liberality, in some form, to the indigent. Surely there are few things more reasonable and becoming than that, while we are engaged in mourning over our sins, and confessing our unworthiness of the least of all our comforts, we should practically show mercy to others, as our heavenly Father has done to us. Then is the time to devise plans of mercy and benevolence; to cherish forgiveness of injuries; to make restitution to those whom we may have injured; to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and cause "the widow's heart to sing for joy" (Job 29:13). Above all, such solemnity is an appropriate season for devising the best of all charity to the benighted, perishing heathen: FOR OPENING THE HEART IN PRAYER AND CONTRIBUTIONS, THAT THE PRECIOUS BIBLE AND THE LIVING TEACHER MAY BE SENT TO THE MILLIONS WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD THAT "FAITHFUL SAYING, AND WORTHY OF ALL ACCEPTATION, THAT CHRIST JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS" (1 Tim. 1:15)."
May the Lord humble us and bless us as we together obey His commandments and offer ourselves in prayer before His throne.
For the Cause of Christ,
Saturday, July 12, 2003
From: Greg Barrow