Days Solemn Fasting and Thanksgiving

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C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
The Westminster, Savoy, and Baptist Confessions of faith all speak of days of "solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasion." It was common practice of the Puritans in their churches to hold such days for either humiliation and fasting or thanksgiving.

My questions are:

1. Does your church hold such days?

2. If so, what Providences have or would occasion them?

3. When have or would you hold such a day?

4. How would the day be observed in your church?

THE WESTMINSTER DIRECTORY FOR THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD

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 .i.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.

Concerning the Observation of Days of Publick Thanksgiving.​
WHEN any such day is to be kept, let notice be given of it, and of the occasion thereof, some convenient time before, that the people may the better prepare themselves thereunto.

The day being come, and the congregation (after private preparations) being assembled, the minister is to begin with a word of exhortation, to stir up the people to the duty for which they are met, and with a short prayer for God's assistance and blessing, (as at other conventions for publick worship,) according to the particular occasion of their meeting.

Let him then make some pithy narration of the deliverance obtained, or mercy received, or of whatever hath occasioned that assembling of the congregation, that all may better understand it, or be minded of it, and more affected with it.

And, because singing of psalms is of all other the most proper ordinance for expressing of joy and thanksgiving, let some pertinent psalm or psalms be sung for that purpose, before or after the reading of some portion of the word suitable to the present business.

Then let the minister, who is to preach, proceed to further exhortation and prayer before his sermon, with special reference to the present work: after which, let him preach upon some text of Scripture pertinent to the occasion.

The sermon ended, let him not only pray, as at other times after preaching is directed, with remembrance of the necessities of the Church, King, and State, (if before the sermon they were omitted,) but enlarge himself in due and solemn thanksgiving for former mercies and deliverances; but more especially for that which at the present calls them together to give thanks: with humble petition for the continuance and renewing of God's wonted mercies, as need shall be, and for sanctifying grace to make a right use thereof. And so, having sung another psalm, suitable to the mercy, let him dismiss the congregation with a blessing, that they may have some convenient time for their repast and refreshing.

But the minister (before their dismission) is solemnly to admonish them to beware of all excess and riot, tending to gluttony or drunkenness, and much more of these sins themselves, in their eating and refreshing; and to take care that their mirth and rejoicing be not carnal, but spiritual, which may make God's praise to be glorious, and themselves humble and sober; and that both their feeding and rejoicing may render them more cheerful and enlarged, further to celebrate his praises in the midst of the congregation, when they return unto it in the remaining part of that day.

When the congregation shall be again assembled, the like course in praying, reading, preaching, singing of psalms, and offering up of more praise and thanksgiving, that is before directed for the morning, is to be renewed and continued, so far as the time will give leave.

At one or both of the publick meetings that day, a collection is to be made for the poor, (and in the like manner upon the day of publick humiliation,) that their loins may bless us, and rejoice the more with us. And the people are to be exhorted, at the end of the latter meeting, to spend the residue of that day in holy duties, and testifications of Christian love and charity one towards another, and of rejoicing more and more in the Lord; as becometh those who make the joy of the Lord their strength.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I note the following simply to give information and encouragement.

The AFC has appointed a day of humiliation for Saturday June 27, 2015.

The reason occasioning it is the very low condition spiritually and morally of Church and State, and the great need for divine blessing to revive us.

How will it be observed? Corporately time will be spent from 9.00am to 12.30pm in humbling ourselves before God and making supplication and petition. Specific items of concern are:

The nation and its leaders:
• Maintenance of our religious freedom
• Wisdom and courage to do what is right,
• Deliverance from the counsel of the ungodly
• Hearkening to the word of God

The Church:
• Holding fast the form of sound words
• Raising up of office-bearers
• Closer fellowship among Reformed churches
• Sister churches
• Recovery of the centrality of preaching
• Revival of the Reformed Faith
• Return to the authority of Scripture
• Recovery of the sanctity of the Sabbath
• Recovery of purity of worship
• Recovery of church government

Social issues:
• Marriage and the family
• Abortion
• Euthanasia
• p0rnography
• Sexualisation of children
• Drugs and alcohol

Persecuted Christians:
• Victims of Islamic violence
• Victims of Hindu/Buddhist extremism
• Victims of Communist oppression
• Victims of western anti-Christian sentiment
• Barnabas Fund
• Christian Institute

Missions:
• Australian Indian Reformation Fellowship
• Middle East Reformation Fellowship
• Reformation Translation Fellowship (China)
• Christian Mission to Israel
• European Missionary Fellowship
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
Each congregation will gather during this time and pray? Or members are asked to pray among their families or in private?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
The AFC list of causes for humiliation look fantastic (if I may speak in such terms). I hope that other Reformed communions follow their example.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Matthew,

May I ask whether you know of occasions in Presbyterian history where a Day of Solemn Fasting was called for sins that happened in the past that have continuing deleterious effects on the present day Church?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Matthew,

May I ask whether you know of occasions in Presbyterian history where a Day of Solemn Fasting was called for sins that happened in the past that have continuing deleterious effects on the present day Church?

If I may, though I am not MW, I recall this sort of thing coming up in various RP and Seceder "Causes of Fasting".
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you, Matthew.

This is the best news I've heard today. How all of our Reformed and Presbyterian Churches need to pray for what's on this list (and more).

I will be praying for and with you in this.

Peace,
Alan
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
Are there any others who have done this in their churches? I'm curious to know how common the practice is among confessionally Reformed churches. I'm also curious as to what that looks like practically. I believe it to be a good practice for the church but with so little information on it, I'd like to know how it has been practiced by others.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Providentially, at our most recent Synod meeting earlier this month, the RPCNA called for a time of prayer and fasting during the last week of this month. The reason for the call to fast was in light of the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage. Our pastor preached a sermon on fasting this morning to help our congregation better understand biblical fasting. Our denomination, our Presbytery, and our local session are all encouraging our congregation to fast and pray for the Supreme Court and their decision. We have decided to leave the specific time of fasting up to the individuals/families to decide with the last week of June.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
May I ask whether you know of occasions in Presbyterian history where a Day of Solemn Fasting was called for sins that happened in the past that have continuing deleterious effects on the present day Church?

As Daniel has noted, it was fairly common in Scottish Presbyterianism. English Puritanism also emphasised the need for corporate humiliation. When we think of the Westminster Standards we should recall that they were formulated at a time of solemn seeking of the Lord, where monthly fasts were observed and interspersed with days of thanksgiving for the cause of reformation. This blessed second reformation came with much humiliation and petition for the Lord's blessing.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
The reason for the call to fast was in light of the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage.

In truth, that is why I have inquired into this subject. This whole situation has convinced me of the need to hold a day of solumn humiliation and fasting for our nation and its sin. I am trying to think through the best way to do this.

It appears that some do it on Saturday. Is better to do it at some other time than the Lord's Day?
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Rev Sheffield, this is the motion the RPCNA adopted at Synod:
That the Synod recommend to our churches a day of solemn fasting and prayer sometime during the last week of June, God willing, the exact date and implementation being left to each congregation’s discretion. Reasons for such a call: The U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision regarding marriage; and the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision allowing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.

It appears that some do it on Saturday. Is better to do it at some other time than the Lord's Day?

I don't see it as "better" to choose one day over another, other than the reasons that would be most beneficial/wise for the individual. For example, if someone works a manual labor job, it would probably be wiser for them to choose to fast on one of their days off, rather than on a day they will be sweating and exhausting extra energy.

I'd really recommend listening to Rev Koller's sermon as he does a great job explaining biblical fasting.
Sermon Audio - Religious Fasting, Mark 2:18-22
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
The reason for the call to fast was in light of the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage.

In truth, that is why I have inquired into this subject. This whole situation has convinced me of the need to hold a day of solumn humiliation and fasting for our nation and its sin. I am trying to think through the best way to do this.

It appears that some do it on Saturday. Is better to do it at some other time than the Lord's Day?

I'd commend the same sermon to you that Andrew has. I just wanted to mention fasting on the Lord's Day. Typically, many have seen the Lord's Day as a feast day, and not a fast day. Especially in keeping with the spirit of Mark 2:19 - And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.

I see the Lord's Day as a picture of the Eschaton, spending our time with the bridegroom throughout the day. I fast on other days of the week. In Pastor Koller's sermon he mentions that it was the practice of the Westminster Divines to set apart the last Wednesday of the month for fasting while the Assembly was convened. If you listen to the sermon, Rev. Koller gives many practical ways in which to practice fasting.

You may also want to look at the Westminster Directory of Public Worship which has an entire section on Fasting.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
The RPCNA Interchurch Committee..Synod voted to join with the Heritage Reformed Congregations in recommending to its congregation a time of prayer and fasting during the last week of June regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage and Canada’s recent decision allowing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, with the date and implementation of such prayer and fasting being left to each local congregation.
 

CJW

Puritan Board Freshman
Dear Pastor Winzer,

Praise the Lord Almighty for that news, and thank you for sharing it here. May the Lord in His infinite mercy move the hearts of other churches here to follow suit. I too shall join my prayers with yours during that time.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Great input so far, thanks guys. I know that the church we are starting to attend and have visited with in the past has had days of fasting in recent times: when we were visiting a few months ago, a day of fasting was announced together with a sister congregation whose pastor and family was having health issues, which was a cause alongside national sins from my understanding. However, we did not participate. (This is a FCC congregation)
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Praise the Lord Almighty for that news, and thank you for sharing it here. May the Lord in His infinite mercy move the hearts of other churches here to follow suit. I too shall join my prayers with yours during that time.

This is wonderful! To have so many others joining in spirit is a tremendous encouragement. The right hand of the mighty Lord doth ever valiantly!
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
I'll be on a trip with some extended family but will join in prayer as much as possible. Amen, Lord- hear our cries.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
My wife and I began earlier today with Psalm 6 (the first of the penitential psalms) and pleading with the Lord to grant to us, our family (narrowly and broadly), our church, our nation, the church throughout the world, and the nations of the world broken and contrite hearts for our sin and our sins. Matthew's post at #2 (above) details some of what his church will be praying for.

Let me urge you to join in this today and to make use of the penitential psalms: Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. How we need to see our sin, hate our sin, and turn from our sin. And we need to seek God's blessings upon the mission of the church in and to the world. We need both repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. May He graciously grant it!

Peace,
Alan
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Now the day is past I should give a reflection on it.

What struck me is that I need to be humbled for my failures in humiliation. Like every act of worship and devotion, there is a sense of imperfection and unworthiness. May the Lord graciously receive our humiliation in the merits and intercession of our all-sufficient Mediator and pardon us for our sins. We have made a start in recovering this practice which is exemplified in the lives of the godly both in Scripture and history. May He be pleased to enlarge our hearts and enliven us to a more habitual use of the means of grace in humility, and take all the glory to His great name! May He be exalted in the reformation and revival of the church, and in working His great work of turning the nations to Himself!
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
What struck me is that I need to be humbled for my failures in humiliation. Like every act of worship and devotion, there is a sense of imperfection and unworthiness. May the Lord graciously receive our humiliation in the merits and intercession of our all-sufficient Mediator and pardon us for our sins. We have made a start in recovering this practice which is exemplified in the lives of the godly both in Scripture and history. May He be pleased to enlarge our hearts and enliven us to a more habitual use of the means of grace in humility, and take all the glory to His great name! May He be exalted in the reformation and revival of the church, and in working His great work of turning the nations to Himself!

Matthew:

Words fail me to express the depth of my agreement with you in this. May the Lord be pleased to grant all of your petition and even more than we can ask or think!

Peace,
Alan
 

HanleyBri

Puritan Board Freshman
Pastor Strange,

The Heritage Reformed Congregations, early-May moved and passed the following:

"Synod moved to call for a day of Prayer and Fasting in the last week of May (the specific day to be determined by each local church), prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision regarding marriage and in light of the Canadian Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. Additionally, the CCC is to forward this as a suggestion to the secretary of NAPARC and ask that it be disseminated to all NAPARC federations in the event they would want to join us."

Brian Hanley from New Jersey (was OPC, now HRC).
 
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HanleyBri

Puritan Board Freshman
If you're interested, this was our Order of Worship/Bulletin for the Fast Day service.

Votum
Psalter 188
Scripture Reading: Genesis 18:16-33
Prayer (Prayer for Fasting, found in back of our Psalter)
Sermon Text: Genesis 18:25
Prayer and Preservation
I. The privilege of Revelation
II. The Duty of Intercession
III. The Blessings of Preservation
Psalter 123
Benediction
Congregational Prayer (Elder Led Prayers)
Doxology and Praise
 
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