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Lecture Fifty-Third

We yesterday stated the reason why Daniel abstained from flesh and wine for three weeks. It was the sorrowful and depressed condition of the Church while the Jews were prohibited from building their Temple. We have stated the fallacious views of those who think him to have been always so abstemious in the flower of his age. Though he lived on bread and pulse, it was only for the purpose of remaining pure without any leaning towards the habits of the Chaldees, as it was the king’s design to withdraw both himself and his companions from God’s people, as if they had originally sprung from Chaldea. That, therefore, was but a temporary reason. But he now states, He had not tasted delicate bread, that is, made of fine flour, and had not tasted either wine or flesh, during the time in which the building of the Temple had been impeded. We must diligently notice this; for many celebrate fasting as if it were a principal part of the worship of God. They think it an act of obedience peculiarly pleasing to God. But this is a gross error, since fasting by itself ought to be treated as a matter unimportant and indifferent. It deserves no praise unless with reference to its object. Now the objects of fasting are various; the principal one is this, to enable the faithful suppliantly to deprecate God’s wrath with the solemn testimony of their repentance, and to stimulate each other to more fervor in their prayers. Ordinary daily prayers do not require fasting; but when any great necessity presses upon us, that exercise is added by way of help, to increase the alertness and fervor of our minds in the pouring forth of prayer. For this reason the Scriptures often connect fasting with sorrow, and Daniel here follows the usual practice. We perceive then the reason of his rejecting all delicacies in meat and drink, through his desire to withdraw himself entirely from all hindrances, and to become more intent upon his prayers. I now touch but briefly upon fasting, because I cannot stop on casual passages like these. We should notice, however, how foolishly and absurdly fasting is observed in these days among the Papists, who think they have discharged that duty by eating but once in the day, and abstaining from flesh. The rule of fasting among the Papists is, to avoid flesh and not to partake of either supper or dinner. But real fasting requires something far different from this, namely, perfect abstinence from all delicacies. For Daniel extends this fasting even to bread. He says, He did not taste wine, meaning he abstained from all wine. Then, as to the word “flesh,” he does not mean only that of oxen, or calves, or lambs, or fowls, or birds in general, but all food except bread is included under the term flesh. For Daniel did not trifle childishly with God, as the Papists do at this day, who feed without any religious scruple on the best and most exquisite viands, so long as they avoid flesh. This appears more clearly from the statement — he did not eat pleasant bread, that is, made of fine flour or the very best of the wheat. He was content with plain bread to satisfy his necessities. This abundantly proves the superstition of those who distinguish between flesh, and eggs, and fish. Now, fasting consists in this — the imposition of a bridle upon men’s lusts, eating only sparingly and lightly what is absolutely necessary, and being content with black bread and water. We now understand how fasting in this and similar passages is not taken for that temperance which God recommends to us throughout the whole course of our lives. The faithful ought to be habitually temperate, and by frugality, to observe a continual fast; they ought not to indulge in immoderate food and drink, and in luxurious habits, lest they should debilitate the mind and weaken the body by such indulgences. As a mark of mourning and an exercise of humility, the faithful may impose upon themselves the law of fasting beyond their ordinary habits of sobriety, when they feel any sign of God’s wrath, and desire to stimulate themselves to fervor in prayer, according to our former statements, and to confess themselves in the face of the whole world guilty before the tribunal of God. Such was Daniel’s intention in not permitting himself to taste pleasant bread, or to drink wine, or to eat flesh. It now follows, —

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