The night beforeBy way of preparation to a religious fast, do thus: Take only a moderate supper the night before. If a man glut himself overnight, he will be more unfit for the duty of humiliation the next day, and it [hardly] differs in effect when breaking the fast the next morning. When you commend yourself to God alone by prayer that night (as every good Christian doth), set yourself in a special manner to seek the Lord. So have the saints of God done in the beginning of their fasts, 2 Chr 20:3, Dan 10:12. Propose to yourself the end [purpose] of your intended fast, remembering this: that if the chief occasion and end be your own private good, that you forget not others, nor the public; or if it be the public [good], yet mind also your own private. Until you have renewed your own peace with God, your fasting and praying will prevail little for the public. And God having joined the public with our private good in prayer, we must not disjoin [separate] them in our fasting. Resolve with yourself, to the utmost of your power, to keep a religious fast unto God according to His will; for this cause in your prayers add serious petitions to God for his grace to assist you therein.
During the nightShould you awake that night, let not your thoughts be upon worldly business, much less upon any evil thing; but let them be holy, such as may tend to the assistance of the holy duties of the next day. Upon awaking Also, if necessity hinder not, arise early on the day of your fast. It is most agreeable to a day of fasting, whereon your flesh is to be subdued, that you do not allow yourself as much sleep as at other times. It is probable that for this cause some lay on the ground, others in sackcloth, in the nights of their fasts, 2 Sam 12:16, not only to express, but to assist their humiliation, by keeping them from sleeping over much, or over sweetly, Joel 1:13.
During the time of fastingWhen the day is come, be strict in observing the outward fast. To this end:
- Forbear all meat [food] and drink, Esth 4:16, Luke 5:83, until the set time of the fast be ended, which usually is about supper-time. A general council in the primitive church decreed, that total abstinence should be observed until evening prayer was ended. In case of necessity (that is, when total abstinence will indeed disable you from attending to the chief duties of that day), you may eat or drink; for in such cases God will have mercy rather than sacrifice; but then it must be a small refreshment, but not of a dainty kind: only such and so much as may remove the impediment to the spiritual performance of the duties of that day.
- Abstain from all other worldly delights, such as (so far as will stand with comeliness) from fine apparel, Exod 33:4-6; from all recreations and pleasant music, Isa 43:3; from the marriage bed and the like, 1 Cor 7:5, Joel 2:16.
- Abstain from all worldly labour, as with a Sabbath day, Isa 58:3; for worldly business and the cares thereof distract the thoughts and hinder devotion, as do worldly delights. A ceasing from these gives a full opportunity to holy employments the whole day. Therefore the Jews were commanded to sanctify a fast, Joel 2:26. And that yearly fast, called the day of atonement, Lev. 23: 27-32, was, upon peril of their lives, to be kept by a forbearance of all manner of work. Now, although the ceremonials of that day are abolished in Christ, yet, forbearing work, as well as meat and drink (being of the substance and morality of a fast) remains to be observed in all truly religious fasts.