The National Labor Tribune, March 18, 1915


Nashville, Tenn., March 14 Pastor Russell gave two addresses here today. We report the one on Matt. 6:16, "When ye fast, be not of a sad countenance." He said in part:

The Lenten season the forty days' fast preceding the anniversary of Jesus' death has long been a fixed rule with some Christian people. Although not of Divine command and at most, therefore, a recommendation, the custom appeals to many. Like every other good thing, it is misunderstood and perverted by the majority, because they are not spiritually minded. To many of these it is a command, the neglect of which would bring upon them the disapprobation of friends, and the observance of which would bring them some favor from God or some relaxation from proper punishment for their sins they know not exactly what, but hope that it will mean ultimate gain somehow.

Of such perfunctory fasting, displeasing to God and valueless to the individual hypocritical fasting we give an illustration. An acquaintance who professed to observe Lent was instructed that he should drink but one cup of coffee during the Fast. He made some kind of compromise with his conscience by which he got his coffee in a bowl. He got the same amount of coffee as when he took two cups, but thought the Lord would not notice the cheat, and would reward him for such hypocritical fasting.

Nothing is more contemptible in the Lord's sight than a hypocrite. Honesty is the one quality which all who would be pleasing to God must possess, no matter how weak or fallen they may be by heredity. In His preaching Jesus condemned hypocrisy more than any other sin on the calendar perhaps as much as all other sins together. The first lesson with Christians, with everybody, should be honesty not only in monetary affairs, but in everything, including words and thoughts.

Although nothing in the Bible suggests a Lenten season, the Apostles commend fasting. St. Paul wrote, "Approving ourselves in fasting," and again, "in fastings often." (2 Cor. 6:4, 5; 11:27) Evidently fasting is in the nature of self-sacrifice not a thing commanded, but a voluntary offering of the soul to God, with a view to greater efficiency in God's service or to greater control over our imperfect mortal bodies in the interests of our spiritual new nature.


Indeed, much may be said in favor of fasting during the Lenten season. On hygienic grounds alone it would be of advantage, particularly to all well-to-do and well-fed, if during the spring-time they would fast, or restrain themselves from eating as liberally of meats, sweets, pastry, etc., as they were inclined to eat during the colder weather eating less than their appetites crave. Boils, pimples, liver derangements, fevers and doctor bills would be greatly lessened if this course were pursued. This is the practical side of the question, which may have had to do with the original institution of the Lenten custom.

The Christian, however, may advantageously take a much deeper, spiritual meaning out of Lent. He may remember the savior's experiences for the forty days preceding His crucifixion. He may remember that it was just before His crucifixion that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, and indicated that date as being the proper one for its annual commemoration amongst His followers, as was [HGL701] the custom in the early Church. He may remember sympathetically the Redeemer's trials at this season of the year, and also remember that all the followers of Jesus covenant, agree, to share His Cup of suffering, of ignominy, of misunderstanding, of misrepresentation, of slander, of abuse, of death. He may remember that, as this was the special time of trial for Jesus, so it seems also to have been from the very first a time of special test, testing, sifting, amongst His followers.

All these various considerations might well move the true people of God to the observance of a fast during a period preceding the anniversary of their Redeemer's death. In observance such a fast such a restraint of appetite from a desire to draw especially near to God, they would certainly be contributing a share toward that end, in harmony with the Scriptural declaration, "Draw nigh unto Me, and I will draw nigh unto you."


We have no suggestions to offer respecting the kind of food or the quantity that should be eaten. We believe that there are people in such a physically weak condition that it would be absolutely wrong for them to abstain from such nourishments as they may be able to assimilate. Heart and head should combine in determining this matter of fasting.

Daniel the Prophet gives us a hint when he tells us that for three whole weeks he ate no pleasant bread, while he especially sought the Lord in prayer respecting matters which perplexed him. In his official position he was surrounded with the best the kingdom provided. But he confined himself strictly to the things which his system absolutely needed for the maintenance of mental and physical strength; he ate nothing super-abundantly, to clog his system, to make him sluggish in mind and body, and to incapacitate him from his routine work and, additionally, for his special prayers for wisdom. We can all take a good lesson from this Scriptural example.

Jesus did not teach His disciples to follow the custom of fasting. The matter was remarked, some saying, "John the Baptist and his disciples fast," and the Pharisees, etc., fast, "but Jesus' disciples fast not." In Answer'to the question, Why not? Jesus replied that it was not the appropriate time. Instead of a fast, they were having a feast. The Bridegroom was with them. They knew no sorrow, no care. All their wants were provided for; they were drinking at the Fountain of Divine Truth and grace; they were eating freely of the wonderful words of eternal life, and accordingly they did not fast, as others.

This does not mean, however, that they lived sumptuously; for we remember that on two occasion, after Jesus had fed a multitude on plain bread and fish, miraculously increased, He directed His disciples to gather up the fragments; and these they carried with them as their own food supply for many days. This was a practical fasting, though not an outward one. Jesus declared that the days would come when the Bridegroom would be gone; and He said, "In those days they shall fast." (Matt. 9:15) Their days of fasting and prayer began as soon as the Lord was crucified, and have continued ever since, whether outwardly observed in a lenten fashion, or whether known only to themselves in their own hearts. All the followers of Jesus have practiced fasting, self-denial; else surely they would not have prospered in spirituality.


It is a mistake to suppose that fasting applies merely to food; it really applies to everything. In its broadest sense, it signifies self-denial denial of the desires of the flesh, to the intent that the spiritual nature may be the more thoroughly strengthened. The Apostle clearly shows this in his suggestion that husbands and wives occasionally live apart, that they may give themselves the more thoroughly to prayer and consideration of spiritual things. (1 Cor. 7:5) The true Christian will really live a life of self-denial every day. He will remember the Apostle's words, "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the desires of the flesh ye shall live." Such mortification of the flesh, such self-denials of the various appetites or inclinations of the flesh in the interest of the new nature, are all fastings.

The ideal condition for Christians, of course, would be to maintain a perpetual fast to live always in so abstemious a manner as would keep them spiritually in the best condition and make them the most efficient in the Lord's service. Where this highest ideal seems impossible or unattainable, then the next thing in order would be as close an approach to this as seems possible not of Divine command, for there is none, but of his own free will sacrificing himself, his fleshly appetites and propensities, in the interest of his own spiritual development and that of his service of the Lord.

"Appear not unto men to fast." Our Lord's instructions were that His followers should not make a sham of their fasting should not boast of their self-sacrifice and self-denials. Those matters should be between God and themselves. Instead of making their countenances sad-looking and appearing to men to crave sympathy, they should contrariwise take special care that none might notice outwardly washing their faces, anointing their heads and generally looking cheerful, happy. Indeed, the true Christian, who fasts in the proper manner and with the proper sentiment, will not need to feign happiness; for his portion will be the joy of the Lord, and "the peace of God, which passeth all understand, will rule in his heart."

The Scriptural proposition seems to be that the Lord's people will fast, or practice self-restraint, along the lines of physical conditions, food, etc., in order that they may feast along the lines of spiritual conditions and refreshments. The whole tenor of Scripture is to the effect that the followers of Christ are spiritually advantaged by allowing the mind of the Spirit, the holy mind, the holy Spirit of God, to rule in their mortal bodies to the restraining of their natural inclinations, tastes, preferences, appetites, which the Scriptures declare are all vitiated more or less by heredity by our sense of the alienation from God and the curse in which we share naturally.

St. Paul voices this sentiment in the words, "The flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Thus, as the Bible tells us, the Christian is continually at warfare, not [HGL702] with carnal weapons, and not with his neighbors or family, but with himself his new nature warring a good warfare against his old nature. In this conflict he is to come off an overcomer: and his victory will not be complete until he is actually dead according to the flesh, until, as a New Creature, he shall have experienced the blessings of the resurrection to the perfection of the spiritual nature.


The unregenerate might not unreasonably gain the impression that if this presentation be true, a Christian's life would be a very unhappy one continually battling with himself, continually watching, practicing self-denial and striving against the natural tendencies of sin. But such a conclusion would be very erroneous; for really the Christian alone has the true secret of a happy life. Even the worldly recognize the fact that they need to practice self-restraint, and that whosoever would sow to the flesh and live after the desires of his fallen nature would be sure to go from bad to worse, and end his career ignobly.

Hence we find noble women amongst the unregenerate, not begotten again of the holy Spirit, but nevertheless manifesting strong characters and great moderation in the affairs of life. They practice such self-restraints, not toward God, but for self-interest, learning by experience and observation the necessity for this if life would be made a blessing to themselves and to others. Such characters should be, and are, highly respected, honorable. But the unfavorably born, unfavorable environed are not so likely to reach noble standards as are the better-born, better-environed.

Hence those who become Christians of the true type have an advantage every way over others. They do all as unto the Lord. Although they also perceive the advantages coming to themselves along natural lines through self-restraints, they see and appreciate still more the life everlasting beyond and the Divine favor leading thereto. This Message, coming to all who have ears to hear it through the Bible, has a power and gives encouragement to the weak as well as to the strong, to the naturally mean as well as to the nobler. It assures them of Divine mercy and interest in their welfare that God's love has provided a satisfaction for His justice on behalf of all, so that the merit of Christ, imputed to each according to need, makes it possible to respond to the Gospel Call onward and upward as New Creatures.

So great is the joy, the peace, the happiness, which comes with the realization that we have been accepted into God's family and are joint-heirs with His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that nothing else can compare with it. No wonder St. Paul describes such, saying that to them "old things have passed away, and all things have become new!" (2 Cor. 5:17) Instead of earthly hopes for earthly wealth, name and fame, they have Heavenly hopes for Heavenly riches, glory and honor. Instead of aspirations of but a temporary kind for political preferment and honor of men, these have before their minds God's promises exceeding great and precious. These assure them that faithfulness in present trials and difficulties, and the proving of their loyalty to God and the principles of His righteousness, will through Christ bring them eventually to glory, honor and immortality to participation with Jesus in His Millennial Kingdom.

With such hopes, such prospects, such promises, life is worth living; all things are indeed new. Those attaining this vantage-ground can, with the Apostle, count all earthly things comparatively valueless. To these, fastings, self-denials, self-restraints, even privations and persecutions, have no terror. They rejoice in these, assured by the Bible that they are signs of their relationship to God, and that He is dealing with them as with sons whom He is educating, fitting, polishing and testing, prepatory to receiving them to the Heavenly glory.

This class have a charmed life, regardless of what the world may think. Theirs is the peace of God which passeth all understanding; for they have the Divine assurance that since they have come into God's family through the appointed Door-way, the Lord Jesus Christ, "All things are theirs, richly to enjoy;" and again that "all things shall work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His Purpose." These realize that God, having begun a good work in them, is both able and willing to perfect it until the Day of Christ. (Philip. 1:6) These are seeking to make their calling and election sure; and so great is their appreciation and their increasing knowledge

that the trials and difficulties by the way the fastings, self-denials and oppositions of the Adversary are but light afflictions, not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in them.

Even the prayers of this class gradually change. No longer do they think of praying merely for food, raiment and earthly things. Rather, they accept whatever may be God's providence for them with thanksgiving. Their prayers are mostly offerings of praise, mentions of Divine mercies already received, expressions of confidence in God, and requests for more of His Spirit, whatever this may mean in the way of greater trials or difficulties or persecutions; for they desire that the will of God may be completed in them.

In conclusion, we recommend true fasting, true disciplining, true coercion of the will of the flesh, on the part of all men, as necessary for their mental, moral and intellectual maintenance and development. And especially do we commend abstinences, self-denials, restraints, to those who have consecrated their lives to God, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. But we reprehend all hypocrisy and sham, whether associated with Lent or fasting or any other matter, as being an abomination in the sight of God and discreditable to noble men and women, and particularly inappropriate to those who would follow the Lamb of God the Savior.

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