And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out?…
"Why could not we cast him out?" — "because of your unbelief." "All things are possible to him that believeth." But how is such faith to be attained? It is God's gift. God gives by means — by means of prayer. Whatever tends to increase the fervour of prayer tends to increase the energy of faith. Fasting also has this effect. In the Christian way are many hindrances; arising both from the agency of fallen spirits, and from the inveteracy of besetting sins. It appears from this narrative, that some spirits are more difficult to cast out of men than others — "this kind;" and it is certain, as a matter of fact, that some sins are more tenacious, more stubborn; and that for their expulsion, a more active and energetic exercise of faith is required, than for the subduing of other sins. "This kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting." He will conclude, therefore, that these things were intended to strengthen faith — that by these means he should assail his unbelief, in order that by changing his unbelief into faith, he may get rid of this cleaving stain that distresses his soul. He will therefore be exceedingly anxious to ascertain what "fasting" means. He ascertains what "prayer" is — public, private, social; he will be as anxious to ascertain with the same distinctness what "fasting" means; to see what in his particular case it means. I suppose the case of a man, whose tendency before he was converted was to luxurious feeding. This is not confined to the rich, as is commonly supposed, who can afford to multiply varieties and pamper their appetites. It is found in all classes, though variously indulged. There is a sort of animal delight which men take in their food, and even in the anticipation of their food. There are men, not a few, who dine more than once a day, by indulging an eager, fleshly avidity in anticipation; and when the reality comes, they yield themselves to reckless animal excitement, even without any check of reason; and they persevere until animal repletion demands a pause. It is descriptive of such, and it is not too much to say, that instead of eating to live, they seem to live to eat. Now this is a disease. We suppose a man of this description converted. By his conversion the disease is not then and there — at one stroke — eradicated; but a counteracting power is supplied to him. This counteracting power is to be brought to bear on this disease; and certainly this is a case in which the action of this counteracting power might well take the direction of abstinence from food. Here he would directly mortify the deed of the old body; for that was its tendency, that was its snare, that was its disease. But now I suppose the case of another sort of man. There are such people in this world as misers. I do not refer to that love of money, which, in a greater or less degree, is common to every man — but to a disease, a sort of mania, an idolatry for the hoarded heap. There are some men who so idolize their savings, that they absolutely deny themselves the common necessaries of daily animal support. Now suppose such a man converted; this disease is not entirely cured by his conversion; but a counteracting power is supplied to him. And how is it to be exercised? How is that man to fast? To abstain from food? No; he has been doing that already, in the service of his idol. That is a part of his disease. What, then, in this case, would occupy the scriptural place of fasting? Let him take from the store; let him draw out the pound, or the hundred, from the fostered heap; let him take his check book, and order something to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. That would be fasting. "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? saith the Lord; to clothe the naked and to feed the hungry?" Now, suppose another case, of a man or a woman of a highly imaginative turn of mind, and of a romantic tone of affection. She has indulged in reading works of fiction; so that all her imaginations are drawn off from the realities of life, and engaged in the luxuries of fictitious scenes of pleasure or of pain. What is fasting, in her case? Not abstaining from food. What then? Putting away her novels, burning her romances, and turning to the practical walks of life; "drawing out her soul to the hungry;" instead of weeping, in the luxury of ease, in her armchair, over a fancied sick person, to visit a real sick person, and carry something with her; go to the stern reality of cellars and garrets, instead of luxuriating over the pages of a novel. This is a fast, in her case; and by this, she will help her prayers, and increase her faith, and so advance in overcoming the besetting sin. These illustrations will, I hope, help to show you the true scriptural nature of this duty, varying with various cases because of the object in view. We are called "by the spirit to mortify the deeds of the body," not to mortify the body. This is the mistake that has been made. We are nowhere called on to mortify the body for the sake of the mortification, but to mortify the deeds of the body for the sake of the sanctification. And then, what is the object of our Church in such fasting? That you will learn by her collect for the first Sunday in Lent. "Give us grace to use such abstinence, that our flesh being subdued to the spirit, we may ever obey Thy godly motions, in righteousness and true holiness, to Thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end." The object is sanctification.
(H. McNeile, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out?