Secret Fasting—Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758)

Jonathan Edwards knew that all spiritual renewal comes from God and that ministers are central in God’s outworking of His plans. In this extract from his famous work Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, he reflects on the urgent need for ministers to seek God’s “extraordinary supplies of divine grace” through fasting and prayer. Edwards wrote these words in the months after New England’s Great Awakening of the early 1740s. Given the extraordinary challenges the Church is facing, this is a timely message for her leaders.

The state of the times extremely requires a fullness of the divine Spirit in ministers, and we ought to give ourselves no rest till we have obtained it. And in order to [do] this, I should think ministers, above all persons, ought to be much in secret prayer and fasting, and also much in praying and fasting one with another. It seems to me it would be becoming the circumstances of the present day, if ministers in a neighborhood would often meet together and spend days in fasting and fervent prayer among themselves, earnestly seeking for those extraordinary supplies of divine grace from heaven, that we need at this day …

One thing more I would mention concerning fasting and prayer, wherein I think there has been a neglect in ministers; and that is, that although they recommend and much insist on the duty of secret prayer, in their preaching; so little is said about secret fasting. It is a duty recommended by our Savior to his followers, just in like manner as secret prayer is. . . Though I don’t suppose that secret fasting is to be practiced in a stated manner and steady course as secret prayer, yet it seems to me ‘tis a duty that all professing Christians should practice, and frequently practice. There are many occasions of both a spiritual and temporal nature that do properly require it; and there are many particular mercies that we desire for ourselves or friends that it would be proper, in this manner, to seek of God. I should think the people of God in this land, at such a time as this is, would be in the way of their duty to do three times so much at fasting and prayer as they do.[1]

[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, The Great Awakening, ed. C. C. Goen (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 507, 521, 516.