Monday Devotion: William Law on Fasting


William Law (1686 – 1762)

Background and Context:

William Law was a devoted Anglican priest. During eighteenth-century Enlightenment period, he was serving God. People were leaving their Christian faith and following the contemporary world cultures. Science and technology had revolutionized the world. Liberal faith challenged the monotheistic Christian faith and its devotion. Therefore, he saw the need of Christian literature to pass the true knowledge of God. He published his book called “A serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life in 1728. His work was very alike earlier writers John Tauler, John Ruusbroec, and Thomas a Kempis. Law’s book became very popular, and it is still widely read.

Later on, his working on the writings of Protestant mystic Jakob Boehme particularly helped Law to grow even more deeply in Christ. He understood the importance of Atonement.  He mentioned about God’s Atonement in his second major work, “The Spirit of Love”.  He became an English Evangelical Revival.

Law writes clearly about the practice of fasting, and he encourages us to fast. He focuses in Jesus’ teaching about fasting; he wants to remind us of Jesus’ central teaching and clarify it. Jesus teaches us to fast without deceiving close family members. The central idea is we should not publicize about our private prayer practice.

Summarization and Main Theme:

Law exhibits the true sense of prayer and fasting in this spiritual journal. He says that since the Bible opposes the prayer in public, yet private prayer also does not mean that we should not witness in public. The author talks about the involvement of close family members in devotion rather than concealing them about such devotion in prayer and fast.

In addition, Law adds that in such devotion we can either pray together in private or pray separately chanting Psalms. We should keep our family known about our fast. Therefore, the truest sense of fasting does not exclude everybody from knowing our fast. The main issue with fasting is not to make public display of our fasting to the world.

Law presents the case of Cornelius’s fasting to show how he reacts after getting vision. Indeed, his “fasting was sufficiently private and acceptable to God”[i], but it was also not entirely unknown to others. Cornelius calls two of his household servants, and a devoted soldier right after receiving vision from God (Act 10:7). The author argues that Cornelius’s fasting is not unknown or private; on the other hand, it is not a public ostentation as well. Hence, the main idea of the devotion is to help the believers around the world to fast in private between God and themselves.

Application:

The classical devotion on fasting is very contextual in the greater part of the world. Fasting is the most avoided disciplines in spiritual life. Today, I understand the meaning of prayer and fast in private. I used to think that I should not let my family members know about my fasting. I tried to keep it secret. Keeping secret means lying others. If I do not share about my fasting to my wife, I need to pretend so many things to keep private without noticing that I am telling white lies.  Therefore, I have come to know that sharing my fast to my close family members would not be a public advertisement of my spiritual life. Instead, they also see and take part in the good work for glory of God.

Our church should appropriately interpret the Scriptures and teach the believers the true meaning of fasting in private. The misinterpretation of the Scripture has confused people. Due to lack of biblical knowledge and appropriate understating of the Scripture, many believers in Nepal, my home country are living in confusion. When they fast, they think that they should not tell any of their family members. If the church helps them understand the meaning of private fasting, believers would not struggle in the day of fasting. The contemporary churches should share about private or public prayer and fasting.


[i] Spiritual Classic, William Law, pp. 74

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