This is part of our Lord’s answer to the question, put by John’s disciples, as to the reason for the omission of the practice of fasting by His followers.  The answer is very simple.  It is: “My disciples do not fast because they are not sad.”  And the principle which underlies the answer is a very important one.  It is this: that all outward forms of religion, appointed by man, ought only to be observed when they correspond to the feeling and disposition of the worshiper.  That principle cuts up all religious formalism by the very roots.  The Pharisee said: “Fasting is a good thing in itself, and meritorious in the sight of God.”  The modern Pharisee says the same about many externals of ritual and worship.  Jesus Christ says, “No!  The thing has no value except as an expression of the feeling of the doer.”  Our Lord did not object to fasting.  He expressly approved of it as a means of spiritual power.  But, He did object to the formal use of it or of any outward form.  The formalist’s form, whether it be the elaborate ritual of the Catholic Church or the barest Nonconformist service or the silence of a Friends’ meeting house, is rigid, unbending, and cold, like an iron rod.  The true Christian form is elastic, like the stem of a palm tree, which curves and sways and yields to the wind and has the sap of life in it.  If any man is sad, let him fast.  If any man is merry, let him sing psalms.  Let his ritual correspond to his spiritual emotion and conviction.Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Mark 2.19.

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