Henry Martyn
Journal Entries on Fasting

Information on Henry Martyn

Henry Martyn (1781 - 1812) was an Anglican priest and missionary to the peoples of India and Persia. Born in Truro, Cornwall, he was educated at Truro Grammar School and St John’s College, Cambridge. A chance encounter with Charles Simeon led him to become a missionary. He was ordained a priest in the Church of England and became a chaplain for the British East India Company. Martyn arrived in India in April 1806, where he preached and occupied himself in the study of linguistics. He translated the whole of the New Testament into Urdu, Persian and Judaeo-Persic. He also translated the Psalms into Persian and the Book of Common Prayer into Urdu. From India, he set out for Bushire, Shiraz, Isfahan, and Tabriz. Martyn was seized with fever, and, though the plague was raging at Tokat, he was forced to stop there, unable to continue. On 16 October 1812 he died. He is remembered for his courage, selflessness and his religious devotion. (Wiki)

Journal Entries on Fasting

January 1, 1804. A sense of my present deadness and unprofitableness determined me to devote the day to fasting and prayer; but I could not get near to God. In all my confessions for myself as an individual, or member of the church or nation, I could feel no contrition; nevertheless, though the cloud hanging over the nation, and my own pride, cast a heavy gloom over my mind, with a sense of guilt, and of God's displeasure, I strove against an evil heart of unbelief, which tempted me to depart from the living God. p. 45

June 12, 1804. I had a long conversation with M, in which he seemed at first to complain rather severely, that I said nothing for the comfort of the saints: told me that I knew nothing as yet of my own heart, and many other things to the same purpose, with proper modesty; but clearly enough for me to perceive his drift. I left him rather humbled, conscious of my shallowness; my mind estranged from divine things through long discontinuance of private prayer. I had promised to walk with X which was perfectly hateful to me at this time, when I had such need of being alone with God. I have declined so sensibly these last two or three days, that I design to devote tomorrow to fasting and prayer, and may it please God to make it the means of quickening me again. My heart already rejoices at the prospect of the increase of spirituality. p. 89

Oct. 5, 1804. This was a day I had intended for fasting and prayer, of which my soul greatly stands in need; but unforeseen engagements prevented it. All that I see, and read, and think of, in the creature, though it be of a religious nature, is utterly unsatisfying. Then why do I not keep nearer to God? How is it, that everything can engage me more easily than he? p. 122.

Nov. 17, 1804. Had determined to devote this day to fasting and prayer, which I very much need. Had a peaceful mind in the morning, and in a walk before breakfast, great delight in God, and in prospect of being with him this day; I continued about two hours in prayer, with tolerable steadiness, solemnity, and seriousness, and with less distraction than I have almost ever known. I began with laboring after a broken heart, but stayed so long at it in vain, that I was obliged to proceed to other subjects, which were, chiefly, intercession for the college, nation, my two sisters, and my brethren in the ministry. Afterwards I read some Scripture and went to chapel, and from that time till supper was visiting the sick. At supper and after supper, I let slip a most excellent opportunity of speaking on an important subject, from mere heedlessness and want of thought; which so galled me when I came to my room, that I was quite unhappy. P. 138

September 11, 1805. At night had a solemn season of prayer, in which my eyes were a little opened to consider the holy examples of John the Baptist and St. Paul. Oh, that I might be taught and strengthened to become such a holy, self-denying, spiritual minister and missionary! Before going to bed, read Milner's Sermon on fasting. I have no doubt of the usefulness of separate seasons of fasting and prayer, though my flesh seemed to shrink from it at present, as if it were too much for my strength; yet past experience encourages me, and David Brainerd's advice. What a quickening example has he often been to me, especially on this account, that he was of a weak and sickly constitution! p. 316 (Wilburforce’s edited version)

September 22, 1805. Had some thoughts of devoting this day to prayer and fasting, but was undecided as to the latter, whether it would be right in the present weak state of my body, to omit the meal of dinner. Read in the morning a good deal of David Brainerd; his dying testimony in favour of such occasional abstinence is very weighty. I began to pray, first in reference to my own soul, that it might be made truly penitent. I endeavoured to take a review of my life, the recollection made me burst into tears. My heart was quite broken. Prayed at length for my sister, my brother R, Dr. J. E. and Lydia. After praying nearly two hours, my heart seemed to be at last really poor and broken; nothing appeared so remarkably deep-rooted and detestable, as that never-ceasing self-complacency and esteem, which attended me amidst all those causes of humiliation: I pictured myself strutting about the streets and walks of Cambridge, wrapt in content, thinking myself very amiable and admired, as much by others as by myself. Yes, it is pride which surpasses all my other sins, biding from me the extreme guilt of laziness and lukewarmness. I could not have borne this self-condemnation without views of Christ; and I was shrinking continually from the search, save when I applied the blood of Christ, and confirmed my assurance of his all-sufficiency to save. Oh, that the memory of my iniquities might never cease from before me, while I sojourn in this land of sin and sorrow! Read afterwards Psalm I., Dan. ix., 1 Kings xvii. xxi. I then walked. With respect to the enjoyment of time and sense, how poor and worthless do they appear!

September 25, 1805. The determination with which I went to bed last night, of devoting this day to prayer and fasting, I was enabled to put into execution. In my first prayer for deliverance from worldly thoughts, depending on the power and promises of God, for fixing my soul while I prayed, I was helped to enjoy much abstinence from the world, for near an hour. Then read the history of Abraham, to see how familiarly God had revealed himself to mortal men of old. Afterwards, in prayer for my own sanctification, my soul breathed freely and ardently after the holiness of God, and this was the best season in the day. During my walk, my thoughts were heavenward, indeed, more than on common days, but not humble and careful. Endeavoured to recollect all those who had desired my prayers, and wrote them down. In interceding for them, I was rather led to dwell on young ministers, that they might be stirred up to go forth as missionaries; and for myself, that I might have more firmness, warmth, vigour, energy, and character. I prayed with some zeal, but yet with little of the presence of God humbling my heart. Three of the cadets came to me with Euclid. I sat most of the evening, endeavouring to compose on a subject, but seemed quite spent in body and mind. I very much fear, that the climate, which is extremely soft and luxurious, (lat. 35°) produces this relaxation in my frame, though I make every effort against it. If this should be the case, what will India be? P. 244

December 3, 1805. Designed to set apart this day to fasting and prayer, in behalf of the ship. I found my soul mounting heavenward at the prospect of what was to be my employment today. From nine to three, my soul found the especial presence of God, in four successive seasons of prayer, but in none of these was my heart enlarged in intercession for the people of the ship. I tried again and again, but found no words to continue speaking for them, so that my object for them has not been attained, and I fear that I cannot again venture to fast with prayer for some time, as the position of the body and exercise of mind so weakened me, and produced such a headache, that I was fit for nothing at night, nor even the next morning. From three till four interceded with serious and delightful feelings for the church, from Isaiah 1, Iviii. After taking some tea in the evening, I prayed again with a heart overflowing with joy; I could call God my own God in Christ; I could say in the spirit of adoption, Abba, Father; nothing appeared desirable in the universe, but God, and so I felt exceedingly happy in possessing all that was good. In prayer that God would glorify himself, I cared not by what instrument; I truly felt willing to be despised, and forgotten, so God’s purposes were accomplished respecting the setting up of his kingdom in the world. p. 274.

Dec. 27, 1805. “Arise, O God, and plead thine own cause, remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily. Forget not the voice of thy enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually.” Psalm Ixxiv. 22, 23. In pleading for the prosperity of the church, and her deliverance from enemies, when all arguments are exhausted, we may urge this at last, that God would arise and plead his own cause. Let me remember this, when I pray in unbelief, as if God were indifferent; let me reflect that it is God’s own cause, and the honor of his name concerned in it. Several circumstances seemed to suggest the propriety of setting apart this day for fasting and prayer, which I did; but for want of sufficient watchfulness and labor, I failed to derive that benefit from it which might have been expected. One thing, however, I am bound to bless the Lord for, that he helped me to come down with shame into the dust, and to weep and mourn before him, for the sins of my former life, and for my lukewarmness and unfaithfulness in my ministry. I thought it would be a proper portion for me to combat with affliction all my days; to walk solitarily with tears through the wilderness of life, full of thankful love that God had permitted such a creature to live; but my heart was not much enlarged in other petitions. In the evening, my heart was generally with God, looking forward with peace and joy to the happiness of another world. p. 287.

Feb. 19, 1806. Private duties encroached so far on the morning, through my extreme idleness and want of energy in the performance of them, that I could do but little afterwards. Read Hindoostanee; the gale of wind continuing, and much water fling over the sides, all the hatches were shut down, so that there was perfect darkness below; however, I visited the sick man, being obliged to feel my way to him. I am always surprised at the perfect contentment with which they seem to lie. This man was swinging in his hammock in darkness, and heat, and damp, without a creature to speak to him, and in a burning fever. I gave him a few grapes which had been given me, to allay his thirst. How great the pleasure of doing good even to the bodies of men! He said he had been thinking of what I had told him ever since, but showed no true marks of seriousness. As I was entering in my common-place book something from Brown of this kind, “that if from regard to God’s Sabbaths, I deny myself, he will more than make it up to me,” I could not help recollecting, how this had been fulfilled to me this very day; for we sailed from the Cape, a boat coming alongside with fruit, I did not think it right to buy any, though I longed to have some to carry to sea. Today, Mr. Reynolds, the new passenger, to whom I scarcely ever spoke, surprised me by sending me a plate of fruit, by which I have not only been refreshed, but enabled to relieve this poor sick creature. Was greatly distressed at my hardness of heart, and thought of the expediency of adding fasting to prayer, to enable me to attain to escape from the misery of pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness; but from this the flesh shrinks with extraordinary dread. P. 301.

March 3, 1806. Had some thoughts of devoting this day to fasting and prayer; but rising with a cold, and the air exceedingly damp, I thought that fasting would expose me to the attack of fever, especially while going among those who have it. Continued, however, in the spirit of prayer, and notwithstanding the great want of diligence in all I did, my soul seemed under a spiritual influence, so that I found sweet delight in prayer, and the thought of passing all my time in prayer, and keeping my body completely under for that purpose. P. 305.

March 5, 1806. Oh, Spirit of God! Fix the eyes of thy wretched creature upon his former sins, which thou hast brought to his mind, else he will instantly forget them and think of something else, and become again self-complacent! I was made to recollect this morning; something of my wickedness in my conduct years ago. Oh, since I am not now in the burning flame, what shall I do? How shall my walk and conversation be ever consistent with such miracles of mercy? How can I be so barefaced as to stand up to rebuke sin? How can I dare to be angry with sinners? Teach thou me, oh God! since it is permitted thy creature to speak to thee. This day was set apart for fasting and prayer; the morning was spent in the work of humiliation, and through mercy there was no great difficulty. The hard heart was broken, and contrite in a certain degree. At least I had not the distressing sensation of impudent hard-heartedness, which I sometimes feel at the sight of sin. In the afternoon, began to pray for the setting up of God’s kingdom in the world, especially in India, and had such a season of prayer as I never had before. Notwithstanding the view I had of my dreadful guilt and depravity in the morning, at night I had to groan again at feeling the spiritual pride founded on the exercises of the past day. P. 306.

June 24, 1806. At day-light left Calcutta; arrived at Serampore at eight, and retired to my pagoda, intending to spend the day in fasting and prayer; but after a prayer, in which the Lord helped me to review with sorrow the wickedness of my past life, I was so overcome with fatigue that I fell asleep, and thus lost the whole morning; so I gave up my original intention. Passed the afternoon in translating the 2nd chapter of St. Matthew into Hindoostanee. Had a long conversation at night with Marshman, whose desire now is, that I should give myself to the study of Hindoostanee for the sake of the Scriptures, and be ready to supply the place of Carey and Marshman in the work, should they be taken off; and for another reason: that I might awaken the attention of the people of God in Calcutta more to missionary subjects. I was struck with the importance of having proper persons here to supply the place of these two men; but could not see that it was the path God designed for me. I felt, however, a most impatient desire that some of my friends should come out, and give themselves to the work; for which they are so much more fit in point of learning than any of the Dissenters are, and could not bear that a work of such stupendous magnitude should be endangered by their neglect, and love of the world. p. 338

August 1, 1806. Set apart this day for fasting and prayer. The remembrance of my past sins was again brought to my mind. As usual, however, I felt no tender relenting for a while; by which the Lord led me to see, that to my other wickednesses I add that of an impenitent heart, and that there is no connection between a knowledge of the head respecting sin, and godly sorrow for it, without the precious influences of the Spirit. But I found a degree of abasement at last, so as to desire to lie low before God and man, from being unworthy to be found among them. In prayer for grace to enable me to walk holily as a child of God, my heart was enlarged; in interceding for dear friends, and for the church of God, not so much so; and at intervals was severely tried by the suggestions of Satan disposing me to a detestable levity. P. 351.

Feb. 18, 1808. My birthday, which I did not recollect till it was past; this day I completed my twenty-seventh year, the body strong and healthy, but the mind childish. What a burning and shining light might I have been at this age, had I been duly careful to improve all the great advantages I have met with in this life! Yet, praised be God! my desires and hopes are strong with regard to my future usefulness; I think I have not a wish to number any more mortal years, except as they are employed in the service of Christ. P. 408

Excerpts taken from
Journal and Letters of the Rev. Henry Martyn, (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1837), and the Journal and letters of the Rev. Henry Martyn, Edited by S. Wiberforce, MA, (New York: M. W. DODD, 1851).

Milner's Sermon on Fasting

David Brainerd's dying thoughts on Fasting