Dead Men Tell Great Truths

Sabbath Study, Part 2

While studying the topic of the Sabbath, I found that I was not the only fish in this particular ocean. Indeed, a lot of great men from the past—dead fish, if you will—swam this current before me. Their insight and wisdom spurred me on. Below are just a few examples.

Jonathan Edwards believes it is the will of God that Christians set aside the Sabbath for the purpose of religious exercises and duties:

If the Christian Sabbath be of divine institution, it is doubtless of great importance to religion that it be well kept, and therefore, that every Christian be well acquainted with the institution.
A.W. Pink makes a pointed case for Sabbath observance:

It should thus be quite evident that this law for the regulation of man’s time was not a temporary one, designed for any particular dispensation, but is continuous and perpetual in the purpose of God. . . . The more faithfully we keep this Commandment, the better prepared shall we be to obey the other nine.
My favorite Puritan author, Thomas Watson, seeks to instill within his hearers a proper view of the Sabbath:

God not only appointed the seventh day, but he blessed it. It is not only a day of honour to God, but a day of blessing to us; it is not only a day wherein we give God worship, but a day wherein he gives us grace. On this day a blessing drops down from heaven. God himself is not benefited by it, we cannot add one cubit to his essential glory; but we ourselves are benefited. This day, religiously observed, entails a blessing upon our souls, our estate, and our posterity.
Charles Spurgeon uses part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to prove the permanence of the Sabbath day. When I looked up the catechism myself, I discovered that it spends a good bit of time delving into the meaning and purpose of each of the Ten Commandments. It poses three or four questions in relation to each commandment—the exception being the Sabbath, which gets six questions. Here are the final five (after the question, “Which is the fourth commandment?”):

Question 58
Q: What is required in the fourth commandment?
A: The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.

Question 59
Q: Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
A: From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Question 60
Q: How is the sabbath to be sanctified?
A: The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

Question 61
Q: What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A: The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

Question 62
Q: What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
A: The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the Sabbath-day.
What I learned from these examples—and many more like them—is that our Western non-observance of the Sabbath is far from the historical Protestant tradition. Instead, it seems that only in more recent years has the Christian community (with some rare exceptions) devalued the fourth commandment.

I won’t pretend to know why this is the case, but I’m fairly certain it’s not because ours is a more godly generation. In a time when Western Christianity is suffering more from seduction by the world rather than persecution from it, our neglect of the Sabbath may more likely be a sign of spiritual sickness rather then spiritual health.


Christina Jones said…
Question 59 intrigued me. So, according to the catechism, the Sabbath changed from the seventh day to the first day after Jesus' resurrection? Why?
(If you cover this later in your series I don't mind waiting. :) )

I enjoyed your selection of quotes!
Joshua said…
I am certainly interested to hear what the study reveals about the "observance" and specifically how we are supposed to observe the Sabbath. I know that it is certainly advocated that we are to spend time in the special and particular pursuit of God alone, but I'm intrigued how this fleshes out. I certainly wouldn't mind an admonition from Holy Writ saying that I should focus exclusively on God, though I should think it not to be legalistic, which is where I have always met my dilemma.
Unknown said…
Am looking forward to reading the entire series, Cap! I, too, have always wondered why this commandment has been neglected when the other commandments seem so prominent. I can remember when little else was done except going to church on Sundays and no stores were ever open.

Marcia Korda
Kyle said…
I've always been a little peeved about the answer to questions 60 & 61. The only activity that is apparently allowed is a kind of high-pious devotions, continually, and all day. It strikes me first as most patently NOT rest in any kind of natural sense. But also more disagreeably as a rule that falls on people unevenly. Children, for instance, find this kind of "resting" to be an almost unbearable labor. The mothers of those children, an impossibility. For a pastor, on the other hand, it sounds like another day at the office.

The Westminister injunctions sound so heavy to me that I would feel the need to take a second day off from regular work in order to pursue some form of recreation.
Erika said…
Great post, Cap! Like Christina, I am intrigued to hear more about the switching of the sabbath from the seventh day to the first day. Jewish Christians in the New Testament still kept the Sabbath and I don't think it was a Sunday sabbath. But it's been a while since I've studied the topic. So, I could very well be wrong.

Looking forward to more!
Cap Stewart said…

Yeah, the restrictions imposed by Question 60 do seem a bit strict. I recently read a chapter entitled "Training Children to Sabbath Observance" (in the book "Hints on Child Training," by H. Clay Trumbull) that seems to have a more practical, though no less Biblical, approach to the topic. It basically says that there are numerous ways to help children differentiate the Sabbath from all other days (i.e., have a treasure chest of special toys they can play with only on that day, cook/provide certain special foods/meals only on that day, etc.).