The Lord’s Day
by Josiah Audette
To begin with a puritan prayer on the Lord’s Day.
“This is thy day,
the heavenly ordinance of rest,
the open door of worship,
the record of Jesus’ resurrection,
the seal of the sabbath to come,
the day when saints militant and triumphant unite in endless song.
I bless thee for the throne of grace,
that here free favour reigns;
that open access to it is through the blood of Jesus;
that the veil is torn aside and I can enter the holiest
and find thee ready to hear,
waiting to be gracious,
inviting me to pour out my needs,
encouraging my desires,
promising to give more than I ask or think.
But while I bless thee, shame and confusion are mine:
I remember my past misuse of sacred things,
my irreverent worship,
my base ingratitude,
my cold, dull praise.
Sprinkle all my past sabbaths with the cleansing blood of Jesus,
and may this day witness deep improvement in me.
Give me in rich abundance the blessings the Lord’s Day was designed to impart;
May my heart be fast bound against worldly thoughts or cares;
Flood my mind with peace
may my meditations be sweet,
my acts of worship life, liberty, joy,
my drink the streams that flow
from thy throne,
my food the precious Word,
my defence the shield of faith,
and may my heart be more knit to Jesus.
I being with that great puritan Jonathan Edwards, “Let us be thankful for the institution of the Christian Sabbath.”
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within they gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8-11.
The Sabbath is a pattern of one day in seven as a holy rest oriented to God. The Sabbath provides us with meaningful work and meaningful rest. David Palison stated, “To get hard work and sweet pleasure right is to image forth the One who made you. To get hard work and sweet pleasure right is to image for the One who saved you.” The Sabbath is the principle of freedom under God and of liberty under law, in that it summons us to obedience to the ordinance of rest. Rest, which delivers us from ourselves and from our work. The Lord of the Sabbath’s accomplishment of our redemption binds and enjoins us to the observance of the weekly Sabbath which prefigures our eternal Sabbath. Our rest is witness to our confidence in the redemption of Christ through faith alone and not by works.
The Sabbath Rest is not only a creation ordinance but is also to be found in the Fourth Commandment as the culmination of the previous three commandments. Morecraft observes, “The Sabbath is a day of rest and delight in the Lord, corresponding to the first commandment. It is a day consecrated to the worship of God according to His Word, corresponding to the second commandment. And it is to be filled with works of worship, necessity and mercy in the name of Christ to the glory of God, corresponding to the third commandment.” In addition to being the consummation of the right exercise of the previous three commandments it also aids the Christian in keeping the remainder of the Commandments. Hence, the Fourth Commandment is “found in the bosom of the ten commandments, which are supreme, life-embracing, verbal foundational principles of God’s revealed will for the human race.” The significance of Sabbath Rest to the Christian lies not only in its commandment but its example by God. Divine example is as valid and instructive a guide to duty as express Divine command. As Morecraft writes, “We keep the Sabbath on the first day of the week for the same reason Adam kept the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week: the example of God.” To clarify the previous statement, the morality of the Sabbath is not affected by changing the day from the Adamic and Mosaic practice of Saturday to the Christian practice of Sunday. Robert Shaw observes, “The morality of the Sabbath is not affected by the change of the day. The substance of the institution consists in the separation of the seventh portion of our time to the immediate worship of God… It is not said, ‘Remembert the seventh day;’ but ‘Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy.’ Neither is it said, ‘God blessed the seventh day;’ but ‘God blessed the Sabbath-day, and hallowed it.” So dear Christian, know that this is a personal command of God to each of us individually. “Thou” not “ye.” “Let it be considered” reminds Edwards, “… when God challenges of us one day in seven, he challenges his own. He doth not exceed his right.” Our Lord commands and commends it to his own children in Christ. Furthermore he has bestowed it as a personal gift. “Moreover, I gave them also my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord, that sanctify them.” It is a duty, but not a burdensome one, no more than it is a duty to nourish bodies with mammon, how much more our souls with Christ? Christian we may be assured that God observes his own institutions. He will not permit them to be attended without blessing as they are a means of grace to the believer. God has given to us a hallowed day to pursue His blessings, which most assuredly will be found in abundance by those who are diligent towards the observation of it. God’s blessing is never an empty one, and He has both blessed and hallowed this day, how much more ought we?
MAN’S REST VS GOD’S REST
History has record of the men who have sought this same rest, but sought it outside God, such as Stalin. According to Stalin, “If God exists, He must have ordained slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. He must want humanity to suffer, as the monks were always telling me. Then there would be no hope for the toiling masses to free themselves from their oppressors. But when I learned that there is no God, I knew that humanity could fight its way to freedom.” Consequentially, in the course of Stalin’s quest for the true sabbath, man’s true rest, he enslaved more men than any other tyrant in all history and had more men killed than any other man in all history. Stalin, like all men who attempt to enter heaven on their own terms, placed himself instead in hell. Contrary to a puritanical priggishness, the Sabbath is not a day of inactivity or idleness for man, because it certainly was not so for God. When God rested on the seventh day of the creation week, yes, he ceased from the work of creation, but began the works of providence and redemption. The work of the Sabbath is contrasted to the work of the prior six days labour. It must have a specific character of rest in worship. Men, how clearly is the sort of character being produced in your homes? The Sabbath is to be engaged and filled with works of worship. The Westminster Longer Catechism states, “The sabbath or Lord’s day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.” Do you make the Sabbath your delight? Jonathan Edwards praised, “The Christian Sabbath is one of the most previous enjoyments of the visible church. Christ showed his love to his church in instituting it; and it become s the chistian church to be thankful to her Lord for it. The very name of this day, the Lord’s day, or Jesus’ day, should endear it to Christians, as it intimates the special relation it has to Christ, and also the design of it, which is the commemoration of our dear Saviour, and his love to his church in redeeming it.” While the New Testament clearly practices and urges the pattern of weekly worship, the sabbath is fundamentally a day of rest, (Not exclusively a day of worship.) This rest is a soteriological reality and symbol. Sabbath rest is a salvific reality of our redemption, liberation, and wholeness of life in God’s work. Sabbath rest is also a salvific symbol of our total confidence in God as our redeemer as we cease from our own labors. Calvin gave it beautifully when he wrote in his “Catechism of the Churches of Geneva”, “We keep holiday from our own works, that God may perform his own work in us.” Summarily, the essence of the sabbath is our rest in Christ, and our growth in the knowledge of that salvation by His grace. “There remainieth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, hath also ceased form his own works, as God did from his. Let us study therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the example of disobedience.” It is well worth our while to improve this day and enter into this rest. Edwards exhorts, “This should be a powerful motive with us to the observation of the Sabbath. It should be our study above all things to honour and glorify God. It should be the great thing with all that bear the name of Christians, to honour their great God and King… If it be your inquiry, if it be your desire, to honour God; by this subject you are directed to one way whereby you may do much in that way, by honouring the Sabbath, and showing a careful and strict observance of it.”
It would be a terrible mistake to confuse the Sabbath rest with idleness. The former brings God’s blessing and the latter his curse. The Sabbath rest is a picture of our eternal one in heaven, where we may be sure to be employed in spiritual and heavenly exercises. Isaiah 58:13-14 clearly lays out the duties of the Christian towards the Sabbath. “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy will on mine Holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight to consecrate it, as glorious to the Lord, and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor seeking thine own will, nor speaking a vain word, Then shall thou delight in the Lord, and I will cause thee to mount upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Edward J. Young interpreted the fourth commandment positively in this way, “Thou shalt take exquisite delight, not just in the Sabbath but in the Lord of the Sabbath.” How well we delight in the Sabbath is a powerful barometer of our real delight in the actual Lord of the Sabbath. Sabbath keepers are covenant keepers that will enjoy the benefits of the covenant of God. “Feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father” is covenantal language and the metaphor is clear: to eat the heritage of our spiritual fathers realized and administered to us by Christ is to receive and enjoy the nourishment, strength, and vitality within. Do you find your Sabbath’s to be nourishing? Are you especially promoting the exercise of religion not only in yourself but also in others; to be assisting them for their spiritual good? Are you partaking in the benefits of the Covenant of Grace? In the right exercise of the Sabbath we find delight and our subsistence that we may truly live. When we rightly exercise the Sabbath we draw from the Divine Rest, the glory of God revealed in his special act of creation. We draw from the Covenantal Rest of the eternal bond believers have with God in Christ. We draw from the Redemptive Rest, being delivered from the bondage and slavery of sin by virtue of Christ’s atonement. We draw from that Spiritual Rest, which is our new life in Christ indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Finally, we partake in our Eternal Rest that will be consummated in our Lord’s second coming. “For the new heavens, and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name continue. And from month to month, and from Sabbath to Sabbath shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.” Heaven is one massive, infinite, glorious Sabbath which we will partake of as believers in Christ. Yet here on earth we have an opportunity to experience something of that ineffable glory weekly. Will you pass it by?
SIX & ONE
“The sabbath presupposes work, work fulfilling God’s creation mandate and performed under God’s law, and the sabbath is the joyful rest from the exercise of this godly dominion. On the sabbath, a man rejoices that the earth is the Lords, and all the fulness thereof (Ps. 24:1). In that confidence man rests, and in that joy he surveys the work of his hands, knowing that his labour is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)” R.J. Rushdoony. As Meredith Kline wrote in his work, “Treaty of the Great King”, “The sabbatic cycle of covenant life symbolizes the consummation principle characteristic of divine action. God works, accomplishes his purpose and, rejoicing, rests.” The human life is a copy of the Divine life, to work and to rest. Life finds purpose in the sabbath, in that the sabbath makes labor meaningful and purposive. It does so by annexing to work, joyful consummation. Our six days of labor finds its fulfillment in the day of rest, and similarly, our day of rest finds its meaning in the preceding six days of labor. The relationship between the sabbath and work is one which brings all things into harmonious relationship to God and in universal dedication to Him. Examine then, the quality of your work and rest and observe how it can be improved upon. Sabbath rest and your six days work are not strictly isolated or without consequence upon each other. “In keeping the Sabbath holy” remarks Morecraft, “we are rewarding the week by weekly enjoyment of God’s promises and the benefits of being in His love and covenant; and with victory after victory, dominion, revival and reformation over the earth, week by week as we move through history towards God’s final goal for us.” How well are you diligently administrating your duties in those six days of labour so you can rest on the Sabbath day?
“Not forsaking the fellowship that we have among ourselves, as the manner of some is: but let us exhort one another, and that so much the more, because ye see that the day draweth near.” The Christian assembly has priority for the Christian on the Sabbath. No better a preacher than Charles Spurgeon could impress this as commendably. “God delights in the prayers and praises of Christian families and individuals, but he has a special eye to the assemblies of the faithful… This should lead each separate believer to identify himself with the church of God; where the Lord reveals His love the most, there should each believer most delight to be found. Our own dwellings are very dear to us, but we must not prefer them to the assemblies of the saints.” Christians, we must not be weary of well doing in this. That which is the business of the Sabbath is the greatest business of our lives, that of religion. To be weary in Sabbath observance is to stay at home or worse, go to church so you can go home. It is to regard the public worship of God as boring, to be neglectful of its sanctity, to be indifferent or callously unconcerned to its remembrance, to abandon physically or emotionally the fellowship of the brethren. How can one, who claims the name of Christ, be weary of Him and His love? Morecraft cautions, “Weariness of the Lord’s day is weariness with the Lord; and this is a sign of the most dangerous of all conditions: hardness of heart.” “Take heed brethren, lest any time there be in any of you an evil heart, and unfaithful, to depart from the living God… And to whom swear he that they should not enter his rest, but unto them that obeyed not.?” Hebrews 3:12,18. Sabbath breakers are covenant breakers. We are covenant breakers when we heed the opposite of Isaiah’s words by “doing thy will on my Holy day, and call the Sabbath a bore to deconsecrate it, as miserable to the Lord, and shalt dishonour him, doing thine own ways, seeking thine own will, speaking a vain word.” “Hear this, O ye that swallow up the poor… Saying, When will the new month be gone, that we may sell corn? and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, and make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger.” There are consequences to being a covenant breaker beyond just depriving yourself of joy and rest in Christ. “Moreover I gave them also my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord, that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me… and my Sabbaths have they greatly polluted: then I thought to pour out mine indignation upon them… But I had respect to my name.” Ezekiel 20:12-14.
SPECIAL DUTY TOWARDS PARENTS
The Fourth Commandment is orientated towards parents. “Nor thy sons, nor thy daughters.” Patriarchs have a special duty before God to take great pains in seeing their family and children keep the Sabbath holy. Q. 118 in the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “Why is the charge of keeping the sabbath more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors? A.: The charge of keeping the sabbath is more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge; and because they are prone ofttimes to hinder them by employments of their own.” Convicting words towards parents. Do you hinder your own from delighting in the Sabbath because you are entangled in your own employments at the time? Do you children recognize the significance of the Sabbath rest and the gathering of believers in the local church? Do you example delighting in the Sabbath? Do you lead them into the true Sabbath rest?
“The pattern of the sabbath is in the past, from the sabbath of creation. The entrance into the sabbath is also in the past; for Israel, it was the redemption from Egypt; for the church, it is in the resurrection. The fulfillment of the sabbath is in the new creation. The sabbath is a present rest, based on past events, with a future reference and fulfillment.” R. J. Rushdoony. More craft gives 4 helpful exhortations toward rightly exercising the true Sabbath.
- Get a good grasp on the Sabbath laws and promises of the Bible. Delight in the Christian Sabbath, and keep it faithfully with all your heart, for many false teachers profess to teach the truth, with appealing systems (2 Tim. 4:3, 4), who would rob you of the glory and rest of the weekly Christian Sabbath.
- Train your children by word and example to delight in the Lord’s Day and in the Lord of the Sabbath all the days of their lives.
- Be sure that Satan will seek to make your observance of the Sabbath less consistent than your doctrine of the Sabbath. Resist him to the death and he will flee from you.
- Believe the glorious promises of Isaiah 66:22–44, Ezekiel 20:12 and Exodus 31:12–18. Live, work, witness, worship, pray, and rest in their light.
““For the new heavens, and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name continue. And from month to month, and from Sabbath to Sabbath shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.”
“Moreover, I gave them also my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord, that sanctify them.”