How are we to regard Sunday? What is the fourth commandment (i.e. that whole sabbath day thing)? A friend of mine recently put together an excellent paper on the subject.
The first page simply lays out some of the passages of Scripture that deal with the subject. Then follows a collection of reflections, meditations, and quotes on the subject from a wide range of teachers throughout history.
I want to encourage you to take a few minutes to dive into the material. It will certainly help you understand more about the sanctity of the Lord's Day and challenge you to set the day apart unto the Lord.
THE SCRIPTURE'S TESTIMONY REGARDING THE SANCTITY OF THE SABBATH
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
Exodus 16:5, 23-30 Manna—six days; Sabbath, rest, holy to the LORD; before the Ten Commandments
And the LORD said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you.
“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
I Corinthians 16:2
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
HOW CHURCH LEADERS HAVE REGARDED THE SANCTITY OF THE LORD'S DAY THROUGHOUT CHURCH HISTORY
From Dr. Peter Masters, Metropolitan Tabernacle:
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul tells Gentile converts that they must not let any Judaizer entice them back into cancelled Jewish ritual, or condemn them for ignoring it, including the keeping of the Jewish sabbath, for these were merely 'a shadow of things to come'. Colossian believers had been taught to keep the new sabbath, the Lord’s Day, just as churches at Corinth and Galatia did (according to 1 Corinthians 16.1-2). The new Lord’s Day did not continue the extra duties and symbolic rites of worship given to Moses, but it preserved the vital essence of the fourth commandment, which included the following reasons and purposes:
1. God’s reserving of one day out of every seven is a creation decree, and also one of the ten commandments, which are abiding moral law, written by the finger of God.
2. There must, therefore, always be a day of commemoration of creation.
3. There must continue to be a day for worship and instruction.
4. There must continue to be a day for remembering and proclaiming redemption, now in Christ. Proclamation is a particular element of the day, for Christ displayed and explained the works of God on sabbaths, and so must we by the evangelisation of adults and children. [See endnote 2.] One of the reasons that churches find it so hard to restart Sunday Schools for the young is that ease and recreation has invaded the Sundays of many believers.
5. There must continue to be a day of rest for all workers, so that they also may benefit from (1) to (4). This precludes the -unnecessary use by Christians of Sunday trading industries, whether shops, restaurants, filling stations or recreational facilities. (Deuteronomy 5.14: ‘That thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou’.)
Two other purposes of the Lord's Day must be added to our list, these being of tremendous importance. They are:
6. Like the sabbath, observance of the Lord’s Day is a witness to the world.
7. It is also a shaping, sanctifying practice, ordering the priorities of God’s people.
A Witness and a Shaping of Ordinance
One of the effects of the Jewish sabbath was its witness to the pagan world. We may imagine how the nations surrounding Israel reacted on seeing them observe the sabbath. In an age when most people were farmers, they knew the difficulties of organising routines so that all work could be stopped for one day every week. They would no doubt have said to themselves, 'How do those Jews manage?' Those pagan nations saw an entire culture organised around one day in seven, to worship the one true God, and this was a powerful testimony.
It is the same for us today in this present age when society at large has no sabbath. 'Who are these Christians,' people may wonder, 'who abstain from work and entertainments on Sunday so that they may worship? We see the churches open, and these people commemorating their Creator and worshipping together.' The impact of such a testimony on families, colleagues and society at large cannot be overstated. The Lord's Day is partly designed by God for this very purpose, that the reality of our faith may be evident to all.
If we submit our personal plans to God for his day, we will subsequently order our lives and priorities for Christ.
The Lord's Day is also deeply influential in the believer’s personal sanctification, a fact which should not be overlooked. One day every week we must carefully order our priorities to honour the Lord, and this trains us to do the same in every area of life. A church that treats the Lord’s Day lightly (and this is typical of some of the so-called 'mega churches' of the USA and Britain, including some claiming to be 'reformed'), not minding that worshippers go from the morning service to the restaurant, and then proceed to fun and leisure, playing golf outdoors, pool indoors and indulging in numerous other recreations, is a church that denies its members an immensely profound ordinance that shapes and moulds their Christian character. If we submit our personal plans to God for his day, we will subsequently order our lives and priorities for Christ more diligently and conscientiously on all other days.
Numerous Bible-believing churches no longer take seriously the Lord’s Day, organizing shows and recreational activities, cancelling evening services. . . . Members do as they please, and wherever this laxity prevails, extreme spiritual superficiality and worldliness will ultimately follow, and this is already happening before our eyes.
It was James I who permitted Sunday recreations (The Book of Sports) including dancing, archery, leaping and vaulting, and church beer parties. Charles I stipulated two hours in the morning for worship and the rest of the day for ease and recreation—rather like some evangelicals today. It is tragic that some of their arguments are nowadays advanced by some preachers in . . . evangelical ranks.
From The Holy Sabbath, by A. W. Pink
In proportion as the pulpit has failed to insist on and press the claims of the Sacred Day, vital godliness has been weakened and all but destroyed, and commensurate with the growth of an empty profession has been the decay of genuine piety.
To be guilty of desecrating the Holy Sabbath is therefore no light matter, my reader. The violation of the Fourth Commandment is a sin of the gravest and blackest kind; yet, sad to say, the profanation of the Lord’s Day has become one of the most common crimes of our perverse generation. So general is its pollution that few have any conscience on the matter, but placidly take it as a matter of course. The world has turned the Holy Day into a holiday, and even the majority of professing Christians join hands with them therein.
Here, in Great Britain, Sabbath desecration is now almost as rife as it is on the Continent, and only here and there is a feeble voice raised in protest. . . . the irreligious rubbish which is being broadcast over the air, the increasing number of public places open for sport and entertainment, and the millions of people who turn the Holy Day into one of pleasure and “joyriding” is surely heaping up for us wrath against the Day of wrath unless we, as a people repent and reform.
Nay, the more deeply anyone drinks into the spirit of the gospel and experiences the grace of God writing the Law of holiness on the tablet of his heart, the more invariably does he count the Sabbath “the holy of the Lord and honourable” (Isa 58:13).
Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, everyone that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar: for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” (Isa 56:3-7).
Another way of ascertaining the relation which the Sabbath holds to practical Christianity is to inquire how they who have drunk most deeply into the spirit of the gospel usually feel toward such a day. If we might entertain any doubt as to the proper connection between a Sabbath and the great ends of the dispensation of grace, we ought surely to have that doubt removed if we find the general pulse of the saints beating, as it were, in unison on the subject.
Though Christ ignored all the rabbinical regulations which had been superimposed upon the divine Law, He never did one thing or uttered one word which to the slightest degree undermined or relaxed the requirements of the Fourth Commandment. His defenses, one and all, were simply to the effect that He was delivering it from the errors of the Pharisees.
On the one hand care must be taken lest in our zeal for the sanctity and spirituality of the Sabbath we go to an excess in multiplying rules for its observance, and thereby fall into the Pharisaic error of rigour and excess. On the other hand, there is a far greater danger today of erring on the side of laxity and of accommodating the laws regulating this institution to the lusts of the flesh and yielding to the corrupt practices of an evil and adulterous generation. The strict requirements of God’s holiness must be insisted upon, no matter how the world scoffs at or opposes them.
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy”: not a part thereof, but the whole of it.
It is this unholy mixture, this “lukewarmness”—being neither hot nor cold—which is so nauseating to the Lord. Because it is the Lord’s Day, we rob Him of His due if we regard any part of it as ours.
We are far from joining hands with those who belittle the sanctity of the Lord’s Day and who contend that they are so delivered from the Law that they are free to please themselves (within the limitations of decency) as to how they show their respect for this ordinance.
The Lord’s Day is not to be spent in seeking our secular interests, nor by engaging in worldly recreations, nor by vain and trifling conversation. Positively, we are to “call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable,” which agree with Psalm 118:24.
Instead of being a burden grievous to be borne, it affords us a special opportunity for profitable and joyous exercises.
It has been fiercely assailed both in doctrine and in practice, and this by the professed friends of the Lord as well as by His open enemies.
Waldensians, 1100’s: “Christ did not change it that it should be abrogated, but renewed it that it might be better kept.”
The Lord’s Day had been degraded into a day of special recreation, amusement, public shows and exhibitions—in short, of anything and everything to the utmost possible degree distinct and remote from the very appearance of sacredness. Thus the Devil seemed to have triumphed completely.
During the 19th century, the great enemy of God and man entered upon a new campaign, seeking to undermine the foundations of this divine institution, attacking it from the doctrinal side. He blinded the minds of those who professed to be the ministers of Christ, and alleged champions of the truth, causing many of them to believe that the Sabbath was obsolete, pertaining not to this dispensation—and leading others to suppose that the observance of the Sabbath in this Christian era is mainly a matter of individual option, and that a much wider latitude in what they term “Christian liberty” is now permissible. In consequence thereof, Satan succeeded in banishing all witness to the Sabbath from thousands of pulpits, and caused the standard to be grievously lowered in most of the remaining ones. This acted like a poisonous leaven, the effects from which spread widely, until the rank and file of church-goers had no conscience on the subject: so long as they attended service once or twice, they felt they had fully discharged the obligations of the Lord’s Day.
When those who were looked up to as the expounders of the divine Law discredited the Sabbath, then who was left to offer real resistance to godless politicians playing fast and loose with those statutes of the realm which had once been framed for the purpose of preventing Sabbath profanation? If the rank and file of professing Christians considered they had discharged the obligations of the Sabbath merely by attending one or two religious services on that day, then need we be surprised if the irreligious masses clamoured louder and louder for a “brighter Sunday” and that those in governmental authority more and more yielded to their demands!
If we turn Sunday into a day for living it up, for our sport and pleasure, indeed how will God be honored in that? Is it not a mockery and even a profanation of His Name?
On this day, above all, cry aloud, and spare not, to the “God who heareth prayer.” This is the day he hath set apart for the good of your soul, both in this world and that which is to come. Never more disappoint the design of his love, either by worldly business or idle diver¬sions. Let not a little thing keep you from the house of God, either in the forenoon or afternoon. And spend as much as you can of the rest of the day, either in repeating what you have heard, or in reading the Scripture, or in private prayer, or talking of the things of God. Let his love be ever before your eyes. Let his praise be ever in your mouth. You have lived many years in folly and sin; now, live one day unto the Lord.
Westminster Catechism: Q. 117. How is the sabbath or the Lord’s day to be sanctified?
A. 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.
The Puritans took Sabbath observance very seriously. When King James I threw down the gauntlet by publishing the Book of Sports—a list of the sports and games one could lawfully engage in after church—the controversy that followed was so volatile that a 17th-century historian cited it as one of the leading causes of the English Civil War.
The Puritans did value recreation—just not on Sunday. On other days of the week, they enjoyed hunting, a form of football, fishing, bowling, swimming, skating, archery, and any other amusement they did not deem immoral (such as gambling or horseracing). In fact, some Puritan leaders urged employers to give their workers time for play
If you ask them who was Amos or Obadiah, or what is the number of the Prophets or Apostles, they cannot even open their mouth but for horses and charioteers, they compose excuses more cleverly than sophists or rhetoricians, and after all this, they say, "What is the harm? What is the loss?" This is what I groan for, that you do not so much as know that the action is a loss, nor have a sense of its evils. God has given to you an appointed space of life for serving Him, and do you while you spend it vainly, and at random, and on nothing useful, still ask, "What loss is there?"
John Chrysostom, Sermon from John 9
Legalism vs. Obedience
Legalism is establishing man-made laws that extend beyond God’s laws to bind his blessing. Legalism may also be an outward conformity to the very laws of God with no understanding of the matters of the heart, nor the foundation of grace for the rewards that belong to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord….
In contrast to legalistic thinking and practice, obedience is living according to God’s laws in order to please him and to enjoy him. The fourth commandment teaches us that one day in seven, in our case, Sunday, is to be devoted with joy to the worship and service of God. Nathan E. Lewis
DesiringGod.org, John Piper
Why So Many People Think of the Sabbath as a Burden
The reason that so many people feel it as a burden is partly that we have so much leisure, we don't feel the need for the sabbath rest; but more important, I think, is the fact that not many people really enjoy what God intended us to enjoy on the sabbath, namely, himself. Many professing Christians enjoy sports and television and secular books and magazines and recreation and hobbies and games far more than they enjoy direct interaction with God in his Word or in worship or in reading Christian books or in meditative strolls.
Therefore, inevitably people whose hearts are set more on the pleasures of the world than on the enjoyment of God will feel the sabbath command as a burden not a blessing. This is what John says in 1 John 5:3, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome."
Iain D. Campbell, Avoiding Legalism in our Sabbath-Keeping
The question for us then becomes – how can we ensure that our Sabbath-keeping is like that of Jesus, and not like that of the Pharisees? How can we avoid being legalistic and Pharisaic in our Sabbath observance?
It is interesting to note that in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees he does not argue that the Sabbath should not be observed, or that observing it was wrong. It is not legalism to keep the Sabbath holy, any more than it is legalism to obey one’s parents or be faithful to one’s spouse. Law-keeping is simply obedience, and we ought to obey God. Disobedience is law-breaking, and law-breaking is sin.
When it comes to observing the Sabbath, we have a positive command to ‘keep it holy'; which is every bit as powerful as the other element of the fourth commandment, the injunction to work on the other six days. It is not legalism to obey God’s law.
But there are some things that will make for good Sabbath-keeping and will help to avoid legalism. The command is to make the day different, to keep it holy, and for God. It will help us to make God the centre of our day if we gather with his people for worship, morning and evening, to listen to his voice as the Word is preached and his name is praised. It will help us to read his Word and to read books that will lift our thoughts to Heaven.
I doubt whether we can fully enjoy God on his day if we indulge in pastimes which take our attention away from Christ and his Word.
Pastor Doug Batchelor
Jesus often battled with the Pharisees regarding Sabbath observance; He would heal somebody that day and then be accused of breaking the Sabbath. While the commandment certainly doesn’t forbid healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus, God Himself, did it, we should also realize that Jesus never said, “You don’t need to keep the Sabbath anymore.” Every debate He had about the Sabbath was about how to keep it holy, not whether to keep it.
Interestingly, the spiritual problem in the time of Christ was certainly more about legalism. But before then, in the time of Jeremiah and Isaiah, Sabbath problems were more like the problems we face today. The Jews in their time were largely ignoring the Sabbath, not keeping it any better than the pagans. They were being careless in their Sabbath observance. And that’s the crisis I perceive in the Christian community at large today: We treat God’s commandment with sloppy indifference.
It’s not legalistic to love the Lord and want to please Him by showing you’re serious about keeping the Sabbath day holy according to His commandment.
Don’t let people accuse you of being legalistic because you’re asking practical questions about what a person should and shouldn’t do on the Sabbath. That’s our purpose here.
Even many Christians believe the Sabbath is just a day where you put in your two hours at church and then go to a football game, visit the mall, or mow the lawn. But is this trend a biblical one? How is a Christian to keep God’s Sabbath day holy?
Jesus once spoke to a group of Pharisees who asked Christ if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. He answered, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?
Sheep still fall into pits today. There will sometimes be unforeseen circumstances that arise on the Sabbath that call for our attention. If a woman goes into labor on the Sabbath, should we tell her not to “labor” that day and to wait to have her baby on another day? When people are suffering on the Sabbath and it is within our abilities to help them, shouldn’t we have a heart for them, even more than for an animal stuck in a ditch?
However, sometimes in an effort to explain or excuse our actions on the Sabbath, we casually cite our deed as being “an ox in the ditch.” (See Luke 14:5.) There are other references in the Bible to donkeys and sheep falling into pits. What does it mean? When an urgent need comes to our attention on Sabbath, we should pitch in and help someone out of a difficulty. For instance, one Sabbath my son Stephen and I were driving home from church when we came up on a dangerous scene. Someone’s car had stalled in the middle of an intersection, and everyone was driving by just honking at him. Steven and I looked at each other, pulled over, jumped out, and helped push the car off to safety.
But raking the leaves in your front yard, or even your neighbor’s yard, does not qualify as an unexpected emergency. This is the reason God wants us to remember the sacredness of the Sabbath all week long.
Remembering the Lord’s Day, by David J. Engelsma
The Dutch have called Sunday, "God's dike." In the Netherlands, the dike keeps back the threatening seas and, thus, preserves the Hollanders from watery destruction. So the Lord's Day holds back the raging waves of materialism, earthlimindedness, and pleasure-madness that threaten to engulf the Church and the Christian.
The New Testament Scripture does not abolish the Fourth Commandment. Jesus did not abolish this commandment; nor did He have a lax view of Sabbath-keeping, in comparison with the Pharisees. This is the notion that is sometimes found in the Church, so that those who are careless about remembering the Lord's Day are regarded as good Christians, whereas those who are careful about observing the Sabbath are suspected of Pharisaism. It is true that the Pharisees charged our Lord with laxity regarding the Sabbath. They accused Him of breaking the Sabbath (John 5:18). They said, "he keepeth not the Sabbath Day" (John 9:16). But this charge was false.
What was Jesus' teaching? What was the teaching of His behavior, first of all? Where did the Sabbath Day find Him, and what did it find Him doing? Was he in the field harvesting the crops? Was He taking scenic tours of the Mediterranean? Was He in the stadium watching the Nazareth Bobcats play the Capernaum Bears at some game of ball? Not at all, but He was always in the synagogue preaching the Word; and He was always doing good to distressed saints, healing them and destroying the power of the Devil.
What was the teaching of Jesus' word concerning the Sabbath? Did He ever admit that the Pharisee's charge was true? Did He ever say, "I am come, and, therefore, the Sabbath is no more"? Not at all, but He taught that remembering the Sabbath does not consist of idleness; it rather consists of working. He taught that this work must be the worship of God and the help of the needy brother. He taught that the Sabbath was made for man, for man's great good. And He taught that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Note well, Jesus does not call Himself, "Destroyer of the Sabbath," but "Lord of the Sabbath."
This aspect of obedience to the Fourth Commandment is threatened today. There are leaks in the dike. There are those who attend only infrequently, missing entire Sundays or consistently missing one of the services every Sunday ("oncers"). There is the growing practice of missing the worship services, now and then, because they interfere with our pleasures, e.g., our vacation-plans. The Lord's Day is completely forgotten. It is used for traveling or for sightseeing, just as though it did not belong to the risen Christ, but to ourselves. The strange notion is found in the Church that the Fourth Commandment may be broken occasionally. Men suppose that, if they remember the Lord's Day 51 weeks of the year, they are warranted in forgetting it one week. What would these same people say if others would adopt this thinking in regard to the commandment against stealing, or the commandment against murder?
"But the Lord's Day gets in the way of my pleasures," says the man determined to enjoy his weekend vacation. Yes, the Law of God has a way of doing this. Throughout the Old Testament, the Sabbath-Commandment "interfered" with Israel's pleasures; and for this reason they broke it (cf. Isaiah 58:13and Amos 8:5). May we bend and twist the Law to suit our pleasures? Or are we to plan our lives according to the law and to find our pleasure in doing what it says?
Pleasure is the great threat in our society. The world corrupts the Lord's Day, so that there is more deviltry on Sunday than on all the other days of the week combined.
The man who spends all of Sunday afternoon wrapped up in the ball game cannot bring the evening sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the house of the Lord. Very likely, he will not attend the second service. The appalling drop in the attendance at the second service is largely due to the use of Sunday for the people's personal pleasure - golf, picnics, visiting, watching television, or relaxing at home with a novel. If he does hurry from the end of the ball game to church, he does not come with a heart filled with the wonderful works of God in Jesus and with affections set on the things above, where Christ Jesus sits on the right hand of God.
Richard Baxter, --Lord’s Day Instructions
BE well resolved against the cavils of those carnal men, that would make you believe that the holy spending of the Lord's day is a needless thing.
Who hath brought us any proof that ever the church (since apostolic times) approved of spending any part of the day in sports, or idleness, or unnecessary worldly business? Or that any churches did actually so spend it?
Shake off the thoughts of worldly things, and clear your minds of worldly delights and cares.
The Fourth Commandment by Pastor James J. Barker
Unger goes on to say that observing the Sabbath, “was a unique sign that Israel was the LORD’s blood-bought people separated from the pagan nations and unto the LORD, their Redeemer.”
Today we can apply this principle to the NT church by saying that honoring the Lord’s Day is a unique sign that we are the Lord’s blood-bought people separated from the pagans around us and separated unto the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
But when Christians sleep in on Sunday and engage in worldly activities on Sunday they are disobeying God and they are telling the world that they are just like them.
Unger said that when an Israelite violated the fourth commandment, “he denied that God’s people were different from the unsaved”
D.L. Moody said: “Let those who are Christians endeavor to keep a conscience void of offense on this point.”
I like to read old sermons. It is interesting that D.L. Moody and Charles Haddon Spurgeon and the other great preachers of the 19th century preached hard against people dishonoring the Lord’s Day. To them desecrating the Lord’s Day was just as bad as getting drunk or stealing!
In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, he tells a story of a pastor who was ordered to read a proclamation issued by King Charles I, instructing the people to play sports on Sundays. To his congregation’s horror and amazement, he read the royal edict in church Sunday morning which many other preachers refused to do. But after reading the proclamation, he read Exodus 20:8-11 and then added these words: “Brethren, I have laid before you the commandment of your king and the Commandment of your God. I leave it to you to judge which of the two ought rather to be observed.”
If Christians would just take a stand the worldly crowd would not get away with all of their wickedness. But too many Christians compromise with the world.
D. L. Moody
THERE HAS BEEN an awful letting-down in this country regarding the Sabbath during the last twenty-five years, and many a man has been shorn of spiritual power, like Samson, because he is not straight on this question.
I honestly believe that this commandment is just as binding today as it ever was. When Christ was on earth, He did nothing to set it aside; He freed it from the traces under which the scribes and Pharisees had put it, and gave it its true place.
"The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)
It is just as practicable and as necessary for men today as it ever was- in fact, more than ever, because we live in such an intense age.
The Sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since. The fourth commandment begins with the word remember, showing that the Sabbath already existed when God wrote this law on the tables of stone at Sinai. How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?
I believe that the Sabbath question today is a vital one for the whole country. It is the burning question of the present time. If you give up the Sabbath the church goes; if you give up the church the home goes; and if the home goes the nation goes. That is the direction in which we are traveling.
The church of God is losing its power on account of so many people giving up the Sabbath, and using it to promote selfishness.
On the one hand we find a rigor in Sabbath observance that is nowhere commanded in Scripture, and that reminds one of the formalism of the Pharisees more than of the spirit of the Gospel. Such strictness does more harm than good. It repels people and makes the Sabbath a burden. On the other hand, we should jealously guard against a loose way of keeping the Sabbath. Already in many cities it is profaned openly.
Parents, if you want your children to grow up and honor you, have them honor the Sabbath day. Don't let them go off fishing and getting into bad company, or it won't be long before they will come home and curse you. I know few things more beautiful than to see a father and mother coming up the aisle with their daughters and sons, and sitting down together to hear the Word of God. It is a good thing to have the children, not in some remote loft or gallery, but in a good place, well in sight. Though they cannot understand the sermon now, when they get older they won't desire to break away; they will continue attending public worship in the house of God.
But we must not mistake the means for the end. We must not think that the Sabbath is just for the sake of being able to attend meetings. There are some people who think they must spend the whole day at meetings or private devotions. The result is that at nightfall they are tired out, and the day has brought them no rest. The number of church services attended ought to be measured by the person's ability to enjoy them and get good from them, without being wearied. Attending meetings is not the only way to observe the Sabbath. The Israelites were commanded to keep it in their dwellings as well as in holy convocation. The home, that center of so great influence over the life and character of the people, ought to be made the scene of true Sabbath observance.
You want power in your Christian life, do you? You want Holy Ghost power? You want the dew of heaven on your brow? You want to see men convicted and converted? I don't believe we shall ever have genuine conversions until we get straight on this law of God.
Men seem to think they have a right to change the holy day into a holiday. The young have more temptations to break the Sabbath than we had forty years ago.
Twenty years ago Christian people in Chicago would have been horrified if anyone had prophesied that all the theaters would be open every Sabbath; but that is what has come to pass. If it had been prophesied twenty years ago that Christian men would take a wheel and go off on Sunday morning and be gone all day on an excursion, Christians would have been horrified and would have said it was impossible; but that is what is going on today all over the country.
PUNISHMENT OR BLESSING?
No nation has ever prospered that has trampled the Sabbath in the dust. I believe that Sabbath desecration will carry a nation down quicker than anything else. When the children of Israel went into the Promised Land, God told them to let their land rest every seven years, and He would give them as much in six years as in seven. For four hundred and ninety years they disregarded that law. But mark you, Nebuchadnezzar came and took them off into Babylon, and kept them seventy years in captivity, and the land had its seventy sabbaths of rest. Seven times seventy is four hundred and ninety. So they did not gain much by breaking this law. You can give God His day, or He will take it.
On the other hand, honoring the fourth commandment brings blessing:
"If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride 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." (Isaiah 58:13-14)
I do not know what will become of this republic if we give up our Christian Sabbath. If Satan can break the conscience down on one point, he can break it down on all. When I was in France in 1867, I could not tell one day from the other. On Sunday, stores were open and buildings were erected, the same as on other days. See how quickly that country went down. One hundred years ago France and England stood abreast in the march of nations. Where do they stand today? France undertook to wipe out the Sabbath, and has pretty nearly wiped itself out, while England belts the globe.
• A FIRM STAND
We have a fighting chance to save this nation, and what we want is men and women who have moral courage.
We want today men who will make up their minds to do what is right and stand by it if the heavens tumble on their heads. What is to become of Christian Associations and Sunday schools, of churches and Christian Endeavor societies, if the Christian Sabbath is given up to recreation and made a holiday? Hasn't the time come to call a halt if men want power with God? Let men call you narrow and bigoted, but be man enough to stand by God's law, and you will have power and blessing. That is the kind of Christianity we want just now in this country. Any man can go with the crowd, but we want men who will go against the current.
By a strict observation of the Lord’s Day, the name of God is honored, and that in such a way as is very acceptable to Him (Isaiah 58:13). If it were not for the Sabbath, there would be but little public and visible appearance of serving, worshipping, and reverencing the supreme and invisible Being.
J. C. Ryle
I find Him (Jesus) speaking eleven times on the subject of the Sabbath, but it is always to correct the superstitious additions that the Pharisees had made to the Law of Moses about observing it and never to deny the holiness of the day.
Let us beware of undervaluing the Old Testament. There has arisen of late years a most unhappy tendency to slight and despise any religious argument that is drawn from an Old Testament source. . . . Let us, therefore, never listen to those who sneer at Old Testament arguments. Much infidelity begins with an ignorant contempt of the Old Testament.
Thomas Boston (1676-1732)
The day to be kept holy is one whole day—not a few hours, while the public worship lasts, but a whole day.
From Charles Spurgeon’s Catechism
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 (Lev. 23:3), and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship (Ps. 92:1-2; Isa. 58:13-14), except so much as is taken up in the works of necessity and mercy (Matt. 12:11-12).
Assemblies of God
Many Christians today attempt to fulfill the Sabbath solely as a day of rest, believing that any activities which interrupt routine personal work duties (and especially those that provide a sense of personal pleasure) constitute God’s intended rest. Advocates of this "pleasurable rest" theory believe they can best observe the Sabbath through pleasurable activities (e.g., an enjoyable shop at the mall, a prolonged Sunday morning sleep, or time on the golf course). But this attitude fails to recognize the latter portion of the admonition: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8).
No church can dictate personal holiness. Nor should it create a set of legalistic restrictions for observing the Sabbath. However, it is right for the church to call believers back to a holy reverence for this special day.
The way we treat Sunday is a symptom of the moral and spiritual condition of our nation. We have reached a point where honoring God on the Christian Sabbath is really not important anymore.
Bishop Ryle understood what would happen in England if Sunday became as any other day: ‘Break down the fence which now surrounds the Sunday, and our Sunday schools will soon come to an end. Let in the flood of worldliness and pleasure-seeking on the Lord’s Day, without check or hindrance, and our congregations will soon dwindle away. There is not too much religion in the land now. Destroy the sanctity of the Sabbath, and there will soon be far less…It would be a joy to the infidel; but it would be an insult and offence to God.’”
Our not observing the Christian Sabbath today is a break from the consistent history of our nation. One of the testimonies that our nation was established as and has been a Christian nation is that it has always up until recent times observed the Christian Sabbath as a nation. There is no doubt about this. It is very clear from our history that this is the case. It is true that people still go to church on Sunday throughout the country but treating Sunday as a special day as a nation has pretty much disappeared. We have definitely declined from the way previous generations treated Sunday. From the time of the Pilgrims up until the mid-twentieth century, the Christian Sabbath was observed all over our nation. It is only in more recent times that this observance has been severely eroded.
John Calvin comments, “…he dedicated every seventh day to rest, that his own example might be a perpetual rule. The design of the institution must be always kept in memory: for God did not command men simply to keep holiday every seventh day, as if he delighted in their indolence, but rather that they, being released from all other business, might the more readily apply their minds to the creator of the world. Lastly, that is a sacred rest which withdraws men from the impediments of the world, that it may dedicate them entirely to God.
To take God’s holy day and use it for commercial enterprises such as Super Bowl Sunday or Sunday Night Football goes contrary to the whole meaning of the Sabbath Day.
Now, it is possible to be too legalistic about the Sabbath Day. We are not to be as the Pharisees of long ago who ignored the spirit of the law but only obeyed it superficially in a legalistic way. We are to observe the principle of the Sabbath Day that is to honor God on that day and to follow His example.
Today, however, Sunday is no longer a hallowed day. On the contrary, it has become the biggest retail shopping day of the week. More money is spent on Sunday than on any other day. If you drive by any suburban mall on a Sunday afternoon, you'll see the parking lot absolutely packed. Blue laws are now a thing of the past.
Sunday has also become a time for pleasure and recreation. People fill the day with football, sports, shopping, picnics. And if it doesn't interrupt their leisure activities, they may squeeze in an hour for church, just to ease their consciences.
Sadly, Sunday as sabbath no longer has meaning even for a majority of Christians. Yet, having said all this, what does it mean to keep the sabbath holy? What does God require of us in keeping this fourth commandment? If it's not just a matter of legalistic obedience, and is rather a spiritual observance, then what must we do?
There’s a reason we don’t have a Saturday night service. Would it be wrong? No, not law, not necessarily wrong. I don’t want to be the guy that breaks the tradition. I don’t want to be the guy who breaks this marvelous, glorious tribute to the risen Christ. Christ should be exalted 24/7, right? And He should be exalted Saturday morning, and Saturday night, and every other day. But it just seems to me that God has placed His almighty hand on the first day of the week and said, “This is My Day. This is My day.”
And Sunday night services are disappearing all over the place, if they exist at all much anymore. You’d be hard pressed to find one. But as I said, it’s not the Lord’s morning. It’s the Lord’s Day.
We’re going in the wrong direction, folks. Services are shorter, more superficial, and fewer, at a time when they ought to be deeper, longer, and more frequent.
What does the Lord expect of us on His day? All I can say is that what He would expect of us would be obvious, wouldn’t it? That we would celebrate Him as Savior, that we would rejoice in His cross, that we rejoice in His resurrection, that we would pray together, fellowship together, break bread together around His table and that we would listen to the apostles’ doctrine, and hear the preaching of the Word, and embrace its glorious truth. I’m not talking about legalism. We’re not talking about some kind of old covenant sabbath laws imposed upon us. But grace certainly doesn’t require less than law, does it?
How is this day profaned, by sitting idle at home, by selling goods, by vain discourse. . ., and by sports! The people of Israel might not gather manna on the Sabbath, and may we use sports and dancings on this day? Truly it should be matter of grief to us to see so much Sabbath-profanation.
There is nothing in which I would recommend you to be more strictly resolute than in keeping the Sabbath holy; and by this I mean, not only abstaining that day from all unbecoming sports and common business, but from consuming time in frivolous conversation, which often leads to a sad waste of this precious day.
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. That commandment has never been repealed and is therefore binding on us today. Thank God for the Sabbath day.
A man shall show his heart and life, what they are, more by one Lord’s Day than by all the days of the week besides. To delight ourselves in God’s service upon His holy Day gives a better proof of a sanctified nature than to grudge at the coming of such days.
The city will be safe if God be truly and devoutly worshipped and this is attested by the sanctification of the Sabbath. If we employ the Lord’s Day to make good cheer, to sport ourselves, to go to the games and pastimes, shall God in this be honoured? Is this not a mockery? Is this not an unhallowing of His name?
The profanation of the Sabbath is an inlet to all impiety. Those who pollute holy time will keep nothing pure.
Rev. Charles Hodge
A Sabbath-breaking or Sabbath-neglecting people are notoriously irreligious; the Pharisaical way of observing it is one extreme; the European way is still worse.
Let every one that loveth Christ keep holy the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day.
Robert Murray McCheyne
Did you ever meet with a lively believer in any country under heaven, one who loved Christ and kept a holy life, who did not delight in keeping holy to God the entire Lord’s Day? England without Sunday is England without God.
The end for which the Sabbath was ordained is the attainment of holiness. Sabbaths are as ancient as the world. The Sabbath is not thine, but God’s Day.
I believe that six days a week are quite sufficient for participation in sport, whether it be football, cricket, or any other game. God has told us to Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, and I think that the only way we can keep that sadly neglected commandment is to be found in God’s house on the Lord’s Day. I should love to play for England—but not on a Sunday.
There are many people today who think of those who honour Sunday in the old-fashioned way as kill-joys.
I believe that Sunday as we have had it in the past is one of the greatest helps in a young man’s life to keep all that is noblest, truest, and best. That is why I say, “Young person—stand for Sunday, for by losing it you will lose far more than the day: you will lose the spirit that it stands for.”
As a Christian I believe that Sunday sport is harmful to the Christian life of this country. If you have (sports) on Sunday, the youngsters are bound to go and see it and that would be a counter-attraction to Sunday School. I’m not a kill-joy, but I think there are more important things to do on Sunday than play (sports). It’s contrary to God’s law to turn Sunday into a day for sport.
I am strongly opposed to sport on Sunday. I recognize the good intentions of many advocates of Sunday games. They do not realize, I believe, the danger of our losing the Christian Sunday altogether. Personally I believe in the divine institution of Sunday.
The Wright Brothers
We were brought up to have respect for the Lord’s Day. Our father was a Christian minister who loved the Lord and His Day. We would never fly on a Sunday.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. How much Sabbath-breaking we have in this country! I tell you, whenever a city turns its theaters loose on Sunday and has its baseball parks open, it is putting the red flag down the tracks.
One can often find Christian leaders throughout history on different sides of an issue, but on this matter, I am amazed at how united they are—from the church fathers, including disciples of the apostle John, through the Reformers, the revivalists, Wesley, Moody, Finney, Billy Sunday, up to John MacArthur in our own day, they all seem united in that the Lord’s Day is not a day for church sponsored games and sports (even preaching that way 1,900 years ago). It was not until about 50 years ago that one can even find the respect for the Lord’s Day falling among church leaders.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.