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The Observation of the Lord’s Day, or the Christian Sabbath, William Thomas.


The Christian Sabbath (as our Church calls it,) that is, the Lord’s day, being a matter of so great importance, both in respect of Christians and of Christianity, as that the name of the Lord of glory is imprinted upon it. And the primitive Christians accounted it their glorious character. And the Catholic Church has still owned it, and in the best of times most acknowledged it to be a day wholly dedicated to the remembrance and service of God our Saviour, I shall therefore, endeavour (according to my ability) to add something briefly and summarily concerning this great day, and the duties thereof; and that so, as to stir up Christians to the due observation of that day, and performance of those duties.


For this purpose I shall make choice of a portion of Scripture that fully declares the danger of profaning the Lord’s holy day; It is that which is written


Neh. 13.17, 18.


Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this City? Yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath.


It is easy here (before I go any further) to foresee this objection, that a text in the Old Testament, speaking of the Jews Sabbath, is improper for the establishing of the observation of the New Testament Sabbath. Unto which I answer:


1. More general, that whatsoever things were written aforetime, they were written for our learning; and examples of divine justice (such as this Scripture declares to be inflicted for profaning that which was God’s holy day then) are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come, to terrify all men from offending in the like kind; as here, from abusing and applying to common use his consecrated time, and solemn day.


2. More particularly, the Fourth Commandment being (as a remarkable part of the moral and eternal law of God) still in force, for the holy observation of a Sabbath every week, of God’s appointment unto the end of the world; it will from thence follow, that any thing spoken in the Old Testament concerning the weekly Sabbath in use then, if it be not proper to the Jewish people, nor to the Jews Sabbath day, but be prescribed in the Fourth Commandment, as common to each weekly Sabbath of God’s institution, does still remain in its full strength to bind the people of God in all ages; briefly, What belonged to the Jews Sabbath, as [a] Sabbath, and not as [that] Sabbath, is still in force for every Sabbath, I mean, for any weekly day which God appoints for his day of rest and holiness. Hence it follows also, that what we find in the Old Testament, about the Sabbath, approved, that's for our imitation; what we find reproved and punished, that's for our restraint and warning.


This morality of the Fourth Commandment, and its common aspect, both on the Old and New Testaments weekly day, being purposely and strongly proved by others, I shall not (here) speak further of it, but hasten to a brief opening of the Scripture before recited; wherein it appears, that amongst other gross abuses, (mentioned in the former and latter part of this Chapter) the Sabbath also was very provokingly profaned, and that in Jerusalem itself; (the Lord’s city); wherein the Temple was, (the Lord’s house); and wherein God himself so resided, that they hid their eyes from the Sabbath, in his eyesight, and by the profanation thereof he was profaned among them, Ezek. 22.26.


If any ask, how all this came to pass? Nehemiah himself gives an account of it, when he saith, All this while was not I at Jerusalem, v. 6. The presence of a good Governor prevents impiety? And Nehemiah being once come; Sabbath profanation is non-plussed, and overcome, They came no more on the Sabbath, v. 21. But, as when Moses was absent, the Calf was made; so Nehemiah going (after his first coming to Jerusalem, and the building of the walls thereof) into Persia again, there were, in that his absence from Jerusalem, many profanations crept in, which he, when he returns, most zealously reforms. In particular; when he saw in Judah the violation of the Sabbath, and that it was made a very market-day, v. 15, his eyes affected his heart, and his zeal discovers itself.


1. In vehement speaking; for he testified, and contended against the profaners of that day, v. 15. and with the nobles that should have prevented and obviated such profanation, v. 17, 18.


2. In resolute acting; taking order,


(a) For the shutting and guarding of the gates of Jerusalem, against buyers and sellers within the City, v. 19.


(b) For restraining them that lodged about the wall, who might continue buying and selling in the suburbs, v. 20.21.


(c) He gave charge to the Levites also to keep the gates, to wit, of the Temple (Nehemiah's own servants being appointed to keep the City-gates), that so nothing might be wanting, on their part, to keep the day and house of God from profanation, v. 22.


The result and conclusion of all which, is, an humble applying of himself to the mercy of God for the remembering of him, as he, by the grace of God, was zealous in remembering the Lord’s holy day; where his confidence is also implied, and this contained, that, The Lord will mercifully remember them, who remember dutifully the Lord’s day.


In the two verses before cited, (v. 17, 18) is contained Nehemiah's contending (or arguing the case by strong and solid reasons, with the nobles, who either had a hand in this evil, as being actors in it themselves (Ezra 9. 2), or at least, were under the guilt of it for want of being the restrainers of it (1 Sam. 2. 29 & 3. 13), being (it's like) entrusted with the care of such things in Nehemiah's absence.


This contention is made good, by the great evil that there is in profaning the Sabbath day, which is twofold.


1. The evil of sin, v. 17, What evil thing is this that ye do?


2. The evil of punishment, Did not your fathers do thus, and did not God bring all this evil upon us, v. 18.


The former of these shows, that, it is an evil thing to profane the Sabbath day. I use the word Sabbath, not as intending to speak of, or to give any countenance to the observation of the Jews Sabbath (now); but as purposing to speak of the Christian Sabbath, and to take in that only of the Jews day, which sometime belonged to it in the general nature and notion of a Sabbath, and with respect to that observation of a Sabbath, which (being prescribed in the Fourth Commandment) belongs to every Sabbath of God’s appointment.

Nor do I (while I make use of the name [Sabbath]) deny the Lord’s day to be the more evangelical name; but I call it a Sabbath, because it will never be the Lord’s day, unless it be a Sabbath day, that is, it will never be a day of holy rest, unless it be a day of rest, which the word Sabbath signifies.


Concerning which, I shall mention these three particulars:


I. The rest enjoined.


II. The thing intended in that rest, to wit, holiness.


III. The extent both of the rest and the holiness; it is for the whole day.


I. The rest enjoined


First, in a Sabbath, rest is required, and that so as to do no manner of work; the meaning is not, that we are to abstain from sinful works only, which though they be eminently unlawful on that day, yet are truly unlawful any day, and are forbidden in all the other Commandments, Nor is it the meaning, that we should abstain from servile work only, that is, worldly works painful and gainful, (which are allowed on other days); for howsoever such works be in special manner forbidden, as being named in the Fourth Commandment, yet that's but by a synecdoche, or a figure, whereby more is meant: for if they only were forbidden, then the Sabbath might be spent in things easy, liberal, and ingenuous without blame; and then God should have the day no more, or little more, then if it were spent in servile works, when yet it must be a Sabbath of, or to the Lord; The thing therefore required, is, that all manner of work be forborne, (by what name or title soever it be called) that is ours, and not God’s; that deprives God of his day, or is an hinderance of that holiness which is intended in the Sabbath or day of rest.


Of this rest there are divers reasons. As:


1. The solemnity of the day (for it's one of God’s solemn days, Psalm 81. 5) that the celebration thereof may be more fair and full by laying aside all work, and the whole creation (as it were) to wait on the Creator, Lev. 23. 3.


2. As in point of solemnity, so, in point of mercy, for the relief, refreshing and taking breath of the toiled creature after six days labour; which is said of God himself, after his work, but it is spoken after the manner of men, Exod. 31.17. On the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.


3. And especially, in point of piety, for the sanctification of the day, in the holy services thereof; and that not without need: For, if we look to innocent Adam, albeit some question, whether the law of the Sabbath were given to him before the fall; yet there's no cause to question, but that it would have been useful to him, though he had not fallen: because he could not, at once, dress and keep the Garden, and have that complete and undistracted communion with God, which it was easy for him to enjoy, in a time of rest and separation from all such earthly and varied employment.


But now, man being fallen, this rest is of more absolute necessity, because both human infirmity and corruption so compass and cleave to us, that we cannot with full intention of mind be in heaven and earth both at once; that is, we cannot, at the same time, apply ourselves entirely to matters of so different a nature and operation as heavenly and earthly things are, which apparently carry our hearts contrary ways: whereof there needs not further proof than the daily experience we have of the dividing of our hearts, and the withdrawing of them from things spiritual, or, at least, the eclipsing of them, by the interposition of earthly things; which, if they be earthly thoughts, hinder spiritual thoughts, and disturb heavenly meditations; if they be earthly words, they cool spiritual communications (a man cannot speak two different languages both at once); and if they be earthly actions, they weaken spiritual exercises, and thrust aside heavenly transactions.


For this reason, play also and sports are forbidden: for God forbids not work for the thing, (He likes work better then play), but for the end; to wit, because it hinders the entire employing of the day in holy things, which play does much more, because of a greater delight in it, and for that the heart is more taken up with it, and stolen (as the hearts of the men of Israel were by Absalom’s kisses, 2 Sam. 15.5, 6.) from the son of David, the Lord of the Sabbath, by it.


Now, albeit there might be some rest (out of the Fourth Commandment) appendant to the Jews day, and proper to them, as appertaining to their education, (which, I conceive, it will be hard to find; that which is produced for it, being as probably answered as urged:) yet all that rest which is enjoined in the Commandment, and is necessary for Sabbath-sanctification, belongs to us as well as to them: for, as the observation of the Sabbath (prescribed in the Fourth Commandment) being spiritual, argues the law that requires it to be both moral and eternal; so, with respect thereto, the bodily rest also becomes moral, and therefore a common and continuing thing to us as well as to the Jews.


Nor need this rest seem tedious, if we consider what works God requires and allows on the Sabbath-day; As:


1. Works of religion. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all [thy] work, saith the Commandment, but on the Sabbath-day, we may and must do God’s work. Hence, it's said, The Priests profane the Sabbath, that is, materially, by doing those works that would profane it, if God had not commanded them for his service: but being that he has so done, those Priests are blameless, because those works, though servile in their nature, yet were sacred in their end and application. Such a work was the infirm man’s carrying his bed on the Sabbath when Christ had healed him. The bearing of burthens, on that day, for worldly lucre, is one of the things that Nehemiah here contends against; but that man’s carrying his bed became a religious action, by being an appurtenance of the miracle, and an open declaration to all men (who on that day did more flock together), of the grace and power of God by which he was cured; under this head may be comprehended those bodily provisions that are truly needful and helpful for our more able and vigorous performance of religious duties, or for the glory of God some other way.


2. Works of necessity, to wit, real, not feigned; and present and apparent, not possible only, and which may be or not be: To this we may refer the Disciples plucking and eating the ears of corn, whom Christ excuses, because, at that time, they (as David) needed sustenance. And add thereto the other plain instance of a sheep falling into a pit, Matt. 12. 11, which they that so quarrelled with our Saviour, made no scruple to pull out on the Sabbath day.


3. Works of mercy, as the healing of the woman bound by Satan, Lo eighteen years, Luke 13. 15, 16. A Saviour so merciful would not stand upon healing on the Sabbath day in a case so pitiful; for, the Sabbath is made for man, Mark 2. 27, that is, the rest of the Sabbath is to give place to man’s relief; And though God propound to us his example of rest on the seventh day for our resting, yet we have his example of working also for mans benefit; for (saith Christ) my Father worketh hitherto, (no Sabbath day excepted) to wit, in the preservation, government, and for the good of his creatures.


Thus of the first thing belonging to a Sabbath, to wit, rest.


II. Holiness of the Sabbath


Secondly, the thing further and chiefly required, and which is intended in this rest, is holiness, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; wherein is contained:


1. A reverent opinion of it, to wit, as the Lord’s holy and honourable day, there will never be a good observation of it in our practise, without an estimation of it in our judgement. Men will not leave the world (with which nature closes) nor close with God in those holy things which nature is opposite to, and in the best, too averse from; I say, they will not do this on a day (and that every week) which they care not for; on which they see no divine character; and in the service whereof they expect no divine blessing.


2. A dear affection to it, calling it a delight, and loving to be in the spirit on that day, Rev. 1. 10. [No delight] is the companion of contempt, but delight is so far from despising service, that it doubles it.


3. An holy employing of the rest and bestowing of ourselves in the duties belonging to such a day. This is well expressed, in those considerable Articles of Ireland, thus, The first day of the week, which is the Lord’s day, is wholly to be dedicated to the service of God; and therefore we are bound therein to rest from our common and daily business, and (mark what follows) to bestow that leisure upon holy exercises both public and private.


Public exercises are the principal; in reference to which public worship especially, the Sabbath is (as I conceive), said to be a sign, that is, an open declaration, Whose we are, and whom we serve, Jonah 1. 9 & Act. 27. 23. For it does not follow from the word [Sign] that the weekly Sabbath is a typical ceremony: If it were so, then it should be a sin to observe a Sabbath now, since all ceremonies end in Christ, in whom (notwithstanding) the Christian Sabbath begins (as to the day) and by whom it is confirmed as it is a weekly day, (which the Fourth Commandment requires) because he declares that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it. It is not therefore a ceremonial sign (any more than the signs in the Sacraments are ceremonial) but rather a moral and real sign and demonstration how things stand between God and his people, which will further appear by looking more narrowly into that place of Ezekiel, where it is called a sign, for thus the prophet expresses it, I gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them (Ezek. 20. 12), which words are also mentioned and applied to the weekly Sabbath, Exod. 31. 13. 15, 16, 17. When the Sabbath is said to be a sign, the mean∣ing is (as some do most probably expound it) that it is a document or an instructing sign, and that between God and his people [me and you], saith the Lord; it teaches and shows that which is common to us both, to wit, on my part, that I am your Creator and Sanctifier; on your part, that you are a people, by me created and sanctified; And that it is thus an instructing sign, appears by the words following, that ye may know; as if the Lord had said, Look on the Sabbath as a monument of the relation between me and you; I would have you know and observe it so to be. Upon a nearer view of the words, it will be found a teaching sign of these three lessons:


(a) That God is the Lord (Lev. 19. 30 Ye shall keep my Sabbath, I am the Lord), that is, that Lord who is the only true God, (Jer. 10. 10) and that, because he has made the Heaven and the Earth, v. 11, 12. Which the observation of a Sabbath, that is, resting a seventh day every week in relation to six days work, clearly holds forth; for it is in imitation of that God, who in six days made Heaven and Earth, and rested the seventh, who can be no other then the true God, and Lord of all.


(b) The second lesson is, that this great Lord, is the God of his Church, or a God in covenant with them: for thus the Lord speaks (Ezek. 20.19, 20); I am the Lord [your God] —Hallow my Sabbaths, and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know (and learn this lesson) that I am your God; for, Why do they wait upon him a whole day, every week, but to show that they own him as their God, and that they believe he owns them as his people? Hence the Scripture saith, They sit before thee [as my people] and hear thy words (Ezek. 33. 31).


(c) The third lesson is, that he is the Lord that sanctifies them; which may be understood two ways:


1. Of a sanctification to himself by a separation from the world (Heb. 10. 29), so as to enjoy the privilege of his Covenant; and so the Scripture speaks, Ye shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people that ye should be mine, Lev. 20. 26 & Exod. 33. 16.


2. And also of an internal renovation, and sanctification in spirit, and soul, and body, 1 Thess. 5, 23 by the word preached on that day through the operation of the Spirit, 1 Pet. 1.2, Act. 20.32. & 26.18. So that God has not only made the Sabbath an holy day, but also makes men holy by his ordinances, on that day (principally) dispensed.


I have been the longer in this, because hereby it appears what a necessity there is of a weekly Sabbath, as being a most signal declaration and representation of what God is in himself, that is, the maker of Heaven and Earth (his distinguishing character, and what he is to his Church, that is, a God in covenant with them, and every way, a sanctifier of them, and that's their distinguishing character, Ex. 33. 16 & Isa. 63. 19. Now (to return to the thing in hand) since the Sabbath becomes of this use, especially by the general and solemn meeting of God’s people together to public service, (as prayer, reading the Scripture, preaching, administration of the sacraments, &c.) therefore the rest and leisure we have on that day, is principally to be bestowed in, and sanctified by, such duties; And therefore, the sacrifices appointed for the Sabbath day were full double to those appointed for every day (Num. 28. 9), for the Sabbath being a sign of more than ordinary favour from the Lord, he required greater testimonies of their thankfulness and sanctification; And the prophet Ezekiel, speaking of the state of the Church in the time of the Messiah, under the figure of legal ordinances, mentions a yet greater oblation, to be offered on the Sabbath day (Ezek. 46.4, 5) signifying that in the time of the Gospel, the spiritual service should exceed the legal, the grace of the New Testament being greater than that of the Old: Now if we bring this greater service to the great day of service, that is, the Lord’s day, it will fairly follow, that the rest of that day should be filled up with holy duties, especially in public; for in those duties the Sabbath is most a (sign) of the relations between God and us.


Private duties also are necessary, because the whole day cannot be spent in public service conveniently, and yet it is to be spent holily; Before we come to the Congregation therefore, (considering how holy a God that is before whom we come, and how serious a service that is about which we come) there is great need to spend some time in repentance, especially of the sins committed the week before, for how can we stand before God in our sin? Ezra 9.15. And since God requires the heart, how much need is there to purge it? for he endures not a filthy heart, but cries out upon it Mat. 23.25; nor will the seed of the word prosper in it: How much need also to adorn it with humility, faith, fear of God, holy desires and affections? for God likes not an empty heart, but requires to be greatly feared in the Assembly of his Saints (Psalm 89. 7), to come with hungering, thirsting, and the desire of new born babes, and especially with faith, without which neither God’s Word to us, nor our words (in prayer) to him, can ever profit, Heb. 4. 2 & James 1. 6, 7. O how empty do we go away from ordinances, either because full of that which we ought to lay aside? or void of that which we ought to provide when we come into God’s presence! what need therefore of preparation?


And, After we have been before God in public exercises, we are not left at liberty to do and speak as we please, for it is the Sabbath of the Lord our God still; and therefore must have continued in it that rest, which is the body of it; and that holiness, which is the soul of it; As therefore, before the public service, we are to get a stomach, and then feed on the heavenly manna at it; so we are to ruminate and chew the cud after it, that is, we are to consider what God has said to us, meditate and ponder upon it. We should be in the spirit on the Lord’s day, that is, taken up with spiritual meditations, Rev. 1.10 or spiritual conference, such as our Saviour used with the men of Emmaus on the day of his resurrection, suitable to what he did before on the Jews Sabbath, when going into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread, he teaches one good lesson to the guests that were bidden, another to him that bade him; them he teaches humility, and him, charity; And a third that sat at meat with him (and in him all other men), piety; and providence that no worldly encumbrances hinder from spiritual ordinances. It's true, that Christ spake of good things every day, but we (being taken up with other things on our ordinary days) have the more need to follow his holy example in speaking of things godly on the Sabbath day wherein we are not so free to talk of what we wish, as some may imagine: for if there be a liberty for working-day words, and any every-day discourse, how will the rest of that day be holy? If two or three hours be spent in worldly talk or tales, and not in Christian colloquies, and communications (such as Paul so persisted in on the Lord’s day - Acts 20.12) where will the holiness of those hours be found, and, what distinction will there be (for that time) between that and the working days?


Unto these godly meditations and conferences, are to be added holy actions. As,


1. Works of Piety; reading, praying, admonishing, singing Psalms, catechising children; and (in special) repeating the sermons preached for the good of the family, or of other Christians; who finding how frail their memories are, will be glad of such an assistance.


2. Works of Charity, as laying up, or laying out, for the use of the poor, as God prospers us, visiting and helping the sick, spiritually and outwardly, as our Saviour used to heal on the Sabbath day; yet not so as to make more work than we need, but doing any good to poor creatures, which will not be so much for God's glory, and the winning of others to religion (who are at leisure to look out that day) or for their comfort that are in distress, if it be not on the Lord’s day, done and dispatched.


Hitherto of the rest and holiness of the Sabbath.


III. The extent of the rest and holiness that is for the whole day


Thirdly, there remains to be considered the extent of this rest and holiness, which is, for a whole day; for the Commandment saith, Remember the [day] of rest, to keep it holy. There is some question when the Christian Sabbath begins; some will have it to begin in the evening, and so the night shall be first, and the day after; Others (I conceive) more probably hold that it begins in the morn∣ing, because then, and that very early, when it was yet dark, John 20.1 our Saviour was risen, and in his resurrection, that work which gave occasion of the institution of the day was finished; and so the Lord’s day is reckoned from morning to morning, or (as some account it) from midnight to midnight, conceiving that the morning begins at midnight, and that Christ rose not much after midnight. Referring this to the Authors (mentioned in the margin) that are large in it, I shall only speak to the thing in hand, which is, that whensoever it begins, it must be a day, and such