Of all the doctrines and practices of the Reformed Faith – which we delight to call the Faith of Our Fathers, and which we share with many others: not only with some of those who bear the denominational label “Reformed” but also many Presbyterians and – lately – quite a few Baptists as well who are abandoning the easy-believism that has characterized so many of their churches in recent years and their opposition to all forms of the Law of God and are returning to what was their own original position as well as ours among all the doctrines and practices of that Reformed Faith, I say, none is so often denied on the outside and resisted within our churches that that which says: that to keep a sabbath day, one day in seven as a day of rest from our labors, a day for God, always was – is now – and always will be a sacred obligation of the true believer!
It is legalism, the opponents say. It is Judaism, they argue – resurrected in Christian garments. The New Testament abolishes all the keeping of days and seasons including the sabbath, they claim and cite certain texts in Romans and Colossians in support of their position.
Many of our own people ask, Why should we be so different in this respect from other Christians? After all, many who still call themselves Reformed and Presbyterian have long since abandoned this notion and have joined Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and others – and, of course, the Roman Catholics and the Greeks in counting Sunday is no different than other days really, except that it is the day appointed for church services by long tradition and in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, no doubt, but apart from these church services, why shouldn’t we do as we please on this day?
Or they put their objections like this: Agreed that it is a different day, but why shouldn’t we do this or that or the other things on this day? What’s wrong with it?
And the controversy sometimes grows acrimonious – and our churches lose some of the more independent-minded on this matter who profess themselves liberated from the old “hang-ups” of the Puritan mentality – and frankly, our churches also fail to win some who might otherwise, be attracted to our fellowship because we say, This, too, ought thou to do!
Now if I were convinced that the keeping of Sunday as the Christian sabbath was in fact a mere customary practice of ours – therefore, a matter of indifference – I would not hesitate to say: Let’s leave it behind! We are not bound to customs – but to the Word of God! But I am not at all so convinced – in fact, to the contrary: I am more than ever convinced that the Fourth Commandment is as important as all the rest in setting forth the will of God for the life of the redeemed child of God; and that we must take it as seriously as we do all the others. Listen to it as it is found in Exodus, chapter 20, verses 8-11. “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 thy stranger that is within thy 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.”
Now if you have listened very carefully to this commandment you will have noticed:
(1) that something very important is bidden, or required – namely, work. “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work,” God says; and
(2) that something is forbidden, namely, working on the seventh day. “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, but “remember” it – the commandment says, “to keep it holy,” and I will call this briefly to call to pray.
A divine pattern of life is here set forth – and heaven established rythm – that may be briefly stated in the phrase, “Work and Pray.” Now the command to work – and to work for six days in the week and
to complete all your work in that time – has largely been overlooked in the world and in the church today: but it is a part of God’s fundamental rule of life.
Work was ordained in the Garden of Eden – Genesis 2:15. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” That’s work – isn’t it? Adam was not intended to spend his time looking around, walking up and down, talking to the birds and the beasts, swimming in the rivers of the garden, and generally taking his ease. He had work to do – work without drudgery or boredom, surely enough, and work that was wonderfully rewarding, but it was work nevertheless. Only after he fell and became a rebel against God and joined the other side did his work become a burden to him – Genesis 3:19, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” and a very, very old translation of the Bible, older than the King James said here “by the sweat of thy brow,” and it became a proverb in the English language in that form and still is used today to indicate the difficulties of our working in the present dispensation.
But work is still required of us. Our Lord Jesus Christ was – for most of His days here on earth – a workman, and we have no reason to suppose that He did not for all those “hidden years” in Nazareth labor daily, six days a week, at the carpenter’s trade!
His apostles also were workmen – and we read that after His resurrection, when as yet there was no particular assignment for them, they went “a-fishing,” not for sport – but as the commercial fisherman that they had formerly been!
The great Paul did not hesitate to work himself – and command it to others. In Second Thessalonians he writes, “We behave not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you (and we know that he did the same at Corinth working at his trade of tent-making for Aquila and Priscilla) not because we have no power (he goes on), but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
It is plain as the nose on your face from Scripture, then, it seems to me, that we are intended to work – and to do so diligently and regularly so that in six days a week our work gets done, and I take that to mean not only the work of our business or profession but all other work at home or for others that we may have to do – and I believe that it could be done by any single one of us quite without exception! Few are those today who have to work at jobs more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week (unless they’re themselves proprietors of certain small businesses) and that leaves a good 56 hours a week for all of our other activities and 48 for sleeping – our trouble is our passion today to play!
Don’t get me wrong! There’s nothing wrong with recreation – provided it is of the right sort, of course – but it is not some sort of obligation that is laid upon us. Working is! Sleeping and taking our rest is. God created us that way! But playing is not. It may be good for you in moderation and all of that – but to use up huge blocks of our time and energy in play and then to plead at the end of the six appointed days that we have not had time to finish our work or to play enough is not only wrong, it’s just plain false and shows our essential selfishness and further rebellion against the will of God for our lives!
“Six days shalt thou labor, and do all the work.” It is God’s command – and the Christian, at least, ought to try to live by it. But “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,’ that’s Moses in Deuteronomy, and that’s Jesus Christ in the gospels – a word that has been mocked of late by the moguls of Madison Avenue for their own purposes, but which remains nevertheless a Word of God! And because man does not live by bread alone, God, from the very first, has ordained not only that he should work and sleep, but also that he should pray – and in this connection there enters in the requirement that one day in seven should be kept holy to the Lord our God.
Notice – that it was not newly ordained by God at Mt. Sinai – but reinforced by Him. The word is “remember it,” and not just do it from this time on! Even before the commandment was given at the mountain the manna was collected on six days and not on the seventh. And, of course, the Bible shows us that the sabbath day goes back – like the commandment to work – to the very creation work of God! “On the seventh day God rested – and therefore He blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” It is true, of course, that the Sabbath institution was backed up by civil and ceremonial legislation in the days of Moses, and that that civil and ceremonial legislation is no longer binding upon us, but was for Israel, and for the period prior to the advent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and when the New Testament speaks of the abrogation of days and sabbaths it refers, of course, to this supporting legislation; but not the basic ordinance of God Himself – which existed from the beginning of the world and which was included designedly by Him in His basic law – His basic commandments of right and wrong which are intended to remain for all time to come! Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
Some people get “hung-up” on the date of the Sabbath day – whether it should be Saturday or Sunday and make much of the seventh day and then point to our modern calendars for confirmation; forgetting, of course, that every Sunday is a seventh day as well as every Saturday and that the commandment only requires one day in seven and, of course, the same day for all of God’s children. From the beginning of the world until the Christian era, Saturday was that day in commemoration of the creation; but in the Christian era it is Sunday in commemoration of the completion of the week of our redemption when Jesus Christ rose from the dead; and the New Testament amply confirms this – for the church, whether of Jewish or Gentile background was soon meeting on the first day of the week, on the Lord’s Day, or Sunday and we take this change to have been made therefore by the Holy Spirit – no specific word being necessary.
But what shall we do on this day? Our catechism emphasizes Christian worship and Christian instruction: and this is certainly a primary obligation of the whole body of believers on this day when ordinary labors are left aside. We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together – and that means in the case of our own local congregation not once, but twice on Sunday. We are not at liberty to decide on our own compliance in this, but to follow the lead of the brethren and certainly no seriously-minded and truly born-again Christian can maintain that he or she does not love God’s people or God’s house of the worship of the congregation! There are, of course, some legitimate excuses – the care of young children, or of the sick, personal weakness or legitimate pressing duties but these are true of only some of the people. All in normal circumstances, young and old, should assemble together and without fail at the appointed time. It is a fundamental obligation – and should be a high privilege!
Out catechism also mentions “Christian service to those in need” as a suitable activity on our sabbath days – and this is a broad category indeed. How often do we think of it? Some of our young people have done so by carrying on a program of visits to the aged and shut-ins, and this is certainly a blessing. More of this could be done – much more is needed. Some people think of Sunday as a day of feasting – and some mothers have been known to miss church or Sunday School because they have to cook so much on that day and prepare for specially invited company. How much better it would be if we confined our meals to the simple – and easily prepared things – and there are so many today – and invited the lonely or the friendless for whom the simplest of meals in a home, in a family setting would be a rare treat. Do we remember distant friends and missionaries, perhaps, and write a short letter and in the letter recount something of spiritual value that we may have learned that particular Sunday?
Sunday is also a wonderful opportunity for the deeper cultivation of the spiritual life through Christian books. So many are available today in Christian bookstores and in our church library do you make use of the opportunities? And I might go on and on to tell you of things to do on the Lord’s day that will bless your soul.
But it means the discipline of separating ourselves from profitless activities: and so our churches have always spoken out against Sunday work, Sunday business, Sunday sports, and Sunday entertainments, and they have been right in so doing. No one but the pleasure mad worldling is really deprived by the absence of Sunday business and Sunday sporting events: and what Christian wants to be in that category? Do You?
Does that make Sunday a grim and awful day? Not when you are a believer who loves the Lord and the things of the Lord! You must be wise, of course – and be mindful of the young – or the essentially unconverted members of your family – and be wise enough to draw them into worthwhile activities that they will enjoy and not just say, Don’t do this, and don’t do that – but if you’ll make the effort, the rewards to you, to your home life, to the church, and to the community itself will be great. You’ll grow closer to Christ – you’ll be better prepared for the eternal sabbath still to come – and you’ll be able to sing as John Newton did in one of his beloved hymns – “Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest.” He meant the Christian sabbath – a distinct commandment of the Lord and a unique privilege of His children to keep for their blessing. Amen.
Sermon written by: Rev. Charles W. Krahe, Seventh Reformed Church