IMD: Delighting in the Sabbath
This article is part of the series named The Inward Man’s Delight by Christian Herring and Konrad Holden. The purpose of The Inward Man’s Delight is to declare the benefits and joys of Reformed piety and practice. This particular article is written by Christian Herring.
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 (KJV)
In reformed circles you may often see debates on what to do or what not to do on the Lord’s Day. The Westminster Standards give us a list of these things, and the ongoing debate is over whether or not the Standards are biblical in their exposition. What must be remembered above all is that the Standards are not promoting legalism. The Divines formulated doctrines in order to lead us to worship and honor God, not to promote a Pharisaical outward religion. With that in mind, let’s look to what the Standards have to say on the Lord’s Day.
“VII. As it is of the law of nature that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.
VIII. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”
— Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21
“116. What is required in the fourth commandment?
The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called The Lord’s Day.
117. How is the sabbath or the Lord’s day to be sanctified?
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 to despatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.
119. What are the sins forbidden in the fourth commandment?
The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are, all omissions of the duties required, all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing of them, and being weary of them; all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful; and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.”
— Westminster Larger Catechism
Dear reader, let me place at the start that the Sabbath day is about Christ. As with any matter of theology, if it does not point us to our Savior, then we are merely engaging in “vain jangling” (1 Tim. 1:6) ands “useless strivings about the law” (Titus 3:9). For the Christian, all theology must pierce the soul and cause us to thirst for the Lord “as the deer panteth for the water” (Psalm 42:1). May the Lord ever bless the efforts of his people to draw closer to him.
“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.”
— Psalm 19:9-11 (KJV)
What is the practical use in the Lord commanding one day out of seven to be kept holy to him? We must start with the purpose of the day. This purpose of honoring the Sabbath is not to rest from our work simply, but to rest from our works unto the worship of God. He commands us to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,” and that “the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God.” Christ also confirms this to us in the gospel, saying,”the sabbath was made for man,” and that “the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” This rest is not of man, but of God, therefore we see that the sabbath rest is sanctified by God unto holy use for the edification of men.
Not only is this rest sanctified, it is also sanctifying when used rightly. When we partake by faith in the means of grace, are we not strengthened in the Spirit? Isaiah says, “then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:14). Our greatest delight should be to commune with the Lord. We, however, are often prevented from this pure communion by the things of this world. Would to God that we could spend every day in pure and undistracted worship!
But we have other duties both spiritually and physically. We must work to provide for our families, keep our property in good repair, and raise our children in discipline. Living in this fallen world presents spiritual struggles as well. We must lead our families in the knowledge and understanding of the Lord, aid our churches in the work of the ministry, labor to share the gospel with those outside the family of God, and mortify the sin in our own bodies. Our sin is ever looming, crouching at the door. Our work is not yet done.
We have not yet entered into that rest, though we strive toward it. The Israelites in the wilderness received the command to keep the Sabbath day as a sign of that rest which was to come. “For if [Joshua] had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day” (Hebrews 4:8). Even we, by the reason of our labor, have not yet attained to that final rest. We “have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). As the Apostle says, “he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10). Now, although his works were finished from the foundation of the world by decree, yet hath he not actually finished them temporally. As Christ says in the gospel, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). We understand that “there remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
Our use, therefore, is this: We recognize that Christ has completed that work in bringing us to salvation, although we wait earnestly for the salvation of all the elect. We are granted a rest from our work of striving against God. We have received the rest that Christ offers in the gospel. We also see, however, that there is a future rest unto which we have not yet attained.
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”
— Romans 8:22-24 (KJV)
We hope for that which is to come, the redemption of our body, and that final rest unto which we run the race. The Lord in his great mercy has granted us a small glimpse of that rest to come in the rest of the Sabbath day. In that final, eternal day, we will cease from all our worldly labor and recreation, and we will be fully satisfied in the worship of God continually. Let us seek to experience this as much as we are able to now on the earth, and exercise our spirits unto the worship that we will perform on that final day. Let us keep the Sabbath as a type of that final rest in ourselves and in our generations after us as an everlasting sign of the salvation of God.