If a denomination will survive as a true church of Christ, it will delight in keeping the Sabbath. A denomination may perish for other reasons, but refusal to keep the fourth commandment will ensure its undoing. This article is about the rest on the Lord's Day and about Jesus Christ and the Sabbath.

Source: Standard Bearer, 2007. 3 pages.

The Command We Love to Keep

If a denomination will survive as a true church of Christ, she will delight in keeping the fourth commandment. A denomination may perish for other reasons, but refusal to keep the fourth commandment will ensure it.

She will perish, not because her permission to violate the Lord's Day makes her unpopular among the people and she withers away. But she will cease to be true church because God will judge her. The Lord will not be pleased, even though her changed stance on the fourth commandment may well be met with praise by people.

God's judgment on Israel in the Old Testament came in part on account of Israel's despising the Sabbath. God sent the famine of the Word because the people were eager for the Sabbath to be finished (Amos 8:4-14). He kindled a fire in Jerusalem's gates because the people did not hallow the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:27). Jehovah poured out His fury on them to consume them because they polluted his holy day (Ezekiel 20:12, 13).

Nor will the church today endure without careful obedience to the fourth commandment.

Denominations are quickly abandoning observance of the day. With the claim that the fourth commandment is kept spiritually, every day of the week, by resting in the gospel of Christ (true enough), these churches are not calling their members also to obey a command to keep holy the first day of the week (disastrously mistaken).

Not all churches have abandoned the day. A few denominations, some Reformed, others not, are serious about the day. A fourteen-year-old spelling bee champ from Indiana recently declined to contend for the national championship because the tournament was to be held on the Lord's Day. He said, “My chief purpose in spelling is to glorify God. My chief purpose in not spelling will be to glorify God.” Because of the Lord's Day!

But the fourteen-year-old puts to shame old Reformed denominations who have come to new conclusions about the Lord's Day: “On this day, you may do your pleasure, in work or play. We will not visit you for failing to attend worship. We will not discipline you for working or playing on this day.”

But all the other Reformed denominations will go the same way unless they love the Lord's Day, unless they delight in keeping the fourth commandment. Also the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Keeping the commandment without love is not really keeping it, any more than attending church heartlessly is really worshiping. Besides, observing the commandment without love will soon lead to no observing of the day, even outwardly.

A Command to Love🔗

The fourth commandment is a command. It is one of the Ten Commandments, written with the finger of God on two tablets of stone. As a creation ordinance, linked as it is with the creation week, the fourth commandment would not be abrogated. Nor did Christ abolish it in His ministry: witness, in the gospel accounts, His own conduct on the day of rest (Mark 1:21, 3:2, 6:2; Luke 4:31, 13:10-16, 14:1-6; John 5:9-18). So it is not a matter of Christian liberty to observe the day or not. And its observance is more than a spiritual keeping of it all the days of our lives, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it. It is obeyed by reserving one whole day of the week, the first, for holy service of God. The day is commanded.

In keeping with the example of the New Testament church, recorded in Scripture, the church today keeps holy the first day. The Holy Spirit calls this first day the “Lord's Day” in Revelation 1:10. In a unique way this day belongs to the Sovereign Lord Jesus. He is Lord of it (Matthew 12:8). On the first day He rose from the dead (Luke 24:1), returned in His Spirit (Acts 2), and empowered His disciples to worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2), after His own example of meeting with them on this first day (John 20:19, 26). Observance of this day was not merely the custom of the early church, by her own decision.

But the church must keep this commandment in love. She must keep it as an expression of love for the Lord whose commandment it is.

It is not difficult to number the reasons a believer loves this commandment. It would not be hard for any believer who put his mind and heart to it to write another pamphlet entitled ‘I Love the Lord's Day’, as an old Scottish minister once did.

First, it is a commandment to find rest in Jesus Christ – and what believer does not need rest? Believers are weary of their sin. Very weary of their own sins. Weary not so much of the sins of others, but their own (weary also of their own sin of ignoring their own by looking at others). Their own shortcomings, their own failures that hurt others and dishonor God. Their native inability to do battle against sin and do good. On this day especially the church hears Jesus call, " Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Of the heavy burden of sin's guilt the believers are relieved. The weight of the fear that life's hard circumstances are God's pouring out of His wrath is lifted on this day. The gospel proclaims the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the certain hope of heaven. The believers love the command because they love to hear Jesus say, “Rest.”

Second, they love the memory of their redemption from the bondage of sin, and they love to hear that reminder every Lord's Day:

…remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm; therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.Deuteronomy 5:15

They love that reminder!

Third, the day for believers is a festive celebration because it's the Lord's Day, and they love the Lord. On the Lord's Day they commune with Him for whom their souls yearn (Song of Solomon). They delight to hear the Lord say to them, as He said to His disciples, “Peace be unto you… Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.”

They love this command because by it their Lord assembles His people in sweet communion. They do not “forsake the assembling of themselves” on that day, because they love the Lord's brothers and sisters. Considering their needs, they provoke one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10).

They love the day that points to heavenly rest, eternal Sabbath, “Where congregations ne'er break up, and Sabbaths never end.”

Of course, there are reasons we resist this command, even hate it. The day encroaches on our own pleasures. It crimps our vacation plans, minimizes time to play, and makes it difficult to make as much money as desired. But all of God's commands have a way of doing that. The devil's work is to see to it that obedience to God's command does not come without a price. Jesus told us it would be so. We are not surprised. But that's our flesh resisting. Christ in us loves the command and its rest.

Protecting and Promoting What We Love🔗

Love for the day and its command motivates believers to be on guard against what would undermine obedience, erode observance, and thus bring God's judgments on the church. And they may not be so naïve as to suppose that all is well just because there are two worship services per Lord's Day, because most of the people spend the day in the quietness of their home, and because no one is mowing his lawn or out fishing. We may not be so naïve as to forget that Jesus' great foe in His day was the Pharisee, whose “strict observance” of the day received His strongest condemnation.

The churches' love for the day will prove itself in more ways than two worship services, a quiet afternoon, and no work and no play.

  • First, the denomination that will survive God's judgments and even prosper will promote the knowledge (is this surprising?) of her own sins and weaknesses, and thus her own need for rest in Jesus Christ. Without this she becomes an assembly of hypocrites, Pharisees who need no rest, “holier than thou” (Isaiah 65:5) critics. “I… I am evil, born in sin; Thou desirest truth within” (The Psalter, 140).

  • Second, she will promote solid preaching twice on the Lord's Day. For God gives Sabbath rest through preaching. To “ride on the high places” (Isaiah 58:13) the people must hear Jesus speak to them in the gospel. For this, the church will support and maintain her seminary that trains men to be faithful pastors. She will support and bless her pastors, encouraging as well as correcting, so that the “shelves are well-stocked” on this “market-day for the soul.”

  • Third, the denomination that loves the commandment will prove that love by loving the poor and needy, whose care in a unique way is attended to on this day. The texts listed above show that the Lord has a special care for them. So do the people of God. What other day is more fitted for the spiritual care of these needy saints than the Sabbath? Is it exaggeration to call it grossest violation of the spirit of this day when the people of God spend the day for themselves, maybe sleeping the afternoon away, while the widows and others languish in their homes or institutions? It is shameful if the only ones to work the works of mercy on the Lord's Day get paid $10 or $20 an hour for it.

  • Fourth, she will prove her love for the day by removing the littlest leaven that would corrupt the whole lump. She will discipline those who violate the day. Almost 70 years ago the PRC's mother denomination urged her consistories to “take a firm stand in dealing with concrete cases of what they regard as transgressions of the fourth commandment.” Do the denominations who still preach obedience to the fourth commandment need such urging? Will they discipline the powerful businessman who allows his business to be occupied or promote itself on the Sabbath? Would they censure the impenitent elder who allows his athletically talented son or daughter to play ball on the Lord's Day?

Such discipline is also exercised in the preaching. Faithful preaching calls the people to an obedience to this command that is deeper than mere quietness, refusal to work, and attending church. It rebukes me when the newspaper gets more attention than the church magazines and good books, when I forbid lawn mowing but allow doing the science worksheet. It warns me that travel on the Lord's Day is disobedience to Jesus, warranting discipline, and then carries out that discipline. It shows me the reasons the Lord still says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” It also enables me to write a pamphlet that explains why I love the Lord's Day.

Lord of the Sabbath, give the church rest from her guilt. Increase her resolve to hate sin, flee from it, and more and more to love obedience to the fourth commandment, which is love for Thee. Receive our worship, especially on the holy day. We anticipate the day when it will never end.

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