Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath
First Sermon: The Perpetuity of the Sabbath
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” I Corinthians 16:1-2.
We find in the New Testament often mentioned a certain collection, which was made by the Grecian churches, for the brethren in Judea, who were reduced to pinching want by a dearth which then prevailed, and was the heavier upon them by reason of their circumstances, they having been from the beginning oppressed and persecuted by the unbelieving Jews. This collection or contribution is twice mentioned in the Acts, chap. 11:28-30, and 24:17. It is also noticed in several of the epistles; as Rom. 15:26 and Gal. 2:10. But it is most largely insisted on, in these two epistles to the Corinthians; in this first epistle, chap. 16 and in the second epistle, ch. 8 and 9. — The apostle begins the directions, which in this place he delivers concerning this matter, with the words of the text; — wherein we may observe,
1. What is the thing to be done concerning which the apostle gives them direction, — the exercise and manifestation of their charity towards their brethren, by communicating to them, for the supply of their wants; which was by Christ and his apostles often insisted on, as one main duty of the Christian religion, and is expressly declared to be so by the apostle James, chap. 1:27. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.”
2. We may observe the time on which the apostle directs that this should be done, viz. “on the first day of the week.” By the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he insists upon it, that it be done on such a particular day of the week, as if no other day would do so well as that, or were so proper and fit a time for such a work. — Thus, although the inspired apostle was not for making that distinction of days in gospel times, which the Jews made, as appears by Gal. 4:10, “Ye observe days, and months,” etc., yet, here he gives the preference to one day of the week, before any other, for the performance of a certain great duty of Christianity.
3. It may be observed, that the apostle had given to other churches, that were concerned in the same duty, to do it on the first day of the week: “As I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.” Whence we may learn, that it was nothing peculiar in the circumstances of the Christians at Corinth, which was the reason why the Holy Ghost insisted that they should perform this duty on this day of the week. The apostle had given the like orders to the churches of Galatia.
Now Galatia was far distant from Corinth; the sea parted them, and there were several other countries between them. Therefore it cannot be thought that the Holy Ghost directs them to this time upon any secular account, having respect to some particular circumstances of the people in that city, but upon a religious account. In giving the preference to this day for such work, before any other day, he has respect to something which reached all Christians throughout the wide world.
And by other passages of the New Testament, we learn that the case was the same as to other exercises of religion; and that the first day of the week was preferred before any other day, in churches immediately under the care of the apostles, for an attendance on the exercises of religion in general. Acts 20:7. “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.” — It seems by these things to have been among the primitive Christians in the apostles’ days, with respect to the first day of the week, as it was among the Jews, with respect to the seventh.
We are taught by Christ, that the doing of alms and showing of mercy are proper works for the sabbath day. When the Pharisees found fault with Christ for suffering his disciples to pluck the ears of corn, and eat on the sabbath, Christ corrects them with that saying, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice,” Matt. 12:7. And Christ teaches that works of mercy are proper to be done on the sabbath, Luke 13:15-16, and 14:5. — These works used to be done on sacred festivals and days of rejoicing, under the Old Testament, as in Nehemiah’s and Esther’s time; Neh. 8:10 and Esther 9:19, 22. — And Josephus and Philo, two very noted Jews, who wrote not long after Christi’s time, give an account that it was the manner among the Jews on the sabbath, to make collections for sacred and pious uses.
Doctrine. It is the mind and will of God, that the first day of the week should be especially set apart among Christians, for religious exercises and duties.
That this is the doctrine which the Holy Ghost intended to teach us, by this and some other passages of the New Testament, I hope will appear plainly by the sequel. This is a doctrine that we have been generally brought up in by the instructions and examples of our ancestors; and it has been the general profession of the Christian world, that this day ought to be religiously observed and distinguished from other days of the week. However, some deny it. Some refuse to take notice of the day, as different from other days. Others own, that it is a laudable custom of the Christian church, into which she fell by agreement, and by appointment of her ordinary rulers, to set apart this day for public worship. But they deny any other original to such an observation of the day, than prudential human appointment. — Others religiously observe the Jewish sabbath, as of perpetual obligation, and that we want a foundation for determining that that is abrogated, and another day of the week is appointed in the room of the seventh.
All these classes of men say, that there is no clear revelation that it is the mind and will of God, that the first day of the week should be observed as a day to be set apart for religious exercises, in the room of the ancient sabbath; which there ought to be in order to the observation of it by the Christian church, as a divine institution. They say, that we ought not to go upon the tradition of past ages, or upon uncertain and far-fetched inferences from some passages of the history of the New Testament, or upon some obscure and uncertain hints in the apostolic writings; but that we ought to expect a plain institution; which, they say, we may conclude God would have given us, if he had designed that the whole Christian church, in all ages, should observe another day of the week for a holy sabbath, than that which was appointed of old by plain and positive institution.
So far it is undoubtedly true, that if this be the mind and will of God, he hath not left the matter to human tradition; but hath so revealed his mind about it, in his word, that there is to be found good and substantial evidence that it is his mind: and doubtless, the revelation is plain enough for them that have ears to hear; that is, for them that will justly exercise their understandings about what God says to them. No Christian, therefore, should rest till he has satisfactorily discovered the mind of God in this matter. If the Christian sabbath be of divine institution, it is doubtless of great importance to religion that it be well kept; and therefore, that every Christian be well acquainted with the institution.
If men take it only upon trust, and keep the first day of the week because their parents taught them so, or because they see others do it, they will never be likely to keep it so conscientiously and strictly, as if they had been convinced by seeing for themselves, that there are good grounds in the word of God for their practice. Unless they do see thus for themselves, whenever they are negligent in sanctifying the sabbath, or guilty of profaning it, their consciences will not have that advantage to smite them for it, as otherwise they would. — And those who have a sincere desire to obey God in all things, will keep the sabbath more carefully and more cheerfully, if they have seen and been convinced that therein they do what is according to the will and command of God, and what is acceptable to him; and will also have a great deal more comfort in the reflection upon their having carefully and painfully kept the sabbath.
Therefore, I design now, by the help of God, to show, that it is sufficiently revealed in the Scriptures, to be the mind and will of God, that the first day of the week should be distinguished in the Christian church from other days of the week, as a sabbath, to be devoted to religious exercises.
In order to this, I shall here premise, that the mind and will of God, concerning any duty to be performed by us, may be sufficiently revealed in his word, without a particular precept in so many express terms, enjoining it. The human understanding is the ear to which the word of God is spoken; and if it be so spoken, that that ear may plainly hear it, it is enough. God is sovereign as to the manner of speaking his mind, whether he will speak it in express terms, or whether he will speak it by saying several other things which imply it, and from which we may, by comparing them together, plainly perceive it. If the mind of God be but revealed, if there be but sufficient means for the communication of his mind to our minds, that is sufficient; whether we hear so many express words with our ears, or see them in writing with our eyes; or whether we see the thing that he would signify to us, by the eye of reason and understanding.
Who can positively say, that if it had been the mind of God, that we should keep the first day of the week, he would have commanded it in express terms, as he did the observation of the seventh day of old? Indeed, if God had so made our faculties, that we were not capable of receiving a revelation of his mind in any other way, then there would have been some reason to say so. But God hath given us such understandings, that we are capable of receiving a revelation, when made in another manner. And if God deals with us agreeably to our natures, and in a way suitable to our capacities, it is enough. If God discovers his mind in any way whatsoever, provided it be according to our faculties, we are obliged to obedience; and God may expect our notice and observance of his revelation, in the same manner as if he had revealed it in express terms.
I shall speak upon this subject under these two general propositions.
1. It is sufficiently clear, that it is the mind of God, that one day of the week should be devoted to rest, and to religious exercises, throughout all ages and nations.
2. It is sufficiently clear, that under the gospel dispensation, this day is the first day of the week.
First proposition. It is sufficiently clear, that it is the mind of God, that one day of the week should be devoted to rest, and to religious exercises, throughout all ages and nations; and not only among the ancient Israelites, till Christ came, but even in these gospel times, and among all nations professing Christianity.
1. From the consideration of the nature and state of mankind in this world, it is most consonant to human reason, that certain fixed parts of time should be set apart, to be spent by the church wholly in religious exercises, and in the duties of divine worship. It is a duty incumbent on all mankind, in all ages alike, to worship and serve God. His service should be our great business. It becomes us to worship him with the greatest devotion and engagedness of mind; and therefore to put ourselves, at proper times, in such circumstances, as will most contribute to render our minds entirely devoted to this work, without being diverted or interrupted by other things.
The state of mankind in this world is such, that we are called to concern ourselves in secular business and affairs, which will necessarily, in a considerable degree, take up the thoughts and engage the attention of the mind. However some particular persons may be in circumstances more free and disengaged; yet the state of mankind is such, that the bulk of them, in all ages and nations, are called ordinarily to exercise their thoughts about secular affairs, and to follow worldly business, which, in its own nature, is remote from the solemn duties of religion.
It is therefore most meet and suitable, that certain times should be set apart, upon which men should be required to throw by all other concerns, that their minds may be the more freely and entirely engaged in spiritual exercises, in the duties of religion, and in the immediate worship of God; and that their minds being disengaged from common concerns, their religion may not be mixed with them.
It is also suitable that these times should be fixed and settled, that the church may agree therein, and that they should be the same for all, that men may not interrupt one another; but may rather assist one another by mutual example: for example has a great influence in such cases. If there be a time set apart for public rejoicing, and there be a general manifestation of joy, the general example seems to inspire men with a spirit of joy; one kindles another. So, if it be a time of mourning, and there be general appearances and manifestations of sorrow, it naturally affects the mind, it disposes it to depression, it casts a gloom upon it, and does as it were dull and deaden the spirits. — So, if a certain time be set apart as holy time, for general devotion, and solemn religious exercises, a general example tends to render the spirit serious and solemn.
2. Without doubt, one proportion of time is better and fitter than another for this purpose. One proportion is more suitable to the state of mankind, and will have a greater tendency to answer the ends of such times, than another. The times may be too far asunder. I think human reason is sufficient to discover, that it would be too seldom for the purposes of such solemn times, that they should be but once a year. So, I conclude, nobody will deny, but that such times may be too near together to agree with the state and necessary affairs of mankind.
Therefore, there can be no difficulty in allowing, that some certain proportion of time, whether we can exactly discover it or not, is really fittest and best — considering the end for which such times are kept, and the condition, circumstances, and necessary affairs of men; and considering what the state of man is, taking one age and nation with another — more convenient and suitable than any other; which God may know and exactly determine, though we, by reason of the scantiness of our understandings, cannot.
As a certain frequency of the returns of these times may be more suitable than any other, so one length or continuance of the times themselves may be fitter than another, to answer the purposes of such times. If such times, when they come, were to last but an hour, it would not well answer the end; for then worldly things would crowd too nearly upon sacred exercises, and there would not be that opportunity to get the mind so thoroughly free and disengaged from other things, as there would be if the times were longer. Being so short, sacred and profane things would be as it were mixed together. Therefore, a certain distance between these times, and a certain continuance of them when they come, is more proper than others; which God knows and is able to determine, though perhaps we cannot.
3. It is unreasonable to suppose any other, than that God’s working six days, and resting the seventh, and blessing and hallowing it, was to be of general use in determining this matter, and that it was written, that the practice of mankind in general might some way or other be regulated by it. What could be the meaning of God’s resting the seventh day, and hallowing and blessing it, which he did, before the giving of the fourth commandment, unless he hallowed and blessed it with respect to mankind? For he did not bless and sanctify it with respect to himself, or that he within himself might observe it: as that is most absurd. And it is unreasonable to suppose that he hallowed it only with respect to the Jews, a particular nation, which rose up above two thousand years after.
So much therefore must be intended by it, that it was his mind, that mankind should, after his example, work six days, and then rest, and hallow or sanctify the next following; and that they should sanctify every seventh day, or that the space between rest and rest, one hallowed time and another, among his creatures here upon earth, should be six days. — So that it hence appears to be the mind and will of God, that not only the Jews, but men in all nations and ages, should sanctify one day in seven: which is the thing we are endeavouring to prove.
4. The mind of God in this matter is clearly revealed in the fourth commandment. The will of God is there revealed, not only that the Israelitish nation, but that all nations, should keep every seventh day holy; or, which is the same thing, one day after every sixth. This command, as well as the rest, is doubtless everlasting and of perpetual obligation, at least, as to the substance of it, as is intimated by its being engraven on the tables of stone. Nor is it to be thought that Christ ever abolished any command of the ten; but that there is the complete ten yet, and will be to the end of the world.
Some say, that the fourth command is perpetual, but not in its literal sense; not as designing any particular proportion of time to be set apart and devoted to literal rest and religious exercises. They say, that it stands in force only in a mystical sense, viz. as that weekly rest of the Jews typified spiritual rest in the Christian church; and that we under the gospel are not to make any distinction of one day from another, but are to keep all time holy, doing every thing in a spiritual manner.
But this is an absurd way of interpreting the command, as it refers to Christians. For if the command be so far abolished, it is entirely abolished. For it is the very design of the command, to fix the time of worship. The first command fixes the object, the second the means, the third the manner, the fourth the time. And, if it stands in force now only as signifying a spiritual, Christian rest, and holy behaviour at all times, it doth not remain as one of the ten commands, but as a summary of all the commands.
The main objection against the perpetuity of this command is, that the duty required is not moral. Those laws whose obligation arises from the nature of things, and from the general state and nature of mankind, as well as from God’s positive revealed will, are called moral laws. Others, whose obligation depends merely upon God’s positive and arbitrary institution, are not moral; such as the ceremonial laws, and the precepts of the gospel about the two sacraments. Now, the objectors say, they will allow all that is moral in the decalogue to be of perpetual obligation; but this command, they say, is not moral.
But this objection is weak and insufficient for the purpose for which it is brought, or to prove that the fourth command, as to the substance of it, is not of perpetual obligation. For,
(1.) If it should be allowed that there is no morality belonging to the command, and that the duty required is founded merely on arbitrary institution, it cannot therefore be certainly concluded that the command is not perpetual. We know that there may be commands in force under the gospel, and to the end of the world, which are not moral: such are the institutions of the two sacraments. And why may there not be positive commands in force in all ages of the church? If positive, arbitrary institutions are in force in gospel times, what is there which concludes that no positive precept given before the times of the gospel can yet continue in force? But,
(2.) As we have observed already, the thing in general, that there should be certain fixed parts of time set apart to be devoted to religious exercises, is founded in the fitness of the thing, arising from the nature of things, and the nature and universal state of mankind. Therefore, there is as much reason that there should be a command of perpetual and universal obligation about this, as about any other duty whatsoever. For if the thing in general, that there be a time fixed, be founded in the nature of things, there is consequent upon it a necessity, that the time be limited by a command; for there must be a proportion of time fixed, or else the general moral duty cannot be observed.
(3.) The particular determination of the proportion of time in the fourth commandment, is also founded in the nature of things, only our understandings are not sufficient absolutely to determine it of themselves. We have observed already, that without doubt one proportion of time is in itself fitter than another, and a certain continuance of time fitter than any other, considering the universal state and nature of mankind, which God may see, though our understandings are not perfect enough absolutely to determine it. So that the difference between this command and others, doth not lie in this, that other commands are founded in the fitness of the things themselves, arising from the universal state and nature of mankind, and this not; but, only that the fitness of other commands is more obvious to the understandings of men, and they might have seen it of themselves; but this could not be precisely discovered and positively determined without the assistance of revelation.
So that the command of God, that every seventh day should be devoted to religious exercises, is founded in the universal state and nature of mankind, as well as other commands; only man’s reason is not sufficient, without divine direction, so exactly to determine it: though perhaps man’s reason is sufficient to determine, that it ought not to be much seldomer, nor much oftener, than once in seven days.
5. God appears in his word laying abundantly more weight on this precept concerning the sabbath, than on any precept of the ceremonial law. It is in the decalogue, one of the ten commands, which were delivered by God with an audible voice. It was written with his own finger on the tables of stone in the mount, and was appointed afterwards to be written on the tables which Moses made. The keeping of the weekly sabbath is spoken of by the prophets, as that wherein consists a great part of holiness of life; and is inserted among moral duties, Isa. 58:13-14. “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.”
6. It is foretold, that this command should be observed in gospel times; as in Isaiah 56 at the beginning, where the due observance of the sabbath is spoken of as a great part of holiness of life, and is placed among moral duties. It is also mentioned as a duty that should be most acceptable to God from his people, even where the prophet is speaking of gospel times; as in the foregoing chapter, and in the first verse of this chapter. And, in the third and fourth verses, the prophet is speaking of the abolition of the ceremonial law in gospel times, and particularly of that law, which forbids eunuchs to come into the congregation of the Lord. Yet, here the man is pronounced blessed, who keeps the sabbath from polluting it, ver. 2. And even in the very sentence where the eunuchs are spoken of as being free from the ceremonial law, they are spoken of as being yet under obligation to keep the sabbath, and actually keeping it, as that which God lays great weight upon: “For thus saith the Lord, unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house, and within my walls, a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.”
Besides, the strangers spoken of in the sixth and seventh verses, are the Gentiles, that should be called in the times of the gospel, as is evident by the last clause in the seventh, and by the eighth verse: “For mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord God, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel, saith, Yet will I gather others to him, besides those that are gathered unto him.” Yet it is represented here as their duty to keep the sabbath: “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, every one 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.”
7. A further argument for the perpetuity of the sabbath, we have in Matt. 24:20. “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day.” Christ is here speaking of the flight of the apostles and other Christians out of Jerusalem and Judea, just before their final destruction, as is manifest by the whole context, and especially by the sixteenth verse: “Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains.” But this final destruction of Jerusalem was after the dissolution of the Jewish constitution, and after the Christian dispensation was fully set up. Yet, it is plainly implied in these words of our Lord, that even then Christians were bound to a strict observation of the sabbath.
Thus I have shown, that it is the will of God, that every seventh day be devoted to rest and to religious exercises.
Excerpts from Second Sermon: The Change of the Sabbath
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” I Corinthians 16:1-2.
The doctrine founded on these words was this, that it is the mind and will of God, that the first day of the week should be especially set apart among Christians for religious exercises and duties.
I proposed to discourse upon this doctrine under two propositions; and having already, under the first, endeavoured to prove, That one day of the week is, throughout all ages, to be devoted to religious exercises; I proceed now to the
Second proposition. That it is the will of God, that under the gospel dispensation, or in the Christian church, this day should be the first day of the week.
In order to the confirmation of this, let the following things be considered.
1. The words of the fourth commandment afford no objection against this being the day that should be the sabbath, any more than against any other day. That this day, which, according to the Jewish reckoning, is the first of the week, should be kept as a sabbath, is no more opposite to any sentence or word of the fourth command, than that the seventh of the week should be the day. The words of the fourth command do not determine which day of the week we should keep as a sabbath; they merely determine, that we should rest and keep as a sabbath every seventh day, or one day after every six. It says, “Six days thou shalt labour, and the seventh thou shalt rest”; which implies no more, than that after six days of labour, we shall, upon the next to the sixth, rest and keep it holy. And this we are obliged to do for ever. But the words no way determine where those six days shall begin, and so where the rest or sabbath shall fall. There is no direction in the fourth command how to reckon the time, i.e. where to begin and end it; but that is supposed to be determined otherwise.
Indeed, the fourth command, as it was spoken to the Jews, did refer to their Jewish sabbath. But that doth not prove, that the day was determined and appointed by it. The precept in the fourth command is to be taken generally of such a seventh day as God should appoint, or had appointed. And because such a particular day had been already appointed for the Jewish church; therefore, as it was spoken to them, it did refer to that particular day. But this doth not prove, but that the same words refer to another appointed seventh day, now in the Christian church. The words of the fourth command may oblige the church, under different dispensations, to observe different appointed seventh days, as well as the fifth command may oblige different persons to honour different fathers and mothers.
The Christian sabbath, in the sense of the fourth command, is as much the seventh day, as the Jewish sabbath; because it is kept after six days of labour as well as that; it is the seventh, reckoning from the beginning of our first working day, as well as that was the seventh from the beginning of their first working day. All the difference is, that the seven days formerly began from the day after God’s rest from the creation, and now they begin the day after that. It is no matter by what names the days are called: if our nation had, for instance, called Wednesday the first of the week, it would have been all one as to this argument.
Therefore, by the institution of the Christian sabbath, there is no change from the fourth command; but the change is from another law, which determined the beginning and ending of their working days. So that those words of the fourth command, viz. “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God,” afford no objection against that which is called the Christian sabbath; for these words remain in full force. Neither does any just objection arise from the words following, viz. “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.” These words are not made insignificant to Christians, by the institution of the Christian sabbath; they still remain in their full force as to that which is principally intended by them. They were designed to give us a reason why we are to work but six days at a time, and then rest on the seventh, because God hath set us the example. And taken so, they remain still in as much force as ever they were. This is the reason still, as much as ever it was, why we may work but six days at a time. What is the reason that Christians rest every seventh, and not every eighth, or every ninth, or tenth day? It is because God worked six days and rested the seventh.
So that all the arguments of those who are against the Christian sabbath, drawn from the fourth command, which are all their strength, come to nothing.
2. It is no more than just to suppose, that God intended to intimate to us, that the sabbath ought by Christians to be kept in commemoration of Christ’s redemption, in that the Israelites were commanded to keep it in remembrance of their deliverance out of Egypt; because that deliverance out of Egypt is an evident, known, and allowed type of it. It was ordered of God, on purpose to represent it; every thing about that deliverance was typical of this redemption, and much is made of it, principally for this reason, because it is so remarkable a type of Christ’s redemption. And it was but a shadow, the work in itself was nothing in comparison with the work of redemption. What is a petty redemption of one nation from a temporal bondage, to the eternal salvation of the whole church of the elect in all ages and nations, from eternal damnation, and the introduction of them, not into a temporal Canaan, but into heaven, into eternal glory and blessedness? Was that shadow so much to be commemorated, as that a day once a week was to be kept on the account of it; and shall not we much more commemorate that great and glorious work of which it was designed on purpose to be a shadow.
Besides, the words in the fourth commandment, which speak of the deliverance out of Egypt, can be of no significancy unto us, unless they are to be interpreted of the gospel redemption: but the words of the decalogue are spoken to all nations and ages. Therefore, as the words were spoken to the Jews, they referred to the type or shadow; as they are spoken to us, they are to be interpreted of the antitype and substance. For the Egypt from which we under the gospel are redeemed, is the spiritual Egypt; the house of bondage from which we are redeemed, is a state of spiritual bondage. — Therefore the words, as spoken to us, are to be thus interpreted, Remember, thou wast a servant to sin and Satan, and the Lord thy God delivered thee from this bondage, with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
As the words in the preface to the ten commandments, about the bringing of the children of Israel out of Egypt, are interpreted in our catechism, and as they have respect to us, must be interpreted, of our spiritual redemption, so, by an exact identity of reason, must these words in Deuteronomy, annexed to the fourth command, be interpreted of the same gospel redemption.
3. Christ hath evidently, on purpose and design, peculiarly honoured the first day of the week, the day on which he rose from the dead, by taking it from time to time to appear to the apostles; and he chose this day to pour out the Holy Ghost on the apostles, which we read of in the second chapter of Acts. For this was on Pentecost, which was on the first day of the week, as you may see by Lev. 23:15-16. And he honoured this day by pouring out his Spirit on the apostle John, and giving him his visions, Rev. 1:10. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” etc. — Now doubtless Christ had his meaning in thus distinguishingly honouring this day.
4. It is evident by the New Testament, that this was especially the day of the public worship of the primitive church, by the direction of the apostles. We are told that this was the day that they were wont to come together to break bread: and this they evidently did with the approbation of the apostles, inasmuch as they preached to them on that day; and therefore doubtless they assembled together by the direction of the apostles. Acts 20:7. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.” So the Holy Ghost was careful that the public contributions should be on this day, in all the churches, rather than on any other day, as appears by our text.
5. This first day of the week is in the New Testament called the Lord’s day; see Rev. 1:10. — Some say, how do we know that this was the first day of the week? Every day is the Lord’s day. But it is the design of John to tell us when he had those visions. And if by the Lord’s day is meant any day, how doth that inform us when that event took place?
But what is meant by this expression we know, just in the same way as we know what is the meaning of any word in the original of the New Testament, or the meaning of any expression in an ancient language, viz. by what we find to be the universal signification of the expression in ancient times. This expression, the Lord’s day, is found by the ancient use of the whole Christian church, by what appears in all the writings of ancient times, even from the apostles’ days, to signify the first day of the week.
And the expression implies in it the holiness of the day. For doubtless the day is called the Lord’s day, as the sacred supper is called the Lord’s supper, which is so called, because it is a holy supper, to be celebrated in remembrance of the Lord Christ, and of his redemption. So this is a holy day, to be kept in remembrance of the Lord Christ, and his redemption.
The first day of the week being in Scripture called the Lord’s day, sufficiently makes it out to be the day of the week that is to be kept holy unto God; for God hath been pleased to call it by his own name. When any thing is called by the name of God in Scripture, this denotes the appropriation of it to God. — Thus God put his name upon his people Israel of old; Num. 6:27. “And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel.” They were called by the name of God, as it is said, II Chron. 7:14. “If my people which are called by my name,” etc., i.e., They were called God’s people, or the Lord’s people. This denoted that they were a holy peculiar people above all others. Deut. 7:6. “Thou art a holy people unto the Lord”; and so in ver. 14 and many other places.
So the city Jerusalem was called by God’s name; Jer. 25:29. — “Upon the city which is called by my name.” Dan. 9:18-19. “And the city which is called by thy name,” etc. This denoted that it was a holy city, a city chosen of God above all other cities for holy uses, as it is often called the holy city, as in Neh. 11:1. “To dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city”; and in many other places.
So the temple is said to be, a house that is called by God’s name; I Kings 8:43. “This house that is called by my name.” And often elsewhere. That is, it was called God’s house, or the Lord’s house. This denoted that it was called a holy place, a house devoted to holy uses, above all others.
So also we find that the first day of the week is called by God’s name, being called in Scripture God’s day, or the Lord’s day, which denotes that it is a holy day, a day appropriated to holy uses, above all others in the week.
6. The tradition of the church from age to age, though it be no rule, yet may be a great confirmation of the truth in such a case as this is. We find by all accounts, that it has been the universal custom of the Christian church, in all ages, even from the age of the apostles, to keep the first day of the week. We read in the writings which remain of the first, second, and third centuries, of the Christians keeping the Lord’s day; and so in all succeeding ages: and there are no accounts that contradict them. — This day hath all along been kept by Christians, in all countries throughout the world, and by almost all that have borne the name of Christians, of all denominations, however different in their opinions as to other things.
Now, although this be not sufficient of itself without a foundation in Scripture; yet it may be a confirmation of it, because here is really matter of conviction in it to our reason. Reason may greatly confirm truths revealed in the Scriptures. The universality of the custom throughout all Christian countries, in all ages, by what account we have of them, is a good argument, that the church had it from the apostles: and it is difficult to conceive how all should come to agree to set up such a custom through the world, of different sects and opinions, and we have no account of any such thing.
Third Sermon: Application
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” I Corinthians 16:1-2.
It is the mind and will of God, that the first day of the week should be especially set apart among Christians for religious exercises and duties.
On this doctrine I have already discoursed, under two propositions, showing, first, That it is the will of God, that one day of the week be, in all ages, set apart for religious duties; and secondly, That under the gospel, this day ought to be the first day of the week. I now proceed to the application.
This shall be in a use of exhortation.
1. Let us be thankful for the institution of the Christian sabbath. It is a thing wherein God hath shown his mercy to us, and his care for our souls. He shows, that he, by his infinite wisdom, is contriving for our good, as Christ teaches us, that the sabbath was made for man; Mark 2:27. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” It was made for the profit and for the comfort of our souls.
The sabbath is a day of rest: God hath appointed that we should, every seventh day, rest from all our worldly labours. Instead of that, he might have appointed the hardest labours for us to go through, some severe hardships for us to endure. It is a day of outward, but especially of spiritual, rest. It is a day appointed of God, that his people thereon may find rest unto their souls; that the souls of believers may rest and be refreshed in their Saviour. It is a day of rejoicing: God made it to be a joyful day to the church; Ps. 118:24. — “This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” They that aright receive and improve the sabbath, call it a delight and honourable: it is a pleasant and a joyful day to them; it is an image of the future heavenly rest of the church. Heb. 4:9-11. “There remaineth therefore a rest” (or sabbatism, as it is in the original) “to the people of God. For he that hath entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest.”
The Christian sabbath is one of the most precious enjoyments of the visible church. Christ showed his love to his church in instituting it; and it becomes the Christian church to be thankful to her Lord for it. The very name of this day, the Lord’s day, or Jesus’s day, should endear it to Christians, as it intimates the special relation it has to Christ, and also the design of it, which is the commemoration of our dear Saviour, and his love to his church in redeeming it.
2. Be exhorted to keep this day holy. — God hath given such evidences that this is his mind, that he will surely require it of you, if you do not strictly and conscientiously observe it. And if you do thus observe it, you may have this comfort in the reflection upon your conduct, that you have not been superstitious in it, but have done as God hath revealed it to be his mind and will in his word, that you should do; and that in so doing you are in the way of God’s acceptance and reward.
Here let me lay before you the following motives to excite you to this duty.
(1.) By a strict observation of the sabbath, the name of God is honoured, and that in such a way as is very acceptable to him. Isa. 58:13. “If thou call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, and shalt honour him.” God is honoured by it, as it is a visible manifestation of respect to God’s holy law, and a reverencing of that which has a peculiar relation to God himself, and that more in some respects than the observance of many other commands. And man may be just, and generous, and yet not so plainly show respect to the revealed mind and will of God, for many of the heathen have been so. But if a person, with evident strictness and care, observe the sabbath, it is a visible manifestation of a conscientious regard to God’s declaration of his mind, and so is a visible honour done to his authority.
By a strict observance of the sabbath, the face of religion is kept up in the world. 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. The sabbath seems to have been appointed very much for this end, viz. to uphold the visibility of religion in public, or among professing societies of men; and by how much greater the strictness is with which the sabbath is observed, and with how much more solemnity the duties of it are observed among a people; by so much the greater is the manifestation among them of respect to the Divine Being.
This should be a powerful motive with us to the observation of the sabbath. It should be our study above all things to honour and glorify God. It should be the great thing with all that bear the name of Christians, to honour their great God and King, and I hope is a great thing with many that hear me at this time. If it be your inquiry, if it be your desire, to honour God; by this subject you are directed to one way whereby you may do much in that way, viz. by honouring the sabbath, and by showing a careful and strict observance of it.
(2.) That which is the business of the sabbath is the greatest business of our lives, viz. that of religion. To serve and worship God is that for which we were made, and for which we had our being given us. Other business, which is of a secular nature, and on which we are wont to attend on week days, is but subordinate, and ought to be subservient to the higher purposes and ends of religion. Therefore surely we should not think much of devoting one seventh part of our time, to be wholly spent in this business, and to be set apart to exercise ourselves in the immediate duties of religion.
(3.) Let it be considered, that all our time is God’s, and therefore when he challenges of us one day in seven, he challenges his own. He doth not exceed his right; he would not have exceeded it, if he had challenged a far greater proportion of our time to be spent in his immediate service. But he hath mercifully considered our state, and our necessities here; and, as he hath consulted the good of our souls in appointing a seventh day for the immediate duties of religion, so he hath considered our outward necessities, and hath allowed us six days for attendance on our outward affairs. — What unworthy treatment therefore will it be of God, if we refuse to allow him even the seventh day?
(4.) As the sabbath is a day which is especially set apart for religious exercises, so it is a day wherein God especially confers his grace and blessing. — As God hath commanded us to set it apart to have converse with him, so hath he set it apart for himself to have converse with us. As God hath commanded us to observe the sabbath, so God observes the sabbath too. It is with respect to the sabbath, as Solomon prayed that it might be with respect to the temple, II Chron. 6:20. His eyes are open upon it: he stands ready then especially to hear prayers, to accept of religious services, to meet his people, to manifest himself to them, to give his Holy Spirit and blessing to those who diligently and conscientiously sanctify it.
That we should sanctify the sabbath, as we have observed, is according to God’s institution. God in a sense observes his own institutions; i.e. is wont to cause them to be attended with a blessing. The institutions of God are his appointed means of grace, and with his institutions he hath promised his blessing; Exod. 20:24. “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” For the same reason we may conclude, that God will meet his people and bless them, waiting upon him, not only in appointed places, but at appointed times and in all appointed ways. Christ hath promised, that where two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be in the midst of them, Matt. 18:20. One thing included in the expression, in his name is, that it is by his appointment, and according to his institution.
God hath made it our duty, by his institution, to set apart this day for a special seeking of his grace and blessing. From which we may argue, that he will be especially ready to confer his grace on those who thus seek it. If it be the day on which God requires us especially to seek him, we may argue, that it is a day on which especially he will be found. That God is ready on this day especially to bestow his blessing on them that keep it aright, is implied in that expression of God’s blessing the sabbath day. God hath not only hallowed the sabbath day, but blessed it; he hath given his blessing to it, and will confer his blessing upon all the due observers of it. He hath hallowed it, or appointed that it be kept holy by us, and hath blessed it; he hath determined to give his blessing upon it.
So that here is great encouragement for us to keep holy the sabbath, as we would seek God’s grace and our own spiritual good. The sabbath day is an accepted time, a day of salvation, a time wherein God especially loves to be sought, and loves to be found. The Lord Jesus Christ takes delight in his own day; he delights to honour it; he delights to meet with and manifest himself to his disciples on it, as he showed before his ascension, by appearing to them from time to time on this day. On this day he delights to give his Holy Spirit, as he intimated, by choosing it as the day on which to pour out the Spirit in so remarkable a manner on the primitive church, and on which to give his Spirit to the apostle John.
Of old God blessed the seventh day, or appointed it to be a day whereon especially he would bestow blessings on his people, as an expression of his own joyful remembrance of that day, and of the rest and refreshment which he had on it. Exod. 31:16-17. “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath day. — For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” As princes give gifts on their birthdays, on their marriage days, and the like; so God was wont to dispense spiritual gifts on the seventh day.
But how much more reason has Christ to bless the day of his resurrection, and to delight to honour it, and to confer his grace and blessed gifts on his people on this day. It was a day whereon Christ rested and was refreshed in a literal sense. It was a day of deliverance from the chains of death, the day of his finishing that great and difficult work of redemption, which had been upon his heart from all eternity; the day of his justification by the Father; the day of the beginning of his exaltation, and of the fulfillment of the promises of the Father; the day when he had eternal life, which he had purchased, put into his hands. — On this day Christ doth indeed delight to distribute gifts, and blessings, and joy, and happiness, and will delight to do the same to the end of the world.
O therefore, how well is it worth our while to improve this day, to call upon God and seek Jesus Christ! Let awakened sinners be stirred up by these things to improve the sabbath day, as they would lay themselves most in the way of the Spirit of God. Improve this day to call upon God; for then he is near. Improve it for reading the Holy Scriptures, and diligently attending his word preached; for then is the likeliest time to have the Spirit accompanying it. Let the saints who are desirous of growing in grace, and enjoying communion with Christ, improve the sabbath in order to it.
(5.) The last motive which I shall mention, is the experience of the influence which a strict observance of the sabbath has upon the whole of religion. It may be observed, that in those places where the sabbath is well kept, religion in general will be most flourishing; and that in those places where the sabbath is not much noticed, and much is not made of it, there is no great matter of religion any way. — But,
Inquiry. How ought we to keep the sabbath?
Answer. 1. We ought to be exceedingly careful on this day to abstain from sin. Indeed, all breaches of the sabbath are sinful; but we speak now of those things which are in themselves sinful, or sinful upon other accounts, besides that they are done upon the sabbath. The sabbath being holy time, it is especially defiled by the commission of sin. Sin by being committed on this day becomes the more exceeding sinful. We are required to abstain from sin at all times, but especially on holy time. The commission of immoralities on the sabbath is the worst way of profaning it, that which most provokes God, and brings most guilt upon the souls of men.
How provoking must it be to God, when men do those things on that day — which he has sanctified, and set apart to be spent in the immediate exercises of religion — which are not fit to be done on common days, which are impure and wicked whenever they are done!
Therefore if any persons be guilty of any such wickedness, as intemperance or any unclean actions, they do in a very horrid manner profane the sabbath. Or if they be guilty of wickedness in speech, of talking profanely, or in an unclean and lascivious manner, or of talking against their neighbours, they do in a dreadful manner profane the sabbath. Yet very commonly those who are used to such things on week days, have not a conscience to restrain them on the sabbath. It is well if those that live in the indulgence of the lust of uncleanness on week days, be not some way or other unclean on the sabbath. They will be indulging the same lusts then; they will be indulging their impure flames in their imaginations at least: and it is well if they keep clear while in the house of God, and while they pretend to be worshipping God. The unclean young man gives this account of himself, Prov. 5:14. “I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and the assembly.” So those who are addicted to an impure way of talking in the week time, have nothing to keep them from the same upon the sabbath, when they meet together. But dreadfully is God provoked by such things.
We ought carefully to watch over our own hearts, and to avoid all sinful thoughts on the sabbath. We ought to maintain such a reverence for the sabbath, as to have a peculiar dread of sin, such as shall awe us to a very careful watch over ourselves.
2. We ought to be careful to abstain from all worldly concerns. The reason, as we have showed, why it is needful and proper, that certain stated parts of time should be set apart to be devoted to religious exercises, is because the state of mankind is such in this world, that they are necessitated to exercise their minds, and employ their thoughts, about secular matters. It is therefore convenient that there should be stated times, wherein all should be obliged to throw by all other concerns, that their minds may the more freely, and with less entanglement, be engaged in religious and spiritual exercises.
We are therefore to do thus, or else we frustrate the very design of the institution of the sabbath. We are strictly to abstain from being outwardly engaged in any worldly thing, either worldly business or recreations. We are to rest in remembrance of God’s rest from the work of creation, and of Christi’s rest from the work of redemption. We should be careful that we do not encroach upon the sabbath at its beginning, by busying ourselves about the world after the sabbath is begun. We should avoid talking about worldly matters, and even thinking about them; for whether we outwardly concern ourselves with the world or not, yet if our minds be upon it, we frustrate the end of the sabbath. The end of its separation from other days is, that our minds may be disengaged from worldly things: and we are to avoid being outwardly concerned with the world, only for this reason, that that cannot be without taking up our minds. — We ought therefore to give the world no place in our thoughts on the sabbath, but to abstract ourselves from all worldly concerns, and maintain a watch over ourselves, that the world do not encroach, as it is very apt to do. Isa. 58:13-14.
3. We ought to spend the time in religious exercises. This is the more ultimate end of the sabbath. We are to keep our minds separate from the world, principally for this end, that we may be the more free for religious exercises. — Though it be a day of rest, yet it was not designed to be a day of idleness. To rest from worldly employments, without employing ourselves about any thing, is but to lay ourselves so much more in the devil’s way. The mind will be employed some way or other; and therefore doubtless the end for which we are to call off our minds from worldly things on the sabbath is, that we may employ them about things that are better.
We are to attend on spiritual exercises with the greatest diligence. That it is a day of rest, doth not hinder us in so doing; for we are to look on spiritual exercises but as the rest and refreshment of the soul. In heaven, where the people of God have the most perfect rest, they are not idle, but are employed in spiritual and heavenly exercises. — We should take care therefore to employ our minds on a sabbath day on spiritual objects by holy meditation; improving for our help therein the Holy Scriptures, and other books that are according to the word of God. We should also employ ourselves outwardly on this day in the duties of divine worship, in public and private. It is proper to be more frequent and abundant in secret duties on this day, than on other days, as we have time and opportunity, as well as to attend on public ordinances.
It is proper on this day, not only especially to promote the exercise of religion in ourselves, but also in others; to be assisting them, and endeavouring to promote their spiritual good, by religious conference. — Especially those who have the care of others ought, on this day, to endeavour to promote their spiritual good: heads of families should be instructing and counseling their children, and quickening them in the ways of religion, and should see to it that the sabbath be strictly kept in their houses. A peculiar blessing may be expected upon those families where there is due care taken that the sabbath be strictly and devoutly observed.
4. We are on this day especially to meditate upon and celebrate the work of redemption. We are with special joy to remember the resurrection of Christ; because that was the finishing of that work. And this is the day whereon Christ rested and was refreshed, after he had endured those extreme labours which he endured for our perishing souls. This was the day of the gladness of Christ’s heart; it was the day of his deliverance from the chains of death, and also of our deliverance; for we are delivered in him who is our head. He, as it were, rose with his elect. He is the first fruits; those that are Christ’s will follow. Christ, when he rose, was justified as a public person, and we are justified in him. This is the day of our deliverance out of Egypt.
We should therefore meditate on this with joy; we should have a sympathy with Christ in his joy. As he was refreshed on this day, so we should be refreshed, as those whose hearts are united with his. When Christ rejoices, it becomes all his church every where to rejoice. — We are to say of this day, “This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
But we are not only to commemorate the resurrection of Christ, but the whole work of redemption, of which it was the finishing. We keep the day on which the work was finished, because it is in remembrance of the whole work. — We should on this day contemplate the wonderful love of God and of Christ, as expressed in the work of redemption; and our remembrance of these things should be accompanied with suitable exercises of soul with respect to them. When we call to mind the love of Christ, it should be with a return of love on our part. When we commemorate this work, it should be with faith in the Saviour. And we should praise God and the Lamb for this work, for the divine glory and love manifested in it, in our private and public prayers, in talking of the wonderful works of God, and in singing divine songs.
Hence it is proper that Christ’s disciples should choose this day to come together to break bread, or to celebrate the ordinance of the Lord’s supper, Acts 20:7, because it is an ordinance instituted in remembrance of the work of redemption.
5. Works of mercy and charity are very proper and acceptable to Christ on this day. They were proper on the ancient sabbath. Christ was wont to do such works on the sabbath day. But they especially become the Christian sabbath, because it is a day kept in commemoration of the greatest work of mercy and love towards us that ever was wrought. What can be more proper than that on such a day we should be expressing our love and mercy towards our fellow creatures, and especially our fellow Christians. Christ loves to see us show our thankfulness to him in such ways as these. Therefore we find that the Holy Ghost was especially careful, that such works should be performed on the first day of the week in the primitive church, as we learn by our text.