Thoughts on the 4th Commandment (Keeping the Sabbath Holy)

Chantry SabbathIn his book, Call the Sabbath a Delight, Walter Chantry makes a simple statement that should go without saying, but actually serves as a much-needed and timely reminder in our day:

“Whether or not people keep the Sabbath holy is not an incidental or insignificant matter.” (p.12)

How do we know this to be true? Simply because it is included in the 10 commandments! (It is in God’s top 10, so to speak.) The 10 commandments contain a summary of God’s moral law (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.41), so remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy is still just as much our moral duty before God as any of the other nine commandments. And the fact that the 4th commandment is located in the first table of the law (as commandments 1-4 are often referred to) means that it has to do particularly with love for God. In other words, remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy is to be an expression of our love to God.

And yet even among many of those who claim to affirm and uphold the continuing relevance and binding nature of the 10 Commandments, one easily gets the impression that keeping the Sabbath holy really is somewhat “incidental or insignificant” (to borrow Chantry’s phrase). Certainly this is true, if judged by the actual practice (or lack thereof) of Sabbath observance on the Lord’s day.

The 4th commandment (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15) has fallen on hard times in our day. While you could argue that the same could be said of all of the 10 commandments, it should be plain to any reasonable observer that in recent years the 4th commandment in particular has been the subject of more than its fair share of ignorance, neglect, and downright disobedience, and that even among professing believers in Christ.

For one reason or another many seem to assume that there is little or no continuing relevance (much less obligation to obedience) inherent in this particular commandment. At least functionally, even if not necessarily theoretically, many believers seem to live as if we now had only 9 instead of 10 commandments. This should simply not be the case.

The Westminster divines certainly thought much of the 4th commandment, as the Shorter Catechism devotes no less than six (6) questions to the subject (Q.57-62). I plan to spend some time going through these questions in future posts, and hope that will find them helpful and edifying.

And I also hope that (if you have not done so already) you will take the time to pick up and read Chantry’s book on this subject. It’s helpfulness far exceeds its brevity (only 112 pages long)!

 

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