It may surprise you to learn that the Westminster Shorter Catechism contains a rather lengthy section (Q.41-81) dealing with the ten commandments. That is more than 40 total questions!. In other words, well over 1/3 of the Shorter Catechism is spent focusing on this summary of the moral law of God.
That alone should be instructive to us. How much time do we as believers spend considering God’s law or meditating upon it? Psalm 1 calls us to delight in “the law of the LORD, and so to meditate upon it “day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Frankly, how many of us meditate upon the law of God at all, much less day and night?
It may further surprise you to know that the Shorter Catechism spends no less than 6 of those questions (Q.57-62) dealing with the 4th commandment in particular. That being the case, the Westminster divines clearly saw great importance in having a thoroughly biblical understanding of God’s will for our lives as expressed in this commandment. There must be a great deal that is important for us to learn about the 4th commandment.
For starters, what does Q.57 have to say about it? It reads as follows:
Q.57. Which is the fourth commandment? A. The fourth commandment is, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, 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.”
You will notice that this question essentially just gives us the text of Exodus 20:8-11. (The 4th commandment is also found, albeit with slightly different wording, in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.) And the temptation for those reading or studying through the catechism might be to move right along to the next question. But that would be a mistake. For starters, we must remember (no pun intended) that the Shorter Catechism was intended, not only to be read and studied, but also to be memorized. And it was intended to be memorized by children as well as adults!
That being the case, the Westminster divines, wise pastors and theologians that they were, saw great value in having God’s commandments (including the 4th commandment) committed to memory. It is difficult to keep God’s will in mind during our daily lives if we fail to keep His Word in our minds and hearts at all in the first place. How many of us can even list the ten commandments (in order!), much less recite them from memory? If we if do not know them, how likely are we to meditate upon them or apply them? Not very.
May the Lord Jesus work in us by His Holy Spirit, that we may read and even memorize the 4th commandment, meditate upon it, and be better equipped to follow His will in obedience to it. May we learn to give the Lord His day, and may we find that in remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy, that the day really is given to us as a blessing, not a burden.