Both the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms follow a pattern in their treatment of each of the Ten Commandments. That is, each commandment is unpacked and explained in terms of what is required, as well as what is forbidden in it.
As Larger Catechism Q.99 points out, one of the rules that we should keep in mind in order to have a right understanding of the Ten Commandments is that “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is required.”
And so, of course, the Shorter Catechism’s treatment of the 4th commandment is no exception to that rule. It starts by asking what is required in it:
Q.58. What is required in the fourth commandment? A. The fourth commandment requires the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy Sabbath to himself.
So what is positively required by the Sabbath commandment? Keeping a day holy to God. Even the wording of the commandment itself (found in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15) makes this clear. We are there commanded to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Thomas Watson writes,
“This word, ‘remember,’ shows that we are apt to forget Sabbath-holiness; therefore we need a memorandum to put us in mind of sanctifying the day” (The Ten Commandments, p.93).
Frankly, such a reminder (or memorandum, to use Watson’s term) is sorely-needed in our day, is it not? How many believers now practically live as if we had only nine commandments, and treat the day (with some minor exceptions) as if it were just another day? How many professing believers choose to skip public worship altogether, and refuse to set aside even an hour or two, much less the whole day?
Granted, part of how we are to keep it holy is expressed negatively (i.e. in the form of prohibitions), but the commandment itself should be understood first and foremost in a positive manner. We should be mindful of the day, remembering to keep it as holy unto the Lord.
God has set aside one day in seven for Himself. He has “appointed” it in His Word. The very next question (Q.59) deals with which day that was originally, and which day it is now (a topic for the next post in this series), but for the time being we should settle it in our minds and convictions that part of God’s moral law has to do with our time. Another way of putting it is to say that part of how we are to love God involves giving Him our time.
While, of course, every day of our lives belongs to the Lord, we are to set aside one day in seven as belonging in a special way to the Lord. There is one day in seven that we are to treat in a distinctly different manner than the other six days. In essence, we are commanded to give God His day.