The Lord’s Day

Easter Every Sunday

Ten Commandments WatsonHave you ever asked yourself why Christian churches gather for worship on Sundays, rather than on Saturdays? After all, doesn’t the 4th commandment itself specifically state that it is the “seventh day” (Exodus 20:10) that is the Sabbath, rather than the first day of the week (i.e. Sunday)?

So why Sunday? The Westminster Shorter Catechism addresses that very question:

“Q.59. Which day of the seven has God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?  A.From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.”

Notice that the turning point is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, which took place on a Sunday, “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1). The resurrection was such a momentous event that it ushered in a change in the very day of the week that we are to observe as the day of holy rest and worship.

In his book, The Ten Commandments, the great Puritan writer Thomas Watson writes,

“The reason why God instituted the old Sabbath was to be a memorial of the creation; but he has now brought the first day of the week in its room [i.e. in its place] in memory of a more glorious work than creation, which is redemption. Great was the work of creation, but greater was the work of redemption.” (p.96)

And so the Christian church started to gather for worship on Sundays, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. This change took root very early on in the church’s history. Acts 20:7 tells us that it was on “the first day of the week” that the church in Troas gathered together for the breaking of bread (i.e. the Lord’s Supper) and to listen to the Apostle Paul’s preaching.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, when the Apostle Paul was instructing the church in the city of Corinth about their offering for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem, he instructs them to set it aside and gather it up “on the first day of every week” (i.e. Sunday). In other words, that was already the day of the week when the church regularly gathered for worship.

Lastly, in Revelation 1:10 the Apostle John mentions that he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” when he received what he passed down to us in that book. Since the time of the Apostles, Sunday has come to be known as “the Lord’s day” and the Christian Sabbath. And so while the particular day of the week changed, but the principle involved in the 4th commandment still abides and applies to us today.

Easter Sunday is the day in the church calendar when we commonly celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But you really could say that every time we gather for worship on Sunday (the Lord’s day), we are celebrating and commemorating Christ’s resurrection. And so every Sunday is, in a sense, Easter Sunday.

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

The Nine Commandments?

Chantry SabbathThe ten commandments in general are strangely neglected among many professing Christians in our day. Many cannot even so much as name all ten of them (whether in order or not). This is a sad state of affairs, and reflects poorly upon both the teaching ministries of our churches, as well the personal Bible reading habits of many believers.

Having said that, one of the ten commandments in particular suffers perhaps more neglect than all the rest – the fourth commandment. It says,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11, ESV)

It would seem that many in our day have, in fact, forgotten to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” In fact, in some circles you would practically think that we now have only nine (9) commandments instead of ten.

Many would actually say that the fourth commandment simply no longer applies today because it has not been repeated in the New Testament. Charles Ryrie, for example, states that “the New Testament only includes nine of the ten” (Systematic Theology, p.350).

But is that really the case? Is the New Testament actually silent on this particular commandment? No. In his book, Call the Sabbath a DelightWalter Chantry writes,

“If anyone says that the New testament does not teach the fourth commandment, perhaps he should read the Gospels before he pretends to speak for the whole Testament.” (p.52-53)

In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ himself spoke about it a number of times in the Gospels, even referring to himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8, ESV). And not only does he not say anything about abrogating or setting aside the Sabbath commandment, but he went so far as to teach people the right view of the Sabbath, including the truth that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, ESV).

And so God’s command for us to observe a day of holy rest (not inactivity) and worship still applies today. God’s moral law has not changed. And this should not be a surprise to anyone, for as the wording of the commandment itself even tells us, it is based upon God’s work in the very beginning, at creation itself! (In other words, the Sabbath commandment did not begin with the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20, but rather all the way back in the 1st chapter of the book of Genesis!)

For the explicit reason given for remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy is as follows: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11, ESV).

The Sabbath, then, is a creation ordinance. And it is for our good. God “blessed” that day and “made it holy.” That has not changed. As Hebrews 4:9 says, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (ESV).

THE SABBATH: HOLY REST AND WORSHIP (SHORTER CATECHISM Q.60)

shorter-catechism-explainedThis is part 4 of a brief series of posts going through what the Westminster Shorter Catechism (in Q.57-62) has to say about the 4th commandment. Question and answer #57 deals with the actual text of the commandment itself (which is found in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). The questions that follow explain and interpret the meaning of the commandment.

Question and answer #58 deals with the question of what – the substance of what is required in the fourth commandment – keeping one day in seven holy unto God. Question and answer 59 deals with the question of when – which day of the seven is now to be sanctified.

We now come to question and answer #60, which asks the all-important question – how? What exactly does it mean to sanctify the Sabbath or keep it holy?

Q.60. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified? A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

So according to the Shorter Catechism, sanctifying the Sabbath involves at least two (2) things: holy rest and worship.  In his book, The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture, Puritan writer Thomas Vincent (1634-1678) puts it this way:

“We are to observe and keep the Sabbath as holy, partly by a holy resting, partly in holy exercises on that day.” (p.146)

Vincent there shows us the balance that we must keep between those two things, as well as the right relationship between them. Let us then briefly turn to look at them in order.

First the Sabbath (or Lord’s day) is to be sanctified “by a holy resting all the day.” Not just rest, but a holy rest. So it is clear right at the outset that what is in view here is not mere inactivity or sleep. So what does this holy resting entail? We are to rest “all that day” (not just for an hour or two) from two (2) things: our “worldly employments” (i.e. our work), and our “recreations” (i.e. our play).

And the point here is certainly not just that we are to refrain from sinful work and recreation, as we are always to refrain from those things no matter which day of the week it may be. No, the writers of the Catechism explicitly state that we are to rest from even those employments and recreations “as are lawful on other days.” So we are not to treat the Lord’s day like any other day, whether that be for work or for play.

Some people might be tempted to treat Sundays like just another work day, another day to labor and make money. Time (as the saying goes) is money, and so for some people, a holy resting all the day sounds costly, rather than beneficial. And so such people may need to learn to trust in God’s provision. Is that not the lesson we are to learn from God’s instructions regarding the manna in the wilderness in Exodus chapter 16? There was one day in the week when the manna would not appear – the Sabbath. Exodus 16:26 states, “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.” The only day that the people of Israel were allowed to gather extra to save for the next day was on the 6th day. Why? To free them up to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Even gathering food (manna) was not to be done on the Sabbath.

Others might be tempted to treat Sundays like just another day off, another day to play and have fun. Such people may need to learn to enjoy God more. (And who among us doesn’t need to learn that more?) To use a personal example, I like sports. I enjoy watching some sports on television and occasionally even in-person. (As a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan, my sports fandom is often more an exercise in patience and long-suffering than of celebrating championship parades, but I digress.)

Nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional game. But that being said, if I enjoy watching (for example) a football game (yes, even the Super Bowl) more than I enjoy spending time with the Lord and His people in worship, then both my priorities and tastes are out of whack.  Again, nothing wrong with sports or entertainment per se (as long as there is nothing inherently sinful involved), but those things should not be in any position to compete for our ultimate affection and enjoyment. And we are to rest from those things on the Lord’s day for our own good.

And that brings us to the second thing that sanctifying the Sabbath involves – worship. The Sabbath is to be sanctified, not just by a holy resting from worldly employments and recreations, but also by “spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship.” The whole time. And so the former is for the purpose of the latter. In the 4th commandment we are essentially being given a break from our worldly activities in order to free us up for worship.

Now if the first part (the holy resting) seems foreign to most people (even most Christians?) in our day, almost certainly this part (spending the whole day in the worship of God) is even more so. One need only look at the rarity of the Sunday evening worship service in our day to see something of a barometer of that. Structuring the whole day around worship seems like a nearly forgotten art. Sadly, many who were not raised in the Reformed faith (myself included) have had to learn much of this the hard way, with very little in the way of an example to emulate. This was not always the case.

Notice that the worship of God that is commended to us here is both public (corporate) and private (personal and with our family). And so we should make attendance upon public worship perhaps the highest priority of the day, although that by no means excludes time spent alone or with one’s family in prayer, the study of God’s Word, and even song (!). The latter is often closely-related to the former, with time spent considering and discussing the sermon from earlier that day. (How much more might we benefit from even the simplest preaching of the Word if we were to make that our practice!)  And here we also see that private worship is no substitute for diligently attending public worship of the church on the Lord’s day. In truth it should not be an either/or proposition.

That might sound like a rather daunting task. Surely there are things that cannot be left undone, even on Sundays, right? And that is where the common-sense exceptions to the rule come into view here in Q.60. It states that the whole time is to be spent in public and private worship “except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.” One’s family still needs to eat, for example. The sick or injured must still be cared for. Someone in need must still be shown mercy. (In truth, the Lord’s day may actually provide us with more time and opportunity for this than other days.) And there are occupations or lawful callings in which people cannot reasonably be expected to take the whole day off from their work, which is necessary for the life, safety, and well-being of their neighbors (such as law enforcement, military, or medical personnel, just to name a few).

There is obviously much more that could be said, but I hope that you find this thumbnail sketch from the Shorter Catechism to be a helpful starting point, and perhaps something that may spur you on to more careful study and application of what the Scriptures have to say on this important subject. May we all learn to view this holy rest and worship, not as a burden, but as a blessing.

The Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath (Shorter Catechism Q.59)

1710_largeHave you ever wondered why Christians now worship on Sundays (the first day of the week) rather than Saturdays (the seventh day)? Why Sunday?

No doubt there are a great many believers who gather for worship regularly on Sundays (sometimes twice!), without seeing any relation of this practice to either the 4th commandment itself or any explicit statement in the New Testament. Still others may indeed gather with the Lord’s people for worship every Sunday, but view the choice of that particular day as somewhat arbitrary, perhaps chosen at some point by an authority figure or council early on in the history of the church.

Having established in the previous question (Q.58) that the basic requirement of the 4th commandment is that we keep holy to God one day in seven “to be a holy Sabbath to himself,” the Westminster Shorter Catechism now turns our attention to the question that naturally follows – which day of the seven has God appointed? Shorter Catechism Q.59 puts it this way:

Q.59. Which day of the seven has God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath? A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Note the dividing line between the Old Testament and New Testament observance of the Sabbath – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was raised from the dead on “the first day of the week” (Luke 24:1) – a Sunday. And so the reason for the change in observance of the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to the first day is, in a sense, eschatological in nature. It is a weekly testimony to both the truth and the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You could say that every Sunday (not just Easter Sunday) is resurrection Sunday. Every time the church gathers for public worship on Sunday (whether we realize it or not), we are in some way testifying to the truth of the resurrection, which Paul says is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Now is there a verse or passage in the New Testament that explicitly settles this issue for us? No, not if what you are looking for is a simple proof text. There is no verse that says something like, “Thou shalt now remember the first day of the week, to keep it holy.” Nowhere does the Apostle Paul or any other New Testament author come right out and say, “Of course the Christian Sabbath is now the first day of the week rather than the seventh day.” That would sure make much things simpler, wouldn’t it?

So then where do we get the idea that the first day of the week is the Christian Sabbath? From both Scripture and church history. In his book, Call the Sabbath a Delight, Walter Chantry points out:

“It became the habit of Christians to meet for worship on the first day of the week. This was firmly established in the apostolic era” (p.83).

Notice that he states that this was “firmly established.” It became a settled issue for the church. And how early was this the case? Chantry explicitly points us to “the apostolic era.” In other words, the church gathering together for public worship on Sundays was basically a settled issue in the early church, while the apostles themselves (at least some of them) were still with us.

How do we know this to be the case? There are a number of passages in the New Testament that are helpful here. First, there is Acts 20:7, where we read the following:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (ESV)

What day was it when the church was gathered together for worship? Sunday. Why does Luke mention that it was “on the first day of the week”? His readers would have understood the implication. The context here is public worship. The breaking of bread was almost certainly the observance of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul’s “speech” was a sermon, and a rather long sermon at that!

In addition to that passage, we also see something similar in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, where Paul writes,

“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”

When did the church gather together? And when was this “collection for the saints” (a relief fund of sorts) to be put aside and stored up? Not just on the first day of the week, but “on the first day of every week” (v.2)! Every week. The church in Corinth met for worship every Sunday.

Lastly, in Revelation 1:10-11 we read the following:

“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”” (ESV)

What day was it? John identifies it as “the Lord’s day” (v.10). So as early as the first century A.D. Sunday was already being referred to as “the Lord’s Day.” Even in his exile on the island of Patmos, the Apostle John marked the time and the days Sunday by Sunday. The Lord’s day was meaningful to him, and the revelation that we now have in the book by that same name was given to John for the sake of the church on the Lord’s day!

May we learn by God’s grace to consider the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s day a delight!

WHAT IS REQUIRED IN THE 4TH COMMANDMENT? (SHORTER CATECHISM Q.58)

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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.

THOUGHTS ON THE 4TH COMMANDMENT (SHORTER CATECHISM Q.57)

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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.

Sunday and Heaven

Ryle Practical ReligionThe public worship of the church on Sundays, in a sense, is to be something like a preview or foretaste of heaven (even if imperfectly so). After all, in worship we are spending time in communion with our God and with the people of God. What is heaven if not spending eternity in perfect communion with God and with His people in glory?

That being the case, the way we view the public worship of the church in this life reveals something about how we really view the prospect of the life to come in heaven with the Lord. So our attitude toward worship on the Lord’s day can serve as an opportunity for self-examination.  J.C. Ryle writes,

“How could that man be happy in heaven for ever [sic], who finds the Sunday a dully, gloomy, tiresome day, – who knows nothing of hearty prayer and praise, and cares nothing whether he hears truth or error from the pulpit, or scarcely listens to the sermon?” (Practical Religion, p.12)

Do we imagine that we will find eternal happiness in heaven if Sunday (one day among seven) is a drudgery to us? We either enjoy God or we do not. We either love the people of God or we do not. Do you look forward to Sundays? Do you look forward to public worship? Is it in some sense the highlight of your week? To be sure, our worship in this life is far from perfect, and so our enjoyment of it will at times be imperfect as well. But let us search our hearts, and may we ask the Lord to change our hearts and make us more and more fit for heaven.

May we learn to delight in prayer, praise, and the true preaching of the Word of God on Sundays, so that our hearts might be better prepared for eternal happiness in heaven.