Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
WSC 57-62 of 107
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 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: 11 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.Exodus 20:8-11
WSC 57. Which is the Fourth Commandment?
A. The Fourth Commandment is, remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou, labour, 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 man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, 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.11Ex 20:8–11
WSC 58. What is required in the Fourth Commandment?
A. The Fourth Commandment requireth 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.11Dt 5:12–14
WSC 59. Which day of the seven hath 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.11Gen 2:2–3; 1 Cor 16:1–2; Acts 20:7.
WSC 60. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day,1 even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days;2 and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship,3 except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.41Ex 20:8, 10; 16:25–28; 2Neh 13:15–22; 3Lk 4:16; Acts 20:7; Ps 92 title; Isa 66:23; 4Mt 12:1–31
WSC 61. What is forbidden in the Fourth Commandment?
A. The Fourth Commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required,1 and the profaning the day by idleness,2 or doing that which is in itself sinful,3 or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.41Ezk 22:26; Amos 8:5; Mal 1:13; 2Acts 20:7, 9; 3Ezk 23:38; 4Jer 17:24–26; Isa 58:13
WSC 62. What are the reasons annexed to the Fourth Commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the Fourth Commandment are,—God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments,1 His challenging a special propriety in the seventh, His own example, and His blessing the Sabbath day.21Ex 20:9; 2Ex 20:11
We have been studying the Ten Commandments as part of our series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I think we can never overstate the importance of the Ten Commandments. It is the epitome of all the laws of God.
Since God is the Creator and King of the entire universe, it behoves all moral creatures to keep His laws. All men must keep His law. But God is not glorified when men reluctantly keep His law because they have to. Indeed, fallen men are unable to keep God’s law to a degree that is pleasing to God at all. Therefore, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His son, made of a woman, made under the Law to redeem His own, to adopt them as His children so that they may enjoy His love and love Him in return. God’s children—being regenerated and indwelt with the Spirit of adoption—are enabled to keep God’s law out of genuine love and gratitude, albeit imperfectly, in this life. God’s children, according to their new nature, keep God’s Law because they want to, not because they have to. This is the subtle difference between keeping the law legalistically and keeping it out of love.
With this in mind, we want to look at the Fourth Commandment, having already studied the first three. We are studying the Fourth Commandment not to burden God’s children but to give God’s children knowledge by which we may conduct ourselves lovingly before the face of God. But at the same time, we are studying the Fourth Commandment and all the other commandments so that those who are outside Christ may know how far short they fall of God’s glory: so that peradventure, they may repent of their sin and be shut up to Christ for their salvation.
In any case, let us approach the Fourth Commandment by considering five questions: What? Who? When? Why? How? We want to deal with the first four questions in this first instalment. We will leave the last fifth for our next study.
What is the essence of the Fourth Commandment? The essence of the Fourth Commandment is in the opening words: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”
The word ‘sabbath’ (שַׁבָּת, shabbâth) is related to the Hebrew word for seventh (שׁבע, sheva). The word ‘holy’ means ‘set apart’ or ‘sanctified unto God.’ So the Sabbath teaches us that it is God’s will for us to set apart one day in seven as holy unto the Lord. In other words, it is God’s will for us to set apart one day in seven as the Lord’s Day, the day belonging to the Lord.
The Sabbath, moreover, is both a Creation Ordinance as well as a Moral Law of God.
It is a Creation Ordinance in that it was instituted when God created the world. God created the world in six days and ceased from creating anything more on the seventh day, wherefore He sanctified the seventh day, and required all men to keep it holy unto Him (Gen 2:2-3).
But it is also a Moral Law in that it is reiterated in the Ten Commandments that we must keep one day in seven holy.
But what exactly does it mean to keep one day in seven holy? The LORD Himself explains: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God.”
Now, we must be careful not to misunderstand what He is saying. He is not telling us that we must work six days every week. He is not saying that you are breaking His commandment if you have a five-day workweek.
No, no; the LORD means that He has allowed us six days a week to do what we want with them. We may sell our time away to an employer, do our housework, enjoy our recreation, etc. But one day in seven belongs to the LORD. We must keep it holy. Therefore, whatever is not appointed or allowed for us to do on that day by the LORD is sinful for us to do. In particular, we are to set aside this day to worship Him and do good works apart from the circumstantial things necessary to keep life on an even keel, such as eating and necessary washing.
We may summarise what the Sabbath is with WSC 58:
Q. What is required in the Fourth Commandment? A. The Fourth Commandment requireth 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.
Who are required to observe the Sabbath? Many orthodox Jews today believe that only the Jews are required to keep the Sabbath. And so they employ Gentiles to do their work on the Sabbath. For example, the Jews believe that it is wrong for them to switch on the light or even to press the elevator button on their Sabbath. So they employ Gentiles to do it for them.
Now, if this seems quite far fetch, consider how some evangelical Christians actually believe that this commandment is only applicable to Old Testament Jews. And there are other Christians who believe that it is only applicable to Christians.
So they either ignore the Fourth Commandment, or they will try to keep it by having unbelievers do their work for them. So they may, for example, go to a restaurant to eat on the Lord’s Day, or even get them to cater food in the church.
But who does the Lord require to keep the Fourth Commandment?
Well, in the first place, the Fourth Commandment is part of the Moral Law of God. If it is OK for anyone, Christian or non-Christian, to disregard the Sabbath, then it is OK for anyone, Christian or non-Christian, to take God’s name in vain, to murder and to commit adultery.
In the second place, the Sabbath is clearly not only for the Jews, for it was instituted at Creation! The Jewish nation was non-existent at that time.
In the third place, the LORD reminds us in the commandment itself that even manservants, maidservants and strangers are to keep the Sabbath. Even working animals must be allowed to rest on the Sabbath.
So, who are to keep the Sabbath? All men, everywhere, in all ages, until the weekly Sabbath be fulfilled in the eternal sabbath in heaven! But God’s people must especially keep it. “There remaineth therefore a [sabbath-rest] to the people of God,” reminds the apostle to the Hebrews (Heb 4:9). God appointed the Sabbath to be “a sign between [Him] and [us] throughout [our] generations” (Ex 31:13; Ezk 20:20). By the keeping the Sabbath, God’s people distinguishes ourselves from the world, and testifies that the LORD is our God who sanctifies us.
When should we keep the Sabbath? On which day? Our Shorter Catechism, Q. 59, teaches us that:
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.
God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, and therefore, appointed that day of rest to be the Sabbath. Adam and his descendants, no doubt, kept the Sabbath on the seventh day up to the time of Jacob. But when God’s people were in Egypt, and especially after they were enslaved, they would not have been able to keep the Sabbath on the seventh day, for Egypt had a ten-day week!
But after the Exodus, God indicated to the people which day they should keep the Sabbath by giving a double portion of manna the day before. No doubt, the LORD brought the people back to a seventh-day observance of the Sabbath. The seventh day is Saturday as we know it.
Now, God’s people kept that seventh-day Sabbath all the way until the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week (or what we call Sunday), and so, since then, the church has observed the Sabbath on the first day of the week. And as our Catechism teaches us, the first day of the week will “continue to the end of the world” as “the Christian sabbath.”
Not everyone who professes to be Christian agrees with us, though. The Seventh-Day Adventists will agree with us that the Sabbath remains. However, this is as far as they can agree with us. They say the sabbath remains on Saturday.
They claim that it was Emperor Constantine who, in the fourth century, made Sunday the day of rest and worship for Christians—and that is because of his respect for sun-god worship.
In fact, it is sun-god worship which gave Sunday its name. We agree with them that the name ‘Sunday’ was, indeed, derived from Roman sun-god worship, and so Christians prefer to call Sunday—the Lord’s Day or the Sabbath Day.
But we disagree that the worship on the first day of the week arose out of tradition rather than Scriptural obedience. We see instead that the Scripture teaches us very clearly that the Christian Sabbath should now be on the first day of the week rather than on the seventh day. Let me give three reasons why this should be the case:
First, note that the Fourth Commandment (Ex 20: 8-11; Dt 5:12-15) does not indicate that the Sabbath is on Saturday, but on the seventh day. Thus, according to the command, the Sabbath could morally and technically be on any day of the week—so long as it occurs every seventh day.
Secondly, though the commandment does not dictate which day of the week the Sabbath is to be observed, the Lord does indicate by other means. Thus, when the Jews forgot which day they should observe the Sabbath after their stint in Egypt, the LORD indicated the day by a double portion of manna on the day before the Sabbath Day (Ex 16:22-23).
Similarly, in the New Testament, the Lord indicates to us a new day to observe the Sabbath; only this time, He indicates the day by the post-resurrection appearance of the heavenly manna (Jn 6:31-33).
This change in day was anticipated in Psalm 118:
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.Ps 118:22-24
What is the stone which the builders refused, but Christ? And when did He become the headstone of the corner, but when He was resurrected from the dead! When was He resurrected from the dead (Acts 4:10-11)? On the first day of the week!
Moreover, the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples ten times before His ascension. Interestingly, on six of these ten occasions, the day of the appearance is indicated in the Gospel records. Even more interesting is that in every of these six instances, the day was the first day of the week, i.e. Sunday.
The Lord rose on the first day of the week. On that day, He appeared to His disciples without Thomas. And Thomas would not believe them. So he waited to see Him again. Monday came, but Christ did not appear. Tuesday, and he did not appear. Saturday came. It was the Jewish Sabbath. Surely, the Lord would appear then. But no, it was only eight days after the first appearance or at the beginning of the next week that He appeared again (Jn 20:26)!
Why did the Lord of the Sabbath favour the first day to appear to His disciples? I believe He was signalling to them and us that the Sabbath is to be observed no more on the last day of the week. It is now to be observed on the first day, which is the day of the resurrection of the Lord of the Sabbath. This is perhaps why the day came to be known as the “Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10).
This change in day is further confirmed by the fact that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). It is easy to see how Pentecost fell on the first day of the week since it occurs on the fiftieth day after the Jewish Sabbath day that closes the feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:15-16).
But now, thirdly, the practice of the apostles and the early church confirms that the Sabbath should be observed on the first day of the week.
- Acts 20:7: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.”
This verse suggests that it was the regular practice of the early Christians at Troas to gather on the first day of the week to break bread. On this particular occasion, given Paul’s impending departure the next day, Paul preached to them the whole night. This shows that regular first-day Christian meetings were already established by then. Thus, there was a change in the day of worship observed by the early believers.
- 1 Corinthians 16:2: “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.”
Paul was collecting a relief fund for the poor brethren in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1). How should the Corinthians contribute to the fund? Paul suggests that they should take a collection every time they meet for worship—on the first day of the week.
- Revelation 1:10: The apostle John, exiled to the Island of Patmos, writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet…”
This is the only occasion in the New Testament where the phrase “Lord’s Day” is used. Obviously, the day must be a distinct one already well-known to John’s recipients. Otherwise, his mention of the day would not make sense. What day is this? The Jewish sabbath was never called the Lord’s Day. Surely, the Lord’s Day is the day favoured by the Lord of the Sabbath: the first day of the week.
The evidence is overwhelming: Christians are still obliged to observe the Sabbath. But the day has been changed to the first day of the week. Christians must observe the Sabbath on the first day of the week.
We have seen that we must keep the Sabbath, and we are to keep it on the first day of the week. But why?
What is the purpose of the Sabbath? Unless we know the reasons, it will be difficult for us to keep the Sabbath cheerfully and gratefully, and it will be easy for us to fall into legalism.
Doing anything for the Lord grudgingly and without gratitude and love is to do it legalistically.
So, what is the purpose of the Sabbath? Our Catechism hints at the answer in Question 62:
WSC 62. What are the reasons annexed to the Fourth Commandment? A. The reasons annexed to the Fourth Commandment are,—God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, His challenging a special propriety in the seventh, His own example, and His blessing the Sabbath day.
We may enlarge this thought by the following four purposes or reasons for keeping the Sabbath holy:
a. First, it is for us to remember that God is our Creator.
This is the most obvious reason for keeping the Sabbath. It is stated in the wording of the first giving of the Fourth Commandment:
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.Ex 20:11
On the Sabbath day, we must especially remember our Creator and His work of Creation. We should reflect on the greatness, power and majesty of God. We should also reflect on the fact that we are mere creatures while God is our Creator.
b. Secondly, the Sabbath is for us to rest our weary bodies.
Closely related to our reflection upon our creatureliness is that we are created with a need to rest. Do you realise that an average person has to spend a third of his time resting and recuperating? God does not need to rest, but we are told He rested on the seventh day. Why? So as to give us a pattern to follow and rest from our usual labours once every seven days!
This is what we must do if we want to avoid abusing our God-given bodies. I read somewhere that back when the American Indians trapped animals for fur, the first tribe to get their fur to the port after the hunting season would have the best deal.
It is said that there was a tribe which was converted to Christianity, and that tribe usually reached the port first. Why? Because they would paddle for six days, and rest one day for worship, then paddle another six days and rest one day for worship. The other tribes paddled non-stop and frequently met with accidents or illnesses.
Our Creator had our interests in mind when He instituted the Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” says the Lord. Try to work non-stop without a regular weekly rest, and you will soon get a burnout. Our Creator knows best!
c. Thirdly, we must keep the Sabbath, to remember our Redeemer and His work of redemption.
Moses recorded the Ten Commandments twice. The first time it was recorded was when God spoke it in the hearing of His people at Mount Sinai. This is in Exodus 20. What is the reason given for us to keep the Sabbath there? It is, as we saw earlier, that God rested after He created the world in six days. So, we are to keep the Sabbath in remembrance of the fact that God is our Creator.
But about forty years later, the first generation of the Jews who left Egypt had died out. So Moses had to repeat the Ten Commandments for the new generation entering the Promised Land. The record of this second proclamation of the law is in Deuteronomy 5.
Now, if you compare the two passages, you will realise that Moses has repeated nine of the ten commandments almost word for word. But he changed the words substantively for one of the commandments. Which is it? It’s the Fourth Commandment! And what is changed is the stated reason for keeping the commandment!
12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. …15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.Dt 5:12-15
What is the new reason? It is redemption! So effectively, the Jews of old had two reasons for keeping the Sabbath: creation and redemption. And likewise, for us! Israel’s redemption from Egypt, we must remember, is a type of the Church’s redemption from Satan and sin. Such is the redemption accomplished by Christ and sealed upon His Resurrection on the day the stone rejected by the builders was made head cornerstone.
As New Testament saints, we are not only to remember our Creator and His work of Creation. We must remember, especially, the greater work of redemption wrought by Christ. The apostle to the Hebrews draws these two great works of God together when he explains to us what is the purpose of the Sabbath for us who live under the New Covenant:
There remaineth therefore a [sabbath] rest to the people of God. For He [Jesus] that is entered into His rest [from His work of redemption], He also hath ceased from His own works [of redemption], as God did from His [work of Creation].Heb 4:9-10
Two Greek words are translated as “rest” in this passage. In verse 9, the word is a unique word which occurs only once in the New Testament: σαββατισμός (sabbatismos), which may be better translated ‘sabbath rest.’ In other words, the Sabbath remains for Christians to commemorate not only creation but our redemption. And since our redemption is not complete until we see our blessed Lord face to face, the Sabbath serves as an emblem of eternal rest—the rest Christ has purchased for us. That is why the author of Hebrews continues saying: “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest [i.e. heavenly rest], lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Heb 4:11).
Therefore, you must reflect on your Redeemer Christ every sabbath day, brothers and sisters and children. You must spend the day as a grateful, redeemed person. And you must prepare for that eternal rest by using the means of grace: worship, prayer, reading, hearing sermons, etc. And every redeemed person will find such activity most satisfying.
Thus, the fourth purpose of the Sabbath is:
d. To rest our thirsty souls—spiritually, especially in worship.
The attitude of the Christian towards God and the sabbath ought to be like that of the Psalmist:
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?.Ps 42:1-2
We toil and labour in our secular vocation and worldly pleasures for six days a week. Therefore, what a joy it is to refresh our souls by coming to our Creator and Redeemer to worship Him! This is what the Sabbath is designed for.
To keep the Sabbath holy is to set it apart for God—to worship God and to learn about God. It is not only about ceasing from your labours. It is about delighting in God.
Our Shorter Catechism, Q. 60, teaches us:
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 publick and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.
But we will talk about this in our next study, the Lord willing.
For now, let us remember four points:
What? The Sabbath is about setting aside one day in seven to be holy unto the LORD. All other days are appointed for us to order according to our wisdom. The Sabbath is to be ordered according to the Lord’s instruction. Whatever is not appointed or allowed is forbidden.
Who? The Sabbath is for all men, Christian or not. A believer sins when he profanes the Sabbath, and so does the unbeliever.
When? The Sabbath is to be kept today on the first day of the week, for Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week.
Why? The Sabbath is to be kept with a view to God as our Creator and Redeemer. Looking at God as our Creator, we are enjoined by the Lord to rest our bodies. Looking at God as our Redeemer, we are constrained to worship Him and serve Him out of gratitude and love.
We may summarise what we have learned by a simple acrostic – AGIOS, pronounced hagios, which means holy in Greek:
- A Creation Ordinance and Moral Law that one day in seven belongs to the Lord
- Gentiles and Jews, and all men, must keep it.
- In the OT, the last day; in the NT, the first day is appointed.
- Observance of a day to rest our body and soul as we remember God as our Creator and Redeemer.
- Setting apart the whole day for worship except for works of piety, necessity and mercy.
May the Lord help us to delight in the Sabbath of the Lord and seek both to keep it holy and to delight in it to the glory of God and Christ, our Creator and Redeemer, for the good of our body and soul. Amen.