Market Day for the Soul: Call the Sabbath a Delight

Call the Sabbath a Delight by Walter Chantry

“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is Sabbath of the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:8-10)

“It is on the Sabbath Day that the Lord’s good things are served up…Would you like your life to be filled with joy in the Lord, triumph and feasting on the good things of God? That is what God promises to those who keep the Sabbath Day holy. The treasures of God’s kingdom both now and forever will overflow to those who rightly keep the fourth commandment.”

I’ve heard it said that the Puritans used to refer to the Lord’s Day, or the Sabbath, as “market day for the soul.” When God gave us the fourth commandment, it was for our good. It’s a day for our bodies to rest from the weary, tedious labors of the week. But more importantly, it’s a day on which we can focus without distraction on the things of God and communing with him, refreshing our souls and renewing our spirit for another week. It’s a day to restock our spiritual pantry so we can face what lies ahead, freshly equipped with the provisions that the Lord makes available.

One of the most insulting things you can say to someone is, “I have no time for you.” A book like Call the Sabbath a Delight is needed because, in case you haven’t noticed, our culture has crowded God out of its busy schedule. People have become so caught up in the “frantic pursuit of pleasure and wealth” that there’s simply no place or purpose in their week for church attendance. Our society has become one with little tolerance for rules and regulations, and certainly little to no regard or respect for God’s moral law. In many churches, the focus on preaching and worship has been supplanted by entertainment and social programs. The law of God is avoided as a sermon topic in fear of sounding judgmental and alienating people or making them uncomfortable.

God gave His moral law because it is right and it reveals to us His will and standard for living. For this reason, the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:1-17) are still relevant. Most people have no trouble acknowledging the validity and worth of the last six, which address men’s dealings with each other. How is it then that the first four, which describe how we are to properly love and honor God, are so little understood, and are no longer valued or taken seriously? In fact, I agree with Pastor Chantry’s statement that in order to be a truly moral person, the first and foremost principle one needs to uphold and live by is to love God. Chantry summarizes the first four commandments in this way:

The first commandment shows that love to our God requires our exclusive worship of him and service to him. The second prescribes the manner in which love will worship and serve the Lord. The third specifies the attitude of reverence which love will bring to God’s worship and service. The fourth stipulates what time is required to express our love to him.

Is it too much for the God who created us to ask that we worship only Him, give him the honor and reverence he is due, and set aside a designated time for Him? Chantry writes,

“The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” It is his day. He has staked out a claim upon it…He who is King over all the earth has, by his sovereign right, made the day holy. He devoted one day in each seven to his worship and service. He who is eternal divided our time and legislated that we give him a day of worship each week.

Apparently God knew this fourth commandment would be neglected and forgotten, for notice that he specifically said, “Remember the Sabbath.”

Pastor Chantry observes four principles that can be derived from the fourth commandment, followed by three incentives or blessings that accompany keeping the Sabbath. The four principles are:

  1.  Remember the Sabbath Day – A conscious effort and deliberate planning must be made to develop and maintain this as a regular habit. Also note that God intended us to set aside the entire day, not just a couple of hours on Sunday morning.
  2.  Keep it holy – It is one day to set aside our normal routine and activities that we engage in during the other six days and to devote it to the worship and service of God.
  3.  You shall do no work – This doesn’t mean to be idle and inactive all day, but that normal labors must not intrude into the time of the Sabbath Day. “The point of resting from our own work is to free up the time to worship and serve God energetically.”
  4.  You shall not employ or require others to work – The moral law of God applies to everyone, not just Christians, so we should be careful not to be the cause of someone else’s disregard of it. Whether they know it or care, or not, others should also honor the Lord’s Day. Chantry observes, “We must not divert them from the worship and service of the Lord or tempt them to desecrate the day which is holy.”

Chantry now goes to another passage which talks of the Sabbath: Isaiah 58:13-14. In this passage, Chantry identifies three blessings or incentives that are promised “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s Day honorable.”

  1.  “You will find joy in the Lord” – Chantry makes this observation:

    Familiarity comes only by giving time to a relationship…Joy from an association fades if contact and sharing become only occasional. Each week a day is to be spent with the Lord. Such nearness to him and commitment to him produce joy in him.

  2. “I will cause you to ride on the heights.” – When we use the Lord’s Day as he has commanded, we will be strengthened spiritually so we can go through our life victoriously and rise above the challenges, temptations, and sin that we are faced with in the world. Success in any area requires time and effort, and so it is with our spiritual life. The Sabbath is training day, as well as market day, for our souls!
  3. “I will cause you to feast on the inheritance of Jacob.” – Jesus said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” One of the means He uses to fill our hungry souls is by the preaching of the Word. Being in the house of God on the Lord’s Day is an opportunity to be fed. A hymn that we sing at our church that talks about those who reject Christ, makes me think of those who also choose not to join the people of God at church on the Sabbath:

How sweet and awe-ful is the place with Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays the choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues, “Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice and enter while there’s room,
While others make the wretched choice, and rather starve than come?”

Pastor Chantry reminds us that we are to view the Lord’s Day as “honorable,” special (like a birthday or holiday), sacred, noble, better than the rest. It’s a day we should value and look forward to as it approaches, not because it’s an extra day to do what I please, but because it’s a day I get to spend with the Lord, in his house, with his people, serving him. Chantry offers some practical suggestions to families with children for teaching them to honor the Lords’ Day. Parents should demonstrate to their children that Sunday is a great day because we get to meet with God’s people to worship, learn and talk about him! Ideas are given for activities that families can do to make profitable and appropriate use of the day without it being a drudgery and unreasonable for children.

People seem to go to one extreme or the other when it comes to the Sabbath. Either they legalistically impose all kinds of rules and restrictions with a checklist for observing the Sabbath, or they observe Jesus’ actions and say, “See, he didn’t think the fourth commandment was valid and disregarded it, showing we are no longer required to keep it.” On several occasions in the Gospels, we see the Pharisees criticizing Jesus for dishonoring the Sabbath Day. However we know that Jesus always kept the law perfectly. It wasn’t the Law of God that he broke, but their man-made rules. They misunderstood the meaning and application of the fourth commandment just as many do today. Jesus was always more concerned with the heart, and in these cases he was exposing the proud, hypocritical attitude of the Pharisees; but he never dishonored the Sabbath day.

Some people propose that honoring the Sabbath was a law given to the Jews only and is an Old Testament practice that is not applicable to Christians. Chantry provides an explanation of the difference between the Mosaic Sabbath and the Christian Sabbath, pointing out that the principle of a Sabbath rest did not originate with the Ten Commandments but rather goes back to the first week of Creation. To say that the necessity of keeping the Sabbath is not found in the New Testament is not supportable.  Jesus’ teachings about the Sabbath is found in several places and in every Gospel. From Matthew 12, Chantry points out the three types of work that Jesus taught are acceptable on the Sabbath. Traditionally these are classified as:

  1. Works of piety – activities that revolve around and focus on the worship and service of God.
  2. Works of necessity – activities that attend to ordinary human needs.
  3. Works of mercy – activities that help to relieve the suffering of others.

Some situations are pretty clear, but many others may be debatable (in which case we would do well to err on the side of generosity). We must allow others to be led according to their conscience, for we cannot judge the motives and attitudes of others. By way of personal example, my husband and I have always tried to be very careful not to make any commitments or sign our kids up for any sports or activities that we know would involve regular participation on Sundays. But a few years ago when we really needed an extra source of income, I applied for a job and put on my application that I didn’t want to work on Sundays. Unfortunately, in spite of that I was often scheduled to work on Sundays. Every week I’d look at the schedule, hoping to see that I wasn’t on for Sunday, and I regularly expressed to my manager my desire to have Sundays off. As a compromise, she often scheduled me to work the closing shift that day, which allowed me to at least attend morning worship service before rushing off to work. But it was a grief to me the entire year I worked there and was one of the main reasons that I spent about six months diligently job-searching before finally securing a new job that required me to work only Monday – Friday.

Using the parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15), Chantry illustrates that there is a right motive and wrong motive for obeying the moral law of God, including honoring the Sabbath. Thinking that by keeping God’s commandments and doing good works, we will earn God’s favor, can easily turn into an attitude of entitlement in which, like the older brother in the parable, we start to feel that we are more deserving of God’s love and blessing, and that God owes us something for our obedience and faithfulness. This is legalistic obedience. Chantry observes, “Saddest of all God’s creatures in the world is the religious person who has disciplined himself to outward obedience but who has no inward love to God.” In his excellent book All Things for Good, Thomas Watson says, “Duties not mingled with love are as burdensome to God as they are to us…To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.” Far better is the attitude of the true child of God who, in humility and out of love and gratitude for all he has done for him, is eager to do all the Father’s will and obeys with a heart that says, “I am an unprofitable servant. I have only done what it was my duty to do” (Luke 17:10). This is what Chantry refers to as evangelical obedience.

The last two chapters of the book are given to a discussion of which day is to be considered and set aside as the Christian Sabbath, and matters of conscience with regard to Sabbath behavior and activity. Chantry comments that it wasn’t the Lord’s desire, nor the New Testament writers or his, to provide a checklist of do’s and don’t’s for people to follow. The important thing is the heart attitude about what we choose to do and why.

Those who truly love the Lord will call his holy day ‘honorable’ and will honor it. It will be held in great esteem. The Sabbath is the highest of days because it belongs to the Lord in a special way. It is the day he has called his people into solemn but joyful assemblies. In these gatherings the Lord condescends to come down in special nearness to those who love him and seek him. Never must we think of the Sabbaths as bland or nothing-days. They are the most sacred of days.

What practices or habits have you developed that help you to honor the Lord’s Day and keep it special?
 

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