Monday, 3 April 2017

The Westminster Standards and the Christian Sabbath (Part 2)

It is an established principle and doctrine, that the first day of the week is the God-appointed day for public worship, but in recent decades this day has come under attack, so that many professing Christians worship in one service and probably give less than half of their day to worshipping the Living God. We worship God in the church by the command of God. The divine order for healthy Christianity is worship first and then service second (Matt 4:10). Though all life is to be lived for the glory of God, all of life is not worship. Worship is a conscious act, one to be practiced especially in the corporate setting in the church, on the day appointed by the Son of God. R. Scott Clark rightly contends against the contemporary church and he asks the question: “Whatever happened to the second service?”. Quite simply the Lord commands us to set apart as holy, the whole of the Lord’s Day and two services enables us to structure our day for worship and spiritual nourishment. Do not forget that from a biblical perspective, that preaching is the high point of worship, not singing. In the act of the preaching of sound doctrine, the Lord addresses us and we respond back with prayer and singing.

We are as Christians to be renewed in repentance and faith through our Christian lives. The Word of God comes and shakes our opinions, the Holy Spirit persuades us of the truth and we are then brought to a crossroads where we then respond by either hardening ourselves against the truth or by submitting to it. I fully expect that some people reading this essay will have their consciences awakened to realise their spiritual duties, but also to acknowledge what they are missing out on by not taking the Lord’s Day as the gift from God to them. When we read Isaiah 58:13-14 “… and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth … for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”; these verses should make more sense. A changed mind persuaded by the truth of the written Scriptures, should lead to a change in our doctrine, which should lead to a changed life.

Before we hear the writing of the Puritan George Swinnock, one who is exuberant on the practice and preparation for the Lord’s Day by Christians, let me recommend further reading for study. The Westminster Standards are deliberately placed at the front of this book. We want Christians to read them. I would like to point you to specific points that you can turn to for further study. I suggest that your starting point should be Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession called “Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day”. 21:7 and 8 specifically explain the Christian Sabbath, with abundant scriptural proof texts to follow up with. The Westminster Larger Catechism devotes no less than seven questions to teaching the Christian Sabbath from the Fourth Commandment (questions 115-121).

Similarly the Westminster Shorter Catechism devotes 6 questions to the same truth (questions 57-62). This should provide a solid avenue for further study and do pray for the Holy Spirit to instruct you in the process (Psalm 119:18). Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686), another English Puritan wrote well, when he stated that “this commandment was engraved in stone by God’s own finger, and it will be our comfort to have it engraved on our hearts”. May we learn of Christ, the one who delighted in each of his sabbaths through his life.

The Seventeenth Century English Puritans excelled in their teaching on the Christian Sabbath. They wrote with clarity, pastoral warmth and a burning love for the honour of the Triune God and the head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ. One such author on this subject was the Puritan pastor George Swinnock (1627-1673). In the first volume of his later published Works, he wrote on “The Christian Man’s Calling” to expound the much neglected theme of godliness. He expounds 1 Timothy 4:7: “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness”. Swinnock then proceeds to lay out pastorally and in detail, what godliness looks like in practice. He devotes a whole chapter on: “How to exercise ourselves to godliness on a Lord’s Day”.

This essay is taken from an excerpt from that particular chapter. He works out his ideas with eight propositions, but we have only included the first proposition (and put this in to modern English). This first proposition connects to the two questions and answers from the Westminster Larger Catechism cited above. Most especially Question 117, in that “we are to prepare our hearts, with such foresight, diligence and moderation” for the Christian Sabbath. It is to the pastoral detriment of the church, in my opinion, when such teaching is hidden from Christians. It is our hope that Swinnock’s passion and pastoral gifts, will stimulate a further recovery of a delighting in the Christian Sabbath (Isaiah 58:13-14) in our own generation. It was Swinnock who probably coined this phrase: The Lord’s Day is “the market-day for your soul” and it is here in this excerpt below, that he expounds this delightful metaphor. It is my intention that this introductory essay and Swinnock’s teaching as well, will “whet our appetite" to more fully enjoy our Sabbaths as “stepping stones” on our journey towards heaven.

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