John Thomson on What it Means to Remember the Sabbath Day

John Thomson (1690-1753) was an important early Irish-American Presbyterian minister who served as a missionary in Virginia and North Carolina. He was the primary author of the 1729 Adopting Act. His commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism was the first Presbyterian book ever published in the Southern United States (in Williamsburg, Virginia). 

In this commentary, Thomson includes an extended discussion of what it means to remember the Sabbath Day, which itself is worth remembering today. 

John Thomson, An Explication of the Shorter Catechism, Composed by the Assembly of Divines (1749), pp. 116-117 on WSC #60 ("How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?"):

Q. 8. What is imported in remembering the Sabbath Day?

A. It imports a remembering of God's Command to keep it. 

Q. 9. When should we remember it? 

A. We should remember it before it comes, when it is come, and after it is past. 

Q. 10. How should we remember it before it comes? 

A. By preparing our Hearts for it, and the Duties of it; and by a prudent ordering all our worldly Affairs, so as they may least hinder or distract us in our Sabbath's Work when it comes. Neh. 13.19, 21.

Q. 11. How should we remember the Sabbath when it comes? 

A. By a diligent, sincere and serious addressing ourselves to the successive Performance of all the Duties of the Day in Season and due Order; and a watchful guarding against every Thing that may hinder, interrupt or distract us in or from these Duties. Isai. 58.13.

Q. 12. How should we remember the Sabbath after it is past? 

A. By serious Meditation on these Subjects which we were employ'd about during the Sabbath; and by a penitent Reflection on our short-comings, together with a sincere Resolution to be more watchful and punctual in sanctifying succeeding Sabbaths. 

Directions for Observance of the Lord's Day

In his Brief Compend of Bible Truth (1846), pp. 191-193, Archibald Alexander gives five directions to guide the Christian in the proper observance of the Lord's Day, or Christian Sabbath, which merit repeating today. 

"1. Let the whole day be consecrated to the service of God, especially in acts of worship, public and private. This weekly recess from worldly cares and avocations, affords a precious opportunity for the study of God's word, and for the examination of our own hearts. Rise early, and let your first thoughts and aspirations be directed to heaven. Meditate much and profoundly on divine things, and endeavour to acquire a degree of spirituality on this day which will abide with you through the whole week.

2. Consider the Lord's day an honour and delight. Let your heart be elevated in holy joy, and your lips be employed in the high praises of God. This day more resembles heaven, than any other portion of our time; and we should endeavour to imitate the worship of heaven, according to that petition of the Lord's prayer — 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' Never permit the idea to enter your mind, that the sabbath is a burden. It is a sad case, when professing Christians are weary of this sacred rest, and say, like some of old,  'When will the sabbath be gone, that we may sell corn, and set forth wheat?' As you improve this day, so probably will you be prospered all the week.

3. Avoid undue rigour, and Pharisaic scrupulosity; for nothing renders the Lord's day more odious. Still keep in view the great end of its institution; and remember that the sabbath was instituted for the benefit of man, and not to be a galling yoke. The cessation from worldly business and labour is not for its own sake, as if there was any thing morally good in inaction, but we are called off from secular pursuits on this day, that we may have a portion of our time to devote uninterruptedly to the worship of God. Let every thing then be so arranged in your household, beforehand, that there may be no interruption to religious duties, and to attendance on the means of grace. There was undoubtedly a rigour in the law of the sabbath, as given to the Jews, which did not exist before; and which does not apply to Christians. They were forbidden to kindle a fire, or to go out of their place on the sabbath; and for gathering a few sticks, a presumptuous transgressor was stoned to death. These regulations are not now in force.

As divine knowledge is the richest acquisition within our reach, and as this knowledge is to be found in the word of God, let us value this day, as affording all persons an opportunity of hearing and reading the word. And as the fourth commandment requires the heads of families to cause the sabbath to be observed by all under their control, or within their gates, it is very important that domestic and culinary arrangements should be so ordered, that servants and domestics should not be deprived of the opportunity of attending on the word and worship of God which this day affords, by being employed in preparing superfluous feasts, as is often the case. The sabbath is more valuable to the poor and unlearned than to others, because it is almost the only leisure which they have, and because means of public instruction are on that day afforded them by the preaching of the gospel. If we possess any measure of the true spirit of devotion, this sacred day will be most welcome to our hearts; and we will rejoice when they say, 'Let us go unto the house of the Lord.' To such a soul, the opportunity of enjoying spiritual communion with God will be valued above all price, and be esteemed as the richest privilege which creatures can enjoy upon earth.

4. Whilst you conscientiously follow your own sense of duty in the observance of the rest of the sabbath, be not ready to censure all who may differ from you in regard to minute particulars, which are not prescribed or commanded in the word of God. The Jews accused our Lord as a sabbath-breaker, on many occasions, and would have put him to death for a supposed violation of this law, had he not escaped out of their hands. Beware of indulging yourself in any practice which may have the effect of leading others to disregard the rest and sanctity of the sabbath. Let not your liberty in regard to what you think may be done, be a stumblingblock to cause weaker brethren to offend, or unnecessarily to give them pain, or to lead them to entertain an unfavourable opinion of your piety.

5. As, undoubtedly, the celebration of public worship and gaining divine instruction from the divine oracles, is the main object of the institution of the Christian sabbath, let all be careful to attend on the services of the sanctuary on this day. And let the heart be prepared by previous prayer and meditation for a participation in public worship, and while in the more immediate presence of the Divine Majesty, let all the people fear before him, and with reverence adore and praise his holy name. Let all vanity, and curious gazing, and slothfulness, be banished from the house of God. Let every heart be lifted up on entering the sanctuary, and let the thoughts be carefully restrained from wandering on foolish or worldly objects, and resolutely recalled when they have begun to go astray. Let brotherly love be cherished, when joining with others in the worship of God."

A. A. Hodge's "The Day Changed and the Sabbath Preserved"

Archibald Alexander Hodge's pamphlet, "The Day Changed and the Sabbath Preserved," is a brief yet powerful argument for the permanence of the Sabbath commandment in both old and new covenant administrations of the covenant of grace. If you've never seen a copy of the original pamphlet, you can find it on the Log College Press website

In the space of 22 small pages, Hodge states the grounds on which the church has held that the fourth commandment is a part of the unending moral law, and that the first day of the week has been substituted for the seventh day by the authority of Christ's apostles (and therefore of Jesus Himself). Here are his points, which he unpacks in sufficient detail given the scope of his work:

1. The particular day of the week on which the Sabbath was to be kept never was, or could be, of the essence of the institution itself.

2. The introduction of a new dispensation, in which a preparatory and particularistic national system is to be replaced by a permanent and universal one, embracing all nations to the end of time, is a suitable occasion to switch the day.

3. The amazing fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus on the first day of the week constitutes an evidently adequate reason for appointing that in the stead of the seventh day to be the Christian Sabbath.

4. During his life Jesus had affirmed that he was "Lord also of the Sabbath day."

5. From the time of John, who first gave the institution its best and most sacred title, "Lord's day," there is an unbroken and unexceptional chain of testimonies that the "first day of the week" was observed as the Christian's day of worship and rest. 

6. With this view the testimony of all the great Reformers and all historical branches of the modern Christian Church agree.

7. The change of the day by the apostolic church has thus been proved by historical testimony, to which much might be added if space permitted, but against which no counter-evidence exists. 

The strength of Hodge's pamphlet lies in that inclusion of historical testimony, both from the early church fathers and the Reformers. Hodge is aware that the Reformers made statements contradicting the view he is arguing for, but he contends that these statements, unguarded and unadvised as they were, were uttered in the context of the Romanists reasoning from the early church's altering a command of the decalogue to the power of Rome to impose obligations on Christians, even to the altering of divine laws. Hodge draws from the writings of the Reformers themselves to show that the Reformers spoke in accord with a right view of the Lord's Day as the Christian Sabbath in several places. 

In an age in which Sabbath keeping is ignored or anathema even amongst Christians, Hodge's pamphlet is an important piece of writing we are glad to made accessible again to the church.

Saturday Evening Retirement

Ashbel Green (1762-1848) in his Lectures on the [Westminster] Shorter Catechism, Vol. 2, p. 112, on the Fourth Commandment, after arguing in favor of midnight-to-midnight observance of the Christian Sabbath, or Lord's Day, offers this bit of wisdom regarding preparation for keeping the day holy: 

"As far as practicable, it will be well for you, my young friends, to adopt what I know has been the practice of some devout Christians; that is, to spend the evening of Saturday, as much as you conveniently can, in retirement from the world. The children of dissipation often spend it in parties of mirth and levity, or at theatres, or other places of carnal amusement; and they often add to their other sins, by an actual trespass on holy time. Take for yourselves an exactly opposite course. Whenever you can, so order your affairs that your worldly occupations on the evening preceding the Lord's day, may be of such a retired and peaceful kind, as to admit of serious meditation avoid promiscuous company altogether; let your associations at this time, be with the pious, and your conversation be on religious topics; or better still, if you can, spend a part at least of the evening, in religious reading and devout meditation. I am well aware that may are so circumstanced that a stated compliance with this advice will not be practicable; and I offer it, not as pointing out a prescribed duty, but as a matter of Christian prudence, with those who are favoured in providence to have their time in some degree at their voluntary disposal. Even our ordinary devotions, on secular days, will not usually be performed to the greatest advantage, unless they are preceded by a short space of recollected and serious thought. And it is highly desirable, with a view to the most profitable spending of holy time, to prepare for it, by getting our minds into a devoted frame. It is delightful in deed to the practical Christian, when the evening which precedes the Lord's day is so spent, that his very dreams become devout; and that he awakes in the morning on which his Saviour rose from the dead, with the aspirations of his mind going forth to Him, as he is now seated on his throne in the heavens, and with the whole soul attuned to the employments of the sacred hours of this blessed day." 

It's Friday, But Sunday's Coming!

It is never too early (or too late) in the week to prepare for the Lord's Day. One valuable 19th century Presbyterian work that aimed to assist both ministers and church members in preparing to make the most of the day apart by God for his worship is Gardiner Spring (1785-1873)'s The Power of the Pulpit; or, Thoughts Addressed to Christian Ministers and Those Who Hear Them (1854). 

It is full of counsel to preachers concerning the highest task to which they are called as God's ambassadors, stressing the importance of personal piety for ministers, and a reliance upon the Holy Spirit in the work of the ministry. Spring puts the utmost stress of the need to view preaching of the gospel from the pulpit as a minister's highest duty, and consequently, he also highlights the need for church members to pray for their pastors, to give diligence to the hearing of God's Word, and consider that God's Word is being proclaimed to them. There are duties of the pulpit for ministers, and duties of the people who are present to give ear to God's Word. The counsel that Spring offers in regards to both comes from an experienced minister and with pastoral concern for the exaltation of Christ in the pulpit and in the hearts of the people. Be sure to download this work and read over it prayerfully as you seek to make the most of your next Lord's Day.