On the Plains of Moab Blog
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October 10, 2016, 8:45 AM

"The Market-Day of the Soul"


Philip Graham Ryken, in his insightful exposition of the Ten Commandments, in particular, the Fourth, noted that the Puritans saw a focus in Scripture on worship which led them “to refer to the Sabbath as ‘the market-day of the soul.’ Whereas the other six days of the week are for ordinary commerce, this is the day [devoted] to transacting our spiritual business, trading in the currency of heaven.” (Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis, P&R, 2003. p.105)

Another Puritan, Richard Baxter, described appropriate behavior for the day with this understanding: “Rise early on Sunday morning; pray in private; have family devotions; go to church (and do not sleep in church); after returning home, while the noon meal is being prepared, pray in private and review everything said in church; enjoy a festive meal with conversation about the love of our Redeemer or something fitting for Sunday; after the meal, gather as a family for a psalm or for singing and instruction; go to church once more; come home and gather as a family to call upon God in prayer and song and to [discuss] the sermon; thereafter eat, but not too much, just as at noon; after the evening meal, question the children and servants about what they learned during the day; sing a psalm and conclude with prayer; and end the day with holy thoughts!” (From The Reformed Pastor).

Yet another Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, put it this way, “To do servile work on the Sabbath shows an irreligious heart, and greatly offends God. To do secular work on this day is to follow the devil’s plough; it is to debase the soul. God made this day on purpose to raise the heart to heaven, to converse with him, to do angels’ work; and to be employed in earthly work is to degrade the soul of its honour.” (The Ten Commandments. 1692; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965. p.99).

Our Westminster Confession reflects this Puritan understanding of complete rest in the Fourth Commandment: The Sabbath is kept holy unto the Lord when men prepare their hearts for it; arrange for their daily affairs to be taken care of beforehand; rest the whole day from their own works and words, and from thoughts about their worldly activities and recreations; and take up the whole time in public and private worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (WCF 21.8).

Yesterday, I latched onto the Heidelberg Catechism answer to Question 103 to steer the understanding of the commandment from a ceasing-from-all-activity application to a more theological awakening call. What does God require in the fourth commandment? The second part of the Heidelberg answer goes like this: That I cease from my evil works all the days of my life, allow the Lord to work in me through his Spirit, and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.

The key to yesterday’s sermon is that the Sabbath command was given as a foreshadow of what God would do in His Son. Jesus brings Sabbath. Jesus fulfills the Sabbath. Therefore, I see the Day as a joy for what it teaches us about our God and the salvation He brings; I do not see it as a do-and-don’t-do burden. It makes me want to devote myself to worship on the Lord's Day! (And, by the way, I am indeed on vacation this week, and on Sunday, though I will not be at New Life, I will be in another house of worship, worshiping with other brothers and sisters in the Lord. I do not take a vacation from the Lord's Day. Ever.)

I used several passages yesterday from the NT to demonstrate that Christians are no longer under the heavy burden of Sabbath observance and certainly not the extra legal minutiae cooked up by the Pharisees and scribes. There are no ecclesiastical penalties for breaking Sabbath observance. (i.e. We don't carry out the death penalty on church members who play hooky from church.) The Sabbath has become the Lord’s Day. It is a day of liberty and freedom in Christ. (cf. Matt. 11-12; Heb. 4; Col. 2:16-17).

I even threw out some examples of what you can do on the Lord’s Day, like going out to eat. Or going to work – if required by your employer. Even watching a football game, and so on… Those activities can fit into the Lord’s Day without sinning. However, the operative word is CAN. You can. However, the Lord’s Day, I maintain, should be different. I think the day should be heavily flavored by worship. God’s people ought to desire to meet together on the first day of the week. The day is best given over to rest, if you can. Christians will think and live out the day differently from their neighbor who does not claim Jesus.

All that said to say this: We need to wrestle with that tension as we figure out how to honor the Lord on His Day. Liberty and gratitude. Happy wrestling, and see you on the Lord’s Day.

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