“The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”
But the sabbath was not made so that man could have an holiday. It was made for man as he came forth from God’s hands in righteousness and holiness. It was not made for sinful man to use in the way of his flesh. Yet the words of Jesus in the text quoted above are often used as an excuse for all kinds of deeds of the flesh. The sabbath was made for the believer, the regenerated child of God, that he might have an holy day.
A holiday and a holy day have this in common that they are both days set aside and made to be distinct from the other days of the week. The holiday is a day set aside by the proclamation of man and for man’s earthly and fleshly satisfaction. It is a day when he gets off from his regular work and sweat of his brow(?) whereby he earns his daily bread. It is a day given to him by man so that he can pursue the satisfaction of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It is a day of rejoicing in carnal, material, earthly matters. It is a day wherein he can show to himself and to the world how much he belongs to the group of those that are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. A holiday has no spiritual content except that which we put into it.
A holy day is one set aside by God wherein we may perform spiritual work unhindered by the labor and toil of our natural lives. It is a day, and that is particularly true of the sabbath as an holy day, given him that he may enter into and enjoy the things of God’s kingdom. It is a day for intense and concentrated activity rather than idleness and sleep. In fact, let us not fail to take note of the fact that it is a DAY! And it is an holy day. We may not make full use of the day. We may be satisfied to use the very smallest fraction of it and complain if we are required to make longer use of it. But that does not change the fact that IT IS an holy, day. It is by God’s decree and by God’s command unto us. And it is holy. Nothing in all the world can change that. All of our unholy practices on the day do not change it at all. All the bold and open desecration of it by the world does not take away from its holiness in the life of the regenerated child of God, but only serves to accentuate it in his life and mind.
Where do you stand as far as the Sabbath is concerned?
Or better still, where are you found standing on the Sabbath?
How sincerely can we say with the psalmist, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord?” If we had to write a Psalm and express our true disposition of mind, would we not write? “I was glad when it was all over, that I might return home?” Are we not like the little boy who was asked how he liked church, when he returned from his first church service, and replied, “The singing was good, but the commercial was too long?” And then when the service is over, the whole long afternoon and evening is made for man to use for the earthly pursuits and lusts of man?
Here is one commandment which, by deeds, if we dare not say it with the lips, we consider outdated, not relevant to our times, old-fashioned and meant for another generation gone by. Although God with His finger cut the words also of this commandment into the granite to signify that which time would not wear away, man has succeeded, at least in his mind, to wear the granite smooth so that the fourth commandment is gone! It is not there for you and me to read anymore. The other nine are left, but they also are badly worn and in places hard to read.
Could it be that our eyes are going bad instead?
Could it be that the pleasures and treasures of this world shine so brightly that our eyes are dazzled and cannot adjust themselves to focus upon God’s law? Is it that we are so busy with the things of the flesh during the days from Monday through Saturday, and even late Saturday night until the wee hours of Sunday morning, that we cannot read the fine print not only of that law but that the words of God in the fourth commandment particularly seem to disappear—though they actually stand there in bold relief? Well, before we begin to defend our eyesight and find fault with the law, let it be stated that God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever according to Hebrews 13:8;Hebrews 1:12; Malachi 3:6, among many other passages. And it is so often because we have our eyes on the world and the things of the world, which in I John 2:15-17 we are warned not to love, that we have(?) to travel and perform deeds on the Sabbath, lest these material things and our pursuit of them suffer.
No, during the week we do not have the time. During the week it would cost us something of this earth’s goods. And so the Sabbath becomes the holiday that our flesh would not let us take during the week. The holy day becomes a few moments of hurried worship cut short for the sake of the flesh, and the hay becomes for the greater part—if indeed our minds even during the short service were not already on what we intend to do for the flesh—an holiday! Meanwhile God has not changed, who declares, “Love ME! And show this on the Sabbath!”
We are not interested in becoming legalistic. Do not bring up that accusation. But we are emphatic when we say that our Sabbath conduct reveals the measure of our love of God. We are stressing the point that a child of God is pictured in Psalm 27:4—and then a New Testament child as well as an Old Testament child of God—when the psalmist says, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple.” How strange even those words sound. We sing it, O yes, in our services of divine worship we sing:
My one request has been
And still this prayer I raise,
That I may dwell within
God’s house through all my days,
Jehovah’s beauty to admire,
And in His temple to inquire.
But do we mean it and do we live that way? Does our action and attitude on the Sabbath as well as during the week show this? Without treating the text itself but using it to bring out the point expressed in our theme above, there are elements here that need stressing. The psalmist speaks of ONE request; and that means that all the desires which he has are controlled by that desire. He SEEKS after it, or as the Psalter versification, he still prays this. He comes to the living God with this prayer. That is how sincere he is and how much he means it. You can tell people that. O, yes, we are glad that we can go to church. We are thankful for the preaching of the Word. We are ready to defend our doctrine—and clamor perhaps for practical preaching, provided it does not find fault with our Sabbath conduct. But the test is whether we tell God these things in prayer and sincerely thank Him and ask Him for these. We support it financially and are liberal givers. But are we moral supporters of that preaching and of activities on the Sabbath that show that it is not an holiday for us but an holy day? If you love God, the keeping of the fourth commandment is not difficult at all. For that reason we said that our Sabbath conduct—what we allow and what we disallow, where we go and from what we will stay away—reveals the measure of our love to God.
Are we a peculiar people, or are we more and more becoming a worldly people? Are we a royal priesthood of God, or are we in the service of the kingdom of darkness on the Sabbath? Is our rest a peculiar rest of a peculiar people? Or does this word even have an unpleasant sound in our ears? We do not want to be a different and distinct people. We do not want the world to see that we are different from them and that we are pilgrims and strangers here below. And so their holiday crowds more and more into our holy day in our hearts and lives.
All this, of course, belongs to the development of sin. But it also belongs therefore to the evils that make it necessary for the days to be shortened, lest even the elect of God would be deceived. James tells us, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” Apply that here! The same God Who said, “Thou shalt not kill,” said also, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” If now thou dost not kill but makest the Sabbath a holiday, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” If in murder you show no love toward God, in Sabbath desecration you surely also show no love to Him. And if we love Him, the day is not long enough to fill it with service and praise to Him. Therefore, once again, we said that we can test the measure of our love to Him by observing ourselves on the Sabbath. Holiday or holy day, what is it in our lives? Well, in that measure you do not or do love God. In all those moments when it becomes a holiday for us, God is not in that day for us; and we are not performing a work of love.
Who is sufficient for all these things? How that law shows us that we can never, no never be saved by our works and that none of us is ready to enter into the kingdom. It shows also why we enter the kingdom through death, when God takes away all that flesh with its lusts and sin. The old man of sin does not enter the kingdom; and death brings an awful and sudden end to his holiday. But the new man of Christ enters, for he is the one who has this one desire and seeks after it.
It is only because God has prepared the rest that remaineth for the children of God that we will enter into that rest. It is not of our manufacture. It is not that we deserve it, and the whole idea of the law is not to show us how we can become worthy of entering into that rest. No law ever shows the sinner how to make himself righteous. The law God gave to Adam in paradise taught him how to retain his righteousness. That purpose the law still serves today. Because God made Him to be sin for us Who knew no sin and made us to be righteous in Him, the law shows us how to walk to be righteous. But the law will never show the sinner how to get rid of his guilt and to make himself righteous before God. The cross does that. The gospel points to the Rest giver and the rest which He prepared. But the law serves to show us how sinful we are and in need of that Saviour. The law shows us that it is not of him that willeth,—nor of him that runneth, but of God Who showeth mercy.
And as the vine bears fruit on the branches and living branches will always bear fruit from the root, so the regenerated and engrafted child of God will keep the law and have a holy day while the world celebrates its weekly holiday. It is the fear of the Lord that makes the difference between his Sabbath and the Sabbath of the world. Examine your life, then, and examine your Sabbath. And listen to the psalmist whose heart was renewed to love God:
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand (elsewhere). I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.Psalm 84:10
That is the alternative. On the Sabbath, by all means, it is dwelling in God’s house or in the tents of wickedness. In the tents of wickedness you can have a holiday for a little while until the judgment day. In his fear you have a holy day of joy that grows in its blessedness even when you are but a doorkeeper in this life.