Chapter 3: The Observance of the First Day
From the preceding it will be evident that it is important properly to observe the weekly sabbath, and that the desecration of that sabbath day is a sad sign of spiritual deterioration.
First of all, it will be plain that they who insist on the seventh day instead of the first day of the week are utterly in error, proceed from a wrong conception principally, and fail to understand the significance of the Christian sabbath.
This error is not to be found only ill the mistaken notion that one day is holier than the other. The error of the Seventh Day Adventist much rather consists in this, that he does not understand the progress of God’s work, and fails to see that God repeatedly spoke of another day. He does not understand that our sabbath consists principally in our entering into the work of God, which He perfected for us in Christ Jesus our Lord, and that therefore, if we must celebrate a special day at all, the Christian church, following Scripture, chose the first day as being the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Seventh Day Adventist insists on the sabbath of creation and of the day of shadows. He closes his eyes to the fact that God has provided some better thing for us.
The sabbath of creation is gone forever, and cannot possibly be celebrated by the Christian church. It was lost when man fell into sin and death.
The first paradise will never, and must never, return.
Moreover, the sabbath of the shadows was temporary, as are all the shadows. And the earthly land of Canaan is forever destroyed, to open up new vistas for the better, that is, the heavenly country. For this better country already the patriarchs of the old dispensation hoped, as they dwelt in the land of Canaan as in a strange country. For we read: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”. And again, in the same chapter, vss. 13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”
A better day has dawned. And the dawn of this better day the Seventh Day Adventist ignores, does not see. It dawned on the first day of the week, the resurrection day of the Lord, that gives us rest. Small wonder that the disciples from the outset met on that day. Small wonder, especially in the light of the fact that again on the first day of the week the risen, glorified Lord returned in the Spirit, and sanctified that day until His coming again in glory. On that first day of the week God entered into His rest through our Lord Jesus Christ, when He raised Him from the dead. On the first day of the week He spiritually bestowed that rest upon His church, which is the temple of God with men. It is on that day that the people of God celebrate the sabbath of the Lord their God.
From all that we have said about the sabbath of the Lord, it will also be self-evident that it is quite impossible to legislate the world into proper observance of the sabbath day. It is impossible for the unbelieving world to observe the sabbath of the Lord our God. I have no objection that proper legislation be passed, and that the already existing laws be enforced, pertaining to restriction of labor, business, traffic, and public amusements on Sunday. But at best such legislation may be conducive to create a better atmosphere for the people of God in the world to keep the weekly sabbath holy and to fill their minds and hearts with the things concerning the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, the ungodly cannot possibly celebrate the sabbath, even though they spend it in complete idleness and refraining from all labor. The sabbath is strictly a spiritual idea. The keeping of the sabbath is a high spiritual act, the expression of hope and faith on the part of the Christian sojourner in the midst of this present world. It is for this reason a very evil omen, a sign of apostasy, of a lack of spiritual life, of a sick faith and a waning hope, when they that call themselves Christians, that outwardly join the band of Christian pilgrims in the world, evince no longing to keep the sabbath properly, desecrate it, and more and more join the world, to follow after their own desires, speak their own words, and do their own evil works.
For the Christian is really a stranger and sojourner, a pilgrim in a strange country, because principally he entered into the sabbath of the Lord through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He is begotten again unto a lively hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When he is regenerated, he receives the beginning of that new and resurrection life of the Lord. He ceased from his labor and toil. He rests from sin and from the world and its evil works. And he becomes a new man, the citizen of another country, the heavenly, of the new Jerusalem, that will descend out of heaven from God in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. He lives the sabbath life. Hence, his whole life is a sabbatic life, a ceasing from sin, and an entering into the rest of God’s perfected covenant.
But in this world his life is a sojourner’s sabbath. For he still sojourns in Babylon. And in Babylon they do not know the sabbath of the Lord our God. They are aliens to the very idea of the sabbath, of the rest of God’s tabernacle. We need not be surprised, therefore, that in the world they devote the first day of the week to the pursuit of earthly and worldly things, of the things of the flesh. It is usually especially on the sabbath that all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, becomes emphatically manifest. But this is all the more reason why the Christian sojourner, living his sabbath life in the midst of the world, where he feels that he is a stranger, where he meets with Babylon’s opposition and reproach, where all things tend to draw him downward and to make it difficult for him to live his life of rest, shall long for the day of the Lord, the weekly sabbath, which the Lord in His great mercy provided for him, and shall insist to keep it holy. He shall not entertain the notion that by merely refraining from earthly labor he is observing the sabbath of the Lord. He shall not imagine that one day is holier than the other. The Phariseeistic view of the the sabbath is not his. But he shall as much as is in him desist from every earthly task, to remove from him mind and heart all earthly cares, in order that the whole day may be occupied only with the sabbath of the Lord; congregate with His people in His house diligently; meditate on His word; take hold of His promises; and let his whole conversation be in heaven.
“Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and his hand from doing any evil.”.
For even as this keeping of the sabbath is itself the expression of a healthy and vigorous spiritual life, of the lively hope unto which we are begotten again by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, so the proper observance of the weekly sabbath will bear the fruit that the believer individually and the church of Christ organically is strengthened in the most holy faith, quickened in the hope eternal, sustained and encouraged to cease from evil. Strengthened and quickened and encouraged by the proper observance of the weekly sabbath, the believer will yield himself to the Lord, to work by His Holy Spirit in Him. And he will be encouraged once more to take up his pilgrim’s staff and pursue his journey in the world, looking forward to the eternal rest that remaineth for the people of God.
Blessed is that man that doeth this, for he has the sure promise of the Lord: “My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.”
Lord’s Day 39
Q. 104. What doth God require in the fifth commandment?
A. That I show all honor, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.
Chapter 1: The Question of Authority
The fifth commandment introduces the second table of the law, which prescribes the fundamental principles that lie at the basis of the Christian’s life in relation to the neighbor. In this connection, it is well to be reminded of the fundamental truth that the basic principle of the whole law is the love of God, as the Lord teaches us in, in answer to a question by a lawyer: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Although, therefore, there are two tables of the law, the first dealing with our relation to God and the second with our relation to the neighbor, yet the entire law is one. The second table is based upon the first, and can never be separated from it. When the Lord teaches us in Matt. 22:38, 39 that the great commandment is the love of God, while the second commandment, concerning the love of the neighbor, is like unto the first, the meaning is, of course, that the love of God is the principle of the whole law and that without it there is no love of the neighbor possible. The latter is rooted in the love of God. It is evident, therefore, that the law requires that we love the neighbor for God’s sake. Only in this sense may we love the neighbor as ourselves. Just as the law requires that we love ourselves for God’s sake, so we must love the neighbor for His sake only. It is for God’s sake that we must love the neighbor in his relation of authority over us. And for His sake we must be obedient and submit to the authority. For God’s sake we must love the neighbor in his person, and preserve his life. For God’s sake we must love the neighbor in his marriage relation, and not commit adultery. For God’s sake we must love the neighbor in his earthly possessions. And for God’s sake we must love the neighbor in his name. This we must remember, lest in treating the second table of the law we preach to the Church of Jesus Christ a code of external precepts, which every man is able to fulfill.
This is a not uncommon error.
Preachers of the word, when they proclaim this second table of the law, not infrequently apply it to the world, to human society in general, instead of to the church of Christ. In that case the preaching of the law indeed becomes a matter of common grace, and the sermon becomes a matter of so-called civic righteousness.
It is strictly necessary, therefore, to maintain the principle that the second table of the law is rooted in and based on the first. In the world there is, of course, a certain outward morality, a certain external keeping of the second table of the law in favorable circumstances. By natural light the world understands very well that dissoluteness with regard to the law, especially with respect to the second table of the law, leads to self-destruction. They observe clearly that the keeping of the law is profitable for them. Hence, although they often fail in this respect, they make a desperate attempt to observe the precepts of the law, although, of course, not from the principle of the love of God nor for His sake. God is not in all their thoughts. But this is not the .purpose of the preaching of the law in the church of Jesus Christ. In the church the law is proclaimed as a guide in the midst of a sinful world for a life and walk of Christian gratitude to God. It is addressed to the believer, and not to the world in general. And therefore, we must remember from the outset that also the second table of the law is based on the love of God.
Now, the fifth commandment, which reads, “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,” stands at the very head of the series of precepts which together constitute the so-called second table of the law. This is but natural, and to be expected. For the fifth commandment deals with God’s will concerning the parental relationship in the home. And the family is the beginning, the basis, the root, of all the different relationships that exist and develop in the organism of the human race. From the home develops society and all the different relationships that are implied in that term. From the home also develops the institution of the state and all the different gradations of positions of authority which there are in the state as an institution. It is therefore quite logical and in harmony with the fundamental significance of the family that the fifth commandment should stand at the very head of all the precepts that deal with our relation to the neighbor.
It is also evident that the fifth commandment, as well as Scripture in general, considers the chief and fundamental relationship in the home, the primary principle on which the home is based, to be that of authority and obedience. With that principle that fifth commandment deals when it addresses the people of God of all ages with the injunction: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” And the Catechism explains that the fifth commandment applies not only to the home, but is equally applicable to every relationship of authority and obedience in human society. And therefore, we must first of all treat this problem of authority and of obedience and submission to that authority for God’s sake.
Let us notice that the fifth commandment does not say love but “honor” thy father and thy mother. In Lev. 19:3 this idea is even expressed more emphatically: “Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father.” When the Heidelberg Catechism explains this fifth commandment in the words, “That I show all honor, love and fidelity, to my father and mother,” the term “love” does not refer to natural love, but to spiritual, ethical respect that is rooted in the will and finds its deepest fountain in the heart of man. What is called parental and filial love is natural, not spiritual. There is nothing ethical in the natural love of a parent for his offspring, nor in the natural love of a child for its father and mother. Such love cannot even be a possible subject of a commandment. In this sense you cannot command a father and mother to love their children, or children to love their father and mother. This natural love belongs to the relation ship which is fundamentally increated. It is given in the blood relationship. It is not a question of the will, and therefore cannot be a matter of a commandment. In this sense even a dog loves its young, and even the puppies love their parent. Although, therefore, it is of significance that the honor and fear and respect that must be shown to the parents is connected with this natural love, in itself has no spiritual, ethical significance. It is true, of course, that according to Scripture sin can even corrupt and degenerate this natural love. Parents frequently forsake their children, even in infancy. And children not infrequently show a complete want of this natural love for their parents. But in this deterioration of the natural love between parents and children, the horribleness of sin becomes clearly manifest. But this natural feeling of attachment of parents to their children and children to their parents is based on the blood relationship, and is not rooted in the will. For this reason, children frequently shed bitter tears from the fount of this natural love at the grave of their parents which during their entire life they have neglected, disobeyed, and completely disregarded. The same is true of this natural love of parents for their children when they must carry them to the grave. They coddled and fondled them when they were infants. And when they grew up, they showed them an intensity of natural love, but nevertheless spoiled them and neglected to instruct them in the fear of the Lord. And lest we should imagine that the fifth commandment refers to this natural love, it does not say “love,” but “Honor thy father and thy mother.”
This is an entirely different conception. Natural love is based on the blood relationship. Spiritual, ethical love is rooted in the heart. Natural love is a matter of feeling. Spiritual, ethical love is a matter of the will. Natural love may very well go hand in hand with enmity against God. Spiritual, ethical love is rooted in the love of God. Natural love as such is devoid of grace, although some present it as a matter of “common grace.” But spiritual, ethical love is found only in him whose heart has been regenerated by the grace of God. A child, a young man or young woman, can be motivated by natural love without showing any honor or respect to his father or mother. But spiritual, ethical love respects father and mother and all that are in authority for God’s sake.