“Equally true it is that what is good and according to God’s law on Monday is good and according to His law on the Sabbath.”
So we wrote in the February 1 issue of the Standard Bearer.
We pause briefly in our consideration of how positively to observe the Sabbath in His fear, as we began to do in the last issue, to say a few more things about the above statement.
There may be need for this. At least it was brought to our attention that there might for some be need of clarification.
We want to make sure that the sentence taken all by itself out of the paragraph and out of the whole series on “The Sabbath In His Fear” is not used to overthrow all that which we have thus far written. We did not write the statement above about the Sabbath and Monday’s works to open a back door to all manner of activity on the Sabbath after tightly padlocking the front door.
The fact cannot be denied that there are times when we all perform works on the Sabbath which we condemn when they are executed by the world on the Sabbath; and we perform them convinced that we did so because we interpreted the Sabbath as Jesus did: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”
We would not go fishing on the Sabbath; and we condemn it as an act of unbelief in the countless number of the world who wait for the Sabbath exactly for such pleasure seeking. However, we would not deny the youth of our church who are serving in the armed forces of our country and who might be forced down in a forsaken part of our country on late Saturday afternoon, because of plane engine failure or the like, to fish on the Sabbath morning in order to try to obtain some food for the day. We would not insist that to fish—which is good and according to God’s law on Monday—is forbidden them and that God ordains that, though He has brought them down by a stream with plenty of fish, He insists that they go without food all that day. Jesus defended His disciples who picked corn to eat as they walked through the fields. Catching fish, which is good and according to God’s law on Monday is good and according to God’s law on, the Sabbath also.
With no need to catch fish for the necessities of our body for that day, with plenty of other food on hand, going out to fish would mean that we sin against the Holy God; but not because it is sinful to fish on the Sabbath. The sin is not one of fishing. The sin is that of using the day for a purpose for which it had not been given by God in His grace and of not using it for the purpose for which He did give it. The sin is that one of which Paul speaks to Timothy and tells him that we can expect these things in the time in which we live—it was not manifested so clearly and boldly in the Church at that time!—that men are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” II Timothy 3:4. Our sin, then, is that by our fishing or whatever earthly pleasure we seek, we say to God that we deem this more important than to worship Him in His sanctuary, that we consider the things of this present life more enjoyable and more worth our time and effort than the salvation He has prepared for His people. The sin, is not in the activity as such that we are engaged in on that day but in our purpose and motive in seeking it.
We buy on the Sabbath when it becomes essential. We buy gasoline when we receive word that a loved one is dying in a distant city. We buy a train ticket, a bus or a plane ticket when it becomes essential to being with such as loved one before he is taken away from us. We buy and sell medicine. We buy electricity, though we pay for it on another day. We hire men to work for us that we may broadcast the gospel over the air on the Sabbath.
In all this it becomes evident that what is good and according to God’s law on Monday is also good and according to His law on the Sabbath. We sin when we do these things on the Sabbath when the motive for doing them is wrong. That is what always determines whether a deed is wrong or right in God’s sight. There are works that are in themselves wicked because they can have no good motive. One cannot bow down before an idol with a righteous motive. That is always a wrong deed. Even works that outwardly seem evil can be according to God’s law and good in His sight. The man who closes the switch so that the payer flows into the electric chair to kill the man sentenced to death by the earthly judge is not necessarily violating the sixth commandment which says: “Thou shalt not kill.” If this motive is personal revenge upon the man whom he is called to execute, it is murder. If he does it simply as a mandate from the authorities without any malice in his heart for the man he kills, he is innocent of his murder seven though it might be proven later on that the man was not guilty of the crime for which he was executed. That holds true also for the judge who sentenced him when all things pointed to him as the guilty one. If he erred because the man had nothing to prove his innocency, the judge has not committed murder.
With every sin it is always a question as to the motive in the heart. Many works which we judged to be good may be revealed td be very evil in the day of judgment when God reveals the secrets of the hearts of all men. Many of the things we condemned, because we did not see the motive, may also be revealed as having been pleasing in God’s sight. Even the disciples were rebuked by Jesus when they objected to the women presenting their babes to Jesus to have them blessed. Many a man (and prophet) was considered to be a child of the devil because he defended the truth, rebuked men for their sins or spoke a word of warning to others against their ruin. As we said, certain deeds can never be good in God’s sight—whether committed on the Sabbath or on any day in the week—because they can have no good motive. There never is a righteous motive for denying God His glory. Nevertheless, the motive determines whether the deed is good in God’s sight or not. When we try to make a list of what we may do and what we may not do on the Sabbath, therefore, we will have to determine what works can and what works cannot have a good motive for performance on the Sabbath. The Sabbath being by God’s sovereign appointment a special day in the week we will have to bear that in mind when we speak of the proper motive for a work on that day.
All this does not mean that the Sabbath is a dull, gloomy day in which we must be sure that not as much as a smile forms upon our faces and must be sure that we have not had joy or pleasure on that day. It is not as the Quaker pastor once gave advice and answer to the question whether one might take a walk on the Sabbath: “Yes, but be sure that you do not enjoy yourself.” Surely we are not to assume that on the Sabbath we may not enjoy and find pleasure in the same food that the day before had such a delicious taste. Our food does not suddenly begin to lose its flavor when the Sabbath rolls around. God does not want it to taste dull and flat on that day. We may have that pleasure on the Sabbath. Receiving it with thanksgiving and remembering the Lord Who gave it and Who put that delicious flavor in it in a marvelous way we surely may enjoy it. For that reason He gave it and put that flavor in it. Walking through His creation conscious of His power and wisdom, His beauty and order we certainly may enjoy our walk.
Because it is the motive behind the work whichalways determines whether the deed is sinful or not, we hesitated and refrained from setting down a list of what actions are living on the Sabbath in His fear and which are not. We will instead list two categories in which the works which are sinful because they can have no good motive and leave it up to the readers to, judge their own deeds according to their motives. In the first category we place all those deeds which we perform instead of frequenting the church of God to hear His word, to use the sacraments and publicly to call upon Him when He has not taken the possibility away from us. Let it be added that when God has not made us sick. has not made it essential that we stay with the sick or babes, when God has not blocked the roads with snow or in some other way closed the physical way to His sanctuary or in some other way made it undeniably plain that He wants us -elsewhere, we cannot have a good motive for the things which we do instead. In fact it may be stated unequivocally that then you do not frequent His house because you have an evil motive in your mind.
Let it be understood that we are writing about the Sabbath in His fear. It is not a question as to whether we can persuade men to believe that we have a good reason and therefore a good motive for staying away from divine services. You can always find a “church” that will agree with you. You can, without too much difficulty find a “church” that has three months vacation during the summer months In fact you can even find “churches” which will never bother you even if you never again appear for worship with them on the Sabbath and still retain you as a member in good standing. However, it is the Sabbath in His fear that has our interest. A Sabbath in the fear of man is not even worthy of the effort of any thought on the matter. The motive must be one of which God can and does approve.
In the second category we place all those works which reveal that we make the Sabbath a holiday and a day for doing the things for which we would not take time during the week and whereby we to any degree choke the word that was heard and was preached.
It is quite contrary to the whsle exposition of the Law as we find it in the Heidelberg, Catechism to accuse our fathers of teaching that if we attend the services on the Sabbath we have kept the day and now have the rest of the day for the flesh. In the sixth, seventh and eighth commandments especially, the Catechism strongly emphasizes the spirit of the law as well as the letter. It is certainly doing our Fathers an injustice to maintain that all they had in mind when they approved of this answer in Lord’s Day thirty-eight is that in accordance with the letter of the answer all that is required of us is that we attend the services to perform the things which are then listed. Had they been confronted at that time with all the godless entertainment which lures the church on the Sabbath as well as on the week days, we may be sure they would have indicated a holy indignation for all these things especially on the Sabbath. Likewise is it entirely out of line and contrary to the very thing that is stated in this answer. Frequenting God’s church to hear His word and these godless entertainments are so in conflict with each other that it may safely be said that we, have not heard and enjoyed that word if we can rush home to revel in the godless entertainment of the radio and television program.
Next time, D.V., we will continue where we left off as to the positive living in His fear on the Sabbath and will have opportunity to say more about these things wherein we make a holiday out of the holy day in connection with what we ought to do. We, therefore, can let the matter rest for now and continue next time more positively.