Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Glory of Biblical Worship

By Ryan M. McGraw
The glory and beauty of corporate worship in the New Testament consists in the presence and fellowship of the Triune God with his Church. When we love the Father, through and because of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, then it is natural to ask what pleases God in worship rather than what pleases us. God has revealed what pleases Him in Scripture only. For this reason, our love to God through Jesus Christ should lead us to frame our worship according to what He has required of us in Scripture alone. When we worship God according to His Word, we both express our love to Him who first loved us and gave us His only Begotten Son, and we have the joyful assurance of knowing that our worship is acceptable to Him and that He dwells in our midst.
I shall set forth briefly the glory and the beauty of biblical worship by examining from Scripture the purpose of worship, the principles of worship, the manner of worship, and then by drawing some doctrinal and practical conclusions.
The Purpose of Worship
The purpose of worship is to glorify the Triune God. This is the purpose for which we were created. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked in fellowship with God in the Garden in the “cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). Even prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve set aside one whole day in seven in order to rest from their God-given labors to worship and commune with God exclusively on the Sabbath (Gen. 2:3). The essence of their fall into sin was refusing to worship God or to “glorify Him as God” (Rom. 1:21). Instead of loving and humbly trusting in and submitting to His Word, they believed the lie of Satan and they set up their own judgment and will in the place of God’s. The purpose of our redemption in Jesus Christ is not merely to redeem our souls from the guilt and power of sin, but to seek people who will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24). Through a simple trust in His promises, the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ enables us to draw near to God in worship through “reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). In heaven, the original purpose of our creation shall be perfectly restored. We shall join with the twenty-four elders and an innumerable company of angels, with whom we shall worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit day and night without ceasing (Rev. 4-5).
When we think about worship, it is important to remember how we approach God. In Ephesians 2:18, the Apostle Paul provides and excellent summary: “through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”  This was the great Puritan theologian John Owen’s chosen text when he decided to preach upon the topic of corporate worship. Why did he choose a text in which the term worship was not even mentioned? The reason is that when we come to God in corporate worship, we must remember how we come to God in general. Corporate worship is the reason for our original creation, our highest privilege as Christians, and the highest goal of our redemption.  Perhaps the greatest blessing of the gospel is to call upon God the Father as our God and our Father. “As many as received Him, to them he gave the right to be become the children of God” (Jn. 1:12). “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God!” (1 Jn. 3:1). Yet no one comes to the Father except by means of the Son (Jn. 14:6). In turn, no one confesses that Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 12:3). Whenever we approach God, we always approach the Father through faith in Jesus Christ, by the regenerating and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This means that every communication of grace and fellowship from God to us comes through “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:14). Ephesians 2:18 shows how we in turn approach God: by the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. Every exchange between God and your soul recognizes that the God whom you worship and serve is Triune.
The purpose of our worship is to glorify and to enjoy the Triune God, but we can do this by means of His Word alone. The promise and love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit come to our souls by means of Holy Scripture. In Romans 10:14-17, the Apostle Paul asked a series of questions demonstrating our dependence upon the Word of God for salvation: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? . . . So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”  Without the Scriptures, we would be “without Christ . . . having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We are more dependent upon the Word of God for the lives of our souls than we are upon the food that is necessary for the lives of our bodies (Ps. 119). Without the Scriptures, we could not approach God through faith in Christ, since we would know neither Christ nor the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, without the Scriptures, worship would be impossible as well. If we cannot know God apart from His Word, if we are ignorant of His will and of His nature due to our sins, and if His Word alone teaches us how to approach Him and to serve Him, then should we not assume that His Word alone can teach us how we should worship Him?
When we gather together as a Church to worship the Triune God corporately, He manifests His presence in a peculiarly glorious manner.  Christ promises that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there in our midst (Matt. 18:20). Just as the Lord manifested Himself in his holy temple as He did in no other place on earth, so now He manifests himself most gloriously in His spiritual temple, which is comprised of living stones (1 Pet. 2:4-5). When the Church is gathered for corporate worship, even the non-believer shall fall on his face saying, “God is truly among you” (1 Cor. 12:25). For this reason, the Puritan minister David Clarkson once preached a famous sermon entitled, “Public Worship is to be Preferred Before Private.”
The Principles of Worship
The Scriptural principle of worship has often been referred to as the Regulative Principle of Worship. The Westminster Confession of Faith contains a classic statement of this principle: “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations or devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1). Another way to state this principle is to say: “Whatever God commands must be done. Whatever God forbids must not be done. Whatever God is silent about must not be done.”
This principle governing corporate worship is rooted in the Second Commandment. As Jesus demonstrated in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-26), each of the Ten Commandments is a subject heading which sets forth one example of a sin or duty that serves as the prototype of all similar sins and duties in the same category. “You shall not kill,” for Him meant that we must not harbor unjustified anger in our hearts, we must guard our speech, and we must pursue reconciliation with others. The first four commandments summarize our duties with respect to worship. The first commandment addresses the uniqueness of God as the object of worship. The second commandment is concerned with the form or manner in which we must worship God. The third commandment singles out our attitude towards the object of our worship. The fourth commandment designates the particular time that should be set aside exclusively for worship. By forbidding the worship of God by means of images, God is implicitly forbidding the worshiping of Him by any other way not appointed in His Word.
Deuteronomy 12:29-32 is a handy summary of the principles implied in the Second Commandment: “When the Lord cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them . . . that you do not inquire after their gods saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise. You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”  God’s people must not only refrain from worshiping other God’s, but they must not worship the Lord their God in the same manner that the nations worship their gods. The point is that the manner of God’s worship is limited to His revealed will. The culture around us has nothing to teach us concerning the worship of our God. To demonstrate this, God pointed to the horrific practice of child sacrifice in pagan worship in order to illustrate the depths of the blindness of the human heart when it comes to the worship of God. The Regulative Principle of Worship, as it is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, is virtually a paraphrase of this passage.
This principle of worship is not relegated to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the Second Commandment demanded animal sacrifices, temple worship, holy-days, and a priesthood. In the New Testament, the external forms of worship have passed away because they have been fulfilled through the Person and work of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 9-10), but the principle governing worship remains intact. On one occasion, Jesus criticized the Pharisees with respect to their service to God saying, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). The outward form of worship differ in the Old and New Testaments, but worship always has been and always shall be in vain whenever any aspect of it is based upon the commandments or ideas of men rather than upon the Word of God. In Colossians, the Apostle Paul referred to such practices as “self-imposed religion.”  “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom . . . but they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Col.2:23). On the other hand, to state these truths positively, when we limit our practices of worship to what God has revealed in Scripture, we have the joy and assurance of knowing that He shall accept our worship because He has chosen the way in which we ought to approach Him.
The Regulative Principle of Worship means that we ask what pleases God in our worship rather than what pleases the unbeliever. Dr. Joseph Pipa has illustrated this point vividly. On one occasion he was invited to a birthday party for a Dutch grandmother (“Oma”). Her party was marked by Dutch songs, Dutch foods, and Dutch customs that were foreign to Dr. Pipa. If the family changed the songs, foods, and customs in order to appeal to Dr. Pipa instead of Oma, then the question becomes, “Is the party for Oma, or for Dr. Pipa?” The Regulative Principle of Worship means that God’s likes and dislikes are the only ones that matter in our worship.
The Manner of Worship
This discussion raises the question, “What does New Testament worship look like?” The primary characteristic of New Testament worship is simplicity. Old Testament worship was complex, filled with many types and shadows by which the Person, work, and offices of the Christ who was to come were depicted (Col. 2:17). According to this passage, Christ was the body that was casting the shadow. When the body is present, then the shadow becomes obsolete. New Testament worship is Old Testament worship with all of its temporary elements removed. Instead of the complexity and external beauty of the temple, we have retained the Word centered simplicity of the synagogue. The glory of New Testament worship does not lie in ornate buildings, ostentatious clerical vestments, incense, sacrifices, dance, or drama, but in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ by His Word and Spirit. A simplified and more spiritual worship is suited to a simplified and more spiritual age. Our citizenship lies in heaven (Phil. 3:20), our lives are hidden there with Christ in God (Col. 3:3), and in our worship we are lifted up into heaven by the power of the Spirit as we enjoy fellowship with God along with an innumerable company of angels (Heb. 12:22-23). When we use the God-ordained elements of public worship, through faith in the promises of His presence, then we have discovered the true glory of biblical worship.
Our worship should not only be formed according to Scripture, but Scripture should be its basic content and characteristic. To borrow Terry Johnson’s description: “in worship we pray the Bible, sing the Bible, read the Bible, and preach the Bible and see the Bible (in the Sacraments)” (Reformed Worship, 34). If Sacraments are subsumed under preaching the Word, then every element of worship required by God falls under these four headings (the only exception being our corporate confession of faith, but we are commanded to do this in Scripture and our confession must be based upon Scripture). God has commanded the preaching of His Word by God-ordained officers (Rom. 10:14-17; 2 Tim. 4:2). Observing the Sacraments is both informed by and connected to the preaching of God’s Word by an ordained minister of the Gospel. Therefore, we should observe both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper when we “come together as a Church” (1 Cor. 11:18). The New Testament also required the Church to take up an offering every first day of the week, when they gathered together (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Paul required Timothy to give attention to the public reading of Scripture among his ministerial duties (1 Tim. 4:13). The call to worship and benediction are both applications of the public reading of the Word. Even though no one can flee from God’s presence (Ps. 139:7), the call to worship at the beginning of the service calls us to “come before His presence” (Ps. 100:2) in a special manner. The benediction is a promise to us from God to the effect that He will set His name upon us and bless us (Num. 6:27). Neither the call to worship nor the benediction should be our own words. God speaks to His people most directly through the public reading of Scripture. Nor should God’s benediction to us be replaced by a doxology, in which we offer praise to Him. Public prayer has occupied a prominent role in public worship in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., 1 Kings 8; Neh. 8; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:14-19). The book of Psalms was used in corporate worship in the Old Testament, and worshiping God in song is explicitly mandated in the New Testament (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Prayer and song are not only required as elements of our public worship, but our prayers and our songs should be based upon the prayers and songs that God has provided in His Word.
In a very real sense, we must regulate every aspect of our lives by Scripture (Deut. 4:2; Rom. 12:1-2). We must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), perform every word and deed in His name (Col. 3:17), and do whatsoever we do to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Does this mean that everything that is lawful to us in our lives in general is lawful in corporate worship as well? The answer is that Scripture must be applied appropriately in every context of life. The sixth commandment implies that we must take care of our health, which includes bathing ourselves. If we bathe ourselves in private, then we honor the commandment of God. However, if we bathe ourselves in public, then we break other commandments of God because the context in inappropriate. Some people advocate dancing in public worship, since dancing is permissible by God (Eccl. 3:4). Psalm 149 illustrates the different ways in which we must praise God in all of life. We must praise Him “in the assembly of saints” (v. 2). We must praise Him on our beds (v. 5). We must praise Him in our warfare (v. 6-9). So we must praise Him with the dance as well (v. 3). Bringing our beds into corporate worship or engaging in warfare during the sermon would not only be inappropriate, but absurd, if not wicked. So it is with respect to dancing. We must do all things to the glory of God, but this does not negate vital distinctions between corporate worship and everything else that we do. The question is not simply what pleases God in general, but what pleases God in our worship.
The questions that we ask regarding worship can reveal whether or not our principles are on the right track. If someone questions an aspect of the worship service of the church that you attend, do you respond by saying, “What is wrong with it?” The real question is, “Who has required this from your hand?” (Is. 1:12). The beauty of New Testament worship lies in its biblical simplicity and biblical content, coupled with the promise and the presence of God.
Doctrinal and Practical Conclusions
We know the Triune God only by means of the Gospel as He is revealed in Scripture. The purpose of worship is to glorify and to enjoy fellowship with God in three Persons. The nature of God, our position as creatures, our blindness as sinners, and the debt of gratitude we owe for the Gospel should lead us to worship God according to Scripture only, even if He had never explicitly commanded us to do so. When we worship God according to His Word, with hearts that are loyal to Him through faith, we have attained one of the most effective means of pursuing His glory and our own growth in grace. I conclude with the following seed thoughts for your edification:
  1. We must neither formulate our public worship for the non-believer or for the believer, but for God only. The question of importance is not what pleases us, but what pleases God in worship.
  2. Every element of worship involves our participation. If God speaks to us through preaching, then we must worship Him by our reverent and active hearing. We must not make the common mistake of speaking exclusively of singing as worship. Worship is a holy “dialogue” between God and our souls, in which alternately He speaks to us and we respond to Him. We must be active in every portion of the worship service.
  3. When worship is God-centered and follows God’s Word as its blueprint, then worship is truly evangelistic (1 Cor. 14:25). Is not the greatest need of the non-believer to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
  4. God-ordained worship is a means for pursuing revival for the Church. We must not expect the blessing of the Lord upon our own inventions and schemes. We must wait in faith for God to bless His own means of grace.
  5. Let us prepare ourselves for corporate worship throughout the week by worshiping God in private and with our families.
  6. Let us come to corporate worship with the expectation that God shall manifest His presence in our midst. Is it not possible that we have not seen more glory and beauty in the simple worship of the New Testament because we have not approached worship expecting God to reveal His glory to us? Let us take heart from His promises and let us gather together in faith!

Five Reasons why the Sabbath is Designed for Worship

By Ryan M. McGraw
Nearly every disagreement over Christian practice is the result of a fundamental disagreement over Christian principle. When the issue of Sabbath-keeping arises, Christians conflict over what constitutes keeping the Sabbath holy. The crux of the debate over what is lawful on the Sabbath and what is not is whether or not the purpose of the day is rest, considered in itself, or “spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 60). The manner in which you answer this question determines how you will answer every question respecting what thoughts, words, and works are appropriate on the Sabbath, as well as whether or not worldly recreations that are lawful on other days are also lawful on the Sabbath. If you believe that the purpose of the day is rest, then the emphasis of your Sabbath keeping will be upon activities that make you feel well rested. If, on the other hand, you believe that the purpose of the Sabbath is setting the day apart for corporate, private, and family worship, you will naturally seek to exclude all practices that are inconsistent with, or do not immediately promote worship. Five reasons why the ultimate purpose of the Sabbath day is worship rather than rest per se are the situation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the fact that God “sanctified” the Sabbath, the position of the Sabbath among the Ten Commandments, the character of the commands attached to Sabbath keeping, and the connection of the Sabbath to the hope of heaven.[1]

First, the situation in the Garden of Eden implies that the Sabbath was designed for worship and communion with God. The Sabbath was sanctified by God as soon as the sixth day of creation was completed (Gen. 2:1-3). The Ten Commandments remind us that the example set by God at that time constituted a permanent pattern for mankind. The Sabbath was given to Adam and Eve prior to the fall and initially had no respect either to sin or to redemption. It was not given as a type of Christ as the Redeemer, since there was no sin and death to be redeemed from, and it was not given as a type of a salvation, which was an irrelevant concept to an unfallen man and woman. In the Garden, Adam and Eve lived every day as worship and service to God, yet part of their joyful service was the labor that God had given them. When the Sabbath arrived, they had nothing left but direct acts of worship and communion with God. What more would a sinless man and woman have desired, and what other purpose could the Sabbath have served in paradise. 

The rest required on the Sabbath, even in paradise, cannot be equated with inactivity; it was not so in the case of God himself, who has never ceased to labor in his works of providence (John 5:17), and neither should it be in the case of his creatures as they imitate his rest. For this reason, Robert L. Reymond has observed, “‘rest’ cannot mean mere cessation from labor, much less recovery from fatigue. . . . ‘Rest’ then means involvement in new, in the sense of different, activity. It means cessation of the labor of the six days and the taking up of different labors appropriate to the Lord’s Day. What these labors of the Sabbath rest are is circumscribed by the accompanying phrase, ‘to the Lord.’ They certainly include both corporate and private acts of worship and the contemplation of the glory of God . . .”[2] We must also avoid the error of concluding that since we are called to live all of life to the glory of God (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 10:31), we may worship God on the Sabbath with every activity with which we may serve him on other days. John Murray exposed the absurdity of this position: “While it is true that we ought to serve the Lord every day and in all things we must not forget that there are different ways of serving God. We do not serve him by doing the same thing all the time. If we do that, we are either insane or notoriously perverse. There is a great variety in human vocation. If we neglect to observe that variation, we shall soon pay the cost.”[3]  This is patently obvious from the fact that we must engage in labor for six days to the glory of God (Col. 3:23), yet this act of “worship” is strictly forbidden on the Sabbath day. Surely Adam and Eve would have enjoyed the Sabbath as it was intended to be observed: as a day of uninterrupted direct worship and communion with God. For this reason, Murray added: 

There is release from the labors of the six days, but it is also release to the contemplation of the glory of God. Cessation from the labors of the week must itself have its source and ground in obedience to God, and the gratitude which is the motive and fruit of such obedience will minister to the worship which is the specific employment of the Sabbath rest. This is just saying that rest from weekly labors and the exercises of specific worship are inseparable and they mutually condition one another. It is a Sabbath of rest to the Lord; we cannot have the one without the other.[4]
It was the Pharisees who made the mistake of regarding the Sabbath primarily in terms of inactivity. The purpose of cessation from worldly employments on the Sabbath is to take up the entire time with the public and private exercises of God’s worship. Murray concluded: “Even in innocence man would have required time for specific worship. We are too ready to entertain the notion that religion in a state of sinless confirmed integrity would have required no institutions as the medium of expression. . . . Unfallen man would need to suspend his weekly labors in order to refresh himself with the exercises of concentrated worship.”[5]

Second, the fact that the Lord “sanctified” and “hallowed” the Sabbath day means that he set it apart for the purposes of worship.[6]  Leviticus 27 addresses the subject of people, animals, various objects, and offerings that were dedicated as “holy” to the Lord. These people and objects were dedicated to the service of the tabernacle, and were used in the worship and service of the Lord exclusively. Objects that were holy to the Lord belonged to the Lord in a peculiar manner. The Lord said, “No devoted offering that a man may devote to the Lord of all that he has, both man and beast, or the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted offering is most holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27:28). So when God sanctified the Sabbath and made it “holy,” he set it apart for worship exclusively. In other words, the operative phrase in the fourth commandment is, “keep it holy,” not, “you shall do no work.”  The error of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was in asserting that since “all the congregation is holy, every one of them” (Num. 16:3), no single group of men (in this case the Aaronic priests) could be regarded as dedicated to the worship and service of the Lord in a peculiar sense. Moses responded by asserting, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is his and who is holy, and will cause him to come near him” (v. 5). The Sabbath is distinguished from the other six days just as Aaron and his sons were distinguished from the rest of the congregation of Israel : the Sabbath is kept holy by dedicating it wholly and only to the worship and service of the Lord.

Third, the position of the fourth commandment among the Ten Commandments points to an emphasis upon worship. The first four commandments are generally acknowledged to address immediately our relation to God with respect to his worship and service, and the last six address our service to God by way of serving our neighbor. The first commandment concerns the object of worship, the second the manner of worshipping him, the third the proper attitude of worship, and the fourth the time that has been set apart for worship.[7] The grossest evidence I have seen that the Church has moved away from understanding the Sabbath as a day of worship was a sermon on the fourth commandment entitled, “Take a rest, you deserve it.” The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), yet many contemporary Christians have abused this principle in order to shift from a worship-centered view of the Sabbath to a man-centered view of the Sabbath.

Fourth, the varied duties explicitly connected to Sabbath observance are duties related to worship. Every Sabbath, Israel must hold a “holy convocation” to the Lord (Lev. 23:3). The morning and evening sacrifices, which were an integral part of temple worship in the Old Testament, must be doubled upon the Sabbath. Psalm 92, which is entitled, “A Psalm for the Sabbath Day,” depicts God’s people giving thanks to the Most High and praising his name morning and evening with instruments and gladness, because he made his people triumph through the works of his hands (Ps. 92:1-4). In the New Testament, the disciples gathered together as a body on the first day of week as Paul preached to them (Acts 20:7ff). The first day of the week, or Lord’s Day, was singled out as the most appropriate time for taking an offering for the poor (1 Cor. 16:1-2). In short, the bulk of the requirements attached to Sabbath keeping in both Old and New Testament relates to some duty of corporate or private worship. If you consider these commands in isolation, you may be tempted to conclude that the Sabbath is a day of rest with duties of worship attached to it. However, when you connect the character of these commands with the three inferences drawn above, you must conclude that the Sabbath is a day of worship. Rest from your weekly employments is a necessary pre-requisite to keep the day holy. The presumption is that the purpose for which the Lord set apart the entire day was for his people to hold communion with him in worship.[8]

Fifth, the Sabbath is designed to be a type of heaven, and the biblical picture of heaven is a place solely consumed with the worship of God through Jesus Christ. We must not merely think of the Sabbath as looking forward to heaven, but we must regard the Sabbath as being patterned after heaven. There is much speculation about the continuity and discontinuity between this life and the life to come. Whatever we may legitimately conclude from the biblical evidence, we must recognize that the only places in the New Testament where we are given a glimpse of heaven reveal glorified saints and angels bowing before him who sits upon the throne and before the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 4-5). Every day of the week, the saints must long for heaven; on the Lord’s Day, they must act a though they are already there.
If the purpose of the Sabbath is worship, does this not go a long way to answer practical questions respecting appropriate behavior on the Sabbath? This places the oft disputed question about the role of “worldly” recreations “which are lawful on other days” in its proper perspective. The question should not be (as it is often framed) whether or not it is lawful, for instance, to take a walk with a child on the Lord’s Day, but whether or not all that we do on the Sabbath is designed specifically and intentionally to promote corporate, family, and private worship. Too often we have come to view Sunday as “our day” rather than the Lord’s Day. The reason why the Westminster Divines excluded recreation from the Sabbath was because it was contrary to the purpose of the day. How can we be concerned with our recreations when we worship in the presence of God with reverence and awe? How can we speak about our football games or shopping trips on the Sabbath when we are gathered together to meet with the risen Christ? If we were truly consumed with the glories of our redemption and of our Savior on the Lord’s Day, we would not likely define what is lawful on the day in terms of what we think is restful. If we were more consumed with love for Christ and grateful worship to God, it is likely that most of the activities that become the subject of debate on the Sabbath would become virtually irrelevant. John Owen wrote: “Those whose minds are fixed in a spirit of liberty to glorify God in and by this day of rest, seeking after communion with him in the ways of his worship, will be unto themselves a better rule for their words and actions than those who may aim to reckon over all they do or say.”[9]  The evidence bears out the fact that God appointed the Sabbath day in order to rest from our worldly employments (and recreations) so that we might have a day of worship and communion with God. When our sole focus on that day is upon worshiping and communing with our God through the glorious gospel of his Son, practical questions regarding our thoughts, speech, and recreations on that day will begin to answer themselves. As the Scottish theologian John Dick pointed out, “He who understands in what the sanctification of the Sabbath consists, has no need that the sins in the fourth commandment should be pointed out to him.”[10]  This overstates the case slightly, but it illustrates the point that most disagreements over Sabbath keeping result from a lack of clarity regarding the design and purpose of the day.
What a glorious privilege and blessing such a day ought to be! What a mercy from God that we should have one day in seven to enjoy God without the distractions that encumber us throughout the week! Does this not make neglecting the Sabbath appear to be base ingratitude? If Adam and Eve needed a day of worship before the Fall, do you not need such a day? When you disregard the Sabbath by bending your conscience to the will of employers, or to the lusts of the flesh rather than the Word of God, do you realize that you are actually despising the privilege of worship? You are not simply disobeying a commandment of God; you are spurning one of his greatest gifts to mankind. If the Sabbath is designed simply for “rest,” then our rule shall invariably be, “What is restful for you is restful for you, but what is restful for me is restful for me.” However, if the Sabbath is designed for worship, we shall gratefully confess, “The Sabbath is to be sanctified by an holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and taking up the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, 60).

[1] The material in this article was taken primarily from chapters 1, 3, 4, and 6 of my unpublished manuscript, Sabbath Keeping: A Defense of the Westminster Standards.
[2] Robert L. Reymond, “Lord’s Day Observance,” in Contending for the Faith: Lines in the Sand that Strengthen the Church (Fearn, Ross-shire , Scotland : Christian Focus Publications, 2005), 181.
[3] John Murray, “The Sabbath Institution,” in The Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), vol. I, 209. Emphasis original. The Puritan David Dickson, in emphasizing the point that the Sabbath cannot be kept merely by specific acts of worship on the day, but by dedicating the entire day for worship, added the interesting point that if all that was required was to “set apart some indefinite time” on the day for worship, then the Sabbath would not differ substantially from the other days of the week, on which worship was required as well. David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (orig. pub., 1684, reprint, Edinburgh : The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 155. If the fourth commandment requires worship at all, it requires worship as the emphasis of the entire day. If the fourth commandment only requires rest, then the worship required on the Sabbath is no different than that required every other day.
[4] Murray, “Sabbath Institution,” 210. Emphasis original.
[5] Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), 34.
[6] For a more in-depth examination of this point, see Iain D. Campbell, On the First Day of the Week: God, the Christian, and the Sabbath ( Leonminster , UK : Day One Publications, 2005), 45-48. Also see Joseph Pipa, The Lord’s Day (Geanines House, Fearn, Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1997), 32-34.
[7] John Owen added that the fourth commandment is “the keeper of the whole first table,” since it is designed to ensure that the worship required by the first three commandments is properly observed. John Owen, A Day of Sacred Rest, in, An Exposition to the Epistle to the Hebrews (orig. pub. N.d., reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), vol. II, 289.
[8] For more on this point, see Reymond, 180.
[9] Owen, A Day of Sacred Rest, 447.
[10] John Dick, Lectures on Theology (orig. pub., Edinburgh : Oliver & Boyd, 1838, reprint, Stoke on Trent , UK : Tentmaker Publications, 2004), IV, 459.

Review: "The Still Hour"

Austin Phelps. The Still Hour: Communion with God in Prayer. N.p., 1859. Reprint: Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw
In many respects, prayer is the centerpiece of our communion with the great Triune God. In our present day, prayer has fallen on hard times. Corporate prayer is given little attention in most churches and wrestling with God in private prayer is becoming a lost art. In addition to these facts, every believer who has taken the duty of prayer seriously has, no doubt, begun to recognize that as vital as prayer is to our relationship with our God, true prayer is hard work and often comes neither naturally nor easily.
In many respects this little book on prayer is unique. It does not deal primarily with the theology of prayer or the manner in which we are to pray. It addresses the psychology of prayer, or the struggles of our hearts and minds in prayer. It exposes many of our sins in prayer, and it will reveal to you many failings that you were probably not aware of before reading it. For example, the chapter on “Idolatry in Prayer” is particularly searching. This book will improve your prayer life tremendously. However, I must warn you that this book shall convict you before it comforts you. As you read, this work will cultivate your communion with God and help to set you upon a straight path with respect to your private prayers. 

One last note: this book is a must read on prayer because you will be hard pressed to find its contents in any other place. Phelps wrote in the middle of the 19th century and his book is written with such a broad vocabulary and wealth of imagery that sometimes it reads like poetry. For those of you who love poetry, this will make the book even more enjoyable to read. For those who do not, I am still willing to guarantee that you will not regret the time that you spend with The Still Hour.