Editor’s Note: The following is the introduction to a new book by Katekōmen contributor Ryan M. McGraw. The author offers this article as a preview to the material found in his book.
THE DAY OF WORSHIP: RE-ASSESSING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LIGHT OF THE SABBATH
The fourth commandment, or Sabbath day, was not something that I, as a new believer, had given particular attention to. I was shocked when a minister told me that not only should I refrain from my worldly employments on the Sabbath day, but that I should abstain from recreations and conversation that would be lawful on other days. He also taught me that the Sabbath was designed by God to be a day in which the entire time was to be spent in the joyful duties of public and private worship, which is meant to be a foretaste of heaven itself. Since then, after weighing the biblical evidence as to how the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day should be kept, it has proved to the best day of the week and the “market day of the soul,” with exceedingly great and precious promises attached to it.
The distinctive feature of this book is that it demonstrates that the Sabbath was designed to be sanctified for the purposes of worship and that this is the primary factor that should give shape to the practical observance of the Sabbath. There was a time in which Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, and even some Anglicans and Dutch Reformed shared a fundamental unity as to how the Lord’s Day, or Christian Sabbath, should be kept. All of these denominations held in common what is today referred to as the “Puritan” view of the Sabbath. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has set forth this view in these words: “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 by taking up the entire 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” (Question 61). Today many have dismissed this viewpoint out of hand as unwarranted from Scripture, legalistic, and inconsistent with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even in Reformed churches, most people today have never heard a biblical defense for this position in all its parts. My purpose in the pages that follow is to present the biblical foundations for the particulars of Sabbath keeping as set forth in the Westminster Standards. The style of the work is “homiletical” and is presented in the familiar style and direct address of a series of sermons.
There are a few recent books on Sabbath keeping that have done an excellent job defending the basic tenets of this position. However, many have read these works and remained unconvinced. This material has resulted from over ten years of study and of interaction with church members. I have sought to approach the issues related to Sabbath keeping in a manner that has satisfied the consciences of many by addressing the biblical foundations for the Westminster position from a different angle than other authors. For this reason, the materials in this work have very little overlap with, for example, the excellent books by Joseph Pipa, Walter Chantry, and Iain Campbell. I have sought to address what I believe to be the primary underlying issues behind the widespread neglect of the Sabbath day.
For this reason, chapter 1 and 2 address the importance of Sabbath keeping in Scripture. I contend that the importance of the question has largely been underestimated by the modern Reformed community. By beginning with the importance of Sabbath keeping in Scripture, I intend to set the tone for the rest of the book by awakening the Church to the importance of the issue so that she may study it with eagerness, a listening ear, and a ready heart.
Chapters 3 and 4 are an attempt to examine the factors that affect the proper interpretation of Isaiah 58:13-14, which is often central to debates over Sabbath keeping. Too often the entire matter stands or falls with the exposition of this passage. Opponents propose alternate interpretations, but it is rare that either side deals with the underlying theological and contextual issues that have determined their conclusions. I have attempted to provide a more comprehensive treatment these two factors with respect to this useful and important passage. At the end of this chapter I have included a section on the role of the Sabbath in the revival and reformation of the Church.
In chapters 5 and 6, I maintain that our aversion to Sabbath keeping is not always an exegetical or theological problem, but a symptom of the greater problem of worldliness that has entered into the Church. The implications and applications of this chapter reach far beyond the Sabbath day and cause us to reflect on the entirety of our Christian lives and how we view the world in which we live.
Chapter 7 then proceeds to establish the practices of Sabbath keeping from a Reformed view of the Law of God. In this chapter, I demonstrate that even if Isaiah 58 had never been written, Sabbath keeping would touch our thoughts, speech, and recreations, as well as our ordinary labor. I have used Jesus and the apostles as models as to how the Law of God should be interpreted and applied in the Christian life. Chapter 8 introduces some miscellaneous practical helps.
The next question that ordinarily arises from the Reformed (and biblical) view of the Law of God is the charge of legalism. In chapter 9, therefore, I examine the nature of legalism, its causes, and remedies. Perhaps it will be surprising to readers that I argue (with the help of Thomas Boston) that the lax views of Sabbath keeping, as well as the rest of the commandments of God, are at times symptomatic of legalistic views of the gospel. I maintain that the Reformed view of the relationship between the Law and the Gospel is largely being lost among Reformed churches at the present day. [Laxity toward] the Sabbath is, once again, the symptom of a broader disease.
The last chapter (chapter 10) presents an a posteriori argument for Sabbath keeping by connecting the Sabbath to the biblical picture of heaven. In rounding out the examination of the Christian Sabbath in this manner, I have hoped to demonstrate that the Westminster or “Puritan” view of the Sabbath is based upon sound exegesis of Scripture, is demanded by a biblical view of the relation to the law and the gospel, and is a consistent expression of how believers ought to view their relation to this world and the world to come.
The first eight chapters were originally four long chapters. I have divided them for the purpose of easier reading. If the chapter divisions are disproportionate at time, this is due to the fact that I did not see any other place in which it was natural to divide the chapters. Chapters 9 and 10 have retained their original form.
This work is not designed to be a replacement to the other works mentioned above, but a supplement to them. For this reason, I have attempted to retain brevity by omitting arguments for the fact that the Sabbath is a perpetually binding commandment as well as for the change of the day from the seventh to the first day of the week. If any who read this book are not already convinced of the perpetuity of the Sabbath, then I urge them to begin with the excellent article by B. B. Warfield contained in Appendix I. Appendix II contains my review article of Jay Adam’s Keeping the Sabbath Today. My reason for including this article is that Adams’ book represents a significant attack upon both the principles and practice of Sabbath keeping.
This book is about much more than the Sabbath. If, after reading this book, I have not convinced you that the Sabbath should be sanctified to the Lord as a sacred day of worship, I shall be disappointed. However, if all that I do is convince you that you must set apart the Sabbath for worship, then I have failed of my purpose entirely. This book addresses much more significant issues such as, the kind of obedience required by the gospel, the relation of the believer to an unbelieving world, the relationship between the Law and the gospel, and the focus of our hope of eternal life. It is my prayer that the Lord would use this work to redirect the thoughts of many in these fundamental areas, even if they are not convinced of the Westminster position on the Sabbath.
I believe that my warrant for writing this book is my ordination to the gospel ministry, along with the vows that I have taken to hold back nothing that is helpful from God’s people. I have written this book first and foremost for the congregation to which I minister, as well as for my presbytery. The Lord has continually reminded me that he alone gives or deprives man of knowledge and wisdom. A detailed outline of this book came together rather quickly (even unexpectedly) following a decade of study, yet I have not written a single chapter without having to “fight” for it by wrestling with the Lord long in agonizing prayer. For lack of a better expression, I believe that the Lord “gave” me much of the material in this book as an answer to the prayers of our church. However, I am certain that the corruption that remains in me has marred the material in many ways. Whatever you find this book that is profitable to your soul, may you give all thanks and glory to God for it. May the great Lord of the Sabbath be pleased to use these pages to restore his day to the blessed purposes for which he designed it.