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The Lord's Day and Christian Sabbath - God Requires You to Keep the 4th Commandment as Well as the Other 9

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A look at the 4th commandment and the Lord’s Day.

‘Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it. Exod 20: 8 – 11.

This commandment was engraven in stone by God’s own finger, and it will be our comfort to have it engraven in our hearts.

The Sabbath-day is set apart for God’s solemn worship; it is his own enclosure, and must not be alienated to common uses. As a preface to this commandment, he has put a memento to it, ‘Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy.’ This word, ‘remember,’ shows that we are apt to forget Sabbath holiness; therefore we need a memorandum to put us in mind of sanctifying the day.

I. There is in these words a solemn command. ‘Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.’

[1] The matter of it. The sanctifying the Sabbath, which Sabbath sanctification consists in two things, in resting from our own works, and in a conscientious discharge of our religious duty.

[2] The persons to whom the command of sanctifying the Sabbath is given. Either superiors, and they are, more private, as parents and masters; or more public, as magistrates; or inferiors, as natives, children, and servants, ‘Thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maidservant;’ or foreigners, ‘thy stranger that is within thy gates.’

II. The arguments to obey this commandment of keeping holy the Sabbath are,

[1] From the rationality of it. ‘Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work;’ as if God had said, I am not a hard master, I do not grudge thee time to look after thy calling, and to get an estate. I have given thee six days, to do all thy work in, and have taken but one day for myself. I might have reserved six days for myself, and allowed thee but one; but I have given thee six days for the works of thy calling, and have taken but one day for my own service. It is just and rational, therefore, that thou shouldest set this day in a special manner apart for my worship.

[2] The second argument for sanctifying the Sabbath, is taken from the justice of it. ‘The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God;’ as if God had said, The Sabbath-day is my due, I challenge a special right in it, and no other has any claim to it. He who robs me of this day, and puts it to common uses, is a sacrilegious person, he steals from the crown of heaven, and I will in nowise hold him guiltless.

[3] The third argument for sanctifying the Sabbath, is taken from God’s own observance of it. He ‘rested the seventh day;’ as if the Lord should say, Will you not follow me as a pattern? Having finished all my works of creation, I rested the seventh day; so having done all your secular work on the six days, you should now cease from the labour of your calling, and dedicate the seventh day to me, as a day of holy rest.

[4] The fourth argument for Sabbath-sanctification, is taken ab utili, from the benefit which redounds from a religious observation of the Sabbath. ‘The Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.’ God not only appointed the seventh day, but he blessed it. It is not only a day of honour to God, but a day of blessing to us; it is not only a day wherein we give God worship, but a day wherein he gives us grace. On this day a blessing drops down from heaven. God himself is not benefited by it, we cannot add one cubit to his essential glory; but we ourselves are benefited. This day, religiously observed, entails a blessing upon our souls, our estate, and our posterity. Not keeping it, brings a curse. Jer 17: 27. God curses a man’s blessings. Mal 2: 2. The bread which he eats is poisoned with a curse; so the conscientious observation of the Sabbath, brings all manner of blessings with it. These are the arguments to induce Sabbath-sanctification.

The thing I would have you now observe is, that the commandment of keeping the Sabbath was not abrogated with the ceremonial law, but is purely moral, and the observation of it is to be continued to the end of the world. Where can it be shown that God has given us a discharge from keeping one day in seven?

Why has God appointed a Sabbath?
(1) With respect to himself. It is requisite that God should reserve one day in seven for his own immediate service, that thereby he might be acknowledged to be the great Plenipotentiary, or sovereign Lord, who has power over us both to command worship, and appoint the time when he will be worshipped.

(2) With respect to us. The Sabbath-day is for our interest; it promotes holiness in us. The business of week-days makes us forgetful of God and our souls: the Sabbath brings him back to our remembrance. When the falling dust of the world has clogged the wheels of our affections, that they can scarce move towards God, the Sabbath comes, and oils the wheels of our affections, and they move swiftly on. God has appointed the Sabbath for this end. On this day the thoughts rise to heaven, the tongue speaks of God, and is as the pen of a ready writer, the eyes drop tears, and the soul burns in love. The heart, which all the week was frozen, on the Sabbath melts with the word. The Sabbath is a friend to religion; it files off the rust of our graces; it is a spiritual jubilee, wherein the soul is set to converse with its Maker.

I should next show you the modes, or manner, how we should keep the Sabbath day holy; but before I come to that, we have a great question to consider.

How comes it to pass that we do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath as it was in the primitive institution, but have changed it to another day?

The old seventh-day Sabbath, which was the Jewish Sabbath, is abrogated, and in the room of it the first day of the week, which is the Christian Sabbath, succeeds. The morality or substance of the fourth commandment does not lie in keeping the seventh day precisely, but keeping one day in seven is what God has appointed.

But how comes the first day in the week to be substituted in the room of the seventh day?

Not by ecclesiastic authority. ‘The church,’ says Mr Perkins, ‘has no power to ordain a Sabbath.’

(1) The change of the Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first was by Christ’s own appointment. He is ‘Lord of the Sabbath.’ Mark 2: 28. And who shall appoint a day but he who is Lord of it? He made this day. ‘This is the day which the Lord has made.’ Psa 118: 24. Arnobius and most expositors understand it of the Christian Sabbath, which is called the ‘Lord’s-day.’ Rev 1: 10. As it is called the ‘Lord’s Supper,’ because of the Lord’s instituting the bread and wine and setting it apart from a common to a special and sacred use; so it is called the Lord’s-day, because of the Lord’s instituting it, and setting it apart from common days, to his special worship and service. Christ rose on the first day of the week, out of the grave, and appeared twice on that day to his disciples, John 20: 19, 26, which was to intimate to them, as Augustine and Athanasius say, that he transferred the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord’s day.

(2) The keeping of the first day was the practice of the apostles. ‘Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.’ Acts 20: 7; 1 Cor 16: 2. Here was both preaching and breaking of bread on this day. Augustine and Innocentius, and Isidore, make the keeping of our gospel Sabbath to be of apostolic sanction, and affirm, that by virtue of the apostles’ practice, this day is to be set apart for divine worship. What the apostles did, they did by divine authority; for they were inspired by the Holy Ghost.

(3) The primitive church had the Lord’s-day, which we now celebrate, in high estimation. It was a great badge of their religion to observe this day. Ignatius, the most ancient father, who lived in the time of John the apostle, has these words, ‘Let every one that loveth Christ keep holy the first day of the week, the Lord’s-day.’ This day has been observed by the church of Christ above sixteen hundred years, as the learned Bucer notes. Thus you see how the seventh-day Sabbath came to be changed to the first-day Sabbath.

The grand reason for changing the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord’s-day is that it puts us in mind of the ‘Mystery of our redemption by Christ.’ The reason why God instituted the old Sabbath was to be a memorial of the creation; but he has now brought the first day of the week in its room in memory of a more glorious work than creation, which is redemption. Great was the work of creation, but greater was the work of redemption. As it was said, ‘The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former.’ Hag 2: 9. So the glory of the redemption was greater than the glory of the creation. Great wisdom was seen in making us, but more miraculous wisdom in saving us. Great power was seen in bringing us out of nothing, but greater power in helping us when we were worse than nothing. It cost more to redeem than to create us. In creation it was but speaking a word (Psa 148: 5); in redeeming there was shedding of blood. 1 Pet 1: 19. Creation was the work of God’s fingers, Psa 8: 3, redemption was the work of his arm. Luke 1: 51. In creation, God gave us ourselves; in the redemption, he gave us himself. By creation, we have life in Adam; by redemption, we have life in Christ. Col 3: 3. By creation, we had a right to an earthly paradise: by redemption, we have a title to a heavenly kingdom. Christ might well change the seventh day of the week into the first, as it puts us in mind of our redemption, which is a more glorious work than creation.

Use one. The use I shall make of this is, that we should have the Christian Sabbath, we now celebrate, in high veneration. The Jews called the Sabbath, ‘The desire of days, and the queen of days.’ This day we must call a ‘delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable.’ Isa 58: 13. Metal that has the king’s stamp upon it is honourable, and of great value. God has set his royal stamp upon the Sabbath; it is the Sabbath of the Lord, and this makes it honourable. We should look upon this day as the best day in the week. What the phoenix is among birds, what the sun is among planets the Lord’s-day is among other days. ‘This is the day which the Lord has made.’ Psa 118: 24. God has made all the days, but he has blessed this. As Jacob got the blessing from his brother, so the Sabbath got the blessing from all other days in the week. It is a day in which we converse in a special manner with God. The Jews called the Sabbath ‘a day of light;’ so on this day the Sun of Righteousness shines upon the soul. The Sabbath is the market-day of the soul, the cream of time. It is the day of Christ’s rising from the grave, and the Holy Ghost’s descending upon the earth. It is perfumed with the sweet odour of prayer, which goes up to heaven as incense. On this day the manna falls, that is angels’ food. This is the soul’s festival-day, on which the graces act their part: the other days of the week are most employed about earth, this day about heaven; then you gather straw, now pearl. Now Christ takes the soul up into the mount, and gives it transfiguring sights of glory. Now he leads his spouse into the wine-cellar, and displays the banner of his love. Now he gives her his spiced wine, and the juice of the pomegranate. Cant 2: 4, 8: 2. The Lord usually reveals himself more to the soul on this day. The apostle John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s-day. Rev 1: 10. He was carried up on this day in divine raptures towards heaven. This day a Christian is in the altitudes; he walks with God, and takes as it were a turn with him in heaven. 1 John 1: 3. On this day holy affections are quickened; the stock of grace is improved; corruptions are weakened; and Satan falls like lightning before the majesty of the word. Christ wrought most of his miracles upon the Sabbath; so he does still: dead souls are raised and hearts of stone are made flesh. How highly should we esteem and reverence this day! It is more precious than rubies. God has anointed it with the oil of gladness above its fellows. On the Sabbath we are doing angels’ work, our tongues are tuned to God’s praises. The Sabbath on earth is a shadow and type of the glorious rest and eternal Sabbath we hope for in heaven, when God shall be the temple, and the Lamb shall be the light of it. Rev 21: 22, 23.

Use two. ‘SIX days shalt thou labour.’ God would not have any live out of a calling: religion gives no warrant for idleness. It is a duty to labour six days, as well as keep holy rest on the seventh day. ‘We hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all. Now, them that are such, we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.’ 2 Thess 3: 11. A Christian must not only mind heaven, but his calling. While the pilot has his eye to the star, he has his hand to the helm. Without labour the pillars of a commonwealth will dissolve, and the earth, like the sluggard’s field, will be overrun with briers. Prov 24: 31. Adam in innocence, though monarch of the world, must not be idle, but must dress and till the ground. Gen 2: 15. Piety does not exclude industry. Standing water putrifies. Inanimate creatures are in motion. The sun goes its circuit, the fountain runs, and the fire sparkles. Animate creatures work. Solomon sends us to the ant and pismire to learn labour. Prov 6: 6; 30: 25. The bee is the emblem of industry; some of the bees trim the honey, others work the wax, others frame the comb, others lie sentinel at the door of the hive to keep out the drone. And shall not man much more innate himself to labour? That law in paradise was never repeated. ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.’ Gen 3: 19. Such professors are to be disliked who talk of living by faith, but live out of a calling; they are like the lilies which ‘toil not, neither do they spin.’ Matt 6: 28. It is a speech of holy and learned Mr Perkins, ‘Let a man be endowed with excellent gifts, and hear the word with reverence, and receive the sacrament, yet if he practice not the duties of his calling, all is but hypocrisy.’ What is an idle person good for? What benefit is a ship that lies always on the shore? or armour that hangs up and rusts? To live out of a calling exposes a person to temptation. Melanchthon calls idleness the Devil’s bath, because he bathes himself with delight in an idle soul. We do not sow seed in ground when it lies fallow; but Satan sows most of his seed of temptation in such persons as lie fallow, and are out of a calling. Idleness is the nurse of vice. Seneca, an old heathen, could say, Nullus mihi per otium dies exit; ‘No day passes me without some labour.’ An idle person stands for a cipher in the world, and God writes down no ciphers in the book of life. We read in Scripture of eating the ‘bread of idleness,’ and drinking the ‘wine of violence.’ Prov 31: 27; 4: 17. It is as much a sin to eat ‘the bread of idleness,’ as to ‘drink the wine of violence.’ An idle person can give no account of his time. Time is a talent to trade with, both in our particular and general callings. The slothful person ‘hides his talent in the earth;’ he does no good; his time is not lived, but lost. An idle person lives unprofitably, he cumbers the ground. God calls the slothful servant ‘wicked.’ ‘Thou wicked and slothful servant.’ Matt 25: 26. Draco, whose laws were written in blood, deprived those of their life who would not work for their living. In Hetruria they caused such persons to be banished. Idle persons live in the breach of the commandment, ‘Six days shalt thou labour.’ Let them take heed they be not banished from heaven. A man may as well go to hell for not working in his calling, as for not believing.

Having spoken of the reasons of sanctifying the Sabbath I come now to

III. The manner of sanctifying the Sabbath.

[1] Negatively. We must do no work in it. This is the commandment. ‘In it thou shall do no manner of work.’ God has set apart this day for himself; therefore we are not to use it in common, by doing any civil work. As when Abraham went to sacrifice he left his servants and the ass at the bottom of the hill; so, when we are to worship God on this day, we must leave all worldly business behind, leave the ass at the bottom of the hill. Gen 22: 5. As Joseph, when he would speak with his brethren, thrust out the Egyptians, so, when we would converse with God on this day, we must thrust out all earthly employments. The Lord’s day is a day of holy rest. All secular work must be forborne and suspended, as it is a profanation of the day. ‘In those days saw I in Judah some treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes and figs, and all manner of burdens which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day; and I testified against them. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, “What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath-day?’ ” Neh 13: 15, 17. It is sacrilege to rob for civil work the time which God has set apart for his worship. He that devotes any time of the Sabbath to worldly business, is a worse thief than he who robs on the highway; for the one does but rob man, but the other robs God. The Lord forbade mamma to be gathered on the Sabbath. Exod 16: 26. One might think it would have been allowed, as manna was the ‘staff of their life,’ and the time when it fell was between five and six in the morning, so that they might have gathered it betimes, and all the rest of the Sabbath might have been employed in God’s worship; and besides, they needed not to have taken any great journey for it, for it was but stepping out of their doors, and it fell about their tents: and yet they might not gather it on the Sabbath; and for purposing only to do it, God was very angry. ‘There went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?’ Exod 16: 27, 28. Surely anointing Christ when he was dead was a commendable work; but, though Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, had prepared sweet ointments to anoint the dead body of Christ, they went not to the sepulchre to embalm him till the Sabbath was past. ‘They rested the Sabbath-day, according to the commandment.’ Luke 23: 56. The hand cannot be busied on the Lord’s-day but the heart will be defiled. The very heathen, by the light of nature, would not do any secular work in the time which they had set apart for the worship of their false gods. Clemens Alexandrinus reports of one of the emperors of Rome, who, on the day of set worship for his gods, put aside warlike affairs and spent the time in devotion. To do servile work on the Sabbath shows an irreligious heart, and greatly offends God. To do secular work on this day is to follow the devil’s slough; it is to debase the soul. God made this day on purpose to raise the heart to heaven, to converse with him, to do angels’ work; and to be employed in earthly work is to degrade the soul of its honour. God will not have his day entrenched upon, or defiled in the least thing. The man that gathered sticks on the Sabbath he commanded to be stoned. Numb. 15: 35. It would seem a small thing to pick up a few sticks to make a fire; but God would not have this day violated in the smallest matters. Nay, the work which had reference to a religious use might not be done on the Sabbath, as the hewing of stones for the building of the sanctuary. Bezaleel, who was to cut the stones, and carve the timber out for the sanctuary, must forbear to do it on the Sabbath. Exod 31: 15. A temple is a place of God’s worship, but it was a sin to build a temple on the Lord’s-day. This is keeping the Sabbath-day holy negatively, in doing no servile work.

Works of necessity and charity however may be done on this day. In these cases God will have mercy and not sacrifice. (1) It is lawful to take the necessary supplies of nature. Food is to the body as oil to the lamp. (2) It is lawful to do works of mercy, as helping a neighbour when either life or estate are in danger. Herein the Jews were too nice and precise, who would not suffer works of charity to be done on the Sabbath. If a man was sick, they thought they might not on this day use means for his recovery. Christ charges them with being angry because he had wrought a cure on the Sabbath. John 7: 23. If a house were on fire, the Jews thought they might not bring water to quench it; if a vessel leaked on this day, they thought they might not stop it. They were ‘righteous overmuch;’ it was seeming zeal, but wanted discretion to guide it. Except in these two cases, of necessity and charity, all secular work is to be suspended and laid aside on the Lord’s-day. ‘In it thou shalt do no manner of work.’ This arraigns and condemns many among us who too much foul their fingers with work on that day; some in dressing great feasts, others in opening their shop-doors, and selling meat on the Sabbath. The mariner will not put to sea but on the Sabbath, and so runs full sail into the violation of this command. Others work on this day privately, put up their shop-windows, and follow their trade within doors; but though they think to hide their sin under a canopy, God sees it. ‘Whither shall I flee from thy presence?’ ‘The darkness hideth not from thee.’ Psa 139: 7, 12. Such profane the day, and God will have an action of trespass against them.

[2] Positively. We keep the Sabbath-day holy, by ‘consecrating and dedicating’ this day to the ‘service of the high God.’ It is good to rest on the Sabbath-day from the works of our calling; but if we rest from labour and do no more, the ox and the ass keep the Sabbath as well as we; for they rest from labour. We must dedicate the day to God; we must not only ‘keep a Sabbath,’ but ‘sanctify’ a Sabbath. Sabbath-sanctification consists in two things: (1) Solemn preparation for it. If a prince were to come to your house, what preparation would you make for his entertainment! You would sweep the house, wash the floor, adorn the room with the richest tapestry and hangings, that there might be something suitable to the state and dignity of so great a person. On the blessed Sabbath, God intends to have sweet communion with you; he seems to say to you, as Christ to Zacchaeus, ‘Make haste and come down, for this day I must abide at thy house.’ Luke 19: 5. Now, what preparation should you make for entertaining this King of glory? When Saturday evening approaches, sound a retreat; call your minds off from the world and summon your thoughts together, to think of the great work of the approaching day. Purge out all unclean affections, which may indispose you for the work of the Sabbath. Evening preparation will be like the tuning of an instrument, it will fit the heart better for the duties of the ensuing Sabbath.

(2) The sacred observation of it. Rejoice at the approach of the day, as a day wherein we have a prize for our souls, and may enjoy much of God’s presence. John 8: 56. ‘Abraham rejoiced to see my day.’ So, when we see the light of a Sabbath shine, we should rejoice, and ‘call the Sabbath a delight:’ this is the queen of days, which God has crowned with a blessing. Isa 58: 13. As there was one day in the week on which God rained manna twice as much as upon any other day, so he rains down the manna of heavenly blessings twice as much on the Sabbath as on any other. This is the day wherein Christ carries the soul into the house of wine, and displays the banner of love over it; now the dew of the Spirit falls on the soul, whereby it is revived and comforted. How many may write the Lord’s day, the day of their new birth! This day of rest is a pledge and earnest of the eternal rest in heaven. Shall we not then rejoice at its approach? The day on which the Sun of Righteousness shines should be a day of gladness.

Get up betides on the Sabbath morning. Christ rose early on this day, before the sun was up. John 20: 1. Did he rise early to save us, and shall not we rise early to worship and glorify him? ‘Early will I seek thee.’ Psa 63: 1. Can we be up betimes on other days? The husband man is early at his slough, the traveller rises early to go his journey, and shall not we, who on this day are travelling to heaven? Certainly, if we loved God as we should, we should rise on this day betimes, that we may meet with him whom our souls love. Such as sit up late at work on the night before, are so buried in sleep, that they will hardly be up betides on a Sabbath morning.

IV. Having dressed your bodies, you must dress your souls for hearing the word. As the people of Israel were to wash themselves before the law was delivered to them, so we must wash and cleanse our souls; and that is done by reading, meditation, and prayer. Exod 19: 10.

[1] By reading the word. The word is a great means to sanctify the heart, and bring it into a Sabbath-frame. ‘Sanctify them through thy truth,’ &c. John 17: 17. Read not the word carelessly, but with seriousness and affection; as the oracle of heaven, the well of salvation, the book of life. David, for its preciousness, esteemed it above gold; and for its sweetness, above honey. Psa 19: 10. By reading the word aright, our hearts, when dull, are quickened; when hard, are mollified; when cold and frozen are inflamed; and we can say as the disciples, ‘Did not our heart burn within us?’ Some step out of their bed to hearing. The reason why many get no more good on a Sabbath by the word preached, is because they did not breakfast with God in the morning by reading his word.

[2] Meditation. Get upon the mount of meditation, and there converse with God. Meditation is the soul’s retiring within itself, that, by a serious and solemn thinking upon God, the heart may be raised up to divine affections. It is a work fit for the morning of a Sabbath. Meditate on four things.

(1) On the works of creation. This is expressed in the commandment. “The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea,’ &c. The creation is a looking glass, in which we see the wisdom and power of God gloriously represented. God produced this fair structure of the world without any pre-existent matter, and with a word. ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.’ Psa 33: 6. The disciples wondered that Christ could, with a word, calm the sea, but it was far more astounding with a word to make the sea. Matt 8: 26. On the Sabbath let us meditate on the infiniteness of the Creator. Look up to the firmament and see God’s wonders in the deep.’ Psa 107: 24. Look into the earth, where we may behold the nature of minerals, the power of the loadstone, the virtue of herbs, and the beauty of flowers. By meditating on these works of creation, so curiously embroidered, we shall learn to admire God and praise him. ‘O Lord, how manifold are thy works, in wisdom hast thou made them all.’ Psa 104: 24. By meditating on the works of creation, we shall learn to confide in God. He who can create, can provide; he that could make us when we were nothing, can raise us when we are low. ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.’ Psa 124: 8.

(2) Meditate on God’s holiness. ‘Holy and reverend is his name.’ Psa 111: 9. ‘Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil.’ Hab 1: 13. God is essentially, originally, and efficiently holy. A11 the holiness in men and angels is but a crystal stream that runs from this glorious fountain. God loves holiness because it is his own image. A king cannot but love to see his own effigies stamped on coin. God counts holiness his glory, and the most sparkling jewel of his crown. ‘Glorious unholiness.’ Exod 15: 2: Here is meditation fit for the first entrance upon a Sabbath. The contemplation of this would work in us such a frame of heart as is suitable to a holy God; it would make us reverence his name and hallow his day. While musing; upon the holiness of God’s nature, we shall begin to be transformed into his likeness.

(3) Meditate on Christ’s love in redeeming us. Rev 1: 5. Redemption exceeds creation; the one is a monument of God’s power, the other of his love. Here is fit work for a Sabbath. Oh, the infinite stupendous love of Christ in raising poor lapsed creatures from a state of guilt and damnation! That Christ who was God should die! that this glorious Sun of Righteousness should be in an eclipse! We can never admire enough this love, no, not in heaven. That Christ should die for sinners! not sinful angels, but sinful men. That such clods of earth and sin should be made bright stars of glory! Oh, the amazing love of Christ! This was Illustreamoris Christi mnemosynum. Brugensis. That Christ should not only die for sinners, but die as a sinner! ‘He has made him to be sin for us’ 2 Cor 5: 21. He who was among the glorious persons of the Trinity, ‘was numbered with the transgressors.’ Isa 53: 12. Not that he had sin, but he was like a sinner, having our sins imputed to him. Sin did not live in him, but it was laid upon him. Here was an hyperbole of love enough to strike us with astonishment. That Christ should redeem us, when he could not expect to gain anything, or to be advantaged at all by us! Men will not lay out their money upon purchase unless it will turn to their profit; but what benefit could Christ expect in purchasing and redeeming us? We were in such a condition that we could neither deserve nor recompense Christ’s love. We could not deserve it; for we were in our blood. Ezek 16: 6. We had no spiritual beauty to tempt him. Nay, we were not only in our blood, but we were in arms against him. ‘When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son;’ Rom 5: 10. When he was shedding his blood, we were spitting out poison. As we could not deserve, so neither could we recompense it. After he had died for us, we could not so much as love him, till he made us love him. We could give him nothing in lieu of his love. ‘Who has first given to him?’ Rom 11: 35. We were fallen into poverty. If we have any beauty, it is from him, ‘It was perfect through my comeliness which I had put upon thee.’ Ezek 16: 14. If we bring forth any good fruit, it is not of our own growth, it comes from him, the true vine. ‘From me is thy fruit found.’ Hos 14: 8. It was nothing but pure love for Christ to lay out his blood to redeem such as he could not expect to be really bettered by. That Christ should die so willingly! ‘I lay down my life.’ John 10: 17. The Jews could not have taken it away if he had not laid it down. He could have called to his Father for legions of angels to be his life-guard; but what need for even that, when his own Godhead could have defended himself from all assaults? He laid down his life. The Jews did not so much thirst for his death, as he thirsted for our redemption. ‘I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?’ Luke 12: 50. He called his sufferings a baptism; he was to be baptised and sprinkled with his own blood; and he thought the time long before he suffered. To show Christ’s willingness to die, his sufferings are called an offering. ‘Through the offering of the body of Jesus.’ Heb 10: 10. His death was a free-will offering. That Christ should not grudge nor think much of all his sufferings! Though he was scourged and crucified, he was well contented with what he had done, and, if it were needful, he would do it again. ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.’ Isa 53: 11. As the mother who has had hard labour, does not repent of her pangs when she sees a child brought forth, but is well contented; so Christ, though he had hard travail upon the cross, does not think much of it; he is not troubled, but thinks his sweat and blood well bestowed, because he sees the man-child of redemption brought forth into the world. That Christ should make redemption effectual to some, and not to others! Here is surprising love. Though there is sufficiency in his merits to save all, yet some only partake of their saving virtue; all do not believe. ‘There are some of you that believe not.’ John 6: 64. Christ does not pray for all. John 17: 9. Some refuse him. This is ‘the stone which the builders refused.’ Psa 118: 22. Others deride him. Luke 16: 14. Others throw off his yoke. ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’ Luke 19: 14. SO that all have not the benefit of salvation by him. Herein appears the distinguishing love of Christ, that the virtue of his death should reach some, and not others. ‘Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.’ 1 Cor 1: 26. That Christ should pass by many of birth and parts, and that the lot of free grace should fall upon thee; that he should sprinkle his blood upon thee; ‘Oh, the depth of the love of Christ!’ That Christ should love us with such a transcendent love! The apostle calls it ‘Love which passeth knowledge.’ Eph 3: 19. That he should love us more than the angels. He loves them as his friends, but believers as his spouse. He loves them with such a kind of love as God the Father bears to him. ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.’ John 15: 9. Oh, what an hyperbole of love does Christ show in redeeming us! That Christ’s love in our redemption should be everlasting! ‘Having loved his own, he loved them unto the end.’ John 13: 1. As Christ’s love is matchless, so it is endless. The flower of his love is sweet; and that which makes it sweeter is that it never dies. His love is eternized. Jer 31: 3. He will never divorce his elect spouse. The failings of his people cannot quite take off his love; they may eclipse it, but not wholly remove it; their failings may make Christ angry with them, but not hate them. Every failing does not break the marriagebond. Christ’s love is not like the saint’s love. They sometimes have strong affections towards him, at other times the fit is off, and they find little or no love stirring in them; but it is not so with Christ’s love to them, it is a love of eternity. When the sunshine of Christ’s electing love is once risen upon the soul, it never finally sets. Death may take away our life from us, but not Christ’s love. Behold here a rare subject for meditation on a Sabbath morning. The meditation of Christ’s wonderful love in redeeming us would work in us a Sabbath-frame of heart.

It would melt us in tears for our spiritual unkindness, that we should sin against so sweet a Saviour; that we should be no more affected with his love, but requite evil for good; that like the Athenians, who, notwithstanding all the good service Aristides had done them, banished him out of their city, we should banish him from our temple; that we should grieve him with our pride, rash anger, unfruitfulness, animosities, and strange factions. Have we none to abuse but our friend? Have we nothing to kick against but the bowels of our Saviour? Did not Christ suffer enough upon the cross, but we must needs make him suffer more? Do we give him more ‘gall and vinegar to drink?’ Oh, if anything can dissolve the heart in sorrow, and melt the eyes to tears, it is unkindness offered to Christ. When Peter thought of Christ’s love to him, how he had made him an apostle, and revealed his bosom-secrets to him, and taken him to the mount of transfiguration, and yet that he should deny him; it broke his heart with sorrow; ‘he went out and wept bitterly.’ Matt 26: 75 What a blessed thing is it to have the eyes dropping tears on a Sabbath! and nothing would sooner fetch tears than to meditate on Christ’s love to us, and our unkindness to him.

Meditating on a Lord’s-day morning on Christ’s love, would kindle love in our hearts to him. How can we look on his bleeding and dying for us and our hearts not be warmed with love to him? Love is the soul of religion, the purest affection. It is not rivers of oil, but sparks of love that Christ values. And sure, as David said, ‘While I was musing the fire burned’ (Psa 39: 3), so, while we are musing of Christ’s love in redeeming us, the fire of our love will burn towards him; and then the Christian is in a blessed Sabbath-frame, when, like a seraphim, he is burning in love to Christ.

(4) On a Sabbath morning meditate on the glory of heaven. Heaven is the extract and essence of happiness. It is called a kingdom. Matt 25: 34. A kingdom for its riches and magnificence. It is set forth by precious stones, and gates of pearl. Rev 21: 19, 21. There is all that is truly glorious; transparent light, perfect love, unstained honour, unmixed joy; and that which crowns the joy of the celestial paradise is eternity. Suppose earthly kingdoms were more glorious than they are, their foundations of gold, their walls of pearl, their windows of sapphire, yet they are corruptible; but the kingdom of heaven is eternal; those rivers of pleasure run ‘for evermore.’ Psa 16: 11. That wherein the essence of glory consists, and makes heaven to be heaven, is the immediate sight and fruition of the blessed God. ‘I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.’ Psa 17: 15. Oh, think of the Jerusalem above!

This is proper for a Sabbath. The meditation of heaven would raise our hearts above the world. oh, how would earthly things disappear and shrink into nothing, if our minds were mounted above visible things, and we had a prospect of glory! How would the meditation of heaven make us heavenly in our Sabbath exercises! It would quicken affection, would add wings to devotion, and cause us to be ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s-day.’ Rev 1: 10. How vigorously does he serve God who has a crown of glory always in his eye!

[3] We dress our souls on a Sabbath-morning by prayer; ‘When thou prayest, enter into thy closet,’ &c. Matt 6: 6. Prayer sanctifies a Sabbath.

(1) The things we should pray for in the morning of the Sabbath. Let us beg a blessing upon the word which is to be preached; that it may be a savour of life to us; that by it our minds may be more illuminated, our corruptions more weakened, and our stock of grace more increased. Let us pray that God’s special presence may be with us, that our hearts may burn within us while God speaks, that we may receive the word into meek and humble hearts, and that we may submit to it, and bring forth fruits. James 1: 21. Nor should we only pray for ourselves, but for others.

Pray for him who dispenses the word; that his tongue may be touched with a coal from God’s altar; that God would warm his heart who is to help to warm others. Your prayers may be a means to quicken the minister. Some complain they find no benefit by the word preached; perhaps they did not pray for their minister as they should. Prayer is like the whetting and sharpening of an instrument, which makes it cut better. Pray with and for your family. Yea, pray for all the congregations that meet on this day in the fear of the Lord; that the dew of the Spirit may fall with the manna of the word; that some souls may be converted, and others strengthened; that gospel ordinances may be continued, and have no restraint put upon them. These are the things we should pray for. The tree of mercy will not drop its fruit, useless it be shaken by the hand of prayer.

(2) The manner of our prayer. It is not enough to say a prayer; to pray in a dull, cold manner, which asks God to deny; but we must pray with reverence, humility, fervency, and hope in God’s mercy. Luke 22: 44. Christ prayed more earnestly. That we may pray with more fervency, we must pray with a sense of our wants. He who is pinched with wants, will be earnest in craving alms. He prays most fervently who prays most feelingly. This is to sanctify the morning of a Sabbath; and it is a good preparation for the word preached. When the ground is broken up by the slough, it is fit to receive the seed; when the heart has been broken by prayer, it is fit to receive the seed of the preached word.

V. Having thus dressed your souls on a morning, for the further sanctification of the Sabbath, address yourself to the hearing of the preached word.

When you sit down in your seat, lift up your eyes to heaven for a blessing upon the word to be dispensed; for you must know that the word preached does not work as physic, by its own inherent virtue, but by a virtue from heaven, and the co-operation of the Holy Ghost. Therefore put up a short ejaculatory prayer for a blessing upon the word, that it may be made effectual to you.

The word being begun to be preached, hear it with reverence and holy attention. ‘A certain woman, named Lydia, attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.’ Acts 16: 14. Constantine, the emperor, was noted for his reverent attention to the word. Christ taught daily in the temple: and ‘all the people were very attentive to hear him.’ Luke 19: 48. In the Greek, ‘they hung upon his lip.’ Could we tell men of a rich purchase, they would diligently attend; and should they not much more, when the gospel of grace is preached unto them? That we may sanctify and hallow the Sabbath by attentive hearing, beware of these two things in hearing: distraction and drowsiness.

[1] Distraction. ‘That ye may attend open the Lord without distraction.’ 1 Cor 7: 35. It is said of Bernard, that when he came to the church-door, he would say, ‘Stay here all my earthly thoughts.’ So should we say to ourselves, when we are at the door of God’s house, ‘Stay here all my worldly cares and wandering cogitations; I am now going to hear what the Lord will say to me.’ Distraction hinders devotion. The mind is tossed with vain thoughts, and diverted from the business in hand. It is hard to make a quicksilver heart fix. Jerome complains of himself, ‘Sometimes when I am about God’s service, per porticus diambulo, I am walking in the galleries, and sometimes casting up accounts.’ How often in hearing the word, the thoughts dance up and down; and, when the eye is upon the minister, the mind is upon other things. Distracted hearing is far from sanctifying the Sabbath. It is very sinful to give way to vain thoughts at this time; because, when we are hearing the word, we are in God’s special presence. To do any treasonable action in the king’s presence is high great impudence. ‘Yea, in my house have I found their wickedness.’ Jer 23: 11. So the Lord may say, ‘In my house, while they are hearing my word, I have found wickedness; they have wanton eyes, and their soul is set on vanity.’

Whence do these roving and distracting thoughts in hearing come?
(1) Partly from Satan. The devil is sure to be present in our assemblies. If he cannot hinder us from hearing, he will hinder us in hearing. ‘When the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan came also among them.’ Job 1: 6. The devil sets vain objects before the fancy to cause a diversion. His great design is to render the word fruitless. As when one is writing, another jogs him that he cannot write even, so when we are hearing, the devil will be jogging us with a temptation, that we should not attend to the word preached. ‘He shewed me Joshua the high-priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.’ Zech 3: 1.

(2) These wandering thoughts in hearing come partly from ourselves. We must not lay all the blame upon Satan.

They come from the eye. A wandering eye causes wandering thoughts. As a thief may come into the house at a window, so vain thoughts may be at the eye. As we are bid to keep our feet when we enter into the house of God (Eccl 5: 1), so we had need make a covenant with our eyes, that we be not distracted by beholding other objects. Job 31: 1.

Wandering thoughts in hearing rise out of the heart. These sparks come out of our own furnace. Vain thoughts are the mud which the heart, as from a troubled sea, casts up. ‘For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts.’ Mark 7: 21. As the foulness of the stomach sends up fumes into the head, so the corruption of the heart sends up evil thoughts into the mind.

Distracted thoughts in hearing proceed from an evil habit. We inure ourselves to vain thoughts at other times, and therefore we cannot hinder them on a Sabbath. Habit is a second nature. ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil?’ Jer 13: 23. He that is used to bad company, knows not how to leave it; so such as have vain thoughts to keep them company all the week, know not how to get rid of them on the Sabbath. Let me show you how evil these vain distracting thoughts in hearing are: –

[1] To have the heart distracted in hearing, is a disrespect to God’s omniscience. God is an all-seeing Spirit; and thoughts speak louder in his ears than words do in ours. ‘He declareth unto man what is his thought.’ Amos 4: 13. To make no conscience of wandering thoughts in hearing, is an affront to God’s omniscience, as if he knew not our heart, or did not hear the language of our thoughts.

[2] To give way to wandering thoughts in hearing is hypocrisy. We pretend to hear what God says, and our minds are quite upon another thing. We present God with our bodies, but do not give him our hearts. Hos 7: 11. This hypocrisy God complains of. ‘This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their hearts far from me.’ Isa 29: 13. This is to prevaricate and deal falsely with God.

[3] Vain thoughts in hearing discover much want of love to God. Did we love him we should listen to his words as oracles, and write them upon the table of our heart. Prov 3: 3. When a friend whom we love speaks to us, and gives us advice, we attend with seriousness, and suck in every word. Giving our thoughts leave to ramble in holy duties, shows a great defect in our love to God.

[4] Vain impertinent thoughts in hearing defile an ordinance. They are as dead flies in the box of ointment. When a string of a lute is out of tune, it spoils the music; so distraction of thought puts the mind out of tune, and makes our services sound harsh and unpleasant. Wandering thoughts poison a duty, and turn it into sin. ‘Let his prayer become sin.’ Psa 109: 7. What can be worse than to have a man’s praying and hearing of the word become sin? Would it not be sad, if the meat we eat should increase bad humours? How much more when hearing the word, which is the food of the soul, is turned into sin!

[5] Vain thoughts in hearing offend God. If the king were speaking to one of his subjects, and he should not give heed to what the king says, but be thinking on another business, or playing with a feather, would not the king be provoked? So, when we are in God’s presence, and he is speaking to us in his word, and we mind not much what he says, but our hearts go after covetousness, will it not offend God to be thus slighted? Ezek 33: 31. He has pronounced a curse upon such. ‘Cursed be the deceiver, which has in his flock a male, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing.’ Mal 1: 14. To have strong lively affections is to have a male in the flock; but to hear the word with distraction, is to give God duties fly-blown with vain thoughts, and to offer to the Lord a corrupt thing, which brings a curse. ‘Cursed be the deceiver.’

[6] Vain thoughts in hearing, when allowed and not resisted, make way for hardening the heart. A stone in the heart is worse than in the kidneys. Distracted thoughts in hearing do not better the heart, but harden it. Vain thoughts take away the holy awe of God which should be upon the heart; they make conscience less tender, and hinder the efficacy the word should have upon the heart.

[7] Vain and distracting thoughts rob us of the comfort of an ordinance. A gracious soul often meets with God in the sanctuary, and can say, ‘I found him whom my soul loveth.’ Cant 3: 4. He is like Jonathan, who, when he had tasted the honey on the rod, had his eyes enlightened. But vain thoughts hinder the comfort of an ordinance, as a black cloud hides the warm comfortable beams of the sun. Will God speak peace to us when our minds are wandering and our thoughts are travelling to the ends of the earth? Prov 17: 24. If ever you would hear the word with attention, do as Abraham when he drove away the fowls from the sacrifice. Gen 15: 2. When you find these excursions and sinful wanderings in hearing, labour to drive away the fowls; get rid of these vain thoughts; they are vagrants, and must not be entertained.

How shall we get rid of these vagabond thoughts?
(1) Pray and watch against them. (2) Let the sense of God’s omniscient eye overawe your hearts. The servant will not sport in his master’s presence. (3) Labour for a holy frame of heart. Were the heart more spiritual, the mind would be less feathery. (4) Bring more love to the word. We fix our minds upon that which we love. He that loves his pleasures and recreations, fixes his mind upon them, and can follow them without distraction. Were our love more set upon the preached word, our minds would be more fixed upon it; and surely there is enough to make us love the word preached; for it is the word of life, the inlet to knowledge, the antidote against sin, the quickener of all holy affections. It is the true manna, which has all sorts of sweet tastes in it; the pool of Bethesda, in which the rivers of life spring forth to heal the broken in heart; and a sovereign elixir or cordial to revive the sorrowful spirit. Get love to the word preached, and you will not be so distracted in hearing. What the heart delights in, the thoughts dwell upon.

[2] Take heed of drowsiness in hearing. Drowsiness shows much irreverence. How lively are many when they are about the world, but in the worship of God how drowsy, as if the devil had given them opium to make them sleep! A drowsy feeling here is very sinful. Are you not in prayer asking pardon of sin? Will the prisoner fall asleep when he is begging pardon? In the preaching of the word, is not the bread of life broken to you? and will a man fall asleep over his food? Which is worse, to stay from a sermon, or sleep at a sermon? While you slept, perhaps the truth was delivered which might have converted your souls. Besides, sleeping is very offensive in a holy assembly; it not only grieves the Spirit of God, but makes the hearts of the righteous sad. Ezek 13: 22. It troubles them to see any show such contempt of God and his worship; to see them busy in the shop, but drowsy in the temple. Therefore, as Christ said, ‘Could ye not watch one hour?’ so, can ye not wake one hour? Matt 26: 40. I deny not but a child of God may sometimes, through weakness and indisposition of body, drop asleep at a sermon, but not voluntarily or ordinarily. The sun may be in an eclipse, but not often. If sleeping be customary and allowed, it is a very bad sign, and a profanation of the ordinance. A good remedy against drowsiness is to use a spare diet upon the Sabbath. Such as indulge their appetite too much on a Sabbath, are fitter to sleep on a couch than pray in the temple. That you may throw off distracting thoughts and drowsiness on the Lord’s-day, and may hear the word with reverend attention, consider –

(1) It is God that speaks to us in his word; therefore the preaching of the word is called the ‘breath of his lips.’ Isa 11: 4. Christ is said now to speak to us ‘from heaven,’ as a king speaks in his ambassador. Heb 12: 25. Ministers are but pipes and organs, it is the Spirit of the living God that breathes in them. When we come to the word, we should think within ourselves, God is speaking in this preacher. The Thessalonians heard the word Paul preached, as if God himself had spoken unto them. ‘When ye received the word of God, which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but (as it is in truth) the word of God.’ 1 Thess 2: 13. When Samuel knew it was the Lord that spake to him, he lent his ear. 1 Sam 3: 10. If we do not regard God when he speaks to us, he will not regard us when we pray to him.

(2) Consider how serious and weighty the matters delivered to us are. Moses said, ‘I call heaven and earth to record this day, that I have set before you life and death.’ Deut 30: 19. Can men be regardless of the word, or drowsy when the weighty matters of eternity are set before them? We preach faith, and holiness of life, and the day of judgement and eternal retribution. Here life and death are set before you; and does not all this call for serious attention? If a letter were read to one of special business, wherein his life and estate were concerned, would he not be very serious in listening to it? In the preaching of the word your salvation is concerned; and if ever you would attend, it should be now. ‘It is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.’ Deut 32: 47.

(3) To give way to vain thoughts and drowsiness in hearing, gratifies Satan. He knows that not to mind a duty, is all one in religion as not to do it. ‘What the heart does not do, is not done.’ Therefore Christ says of some, ‘Hearing, they hear not.’ Matt 13: 13. How could that be? Because, though the word sounded in their ear, yet they minded not what was said to them, their thoughts were upon other things; therefore, it was all as one as if they did not hear. Does it not please Satan to see men come to the word, and as good stay away? They are haunted with vain thoughts; they are taken off from the duty while they are in it; their body is in the assembly, their heart in their shop. ‘Hearing, they hear not.’

(4) Each Sabbath may be the last we shall ever keep; we may go from the place of hearing to the place of judging; and shall not we give reverend attention to the word? Did we think when we come into God’s house ‘Perhaps this will be the last time that ever God will counsel us about our souls, and before another sermon death’s alarm will sound in our ears; with what attention and devotion should we feel, and our affections would be all on fire in hearing!

(5) You must give an account for every sermon you hear. Redde rationem: ‘Give an account of thy stewardship.’ Luke 16: 2. So will God say, ‘Give an account of thy hearing. Hast thou been affected with the word? Hast thou profited by it?’ How can we give a good account, if we have been distracted in hearing, and have not taken notice of what has been said to us? The judge to whom we must give an account is God. Were we to give account to man, we might falsify accounts; but we must give an account to God. Nec donis corrumpitur, nec blanditiis fallitur. Bernard. ‘He is so just a God that he cannot be bribed, and so wise that he cannot be deceived.’ Therefore, having to give an account to such an impartial Judge, how should we observe every word preached, remembering the account! Let all this make us shake off distraction and drowsiness in hearing, and have our ears chained to the word.

VI. IN order to hear the word aright, let the following things be attended to: –

[1] Lay aside those dispositions which may render the preached word ineffectual. As,

(1) Curiosity. Some go to hear the word preached, not so much to get grace, as to enrich themselves with notions: having ‘itching ears.’ 2 Tim 4: 3. Augustine confesses that, before his conversion, he went to hear Ambrose for his eloquence rather than for the spirituality of the matter. ‘Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument.’ Ezek 33: 32. Many go to the word to feast their ears only; they like the melody of the voice, the mellifluous sweetness of the expression, and the novelty of the opinions. Acts 17: 21. This is to love the garnishing of the dish more than the food; it is to desire to be pleased rather than edified. Like a woman that paints her face, but neglects her health – they paint and adorn themselves with curious speculations, but neglect their soul’s health. This hearing neither sanctifies the heart nor the Sabbath.

(2) Lay aside prejudice. Prejudice is sometimes against the truths preached. The Sadducees were prejudiced against the doctrine of the resurrection. Luke 20: 27. Sometimes prejudice is against the person preaching. ‘There is one Micaiah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him.’ 1 Kings 22: 8. This hinders the power of the word. If a patient has an ill opinion of his physician, he will not take any of his medicines, however good they may be. Prejudice in the mind is like an obstruction in the stomach, which hinders the nutritive virtue of the meat. It poisons the word, and causes it to lose its efficacy.

(3) Lay aside covetousness. Covetousness is not only getting worlds gain unjustly, but loving it inordinately. This is a great hindrance to the preached word. The seed which fell among thorns was choked, Matt 13: 22; a fit emblem of the word when preached to a covetous hearer. The covetous man is thinking on the world when he is hearing; his heart is in his shop. ‘They sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but their heart goes after their covetousness.’ Ezek 33: 31. A covetous hearer derides the word. ‘The Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they derided him.’ Luke 16: 14.

(4) Lay aside partiality. Partiality in hearing is, when we like to hear some truths preached, but not all. We love to hear of heaven, but not of self-denial; of reigning with Christ, but not of suffering with him; of the more facile duties of religion, but not those which are more knotty and difficult; as mortification, laying the axe to the root, and hewing down our beloved sin. ‘Speak smooth things’ (Isa 30: 10), such as may not grate upon the conscience. Many like to hear of the love of Christ, but not of loving their enemies; they like the comforts of the word, but not its reproofs. Herod heard John the Baptist gladly; he liked many truths, but not when he spake against his incest.

(5) Lay aside censoriousness. Some, instead of judging themselves for sin, sit as judges upon the preacher; his sermon had either too much gall in it, or it was too long. They would sooner censure a sermon than practice it. God will judge the judger. Matt 7: 1.

(6) Lay aside disobedience. ‘All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient people.’ Rom 10: 21. It is said of the Jews that God stretched out his hands in the preaching of the word, but they rejected Christ. Let there be none among you that wilfully refuse the counsels of the word. It is sad to have an adder’s ear and an adamant heart. Zech 7: 11, 12. If, when God speaks to us in his word, we are deaf, when we speak to him in prayer, he will be dumb.

[2] If you would hear the word aright, have good ends in hearing. ‘Come to the word to be made better.’ Some have no other end in hearing but because it is in fashion, or to gain repute, or stop the mouth of conscience; but come to the word to be made more holy. There is a great difference between one who goes to a garden for flowers to wear in her bosom, and another that goes for flowers to make syrups and medicines. We should go to the word for medicine to cure us; as Naaman the Syrian went to Jordan to be healed of his leprosy. ‘Desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.’ 1 Pet 2: 2. Go to the word to be changed into its similitude. As the seal leaves its print upon the wax, so labour that the word preached may leave the print of its own holiness upon your heart.

Labour that the ‘word’ may have such a virtue in you, as the water of jealousy, to kill and make fruitful; that it may kill your sins, and make your souls fruitful in grace. Numb 5: 27.

[3] If you would hear the word aright, go to it with delight. The word preached is a feast of fat things. With what delight do men go to a feast! The word preached anoints the blind eye; mollifies the rocky heart; it beats off our fetters, and turns us from the ‘power of Satan unto God.’ Acts 26: 18. The word is the seed of regeneration, and the engine of salvation. James 1: 18. Hear the word with delight and complacency. ‘Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.’ Jer 15: 16. ‘How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.’ Psa 119: 103. Love the word that comes most home to the conscience; bless God when your corruptions have been met with, when the sword of the Spirit has divided between you and your sins. Who cares for the physic which will not work?

[4] If you would hear the word aright, mix it with faith. Believe the truth of the word preached, that it is the word by which you must be judged. Not only give credence to the word preached, but apply it to your own souls. Faith digests the word, and turns it into spiritual nourishment. Many hear the word, but it may be said of them, as in Psa 106: 24 ‘They believed not his word.’ As Melanchthon once said to some Italians ‘Ye Italians worship God in the bread, when ye do not believe him to be in heaven;’ so, many hear God’s words, but do not believe that God is; they question the truth of his oracles. If we do not mix faith with the word, it is like leaving out the chief ingredient in a medicine, which makes it ineffectual. Unbelief hardens men’s hearts against the word. ‘Divers were hardened, and believed not.’ Acts 19: 9. Men hear many truths delivered concerning the preciousness of Christ, the beauty of holiness, and the felicity of a glorified estate; but, if through unbelief and atheism, they question these truths, we may as well speak to stones and pillars of the church as to them. That word which is not believed, can never be practised. Ubi male creditur, ibi nec bene vivitur [When belief is unstable, conduct also wavers]. Jerome. Unbelief makes the word preached of no effect. ‘The word preached did not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.’ Heb 4: 2. The word to an unbeliever is like a cordial put into a dead man’s mouth, which loses all its virtue. If there be any unbelievers in our congregations, what shall ministers say of them to God at the last day? Lord, we have preached to the people thou sentest us to, we have showed them our commission, we have declared unto them thy whole counsel, but they have not believed a word we spake. We told them what would be the fruit of sin, but they would not heed. They would drink their sugared draught, though there was death in the cup. Lord, we are free from their blood. God forbid that ministers should ever have to make this report to him of their people. But this they will be forced to do if their hearers live and die in unbelief. Would you sanctify a Sabbath by hearing the word aright? Hear it with faith. The apostle puts the two together, ‘belief and salvation.’ ‘We are of them that believe to the saving of the soul.’ Heb 10: 39.

[5] If you would hear the word aright, hear it with meek spirits. James 1: 21. Receive the word in mansuetudine, ‘with meekness’. Meekness is a submissive frame of heart to the word. Contrary to this meekness is fierceness of spirit, when men rise up in rage against the word; as if the patient should be angry with the physician when he gives him a medicine to purge out his bad humours. ‘When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and gnashed on him [Stephen] with their teeth.’ Acts 7: 54. ‘Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house.’ 2 Chron 16: 10. Pride and guilt make men fret at the word. What made Asa enraged but pride? He was a king, and thought he was too good to be told of his sin. What made Cain angry when God said to him, ‘Where is Abel, thy brother?’ He replied, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ What made him so touchy but guilt? He had imbrued his hands in his brother’s blood. If you would hear the word aright, lay aside your passions. ‘Receive the word with meekness;’ get humble hearts to submit to the truths delivered. God takes the meek person for his scholar. ‘The meek will he teach his way.’ Psa 25: 9. Meekness makes the word preached to be an ‘ingrafted word.’ James 1: 21. A good scion grafted in a bad stock changes the nature of it, and makes it bear good and generous fruit; so, when the word preached is grafted into men’s hearts, it sanctifies them and makes them bring forth the sweet fruits of righteousness. By meekness it becomes an ingrafted word.

[6] If you would hear the word aright, be not only attentive, but retentive. Lay it up in your memories and hearts. The seed ‘on the good ground are they, which, having heard the word, keep it.’ Luke 8: 15. The Greek word for ‘to keep,’ signifies to hold the word fast, that it does not run from us. If the seed be not kept in the ground, but is presently washed away, it is sown to little purpose; so if the word preached be not kept in your memories and hearts, it is preached in vain. Many persons have memories like leaky vessels. If the word goes out as fast as it comes in, how can it profit? If a treasure be put in a chest and the chest be not locked, it may easily be taken out; so a bad memory is a chest without a lock, out of which the devil can easily take all the treasure. ‘Then comes the devil and taketh away the word out of their hearts.’ Luke 8: 12. Labour to keep in memory the truths you hear. The things we esteem are not easily forgotten. ‘Can a maid forget her ornaments or a bride her attire?’ Jer 2: 32. Did we prize the word more, we should not forget it so soon. If meat does not stay in the stomach, but rises up as fast as we eat it, it cannot nourish; so, if the word stays not in the memory, but is presently gone, it can do the soul but little good.

[7] If you would hear aright, practice what you hear. Practice is the life of all. ‘Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.’ Rev 22: 14. Hearing only will be no plea at the day of judgement – merely to say, ‘Lord, I have heard many sermons.’ God will say, ‘What fruits of obedience have ye brought forth?’ The word preached is not only to inform you but reform you; not only to mend your sight, but to mend your pace in the way to heaven. A good hearer opens and shuts to God as the heliotrope to the sun.

(1) If you do not hear the word to practice it, you lose all your labour. How many a weary step have you taken, your body has been crowded, and your spirit faint, if you are not bettered by hearing! If you are as proud, as vain, and as earthly as ever, all your hearing is lost. You would be loath to trade in vain, and why not to hear sermons in vain? ‘Why then labour I in vain?’ Job 9: 29. Put this question to your own soul: Why labour I in vain? Why do I take all these pains to hear, and yet have not grace to practice it? I am as bad as ever! Why then do I labour in vain?

(2) If you hear the word, and are not bettered by it, you are like the salamander, no hotter in the fire; and your hearing will increase your condemnation. ‘That servant which knew his lord’s will, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ Luke 12: 47. We pity such as know not where to hear; it will be worse with such as care not how they hear. To graceless disobedient hearers, every sermon will be a faggot to heat hell. It is sad to go loaded to hell with ordinances. Oh, beg the Spirit to make the word preached effectual! Ministers can but speak to the ear, the Spirit speaks to the heart. ‘While Peter spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.’ Acts 10: 44.

[8] Having heard the word in a holy and spiritual manner, for the further sanctification of the Sabbath, confer with the word. We are forbidden on this day to speak our own words, but we must speak of God’s word. Isa 58: 13. Speak of the sermons as you sit together; which is one part of sanctifying the Sabbath. Good discourse brings holy truths into our memories, and fastens them upon our hearts. ‘Then they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another.’ Mal 3: 16. There is great power and efficacy in good discourse. ‘How forcible are right words!’ Job 6: 25. By holy conference on a Sabbath, one Christian helps to warm another when he is frozen, and to strengthen another when he is weak. Latimer confessed he was much furthered in religion by having conference with Mr. Bilney the martyr. ‘My tongue shall speak of thy word.’ Psa 119: 172. One reason why preaching the word on a Sabbath does no more good is because there is so little good conference. Few speak of the word they have heard, as if sermons were such secrets that they must not be spoken of again, or as if it were a shame to speak of that which will save us.

[9] Close the Sabbath evening with repetition, reading, singing Psalms, and prayer. Ask that God would bless the word you have heard. Could we but thus spend a Sabbath, we might be ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s-day,’ our souls would be nourished and comforted; and the Sabbaths we now keep, would be earnests of the everlasting Sabbaths which we shall celebrate in heaven.

Use one. See here the Christian’s duty, ‘to keep the Sabbath-day holy.’

(1) The whole Sabbath is to be dedicated to God. It is not said, Keep a part of the Sabbath holy, but the whole day must be religiously observed. If God has given us six days, and taken but one to himself, shall we grudge him any part of that day? It were sacrilege. The Jews kept a whole day to the Lord; and we are not to abridge or curtail the Sabbath, as Augustine says, more than the Jews did. The very heathen, by the light of nature, set apart a whole day in honour of false gods; and Scaevola, a high-priest of theirs, affirms that the wilful transgression of that day could have no expiation or pardon. If any one robs any part of the Christian Sabbath for servile work or recreation, Scaevola, the high priest of the heathenish gods, shall rise up in judgement to condemn him. Let those who say, that to keep a whole Sabbath is too Judaical, show where God has made any abatement of the time of worship; where he has said, you shall keep but a part of the Sabbath; and if they cannot show that, it robs God of his due. That a whole day be designed and set apart for his special worship, is a perpetual statute, while the church remains upon the earth, as Peter Martyr says. Of this opinion also were Theodore, Augustine, Irenaeus, and the chief of the fathers.

(2) As the whole Sabbath is to be dedicated to God, so it must be kept holy. You have seen the manner of sanctifying the Lord’s-day by reading, meditation, prayer, hearing the word, and by singing of psalms to make melody to the Lord. Now, besides what I have said upon keeping this day holy, let me make a short comment or paraphrase on that Scripture. ‘If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable: and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.’ Isa 58: 13. Here is a description of rightly sanctifying a Sabbath.

‘If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath.’ This may be understood either literally or spiritually. Literally, that is, if thou withdrawest thy foot from taking long walks or journeys on the Sabbath-day. So the Jewish doctors expound it. Or, spiritually, if thou turn away thy affections (the feet of thy soul) from inclining to any worldly business.

‘From doing thy pleasure on my holy day.’ That is, thou must not do that which may please the carnal part, as in sports and pastimes. This is to do the devil’s work on God’s day.

‘And call the Sabbath a delight.’ Call it a delight, that is, esteem it so. Though the Sabbath be not a day for carnal pleasure, yet holy pleasure is not forbidden. The soul must take pleasure in the duties of a Sabbath. The saints of old counted the Sabbath a delight: the Jews called the Sabbath dies lucis, a day of light. The Lord’s day, on which the Sun of Righteousness shines, is both a day of light and delight. This is the day of sweet intercourse between God and the soul. On this day a Christian makes his sallies out to heaven; his soul is lifted above the earth; and can this be without delight? The higher the bird flies, the sweeter it sings. On the Sabbath the soul fixes its love on God; and where love is, there is delight. On this day the believer’s heart is melted, quickened, and enlarged in holy duties; and how can all this be, and not a secret delight go along with it? On a Sabbath a gracious soul can say, ‘I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.’ Cant 2: 3. How can a spiritual heart choose but call the Sabbath a delight? Is it not delightful to a queen to be putting on her wedding robes in which she shall meet the king her bridegroom? When we are about Sabbath exercises, we are dressing ourselves, and putting on our wedding robes in which we are to meet our heavenly bridegroom the Lord Jesus; and is not this delightful? On the Sabbath God makes a feast of fat things; he feasts the ear with his word, and the heart with his grace. Well then may we call the Sabbath a delight. To find this holy delight, is to ‘be in the Spirit on the Lord’s-day.’

‘The holy of the Lord, honourable.’ In the Hebrew, it is glorious. To call the Sabbath honourable, is not to be understood so much of an outward honour given to it, by wearing richer apparel, or having better diet on this day, as the Jewish doctors corruptly gloss. This is the chief honour that some give to this day; but by calling the Sabbath honourable, is meant that honour of the heart which we give to the day, reverencing it, and esteeming it as the queen of days. We are to count the Sabbath honourable, because God has honoured it. All the persons in the Trinity have honoured it. God the Father blessed it, God the Son rose upon it, God the Holy Ghost descended on it. Acts 2: 1: This day is to be honoured by all good Christians, and had in high veneration. It is a day of renown, on which a golden sceptre of mercy is held forth. The Christian Sabbath is the very crepusculum and dawning of the heavenly Sabbath. It is honourable, because on this day ‘God comes down to us and visits us.’ To have the King of heaven present in a special manner in our assemblies, makes the Sabbath-day honourable. Besides, the work done on this day makes it honourable. The six days are filled up with servile work, which makes them lose much of their glory; but on this day sacred work is done. The soul is employed wholly about the worship of God; it is praying, hearing, meditating; it is doing angels’ work, praising, and blessing God. Again, the day is honourable by virtue of a divine institution. Silver is of itself valuable; but when the royal stamp is put upon it, it is honourable; so God has put a sacred stamp upon this day, the stamp of divine authority, and the stamp of divine benediction. This makes it honourable; and this is sanctifying the Sabbath, to call it a delight, and honourable.

‘Not doing thine own ways.’ That is, thou shalt not defile the day by doing any servile work.

‘Nor finding thine own pleasure.’ That is, not gratifying the fleshly part by walks, visits, or pastimes.

‘Nor speaking thine own Words.’ That is, words heterogeneous and unsuitable for a Sabbath; vain, impertinent words; discourses of worldly affairs.

Use two. If the Sabbath-day is to be kept holy, they are reproved who, instead of sanctifying the Sabbath, profane it. They take the time which should be dedicated wholly to God, and spend it in the service of the devil and their lusts. The Lord has set apart this day for his own worship, and they make it common. He has set a hedge about this commandment, saying, ‘Remember;’ and they break this hedge; but he who breaks this hedge, a serpent shall bite him. Eccl 10: 8. The Sabbath day in England lies bleeding; and oh! that our parliament would pour some balm into the wounds which it has received! How is this day profaned, by sitting idle at home, by selling meat, by vain discourse, by sinful visits, by walking in the fields, and by sports! The people of Israel might not gather manna on the Sabbath, and may we use sports and dancings on this day? Truly it should be matter of grief to us to see so much Sabbath-profanation. When one of Darius’s eunuchs saw Alexander setting his feet on a rich table of Darius’s, he wept. Alexander asked him why he wept? He said it was to see the table which his master so highly esteemed now made a footstool. So may we weep to see the Sabbath-day, which God highly esteems, and has honoured and blessed, made a footstool, and trampled upon by the feet of sinners. To profane the Sabbath is a great sin; it is a wilful contempt of God; it is not only casting his law behind our back, but trampling it under foot. He says, ‘Keep the Sabbath holy;’ but men pollute it. This is to despise God, to hang out the flag of defiance, to throw down the gauntlet, and challenge God himself. Now, how can God endure to be thus saucily confronted by proud dust? Surely he will not suffer this high impudence to go unpunished. God’s curse will come upon the Sabbath-breaker; and it will blast where it comes. The law of the land lets Sabbath-breakers alone, but God will not. No sooner did Christ curse the fig-tree, but it withered. God will take the matter into his own hand; he will see after the punishing of Sabbath violation. And how does he punish it?

(1) With spiritual plagues. He gives up Sabbath profaners to hardness of heart, and a scared conscience. Spiritual judgements are sorest. ‘So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust.’ Psa 81: 12. A sear in the conscience is a brand-mark of reprobation.

(2) God punishes this sin by giving men up to commit other sins. To revenge the breaking of his Sabbath, he suffers them to break open houses, and so come to be punished by the magistrate. How many such confessions have we heard from thieves going to be executed! They never regarded the Sabbath, and God suffered them to commit those sins for which they are to die.

(3) God punishes Sabbath-breaking by sudden visible judgements on men for this sin. He punishes them in their estates and in their persons. While a certain man was carrying corn into his barn on the Lord’s-day, both house and corn were consumed with fire from heaven. In Wiltshire there was a dancing match appointed upon the Lord’s-day; and while one of the company was dancing, he suddenly fell down dead. The ‘Theatre of God’s Judgements’ relates of one, who used every Lord’s-day to hunt in sermon-time, who had a child by his wife with a head like a dog, and it cried like a hound. His sin was monstrous, and it was punished with a monstrous birth. The Lord threatened the Jews, that if they would not hallow the Sabbath-day, he would kindle a fire in their gates. Jer 17: 27. The dreadful fire which broke out in London began on the Sabbath-day; as if God would tell us from heaven he was then punishing us for our Sabbath profanation. Nor does he punish it only in this life with death, but hereafter with damnation. Let such as break God’s Sabbath see if they can break those chains of darkness in which they and the devils shall be held.

Use three. It exhorts us to Sabbath holiness.

Make conscience of keeping this day holy. The other commandments have an affirmative in them only, or a negative; this fourth commandment has both an affirmative in it and a negative. ‘Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy,’ and, ‘thou shalt not do any manner of work in it,’ shows how carefully God would have us observe this day. Not only must you keep this day yourselves, but have a care that all under your charge keep it; ‘Thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maidservant;’ that is, thou who art a superior, a parent or a master, thou must have a care that not only thou thyself, but those who are under thy trust and tuition, sanctify the day. Those masters of families are to blame who are careful that their servants serve them, but have no care that they serve God; who care not though their servants should serve the devil, so long as their bodies do them service. That which Paul says to Timothy, Serva depositum, ‘That good thing, which was committed unto thee, keep,’ is of large meaning. 1 Tim 1: 11. Not only have a care of thy own soul, but have a care of the souls thou art entrusted with. See that they who are under thy charge sanctify the Sabbath. God’s law provided, that if a man met with an ox or an ass going astray, he should bring him back again; much more, when thou sees the soul of thy child or servant going astray from God, and breaking his Sabbath, thou shouldest bring him back again to a religious observation of this day.

That I may press you to Sabbath-sanctification, consider what great blessings God has promised to the strict observers of this day. Isa 58: 14. (1) A promise of joy. ‘Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord.’ Delighting in God is both a duty and a reward. In this text it is a reward, ‘Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord;’ as if God had said, If thou keep the Sabbath conscientiously, I will give thee that which will fill thee with delight; if thou keep the Sabbath willingly, I will make thee keep it joyfully. I will give thee those enlargements in duty, and that inward comfort, which shall abundantly satisfy thee; thy soul shall overflow with such a stream of joy, that thou shalt say, ‘Lord, in keeping thy Sabbath there is great reward. (2) Of honour. And ‘I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth.’ That is, I will advance thee to honour, ascendere faciam; so Munster interprets it. Some, by the high places of the earth, understand Judea; so Grotius. I will bring thee into the land of Judea, which is situated higher than the other countries adjacent. (3) Of earth and heaven. ‘And I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob;’ that is, I will feed thee with all the delicious things of Canaan, and afterwards I will translate thee to heaven, whereof Canaan was but a type. Another promise is, ‘Blessed is the man that does this, that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it.’ Isa 56: 2. ‘Blessed is the man;’ in the Hebrew it is, ‘blessednesses.’ To him that keeps the Sabbath holy, here is blessedness upon blessedness belonging to him; he shall be blessed with the upper and nether springs; he shall be blessed in his name, estate, soul, progeny. Who would not keep the Sabbath from polluting it that shall have so many blessings entailed upon him and his posterity after him? Again, a conscientious keeping of the Sabbath seasons the heart for God’s service all the week after. Christian the more holy thou art on a Sabbath, the more holy thou wilt be on the week following.

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Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind