Better late than never, and since all I did last week was update the outline without any comments, I need to take this time to reflect on Fisher’s handling of the 2nd through the 5th of the ten commandments (or at least one through four, with particular attention to the fourth).
It was in one of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons which I read years ago that first pointed out to me so succinctly the primacy of worship as found in the first four commandments. Fisher’s Marrow of Modern Divinity is only the second source I can recall finding it again, though many Puritans surely observed the same. We can’t afford to miss it. In the first commandment, God appoints the OBJECT of our worship; in the second he appoints the MEANS, in the third he appoints the MANNER, and in the fourth he appoints the TIME. Fisher’s characterization of the first four commandments along these lines spans several pages, but they are there to the observant reader. If I hadn’t read Edwards’ sermon first, I might have missed them, and it makes me wonder if Edwards could have picked this up from reading Fisher himself.
In any case, despite the risk of sounding censorious or contentious (both of which I will strive to avoid), I want to share my thoughts on the plight of the fourth commandment in our day, and in view of Fisher’s handling of it. Fisher is fully in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith in regard to the fourth commandment, as found in chapter 21, sections 7 and 8:
7. As it is of the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.
8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in duties of necessity and mercy.
Reading the Puritans on the fourth commandment is one area where the sea breezes of the past (to borrow C. S. Lewis’ phrase) tend to pelt our faces with dashes of salt, as they reveal the saltiness our culture has lost in comparison. The gap shows up in responses such as, “Spend a whole day in worship? Are you kidding?”. Or how about, “That’s not what they meant.”
As a member of a church belonging to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), I have heard similar objections, and sadly, this is one area wherein, at least in our presbytery, allowance is made for scruple. For instance, if a ministerial candidate wants to go outside and throw the ball around with his son, that is considered an acceptable scruple to the WCF. In addition, it would seem that going shopping, watching sports, going to movies, dining out, and travelling on vacation are all acceptable scruples, judging by common practice among members (and for lack of any admonition from the pulpit to refrain from such activities). So it would seem that the fourth commandment as explained in the WCF, at least in some quarters of the PCA, is an option. You may take it or leave it.
Now about this time I imagine some might be saying, “But we are saved by grace, not by works. That Sabbath keeping sort of thing sounds legalistic.” The proper response here is the same one that Fisher provided earlier in our text when he responded to antinomian objections by pointing out that the Christian is not free to do those things that are ungodly and wicked (pp. 199-200). If God has appointed the TIME as well as the OBJECT, MEANS, and MANNER of our worship, who is man to refuse him?
Here especially God’s moral law should be viewed as a great blessing. As I heard in a sermon many years ago, the Lord’s Day is a gift, wherein God says, “I have cleared your calendar. You get to spend the whole day with me.” How else would a child of God prefer to spend the day?
For the past seventeen years it has been my practice to observe the Lord’s Day from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. During that time, as a family we engage in public and private worship, and in deeds of necessity and mercy. I have found Sunday to be my favorite day of the week, and I think that is how it is to be intended, because, as J. C. Ryle observed in his book, Holiness, heaven will be a never ending Sabbath:
“Now perhaps you think praying, and Scripture-reading, and hymn-singing, dull and melancholy, and stupid work — a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed. You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it worshipping God. But remember, heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day or night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,’ and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?”
After returning from the General Assembly of the PCA this year, our pastor lamented the lack of impact our denomination now seems to have. If we have lost any saltiness, drawing aside one day in seven as the Lord graciously commands us and as espoused by the WCF, could go a long way toward restoring it. Granted, I am nowhere near as mortified to sin and vivified in the Spirit as I should be, or long to be. But I shudder to think where I would be were it not for drawing aside one day in seven for the Lord’s Day, and seeking to enjoy the WHOLE day with Him.
Please follow the links below from the Reformation21 website, for related articles.
Through the Westminster Confession, Chapter 21.7, Derek Thomas
Through the Westminster Confession, Chapter 21.8 Derek Thomas
“Make no mistake about it, a world without a Sabbath is tyrannical and unforgiving. It has no gospel.”
Advice for Sabbath Keeping, Rick Phillips