Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Keeping the Sabbath Holy with All My Heart
I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go into the house of the LORD."
Question 119 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the Fourth Commandment?” It gives the answer, “The sins forbidden in the Fourth Commandment are, all omissions of the duties required, all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing of them, and being weary of them; all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful; and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.” Last week we examined the duty of superiors to allow those under them to keep the Sabbath. Today we consider how the Sabbath is profaned.
God commands us to remember the Sabbath Day, and that our remembering is for the purpose of keeping the day holy. We have already seen that the day is kept holy by worshipping and by resting. However, as with all of the commandments, we must not keep the Fourth Commandment merely outwardly; going through the motions of worship and rest; we must keep it inwardly, that is, truly and sincerely from the heart. Accordingly, when today’s question sets forth the transgressions which profane the Sabbath Day, it immediately begins to speak to the quality of our outward obedience. We must go to church and worship God on Sunday, but to do so carelessly or negligently, without seeking to profit spiritually from the exercise, is to play the hypocrite before God. Of course, our sinful natures will always be weary of worshipping God, but we are charged to put those natures to death and to refresh ourselves in the nearness of God’s presence, which is promised to all those who come to His worship in expectant faith.
When I was a boy in the small town of Saltsburg, most families regularly went to worship on Sunday morning, but I distinctly remember something I saw nearly every week, which leads me to conclude that for many of us the worship was not sincere. That is, most of the men did not sing. You may think that is a small thing, and true it does not necessarily show forth the heart, and yet as a small boy I remember concluding to myself that singing to God is what mostly older women do. Men do not allow their emotions to be moved enough to sing to God, and even when they did, they must do so in a detached manner, simply to be polite and part of the group when it is time to sing.
What a contrast to the Psalm quoted above! God’s people should be glad to worship Him. They should love to sing the songs of Zion. In 1 Chronicles 13:8, when David was bringing the ark to Jerusalem, it says that “all Israel” played music and sang “with all their might.” God’s people count it their highest blessing and privilege to be able to sing praise to God and to have Him accept it. Human nature is never exalted more than when it is praising God outwardly and from the heart. So also, when we listen to the prayers and readings, when we give our offerings and pay attention during sermons, we must do so from the heart: being conscious of what we are doing, doing it willingly, and with a real desire to glorify God and to grow in our faith and repentance to Him. Christ died so that we could be restored to the presence of God. And the response of a redeemed sinner having been brought near to God is always to worship Him, for when we consider what He has done for us, our hearts cannot help but to burst forth in a flood of thanksgiving, praise, and giving glory and honor to His Name.
So also, rest, like worship, must be done from the heart. We all recognize the huge difference between a man contentedly resting in God and being refreshed by that rest, and one sitting around being bored with nothing to do. The first man loves his rest, the second one hates it. To rightly rest on the Sabbath is not to be bored, but to repose in the luxurious presence of God! When we are rightly resting in God we will not seek to entertain ourselves by needlessly thinking about or engaging in secular works and recreations, for all that we do and think will be done in thanksgiving and with a view to enjoying the good things of God to His glory. May our good God grant us ever more such true worship and holy rest!