Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Not Wanting to Remember
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a
forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
Question 121 of the Larger Catechism asks, “Why is the word Remember set in the
beginning of the Fourth Commandment?” It gives the answer, “The word Remember
is set in the beginning of the Fourth Commandment, partly, because of the great
benefit of remembering it, we being thereby helped in our preparation to keep it, and, in keeping it, better to keep all the rest of the commandments, and to continue a thankful remembrance of the two great benefits of creation and redemption, which contain a short abridgment of religion; and partly, because we are very ready to forget it, for that there is less light of nature for it, and yet it restraineth our natural liberty in things at other times lawful; that it cometh but once in seven days, and many worldly businesses come between, and too often take off our minds from thinking of it, either to prepare for it, or to sanctify it; and that Satan with his instruments much labour to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it, to bring in all irreligion and impiety.”
I have to confess that when I was first examined for licensure I took an exception to
the Westminster Confession’s teaching of the Sabbath. Having seriously studied John Calvin, I was very much influenced by what he says about the Sabbath in his magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Though he writes differently in his sermons on the Fourth Commandment, in the Institutes Calvin did away with much of the Sabbath for the Christian. Luther and Calvin both criticized the Roman church for its continued “Jewish” view of the Sabbath, largely changing only the day from Saturday to Sunday. My own position was not entirely worked out but I came to the position that apart from going to worship there was no more duty for the Christian on Sunday. I logically drew out the position that, since on this side of the cross the believer is able to come fully before God without any typological mediators or offerings, we are to equally keep every day holy to the Lord. I remember thinking that every day is the Sabbath for the Christian, every day is to be lived out entirely for the Lord. So, whether I eat or drink, work or rest, live or die it is all to be done coram deo before God and for His glory. This led me into concluding that all of life is holy, all of life is worship.
When, during the exam, Rev. Arney Frank asked me if I then believed that there were only nine commandments for the Christian, it caused me to pause. I knew I did not want to say that. But if all of life was equally worship, what place could I allow in the Fourth Commandment for coming to a worship service? I remember reasoning that keeping the Sabbath meant to do everything for God’s glory all the time. So, I keep the Sabbath by keeping all of the other nine commandments and I break the Sabbath whenever I break any of the other nine commandments. So, in this way I was able to say that there were still Ten Commandments for the Christian. But this position – that the Fourth Commandment simply called us to keep all the rest – was not very satisfying. I knew that weekly corporate worship was the normative practice in the New Testament church and was taught explicitly in several places (Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 16:2). So, if all of life was worship and yet I still needed a weekly worship service, could it also be the case that every day is holy and yet I still needed a weekly holy day? After reading three sermons by Jonathan Edwards on the subject, I was eventually convinced of the Westminster Sabbath. I believe Heb. 4:1-10 shows that believers still need a weekly rest in God for their sanctification. We are to keep the Sabbath day holy because we need it until we enter fully the rest of God when we die.
When I look back on my struggle to accept this doctrine, it is true that there is less
light of nature for it (i.e. we do not sense the moral evil of breaking the Sabbath as
we do lying, stealing, etc.), but for me the chief reason I believe I struggled so long
was that I did not want to have a day every week when I could not do whatever I
wanted to do. I did not believe in the Sabbath because I did not want to have to keep the Sabbath! Yet, I finally had to admit that even if every day is in a sense equally holy to the Christian, would not I benefit, would not all Christians benefit by setting aside one day per week to, in a very deliberate way, think about God and the things of God? Yes, I believe we would. Therefore, I believe God still says to us, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Because we, like the Israelites, need this means of grace in our lives. Intentionally rest in God every Sunday and see how that helps to sanctify you.