THE THIRD COMMANDMENT.
Thou shalt sanctify the Sabbath-day.
We have named the Sabbath-day after the Hebrew word Sabbath, which properly signifies to rest, that is, to cease from labor; hence we are accustomed to say: Cease working, or sanctify the Sabbath. Now in the Old Testament, God selected the seventh day, and designed it as a cessation from labor, and commanded it to be kept holy in preference to all others; but with respect to this external cessation from labor, this commandment was designed for the Jews only, that they should cease and rest from secular labor or employments, so that both man and beast might be refreshed, and not exhausted by constant labor. They afterwards, however, viewed it in a manner too contracted, and they grossly misused it, so that they censured it in Christ also, and could not tolerate such works as they themselves had performed on that day, as we read in the Gospel; precisely as if this commandment were fulfilled in not performing any external work, which was not, however, the design, but it was more particularly intended that they should sanctify the Sabbath, or day of rest, as we shall hear.
This commandment, therefore, with respect to its outward and literal sense, does not concern Christians; for it is wholly an external thing, like other ordinances of the Old Testament, confined to certain conditions, persons, times, and places, which are all now abrogated through Christ. But in order that we may draw up for the uninformed, a Christian sense of what God requires of us in this commandment, it is necessary to observe, that we keep the Sabbath-day, not for the sake of intelligent and matured Christians; for these have no need of it: but in the first place, on account of physical reasons and necessities which nature teaches and requires for the common mass of people, men-servants and maid-servants, who attend during the whole week to their labor and employments, so that they may also havee a day set apart for rest and recreation: in the second, mostly for the purpose of enabling us to embrace time and opportunity on these Sabbath-days, (since we cannot otherwise embrace them,) to attend to divine service, so that we may assemble ourselves to hear and treat the Word of God, and to praise him, by singing and prayer.
But this, I say, is not so confined to time, as it was among the Jews, that it must be precisely this or that day; for one day is not better in itself than another, but it should be daily attended to; but since the common class of people cannot attend to it, we should reserve one day in the week, at least , for this purpose. Inasmuch, however, as Sunday has been set apart from old for this purpose, we should therefore let it remain so, that the Sabbath may be observed with uniformity, and that no one create disorder through unnecessary innovation. This is accordingly the simple meaning of this commandment, that, since festivals are observed, they should be devoted to the study of God's Word; so that this day is most appropriate for preaching the Gospel, for the sake of the young and the indigent; yet we should not view this cessation from labor in a manner so contracted, as forbidding other casual labor which we cannot avoid.
Wherefore, when it is asked, what is meant by the declaration, Thou shalt sanctify the Sabbath-day? Reply: Nothing else but to be employed in holy words and actions; for this day needs no sanctification for itself, because it is created holy in itself; but God desires it to be holy to you. Thus it becomes holy and unholy on your account, if you perform holy or unholy things on it.
How, then, is this sanctification accomplished? Not by remaining idle at home, and performing no coarse labor, nor by decorating the head with a wreath, and dressing in the finest and best apparel, but, as I have said, by being engaged in the Word of God, and exercising in it.
And in truth we Christians should always observe such holiday, performing nothing but holy duties; that is, we should be occupied in the Word of God daily, and bear it on our lips and in our hearts. But since all of us, as already said, have not time and leisure, we must devote a few hours during the week to the young, or at least a day to the multitude, so that we may be concerned about this alone, and especially urge the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, and thus regulate the whole course of our life and employment according to the Word of God. Now, at whatever tis duty is earnestly attended to, then a holiday is observed correctly, when it is not, it should not be called a Christian Sabbath; for a mere remission of labor can be observed by persons who are not Christians; as the whole multitude of our ecclesiastics stand daily in the church, singing and exclaiming, but sanctify not the Sabbath-day; for they neither preach nor urge the Word of God, but even teach and live contrary to it.
For the Word of God is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries, yes, the only one which we Christians know and have. For even if we had all relics of saints, or holy and consecrated clothes together in a mass, it would still benefit us nothing; for it is all a dead thing, which can sanctify no one. But the Word of God is the treasure which makes all things holy, and through which all the saints themselves were sanctified. In whatever hour, then, the Word of God is taught, preached, heard, read, or considered, the person, day, and work, are thereby sanctified, – not on account of the external performance, but on account of the Word which constitutes all of us saints. For this reason, I always say that our lives and works must be governed and directed according to the Word of God, if they are to be well-pleasing to him and holy; where this is done, this commandment is fully and effectually observed. On the other hand, whatever duty and work are instituted or performed independent of the Word of God, they are unholy in his sight, no matter how beautiful and splendid they may appear, even if decorated with the specious garb of holiness; of this character are the humanly instituted Ecclesiastical Orders, who do not know the Word of God, and seek holiness in their works.
Observe then, that the power and efficacy of this commandment, do not consist in cessation from labor, but in keeping it holy; so that this day has a particular holy duty. For other labor and employment are not properly styled holy exercises, unless the person be previously holy. But here a work must be performed, through which a person becomes holy himself,– a thing which, as already shown, occurs through the Word of God alone; and to this effect places, times, persons, and the whole external service of God, are appointed and ordained, so that it may be publicly and assiduously exercised.
Since then, so much depends on the Word of God, that without it no Sabbath-day can be sanctified, we should know that God desires to have this commadnment strictly observed, and that he will punish all who reject his Word and are unwilling to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for this purpose. Therefore, not only those sin against this commandment, who grossly abuse and impiously profane the Sabbath-day, as those who, on account of their avarice or wantonness, neglect to hear the Word of God, or lie in taverns, full and stupid like swine; but those also, who listen to the Word of God as to idle talk, and attend preaching merely for the sake of fashion, and when the year has gone by, know as little as they did before. For heretofore it was the opinion that the day was truly sanctified, if one mass or the Gospel was heard on Sunday; but no one made inquiry about the Word of God, nor was it taught by any one. And now, in truth, although we have the Word of God, still we do not suppress this abuse; we allow persons to preach to us, and to admonish us continually, but hear them without earnestness and concern. Know, therefore, that it is not sufficient for us to hear only, but we should also learn and observe; and think not, that it is left to your discretion, or that little depends on it, but that it is God's commandment, who will require of you how you have heard, learned, and honored his Word. In like manner, those fastidious spirits must also be reproved, who, after having heard a sermon or two, are so vain as to presume that they understand it perfectly themselves, and have no further need for a teacher. For this is even the sin, which was heretofore numbered among irrevocable sins, and called akedeia, () that is, listlessness or disgust,– a malignant and pernicious calamity, by which the devil fascinates and deceives many hearts, in order that he may overwhelm us, and clandestinely again draw away from us the Word of God.
Permit us then to say to you, that even if you understood the Word of God in the most perfect maner, and were master of all things, you are still, however, perpetually under the influence of Satan, who ceases neither day nor night, in his endeavors to deceive you in order that he may excite in your heart unbelief and evil thoughts, against the former, and all commandments; you must, for this reason, perpetually have in your heart, lips, and ears, the Word of God. But if the heart remains idle and the Word does not find a response, he obtrudes himself, and has accomplished the injuries before we are aware of it. The Word has, moreover, such efficacy, that, if it is considered, heard, and treated of with sincerity, it never vanishes without fruit, but always excites new ideas and emotions, and creates a pure heart and pure thoughts; for it is not inactive or lifeless, but it is an energetic, living word. And if no other motive or necessity urges us to a consideration of the Divine Word, this should excite every one to it, since through it Satan is alarmed and repelled, and this commandment is fulfilled, and since it is more acceptable in the sight of God, than all glittering, hypocritical works.