The Use of the Sabbath

J.R. Miller
(1840-1912)


(Editor's note: Though we don't believe that Old Testament Sabbath observation is binding on Christians today, we think that the following short article is helpful to those  who would like to set a day each week apart for spiritual renewal.)

It is important that we understand the meaning of the Sabbath in relation to our individual spiritual life. We are apt to look at the day and its observance chiefly from the side of duty. We find it enjoined in the Decalogue, that we should remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. We learn from the Bible that the day was set apart by peculiar sanctions. But the devotional value of the Sabbath is not so often considered. To the individual Christian, however, this is a most important phase of the subject. What is the purpose of the day as a "means of grace"? What help is it intended to be to us in our spiritual life?

No doubt it is meant to be a day of rest from the ordinary labors and tasks which occupy us during the week. Six days we are to work diligently, and then on the seventh day we are to rest. The more completely we can get away from our weekday occupations the better. There is a blessing in Sabbath rest. We cannot go on forever without rest. We must pause now and then to take our breath and renew our strength.

But rest is not the only purpose of the Sabbath. It is to be a day also for spiritual renewing. The tendency of our life in the world, with its secularities, its cares, its grinding and pinching, is to make us forget God and the things of the spiritual life. The Sabbath not only calls us away to rest for a day from this wearying toil but invites us also for a season to thoughts and occupations which will lift heart and mind out of the entanglement of earthly and material things into a range of thought and feeling altogether different. For one day we can go up out of the narrow valley, with its little space of dusty road and its dreary outlook and stand on a mountain top to get a vision of glory and beauty which will give us new thoughts of life.

This purpose of the Sabbath suggests also how the day should be spent. If we make it a day of merely worldly pleasure we only substitute one class of secularities for another, and this will give us no spiritual uplift. To get from the holy day what it is meant to give to us, we should occupy heart and thought with things that are spiritual. It should be a day for thinking of God and of the things that are eternal, of our own relation to God and to our fellow-men, of our duties, obligations, and responsibilities.

A tourist among the Alps tells of climbing one of the mountains in a dense and dripping mist until he had passed through the clouds and stood on a lofty peak in the clear sunlight. Beneath him lay the fog, like a waveless sea of white vapor. He could hear the sounds of labor, the lowing of the cattle, the voices of the children and the peals of the village bells, coming up from the vales below. But there he stood on the tall summit, far above all the vexed, troubled, broken life of the vales, with only Heaven's deep blue above his head and the glorious mountain peaks round him.

Something like this a true Sabbath experience is to every devout life. Through the weekdays we dwell in the low valleys, amid the mists. Life in the world is full of struggles, of failures, of disappointments, of burden-bearing. Then the Sabbath comes and we climb up out of the low places of care, toil and tears, and spend the day in the sweet, pure air of God's love and peace. We get near to the heart of Christ. We come into the goodly fellowship of Christian people and get fresh inspiration from our contact with them. We have wider views. We see life from the Heaven side. We see God's face and hear his voice.

Such an hour on the Sabbath changes all life for us for the whole week before us. We see everything in a new light. We have a new perspective after that, in which all things appear in their true relations. The world is far more beautiful, for we see it now as our Father's world. The Sabbath songs sing in our heart all the week and make the way easier and the burdens lighter.

It is when we thus make the Sabbath a day to get into God's presence and to hold converse with the things of the spiritual world, that we find the blessing it has for us. Then it sends us into the week braver and stronger, with new inspiration for gentle living, for kindly ministry, for heroic struggle. Our heart gets out of tune, its strings become jangled and discordant, in the vexing life of the weekdays but the Sabbath sets us right again and prepares us for living sweetly, so as to please God and to be a blessing in the world.