The Ten Commandments
by Thomas Watson
The FOURTH Commandment
[Editor's note: We do not believe that the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath
(which was Saturday), with all its rules and regulations, was ever
changed into the New Testament Lord's Day. Please see John
MacArthur's helpful two page article, "Are the
Sabbath laws binding on Christians today?" Nevertheless, the following
chapter by Watson contains much outstanding material.]
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six
days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath
to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your
son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor
the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and
the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh
day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Exodus
This commandment was engraved in stone by God's own
finger—and it will be our comfort to have it engraved in our hearts!
The Sabbath-day is set apart for God's solemn worship; it
is his own enclosure, and must not be used for common uses. As a preface to
this commandment, he has put a memento to it, "Remember the Sabbath day by
keeping it holy." This word, "remember," shows that we are apt to forget
Sabbath holiness; therefore we need a memorandum to put us in mind of
sanctifying the day.
I. There is in these words a solemn command.
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."
 The matter of it. The sanctifying the Sabbath, which
consists in two things, in resting from our own works, and in a
conscientious discharge of our religious duties.
 The people to whom the command of sanctifying the
Sabbath is given. "On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your
son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor
the alien within your gates."
II. The arguments to obey this commandment of keeping
holy the Sabbath.
 From the rationality of it. "Six days shall
you labor and do all your work;" as if God had said, I am not a hard master,
I do not grudge you time to look after your vocation, and to get an estate.
I have given you six days to do all your work in, and have taken but one day
for myself. I might have reserved six days for myself, and allowed you but
one; but I have given you six days for the works of your vocation, and have
taken but one day for my own service. It is just and rational, therefore,
that you should set this day in a special manner apart for my worship.
 The second argument for sanctifying the Sabbath, is
taken from the justice of it. "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the
Lord your God;" as if God had said, The Sabbath-day is my due, I challenge a
special right in it, and no other has any claim to it. He who robs me of
this day, and puts it to common uses, is a sacrilegious person, he steals
from the crown of heaven, and I will in nowise hold him guiltless!
 The third argument for sanctifying the Sabbath, is
taken from God's own observance of it. He "rested the seventh day;" as if
the Lord should say, "Will you not follow me as a pattern? Having finished
all my works of creation, I rested the seventh day; so having done all your
secular work on the six days, you should now cease from the labor of your
vocation, and dedicate the seventh day to me, as a day of holy rest."
 The fourth argument for Sabbath-sanctification, is
taken from the benefit which redounds from a religious observation of
the Sabbath. "The Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it." God
not only appointed the seventh day—but he blessed it. It is not only
a day of honor to God—but a day of blessing to us. It is not
only a day wherein we give God worship—but a day wherein he gives us grace.
On this day a blessing drops down from heaven. God himself is not benefitted
by it, we cannot add one grain to his essential glory; but we ourselves are
benefitted. This day, religiously observed, entails a blessing upon our
souls, our estate, and our posterity. Not keeping it, brings a curse. Jer
17:27. God curses a man's blessings. Mal 2:2. The bread which he eats is
poisoned with a curse; so the conscientious observation of the Sabbath,
brings all manner of blessings with it. These are the arguments to induce
The thing I would have you now observe is, that the
commandment of keeping the Sabbath was not abrogated with the ceremonial
law—but is purely moral, and the observation of it is to be continued to the
end of the world. Where can it be shown that God has given us a discharge
from keeping one day in seven?
WHY has God appointed a Sabbath?
(1) With respect to HIMSELF. It is requisite
that God should reserve one day in seven for his own immediate service, that
thereby he might be acknowledged to be the great Plenipotentiary, or
sovereign Lord—who has power over us both to command worship, and appoint
the time when he will be worshiped.
(2) With respect to US. The Sabbath-day is for
our interest; it promotes holiness in us. The business of week-days makes us
forgetful of God and our souls: the Sabbath brings him back to our
remembrance. When the dust of the world has clogged the wheels of our
affections, that they can scarce move towards God—the Sabbath comes, and
oils the wheels of our affections, and they move swiftly on! God has
appointed the Sabbath for this end. On this day the thoughts rise to
heaven, the tongue speaks of God, and is as the pen of a ready
writer, the eyes drop tears, and the soul burns in love! The
heart, which all the week was frozen, on the Sabbath melts with the Word.
The Sabbath is a friend to true religion; it files off the rust of our
graces; it is a spiritual jubilee, wherein the soul is set to
converse with its Maker.
I should next show you the modes, or manner, how we
should keep the Sabbath day holy; but before I come to that, we have a great
question to consider.
Why is it, that we do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath,
(Saturday) as it was in the primitive institution—but have changed it to
another day (Sunday)?
The old seventh-day Sabbath, which was the Jewish
Sabbath, is abrogated, and in the place of it the first day of the week,
which is the Christian Sabbath, succeeds. The morality or
substance of the fourth commandment does not lie in keeping the
seventh day precisely—but keeping one day in seven is what God has
Why is it, that the first day in the week to be
substituted in the room of the seventh day?
Not by ecclesiastic authority. "The church," says Mr
Perkins, "has no power to ordain a Sabbath."
(1) The change of the Sabbath from the last day of
the week to the first, was by Christ's own appointment. He is "Lord
of the Sabbath." Mark 2:28. And who shall appoint a day but he who is Lord
of it? He made this day. "This is the day which the Lord has made." Psalm
118:24. Arnobius and most expositors understand it of the Christian Sabbath,
which is called the "Lord's day." Rev 1:10. As it is called the "Lord's
Supper," because of the Lord's instituting the bread and wine and setting it
apart from a common to a special and sacred use; so it is called the
Lord's-day, because of the Lord's instituting it, and setting it apart from
common days, to his special worship and service. Christ rose on the first
day of the week, out of the grave, and appeared twice on that day to his
disciples, John 20:19, 26, which was to intimate to them, as Augustine and
Athanasius say, that he transferred the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord's day.
(2) The keeping of the first day was the practice of the
apostles. "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together
to break bread, Paul preached unto them." Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2. Here was
both preaching and breaking of bread on this day. Augustine and Innocentius,
and Isidore, make the keeping of our gospel Sabbath to be of apostolic
sanction, and affirm, that by virtue of the apostles' practice, this day is
to be set apart for divine worship. What the apostles did, they did by
divine authority; for they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
(3) The primitive church had the Lord's-day, which we now
celebrate, in high estimation. It was a great badge of their religion to
observe this day. Ignatius, the most ancient father, who lived in the time
of John the apostle, has these words, "Let everyone who loves Christ keep
holy the first day of the week, the Lord's-day." This day has been observed
by the church of Christ for over sixteen hundred years, as the learned Bucer
notes. Thus you see how the seventh-day Sabbath came to be changed to the
The grand reason for changing the Jewish Sabbath to the
Lord's-day, is that it puts us in mind of the "Mystery of our redemption by
Christ." The reason why God instituted the old Sabbath was to be a memorial
of the creation; but he has now brought the first day of the week in
its room in memory of a more glorious work than creation, which is
redemption. Great was the work of creation—but greater was the
work of redemption. As it was said, "The glory of this latter house
shall be greater than of the former." Hag 2:9. So the glory of the
redemption was greater than the glory of the creation. Great
wisdom was seen in making us—but more miraculous wisdom in saving
us. Great power was seen in bringing us out of nothing—but greater power
in helping us when we were worse than nothing. It cost more to redeem than
to create us. In creation it was but speaking a word (Psalm 148:5);
in redeeming there was shedding of blood. 1 Pet 1:19. Creation was
the work of God's fingers, Psalm 8:3, redemption was the work of his
arm. Luke 1:51. In creation, God gave us ourselves; in the
redemption, he gave us himself. By creation, we have life in Adam; by
redemption, we have life in Christ. Col 3:3. By creation, we had a right to
an earthly paradise: by redemption, we have a title to a heavenly kingdom.
Christ might well change the seventh day of the week into the first, as it
puts us in mind of our redemption, which is a more glorious work than
Use one. The use I shall make of this is—that
we should have the Christian Sabbath, we now celebrate, in high veneration.
The Jews called the Sabbath, "The desire of days, and the queen of days."
This day we must call a "delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable." Isa
58:13. Metal that has the king's stamp upon it is honorable, and of great
value. God has set his royal stamp upon the Sabbath; it is the Sabbath of
the Lord, and this makes it honorable. We should look upon this day as the
best day in the week. What the phoenix is among birds, what the sun is among
planets—the Lord's-day is among other days. "This is the day which the Lord
has made." Psalm 118:24. God has made all the days—but he has blessed this.
As Jacob got the blessing from his brother, so the Sabbath got the blessing
from all other days in the week. It is a day in which we converse in a
special manner with God.
The Jews called the Sabbath "a day of light;" so on this
day the Sun of Righteousness shines upon the soul. The Sabbath is the
market-day of the soul, the cream of time. It is the day of Christ's
rising from the grave, and the Holy Spirit's descending upon the earth. It
is perfumed with the sweet odor of prayer, which goes up to heaven as
incense. On this day the manna falls, that is angels' food. This is the
soul's festival-day, on which the graces act their part: the other days of
the week are most employed about earth—this day about heaven; then you
gather straw—now pearl. Now Christ takes the soul up into the mount, and
gives it transfiguring sights of glory. Now he leads his spouse into the
wine-cellar, and displays the banner of his love. Now he gives her his
spiced wine, and the juice of the pomegranate. Canticles 2:4, 8:2. The Lord
usually reveals himself more to the soul on this day. The apostle John was
in the Spirit on the Lord's-day. Rev 1:10. He was carried up on this
day in divine raptures towards heaven. This day a Christian is in the
altitudes; he walks with God, and takes as it were a turn with him in
heaven. 1 John 1:3. On this day holy affections are quickened; the stock of
grace is improved; corruptions are weakened; and Satan falls like lightning
before the majesty of the Word.
Christ wrought most of his miracles upon the Sabbath; so
he does still: dead souls are raised and hearts of stone are made flesh. How
highly should we esteem and reverence this day! It is more precious than
rubies. God has anointed it with the oil of gladness above its fellows. On
the Sabbath we are doing angels' work, our tongues are tuned to God's
praises. The Sabbath on earth is a shadow and type of the glorious rest and
eternal Sabbath we hope for in heaven, when God shall be the temple, and the
Lamb shall be the light of it. Rev 21:22, 23.
Use two. "SIX days shall you labor." God would
not have any live without working. True religion gives no warrant for
idleness. It is a duty to labor six days, as well as keep holy rest on the
seventh day. "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a
man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some among you are idle.
They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in
the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." 2
Thessalonians 3:10-12. A Christian must not only mind heaven—but his
vocation. While the pilot has his eye to the star, he has his hand
to the helm. Without labor the pillars of a commonwealth will dissolve,
and the earth, like the sluggard's field, will be overrun with briers. Prov
24:31. Adam in innocence, though monarch of the world, must not be idle—but
must dress and until the ground. Gen 2:15. Piety does not exclude
industry. Standing water putrifies.
Inanimate creatures are in motion. The sun
goes its circuit, the fountain runs, and the fire sparkles.
Animate creatures work. Solomon sends us to the
ant to learn labor. Prov 6:6; 30:25. The bee is the emblem of
industry; some of the bees trim the honey, others work the wax, others frame
the honey-comb, others lie sentinel at the door of the hive to keep out the
drone. And shall not man much more labor? That law in paradise was never
repealed. "In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread." Gen 3:19. Such
professors are to be excluded, who talk of living by faith—but live without
working; they are like the lilies which "toil not, neither do they spin."
Matt 6:28. It is a speech of holy and learned Mr Perkins, "Let a man be
endowed with excellent gifts, and hear the Word with reverence, and receive
the sacrament—yet if he does not work—all is but hypocrisy." What is an idle
person good for? What benefit is a ship which lies always on the shore? What
benefit is armor which hangs up and rusts?
To live without working, exposes a person to temptation.
Melanchthon calls idleness "the Devil's bath," because he bathes himself
with delight in an idle soul. We do not sow seed in ground when it lies
fallow; but Satan sows most of his seed of temptation in such people as lie
fallow, and live without working. Idleness is the nurse of vice!
Seneca, an old heathen, could say, "No day passes me without some labor." An
idle person stands for a cipher in the world; God writes down no
ciphers in the book of life! We read in Scripture of eating the "bread of
idleness," and drinking the "wine of violence." Prov 31:27; 4:17. It is as
much a sin to eat "the bread of idleness," as to "drink the wine of
An idle person can give no good account of his time. Time
is a talent to trade with. The slothful person "hides his talent in the
earth;" he does no good; his time is not lived—but lost. An
idle person lives unprofitably, he cumbers the ground. God calls the
slothful servant "wicked." "You wicked and slothful servant."
Matt 25:26. Draco, whose laws were written in blood, deprived those of their
life, who would not work for their living. In Hetruria, they caused such
idle people to be banished. Idle people live in the breach of the
commandment, "Six days shall you labor." Let them take heed they are not
banished from heaven! A man may as well go to hell for not working—as for
Having spoken of the REASONS of sanctifying the Sabbath I
come now to
III. The MANNER of sanctifying the Sabbath.
 Negatively. We must do no work on it. This
is the commandment. "On it you shall not do any work." God has set apart
this day for himself; therefore we are not to use it for common things, such
as by doing any civil work. As when Abraham went to sacrifice, he left his
servants and the donkey at the bottom of the hill; so, when we are to
worship God on this day, we must leave all worldly business behind, leave
the donkey at the bottom of the hill. Gen 22:5. As Joseph, when he would
speak with his brethren, thrust out the Egyptians, so, when we would
converse with God on this day, we must thrust out all earthly employments.
The Lord's day is a day of holy rest. All secular work
must be forborne and suspended, as it is a profanation of the day. "One
Sabbath day I saw some men of Judah treading their winepresses. They were
also bringing in bundles of grain and loading them on their donkeys. And on
that day they were bringing their wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of
produce to Jerusalem to sell. So I rebuked them for selling their produce on
the Sabbath. So I confronted the leaders of Judah—Why are you profaning the
Sabbath in this evil way?" Neh 13:15, 17. It is sacrilege to rob for civil
work—the time which God has set apart for his worship. He who devotes any
time of the Sabbath to worldly business, is a worse thief than he who robs
on the highway; for the one does but rob man—but the other robs
The Lord forbade manna to be gathered on the
Sabbath. Exod 16:26. One might think it would have been allowed, as manna
was the "staff of their life," and the time when it fell was between five
and six in the morning, so that they might have gathered it early, and all
the rest of the Sabbath might have been employed in God's worship; and
besides, they needed not to have taken any great journey for it, for it was
but stepping out of their doors, and it fell about their tents. And yet they
might not gather it on the Sabbath. And for purposing only to do
it—God was very angry. "Some of the people went out anyway to gather food,
even though it was the Sabbath day. But there was none to be found. "How
long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions?" the
Lord asked Moses" Exod 16:27, 28.
Surely, the anointing of Christ's body, when he
was dead was a commendable work; but, though the women had prepared sweet
ointments to anoint the dead body of Christ, they did not go to the
sepulcher to embalm him, until the Sabbath was past. "They rested the
Sabbath-day, according to the commandment." Luke 23:56. The hand
cannot be busied on the Lord's-day, but the heart will be defiled.
The very heathen, by the light of nature, would not do any secular work in
the time which they had set apart for the worship of their false gods.
Clemens Alexandrinus reports of one of the emperors of Rome, who, on the day
of set worship for his gods, put aside warlike affairs and spent the time in
To do servile work on the Sabbath shows an impious heart,
and greatly offends God. To do secular work on this day is to follow the
devil's plough; it is to debase the soul. God made this day on purpose to
raise the heart to heaven, to converse with him, to do angels' work; and to
be employed in earthly work is to degrade the soul of its honor. God will
not have his day entrenched upon, or defiled in the least thing. The man who
gathered sticks on the Sabbath he commanded to be stoned! Numb. 15:35. It
would seem a small thing to pick up a few sticks to make a fire; but God
would not have this day violated in the smallest matters. Nay, even the work
which had reference to a religious use might not be done on the Sabbath, as
the hewing of stones for the building of the sanctuary. Bezaleel, who was to
cut the stones, and cut the timber for the sanctuary, must forbear to do it
on the Sabbath. Exod 31:15. A temple is a place of God's worship—but it was
a sin to build a temple on the Lord's-day. This is keeping the Sabbath-day
holy negatively—in doing no manual work.
Works of necessity and charity however may
be done on this day. In these cases God will have mercy, and not sacrifice.
(1) It is lawful to take the necessary supplies of
nature. Food is to the body as oil to the lamp.
(2) It is lawful to do works of mercy, as helping
a neighbor when either life or estate are in danger. Herein the Jews were
too precise, who would not allow works of charity to be done on the Sabbath.
If a man was sick, they would not on this day, use means for his recovery.
They were angry because Christ had wrought a cure on the Sabbath. John 7:23.
If a house were on fire, the Jews thought they might not bring water to
quench it; if a vessel leaked on this day, they thought they might not stop
it. They were "righteous overmuch;" it was seeming zeal—but lacked
discretion to guide it.
Except in these two cases, of necessity and
charity—all secular work is to be suspended and laid aside on the
Lord's-day. "On it you shall not do any work." This arraigns and condemns
many among us who foul their fingers with work on that day; some in
preparing great meals, others in opening their shop-doors, and selling food
on the Sabbath. The mariner who sails on the Sabbath, runs full sail into
the violation of this command. Others work on this day privately, and follow
their trade within doors; but though they think to hide their sin under a
canopy, God sees it. "Where shall I flee from your presence?" "The darkness
does not hide from you." Psalm 139:7, 12. Such as profane the day, and God
will have an action of trespass against them.
 Positively. We keep the Sabbath-day holy,
by "consecrating and dedicating" this day to the "service of the high God."
It is good to rest on the Sabbath-day from the works of our vocation; but if
we rest from labor and do no more—the ox and the donkey keep the Sabbath as
well as we; for they rest from labor. We must dedicate the day to God; we
must not only "keep a Sabbath," but "sanctify" a Sabbath.
Sabbath-sanctification consists in two things:
(1) Solemn preparation for it. If a prince
were to come to your house, what preparation would you make for his
entertainment! You would sweep the house, wash the floor, adorn the room
with the richest tapestry and hangings, that there might be something
suitable to the state and dignity of so great a person. On the blessed
Sabbath, God intends to have sweet communion with you; he seems to say to
you, as Christ to Zacchaeus, "Make haste and come down, for this day I must
abide at your house." Luke 19:5. Now, what preparation should you make for
entertaining this King of glory? When Saturday evening approaches, sound a
retreat; call your minds off from the world and summon your thoughts
together, to think of the great work of the approaching day. Purge out all
unclean affections, which may indispose you for the work of the Sabbath.
Evening preparation will be like the tuning of an instrument, it will fit
the heart better for the duties of the ensuing Sabbath.
(2) The sacred observation of it. Rejoice at
the approach of the day, as a day wherein we have a prize for our souls, and
may enjoy much of God's presence. John 8:56. "Abraham rejoiced to see my
day." So, when we see the light of a Sabbath shine, we should rejoice, and
"call the Sabbath a delight"—this is the queen of days, which God has
crowned with a blessing. Isa 58:13. As there was one day in the week on
which God rained manna twice as much as upon any other day, so he rains down
the manna of heavenly blessings twice as much on the Sabbath as on any
other. This is the day wherein Christ carries the soul into the house of
wine, and displays the banner of love over it. The dew of the Spirit now
falls on the soul, whereby it is revived and comforted. How many may write
the Lord's day, the day of their new birth! This day of rest is a pledge of
the eternal rest in heaven. Shall we not then rejoice at its approach? The
day on which the Sun of Righteousness shines, should be a day of gladness.
Get up early on the Sabbath morning. Christ rose early on
this day, before the sun was up. John 20:1. Did he rise early to save us,
and shall not we rise early to worship and glorify him? "Early will I seek
you." Psalm 63:1. Can we be up early on other days? The farmer is
early at his plough, the traveler rises early to go his journey—and
shall not we, who on this day are traveling to heaven? Certainly, if we
loved God as we should, we would rise on this day early, that we may meet
with him whom our souls love. Such as sit up late at work on the night
before, are so buried in sleep, that they will hardly be up early on a
Having dressed your bodies, you must dress your souls for
hearing the Word. As the people of Israel were to wash themselves before the
law was delivered to them, so we must wash and cleanse our souls; and that
is done by reading, meditation, and prayer. Exod 19:10.
 By reading the WORD. The Word is a great
means to sanctify the heart, and bring it into a Sabbath-frame. "Sanctify
them through your truth," etc. John 17:17. Do not read the Word
carelessly—but with seriousness and affection; as the oracle of heaven,
the well of salvation, the book of life. David, for its
preciousness, esteemed it above gold; and for its sweetness,
above honey. Psalm 19:10. By reading the Word aright, our hearts, when
dull—are quickened; when hard—are mollified; when cold and
frozen—are inflamed; and we can say as the disciples, "Did not our heart
burn within us?" Some step out of their bed—and go immediately to the
church. The reason why many get no more good on a Sabbath by the Word
preached, is because they did not breakfast with God in the morning
by reading his Word.
 MEDITATION. Get upon the mount of
meditation, and there converse with God. Meditation is the soul's retiring
within itself, that, by a serious and solemn thinking upon God, the heart
may be raised up to divine affections. It is a work fit for the morning of a
Sabbath. Meditate on four things.
(1) On the works of creation. This is expressed in
the commandment. "The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea," etc. Creation is
a looking-glass, in which we see the wisdom and power of God
gloriously represented. God produced this beautiful world without any
pre-existent matter, and with a word. "By the word of the Lord were the
heavens made." Psalm 33:6. On the Sabbath let us meditate on the
infiniteness of the Creator. The disciples were astonished that Christ
could, with a word, calm the sea—but it was far more astounding with
a word to make the sea! Matt 8:26. "They saw the Lord's works, His
wonderful works in the deep." Psalm 107:24. Look into the earth, where we
may behold the nature of minerals, the power of the loadstone, the virtue of
herbs, and the beauty of flowers. By meditating on these works of creation,
so curiously embroidered, we shall learn to admire God and praise him. "O
Lord, how manifold are your works, in wisdom have you made them all." Psalm
104:24. By meditating on the works of creation, we shall learn to confide in
God. He who can create—can provide; he who could make
us when we were nothing, can raise us when we are low. "Our help is
in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 124:8.
(2) Meditate on God's holiness. "Holy and reverend
is his name." Psalm 111:9. "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil." Hab
1:13. God is essentially, originally, and immutably holy. All the holiness
in men and angels, is but the crystal stream which runs from this glorious
fountain. God loves holiness because it is his own image. A king cannot but
love to see his own effigies stamped on coin. God counts holiness his glory,
and the most sparkling jewel of his crown. "Glorious in holiness." Exod
15:2: Here is meditation fit for the first entrance upon a Sabbath. The
contemplation of this would work in us such a frame of heart as is suitable
to a holy God; it would make us reverence his name and hallow his day. While
musing upon the holiness of God's nature, we shall begin to be transformed
into his likeness.
(3) Meditate on Christ's love in redeeming us. Rev
1:5. Redemption exceeds creation; the one is a monument of God's power, the
other of his love. Here is fit work for a Sabbath. Oh, the infinite
stupendous love of Christ—in raising poor sinful creatures from a state of
guilt and damnation! Consider that Christ who was God—should die! that this
glorious Sun of Righteousness—should be in an eclipse! We can never enough
admire this love, no, not even in heaven. Consider that Christ should die
for sinners! not sinful angels—but sinful men. Consider that such clods
of earth and sin should be made bright stars of glory! Oh, the amazing
love of Christ! Consider that Christ should not only die for
sinners—but die as a sinner! "He has made him to be sin for us" 2 Cor
5:21. He who was among the glorious persons of the Trinity, "was
numbered with the transgressors." Isa 53:12. Not that he had sin—but
he was like a sinner, having our sins imputed to him. Sin did
not live in him—but it was laid upon him. Here was a
hyperbole of love enough to strike us with astonishment!
Consider that Christ would redeem us, when he could not
expect to gain anything, or to be advantaged at all by us! Men will not lay
out their money upon a purchase—unless it will turn to their profit; but
what benefit could Christ expect in purchasing and redeeming us? We
were in such a condition that we could neither deserve nor
recompense Christ's love. We could not deserve it; for we were in
our blood. Ezek 16:6. We had no spiritual beauty to entice him. Nay, we were
not only in our blood—but we were in war against him. "When we were
enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son;" Rom 5:10.
When he was shedding his blood—we were spitting out poison!
As we could not deserve Christ's love, so neither could
we recompense it. After he had died for us, we could not so much as
love him—until he made us love him. We could give him nothing in
return for his love. "Who has first given to him?" Rom 11:35. We were fallen
into poverty. If we have any beauty, it is from him, "It was perfect
through my loveliness which I had put upon you." Ezek 16:14. If we bring
forth any good fruit, it is not of our own growth, it comes from him,
the true vine. "From me is your fruit found." Hos 14:8. It was nothing but
pure love, for Christ to lay out his blood to redeem such as he could not
expect to be really bettered by!
Consider that Christ should die so willingly! "I
lay down my life." John 10:17. The Jews could not have taken it away—if he
had not laid it down. He could have called to his Father for legions of
angels to be his life-guard; but what need for even that, when his own
Godhead could have defended himself from all assaults? He laid down his
life. The Jews did not so much thirst for his death—as he
thirsted for our redemption. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how
it consumes Me until it is finished!" Luke 12:50. He called his sufferings a
baptism; he was to be baptized and sprinkled with his own blood! He thought
the time long, before he suffered. To show Christ's willingness to
die, his sufferings are called an offering. "Through the offering of
the body of Jesus." Heb 10:10. His death was a free-will offering.
Consider that Christ should not grudge, nor think much—of
all his sufferings! Though he was scourged and crucified, he was well
contented with what he had done, and, if it were needful, he would do it
again. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied."
Isa 53:11. As the mother who has had hard labor, does not repent of her
pangs when she sees her child brought forth—but is well contented; so
Christ, though he had hard travail upon the cross, does not think much of
it; he is not troubled—but thinks his sweat and blood well bestowed, because
he sees the child of redemption brought forth into the world.
Consider that Christ should make redemption effectual to
some—and not to others! Here is astonishing love. Though there is
sufficiency in his merits to save all—yet only some partake of
their saving virtue. Christ does not pray for all. John 17:9. All
have not the benefit of salvation by him. Herein appears the
distinguishing love of Christ—that the virtue of his death should
reach some—and not others. "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many
mighty, not many noble are called." 1 Cor 1:26. That Christ should pass by
many of noble birth and abilities, and that the lot of free grace
should fall upon you; that he should sprinkle his blood upon you "Oh, the
depth of the love of Christ!"
Consider that Christ should love us with such a
transcendent love! The apostle calls it "Love which passes
knowledge." Eph 3:19. Consider that he should love us more than the angels.
He loves them as his friends—but believers as his spouse! He
loves them with such a kind of love—as God the Father bears to him. "As the
Father has loved me, so have I loved you." John 15:9. Oh, what an
hyperbole of love does Christ show in redeeming us!
Consider that Christ's love in our redemption should be
everlasting! "Having loved his own—he loved them unto the
end." John 13:1. As Christ's love is matchless, so it is endless. The
flower of his love is sweet; and that which makes it sweeter is that
it never dies! His love is eternal. Jer 31:3. He will never divorce his
elect spouse! The failings of his people cannot take off his love;
they may eclipse it—but not wholly remove it; their failings may make Christ
angry with them—but not hate them. Every failing does not
break the marriage bond. Christ's love is not like the saint's love. They
sometimes have strong affections towards him, at other times the love-fit is
off, and they find little or no love stirring in them; but it is not so with
Christ's love to them, it is a love of eternity. When the sunshine of
Christ's electing love is once risen upon the soul, it never finally sets.
Death may take away our life from us—but not Christ's love.
Behold here a rare subject for meditation on a Sabbath morning. The
meditation of Christ's wonderful love in redeeming us, would work in us a
Sabbath-frame of heart.
It would melt us in tears for our spiritual unkindness,
that we should sin against so sweet a Savior; that we should be no more
affected with his love—but requite evil for good; that like the Athenians,
who, notwithstanding all the good service Aristides had done them, banished
him out of their city; we should banish him from our temple; that we should
grieve him with our pride, rash anger, unfruitfulness, animosities, and
petty factions. Have we none to abuse—but our friend? Have we nothing to
kick against—but the heart of our Savior? Did not Christ suffer enough upon
the cross—but we must needs make him suffer more? Do we give him more "gall
and vinegar to drink?" Oh, if anything can dissolve the heart in sorrow, and
melt the eyes to tears—it is unkindness we offer to Christ. When Peter
thought of Christ's love to him, how he had made him an apostle, and
revealed his bosom-secrets to him, and taken him to the mount of
transfiguration, and yet that he should deny him—it broke his heart with
sorrow! "He went out and wept bitterly." Matt 26:75. What a blessed thing is
it to have the eyes dropping tears, on a Sabbath! Nothing would sooner fetch
tears—than to meditate on Christ's love to us—and our unkindness to him.
Meditating on a Lord's-day morning on Christ's love,
would kindle love in our hearts to him. How can we look on his bleeding and
dying for us—and our hearts not be warmed with love to him? Love is the soul
of religion, the purest affection. It is not rivers of oil—but
sparks of love—which Christ values. And sure, as David said, "While I
was musing the fire burned" (Psalm 39:3), so, while we are musing on
Christ's love in redeeming us, the fire of our love will burn towards him;
and then the Christian is in a blessed Sabbath-frame, when, like a seraphim,
he is burning in love to Christ!
(4) On a Sabbath morning meditate on the glory of
heaven. Heaven is the extract and essence of happiness. It is called a
kingdom, for its riches and magnificence Matt 25:34. It is set forth
by precious stones, and gates of pearl. Rev 21:19, 21. There is all that is
truly glorious: transparent light, perfect love, unstained honor,
unmixed joy. And that which crowns the joy of the celestial paradise, is
that it is eternal. Suppose earthly kingdoms were more glorious than they
are, their foundations of gold, their walls of pearl, their windows of
sapphire—yet they are corruptible. But the kingdom of heaven is eternal;
those rivers of pleasure run "forever." Psalm 16:11. That wherein the
essence of glory consists, and makes heaven to be heaven—is the immediate
sight and fruition of the blessed God. "I shall be satisfied, when I awake,
with your likeness." Psalm 17:15. Oh, think of the Jerusalem above!
This is proper for a Sabbath. The meditation of heaven
would raise our hearts above the world. Oh, how would earthly things
disappear and shrink into nothing—if our minds were mounted above visible
things, and we had a prospect of glory! How would the meditation of heaven
make us heavenly in our Sabbath exercises! It would quicken affection, add
wings to devotion, and cause us to be "in the Spirit on the Lord's-day." Rev
1:10. How vigorously does he serve God—who has a crown of glory always in
 We dress our souls on a Sabbath-morning by PRAYER.
"When you pray, enter into your closet," etc. Matt 6:6. Prayer sanctifies a
(1) The things we should pray for in the morning of
the Sabbath. Let us beg a blessing upon the Word which is to be preached;
that it may be a savor of life to us; that by it our minds may be more
illuminated, our corruptions more weakened, and our stock of grace more
increased. Let us pray that God's special presence may be with us, that our
hearts may burn within us while God speaks, that we may receive the Word
into meek and humble hearts, and that we may submit to it, and bring forth
fruits. James 1:21. Nor should we only pray for ourselves—but for others.
Pray for him who dispenses the Word; that his tongue may
be touched with a hot coal from God's altar; that God would warm his
heart—who is to help to warm others. Your prayers may be a means to quicken
the minister. Some complain they find no benefit by the Word preached;
perhaps the reason is—that they did not pray for their minister as they
should. Prayer is like the sharpening of an instrument, which makes it cut
better. Pray with and for your family. Yes, pray for all the congregations
that meet on this day in the fear of the Lord; that the dew of the Spirit
may fall with the manna of the Word; that some souls may be
converted, and others strengthened; that gospel ordinances may be continued,
and have no restraint put upon them. These are the things we should pray
for. The tree of mercy will not drop its fruit—useless it is shaken by
the hand of prayer!
(2) The manner of our prayer. It is not enough to say
a prayer; to pray in a dull, cold manner, which is but asking God to deny;
but we must pray with reverence, humility, fervency, and hope in God's
mercy. Luke 22:44. Christ prayed earnestly. That we may pray with more
fervency, we must pray with a sense of our needs. He who is pinched
with needs, will be earnest in begging alms. He prays most fervently—who
prays most feelingly. This is to sanctify the morning of a Sabbath; and it
is a good preparation for the Word preached. When the ground is broken up by
the plough, it is fit to receive the seed; when the heart has been broken by
prayer, it is fit to receive the seed of the preached Word.
 Having thus dressed your souls on a
morning, for the further sanctification of the Sabbath,
address yourself to the HEARING of the preached
When you sit down in your seat, lift up your eyes to
heaven for a blessing upon the Word to be dispensed; for you must know that
the Word preached does not work like a medicine—by its own inherent
virtue—but by a virtue from heaven, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore put up a short ejaculatory prayer for a blessing upon the
Word—that it may be made effectual to you.
The Word being begun to be preached, hear it with
reverence and holy attention. "A certain woman, named Lydia,
attended unto the things which were spoken by Paul." Acts 16:14.
Constantine, the emperor, was noted for his reverent attention to the Word.
Christ taught daily in the temple: and "all the people were very attentive
to hear him." Luke 19:48. In the Greek, "they hung upon his lip." Could we
tell men of a rich purchase, they would diligently attend; and should they
not much more, when the gospel of grace is preached unto them? That we may
sanctify and hallow the Sabbath by attentive hearing, beware of these two
things in hearing: distraction and drowsiness.
 DISTRACTION. "That you may attend upon the
Lord without distraction." 1 Cor 7:35. It is said of Bernard, that when he
came to the church-door, he would say, "Stay here all my earthly thoughts."
So should we say to ourselves, when we are at the door of God's house, "Stay
here all my worldly cares and wandering cogitations; I am now going to
hear what the Lord will say to me." Distraction hinders devotion. The
mind is tossed with vain thoughts, and diverted from the business in hand.
It is hard to make a distracted heart fix. How often in hearing the Word,
the thoughts dance up and down; and, when the eye is upon the minister, the
mind is upon other things. Distracted hearing is far from sanctifying the
Sabbath. It is very sinful to give way to vain thoughts at this time;
because, when we are hearing the Word, we are in God's special
presence. To do any treasonable action in the king's presence—is
great impudence. "Yes, in my house have I found their wickedness."
Jer 23:11. So the Lord may say, "In my house, while they are hearing my
Word, I have found wickedness; they have wanton eyes, and their soul is set
Whence do these roving and distracting thoughts in
(1) Partly from Satan. The devil is sure to be
present in our assemblies. If he cannot hinder us from hearing, he
will hinder us in hearing. "When the sons of God came to present
themselves before the Lord, Satan came also among them." Job 1:6. The devil
sets vain objects before the imagine to cause a diversion. His great
design is to render the Word fruitless. As when one is writing, another
jogs his elbos—that he cannot write even; so when we are hearing, the devil
will be jogging us with a temptation, that we should not attend to the Word
preached. "He showed me Joshua the high-priest standing before the angel of
the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him." Zech
(2) These wandering thoughts in hearing come partly from
ourselves. We must not lay all the blame upon Satan.
They come from the eye. A wandering eye—causes wandering
thoughts. As a thief may come into the house at a window, so vain thoughts
may come it at the eye. As we are bid to keep our feet when we enter
into the house of God (Eccl 5:1), so we had need make a covenant with our
eyes, that we be not distracted by beholding other objects. Job 31:1.
Wandering thoughts in hearing rise out of the heart.
These sparks come out of our own furnace. Vain thoughts are the mud which
the heart, as from a troubled sea, casts up. "For from within, out of the
heart of men, proceed evil thoughts." Mark 7:21. As the foulness of the
stomach sends up fumes into the head, so the corruption of the heart
sends up evil thoughts into the mind.
Distracted thoughts in hearing proceed from an evil
habit. We so inure ourselves to vain thoughts at other times, and
therefore we cannot hinder them on a Sabbath. Habit is a second nature. "Can
the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also
do good—who are accustomed to do evil?" Jer 13:23. He who is used to bad
company, knows not how to leave it; so such as have vain thoughts to keep
them company all the week, know not how to get rid of them on the Sabbath.
Let me show you how evil, these vain distracting thoughts in hearing are:
 To have the heart distracted in hearing—is a
disrespect to God's omniscience. God is an all-seeing Spirit; and
thoughts speak louder in his ears than words do in ours. "I know full well
what you are thinking." Job 21:27. To make no conscience of wandering
thoughts in hearing, is an affront to God's omniscience, as if he knew not
our heart, or did not hear the language of our thoughts.
 To give way to wandering thoughts in hearing is
hypocrisy. We pretend to hear what God says, and our minds are quite
upon another thing. We present God with our bodies—but do not give
him our hearts. Hos 7:11. This hypocrisy God complains of. "This
people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me—but
have removed their hearts far from me." Isa 29:13. This is to
equivocate and deal falsely with God.
 Vain thoughts in hearing discover much lack of love
to God. Did we sincerely love him—we would listen to his words as
oracles, and write them upon the table of our heart. Prov 3:3. When a friend
whom we love speaks to us, and gives us advice, we attend with seriousness,
and suck in every word. Giving our thoughts permission to ramble in holy
duties, shows a great defect in our love to God.
 Vain impertinent thoughts in hearing, defile an
ordinance. They are as dead flies in the box of ointment. When a string
of a lute is out of tune, it spoils the music; so distraction of thought
puts the mind out of tune, and makes our services sound harsh and
unpleasant. Wandering thoughts poison a duty, and turn it into sin. "Let his
prayer become sin." Psalm 109:7. What can be worse than to have a man's
praying and hearing of the Word—become sin? Would it not be sad, if the food
we eat should increase our sickness? How much more when hearing the Word,
which is the food of the soul, is turned into sin!
 Vain thoughts in hearing offend God. If the king
were speaking to one of his subjects, and he should not pay attention to
what the king were saying—but was playing with a feather—would not the king
be provoked? Just so, when we are in God's presence, and he is speaking to
us in his Word, and we do not much mind what he says—but our hearts go after
covetousness, will it not offend God, to be thus slighted! Ezek 33:31. He
has pronounced a curse upon such. "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable
male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished
animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the Lord Almighty, "and my
name is to be feared among the nations." Mal 1:14. To have strong lively
affections is to have a male in the flock; but to hear the Word with
distraction, is to give God duties fly-blown with vain thoughts, and to
offer to the Lord a corrupt thing, which brings a curse. "Cursed be the
 Vain thoughts in hearing, when allowed and not
resisted, make way for hardening the heart. A stone in the heart, is
worse than in the kidneys. Distracted thoughts in hearing do not better the
heart—but harden it. Vain thoughts take away the holy awe of God which
should be upon the heart; they make conscience less tender, and hinder the
efficacy the Word should have upon the heart.
 Vain and distracting thoughts rob us of the comfort
of an ordinance. A gracious soul often meets with God in the sanctuary,
and can say, "I found him whom my soul loves." Canticles 3:4. He is like
Jonathan, who, when he had tasted the honey on the rod, had his eyes
enlightened. But vain thoughts hinder the comfort of an ordinance, as a
black cloud hides the warm comfortable beams of the sun. Will God speak
peace to us when our minds are wandering and our thoughts are traveling to
the ends of the earth? Prov 17:24. If ever you would hear the Word with
attention, do as Abraham when he drove away the fowls from the sacrifice.
Gen 15:2. When you find these excursions and sinful wanderings in hearing,
labor to drive away the fowls; get rid of these vain thoughts; they are
vagrants, and must not be entertained.
How shall we get rid of these vagabond thoughts?
(1) Pray and watch against them.
(2) Let the sense of God's omniscient eye overawe your
hearts. The servant will not sport in his master's presence.
(3) Labor for a holy frame of heart. Were the heart more
spiritual, the mind would be less feathery.
(4) Bring more love to the Word. We fix our minds upon
that which we love. He who loves his pleasures and recreations, fixes his
mind upon them, and can follow them without distraction. Were our love more
set upon the preached Word, our minds would be more fixed upon it; and
surely there is enough to make us love the Word preached; for it is the Word
of life, the inlet to divine knowledge, the antidote against sin, the
quickener of all holy affections. It is the true manna, which has all sorts
of sweet tastes in it. It is the pool of Bethesda, in which the rivers of
life spring forth to heal the broken in heart. It is a sovereign elixir or
cordial to revive the sorrowful spirit. Get love to the Word preached, and
you will not be so distracted in hearing. What the heart delights in, the
thoughts dwell upon.
 Take heed of DROWSINESS in hearing. Drowsiness
shows much irreverence. How lively are many when they are about the
world—but in the worship of God how drowsy—as if the devil had given them
opium to make them sleep! A drowsy feeling here is very sinful. Are you not
in prayer, asking pardon of sin? Will the prisoner fall asleep when he is
begging pardon? In the preaching of the Word, is not the bread of life
broken to you? Will a man fall asleep over his food? Which is worse, to stay
away from a sermon—or sleep at a sermon? While you slept, perhaps the truth
was delivered which might have converted your souls. Besides, sleeping is
very offensive in a holy assembly; it not only grieves the Spirit of God—but
makes the hearts of the righteous sad. Ezek 13:22. It troubles them to see
any show such contempt of God and his worship; to see them busy in the
shop—but drowsy in the temple. Therefore, as Christ said, "Could you not
watch one hour?" So, can you not wake one hour? Matt 26:40.
I do not deny, that a child of God may sometimes, through
weakness and indisposition of body, drop asleep at a sermon—but not
voluntarily or ordinarily. The sun may be in an eclipse—but not often. If
sleeping is customary and allowed, it is a very bad sign, and a profanation
of the ordinance. A good remedy against drowsiness is to use a spare diet
upon the Sabbath. Such as indulge their appetite too much on a Sabbath, are
fitter to sleep on a couch than pray in the temple. That you may throw off
distracting thoughts and drowsiness on the Lord's-day, and may hear the Word
with reverend attention, consider—
(1) It is God who speaks to us in his Word.
Therefore the preaching of the Word is called the "breath of his lips." Isa
11:4. Christ is said now to speak to us "from heaven," as a king speaks in
his ambassador. Heb 12:25. Ministers are but pipes and organs—it is the
Spirit of the living God who breathes in them. When we come to the Word, we
should think within ourselves, "God is speaking in this preacher!" The
Thessalonians heard the Word Paul preached, as if God himself had spoken
unto them. "When you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you
received it not as the word of men—but (as it is in truth) the Word of God."
1 Thess 2:13. When Samuel knew it was the Lord who spoke to him, he lent his
ear. 1 Sam 3:10. If we do not regard God when he speaks to us—he will not
regard us when we pray to him.
(2) Consider how serious and weighty the matters
delivered to us are. Moses said, "I call heaven and earth to record this
day, that I have set before you life and death." Deut 30:19. Can men be
regardless of the Word, or drowsy when the weighty matters of eternity are
set before them? We preach faith, and holiness of life, and the day of
judgment and eternal retribution. Here life and death are set before you;
and does not all this call for serious attention? If a letter were read to
one of special business, wherein his life and estate were concerned, would
he not be very serious in listening to it? In the preaching of the Word your
salvation is concerned; and if ever you would attend, it should be now. "It
is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life." Deut 32:47.
(3) To give way to vain thoughts and drowsiness in
hearing, gratifies Satan. He knows that not to mind a duty, is all one
in religion as not to do it. "What the heart does not do—is not done."
Therefore Christ says of some, "Hearing, they hear not." Matt 13:13. How
could that be? Because, though the Word sounded in their ear—yet they minded
not what was said to them, their thoughts were upon other things; therefore,
it was all as one as if they did not hear. Does it not please Satan to see
men come to the Word, and as good stay away? They are haunted with vain
thoughts; they are taken off from the duty while they are in it; their body
is in the assembly, but their heart in their shop. "Hearing, they hear not."
(4) Each Sabbath may be the last we shall ever keep.
We may go from the place of hearing—to the place of judging; and shall not
we give reverend attention to the Word? Did we think when we come into God's
house— "Perhaps this will be the last time that ever God will counsel me
about my soul; and before another sermon, death's alarm will sound in my
ears! With what attention and devotion should I hear! My affections should
be all on fire in hearing!"
(5) You must give an account for every sermon you hear.
"Give an account of your stewardship." Luke 16:2. So will God say, "Give
an account of your hearing. Have you been affected with the Word? Have you
profited by it?" How can we give a good account, if we have been distracted
in hearing, and have not taken notice of what has been said to us? The judge
to whom we must give an account is God. Were we to give account to man,
we might falsify accounts; but we must give an account to God.
Bernard, "He is so just a God—that he cannot be bribed; and so
wise that he cannot be deceived." Therefore, having to give an account
to such an impartial Judge, how should we observe every word preached,
remembering the account! Let all this make us shake off distraction and
drowsiness in hearing, and have our ears chained to the Word!
In order to hear the Word aright, let the following
things be attended to:
 Lay aside those dispositions which may render the
preached Word ineffectual.
(1) Lay aside curiosity. Some go to hear the
Word preached, not so much to get grace, as to enrich themselves with
notions: having "itching ears." 2 Tim 4:3. Augustine confesses that, before
his conversion, he went to hear Ambrose for his eloquence rather than for
the spirituality of the matter. "You are unto them as a very lovely song of
one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument." Ezek
33:32. Many go to the Word to feast their ears only; they like the melody of
the voice, the mellifluous sweetness of the expression, and the novelty of
the opinions. Acts 17:21. This is to love the garnishing of the dish, more
than the food; it is to desire to be pleased, rather than edified. Like a
woman that paints her face—but neglects her health—they paint and adorn
themselves with curious speculations—but neglect their soul's health. This
hearing neither sanctifies the heart, nor the Sabbath.
(2) Lay aside prejudice. Prejudice is
sometimes against the truths preached. The Sadducees were prejudiced
against the doctrine of the resurrection. Luke 20:27. Sometimes prejudice is
against the person preaching. "There is one Micaiah, by whom we may
inquire of the Lord—but I hate him." 1 Kings 22:8. This hinders the power of
the Word. If a patient has a bad opinion of his physician, he will not take
any of his medicines, however good they may be. Prejudice in the mind is
like an obstruction in the stomach, which hinders the nutritive virtue of
the food. It poisons the Word, and causes it to lose its efficacy.
(3) Lay aside covetousness. Covetousness is
not only getting worldly gain unjustly—but loving it inordinately. This is a
great hindrance to the preached Word. The seed which fell among thorns was
choked, Matt 13:22; a fit emblem of the Word when preached to a
covetous hearer. The covetous man is thinking on the world when he is
hearing; his heart is in his shop. "They sit before you as my people, and
they hear your words—but their heart goes after their covetousness." Ezek
33:31. A covetous hearer derides the Word. "The Pharisees, who were
covetous, heard all these things, and they derided him." Luke 16:14.
(4) Lay aside partiality. Partiality in
hearing is, when we like to hear some truths preached—but not all. We love
to hear of heaven—but not of self-denial. We love to hear of reigning with
Christ—but not of suffering with him. We love to hear of the more facile
duties of religion—but not those which are more knotty and difficult; as
mortification, laying the axe to the root, and hewing down our beloved sin.
"Speak smooth things" (Isa 30:10), such as may not grate upon the
conscience. Many like to hear of the love of Christ—but not of loving their
enemies; they like the comforts of the word—but not its reproofs.
Herod heard John the Baptist gladly; he liked many truths—but not when he
spoke against his incest.
(5) Lay aside censoriousness. Some, instead of
judging themselves for sin, sit as judges upon the preacher; his sermon had
either too much gall in it, or it was too long. They would sooner censure
a sermon, than practice it. God will judge the judger. Matt 7:1.
(6) Lay aside disobedience. "All day long I
have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient people." Rom 10:21. It is
said of the Jews that God stretched out his hands in the preaching of the
word—but they rejected Christ. Let there be none among you, who willfully
refuse the counsels of the Word. It is sad to have an adder's ear and
an adamant heart. Zech 7:11, 12. If, when God speaks to us in his
Word—we are deaf; when we speak to him in prayer—he will be dumb.
 If you would hear the Word aright, have good ends in
hearing. "Come to the Word to be made better." Some have no other
end in hearing but because it is in fashion, or to gain repute, or stop the
mouth of conscience; but come to the Word to be made more holy. There is a
great difference between one who goes to a garden for flowers to wear in her
bosom, and another that goes for flowers to make syrups and medicines. We
should go to the Word for medicine to cure us; as Naaman the Syrian went to
Jordan to be healed of his leprosy. "Desire the sincere milk of the Word,
that you may grow thereby." 1 Pet 2:2. Go to the Word to be changed
into its similitude. As the seal leaves its print upon the wax, so labor
that the Word preached may leave the print of its own holiness upon your
Labor that the "Word" may have such a virtue in you—that
it may kill your sins, and make your souls fruitful in grace. Numb 5:27.
 If you would hear the Word aright, go to it with
delight. The Word preached is a feast of fat things! With what
delight do men go to a feast! The Word preached anoints the blind eye;
mollifies the rocky heart; it beats off our fetters, and turns us from the
"power of Satan unto God." Acts 26:18. The Word is the seed of regeneration,
and the engine of salvation. James 1:18. Hear the Word with delight and joy.
"Your words were found, and I did eat them; and your Word was the joy and
rejoicing of my heart." Jer 15:16. "How sweet are your words unto my taste!
yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth." Psalm 119:103. Love the Word that
comes most home to the conscience; bless God when your corruptions have been
met with, when the sword of the Spirit has divided between you and your
sins. Who cares for the medicine which will not work?
 If you would hear the Word aright, mix it with faith.
Believe the truth of the Word preached, that it is the Word by
which you must be judged. Not only give credence to the Word preached—but
apply it to your own souls. Faith digests the Word, and turns it
into spiritual nourishment. Many hear the word—but it may be said of them,
as in Psalm 106:24 "They believed not his Word." If we do not mix faith
with the Word, it is like leaving out the chief ingredient in a medicine,
which makes it ineffectual. Unbelief hardens men's hearts against the
Word. "Some were hardened, and believed not." Acts 19:9. Men hear many
truths delivered concerning the preciousness of Christ, the beauty of
holiness, and the felicity of a glorified estate; but, if through unbelief
and atheism, they question these truths, we may as well speak to stones—as
to them. That Word which is not believed, can never be practiced. "When
belief is unstable, conduct also wavers." Jerome.
Unbelief makes the Word preached of no effect. "The Word
preached did not profit, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it."
Heb 4:2. The Word to an unbeliever is like a cordial put into a dead
man's mouth, which loses all its virtue. If there are any unbelievers in
our congregations, what shall ministers say of them to God at the last day?
"Lord, we have preached to the people you sent us to, we have showed them
our commission, we have declared unto them your whole counsel—but they have
not believed a Word we spoke. We told them what would be the fruit of
sin—but they would not heed. They would drink their sugared draught, though
there was death in the cup. Lord, we are free from their blood!" God forbid
that ministers should ever have to make this report to him of their people.
But this they will be forced to do, if their hearers live and die in
unbelief. Would you sanctify a Sabbath by hearing the Word aright? Hear it
with faith. The apostle puts the two together, "belief and salvation." "We
are of those who believe to the saving of the soul." Heb
 If you would hear the Word aright, hear it with
humility. James 1:21. Receive the Word "with humility". Humility
is a submissive frame of heart, to the Word. Contrary to this meekness is
fierceness of spirit, when men rise up in rage against the Word; as if the
patient should be angry with the physician when he gives him a medicine to
purge out his bad humours. "When they heard these things, they were cut to
the heart, and gnashed on him [Stephen] with their teeth." Acts 7:54. "Asa
was angry with the seer and put him in prison." 2 Chron 16:10. Pride and
guilt make men fret at the Word. What made Asa enraged, but pride? He was a
king, and thought he was too good to be told of his sin. What made Cain
angry when God said to him, "Where is Abel, your brother?" He replied, "Am I
my brother's keeper?" What made him so touchy, but guilt? He had imbrued his
hands in his brother's blood.
If you would hear the Word aright, lay aside your
passions. "Receive the Word with meekness;" get humble hearts to submit to
the truths delivered. God takes the meek person for his scholar. "The meek
will he teach his way." Psalm 25:9. Meekness makes the Word preached to be
an "ingrafted Word." James 1:21. A good scion grafted in a bad stock changes
the nature of it, and makes it bear good and generous fruit; so, when the
Word preached is grafted into men's hearts, it sanctifies them and makes
them bring forth the sweet fruits of righteousness. By meekness it becomes
an ingrafted Word.
 If you would hear the Word aright, be not only
attentive—but retentive. Lay it up in your memories and hearts.
The seed "on the good ground are they, which, having heard the Word, keep
it." Luke 8:15. The Greek word for "to keep," signifies to hold the Word
fast, that it does not run from us. If the seed is not kept in the
ground—but is presently washed away, it is sown to little purpose; so if the
Word preached be not kept in your memories and hearts, it is preached in
vain. Many people have memories like leaky vessels. If the Word goes out as
fast as it comes in! How can it profit? If a treasure be put in a chest and
the chest be not locked, it may easily be taken out; so a bad memory is a
chest without a lock, out of which the devil can easily take all the
treasure. "Then comes the devil and takes away the Word out of their
hearts." Luke 8:12. Labor to keep in memory the truths you hear. The things
we esteem and love—are not easily forgotten. "Does a young woman forget her
jewelry? Does a bride hide her wedding dress? No!" Jer 2:32. Did we prize
the Word more, we would not forget it so soon. If food does not stay in the
stomach—but is vomited as fast as we eat it, it cannot nourish; so, if the
Word stays not in the memory—but is presently gone, it can do the soul but
 If you would hear aright, practice what you hear.
Practice is the life of all. "Blessed are those who do his commandments,
that they may have right to the tree of life." Rev 22:14. Hearing alone,
will be no plea at the day of judgment—merely to say, "Lord, I have heard
many sermons." God will say, "What fruits of obedience have you brought
forth?" The Word preached is not only to inform you, but reform
you; not only to mend your sight—but to mend your pace in
the way to heaven. A good hearer opens and shuts to God—as the flowers opens
and shuts to the sun.
(1) If you do not hear the Word to practice it, you lose
all your labor. How many useless steps have you taken—if you are
not bettered by hearing! If you are as proud, as vain, and as earthly as
ever—all your hearing is lost. You would be loath to trade in vain, and why
not to hear sermons in vain? "Why then, do I labor I in vain?" Job 9:29. Put
this question to your own soul: "Why do I labor in vain? Why do I take all
these pains to hear, and yet have not grace to practice it? I am as bad as
ever! Why then, do I labor in vain?"
(2) If you hear the Word, and are not bettered by it,
your hearing will increase your condemnation. "That servant which
knew his lord's will, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten
with many stripes." Luke 12:47. We pity such as know not where to hear; it
will be worse with such as care not how they hear. To graceless disobedient
hearers, every sermon will be a faggot to heat hell. It is sad to go
loaded to hell with ordinances. Oh, beg the Spirit to make the Word
preached effectual! Ministers can but speak to the ear; the Spirit
speaks to the heart. "While Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit fell on all
those who heard the Word." Acts 10:44.
 Having heard the Word in a holy and spiritual manner,
for the further sanctification of the Sabbath, confer with the Word.
We are forbidden on this day to speak our own words—but we must
speak of God's Word. Isa 58:13. Speak of the sermons as you sit together;
which is one part of sanctifying the Sabbath. Holy discourse brings
holy truths into our memories, and fastens them upon our hearts. "Then those
who feared the Lord, spoke often one to another." Mal 3:16. There is great
power and efficacy in holy discourse. "How forcible are right words!" Job
6:25. By holy conference on a Sabbath, one Christian helps to warm another
when he is frozen, and to strengthen another when he is weak. Latimer
confessed he was much furthered in piety, by having conference with Mr.
Bilney the martyr. "My tongue shall speak of your Word." Psalm 119:172. One
reason why preaching the Word on a Sabbath does no more good, is because
there is so little holy conference. Few speak of the Word they have heard,
as if sermons were such secrets that they must not be spoken of again, or as
if it were a shame to speak of that which will save us.
 Close the Sabbath evening with repetition, reading,
singing Psalms, and prayer. Ask that God would bless the Word you
have heard. Could we but thus spend a Sabbath, we might be "in the Spirit on
the Lord's-day," our souls would be nourished and comforted; and the
Sabbaths we now keep, would be pledges of the everlasting Sabbaths which we
shall celebrate in heaven.
Use one. See here the Christian's duty, "to
keep the Sabbath-day holy."
(1) The whole Sabbath is to be dedicated to God.
It is not said, Keep a part of the Sabbath holy—but the whole day
must be piously observed. If God has given us six days, and taken but one to
himself, shall we grudge him any part of that day? This would be sacrilege.
The Jews kept a whole day to the Lord; and we are not to abridge or curtail
the Sabbath, as Augustine says, more than the Jews did. The very heathen, by
the light of nature, set apart a whole day in honor of false gods; and
Scaevola, a high-priest of theirs, affirms that the willful transgression of
that day could have no expiation or pardon. If anyone robs any part of the
Christian Sabbath for servile work or recreation, Scaevola, the high priest
of the heathenish gods, shall rise up in judgment to condemn him. Let those
who say, that to keep a whole Sabbath is too Judaical, show where God has
made any abatement of the time of worship; where he has said, you shall keep
but a part of the Sabbath; and if they cannot show that, it robs God of his
due. That a whole day be designed and set apart for his special worship, is
a perpetual statute, while the church remains upon the earth, as Peter
Martyr says. Of this opinion also were Theodore, Augustine, Irenaeus, and
the chief of the fathers.
(2) As the whole Sabbath is to be dedicated to God, so it
must be kept holy. You have seen the manner of sanctifying the
Lord's-day by reading, meditation, prayer, hearing the Word, and by singing
of psalms to make melody to the Lord. Now, besides what I have said upon
keeping this day holy, let me make a short comment or paraphrase on that
Scripture. "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your
pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the
Lord, honorable: and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding
your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words." Isaiah 58:13. Here
is a description of rightly sanctifying a Sabbath.
"If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath." This may
be understood either literally or spiritually. Literally, that is, if you
withdraw your foot from taking long walks or journeys on the Sabbath-day. So
the Jewish doctors expound it. Or, spiritually, if you turn away your
affections (the feet of your soul) from inclining to any worldly business.
"From doing your pleasure on my holy day." That is, you
must not do that which may please the carnal part, as in sports and
recreations. This is to do the devil's work on God's day.
"And call the Sabbath a delight." Call it a delight, that
is, esteem it so. Though the Sabbath is not a day for carnal
pleasure—yet holy pleasure is not forbidden. The soul must take
pleasure in the duties of a Sabbath. The saints of old counted the Sabbath a
delight: the Jews called the Sabbath "a day of light." The Lord's day, on
which the Sun of Righteousness shines, is both a day of light and delight.
This is the day of sweet fellowship between God and the soul. On this day a
Christian makes his sallies out to heaven; his soul is lifted above the
earth; and can this be without delight? The higher the bird flies, the
sweeter it sings. On the Sabbath, the soul fixes its love on God; and where
love is, there is delight. On this day the believer's heart is melted,
quickened, and enlarged in holy duties; and how can all this be, and not a
secret delight go along with it? On a Sabbath a gracious soul can say, "I
sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my
taste." Canticles 2:3. How can a spiritual heart choose but call the Sabbath
a delight? Is it not delightful to a queen, to be putting on her wedding
robes in which she shall meet the king her bridegroom? When we are about
Sabbath exercises, we are dressing ourselves, and putting on our wedding
robes in which we are to meet our heavenly bridegroom the Lord Jesus; and is
not this delightful? On the Sabbath God makes a feast of fat things; he
feasts the ear with his Word, and the heart with his grace.
Well then may we call the Sabbath a delight. To find this holy delight, is
to "be in the Spirit on the Lord's-day."
"The holy of the Lord, honorable." In the Hebrew, it is
glorious. To call the Sabbath honorable, is not to be understood so much of
an outward honor given to it, by wearing richer apparel, or having better
diet on this day, as the Jewish doctors corruptly gloss. This is the chief
honor that some give to this day; but by calling the Sabbath honorable, is
meant that honor of the heart which we give to the day, reverencing it, and
esteeming it as the queen of days. We are to count the Sabbath honorable,
because God has honored it. All the persons in the Trinity have honored it.
God the Father blessed it, God the Son rose upon it, God the Holy Spirit
descended on it. Acts 2:1: This day is to be honored by all good Christians,
and had in high veneration. It is a day of renown, on which a golden scepter
of mercy is held forth. The Christian Sabbath is the very dawning of the
heavenly Sabbath. It is honorable, because on this day "God comes down to us
and visits us." To have the King of heaven present in a special manner in
our assemblies, makes the Sabbath-day honorable. Besides, the work done on
this day makes it honorable. The six days are filled up with servile
work, which makes them lose much of their glory; but on this day sacred
work is done. The soul is employed wholly about the worship of God; it
is praying, hearing, meditating; it is doing angels' work, praising, and
blessing God. Again, the day is honorable by virtue of a divine institution.
Silver is of itself valuable; but when the royal stamp is put upon it, it is
honorable; so God has put a sacred stamp upon this day, the stamp of divine
authority, and the stamp of divine benediction. This makes it honorable; and
this is sanctifying the Sabbath, to call it a delight, and honorable.
"Not doing your own ways." That is, you shall not defile
the day by doing any servile work.
"Nor finding your own pleasure." That is, not gratifying
the fleshly part by walks, visits, or recreations.
"Nor speaking your own words." That is, words unsuitable
for a Sabbath; vain, impertinent words; discourses of worldly affairs.
Use two. If the Sabbath-day is to be kept
holy, they are reproved who, instead of sanctifying the Sabbath,
profane it! They take the time which should be dedicated wholly to
God—and spend it in the service of the devil and their lusts. The Lord has
set apart this day for his own worship, and they make it common. He has set
a hedge about this commandment, saying, "Remember;" and they break this
hedge; but he who breaks this hedge—a serpent shall bite him! Eccl 10:8. The
Sabbath day in England lies bleeding; and oh! that our parliament would pour
some balm into the wounds which it has received! How is this day profaned,
by sitting idle at home, by selling goods, by vain discourse, by sinful
visits, by walking in the fields, and by sports! The people of Israel might
not gather manna on the Sabbath, and may we use sports and dancings on this
day? Truly it should be matter of grief to us to see so much
When one of Darius's eunuchs saw Alexander setting his
feet on a rich table of Darius', he wept. Alexander asked him why he wept?
He said it was to see the table which his master so highly esteemed, now
made a footstool. So may we weep to see the Sabbath-day, which God highly
esteems, and has honored and blessed, made a footstool, and trampled upon by
the feet of sinners. To profane the Sabbath is a great sin; it is a willful
contempt of God; it is not only casting his law behind our back—but
trampling it under foot. He says, "Keep the Sabbath holy;" but men pollute
it. This is to despise God, to hang out the flag of defiance, to throw down
the gauntlet, and challenge God himself. Now, how can God endure to be thus
saucily confronted by proud dust? Surely he will not allow this high
impudence to go unpunished. God's curse will come upon the Sabbath-breaker;
and it will blast where it comes. The law of the land lets Sabbath-breakers
alone—but God will not. No sooner did Christ curse the fig-tree—but it
withered. God will take the matter into his own hand; he will punish Sabbath
violation. And how does he punish it?
(1) With spiritual plagues. He gives up Sabbath profaners
to hardness of heart, and a scared conscience. Spiritual judgments are
sorest. "So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust." Psalm 81:12. A
seared conscience, is a mark of reprobation.
(2) God punishes this sin by giving men up to commit
other sins. To revenge the breaking of his Sabbath, he allows them to break
civil laws, and so come to be punished by the magistrate. How many such
confessions have we heard from thieves going to be executed! They never
regarded the Sabbath, and God allowed them to commit those sins for which
they are to die.
(3) God punishes Sabbath-breaking by sudden visible
judgments on men for this sin. He punishes them in their estates and in
their persons. While a certain man was carrying corn into his barn on the
Lord's-day, both house and corn were consumed with fire from heaven. In
Wiltshire there was a dancing party appointed upon the Lord's-day; and while
one of the company was dancing, he suddenly fell down dead. The "Theater of
God's Judgments" relates of one, who used every Lord's-day to hunt in
sermon-time, who had a child with a head like a dog, and it cried like a
hound. His sin was monstrous, and it was punished with a monstrous birth.
The Lord threatened the Jews, that if they would not hallow the Sabbath-day,
he would kindle a fire in their gates. Jer 17:27. The dreadful fire which
broke out in London began on the Sabbath-day; as if God would tell us from
heaven, that he was then punishing us for our Sabbath profanation. Nor does
he punish it only in this life with death—but hereafter with
damnation. Let such as break God's Sabbath, see if they can break those
chains of darkness, in which they and the devils shall be held.
Use three. It exhorts us to Sabbath holiness.
Make conscience of keeping this day holy. The other
commandments have an affirmative in them only, or a negative; this fourth
commandment has both an affirmative in it and a negative. "You shall
keep the Sabbath day holy," and, "you shall not do any manner of work
in it," shows how carefully God would have us observe this day. Not only
must you keep this day yourselves—but have a care that all under your charge
keep it; "You, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and
your maidservant;" that is, you who are a superior, a parent or a master,
you must have a care that not only you yourself—but those who are under your
trust and tuition, sanctify the day. Those masters of families are to blame,
who are careful that their servants serve them—but have no care that they
serve God; who care not though their servants should serve the devil, so
long as their bodies do them service. Not only have a care of your own
soul—but have a care of the souls you are entrusted with. See that those who
are under your charge sanctify the Sabbath. God's law provided, that if a
man met with an ox or an donkey going astray, he should bring him back
again; much more, when you sees the soul of your child or servant going
astray from God, and breaking his Sabbath, you should bring him back again
to a pious observation of this day.
That I may press you to Sabbath-sanctification,
consider what great blessings God has promised to
the strict observers of this day. Isa 58:14.
(1) A promise of joy. "Then shall you delight
yourself in the Lord." Delighting in God is both a duty and a reward. In
this text it is a reward, "Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord;" as
if God had said, "If you keep the Sabbath conscientiously, I will give you
that which will fill you with delight. If you keep the Sabbath willingly, I
will make you keep it joyfully. I will give you those enlargements in duty,
and that inward comfort, which shall abundantly satisfy you; your soul shall
overflow with such a stream of joy, that you shall say—Lord, in keeping your
Sabbath there is great reward!"
(2) A promise of honor. And "I will cause you
to ride upon the high places of the earth." That is, I will advance you to
honor; so Munster interprets it. Some, by the high places of the earth,
understand Judea; so Grotius. I will bring you into the land of Judea, which
is situated higher than the other countries adjacent.
(3) A promise of earth and heaven. "And I will
feed you with the heritage of Jacob;" that is, I will feed you with all the
delicious things of Canaan, and afterwards I will translate you to heaven,
whereof Canaan was but a type. Another promise is, "Blessed is the man who
does this, who keeps the Sabbath from polluting it." Isa 56:2. "Blessed is
the man;" in the Hebrew it is, "blessednesses." To him who keeps the Sabbath
holy, here is blessedness upon blessedness belonging to him; he shall be
blessed with the upper and nether springs; he shall be blessed in his name,
estate, soul, progeny. Who would not keep the Sabbath—that shall have so
many blessings entailed upon him and his posterity after him? Again, a
conscientious keeping of the Sabbath seasons the heart for God's
service all the week after. Christian, the more holy you are on a
Sabbath—the more holy you will be on the week following.