This article is an excerpt of The Substance of Christian Religion by William Ames (1576–1633), taken from a modernized, edited, and annotated version, © 2014 by William H. Gross (http://www.onthewing.org), with additional minor edits. Used by permission.
Exodus 20:8-11 (NKJV) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
This fourth commandment, which is about the time of more solemn worship, is explicated generally (verse 8, "Remember…"), and specially (verses 9-10)—that this is the seventh, or one of seven, to which is adjoined the duty to keep this day. This duty consists of two parts: namely, of rest, and of the Sanctification of that rest. The rest is ceasing from all our works; and it is illustrated from its causes by a distribution; neither you, nor your son, etc. The sanctifying of this rest is the consecration or holy application of it to God's worship. And this sentence is not only proposed, but also confirmed, and that is for a double reason:
Reason is taken from a tacit comparison with the greater. God has promised us six days for our works; and therefore by very good right and reason, He may claim the seventh for Himself, to be consecrated to His worship.
Reason is taken from the exemplary cause; because God by His own example of resting on the seventh day, went before us as it were, to give us an example to follow.
Reason is taken from the efficient, that is, from God's institution or appointment which consists in two parts: sanctifying it, and blessing it. Sanctifying it was separating this day from a worldly use to a holy use. Blessing it was the promise to bless those who rightly bless this day.
Doctrine 1. Certain times are both privately and publicly to be appointed and set apart for more solemn worship.
This is understood in the command by that Synecdoche that names the special for the general. In general, those times which are most agreeable to the societies in which we live are due for public worship. And to the private exercises of godliness, by right order, some part of the morning and of the evening is due; and this is always the practice of the Prophets and Apostles approved in Scripture and proposed to us as an example to be followed. Three reasons for this are as follows:
We ought to have this care, that we worship God in an orderly and decent way, which cannot be without setting apart such a certain time.
Our vanities, and straggliness of mind, and forgetfulness about spiritual duties, requires of us the help of such an ordinance as this.
These appointed times keep us from many sins, while in our thoughts we are either preparing ourselves for these exercises, or else they keep the fresh remembrance and power of them in our memories.
Use. Of Reproof: against the negligence of it by those who, though they profess themselves to be worshipers of God, yet can scarcely find any time to give God the worship due Him.
Doctrine 2. That one day in seven be holily observed is of moral and perpetual duty.
As with us, the Lord's Day is observed. Three reasons for this are as follows:
It is expressly commanded in this moral law as spoken immediately by God Himself, together with the other commands, and they were written by His own finger on tablets of stone; these things were only proper to the moral law.
It was thus ordained from the beginning of the Creation.
It is never less necessary that some seventh day be observed than it was at the first institution. That the Lord's Day, or first of the week, or seventh day is now by Divine authority appointed to us to be kept holy, appears from these:
From the ground and reason for the change: because God from the beginning appointed the seventh day of the week, or septenary circuit of days, for His rest from Creating things. In the same way, Christ appointed the first day of the week—or the first of seven days of ordinary recourse—because on that day He rested from His penal and afflictious labors of His humiliation, or emptying Himself, whereby He restored and created the world as it were, new again—to a better condition than it had lost.
By the frequent appearances of Christ in convening His disciples on this day.1
From sending and shedding abroad the Holy Spirit on this day.2
By the practice of the Apostles.3
By Apostolic constitution (1 Corinthians 16:2).4
From the very title and name of the Lord's Day that it has in the New Testament.5
From the rigorous observation of this day in the Primitive Church, for which they were considered worshipers of the sun; this is because heathens assigned this first day of the week to the sun, as the rest were assigned to the rest of the planets.6
Use. Of Exhortation: that out of conscience towards God and obedience to this command, we are careful to observe the Lord's Day.
Doctrine 3. One part of our duty is that on the Lord's Day we cease from all our own works.
It is gathered from the text, In six days you shall do all your work; but on the seventh day you shall do no work, etc. That is, no work that is yours. Now that work is said to be our work which neither directly belongs to the worship of God, nor is otherwise imposed on us by any necessity from God; but is chosen by ourselves for some human or worldly end. Now such works are:
All our common and mercenary works.7
All things that call our mind away from that intention that is required for the worship of God on that day, though otherwise they are not servile.8
Yet those things are not forbidden which either belong to common honesty, or are of a very urgent nature, and are not a contrived necessity of our own. The reason for this rest is that we may have convenient leisure for divine worship. For worldly business in various ways withstands this more solemn worship of God. Three reasons for this:
The very external acts of both are for the most part such that they cannot consist or stand together at one time.
The mind being distracted with such worldly business cannot compose or settle itself in good order to perform solemn worship to God as it should.
The taste, savor, and power of holy exercises is impaired, and at least dulled or blunted, by mixing with them such things that are vile by comparison.
Use. Of Reproof: of those who easily break the rest of this day, either by their ordinary and vulgar occupations; or with merchandizing, or with sports or plays, or with troublesome and long feastings on it,9 etc.
Doctrine 4. The other part of our duty on the Lord's Day is to sanctify our rest; that is, to apply the leisure that we have to God's worship, publicly as well as privately.
Duties of this kind are as follows:
- Preparing our minds for God's solemn worship.
- Hearing His Word.
- Solemn prayers.
- Partaking of the Sacraments.
- Works of Charity.
- Meditation and conference about holy things.
- A religious consideration of the works of God, of Creation and Providence, and even of those things which we occasionally hear or see, though they are otherwise worldly.
Reasons for these duties:
In such duties, we make a profession of Religion, and of that honor that is due unto God, which therefore is honorable and acceptable to Him.
By this means we build up ourselves, and advance our communion that we have with God. For seeing that, by worldly occupations through the six days of the week our mind is somewhat pressed towards the earth, it was ordained by a most wise purpose and counsel of God, that every seventh day at least, our minds should be lifted up to heaven again, and sent upwards by all such means, so that they might be restored to their former step or degree from which they had been declining. And also, seeing that we contract some filthiness from such worldly business, they should be wiped off on the Lord's Day, and we should be cleansed from them by the exercise of sanctification. And seeing that many occasions fall on the other days, which bring their own difficulties and temptations with them, on this day we ought to be well-furnished and armed, so that the Lord's Day ought to be our day of spiritual mustering, or of weapons-display, and a day of lustration.10 On this day, in as far as our Faith and Charity with other heavenly gifts are singularly kindled in our hearts, there should be a cleansing of ourselves from all filthiness contracted before, and a day of our ascending into heaven.
By this means we also build one another up in the practice of our Religion, so that the one who hears the preaching of the word, though he learns nothing himself, yet he teaches others some good thing, even in this: that he hears, and thereby urges that both he and others should do so. So hereby he teaches others that God is to be solemnly worshiped, and His word is to be heard with reverence.
Use 1. Of Admonition: that we beware of the neglect of these duties; such neglect cannot be consistent with any vigor either of religion to God; or of love and care for our own salvation; or lastly, of love and Christian affection towards the Church, and our neighbors.
Use 2. Of Direction: that according to this rule, we judge the duties which we perform about God's worship on this day. For all of them in common should rise up so high as to sanctify this day; and this sanctifying of the day again depends on our sanctifying the name of God, and advancing our own salvation. Unless therefore we seek such fruits in our consciences, we have just cause in this for great humiliation. But if we feel them in any degree, then we have as great a reason to give the Lord great thanks for it.
Doctrine 5. It is the duty of every Christian, that not only should they sanctify that day themselves, but also that they make all those who are under their power do it, as far as it lies in them.
This is hence collected, because this commandment is in a singular way directed to those who are over others, such as magistrates, parents, masters, etc., Neither you, nor your son…. Three reasons for this are as follows:
Those servile works are forbidden on that day, are for the most part made to be done by command of fathers to children, master to servants, magistrates to subjects. So that, though they are performed by others, yet the works are those of the one at whose command they are done.
The sanctifying of this day was ordained for the cause and use of sons and servants, as well as parents and masters.
It is the duty of all superiors to further the salvation, as much as they can, of all those who are under them; and to procure by them and from them, that honor to God that is due Him.
Use 1. Of Reproof: against that most unworthy carelessness of men who, just as they are not diligent enough themselves in doing their own duty on this behalf, so they think that they are free from all charge of children and servants about this matter.
Use 2. Of Direction: to inferiors that are under others' power:
- That in this they willingly obey their superiors when they call them to serve God.
- Indeed, that they be thankful towards them for this reason.
- That those who have the liberty to do so, should choose to be under those superiors from whom they may look for this help.
Doctrine 6. To keep this duty, we must have a special remembrance: "Remember…that you keep it holy…"
Four reasons for this:
This command is not written naturally on our hearts as the other is; but it was a command of institution rather than of natural light.
The command does not concern all days and hours, but one special time; therefore we may forget it more easily.
The many businesses of this life will easily turn our minds from this duty, unless with some care and diligence we set ourselves to the contrary.
To rightly and conveniently sanctify this day, we need to think of it beforehand, and set our worldly business in such order that it is no hindrance to us on that day, to sanctify it rightly; and also be so busied about those things on other days, that when that day comes, we may be disposed and ready, with freedom of mind and cheerfulness, to lay that business aside and apply ourselves to and go about the solemn worship of God with our whole mind.
Use. Of Reproof: against the laziness and carelessness of many who are so far from a holy remembering of this day, that they remember it rather to this end: that they may spend it on their private pleasures or other business of their own, on which they cannot have the leisure to spend any other day. For if they must run abroad a little, or if there is some sport and an easy journey must be made for it, or if there is some trouble-feast11 to be held, they choose the Lord's Day for these occasions, before any other day—as if otherwise the Lord's Day would be lost to them as an idle day if it were only spent on God's solemn worship. There are others who do not so much as remember the day of the week unless the Church Bell put them in remembrance of it.
- ^As for example, Luke 4:16; 6:1; 13:14; 14:1; etc.
- ^Acts 2:1 — Pentecost was on the first day of the week, 50 days after the Passover Sabbath.
- ^Acts 20:7.
- ^1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
- ^Revelation 1:10.
- ^That is, because the Christians made Sunday—as named by the heathens—their primary day of worship and because heathens worshiped the sun, they assumed Christians worshiped the sun as well.
- ^Things done to make money.
- ^Acts of service.
- ^The sort of feasting that will trouble the conscience, because it is tainted with sinful indulgences.
- ^An act of purifying by means of a ritual; purging.
- ^The sort of feasting that troubles the conscience. The works of Robert Leighton, Archbishop of Glasgow (London, 1859), p. 277. "That is the trouble-feast that disquiets the conscience, which, while it continues good, is a continual feast. So much sin as gets in, so much peace will go out…"