Chapter 22: Biblically-Regulated Religious Worship
If the Protestant Reformation may be said to have been largely concerned with proper soteriology, then the succeeding generations might be said to have been largely concerned with proper ecclesiology. A vast amount of ink spilled and effort given to reform the church’s worship according to the standard of Scripture alone, and it is within that context that the 22nd chapter of the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 was produced. Largely following the Savoy Declaration’s revisions of the Westminster Confession’s article on religious worship, the Baptist version argues that biblical worship is not open to human imagination or invention; rather, biblical, God-honoring worship is regulated by Scripture alone.
Paragraph 1- Regulative Principle
The first paragraph of this chapter begins with a simple statement (based on passages like Rom. 1:20) affirming the universal obligation of all mankind to know, acknowledge, revere, and love the God of the universe:
The light of nature demonstrates that there is a God who has lordship and sovereignty over all. He is just and good and does good to everyone. Therefore, he should be feared, loved, praised, called on, trusted in, and served—with all the heart and all the soul and all the strength.1
The light of nature (i.e., the innate sense of the divine existence combined with the common-grace enabled apprehension of the divine order of creation) proclaims loudly to each person the existence and, at least in some measure, the attributes of God.2 And, in light of who God is and what he has done, it is fitting that each of his creatures render unto him the appropriate homage and worship that is due him.3 But the question is raised: how do we know what is appropriate homage? How might man know if his worship is pleasing to God? The confession answers that question by stating that:
The acceptable way to worship the true God is instituted by him, and it is delimited by his own revealed will. Thus, he may not be worshipped according to human imagination or inventions or the suggestions of Satan, nor through any visible representations, nor in any other way that is not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.
This paragraph, like each section of the confession, assumes the theology found in the rest of the confession, which is significant. For example, chapter 1’s comments about “the Holy Scriptures…[being] the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience” inform the confessions theology of worship (2LBC I.1). Similarly, the sufficiency of the scriptures to regulate the church’s worship is affirmed a few paragraphs later (I.6). God, being the sole object of worship, has revealed how the church is to relate to him, and has in no way freed man to worship outside of that revealed pattern.
As the all-wise One, the prerogative to prescribe the manner and mode of worship belongs to him and him alone, which has been the reformed tradition’s interpretation of the 2nd commandment from the beginning. The negative prohibition against worshiping idols carries with it the positive corollary to worship God according to the methods that he prescribes. Thus, scripture becomes the church’s instruction manual for the proper worship of almighty God.
Paragraph 2- Worship to our triune God through Christ
The second paragraph of this chapter distinguishes Christian worship from any other type of merely religious worship. Biblical worship is to our triune God and only through the mediatorial work of Christ:
Religious worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to him alone—not to angels, saints, or any other creatures. Since the fall, worship is not to be given without a mediator nor through any mediation other than of Christ alone.
Just as the previous paragraph assumed the theology found in chapter 1, so this paragraph assumes the triune doctrine of God found in chapter 2 and the work of Christ found in chapter 8. God’s triunity informs our worship and distinguishes the church’s worship from that done by every other religion on the planet. Furthermore, if the God of the Bible is triune, eternal, and the all-powerful creator, then no creature, however high it may be (e.g., angels, saints), is a worthy recipient of our worship.
Furthermore, this worship is only through Christ as our mediator. As chapter 8 paragraph 10 teaches, Christ’s work of mediation is tied to his threefold office.4 As that threefold office relates to worship: we are ignorant of the proper mode of worship, thus we need Christ’s prophetic office; we are imperfect in every aspect of our worship, thus we need Christ’s priestly office; and we are, in our fallen state, hostile and utterly unable to worship God, thus we need Christ’s kingly office. His threefold office and work of mediation are necessary for proper, biblically-regulated worship.
Paragraphs 3 & 4- Prayer
Moving into the realm of specific components of worship, the third paragraph of this chapter states that prayer of thanksgiving is a necessary aspect of natural worship (i.e., due unto God, apart from any divine revelation5:
- Prayer with thanksgiving is an element of natural worship and so is required by God of everyone. But to be acceptable, it must be made in the name of the Son, by the help of the Spirit, according to his will. It must be accompanied by understanding, reverence, humility, fervor, faith, love, and perseverance. Prayer with others must be in a language that is understood.
No person, unbelievers included, is without reason and duty to approach God with reverence and gratitude in supplication for his sustaining goodness. He made us; he sustains us. and it is at the core of sin that we are not thankful and do not recognize our absolute dependence. None is excused from the obligation prayerfully to relate to God from a heart of thanksgiving. The right manner of prayer, however, is prescribed in God’s word. Prayer must be (1) made in the name of the Son, as Christ prescribes in John 14; it must be (2) prayed through the Holy Spirit’s help; and (3) it must be done in accordance with the will of God himself. God’s triunity described in the previous paragraph naturally grounds the necessarily triune nature of prayer in this paragraph.
Additionally, the spiritual condition of the one praying is important to the entire enterprise. Prayers ought be offered from a position of humility, love, and steadfastness. Furthermore, public prayer is something that is meant to be understood by listeners, in order that it have its effect of edifying on the body. To pray in an unintelligible manner is to violate the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 14:16-17.
Furthermore, it is not just the manner and mode of prayer that is biblically regulated; the content of our prayers ought also to be biblically-governed:
- Prayer is to be made for lawful things and for all kinds of people who are alive now or will live later. But prayer should not be made for the dead nor for those known to have sinned the sin that leads to death.
It would be grossly inconsistent to pray by the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Christ, to the Holy Father for something that was un-holy. Thus, only lawful requests ought to be made in prayer. Furthermore, prayers should be focused only on those that might be served by it, following the biblical example (e.g., 2 Sam 12:21-23; 1 John 5:16).
Paragraph 5- Reading Bible, singing songs, practicing ordinances,
The bible prescribes additional components that ought be present in the public worship of God’s people:
- The elements of religious worship of God include reading the Scriptures, preaching and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord, as well as the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper.
The manner of each of these ought to be consistent with the posture of genuine Christian thankfulness and humility:
They must be performed out of obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear.
Furthermore, the paragraph concludes by adding that:
Also, purposeful acts of humbling with fasting and times of thanksgiving should be observed on special occasions in a holy and religious manner.
God has allowed that purposeful (i.e., not merely as a rote exercise) acts of fasting should be observed on occasions that prove providentially prudent, and ought to be done in a holy and religious (i.e., in accordance with biblical instruction and example) manner.
Paragraph 6- Worship can be done anywhere, in spirit and truth. Don’t forsake assembly
The next paragraph explains how worship is now regulated, as opposed to how it was previously regulated in the old covenant. The passage explains that “Under the gospel” (i.e., in the new covenant era),
neither prayer nor any other part of religious worship is now restricted to or made more acceptable by the place where it is done or toward which it is directed. Instead, God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth—daily in each family and privately by each individual.
Unlike in the old covenant where cultic worship was centered almost exclusively around the physical presence of the tabernacle and temple, in the new covenant believers are freed and expected to worship God in every place (i.e., without geographic limitation) and in any direction (as opposed to always pointing East, or always pointing toward Rome). This geographically-unbounded worship is to always be done in spirit and in truth, which implies: (1) worship should be consistent with the biblical prescriptions listed in the preceding paragraphs, (2) worship should be engaging the heart (spirit) and the head (truth), in biblical balance that neglects neither aspect. Such worship is to be done regularly, and in the context of both personal, private piety, and within the context of the home.
Regarding the public contexts for worship, the confession states that the public gathering of local bodies ought not to be skipped:
Also, more formal worship is to be performed in public assemblies, and these must not be carelessly or deliberately neglected or forsaken, when God by his word or providence calls us to them.
The careless or deliberate neglect of the gathered assembly, specifically condemned in Hebrews 10:25, is not only sinful, but self-harming. If what is said is true in the confession’s chapters on the church, sanctification, the communion of the saints, the Lord’s supper, and baptism, then only a fool would deprive themselves of the occasion and spiritual benefit that the public assembly of the church affords.
Paragraph 7- One Day in Seven
Now, if it be true that God is to be worshiped, and if it be true that God prescribes that worship, then several follow up questions might arise: “how often should I engage in that worship? If corporate worship is a benefit to believers, should we have it everyday? Or are we at liberty to celebrate Christ’s resurrection by having corporate worship once a year on Easter?” The confession answers:
- It is the law of nature that in general a portion of time specified by God should be set apart for the worship of God. So by his Word, in a positive-moral and perpetual commandment that obligates everyone in every age, he has specifically appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy to him.
Nature and common reason indicate that God is due some proportion of time in worship. So, God, by his example in Genesis 2 has given that proportion. His choosing to work six days and rest one (for he surely could have done the work in a single second, if he had wanted to), was a gracious pattern instilled into creation for his creatures to emulate. His example of working and resting is a pattern for all who are made in his image to follow. This day:
From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ the appointed day was the last day of the week. After the resurrection of Christ it was changed to the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s Day. This day is to be kept to the end of the age as the Christian Sabbath, since the observance of the last day of the week has been abolished.
Under the law, the day of worship was Saturday, the last day of the week. However, because of Christ’s resurrection, the day of worship and rest has changed in the gospel era to Sunday, the first day of the week.6
This transfer was foreshadowed even in the old testament. For example, the fourth commandment in Exodus 20 states that the Sabbath should be remembered because of God’s rest after creation: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (20:11). However, the Deuteronomic version of the fourth commandment offers a different motivation: “You shall remember that you were a slave[c] in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day (5:15). This additional impetus for Sabbath observance (i.e., redemption) points forward to the great redemption to be found later in the new covenant. Haldane explains:
That God purposed to appoint the day of his resting from the work of this new creation, as the Sabbath which he was afterwards to bless and hallow in remembrance of it, in place of that day which he had formerly consecrated to the memory of his resting form the first creation, appears from his commanding the Israelites to observe the Sabbath in remembrance of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. That deliverance was an eminent type of the redemption of his people by Christ from the bondage of Satan.7
Thus, because the day was a typological pointer to a greater redemptive rest to come, a rest secured by Jesus, then it is fitting that when the antitype is secured by Jesus’s resurrection that the day of commemoration changes. Sunday observance as the Lord’s Day is fitting. Just as the Israelites commemorated their redemption from Egypt on Saturday, so too should Christians commemorate their redemption from slavery on the day that their redemption was secured: Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection.
Furthermore, these legitimacy of the change of day is confirmed by: (1) the honor conferred to the day by the Lord; (2) by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; (3) by the practice of the apostles; and (4) by the title given to the day (i.e., “Lord’s Day”).8
The first reason to affirm the transfer of the day of Sabbath observance from Saturday to Sunday is because of the honor given to it by the Lord. As a first example it should be noted that every recorded post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples happens on Sunday.9 Jesus appears on the evening of the resurrection day (e.g., Jn 20:19). Likewise, eight days later (counting inclusively, as the Jews did) Jesus came to the disciples again on a Sunday (Jn 20:26). Jesus’s recorded appearances to the disciples appear on Sunday.
A second reason to affirm the transfer of day from Saturday to Sunday is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This event was foreshadowed by the giving of the law fifty days after the Exodus:
Here [in Pentecost] we have the explanation of the mystery in the Old Testament of the fiftieth day…On the fiftieth day after the departure from Egypt, the law was delivered from Mount Sinai, which, corresponding with the first day of the week, was 1500 years afterwards fulfilled on that day. That the law was delivered, accompanied with thunderings and lightings, and now, on the corresponding day, came “a sound from heaven, as a mighty rushing wind,” and “cloven tongues, like as of fire” sat upon each of the disciples.10
The striking similarities between Pentecost and the giving of the law in Exodus affirm: “the coming of the promised Comforter, being thus vouchsafed on the first day of the week, confirmed the newly instituted season,” that is, the new Sabbath pattern for the new people of God: Lord’s Day worship.11
A third reason to affirm the change of day, and perhaps the most important, is the apostolic example found in the New Testament. While the New Testament does not expressly command weekly observance of the Lord’s Day, there does exist much apostolic precedent; Haldane affirms: “The duty of sanctifying the first day of the week is taught in the New Testament, not by direct precept, but in a way of approved example or reference, in which several other institutions are enjoined.”12 Indeed, because there were details about the administration of the church which were given directly to the apostles and not expressed by the Lord during his earthly ministry (e.g., administration of the sacraments, the ordering of worship), apostolic teaching and example retains the force of divine command (e.g., 1 Cor 14:37).13
Whether the transfer of Saturday to Sunday as the day of worship came from direct command of Jesus to the apostles or by the leading of the Holy Spirit, what is clear is that the apostolic-era church did gather on Sundays.14 One passage indicating Lord’s Day worship is found in 1 Corinthians where Paul telling the church at Corinth to make a collection “on the first day of every week,” (16:2). However, this injunction was not limited to just the Corinthian church, for Paul explains, “as I directed the church of Galatia, so you also are to do” (16:1). This passage assumes that the church would be meeting regularly on the Lord’s Day, a command that Paul taught in all the churches (cf. 1 Cor 4:17; 7:17). Another passage indicating Lord’s Day worship is Acts 20:7a: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.”15 The breaking of bread reference is often seen as a reference to the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. As one (anti-sabbatarian) notes, that Luke specifies the day is significant:
We are faced with the conclusion that Luke’s specification of the day of the week in Acts 20:7 probably should not be relegated to the category of irrelevant personal reminiscence. It represents a state in the growing consciousness of, and ecclesiastical importance of, the “first day of the week.” The brevity of Luke’s notice would suggest that he considered such meetings to be uncontroversial and to require no further explanation, from which we may infer that they were relatively widespread and regular.16
Thus, the transfer of Saturday to Sunday was set as early as pre-Pentecost and was affirmed by apostolic example.
The transfer of the day, which is often argued as the Achilles heel of Sabbatarian theology, is not only foreshadowed in the Old Testament, but is confirmed by apostolic example and teaching in the New.
Paragraph 8- Faith, Rest, and Proper Sabbath observance
If there exists one day in seven that ought to be treated differently than the rest, then how are Christians to spend this day? Are they free to spend it however they please? Are they at liberty to go and do as they please after they have fulfilled their biblically-required corporate worship obligations?
These questions have been debated and disagreed upon for centuries.17 Thankfully, the confession gives general, biblical parameters while allowing for specific application based upon the individual’s liberty of conscience:
- The Sabbath is kept holy to the Lord when people have first prepared their hearts appropriately and arranged their everyday affairs in advance. Then they observe a holy rest all day from their own works, words and thoughts about their secular employment and recreation. Not only that, but they also fill the whole time with public and private acts of worship and the duties of necessity and mercy.
This paragraph of the confession begins with the assumption that the day is to be sanctified, following God’s example in Genesis 2. To properly sanctify the day requires thoughtful intentionality, thus believers are exhorted to prepare in advance. However, and this in important, the preparations are not merely related to work or to other outward concerns. Believers are first to have prepared their hearts appropriately, which is a significant component of the sabbath discussion that is often neglected. Indeed, to properly observe the sabbath, one must begin from a position of faith. Or to say it more strongly: one can’t rest without faith.
Resting takes faith. For people to truly rest, they must recognize their own inadequacies and inabilities. To take one day a week off from our normal work is to proclaim with our lives that we are ultimately insufficient. Resting demonstrates to the world (and to ourselves) that we are utterly dependent upon God for provision.
Resting includes more than the mere cessation of activity. Indeed, one may be physically motionless and have ceased from normal weekday work, but may still be distracted with thoughts and anxious about getting back to work (side thought: have you ever considered the difference between good, biblical resting and sloth? They can appear identical but be vastly different). Resting requires faith in God to supply what is lacking, to defend where we are weak, and to grow what we have sown.
This is why true resting could never be legislated or otherwise externally coerced. There is a heart-level submission that is required. A movement away from sinful self-exaltation to humble dependence is needed:
The progression from ceasing to resting underscores the basic movement from idolatry to faith. First we discover all the deception and falsehood of the securities offered by the world, and, with repentance, we cease to trust them. This includes especially all our efforts to make our own way or to save ourselves. Then we learn that God has done all the work of redemption for us and that he continues to work through us. We learn, by faith, to rest in his grace.18
Resting requires believers to submit their whole being to God; not merely the body, but the heart, mind, and soul must all be knelt before God in humility.
Some authors speak of a legal versus an evangelical obedience. On the one hand, the person seeking to observe sabbath rest legally (or, as if still under the law), seeks to earn God’s favor by their own faithfulness to a command. Or, the legally obedient Christian could even be driven to obey the sabbath command out of a sense of fear; they could be driven by fear of divine wrath if found disobedient. On the other hand, the person seeking to obey evangelically, or with gospel obedience, will observe sabbath rest from their secure position in Christ. These believers will, in faith, seek to obey all of God’s commands, neither thinking that they are earning God’s favor nor fearing God’s divine wrath, but in humble dependence upon God’s grace they rest.19
Because of the transaction-like nature of labor and compensation, combined with a sinful heart, man is often tempted to ignore the provision of God found in every blessing. If left to themselves, fallen people will come to lean on his own strength. In contrast, the weekly sabbath stands as a reminder that: labor is a good gift, but a terrible idol; man is dependent upon God for everything; and God wants us to be content.
Labor is a good gift, but a terrible idol. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder that, while labor is good, God is ultimate. Labor honors God, images God, and points to our working God. However, rest also honors God, images God, and points to God. If we lose a biblical balance between work and rest, one will dominate the other, and an idol has been formed.
The idol of workaholism is especially abundant in American culture. One author summarizes: “The workaholic’s way of life is considered in America to be at one and the same time (a) a religious virtue, (b) a form of patriotism, (c) the way to win friends and influence people, and (d) the way to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.”20 The cultural reinforcement of a workaholic’s idolatry has to be counteracted.
Weekly resting from our work patterns can be a way to combat this idolatry. One study on workaholism describes multiple characteristics of most workaholics, two of which include: (1) they “are often psychologically present at work even when they are physically absent from work;” (2) they often have similar work and non-work pursuits which makes it difficult “to distinguish between them to determine which ones to ‘count’ as work.”21 Both of these tendencies can be resisted by faithfully aligning our work and rest patterns with the creation based pattern God instituted. The mental distraction experienced by most workaholics can be overcome by forcing a break from the normal work of the week for a focused day of resting and contemplation upon the Lord and his ordinary means of grace. Church attendance and private works of piety can aid a believer who struggles with idolizing work. Also, weekly sabbath rest can also combat against the second characteristic of workaholics (i.e., similar work and non-work pursuits). Because of the clear break made between the normal six days of work and the one day of rest, a clear distinction between the two can remain. Workaholics can be held accountable for the accounting of their time and energies because of the clear distinction of days found in the six-and-one pattern found in creation. Thus, weekly rest can aid the workaholic in his or her battle against idolatry.
The sabbath reminds believers that they are not the true source of their own blessings and provision; their own industriousness is not the means of their survival. Indeed, “Our Sabbath observance will not give us genuine rest if we use it merely as an excuse to be workaholics the rest of the week. Only in the sure knowledge that we don’t have to manufacture our success in life by our own efforts can we have freedom not to be continuously working at making our own way.”22 The Sabbath is a weekly reminder that “man does not live by bread alone.” God has built into creation a rhythm of rest designed to point man outside of himself and toward God, from whom all blessings flow. It takes faith to stop working (and, hence, stop making money) in order to spend time with God. This faithful shabat, ceasing, is both the blessing and a means of blessing from God.
The sabbath points outside of our weekly routine toward greater realities: the final rest to come, and the one who has procured that rest. Sabbath rest is a weekly blessing that re-orients the priorities of believers according to the design of God. Having been re-oriented and reminded that God, not labor, is ultimate, man is then able to honor God in both work and rest. Without this weekly reorientation toward the ultimate things, fallen mankind tends to elevate the ephemeral.23
Man is utterly dependent upon God for everything. Related to its reorienting nature, the sabbath also reminds sinful men that they are ever dependent upon God. Setting apart a day is helpful for recognizing, “that we are incapable of providing for ourselves—either physically or spiritually.”24 Combined with the preached word and the sacraments, the sabbath becomes a tangible reminder that believers are utterly lost without God’s provision.
First, because the sabbath points back to creation, believers are reminded that they depend on God for everything, even the common graces. The growing of what has been sown, the sprouting of what has been watered, the budding of what has shot up, each of these processes are out of man’s control. All the providential events in life, either good or bad, are ultimately outside of our control. But, God is powerfully reigning over all the details of our life, just as he powerfully called the world into existence. Weekly sabbath rest points us back to God’s original act of creation, and stands as a reminder that man is utterly dependent upon God for both the creation and providential care of all things.
Because the sabbath points back to redemption, believers are reminded that they depend upon God for all spiritual blessings. Martin Luther summarized this spiritual reality in this way: “The spiritual rest which God especially intends in this commandment is that we not only cease from our labor and trade but much more—that we let God alone work in us and that in all our powers do we do nothing of our own.”25 Every spiritual blessing, including salvific rest, is found in Christ alone. Sabbath rest stands as a weekly reminder that man is dependent upon God for all redemptive grace.
Finally, because the sabbath points toward the final rest to come, believers are reminded that they must depend upon God for final perseverance to the end. Each week believers are reminded that while redemption is the pinnacle of God’s grace, our current state in redemptive history is not goal. Rather, the goal is the eternal state yet to come. Weekly corporate services (discussed in chapter 5) give believers tangible reminders of that future grace. The sacraments display a visible, tangible, and tasteable reality that is only seen in shadows now but will ultimately be seen without a veil. One author explains:
Sabbath keeping teaches the dialectical truth that Christian feasting is both temporal and eternal. Our weekly celebrations help us to be more aware that God is eternally present, but the fact that Sunday moves on to Monday keeps reminding us that our short-lived Sabbath celebrations are but a foretaste of the eternal feast that we will someday enjoy in God’s presence26
These eschatological reminders, possible through faithful obedience to the sabbath pattern of rest, are proclaimed each week and teach that believers are dependent upon God for all eschatological provision.
God’s work in creation, redemption, and ultimate eschatological rest are all proclaimed by weekly rest. From beginning to end, all of a man’s life (indeed, all of history) is dependent upon the providential care of and provision by God.
Sabbath rest promotes contentment. When someone is reminded that all good things come from God, that God is in control, and that God will provide for all of our spiritual and physical needs, that person may then come to find contentment.
Walter Brueggemann offers an entire book devoted the idea that sabbath rest offers a means of resistance to the cultural demands of “More!” and “Now!” Modern society is driven by an “endless pursuit of greater security and greater happiness, a pursuit that is always unsatisfied, because we have never gotten or done enough…yet. The gods…of this system are the gods of market ideology that summon to endless desires and needs that are never met but that always require yet greater effort.”27 Feelings of discontentment are fostered and promoted by modern advertising in order to sell more and more. Contentment is sacrificed on the altar of commerce.
Sabbath rest is a means to combat this temptation of discontentment by offering, “an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence” that erodes our rest time. Instead, “the alternative on offer is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God.”28
Indeed, Jesus Christ is the “embodiment of Sabbath rest for those who are no longer defined by and committed to the system of productiveness.”29 Alluding to the pre-exodus slavery of the Hebrews, Brueggeman explains that, in Christ, believers may “cease, even for a time, the anxious striving for more bricks [and may] find themselves with a ‘light burden’ and an ‘easy yoke.’”30 Continuing the comparison, He writes: “God is not Pharaoh. God does not keep jacking up production schedules. To the contrary, God rests, confident, serene, at peace. God’s rest, moreover, bestows on creatureliness a restfulness that contradicts the ‘driveness’ of the system of Pharaoh.”31 Believers may rest content in the knowledge that God loves based on covenantal relationship, not on productivity and production.
Relationship with God, not the production and acquisition of things, is the only means of lasting contentment. Weekly sabbath rest “provides time, space, energy, and imagination for coming to the ultimate recognition that more commodities, which may be acquired in the rough and ready economics, finally do not satisfy.”32 Only communion with God can satisfy.
Weekly sabbath rest requires faith on the part of believers. Only those secure in Christ can ever find lasting comfort. Additionally, weekly rest also nurtures faith by reminding believers of three important themes: work is a good gift, but a terrible master; man is dependent upon God for all things; abiding contentment can only be found in Christ.
Works of Necessity, Piety, and Mercy. This paragraph of the confession concludes by stating that believers ought to spend the day in holy rest and performing deeds of necessity, piety, and mercy. Following the Westminster in its use of these three categories of acceptable works, the confession bases these categories on Jesus’s teaching. He advocated works of necessity (Matt 12:1-8; Mk 2:23-28; Lk 6:1-5), mercy (Matt 12:9-14; Lk 4:31-41; 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Jn 5:8-10; 7:23; 9:13-16), and piety (Matt 12:9; Mk 6:2; Lk 4:16; 6:6; Jn 7:22-23) during his earthly ministry.
The confession wisely avoids the unnecessary binding of consciences regarding what is permissible and prohibited activity on the sabbath, which is consistent with the confession’s teaching related to liberty of conscience in the preceding chapter. Pastors and teachers should take note at how the framers of the confessions taught biblical categories, but went no further to exclude specific activities as necessarily sinful on the sabbath.
The Second London Baptist Confession helps believers, especially pastors, navigate the often-complex waters of biblical interpretation and application. By seeking to have the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice, the confession’s framers help believers by protecting them from sinful license, while also guarding against the ever-present temptation to don the yoke of man-made regulations. May we all seek to be faithful to Christ by likewise guarding against the twin errors of antinomianism and legalism, and doing so with the warmth and charity of confessional piety.
1 Stan Reeves, The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: In Modern English (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2017). All references to the 1689 Confession will be from this edition unless otherwise noted.
2 For more on the light of nature, see: J. V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019), 11–26; Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), s.v. sensus divinitatis.
3 This logic is put into application in a couple of wonderful sermons by Jonathan Edwards: Jonathan Edwards, “The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman, vol. 2, 2 vols. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 93–103.
4 Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), s.v. munus triplex.
5 Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006) s.v. theologia naturalis.
6 For more on the transfer of the sabbath day, see: Jon English Lee, “Biblical Theology and the Transfer of the Sabbath,” Founders Blog (accessed 6/30/2019), https://founders.org/2016/03/01/biblical-theology-and-transfer-of-the-sabbath-part-3/; Jon English Lee, “There Remains a Sabbath Rest for the People of God: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Defense of Weekly Sabbath Rest as a Creation Ordinance,” PhD Diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018, 122–130.
7 Robert Haldane, Sanctification of the Sabbath: The Permanent Obligation to Observe the Sabbath Or Lord’s Day (Edinburgh: William Whyte & Co., 1842), 379.
8 These arguments are adapted from: Haldane, Sanctification of the Sabbath, 388–96.
9 Lane Keister, “The Sabbath Day and Recreations on the Sabbath: An Examination of the Sabbath and the Biblical Basis for the ‘No Recreation’ Clause in Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8 and Westminster Larger Catechism 117,” Confessional Presbyterian 5 (January 1, 2009): 235.
10 Haldane, Sanctification of the Sabbath, 389. Haldane explains other connections: “The day of Pentecost, too, was the fiftieth day from the resurrection of Jesus Christ when he ‘became the first fruits of them that slept,’ and the day of the first fruits of the Christian Church. The fiftieth year of jubilee, when every man returned into his own possession, which he had sold or forfeited, also corresponded with that fiftieth day, the day of Pentecost, on which so remarkable a proof was given that the price of the redemption of Christ’s people had been paid, and that for them he had entered into the possession of his and their eternal inheritance.” Ibid., 389–90.
11 Ibid., 390. It is also significant that “not merely the Apostles, but all the disciples…were in one accord—as being the day of their stated meeting—in one place.” Ibid.
12 Ibid., 387.
13 This argument drawn principally from: Benjamin Keach, The Jewish Sabbath Abrogated, Or, The Saturday Sabbatarians Confuted in Two Parts: First, Proving the Abrogation of the Old Seventh-Day Sabbath: Secondly, That the Lord’s-Day Is of Divine Appointment: Containing Several Sermons Newly Preach’d upon a Special Occasion, Wherein Are Many New Arguments Not Found in Former Authors, Early English Books, 1641-1700 / 280:06 (London : Printed and sold by John Marshall …, 1700., 1700), 176–279, http://gateway.proquest.com .ezproxy.sbts.edu/ openurl?=ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id =xri:eebo:citation:12417506 Keach argues that there are many things comprehended in the great commission which are not expressed, including the day of worship: Sunday. Keach argues that Christ probably gave this teaching, among others, during His 40 days before His ascension. Ibid., 176–80. See also: ; Iain H. Murray, Rest In God: A Calamity in Contemporary Christianity (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2010), 18–23; Glen Knecht, The Day God Made (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 62–66.
14 Keach offers three reasons to believe that the transfer was taught directly to the Apostles by Jesus. (1) “Consider Jesus Christ, Son of God, as Mediator, is the only Head, Sovereign Lord, and Lawgiver to his Church; and therefore it may seem strange, that the special Day or Time of Gospel-worship in his own Kingdom-state should not be given forth by himself. (2) “Now no doubt but during these 40 days [between the resurrection and the ascension], he fully settled all things appertaining to his Spiritual Kingdom, and instructed them in all matters they should both do and teach. And can any rationally judg [sic.] that he did not then command them which day in seven he would have observed as a Day of Rest and Solemn Worship?” And (3) “Consider, that from the day of his ascension into Heaven, till the day of Pentecost, there were but ten days, during which we do not read they had any special general Assembly for Religious Worship, tho on the two first days some were together, and on both those days he appeared to them. And remarkable it is, that there were two Jewish Sabbath-days between his Ascension and the day of their first general solemn meeting. Now had not the old Sabbath been gone, certainly they had assembled on both those days: but no doubt our Lord had told them on what day they should first meet together, in expectation of the Gift and Promise of the Father; which day he purposed to ratify as the only Day of Gospel-Worship, by a marvelous effusion of the Spirit. To me nothing deserves more to be observ’d than this, viz. on what day of the week the first general Gospel-Assembly was held, after our Lord’s Resurrection, and just upon (or soon after) his Ascension: for no doubt that the day which Christ did settle in his Gospel-Church. And that they were bid to be altogether on this day, and to wait till it was come, seems plainly implyed [sic.] in the very words of the Text, Acts 2.1 ‘And when the day of Pentecost was fully come;’ fully come, doth not that denote they waited for it?” Keach, The Jewish Sabbath Abrogated, 182–85. While his mildly speculative arguments are interesting, it does not matter whether Christ gave the commands directly or if the Apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave the commands to the church; either way, the pattern immediately and universally shifts by divine command from Saturday to Sunday worship.
15 For a defense of this passage speaking of Sunday evening, not Saturday evening, see: Max Turner, “The Sabbath, Sunday, and the Law in Luke/Acts,” in From Sabbath To Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999), 130.
16 Ibid., 132.
17 For more on the historical interpretations of sabbath rest, see: Jon English Lee, “Interpretations Of Sabbath Rest In The Early Church And Early Medieval Era” Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies Theological Seminary, (2018): 103–133; idem, “An Examination Of The Origins Of English Puritan Sabbatarianism,” Puritan Reformed Journal 7,1 (2015): 103–119.
18 Marva J Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 56. Emphasis original.
19 For more on legal vs. evangelical obedience, see: Walter J. Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight (Edinburgh; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 75–78.
20 Wayne Oats, Confessions of a Workaholic; the Facts about Work Addiction, (New York, NY: World Pub. Co., 1971), 12.
21 Marilyn Machlowitz, “Determining The Effects of Workaholism” (PhD Dissertation, Yale University, 1978), 6.
22 Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, 55.
23 For more on the idolatry of work/production and sabbath keeping: Lynne M. Baab, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 96; Campbell, On the First Day of the Week, 36; Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, 17–21, 28–35; Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance, 13.
24 Dawn emphasizes that man is providentially fed by God in two ways on the sabbath. First, “If we are to feast spiritually, God must provide the manna of his Word. Only by his grace has he chosen to reveal himself to us; only by his grace can we understand and believe what his revelation declares.” Second, not only must we hear his word, but we must also hear what God is teaching through silence: “Besides the spoken and hear and read Word of God, we need to recapture in our noisy culture the silence that is also a language of God…Observing the Sabbath offers us continued practice in keeping silent in order to hear ‘the yearning [of our spirits for God], the Prayer [he has] planted [within] us, and to allow ourselves to be shaped and moved by it.” Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, 158.
25 Martin Luther, “Treatise on Good Works,” in The Christian in Society 1, trans. W. A. Lambert and James Atkinson, vol. 44 of Luther’s Works (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1966), 72.
26 Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, 153.
27 Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 13.
28 Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance, xiv.
29 Ibid., 12.
30 Ibid., 19.
31 Ibid., 30.
32 Ibid., 85.