The Proper Observance of the Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it.”

This commandment is a part of that law which God spoke in person on mount Sinai in the hearing of all Israel, his chosen people, and wrote with his finger on stone, and of which Christ says, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law.” Matthew 5:18. It enjoins the observance of the Sabbath of the Lord, which is the day on which God rested in the beginning, and that he blessed and sanctified, because that in it he had rested from his work. Genesis 2.

The Bible acknowledges no other weekly Sabbath than that of the fourth commandment. Sabbath signifies rest, and God never rested on more than one day; he never blessed more than one day, and he never commanded the observance of any other day of the week than that on which he rested, and which he set apart to a religious use as soon as he had created the heavens and the earth, and rested the seventh day. “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work.”

Our object at this time is to dwell on the proper observance of the Sabbath; and, first, In what does this observance consist? It consists in refraining from our own secular work on that day, and in employing that day in the service of the Creator. God hallowed or sanctified the Sabbath-day, see Genesis 2:2, 3, and to sanctify means “to separate, set apart, or appoint to a holy, sacred, or religious use” (Webster), or to “consecrate, separate, and set apart a thing or person from all secular purposes to some religious use.” Clarke’s Commentary on Exodus 13:2.

The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord. It is emphatically the Lord’s day. Isaiah 58:13. God has given man six days for secular purposes; but he has reserved the seventh day unto himself. But we are all connected with the seventh day; it comes to all the inhabitants of this earth, and we are called upon to spend it in a certain manner. How then shall we show that the seventh day belongs to the Lord, unless we cease to do our own work on that day, and spend it in the service of the Lord?

To illustrate: A man who is engaged in the service of another person says with propriety that his time is not his own, but belongs to him for whom he works; and in order that a servant may show that his time belongs to his master, he must cease to labor for himself, and employ his time in laboring for his master.

To further illustrate this point we would refer to the ancient sanctuary. When this sanctuary had been sanctified unto the Lord, the priests could not use it as they could their own houses; yet they had a work or service to perform in it. So it is in regard to the Sabbath. It belongs to the Lord, and we must consecrate it unto him by employing it in a special manner in his service. Thus we see that the Sabbath is a rest from our own work to be employed in the nobler work of our Creator.

But says the objector, “The commandment plainly declares that in it (the seventh day) thou shalt not do any work.” We answer, The work specified is “thy work.” Says the commandment, “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work” (any of thy work).

This view harmonizes the Sabbath law with those laws which required the priests to labor on the Sabbath-day in attending to duties connected with the sanctuary. God does not under any age give laws conflicting with each other. If God required his to keep laws clashing with each other, they could not obey him; in trying to obey him they would disobey him, and he would be the author of sin.

Those who claim that the fourth commandment prohibits all kinds of labor on the seventh day, must adopt the position (as an able opponent once did) that the Sabbath law did not regulate the priests. Hence, according to this view, the Sabbath was not binding on all Israel. But those who urge this objection would do well to remember that the Israelites had to go to, and return from, the synagogues on the Sabbath.

Again, they performed actual labor in saving the lives of their beasts, and in supplying their wants on the Sabbath-day, Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15, and the great Law-giver or his Son, who understood and taught the design and import of the law, never condemned them for such acts.

Acts of mercy are lawful on the Sabbath-day. Said the great Teacher to the Jews, who had loaded the Sabbath as well as the fifth commandment with traditions, and who through breaking the law dishonored God, Mark 7:6-14; Romans 2:23, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath-days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?” Luke 6:9. “Is it lawful (according to law) to do well on the Sabbath-days.” Matthew 12:12. “The Sabbath was made for man.” Mark 2:17. If it was not lawful to do acts of mercy on the Sabbath-days, then the Sabbath would be against man, and not for man.

Again, Christ said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” John 5:17. The Father had worked from the beginning in mercifully sustaining the lives of this creatures on the Sabbath as well as on other days of the week. Christ followed the example of his Father, and showed that what he did was lawful, and we should do well to imitate the Father and the Son in this respect.

God would be worshiped understandingly by his creatures, and the reason why we are called upon to sanctify the Sabbath is expressed as follows: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it.” In Genesis 2:3, we have the same reason expressed in the following terms: “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his works which God created and made.”

From this we learn that the Sabbath is a memorial which points back to the works of the Creator. One leading object of the Sabbath is to induce men to contemplate the Creator in his perfections, which shine gloriously in the works of creation. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, even his eternal power and Godhead.” Romans 1:20. Hence the works of creation are a proper subject for our meditations on the Sabbath.

But God’s perfections are also seen in his law, his dealings with the children of men, and the plan of salvation, and these subjects should also occupy our minds on the holy Sabbath. Here is a vast field for our thoughts on the Sabbath. Let the mind expand on these subjects, and as light is received let it be reflected by the words and actions.

It is not against the commandment to attend to the means of grace on the Sabbath. The object of the means of grace and the plan of salvation is to bring sinful, fallen man in obedience to the law of God, of which the Sabbath is a part. Of faith, which is one of the principal means of grace, Paul says, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea we establish the law. Romans 3:31, and Christ died “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Romans 8:4. Therefore the more we understandingly attend to the means of grace, the more will we be disposed to keep the Sabbath and the rest of God’s law.

The work that is forbidden by the fourth commandment includes

1. Secular manual labor. The idea of worldly gain or any other consideration, should not tempt us to engage in this labor on the Sabbath. How easy it would be for the Lord to frustrate our plans, and make us lose more than we might gain by laboring with our hands. But though the Lord should suffer us to gain more in the way of sin, though we should spread ourselves here like the green bay tree, Psalm 37:35, yet the loss in the end would be far greater than all that could be gained by sinning. The wages of sin is death. Those who serve sin will surely have their wages—death.

Those who are liable to thus sin with their hands would do well to heed the following exhortation from James: “Cleanse your hands ye sinners, and purify your hearts ye double-minded. * * * * * Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” James 4:8-10.

2. Traveling to or from worldly business on the sabbath. This is a species of our own work, and should not be so much as named among us. We profess to have turned our feet from the Sabbath. Let us see to it that our practice agrees with our profession.

3. Speaking our own words. See Isaiah 57:13, This is also a part of our work; and how apt some are to speak on worldly subjects at home, with neighbors and strangers, and even with the brethren, on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not a day in which we can talk about farms, butter, and cheese, and many other worldly things. Brethren and sisters, shall we honor God by not speaking our own words on his holy day?

4. Thinking on secular subjects. The Sabbath law regulates our minds as well as our bodies. Says Paul, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God.” Romans 7:25. The law is spiritual, verse 14, reaching the spirit or mind, citing our thoughts, accusing our desires, and condemning our affections. Therefore the Sabbath is not a mere animal or bodily rest, as some have termed it. In order that we may keep it in the spirit and in the letter, we must not even think of doing our own work, or plan in reference to our worldly matters. There are as many ways of breaking the Sabbath with our minds as there are secular subjects on which the mind can dwell.

But we must not be satisfied with the thought that we do not engage in servile work on the Sabbath. We should exert an influence to have those that are with us and under us keep the Sabbath.

Parents should first feel for their children whom the Lord has in a special manner entrusted to their care. They should with patience and delight teach them the relations they sustain to their Creator, their parents, and their fellow-creatures, and with an even hand and parental authority enforce the observance of the Sabbath.

Parents, watch the movings of the mind, and see to it that you make right impressions. Be sure that your principles are understood, and then enforce them with meekness and decision. Tell your children that it is because you love them, and would have them loved of the Lord, that you require this at their hand; that they depend upon you, and that the Lord requires them to honor you by obeying his law, which you love. As long as they are dependent upon you for living, they should honor you by resting on the Sabbath.

How can parents be indifferent in regard to their children? How can any of those who bear the name of Sabbath-keepers leave their children alone on the Sabbath (especially if they are young and unconverted, and lack self-control), without any restraining influence, and enjoy the privileges of the Lord’s house, and preach the Sabbath to others? How can those who feel that they need all the help which is received on the Sabbath to obey God, leave their tender children who need more help than they, where a thousand things will divert their minds from right subjects, and lead them to violate the Sabbath?

But the servants must not be overlooked. They should know their duty, and have the privilege of resting as well as their masters. Deuteronomy 5:14. They must not be so burdened with cares that they cannot obey their Master who is in Heaven.

Masters cannot allow their servants to work for them on the Sabbath. They cannot be said to carry out the principles of the Sabbath law while they permit their children, their servants, or their cattle, to work for them on the Sabbath-day.

Our working beasts should rest from servile work on the Sabbath; yet they may help us in the service of the lord, and in attending to acts of mercy. They are not amenable to the law; but we are responsible for the use that we make of them. It is the use that we make of our beasts that is either approved or condemned by the law; and it is by no means wrong for us to have our beasts help us do that which is lawful on the Sabbath-day.

Even the stranger who stops with us should understand that we cannot allow him to engage in servile work within our gates on the Sabbath. We are in a great measure, responsible, for those violations of the Sabbath within our gates or elsewhere, that we might with the right and authority that the Lord has given us, and with heavenly wisdom (James 3:17) prevent, and if we carry out the principles of the Sabbath at home, we shall be in a condition to exert an influence in favor of the Sabbath abroad.

For the benefit of those who desire to keep the Sabbath, we would present the following suggestions:

1. Plan in reference to the Sabbath. The men of this world will calculate and plan to meet important events and pay what they owe, and you must weigh your worldly matters and consider the state of your heart, and see that you are in a condition to meet the Sabbath when it comes, and to give the Lord what belongs to him—to consecrate the seventh-day unto the Creator.

2. Let the sixth day be emphatically the preparation day with you. Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54. Let not this day be your business day. Do not crowd too much work on the last laboring day in the week. This is not preparing to keep the Sabbath, but over-taxing the body and the mind, so that you cannot enjoy or observe the Sabbath when it comes.

3. Close up your work in time to withdraw your thoughts from secular matters, and fix them on religious subjects before the Sabbath. You cannot prepare your mind for the Sabbath in a moment. If you are careful here, you will be able to enter on the Sabbath with a right frame of mind; and if you commence the Sabbath aright, you will have a good reason to be encouraged. But if you are confused when the Sabbath commences; if you are overtaken in sin, and if your mind is divided, the sense of guilt will fasten upon you, and hinder you in the observance of the Sabbath.

4. Having withdrawn yourself from all worldly employments, set a guard on your senses. The senses are channels or roads through which the thoughts pass to reach the mind. Close your senses against worldly thoughts, and they will not be so apt to invade your mind. Shut your windows, and thieves will not so easily enter your dwelling.

5. When you are perplexed in regard to the propriety of certain thoughts, words or actions, keep on the safe side. Avoid doing that which might prove to be unlawful. Keep as far from danger as you can. Let not your course say to others, that you are trying to see how near you can come to the precipice without falling over it.

6. When others speak to you on secular subjects, let them understand your principles. Be decided. Be wise. Try to turn their minds to some religious subject. Speak on what they call your attention to in a religious light. In doing this you will let your light shine, and resist a temptation to which many yield.

7. Be busily engaged in attending to the means of grace, in speaking and thinking on religious subjects, etc., and there will be no time or room for worldly thoughts, words, or deeds.

8. Mark your violations of the Sabbath that you may guard against them in the future and improve. But,

9. Remember the improvements you have made and the blessings you have received in trying to overcome, that you may not lose courage.

10. As you try to help yourself, look to the Lord for that help which he alone can afford. When you plan in reference to the Sabbath, ask the Lord to help you carry out your plans. As the Sabbath commences, pray for strength and grace to resist the temptations that are before you, and to watch unto prayer through the day. Let not your sins weigh you down. The Lord is willing to forgive you your sins if you heartily repent. Do you fell your weakness? There is strength in Jesus; and the Lord does not require anything of his people but what they can by his grace and strength perform. He is anxious to give you his Spirit to help your infirmities. He has holy angels who excel in strength and whom he sends forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation. Limit not his power. Take hold of his arm by faith and strive to overcome. You can yet obtain a complete victory and keep the Sabbath aright through him who has loved us.

Let us now look at some of the benefits resulting from a proper observance of the Sabbath.

1. If we observe the Sabbath as we should, we shall fare better temporally. In order to our present well-being it is necessary that we should spend a portion of our time in resting from servile labor, and the fourth commandment provides a day of rest.

2. We shall remember our Creator and realize our dependence upon him. How prone men in all ages have been to forget God, and to exalt themselves or other created things above the Creator. This they have done in proportion as they have neglected the principles of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a sign between God and his people, that they might know that he is the Lord. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” Exodus 31:17; Ezekiel 20:12, 20. It is impossible to forget God and the relations we sustain to him as our Creator, and yet commemorate his rest from the works of creation by properly observing the Sabbath.

3. We shall keep the rest of the commandments. The Sabbath enforces the principles of gratitude and love. It unfolds to our mind the grand fact that God is the author of our existence, and that we owe all to him, and this fact involves an obligation to love God supremely. But we cannot love God supremely without loving our fellow creatures as we love ourselves. They are God’s creatures as well as ourselves, and have the same rights that we have. Says the beloved apostle, “This commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God, loveth his brother, also.”

Now, if we love God supremely, we shall not dishonor him by accepting other gods, or by making graven images to bow down to them and serve them, or by taking the name of the Lord our God in vain. Hence, we shall keep the first three commandments. And if we love God as we ought, and our fellow creatures as we love ourselves, we shall honor our parents and pay a proper regard to the life, chastity, property, character, and interests of others, and thus keep the last six commandments.

We can now understand why the Lord attaches so much importance to the observation of the Sabbath in his word. When God brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, that they might observe his sabbaths, and keep his laws, he proved them with the Sabbath; and when the Israelites had backslidden in consequence of transgressing the law, God told them that if they hearkened unto him to hallow the Sabbath, Jerusalem should remain for ever, and that if they did not hearken unto him to hallow the Sabbath day, Jerusalem should be destroyed. Exodus 16; Jeremiah 17:24-27. It is evident that the Sabbath is inseparably connected with the rest of the law, and that we cannot insist too much on the necessity of observing it. It is the key to the law of God. It is the golden link that unites man to his Creator, and the obligations which we owe to God, with those that we owe to our fellow man.

4. We shall be blessed of God, and have an everlasting name that will not be cut off. “Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil…. Even unto them will I give in mine house a place and a name better than of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 56:2-5.

By reading the connection, we learn that this Scripture is prophetic, and applies when God’s salvation is near to come, and his righteousness to be revealed. See verses 1, 8, 9, and chap. 55. It is a source of consolation to those who are reproached and reviled for keeping the Sabbath. If God blesses them they shall be blessed and honored. God’s blessing and approbation is better than life and all the applause of men; and a name that is better than of sons and daughters and that will never be cut off, should be more highly prized than all the high sounding titles of this earth, and is good enough for any of God’s humble children.

5. We shall have the seal of God in our foreheads, or minds, and escape the wrath that is threatened by the third angel. Revelation 7:2, 3; 14:9-12. The seal of an earthly monarch is that which makes valid those laws or decrees which he promulgates. It shows his title of royalty, the extent of his dominion, and his right to reign. Now the Sabbath makes valid the law of God. It is the only part of the law that shows who the law-giver is, and that distinguishes him from other gods. It shows him to be the Lord thy God, the

Creator of heaven and earth and all that in them is, and thus furnishes us with his title of royalty, the extent of his dominion, and his right to reign. Therefore the Sabbath may with propriety be called the seal of God. Again, the words seal and sign are used interchangeably in the Bible (Romans 4:12), and we have seen that the Sabbath is a sign between God and his people.

The sealing work as brought to view in Revelation 7, has respect to God’s servants, and is accomplished this side of the leading signs of Christ’s coming (Revelation 6:12, etc.; Matthew 24:29, 30), and while the nations are getting angry, preparatory to the battle of the great day. It must therefore synchronize with the work of the third angel of Revelation 14, which is now going on. The message of the third angel will divide men into two classes. One class will worship the beast and receive his mark, while the other class will keep God’s commandments, and consequently have the seal, mark, or name of God in their foreheads. One class will drink the unmixed wrath of God, which can not be inflicted until mercy closes, and which is the same as the seven last plagues (compare Revelation 14:9, 10; 15:1; 16:1, 2), while the other class will escape the awful wrath of God and stand on Mount Zion. Revelation 14:1-3; Isaiah 56:7.

6. We shall delight ourselves in the Lord, and feed on the heritage of Jacob. “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honor him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord: and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee on the heritage of Jacob, thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Isaiah 58:13, 14.

From the previous verse we see that the Lord is speaking for the benefit of the repairers of the breach, the restorers of paths to dwell in—those who will raise up the foundations of many generations. They will understand the nature and design of the Sabbath, call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable, and take great pleasure in observing it. As a consequence they will delight themselves in the Lord. They will see his glorious character in his law and in his dealings with mankind, and will rejoice in all his ways, and try to imitate his imitable perfections. The law of their God will be in their hearts, and none of their steps shall slide. Psalm 37:31. Having formed characters in obeying God’s holy and perfect law, they will be prepared to feed on the heritage of Jacob or Israel; to enjoy the benefits of the inheritance that was promised to Israel and his seed, and that the children of the promise will have, when those who are Israelites indeed, shall inherit the earth. Genesis 28:13, 14; 26:3-5; 13:14-16; Acts 7:4, 5. Hebrews 11:8-17; John 1:47; Romans 9:6; Galatians 3:8, 9, 29; Matthew 5:5.

Dear reader, are not these benefits of sufficient importance to attract your attention? Do not the riches and glories of the new earth invite you? Do you love to remember your Creator and the relations that you sustain to him? Is there a satisfaction in loving God and keeping his commandments? Do you appreciate his blessings here, and desire to escape the plagues that are soon coming on the earth, and finally stand with the redeemed on Mount Zion? Then “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”

God grant that we may honor him, benefit our own souls and our fellow beings, by observing the Sabbath-day according to the commandment.1Bourdeau, Daniel. “The Proper Observance of the Sabbath.” Sanctification: Or, Living Holiness, 1864, pp. 129–144.

References   [ + ]

The Watchman

The Watchman

In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light - bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the Word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import, - the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention. Evangelism, p. 119

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— Ellen G. White, Education, p. 244