“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, honourable; and shalt honour 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 with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
“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 manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates…”
“And He said unto them, ‘What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.'”
Order of Contents
Where to Start?
That keeping the Sabbath is a continuing moral obligation from God’s institution at Creation, see The Lord’s Day. That the Sabbath has changed from the 7th Day to the 1st Day of the week at the Resurrection of Christ upon the authority of God, see The Change of the Sabbath to the First Day.
This being so, how are we to keep the Lord’s Day holy to the Lord? What are the practical nuts and bolts of it?
Is our focus upon enjoying and worshipping the Lord only for public worship in the morning, or is it to extend to the whole day?
Is it ok to eat out at restaurants? To buy and sell on the Lord’s Day?
What about doing outdoor work around the house, or watching sports and entertainment? Is the Sabbath family day, or is it the Lord’s day?
Is what we do on the First Day due to the status quo around us, or is it governed by what God reveals in detail in Scripture? Is our current practice due to any lack of spirituality in ourselves? Do we find God to be a more rich portion than anything else in this world?
“Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” – Ps. 73:25
In order to learn in more Scriptural thoroughness how we may enjoy the Lord the most on the Lord’s Day, and to order our affairs in a way that is glorifying and pleasing to Him, start with this heart melting prayer by George Swinnock:
‘A Good Wish about the Lord’s Day’ 3 pp. in Works 1:255-258
Read the Westminster Standards below on the subject and look up the Scriptural proof-texts. Then enjoy digesting the sermon and article by the Westminster divines Thomas Case and William Gouge:
Case, Thomas – ‘Of Sabbath Sanctification’ on Isa. 58:13-14 20 pp. in Puritan Sermons: The Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, vol. 2, pp. 26-46
Gouge, William – The Sabbath’s Sanctification 1641 42 pp. In question-answer format.
The succinct, contemporary piece by Rev. Phillip Kayser is helpful as well:
Kayser, Phillip – ‘Scriptural Guidelines on How to Observe the Sabbath’ 1995 11 pp. in Sunday as a First-Day Sabbath, pp. 33-44
Those more experienced in enjoying Sabbath rest will find deep satisfaction in the numerous longer puritan treatments below, amongst others.
For practical help in enjoying the whole day unto God, see the works below (in order of shortest to longest) of the 1600’s English Independent, Richard Baxter, the 1800’s American presbyterian minister Silas Andrews, the 1700’s Scottish minister, John Willison, and the 1600’s English, puritan, John Wells.
Sometimes persons are not able to find enough profitable things to do on the Lord’s Day and become bored. John Willison gives help:
“The Lord knows the carnality and weariness that our hearts are naturally prone to in the work of the Sabbath; wherefore, for remedy thereof, He has graciously appointed a variety of exercises on the Sabbath-day, that, when we weary of one, another may be our recreation.
Are you weary of hearing? then recreate yourselves with prayer: If of that, then recreate yourselves with singing of God’s praises: If of that, then recreate yourselves in reading God’s word, and other good books: If you weary of that, then recreate yourselves with Christian conference, repeating the sermons, instructing your families, etc. If you weary of public duties, then go to private; if of these, go to secret duties.
Is there not here a delightful variety of pleasant spiritual employments, sufficient to recreate ourselves with for one day, without needing the help of any sensual diversion, to put off the precious time of this blessed day?” – A Treatise Concerning the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day (1820), ch. 2, sect. 1, pp. 110-111
For practical help with nurturing your children in the Lord on the Lord’s Day, see Paul Barth’s article, ‘Honoring the Sabbath with your Children’.
That ‘the Continental View of the Sabbath’ was much more different and practically rigorous than what it is commonly held to be, see the articles under the subsection, The Continental View of the Sabbath.
That the Lord’s Day is to be outwardly upheld in society by the civil magistrate, as it once was in better days in most states in America, see the Westminster Larger Catechism, #118 (even in the American-revised versions):
“Why is the charge of keeping the sabbath more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors [including the civil magistrate; see the proof-texts]?
The charge of keeping the sabbath is more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge; and because they are prone ofttimes to hinder them by employments of their own.¹
The reason that the civil magistrate is to uphold the 4th Commandment in its jurisdictions, is because the civil magistrate is the servant and vice-regent of God the Creator (Rom. 13:1-5), and is hence obliged to enforce all of God’s moral 10 Commandments. To learn more about the Biblical and historic, reformed view of civil government, see the Establishment Principle.
As you purify your heart in consecrating the first day of each week unto the Lord, in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection (the whole hinge of your salvation and the source of your spiritual life, Rom. 8:11; 6:4-11), may the Lord make good his promise to you that you would see more of Him (Mt. 5:8) and that his Day, every week, would be a day of physical and spiritual refreshing to you.
The Westminster Standards
Westminster Confession 21.8
This sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations;¹ but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.²
Westminster Larger Catechism
Q. 117. How is the sabbath or the Lord’s day to be sanctified?
A. The sabbath or Lord’s day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day,[a] not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful;[b] and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy[c]) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship:[d] and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.[e]
[a] Exod. 20:8,10
[b] Exod. 16:25-28. Neh. 13:15-22. Jer. 17:21,22
[c] Matt. 12:1-13
[d] Isa. 58:13. Luke 4:16. Acts 20:7. 1 Cor. 16:1,2. Ps. 92:title. Isa. 66:23. Lev. 23:3
[e] Exod. 20:8. Luke 23:54,56. Exod. 16:22,25,26,29. Neh. 13:19
Q. 118. Why is the charge of keeping the sabbath more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors?
A. The charge of keeping the sabbath is more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge; and because they are prone ofttimes to hinder them by employments of their own.[f]
Q. 119. What are the sins forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are, all omissions of the duties required,[g] all careless, negligent and unprofitable performing of them, and being weary of them;[h] all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful;[i] and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.[k]
Q. 120. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment, the more to enforce it?
A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment, the more to enforce it, are taken from the equity of it, God allowing us six days of seven for our own affairs, and reserving but one for himself, in these words, Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:[l] from God’s challenging a special propriety in that day, The seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God:[m] from the example of God, who in six days made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: and from that blessing which God put upon that day, not only in sanctifying it to be a day for his service, but in ordaining it to be a means of blessing to us in our sanctifying it; Wherefore the lord blessed the sabbath-day, and hallowed it.[n]
Q. 121. Why is the word Remember set in the beginning of the fourth commandment?
A. The word Remember is set in the beginning of the fourth commandment,[o] partly, because of the great benefit of remembering it, we being thereby helped in our preparation to keep it,[p] and, in keeping it, better to keep all the rest of the commandments,[q] and to continue a thankful remembrance of the two great benefits of creation and redemption, which contain a short abridgment of religion;[r] and partly, because we are very ready to forget it,[s] for that there is less light of nature for it,[t] and yet it restraineth our natural liberty in things at other times lawful;[v] that it cometh but once in seven days, and many worldly businesses come between, and too often take off our minds from thinking of it, either to prepare for it, or to sanctify it;[w] and that Satan with his instruments much labour to blot out the glory and even the memory of it, to bring in all irreligion and impiety.[x]
[o] Exod. 20:8
[p] Exod. 16:23. Luke 23:54,56 compared with Mark 15:42. Neh. 13:19
[q] Ps. 92:title compared with vv. 13,14. Ezek. 20:12,19,20
[r] Gen. 2:2,3. Ps. 118:22,24 compared with Acts 4:10,11. Rev. 1:10
[s] Ezek. 22:26
[t] Neh. 9:14
[v] Exod. 34:21
[w] Deut. 5:14,15. Amos 8:5
[x] Lam. 1:7. Jer. 17:21-23. Neh. 13:15-23
Article on Westminster
Keister, Lane – 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 Buy from the Confessional Presbyterian, #5 (2009), p. 229-238
Articles & Books
“No book had more influence in confirming a Sabbatarian heart to Puritanism than that of the parson of St. Andrews, Norton, Suffolk, Nicholas Bownd. The True Doctrine of the Sabbath was the first scholarly treatment defending the concept of the Christian Sabbath or Lord s Day, later embodied in the Westminster Standards.” – the book-flap
Byfield, Richard – The Doctrine of the Sabbath Vindicated in a confutation of a treatise of the Sabbath, written by Mr. Edward Breerwood against Mr. Nicholas Byfield, wherein these five things are maintained: first, that the Fourth Commandment is given to the servant and not to the master only. Secondly, that the Fourth Commandment is moral. Thirdly, that our own light works as well as gainful and toilsome are forbidden on the Sabbath. Fourthly, that the Lord’s Day is of divine institution. Fifthly, that the Sabbath was instituted from the beginning. ToC 1631
Byfield was a Westminster divine.
Notice sections 1 & 3. The 4th Commandment is not only to employers, as if workers may work on the Sabbath if their employers require them to by their human authority. Rather, the Sabbath being of moral obligation for all people, one must choose who one will obey: God or man (Acts 5:29).
Walker, George from The Doctrine of the Holy Weekly Sabbath 1638
Walker was a Westminster divine.
Ch. 21 ‘What Works, and How Far Allowed to Christians’ 9 pp.
Shepard, Thomas – ‘The Sanctification of the Sabbath’ †1649 17 pp. in Theses Sabbaticae, or the Doctrine of the Sabbath in Works, vol. 3, pp. 254-271
Shepard was a New England puritan. His minority view that the Sabbath is from evening to evening is not recommended.
Cawdrey, Daniel & Palmer, Herbert –’The Lord’s Day is to be observed as a Sabbath with Rest from Labor and Recreations’ 1652 130 pp. being ch. 2 of Sabbatum Redivivum. Or, The Christian Sabbath Vindicated, in a full discourse concerning the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. Wherein, whatsoever has been written of late, for, or against the Christian Sabbath, is exactly, but modestly examined: and the perpetuity of a Sabbath is deduced from grounds of nature and religious reason Buy pp. 531-661
Cawdrey & Palmer were Westminster divines.
Durham was a leading Scottish covenanter during the 2nd Reformation in Scotland.
*** – ‘Whatever Durham has written is very precious. He has the pen of a ready writer, and indites good matter.’
Young, Thomas – The Second Book, in which it’s Showed at Large, out of the Records of the Ancients, what things are Required to the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day 1672 161 pp. in The Lord’s Day, or, a Succinct Narration compiled out of the testimonies of Holy Scripture and the reverend ancient fathers and divided into two books, in the former whereof is declared that the observation of the Lord’s Day was from the Apostles, in the later is shown in what things its sanctification does consist
Young was a Westminster divine.
Owen, John – ‘Exercitation XL: The Practical Observance of the Lord’s Day’ †1683 18 pp. in Commentary on Hebrews, vol. 1 (of 4), pp. 732-750 See also an abridged version, pp. 59-71
Wells, John – The Practical Sabbatarian: or Sabbath-Holiness Crowned with Superlative Happiness 1668 810 pp.
Wells was known for this work and his sermon on ‘How We May Make Melody in our Hearts to God in Singing of Psalms’ in the Cripplegate Puritan Sermons (which you should buy).
Baxter, Richard – ‘Directions for the Holy Spending of the Lord’s Day in Families, with More Particular Directions for the Order of Holy Duties on that Day’ †1691 11 pp. A Christian Directory, vol. 4, ‘Christian Economics’, ch. 18, pp. 240-250
Keach, Benjamin – ‘How the Lord’s Day Should be Kept’ 1700 10 pp. in The Jewish Sabbath Abrogated, or, The Saturday Sabbatarians Confuted in two parts
Keach was a calvinistic baptist. He follows, and summarizes Owen on the topic.
Lavington was an English minister.
Willison, John – A Treatise on the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day †1750 460 pp.
Table of Contents:
1 – Concerning the Morality of the Sabbath 17
. Concerning the Divine Appointment of the Lord’s Day 39
. Some objections Answered 63
2 – Concerning the Sanctification of the Sabbath 66
. The Negative Sanctification: the Holy Rest Requisite 67
. The Positive Sanctification of the Sabbath: 93
. 1. The Frame of Spirit 93
. 2. The Holy Duties Requisite 97
. Public Duties 97
. Private Duties 97
. Family Worship 102
. Family Catechizing & Instruction 113
. Godly Conference 115
. Secret Duties 118
. Meditation on Divine Subjects 123
. Self-Examination 136
. 3. The Special Order, Method & Manner of Duties 139
. Our Preparation for the Sabbath 139
. The Duties of the Sabbath 144
. Of Self-Searching 155
. Concerning Going to Church 159
. Concerning the Public Worship 164
. Concerning Between Sermons 271
. Concerning the Afternoon Worship 174
. Concerning our Behavior after Worship 177
. Family Duties on the Sabbath Night 184
. Secret Duties at the Close of the Day 191
. Our Carriage after the Sabbath is over 196
. 4. The Particular Sins whereby the Sabbath is profaned 197
. Sins of Omission 197
. Sins of Commission 203
An Exhortation to Sanctify the Lord’s Day 231
Appendix – 6 Meditations for the Sabbath 242
A Fair & Impartial Historical Testimony 267-414
Andrews, Silas – The Sabbath at Home 1840 18 pp. Presbyterian Board of Publication
Dabney, Robert – ‘The Christian Sabbath… its Proper Observance’ 1882 8 pp. being section IV of The Christian Sabbath: its Nature, Design and Proper Observance
James Dennison, The Market Day of the Soul: the Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532-1700 (RHB, 2008) pp. 133-4
“The Puritan doctrine generally opposed the extreme strictness which some accorded the Sabbath. Some [extreme persons] argued that:
(1) Ex. 16:23 prohibited all baking and cooking on the Sabbath;
(2) Ex. 16:29 forbade all walking on the Sabbath;
(3) Ex. 20:10 prohibited all work of any kind on the Sabbath [even acts of necessity];
(4) Ex. 31:14-15; 35:3; Num. 15:35 forbade all work, even the gathering of sticks for a fire, on the Sabbath.
(Cf. George Walker, The Doctrine of the Holy Weekly Sabbath (1641) pp. 117-9)
The puritan answer to this excessive strictness was to direct attention to the context of each Biblical reference…
Ex. 20:10 was never intended to forbid works of necessity and charity, as Christ Himself makes clear when He shows that it was lawful to pull a beast out of a pit on the Sabbath (Lk. 14:5), to lead a beast to water on the Sabbath (Lk. 13:15) and to circumcise a man on the Sabbath (Jn. 7:22-23). (Ibid., p. 121)
Ex. 35:3 forbade the kindling of a fire on the Sabbath, but the context makes it clear that fires in general were not prohibited; rather fires for work on the Tabernacle were forbidden. (Ibid., p. 121)
Ex. 31:14-15 and Num. 15:35 make work on the Sabbath punishable by death; however, Walker argues that it is work done presumptuously (cf. Num. 15:30-31), i.e. by contemptuously despising the commandment of God, which incurs the death penalty. (Ibid. p. 122)”
See also treatments of the 4th Commandment in the many works on our page Expositions of the Ten Commandments.
“Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.”
“In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.
Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, ‘What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.’
And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.
So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, ‘Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you.’ From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.”