What does Keeping the Lord’s Day Entail?

“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.”

Isa. 58:13-14

“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…”

Ex. 20:8-10

“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.'”

Mt. 12:11-12




Whole Day is Sanctified
When the Lord’s Day Begins
Works of Necessity & Mercy
Recreations on
Lawful to Fast



Order of Contents

Westminster Standards

Articles  10+
Books  6
Quote  1

What Constitutes ‘Worship’?  10+
See Also



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 1:255-58

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. 110-11

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

¹ Exod. 20:10. Josh. 24:15. Neh. 13:15,17. Jer. 17:20-22. Exod. 23:12

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

¹ Ex. 20:8; 16:23,25,26,29,30; 31:15-17; Isa. 58:13. Neh. 13:15-19,21,22.
² Isa. 58:13. Matt. 12:1-13


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] Ex. 20:8. Luke 23:54,56. Ex. 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]

[f] Ex. 20:10. Josh. 24:15. Neh. 13:15,17. Jer. 17:20-22. Ex. 23:12

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]

[g] Ezek. 22:26
[h] Acts 20:7,9. Ezek. 33:30-32. Amos 8:5. Mal. 1:13
[i] Ezek. 23:38
[k] Jer. 17:24,27. Isa. 58:13

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]

[l] Exod. 20:9
[m] Exod. 20:10
[n] Exod. 20:11

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





Shepard, Thomas – ‘The Sanctification of the Sabbath’  (†1649)  17 pp.   in Theses Sabbaticae, or the Doctrine of the Sabbath in Works, vol. 3, pp. 254-71

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 & 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, pp. 531-661

Cawdrey & Palmer were Westminster divines.

Durham, James – ‘The Sanctification of this Day’  pp. 269-94  EEBO  pp. 276-306  (†1658)  25 pp.  in The Law Unsealed, or a Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments  Buy

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.’

Owen, John – Exercitation XL, ‘The Practical Observance of the Lord’s Day’  †1683  18 pp.  in Commentary on Hebrews, vol. 1 (of 4), pp. 732-50  See also an abridged version, pp. 59-71

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’  in A Christian Directory…  (London: White, 1673), vol. 4, ‘Christian Economics’, ch. 18, pp. 569-73



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, John – The Sanctification of the Sabbath Enforced from the Consideration of its being the Express Command of God: in a Sermon… on Dt. 5:12  (1744)  42 pp.

Lavington was an English minister.



Green, Ashbel et al. – Article V, section 1  in Plan of a Theological Seminary, etc.  in Report of a Committee of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Exhibiting the Plan of a Theological Seminary…  (NY: Seymour, 1810), p. 16

This was the original plan for old Princeton Seminary.

Andrews, Silas – The Sabbath at Home  (Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1840)  18 pp.

McCheyne, Robert Murray – ‘I Love the Lord’s Day’  (1841)

“The daring attack that is now made by some of the directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway on the law of God and the peace of our Scottish Sabbath – the blasphemous motion which they mean to propose to the shareholders in February next – and the wicked pamphlets which are now being circulated in thousands, full of all manner of lies and impieties- call loudly for the calm, deliberate testimony of all faithful ministers and private Christians in behalf of God’s holy day.

(1) The keeping open of Reading-Rooms – In this town, and in all the large towns of Scotland, I am told, you may find in the public reading-rooms many of our men of business turning over the newspapers and magazines at all hours of the Lord’s day…

(2) The keeping open Public-Houses – Public-houses are the curse of Scotland. I never see a sign, “Licensed to sell spirits,” without thinking that it is a licence to ruin souls.

(3) Sunday Trains upon the Railway – A majority of the directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway have shown their determination, in a manner that has shocked all good men, to open the railway on the Lord’s day.”

Anonymous – ‘A Letter to One who Travels on the Sabbath’  6 paragraphs  in Monitory Letters to Church Members  (Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1855)

Dabney, Robert – ‘The Christian Sabbath… its Proper Observance’  8 pp.  being section IV of The Christian Sabbath: its Nature, Design & Proper Observance  (1882)



Books or Large Portions of Books


Bownd, Nicholas – ‘Book Two: The Sanctification of the Sabbath’  (1595/1606)  160 pp.  in The True Doctrine of the Sabbath  Buy  The extended table of contents to this section is on p. xiv here.

“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 beginningToC  (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 – The Doctrine of the Holy Weekly Sabbath  (1638)

Ch. 16  ‘The Duties of the Sabbath which are Common to All God’s People and Necessary to the being of a Sabbath’  8 pp.

Walker was a Westminster divine.

Ch. 19  ‘Rest and Cessation as Necessary a Duty of Christians on the Lord’s Day, as it was of the Fathers on the Seventh Day’  5 pp.

Ch. 20  ‘God’s Law as Rightly Understood does as Strictly Bind Christians to Rest on the Lord’s Day as it did the Jews on the Seventh Day’  6 pp.

Ch. 21  ‘What Works, and How Far Allowed to Christians’  9 pp.

Ch. 22  ‘Of the Special Duties of Holiness by which Christian’s do Sanctify the Lord’s Day…’  9 pp.

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.

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).



Willison, John – A Treatise on the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day  (†1750)  460 pp.

Table of Contents

Preface  iii
Introduction  15

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. 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




James Dennison

The Market Day of the Soul: the Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532-1700  (RHB, 2008), pp. 133-34

“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. 117-19)

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)”



What Constitutes ‘Worship’ on the Lord’s Day?


Westminster Confession 21.8 says the Lord’s Day is to be “taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship… (Isa. 58:13; Matt. 12:1-13)” besides in “duties of necessity and mercy.”  Some persons conceive the term “worship” here as signifying only the strict elements of worship, such as listed in WCF, ch. 21, sections 3-5: prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, preaching and the singing of psalms.

However, the puritans and Westminster divines themselves often included as apporpriate numerous other activities for the Lord’s Day, such as meditation, holy discourse, contemplation of the works of God, religious reading, etc.  This has caused some confusion both as to what may be done on the Lord’s Day, what worship entails, and how all of these things consist together.

The puritans often defined worship broadly as anything done out of a religious reference to God, for his sake.¹  As all things are to be done to the glory of God, this includes the keeping of God’s commandments (a worship the Bible often mentions).²

¹ See ‘All of Life is Worship, in General Respects’.
² See ‘Worship Includes Keeping God’s Commandments & Good Works, in a Less Narrow Respect’.

Yet narrowly worship was often defined as an immediate, religious honoring of God.¹  The reformed further distinguished this into natural worship and instituted worship.²  Natural worship is that which may be had apart from special revelation.  It is based on the nature of God, and may be consistent with man’s estate by nature.  It includes believing in God, hoping in Him, loving Him, and praising and adoring Him for his many attributes and works, with gratitude, humility, sincerity, reverence, zeal and other virtues, and having communion with Him.  Instituted worship is that which God positively ordains and regulates, such as prayer, singing of psalms, preaching and reading of the Word, and is for the means of stirring up natural worship.

¹ See ‘Definitions of Worship’.
² See ‘Natural vs. Instituted Worship’.

Natural worship, though, can be had without instituted worship, such as in contemplating the works of God, having godly conversation, etc.  This is what the Westminster divines and puritans had in mind in appropriate Lord’s Day activities besides the strict elements of worship, as is seen from the documentation below.

In these activities, the result is worship: the praise, love and adoration of God, with the appropriate affections of the soul; yet the means, such as reading godly literature, is incidental.  The means itself is not an immediate worship, but it may be mediately conducive and inductive to worship.  On the other hand, the instituted, ordained means of grace, such as prayer, reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, etc, are worship themselves, as well as inductive to worship.

There is a difference between things and activities that are naturally more inductive to worship, such as beholding the glory of God in creation or talking about the Lord in fellowship with friends, and things that are not, such as washing the dishes or mowing the lawn.

Though one might, and should, wash the dishes and mow the lawn to the glory of God, yet the immediate reason for doing them and their effect is to accomplish work which advances our condition; that is, they are most immediately done for ourselves.  Hence these works are proper to the other six days of the week and ought not to be done on the Lord’s day apart from necessity.

However, there are some things we may do, not so much for ourselves, but principally because God says to do them, for his sake.  This is a kind of worship, and describes actions of piety, special good works and works of mercy.  These too were understood to be appropriate worship for the Lord’s Day.



Natural vs. Instituted Worship




Widley, George – bk. 2, ch. 6, ‘Of Private Duties, namely meditation and conference’  in The Doctrine of the Sabbath…  (London, 1604), pp. 152-57

Widley (b. 1566 or 1567) was an English minister in Portsmouth, England.

Abbot, George – p. 146  of Vindiciæ sabbathi [Vindication of the Sabbath]…  (London: I.D., 1641), ch. 6

Baxter, Richard – ch. 18, Title 2, ‘More Particular Directions for the Order of Holy Duties’  in A Christian Directory…  (London: White, 1673), vol. 4, ‘Christian Economics’, pp. 572-73


Order of Quotes

Scottish Directory for Family Worship




John Downame

A Guide to Godliness or a Treatise of a Christian Life…  (London: Kingstone, 1622), bk. 2, ch. 8, section 5, ‘Of the Spiritual Sanctification, & the Outward Rest’, pp. 132-33

“Privately the Sabbath is sanctified by our preparation to God’s public service, which chiefly consists in meditation and prayer, and after the public service, by meditating on the Word heard, and applying it to our own use, and by holy conferences with others.

Unto which duties respecting the public worship we are to add and use these other means of sanctifying the remainder of the Lord’s Day: Reading of the Scriptures or other religious and holy writings, meditation on God’s Word and works, especially of creation, preservation and redemption, invocation by prayer, thanksgiving and singing of psalms, and finally godly conferences upon some fit subiect, which best sorts to the present occasion and tends to the use of edification:

Unto which means we must add the private works of sanctification, which are the works of mercy, and appertain chiefly either to the body, as the giving of alms, visiting the sick and prisoners, curing diseases, etc. or else to the soul, as, teaching the ignorant, reclaiming those who are seduced by error, admonishing those who fail of their duty by frailty and infirmity, rebuking the scandalous and wilfull offender, exhorting the backward and sluggish, comforting the distressed, counseling them for the good of their souls that need counsel, and reconciling those whom we know to be at variance.”


William Ames

The Marrow of Theology  tr. John D. Eusden  (1623; Baker, 1997), bk. 2, ch. 15, ‘The Time of Worship’, sections 47-48, pp. 299-300

“47. The rest of the day is to be spent in pious activity.  Formerly there was an offering peculiar to the sabbath, but the continued or daily offering with its drink offering was not to be omitted, Num. 28:10.

48. Public worship, which is to be celebrated most solemnly, necessarily requires Scripture reading, meditation, prayer, holy discourse, and contemplation of the works of God wherein we may be more open to public worship and worship may become truly effective in us.”


Westminster Directory for Public Worship  1645

‘Of the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day’  See also John Lightfoot, Journal of the Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines…  (London, 1824), p. 329

“That what time is vacant, between or after the solemn meetings of the congregation in publick, be spent in reading, meditation, repetition of sermons; especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard, and catechising of them, holy conferences, prayer for a blessing upon the publick ordinances, singing of psalms, visiting the sick, relieving the poor, and such like duties of piety, charity, and mercy, accounting the sabbath a delight.”


Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable & Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland…  (London, 1642), ch. 20, Article 7

“We think to deny the lawfulness of public fasting on the Lord’s day, as if the Christian Sabbath were a day only of spiritual feasting and rejoicing, because that day Christ ended the work of redemption and second creation, is a wronging of the Christian Sabbath, which is ordained for the whole public worship of God, joying, sorrowing for sin, learning God’s will in all and every point, as the Jewish Sabbath was not ordained only for meditation on the work of creation, but for worships of all kinds: The worship of this day, Acts 20:7, is as large as preaching, and being in the Spirit, on the Lord’s day, and seeing the visions of God, Rev. 1:10-12, and the whole ordinary public worship.  It is then too narrow to restrict all our Sabbath-worship to one single act of festival rejoicing.”


Scottish Directory for Family Worship  1647

“1. And first, for secret worship, it is most necessary, that every one apart, and by themselves, be given to prayer and meditation, the unspeakable benefit whereof is best known to them who are most exercised therein; this being the mean whereby, in a special way, communion with God is entertained, and right preparation for all other duties obtained:

2. The ordinary duties comprehended under the exercise of piety which should be in families, when they are convened to that effect, are these: First, Prayer and praises… Next, Reading of the scriptures, with catechising in a plain way, that the understandings of the simpler may be the better enabled to profit under the public ordinances, and they made more capable to understand the scriptures when they are read; together with godly conferences tending to the edification of all the members in the most holy faith: as also, admonition and rebuke, upon just reasons, from those who have authority in the family.

3. …the holy scriptures should be read ordinarily to the family; and it is commendable, that thereafter they confer, and by way of conference make some good use of what hath been read and heard.

8. …and the public worship being finished, after prayer, he should take an account what they have heard; and thereafter, to spend the rest of the time which they may spare in catechising, and in spiritual conferences upon the word of God: or else (going apart) they ought to apply themselves to reading, meditation, and secret prayer, that they may confirm and increase their communion with God: that so the profit which they found in the public ordinances may be cherished and promoved, and they more edified unto eternal life.

12. Seeing the word of God requireth that we should consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works; therefore, at all times, and specially in this time, wherein profanity abounds… every member of this kirk ought to stir up themselves, and one another, to the duties of mutual edification, by instruction, admonition, rebuke; exhorting one another to manifest the grace of God in denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and in living godly, soberly and righteously in this present world; by comforting the feeble-minded, and praying with or for one another.”


James Durham

A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments…  (London: Newman, 1675), 4th Commandment, Sanctification of, pp. 289-90

“…as to the duties wherein the Sabbath is to be spent, which are shortly, all duties of immediate worship, whether they be inward, as meditation, self-examination, heart-prayer, either ejaculatory or more continued, heart-sorrow for sins, etc. or outward, as vocal prayer and singing of psalms, reading the Scriptures and other pious books, hearing the Word, etc.;

or whether they be secret which may be both inward and outward, or private in families, as reading of the Word, confering on it, repeating sermons, praying together, etc. or public, as joining with the congregation in prayers and praises, hearing the Word read and the sense given, hearing of sermons, participating of the sacraments when dispensed, joining in solemn humiliations and thanksgivings when they fall necessarily or more conveniently to be on the Sabbath;

All which and such like are proper duties for that day; to which liberal laying up and giving for the relief of the poor according to ability and as God blesses every man would be added as a suitable duty of it, though it be no duty of immediate worship.”


John Owen

Exercitation XL, ‘The Practical Observance of the Lord’s Day’  in Commentary on Hebrews (d. 1683), vol. 1 (of 4), p. 750

“§20. For private duties, both personal and domestic, they are either antecedent or consequent to the solemn public worship, as usually for time it is celebrated amongst us.  These consisting in the known religious exercises of prayer, reading the Scripture, meditation, family instructions from the advantage of the public ordinances, they are to be recommended unto every one’s conscience, ability, and opportunity, as they shall find strength and assistance for them.”


Samuel Willard

A Complete Body of Divinity…  (Boston, 1726), Sermon 172, Q. 60, pp. 584-88

“2. The duties of worship to be attended by us on this Day, are either Natural or Instituted…

1. The duties of natural worship, are such as are suited to the nature of man and flow from the great end he was made for, viz. actively to glorify God.  And therefore the light of Nature directs men to practice them on all occasions, certainly then these are fitted for the Sabbath, according to the end and usefulness of it…

2. The duties of instituted worship.  And under these are contained all the positive ordinances and sacred ceremonies of God’s appointment…”



See Also

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.”

Ex. 34:21

“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.”

Neh. 13:15-21




Related Pages

The Lord’s Day

The Change of the Sabbath to the First Day

The Interpretation and Defense of the Original Westminster Standards



Family Worship