“Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.” – Deuteronomy 5:12
In determining what ought to be done and what ought not to be done on the sabbath, the purposes of this day should be kept in mind. Each one must make this decision for himself when he reaches adulthood. On one occasion Jesus reminded the Pharisees of their own practice. If a sheep fell into a pit on the sabbath, would they not pull him out? How much better is a man than a sheep?
In determining how the sabbath should be kept, we should not look to self-desires, temporary pleasures, or apparent financial gain, but to the Word of God which, when rightly understood, is the true light of life.
It is written that the Lord made the universe in six days and rested on the seventh; wherefore He sanctified it. So man should do his work in six days and rest upon the seventh. Yet the fact that the world was not made in six literal days is sufficient to suggest that there is a meaning involved within the letter. What does rest mean?
The Jewish Church was representative in its character. And because its people were of such a character that they could not be let into spiritual worship, they were inducted into a representative worship in which by their rites and ceremonies true worship could be dramatized. Their church was therefore an outward picture of worship, and into this outward picture something of heaven flowed, allowing the Lord to be present with them and to operate with them for salvation.
Thus a foundation was laid in ultimates for the church which was to come, in which there would be true worship and regeneration. Paul recognized this when he spoke of their forms of worship as “a shadow of things to come” (Col. 2:17).
The sabbath, coming after the six days of labor, represented the state of spiritual rest and peace that follows the states of labor against evils and falsities. There are six steps which must be taken in the formation of a spiritual nature out of a natural one – six successive states through which one must pass before evils are subdued and peace is attained. The word “sabbath” means “cessation” or “rest,” because when the spiritual sabbath is reached, temptations cease, and the labor against evils is brought to an end.
To represent this, neither beast nor man labored upon the sabbath, manna was gathered on the sixth day for the sabbath, a man was stoned who gathered wood upon the sabbath, and even the sick were not treated unless they were in danger of death. The Lord was criticized by the Pharisees for gathering corn on the sabbath, and even the priests were regarded as profaning the sabbath because of the labor necessary in performing their office.
When the Lord came into the world, the “shadow of things to come” was, as Paul said, put away and a true Christian sabbath was instituted. The Lord by His own acts and words specifically abrogated the sabbath as a day of mere physical rest and inaction, and established it as a day of spiritual activity.
When the conflict against evil is finished by overcoming it, the Lord fills the soul with His love. He comes in and sups with us and we with Him. From His love there is spiritual feasting and gladness. For though the Lord nullified the keeping of the sabbath as a day of inaction, He gave no exemption from its true observance. He exemplified by His own acts upon that day how it should be observed. He turned the representative sabbath into what it had foreshadowed, into the Lord’s day, a day wherein His kingdom is operative, and in which His peace and joy are uppermost in the heart and mind.
For this reason, under Divine Providence, not the seventh but the first day of the week is observed in commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection. It was on the first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together for fear of the Jews, that the Lord appeared to the eleven. In Acts 20:7 we read: “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.” The first day of the week soon came to be known as the Lord’s day, and John says in Revelation 1:10: “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day.”
As the Lord’s day is observed in commemoration of the Lord, it is kept rightly by devoting it to the promotion of His work. The external works of necessity are not unlawful. “Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” The study of and meditation upon spiritual subjects and instruction therein are a necessary part of the sabbath, as the Lord’s teaching and preaching in the synagogues shows. Thus the Lord’s own example teaches us that worship, spiritual meditation and study, helping the needy, doing works of charity, in general “doing well” on that day is keeping the sabbath. For in so doing we make it the Lord’s day, we celebrate it by doing the works of the Lord. And because that day is for the highest service of man, for his uplifting and benefaction, and not merely for the observance of rites, the Lord said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”
Intrinsically it is not a sin to do on the sabbath what is not a sin on any other day. This is because the sabbath is no longer a mere representative day, it is no longer a foreshadowing day. The primary reason why it is wrong to carry on our worldly avocations on the sabbath day is because in so doing there is a failure to devote the day to its spiritual uses, thus losing the spiritual benefits of looking to the Lord and receiving enlightenment and strength from Him.
At this time, when the spirit of greater liberty of thinking and acting is spreading over the world, the custom of weekly worship, once required by law, is often lightly regarded and openly violated. Under the plea that the sabbath is a day of rest there is a tendency to make it merely a day of recreation. When it is lowered to that standard, there comes in a demand for amusements, for there is not much recreation, even for the laboring man, in idleness. And then money-making schemes spring up to cater to this demand.
Efforts are made to prevent by law such worldly uses of the sabbath. Yet the true Christian sabbath cannot be enforced by statutes. It can be kept only from an interior recognition of the Lord. Legal processes do not reach the intents of the heart, and so the law has no power to enforce a true observance of the Lord’s day. Though law may stop labor and enforce quiet, it does not thereby constitute the day a sabbath, nor does it directly make a man one whit better.
It is better that Sunday observance be not enforced. Compelled worship is not worship, and worship’s not being enforced gives rise to greater liberty of thinking. The world is passing from bondage to the ancient laws of the childhood of the race to freedom of the spirit. Now it is possible for men to be restrained by intelligence and good sense.
In these days there is a problem concerning worship. We have, of course, been considering the formal worship of church services. Sometimes things are taught in churches and Sunday Schools which the man of today cannot accept. When the Apostles were sent out by the Lord to preach the Gospel, He told them if they found in a house people who would not receive them or hear their words, “when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.”
A city stands for a system of truth. If a system of truth is such that it is not compatible with reason, we are not to accept it. This presents a problem to the man who cannot find in the city in which he lives a church which teaches what he can believe. Does this mean that he must give up going to church on Sunday? No; he may and should attend church, merely shaking off the dust of his feet – putting aside the implications of any falsities he has heard there – and he may do great good. He will come to know the people of that church, to be liked and respected by them, and to bring them individually help from the doctrines by which his own life is directed. He may even be asked to teach in the Sunday School, and may get truths into the minds of children which will be of lasting benefit to their souls.
In Swedenborg’s day the church was at its nadir. As we know, after his illumination he did not attend any church, and some Newchurchmen use this as an excuse for not attending church if they cannot go to their own. But Swedenborg was devoting all of his time to the study and explanation of the Word, thus making his whole week a sabbath.
The Lord, when He was on earth, was instituting a new Church to replace the perverted Jewish Church; yet it is written of Him, on a visit to Nazareth: “And, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read,” and we remember how many of His miracles were performed in the synagogues and in the temple. Worship in church should be a part of our Sunday activities, thus making our sabbath a day of public recognition of the Lord, as well as of spiritual study and meditation, into which we can enter at home, and of well-doing. In this way our affections will be lifted to the Lord and to heaven, where we hope to go and for which we should prepare. The soul will be put in order, the mind refreshed, and with greater power and delight we will enter into our daily occupations and recreations through which we serve both our own needs and those of our fellow men.