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From John Flavel's exposition of the Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism


John Flavel (1628-1691) was a Presbyterian minister at Dartmouth in Devon, England, whose teaching is still highly valued as most helpful and strengthening. The son of a minister who died in prison for his noncomformity, John Flavel knew what it was to suffer hardship, and in his life he showed the evangelical graces of a strong man of God. Under his influence, a union of the Presbyterian and Congregational (Independent) churches in his area was accomplished.



Quest. 57. WHICH is the fourth commandment?  

 A. The fourth commandment is, [Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour 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 the stranger which 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.]


Q. 58. What is required in the fourth commandment?

 A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God, such set time as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven, to be an holy Sabbath unto the Lord.


Quest. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?

 A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.


Q. 1. What special marks of honour hath God set upon this fourth commandment.

A. God hath set four peculiar marks of honour on it.

(1.) It is the largest of all the commands.

(2.) It hath a solemn memento prefixed to it.

(3.) It is delivered both positively and negatively, which the rest are not. And,

(4.) It is enforced with more arguments to strengthen the command on us, than any other.


Q. 2. Why will God have a Sabbath on earth?

A. God will have a Sabbath on earth, to give us therein an emblem of that eternal Sabbath in heaven, wherein his people shall be serving him, and praising him without interruption, or mixture of any other business throughout eternity; Heb. iv. 9. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.


Q. 3. For what other reasons will God have a Sabbath?

A. He will have a Sabbath for the honour of his name, Isa. lviii. 13. 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. For the good of men's souls; Mark ii. 27. And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. And in mercy to the bodies of men and beasts.


Q. 4. Is this commandment moral and perpetual, or ceremonial and temporary?

A. It is, and must needs be moral, and not ceremonial; because all the reasons that enforce it are perpetual, and the Sabbath continued when the ceremonial law ceased, and was vanished; Mat. xxiv. 20. But pray ye, that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath-day.


Q. 5. What day of the seven is the Christian Sabbath?

A. The first day of the week is our Sabbath, since the resurrection of Christ. This is the day which was foretold to be our Sabbath; Psal. cxviii. 24. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. The Lord hath marked it for himself, by setting his own name on it; Rev. i. 10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. And the apostles and primitive church constantly set it apart to religious uses and ends; Acts xx. 7. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, &c. 1 Cor. xvi. 2. Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.


Q. 6. When doth the Christian Sabbath begin?

A. It appears that this day is not to be reckoned from evening to evening, but from morning to morning; because the Christian Sabbath must begin when the Jewish Sabbath ended, but that ended towards the morning, Mat. xxviii. 1. In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.


Q. 7. What is the ground of changing the day?

A. The solemn commemoration of our redemption by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, is the ground of translating the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week: Psal. cxviii. 24. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Mark xvi. 9. Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalen, out of whom he had cast seven devils.


Q. 8. Is it the whole day, or only some hours of the day, that are set apart for God?

A. Not a part, but the whole day is the Lord's; and it is as dangerous to halve it with God in point of time, as it was for Ananias and Sapphira to halve their dedicated goods, and bring in but a part. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day, is the command.


Q. 9. Is there any other day holy besides this day?

A. No day but this is holy by institution of the Lord; yet days of humiliation and thanksgiving may be lawfully set apart by men on a call of providence; but popish holidays are not warrantable, nor to be observed; Gal. iv. 10. Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.


Q. 10. But seeing every day should be a Sabbath to a Christian, what needs any other set time?

A. Though Christians must walk every day with God, yet every day cannot be a Sabbath, because God calls us to other duties on those days, but will have this to be a solemn and entire day to himself.


Q. 11. But if a man scruple the change of the Sabbath, may he not keep both days weekly?

A. No; for then, by doing more than God requires, he breaks a plain command, Six days shalt thou labour.


Q. 12. At what time should Christians be up, and at their duties, on the Lord's day?

A. As early in the morning as their strength will permit, to prepare by private for public duties; yet the public are not to be entrenched on by private duties; Acts. x. 23. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.


Of the Sabbath (part 2)




"An EXPOSITION of the ASSEMBLY's CATECHISM. With Practical Inferences from each question: As it was carried on in the Lord's Days Exercises in Dartmouth, in the first Year of Liberty, 1688.

The Works of John Flavel, Vol. 6, Banner of Truth 1982. pp 232-235.