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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. 60. HOW is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

 A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by an holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and spending the whole time in the public and private excercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.


Q. 61. What are the sins forbidden in the fourth commandment?

A. The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.


Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?

A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God's allowing us six days of the week for our own employment, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the Sabbath-day.


Q. 1. What is the rest which God requires on the Sabbath?

A. It is not a mere natural or civil, but an holy rest, resembling the rest in heaven, wherein the mind is most active and busy in the work of God, though the body be at rest, and the spirit not wearied with its work; Rev. iv. 8. and the four beasts had each of them six wings about him, and they were full of eyes within, and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.


Q. 2. May not any works of our civil calling be ordinarily done on that day?

A. No; it is sinful to put our hands ordinarily to our callings on that day, and God usually punishes it. Neh. xiii. 15, 16, 17, 18. In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine-presses on the Sabbath, and bringing up 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.


Q. 3. May we not refresh our bodies by recreations, or our minds by thoughts of earthly business, or discourses, on that day?

A. Recreations of the body, which are lawful on other days, are sinful on this day; and all the recreations of the mind allowed on this day, are spiritual and heavenly; Isa. lviii. 13, 14. 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.


Q. 4. What works may lawfully be done on that day?

A. Christ's example warrants works of necessity, and works of mercy, but no other; Mat. xii. 3, 4. But he said unto them, have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him, How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shew-bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them that were with him, but only for the priests. And ver. 7. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, &c. 


Q. 5. What are the holy duties of the Sabbath?

A. The public worship of God; in reading, and hearing the word preached. Isa. lxvi. 23. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord, Luke iv. 16. – And as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day, and stood for to read. And prayer; Acts xvi. 13, 14. And on the Sabbath-day we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made, &c. And receiving the Sacrament; Acts xx. 7. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached, &c.


Q. 6. Are private duties in our families required, as well as public, on the Sabbath?

A. Yes; it is not enough to sanctify the Sabbath in public ordinances, but God requires it to be sanctified in family and private duties; Lev. xxiii. 3. – But the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.


Q. 7. With what frame of spirit are all Sabbath duties, both public and private, to be performed?

A. They are to be performed with spiritual delight; 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, &c. And all grudging at, and weariness of spiritual exercises, is a sin forbidden; Mal. i. 13. Ye said also, behold what a weariness is it, and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts, and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord. Amos viii. 5. When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, &c.


Q. 8. What is the first reason annexed to this command?

A. The first reason is the sufficient, and large allowance of time God hath given us for our civil callings, and earthly business. Six days in the week is a large allowance.


Q. 9. What is the second reason annexed to this fourth command?

A. The second reason is God's sanctifying and separating this day by a special command and institution for his service; so that to profane this time, is to sin against an express divine command.


Q. 10. What is the third reason annexed to this command?

A. The third reason is God's own example, who rested the seventh day from all his works, and blessed this day, by virtue of which blessing we are encouraged to sanctify it.


Q. 11. Is it not enough to sanctify this day in our own persons?

A. No; if God hath put any under our authority, their profaning the Sabbath will become our sin, though we be never so strict in the observation of it ourselves.


Q. 12. May we continue our civil employment to the last moment of our common time?

A. Except necessity or mercy urge us, we ought to break off before, and allow some time to prepare for the Sabbath, Luke xxiii. 54. And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on.


Q. 13. What is the first inference from hence?

A. That we have all great cause to be humbled for our Sabbath transgressions, either in our unpreparedness for it, our want [lack] of delight and spirituality in it, or the due government of our families as God requires.


Q. 14. What is the second inference from hence?

A. That Christians on the Sabbath-day have a fair occasion and help to realize to themselves the heavenly state, in which they are to live abstract from the world, and God is to be all in all to them.




"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 235-237.