THE SABBATH (part 2)
John Flavel's exposition of the Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism
Flavel (1628-1691) was a Presbyterian minister at
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?
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.
61. What are the sins forbidden in the fourth commandment?
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.
62. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
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.
1. What is the rest which God requires on the Sabbath?
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.
2. May not any works of our civil calling be ordinarily done on that day?
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.
3. May we not refresh our bodies by recreations, or our minds by thoughts of
earthly business, or discourses, on that day?
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.
4. What works may lawfully be done on that day?
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,
5. What are the holy duties of the Sabbath?
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.
6. Are private duties in our families required, as well as public, on the
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.
7. With what frame of spirit are all Sabbath duties, both public and private,
to be performed?
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.
8. What is the first reason annexed to this command?
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
9. What is the second reason annexed to this fourth command?
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.
10. What is the third reason annexed to this command?
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
11. Is it not enough to sanctify this day in our own persons?
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
12. May we continue our civil employment to the last moment of our common
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.
13. What is the first inference from hence?
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.
14. What is the second inference from hence?
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.
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
of John Flavel, Vol. 6, Banner
of Truth 1982. pp 235-237.