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MARK, ii. 27.
The Sabbath was made for man, and not man
for the Sabbath.
HE general application of this maxim of our Lord, as a rule establishing the true distinction between natural duties and positive institutions, I have already shown. I have already shown you, that, rightly understood, whatever pre-eminence in merit it may ascribe (as it ascribes indeed the greatest) to those things which are not good because they are commanded, but are commanded because they are in themselves good, it nevertheless as little justifies the neglect of the external ordinances of religion as it warrants the hypocritical substitution of instituted forms for those higher duties which it teaches us to consider as the very end of our existence.
In the particular inquiry which the text more immediately suggests, what regard may be due to the institution of the Sabbath under the Christian dispensation, I have so far proceeded as to show, in opposition to an opinion which too visibly influences the practice of the present age, that Christians are indeed obliged to the observance of a Sabbath. It remains for me to inquire how far the Christian, in the observance of a Sabbath, is held to the original injunction of keeping every seventh day; and when I have shown
you that this obligation actually remains upon him, I am, in the last place, to show in what manner his Sabbath should be kept.
The spirit of the Jewish law was rigour and severity. Rigour and severity were adapted to the rude manners of the first
of mankind, and were particularly suited to the refractory temper of the Jewish people. The rigour of the law itself was far outdone by the rigour of the popular superstition and the Pharisaical hypocrisy,—if, indeed, superstition and hypocrisy, rather than a particular ill-will against our Lord, were the motives with the people and their rulers to tax him with a breach of the Sabbath, when they saw his power exerted on the Sabbath day for the relief of the afflicted. The Christian law is the law of liberty. We are not therefore to take the measure of our obedience from the letter of the Jewish law, much less from Jewish prejudices and the suggestions of Jewish malignity. In the sanctification of the Sabbath, in particular, we have our Lord's express authority to take a pious discretion for our guide; keeping constantly in view the end of the institution, and its necessary subordination to higher duties. But, in the use of this discretion, I fear it is the fashion to indulge in a greater latitude than our Lord's maxims allow or his example warrants; and although the letter of the Jewish law is not to be the Christian's guide, yet perhaps, in the present instance, the particular injunctions of the law, , rationally interpreted by reference to the general end of the institution, will best enable us to determine what is the obligation to the observance of a particular day, — what the per observation of the day may be, and how far the practice of the present age corresponds with the purpose and spirit of the ordinance.
The injunction of the Sabbath, in the fourth commandment, is accompanied with the history and the reason of the original institution. Both the history and the reason given here are the same which occur in the second chapter
of Genesis. The history is briefly this, that “ God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.” “ He hallowed it,” – that is, God himself distinguished this particular day, and set it apart from the rest: and “he blessed it,” that is, he appropriated this day to religious exercises on the part of man ; and he engaged, on his own part, to accept the homage which should on this day be offered to him : He promised to be propitious to the
prayers, public and private, which should be offered to him on this day in the true spirit of piety, humility, and faith. This is, I think, the import of the phrase that God “ blessed the day :” He annexed the promise of his especial blessing to the regular discharge of a duty enjoined. The reason of this sanctification of the seventh day was founded on the order in which the work of the creation had been carried on. In this business, we are told, the Divine power was active for six successive days; on the sixth day all was finished ;
and on the seventh God rested : His power was no longer exerted in the business of making ; the whole world being now made, arranged, and finished.
From the reason thus assigned for the institution, it is easy to understand that the worship originally required of men on this
It is very
day was to praise God as the Creator of the universe, and to acknowledge their dependence upon him and subjection to him as his creatures: And it is evident that this worship is due to the Creator from all men in all ages, since none in any age are not his creatures. The propriety of the particular appointment of every seventh day is also evident from the reason assigned, if the fact be as the letter of the sacred history represents it, that the creation was the gradual work of six days. It hath ever been the folly or the pride of man to make a difficulty of every thing of which he hath not the penetration to discern the reason. certain that God needs no time for the execution of his purposes.
Had it so pleased him, the universe, in its finished form, with all its furniture and all its inhabitants, might have started into existence in a moment. To say
66 Let the world be," had been as easy to God as “ Let there be light;” and the effect must have followed. Hence, as if a necessity lay upon the Deity upon all occasions to do all to which his omnipotence extends, --- or as if, on the contrary, it were not impossible that Infinite power should in any instance do its utmost, (for whatever hath been done, more must be within its