The Ten Commandments
by Thomas Watson
The FOURTH Commandment
[Editor's note: We do not believe that the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath (which was Saturday), with all its rules and regulations, was ever changed into the New Testament Lord's Day. Please see John MacArthur's helpful two page article, "Are the Sabbath laws binding on Christians today?" Nevertheless, the following chapter by Watson contains much outstanding material.]
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Exodus 20:8-11
This commandment was engraved in stone by God's own finger—and it will be our comfort to have it engraved in our hearts!
The Sabbath-day is set apart for God's solemn worship; it is his own enclosure, and must not be used for common uses. As a preface to this commandment, he has put a memento to it, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." This word, "remember," shows that we are apt to forget Sabbath holiness; therefore we need a memorandum to put us in mind of sanctifying the day.
I. There is in these words a solemn command."Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."
 The matter of it. The sanctifying the Sabbath, which consists in two things, in resting from our own works, and in a conscientious discharge of our religious duties.
 The people to whom the command of sanctifying the Sabbath is given. "On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates."
II. The arguments to obey this commandment of keeping holy the Sabbath.
 From the rationality of it. "Six days shall you labor and do all your work;" as if God had said, I am not a hard master, I do not grudge you time to look after your vocation, and to get an estate. I have given you six days to do all your work in, and have taken but one day for myself. I might have reserved six days for myself, and allowed you but one; but I have given you six days for the works of your vocation, and have taken but one day for my own service. It is just and rational, therefore, that you should set this day in a special manner apart for my worship.
 The second argument for sanctifying the Sabbath, is taken from the justice of it. "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God;" as if God had said, The Sabbath-day is my due, I challenge a special right in it, and no other has any claim to it. He who robs me of this day, and puts it to common uses, is a sacrilegious person, he steals from the crown of heaven, and I will in nowise hold him guiltless!
 The third argument for sanctifying the Sabbath, is taken from God's own observance of it. He "rested the seventh day;" as if the Lord should say, "Will you not follow me as a pattern? Having finished all my works of creation, I rested the seventh day; so having done all your secular work on the six days, you should now cease from the labor of your vocation, and dedicate the seventh day to me, as a day of holy rest."
 The fourth argument for Sabbath-sanctification, is taken from the benefit which redounds from a religious observation of the Sabbath. "The Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it." God not only appointed the seventh day—but he blessed it. It is not only a day of honor to God—but a day of blessing to us. It is not only a day wherein we give God worship—but a day wherein he gives us grace. On this day a blessing drops down from heaven. God himself is not benefitted by it, we cannot add one grain to his essential glory; but we ourselves are benefitted. This day, religiously observed, entails a blessing upon our souls, our estate, and our posterity. Not keeping it, brings a curse. Jer 17:27. God curses a man's blessings. Mal 2:2. The bread which he eats is poisoned with a curse; so the conscientious observation of the Sabbath, brings all manner of blessings with it. These are the arguments to induce Sabbath-sanctification.
The thing I would have you now observe is, that the commandment of keeping the Sabbath was not abrogated with the ceremonial law—but is purely moral, and the observation of it is to be continued to the end of the world. Where can it be shown that God has given us a discharge from keeping one day in seven?
WHY has God appointed a Sabbath?
(1) With respect to HIMSELF.It is requisite that God should reserve one day in seven for his own immediate service, that thereby he might be acknowledged to be the great Plenipotentiary, or sovereign Lord—who has power over us both to command worship, and appoint the time when he will be worshiped.
(2) With respect to US.The Sabbath-day is for our interest; it promotes holiness in us. The business of week-days makes us forgetful of God and our souls: the Sabbath brings him back to our remembrance. When the dust of the world has clogged the wheels of our affections, that they can scarce move towards God—the Sabbath comes, and oils the wheels of our affections, and they move swiftly on! God has appointed the Sabbath for this end. On this day the thoughts rise to heaven, the tongue speaks of God, and is as the pen of a ready writer, the eyes drop tears, and the soul burns in love! The heart, which all the week was frozen, on the Sabbath melts with the Word. The Sabbath is a friend to true religion; it files off the rust of our graces; it is a spiritual jubilee, wherein the soul is set to converse with its Maker.
I should next show you the modes, or manner, how we should keep the Sabbath day holy; but before I come to that, we have a great question to consider.
Why is it, that we do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath, (Saturday) as it was in the primitive institution—but have changed it to another day (Sunday)?
The old seventh-day Sabbath, which was the Jewish Sabbath, is abrogated, and in the place of it the first day of the week, which is the Christian Sabbath, succeeds. The morality or substance of the fourth commandment does not lie in keeping the seventh day precisely—but keeping one day in seven is what God has appointed.
Why is it, that the first day in the week to be substituted in the room of the seventh day?
Not by ecclesiastic authority. "The church," says Mr Perkins, "has no power to ordain a Sabbath."
(1) The change of the Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first, was by Christ's own appointment. He is "Lord of the Sabbath." Mark 2:28. And who shall appoint a day but he who is Lord of it? He made this day. "This is the day which the Lord has made." Psalm 118:24. Arnobius and most expositors understand it of the Christian Sabbath, which is called the "Lord's day." Rev 1:10. As it is called the "Lord's Supper," because of the Lord's instituting the bread and wine and setting it apart from a common to a special and sacred use; so it is called the Lord's-day, because of the Lord's instituting it, and setting it apart from common days, to his special worship and service. Christ rose on the first day of the week, out of the grave, and appeared twice on that day to his disciples, John 20:19, 26, which was to intimate to them, as Augustine and Athanasius say, that he transferred the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord's day.
(2) The keeping of the first day was the practice of the apostles. "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2. Here was both preaching and breaking of bread on this day. Augustine and Innocentius, and Isidore, make the keeping of our gospel Sabbath to be of apostolic sanction, and affirm, that by virtue of the apostles' practice, this day is to be set apart for divine worship. What the apostles did, they did by divine authority; for they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
(3) The primitive church had the Lord's-day, which we now celebrate, in high estimation. It was a great badge of their religion to observe this day. Ignatius, the most ancient father, who lived in the time of John the apostle, has these words, "Let everyone who loves Christ keep holy the first day of the week, the Lord's-day." This day has been observed by the church of Christ for over sixteen hundred years, as the learned Bucer notes. Thus you see how the seventh-day Sabbath came to be changed to the first-day Sabbath.
The grand reason for changing the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord's-day, is that it puts us in mind of the "Mystery of our redemption by Christ." The reason why God instituted the old Sabbath was to be a memorial of the creation; but he has now brought the first day of the week in its room in memory of a more glorious work than creation, which is redemption. Great was the work of creation—but greater was the work of redemption. As it was said, "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former." Hag 2:9. So the glory of the redemption was greater than the glory of the creation. Great wisdom was seen in making us—but more miraculous wisdom in saving us. Great power was seen in bringing us out of nothing—but greater power in helping us when we were worse than nothing. It cost more to redeem than to create us. In creation it was but speaking a word (Psalm 148:5); in redeeming there was shedding of blood. 1 Pet 1:19. Creation was the work of God's fingers, Psalm 8:3, redemption was the work of his arm. Luke 1:51. In creation, God gave us ourselves; in the redemption, he gave us himself. By creation, we have life in Adam; by redemption, we have life in Christ. Col 3:3. By creation, we had a right to an earthly paradise: by redemption, we have a title to a heavenly kingdom. Christ might well change the seventh day of the week into the first, as it puts us in mind of our redemption, which is a more glorious work than creation.
Use one.The use I shall make of this is—that we should have the Christian Sabbath, we now celebrate, in high veneration. The Jews called the Sabbath, "The desire of days, and the queen of days." This day we must call a "delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable." Isa 58:13. Metal that has the king's stamp upon it is honorable, and of great value. God has set his royal stamp upon the Sabbath; it is the Sabbath of the Lord, and this makes it honorable. We should look upon this day as the best day in the week. What the phoenix is among birds, what the sun is among planets—the Lord's-day is among other days. "This is the day which the Lord has made." Psalm 118:24. God has made all the days—but he has blessed this. As Jacob got the blessing from his brother, so the Sabbath got the blessing from all other days in the week. It is a day in which we converse in a special manner with God.
The Jews called the Sabbath "a day of light;" so on this day the Sun of Righteousness shines upon the soul. The Sabbath is the market-day of the soul, the cream of time. It is the day of Christ's rising from the grave, and the Holy Spirit's descending upon the earth. It is perfumed with the sweet odor of prayer, which goes up to heaven as incense. On this day the manna falls, that is angels' food. This is the soul's festival-day, on which the graces act their part: the other days of the week are most employed about earth—this day about heaven; then you gather straw—now pearl. Now Christ takes the soul up into the mount, and gives it transfiguring sights of glory. Now he leads his spouse into the wine-cellar, and displays the banner of his love. Now he gives her his spiced wine, and the juice of the pomegranate. Canticles 2:4, 8:2. The Lord usually reveals himself more to the soul on this day. The apostle John was in the Spirit on the Lord's-day. Rev 1:10. He was carried up on this day in divine raptures towards heaven. This day a Christian is in the altitudes; he walks with God, and takes as it were a turn with him in heaven. 1 John 1:3. On this day holy affections are quickened; the stock of grace is improved; corruptions are weakened; and Satan falls like lightning before the majesty of the Word.
Christ wrought most of his miracles upon the Sabbath; so he does still: dead souls are raised and hearts of stone are made flesh. How highly should we esteem and reverence this day! It is more precious than rubies. God has anointed it with the oil of gladness above its fellows. On the Sabbath we are doing angels' work, our tongues are tuned to God's praises. The Sabbath on earth is a shadow and type of the glorious rest and eternal Sabbath we hope for in heaven, when God shall be the temple, and the Lamb shall be the light of it. Rev 21:22, 23.
Use two."SIX days shall you labor." God would not have any live without working. True religion gives no warrant for idleness. It is a duty to labor six days, as well as keep holy rest on the seventh day. "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12. A Christian must not only mind heaven—but his vocation. While the pilot has his eye to the star, he has his hand to the helm. Without labor the pillars of a commonwealth will dissolve, and the earth, like the sluggard's field, will be overrun with briers. Prov 24:31. Adam in innocence, though monarch of the world, must not be idle—but must dress and until the ground. Gen 2:15. Piety does not exclude industry. Standing water putrifies.
Inanimate creatures are in motion. The sun goes its circuit, the fountain runs, and the fire sparkles.
Animate creatures work. Solomon sends us to the ant to learn labor. Prov 6:6; 30:25. The bee is the emblem of industry; some of the bees trim the honey, others work the wax, others frame the honey-comb, others lie sentinel at the door of the hive to keep out the drone. And shall not man much more labor? That law in paradise was never repealed. "In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread." Gen 3:19. Such professors are to be excluded, who talk of living by faith—but live without working; they are like the lilies which "toil not, neither do they spin." Matt 6:28. It is a speech of holy and learned Mr Perkins, "Let a man be endowed with excellent gifts, and hear the Word with reverence, and receive the sacrament—yet if he does not work—all is but hypocrisy." What is an idle person good for? What benefit is a ship which lies always on the shore? What benefit is armor which hangs up and rusts?
To live without working, exposes a person to temptation. Melanchthon calls idleness "the Devil's bath," because he bathes himself with delight in an idle soul. We do not sow seed in ground when it lies fallow; but Satan sows most of his seed of temptation in such people as lie fallow, and live without working. Idleness is the nurse of vice! Seneca, an old heathen, could say, "No day passes me without some labor." An idle person stands for a cipher in the world; God writes down no ciphers in the book of life! We read in Scripture of eating the "bread of idleness," and drinking the "wine of violence." Prov 31:27; 4:17. It is as much a sin to eat "the bread of idleness," as to "drink the wine of violence."
An idle person can give no good account of his time. Time is a talent to trade with. The slothful person "hides his talent in the earth;" he does no good; his time is not lived—but lost. An idle person lives unprofitably, he cumbers the ground. God calls the slothful servant "wicked." "You wicked and slothful servant." Matt 25:26. Draco, whose laws were written in blood, deprived those of their life, who would not work for their living. In Hetruria, they caused such idle people to be banished. Idle people live in the breach of the commandment, "Six days shall you labor." Let them take heed they are not banished from heaven! A man may as well go to hell for not working—as for not believing!
Having spoken of the REASONS of sanctifying the Sabbath I come now to
III. The MANNER of sanctifying the Sabbath.
 Negatively.We must do no work on it. This is the commandment. "On it you shall not do any work." God has set apart this day for himself; therefore we are not to use it for common things, such as by doing any civil work. As when Abraham went to sacrifice, he left his servants and the donkey at the bottom of the hill; so, when we are to worship God on this day, we must leave all worldly business behind, leave the donkey at the bottom of the hill. Gen 22:5. As Joseph, when he would speak with his brethren, thrust out the Egyptians, so, when we would converse with God on this day, we must thrust out all earthly employments.
The Lord's day is a day of holy rest. All secular work must be forborne and suspended, as it is a profanation of the day. "One Sabbath day I saw some men of Judah treading their winepresses. They were also bringing in bundles of grain and loading them on their donkeys. And on that day they were bringing their wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of produce to Jerusalem to sell. So I rebuked them for selling their produce on the Sabbath. So I confronted the leaders of Judah—Why are you profaning the Sabbath in this evil way?" Neh 13:15, 17. It is sacrilege to rob for civil work—the time which God has set apart for his worship. He who devotes any time of the Sabbath to worldly business, is a worse thief than he who robs on the highway; for the one does but rob man—but the other robs God.
The Lord forbade manna to be gathered on the Sabbath. Exod 16:26. One might think it would have been allowed, as manna was the "staff of their life," and the time when it fell was between five and six in the morning, so that they might have gathered it early, and all the rest of the Sabbath might have been employed in God's worship; and besides, they needed not to have taken any great journey for it, for it was but stepping out of their doors, and it fell about their tents. And yet they might not gather it on the Sabbath. And for purposing only to do it—God was very angry. "Some of the people went out anyway to gather food, even though it was the Sabbath day. But there was none to be found. "How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions?" the Lord asked Moses" Exod 16:27, 28.
Surely, the anointing of Christ's body, when he was dead was a commendable work; but, though the women had prepared sweet ointments to anoint the dead body of Christ, they did not go to the sepulcher to embalm him, until the Sabbath was past. "They rested the Sabbath-day, according to the commandment." Luke 23:56. The hand cannot be busied on the Lord's-day, but the heart will be defiled. The very heathen, by the light of nature, would not do any secular work in the time which they had set apart for the worship of their false gods. Clemens Alexandrinus reports of one of the emperors of Rome, who, on the day of set worship for his gods, put aside warlike affairs and spent the time in devotion.
To do servile work on the Sabbath shows an impious heart, and greatly offends God. To do secular work on this day is to follow the devil's plough; it is to debase the soul. God made this day on purpose to raise the heart to heaven, to converse with him, to do angels' work; and to be employed in earthly work is to degrade the soul of its honor. God will not have his day entrenched upon, or defiled in the least thing. The man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath he commanded to be stoned! Numb. 15:35. It would seem a small thing to pick up a few sticks to make a fire; but God would not have this day violated in the smallest matters. Nay, even the work which had reference to a religious use might not be done on the Sabbath, as the hewing of stones for the building of the sanctuary. Bezaleel, who was to cut the stones, and cut the timber for the sanctuary, must forbear to do it on the Sabbath. Exod 31:15. A temple is a place of God's worship—but it was a sin to build a temple on the Lord's-day. This is keeping the Sabbath-day holy negatively—in doing no manual work.
Works of necessity and charity however may be done on this day. In these cases God will have mercy, and not sacrifice.
(1) It is lawful to take the necessary supplies of nature. Food is to the body as oil to the lamp.
(2) It is lawful to do works of mercy, as helping a neighbor when either life or estate are in danger. Herein the Jews were too precise, who would not allow works of charity to be done on the Sabbath. If a man was sick, they would not on this day, use means for his recovery. They were angry because Christ had wrought a cure on the Sabbath. John 7:23. If a house were on fire, the Jews thought they might not bring water to quench it; if a vessel leaked on this day, they thought they might not stop it. They were "righteous overmuch;" it was seeming zeal—but lacked discretion to guide it.
Except in these two cases, of necessity and charity—all secular work is to be suspended and laid aside on the Lord's-day. "On it you shall not do any work." This arraigns and condemns many among us who foul their fingers with work on that day; some in preparing great meals, others in opening their shop-doors, and selling food on the Sabbath. The mariner who sails on the Sabbath, runs full sail into the violation of this command. Others work on this day privately, and follow their trade within doors; but though they think to hide their sin under a canopy, God sees it. "Where shall I flee from your presence?" "The darkness does not hide from you." Psalm 139:7, 12. Such as profane the day, and God will have an action of trespass against them.
 Positively.We keep the Sabbath-day holy, by "consecrating and dedicating" this day to the "service of the high God." It is good to rest on the Sabbath-day from the works of our vocation; but if we rest from labor and do no more—the ox and the donkey keep the Sabbath as well as we; for they rest from labor. We must dedicate the day to God; we must not only "keep a Sabbath," but "sanctify" a Sabbath. Sabbath-sanctification consists in two things:
(1) Solemn preparation for it.If a prince were to come to your house, what preparation would you make for his entertainment! You would sweep the house, wash the floor, adorn the room with the richest tapestry and hangings, that there might be something suitable to the state and dignity of so great a person. On the blessed Sabbath, God intends to have sweet communion with you; he seems to say to you, as Christ to Zacchaeus, "Make haste and come down, for this day I must abide at your house." Luke 19:5. Now, what preparation should you make for entertaining this King of glory? When Saturday evening approaches, sound a retreat; call your minds off from the world and summon your thoughts together, to think of the great work of the approaching day. Purge out all unclean affections, which may indispose you for the work of the Sabbath. Evening preparation will be like the tuning of an instrument, it will fit the heart better for the duties of the ensuing Sabbath.
(2) The sacred observation of it.Rejoice at the approach of the day, as a day wherein we have a prize for our souls, and may enjoy much of God's presence. John 8:56. "Abraham rejoiced to see my day." So, when we see the light of a Sabbath shine, we should rejoice, and "call the Sabbath a delight"—this is the queen of days, which God has crowned with a blessing. Isa 58:13. As there was one day in the week on which God rained manna twice as much as upon any other day, so he rains down the manna of heavenly blessings twice as much on the Sabbath as on any other. This is the day wherein Christ carries the soul into the house of wine, and displays the banner of love over it. The dew of the Spirit now falls on the soul, whereby it is revived and comforted. How many may write the Lord's day, the day of their new birth! This day of rest is a pledge of the eternal rest in heaven. Shall we not then rejoice at its approach? The day on which the Sun of Righteousness shines, should be a day of gladness.
Get up early on the Sabbath morning. Christ rose early on this day, before the sun was up. John 20:1. Did he rise early to save us, and shall not we rise early to worship and glorify him? "Early will I seek you." Psalm 63:1. Can we be up early on other days? The farmer is early at his plough, the traveler rises early to go his journey—and shall not we, who on this day are traveling to heaven? Certainly, if we loved God as we should, we would rise on this day early, that we may meet with him whom our souls love. Such as sit up late at work on the night before, are so buried in sleep, that they will hardly be up early on a Sabbath morning.
Having dressed your bodies, you must dress your souls for hearing the Word. As the people of Israel were to wash themselves before the law was delivered to them, so we must wash and cleanse our souls; and that is done by reading, meditation, and prayer. Exod 19:10.
 By reading the WORD.The Word is a great means to sanctify the heart, and bring it into a Sabbath-frame. "Sanctify them through your truth," etc. John 17:17. Do not read the Word carelessly—but with seriousness and affection; as the oracle of heaven, the well of salvation, the book of life. David, for its preciousness, esteemed it above gold; and for its sweetness, above honey. Psalm 19:10. By reading the Word aright, our hearts, when dull—are quickened; when hard—are mollified; when cold and frozen—are inflamed; and we can say as the disciples, "Did not our heart burn within us?" Some step out of their bed—and go immediately to the church. The reason why many get no more good on a Sabbath by the Word preached, is because they did not breakfast with God in the morning by reading his Word.
 MEDITATION.Get upon the mount of meditation, and there converse with God. Meditation is the soul's retiring within itself, that, by a serious and solemn thinking upon God, the heart may be raised up to divine affections. It is a work fit for the morning of a Sabbath. Meditate on four things.
(1) On the works of creation. This is expressed in the commandment. "The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea," etc. Creation is a looking-glass, in which we see the wisdom and power of God gloriously represented. God produced this beautiful world without any pre-existent matter, and with a word. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made." Psalm 33:6. On the Sabbath let us meditate on the infiniteness of the Creator. The disciples were astonished that Christ could, with a word, calm the sea—but it was far more astounding with a word to make the sea! Matt 8:26. "They saw the Lord's works, His wonderful works in the deep." Psalm 107:24. Look into the earth, where we may behold the nature of minerals, the power of the loadstone, the virtue of herbs, and the beauty of flowers. By meditating on these works of creation, so curiously embroidered, we shall learn to admire God and praise him. "O Lord, how manifold are your works, in wisdom have you made them all." Psalm 104:24. By meditating on the works of creation, we shall learn to confide in God. He who can create—can provide; he who could make us when we were nothing, can raise us when we are low. "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 124:8.
(2) Meditate on God's holiness. "Holy and reverend is his name." Psalm 111:9. "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil." Hab 1:13. God is essentially, originally, and immutably holy. All the holiness in men and angels, is but the crystal stream which runs from this glorious fountain. God loves holiness because it is his own image. A king cannot but love to see his own effigies stamped on coin. God counts holiness his glory, and the most sparkling jewel of his crown. "Glorious in holiness." Exod 15:2: Here is meditation fit for the first entrance upon a Sabbath. The contemplation of this would work in us such a frame of heart as is suitable to a holy God; it would make us reverence his name and hallow his day. While musing upon the holiness of God's nature, we shall begin to be transformed into his likeness.
(3) Meditate on Christ's love in redeeming us. Rev 1:5. Redemption exceeds creation; the one is a monument of God's power, the other of his love. Here is fit work for a Sabbath. Oh, the infinite stupendous love of Christ—in raising poor sinful creatures from a state of guilt and damnation! Consider that Christ who was God—should die! that this glorious Sun of Righteousness—should be in an eclipse! We can never enough admire this love, no, not even in heaven. Consider that Christ should die for sinners! not sinful angels—but sinful men. Consider that such clods of earth and sin should be made bright stars of glory! Oh, the amazing love of Christ! Consider that Christ should not only die for sinners—but die as a sinner! "He has made him to be sin for us" 2 Cor 5:21. He who was among the glorious persons of the Trinity, "was numbered with the transgressors." Isa 53:12. Not that he had sin—but he was like a sinner, having our sins imputed to him. Sin did not live in him—but it was laid upon him. Here was a hyperbole of love enough to strike us with astonishment!
Consider that Christ would redeem us, when he could not expect to gain anything, or to be advantaged at all by us! Men will not lay out their money upon a purchase—unless it will turn to their profit; but what benefit could Christ expect in purchasing and redeeming us? We were in such a condition that we could neither deserve nor recompense Christ's love. We could not deserve it; for we were in our blood. Ezek 16:6. We had no spiritual beauty to entice him. Nay, we were not only in our blood—but we were in war against him. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son;" Rom 5:10. When he was shedding his blood—we were spitting out poison!
As we could not deserve Christ's love, so neither could we recompense it. After he had died for us, we could not so much as love him—until he made us love him. We could give him nothing in return for his love. "Who has first given to him?" Rom 11:35. We were fallen into poverty. If we have any beauty, it is from him, "It was perfect through my loveliness which I had put upon you." Ezek 16:14. If we bring forth any good fruit, it is not of our own growth, it comes from him, the true vine. "From me is your fruit found." Hos 14:8. It was nothing but pure love, for Christ to lay out his blood to redeem such as he could not expect to be really bettered by!
Consider that Christ should die so willingly! "I lay down my life." John 10:17. The Jews could not have taken it away—if he had not laid it down. He could have called to his Father for legions of angels to be his life-guard; but what need for even that, when his own Godhead could have defended himself from all assaults? He laid down his life. The Jews did not so much thirst for his death—as he thirsted for our redemption. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how it consumes Me until it is finished!" Luke 12:50. He called his sufferings a baptism; he was to be baptized and sprinkled with his own blood! He thought the time long, before he suffered. To show Christ's willingness to die, his sufferings are called an offering. "Through the offering of the body of Jesus." Heb 10:10. His death was a free-will offering.
Consider that Christ should not grudge, nor think much—of all his sufferings! Though he was scourged and crucified, he was well contented with what he had done, and, if it were needful, he would do it again. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." Isa 53:11. As the mother who has had hard labor, does not repent of her pangs when she sees her child brought forth—but is well contented; so Christ, though he had hard travail upon the cross, does not think much of it; he is not troubled—but thinks his sweat and blood well bestowed, because he sees the child of redemption brought forth into the world.
Consider that Christ should make redemption effectual to some—and not to others! Here is astonishing love. Though there is sufficiency in his merits to save all—yet only some partake of their saving virtue. Christ does not pray for all. John 17:9. All have not the benefit of salvation by him. Herein appears the distinguishing love of Christ—that the virtue of his death should reach some—and not others. "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called." 1 Cor 1:26. That Christ should pass by many of noble birth and abilities, and that the lot of free grace should fall upon you; that he should sprinkle his blood upon you "Oh, the depth of the love of Christ!"
Consider that Christ should love us with such a transcendent love! The apostle calls it "Love which passes knowledge." Eph 3:19. Consider that he should love us more than the angels. He loves them as his friends—but believers as his spouse! He loves them with such a kind of love—as God the Father bears to him. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." John 15:9. Oh, what an hyperbole of love does Christ show in redeeming us!
Consider that Christ's love in our redemption should be everlasting! "Having loved his own—he loved them unto the end." John 13:1. As Christ's love is matchless, so it is endless. The flower of his love is sweet; and that which makes it sweeter is that it never dies! His love is eternal. Jer 31:3. He will never divorce his elect spouse! The failings of his people cannot take off his love; they may eclipse it—but not wholly remove it; their failings may make Christ angry with them—but not hate them. Every failing does not break the marriage bond. Christ's love is not like the saint's love. They sometimes have strong affections towards him, at other times the love-fit is off, and they find little or no love stirring in them; but it is not so with Christ's love to them, it is a love of eternity. When the sunshine of Christ's electing love is once risen upon the soul, it never finally sets. Death may take away our life from us—but not Christ's love. Behold here a rare subject for meditation on a Sabbath morning. The meditation of Christ's wonderful love in redeeming us, would work in us a Sabbath-frame of heart.
It would melt us in tears for our spiritual unkindness, that we should sin against so sweet a Savior; that we should be no more affected with his love—but requite evil for good; that like the Athenians, who, notwithstanding all the good service Aristides had done them, banished him out of their city; we should banish him from our temple; that we should grieve him with our pride, rash anger, unfruitfulness, animosities, and petty factions. Have we none to abuse—but our friend? Have we nothing to kick against—but the heart of our Savior? Did not Christ suffer enough upon the cross—but we must needs make him suffer more? Do we give him more "gall and vinegar to drink?" Oh, if anything can dissolve the heart in sorrow, and melt the eyes to tears—it is unkindness we offer to Christ. When Peter thought of Christ's love to him, how he had made him an apostle, and revealed his bosom-secrets to him, and taken him to the mount of transfiguration, and yet that he should deny him—it broke his heart with sorrow! "He went out and wept bitterly." Matt 26:75. What a blessed thing is it to have the eyes dropping tears, on a Sabbath! Nothing would sooner fetch tears—than to meditate on Christ's love to us—and our unkindness to him.
Meditating on a Lord's-day morning on Christ's love, would kindle love in our hearts to him. How can we look on his bleeding and dying for us—and our hearts not be warmed with love to him? Love is the soul of religion, the purest affection. It is not rivers of oil—but sparks of love—which Christ values. And sure, as David said, "While I was musing the fire burned" (Psalm 39:3), so, while we are musing on Christ's love in redeeming us, the fire of our love will burn towards him; and then the Christian is in a blessed Sabbath-frame, when, like a seraphim, he is burning in love to Christ!
(4) On a Sabbath morning meditate on the glory of heaven. Heaven is the extract and essence of happiness. It is called a kingdom, for its riches and magnificence Matt 25:34. It is set forth by precious stones, and gates of pearl. Rev 21:19, 21. There is all that is truly glorious: transparent light, perfect love, unstained honor, unmixed joy. And that which crowns the joy of the celestial paradise, is that it is eternal. Suppose earthly kingdoms were more glorious than they are, their foundations of gold, their walls of pearl, their windows of sapphire—yet they are corruptible. But the kingdom of heaven is eternal; those rivers of pleasure run "forever." Psalm 16:11. That wherein the essence of glory consists, and makes heaven to be heaven—is the immediate sight and fruition of the blessed God. "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with your likeness." Psalm 17:15. Oh, think of the Jerusalem above!
This is proper for a Sabbath. The meditation of heaven would raise our hearts above the world. Oh, how would earthly things disappear and shrink into nothing—if our minds were mounted above visible things, and we had a prospect of glory! How would the meditation of heaven make us heavenly in our Sabbath exercises! It would quicken affection, add wings to devotion, and cause us to be "in the Spirit on the Lord's-day." Rev 1:10. How vigorously does he serve God—who has a crown of glory always in his eye!
 We dress our souls on a Sabbath-morning by PRAYER."When you pray, enter into your closet," etc. Matt 6:6. Prayer sanctifies a Sabbath.
(1) The things we should pray for in the morning of the Sabbath. Let us beg a blessing upon the Word which is to be preached; that it may be a savor of life to us; that by it our minds may be more illuminated, our corruptions more weakened, and our stock of grace more increased. Let us pray that God's special presence may be with us, that our hearts may burn within us while God speaks, that we may receive the Word into meek and humble hearts, and that we may submit to it, and bring forth fruits. James 1:21. Nor should we only pray for ourselves—but for others.
Pray for him who dispenses the Word; that his tongue may be touched with a hot coal from God's altar; that God would warm his heart—who is to help to warm others. Your prayers may be a means to quicken the minister. Some complain they find no benefit by the Word preached; perhaps the reason is—that they did not pray for their minister as they should. Prayer is like the sharpening of an instrument, which makes it cut better. Pray with and for your family. Yes, pray for all the congregations that meet on this day in the fear of the Lord; that the dew of the Spirit may fall with the manna of the Word; that some souls may be converted, and others strengthened; that gospel ordinances may be continued, and have no restraint put upon them. These are the things we should pray for. The tree of mercy will not drop its fruit—useless it is shaken by the hand of prayer!
(2) The manner of our prayer. It is not enough to say a prayer; to pray in a dull, cold manner, which is but asking God to deny; but we must pray with reverence, humility, fervency, and hope in God's mercy. Luke 22:44. Christ prayed earnestly. That we may pray with more fervency, we must pray with a sense of our needs. He who is pinched with needs, will be earnest in begging alms. He prays most fervently—who prays most feelingly. This is to sanctify the morning of a Sabbath; and it is a good preparation for the Word preached. When the ground is broken up by the plough, it is fit to receive the seed; when the heart has been broken by prayer, it is fit to receive the seed of the preached Word.
Having thus dressed your souls on a morning, for the further sanctification of the Sabbath, address yourself to the HEARING of the preached Word.
When you sit down in your seat, lift up your eyes to heaven for a blessing upon the Word to be dispensed; for you must know that the Word preached does not work like a medicine—by its own inherent virtue—but by a virtue from heaven, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Therefore put up a short ejaculatory prayer for a blessing upon the Word—that it may be made effectual to you.
The Word being begun to be preached, hear it with reverence and holy attention. "A certain woman, named Lydia, attended unto the things which were spoken by Paul." Acts 16:14. Constantine, the emperor, was noted for his reverent attention to the Word. Christ taught daily in the temple: and "all the people were very attentive to hear him." Luke 19:48. In the Greek, "they hung upon his lip." Could we tell men of a rich purchase, they would diligently attend; and should they not much more, when the gospel of grace is preached unto them? That we may sanctify and hallow the Sabbath by attentive hearing, beware of these two things in hearing: distraction and drowsiness.
 DISTRACTION. "That you may attend upon the Lord without distraction." 1 Cor 7:35. It is said of Bernard, that when he came to the church-door, he would say, "Stay here all my earthly thoughts." So should we say to ourselves, when we are at the door of God's house, "Stay here all my worldly cares and wandering cogitations; I am now going to hear what the Lord will say to me." Distraction hinders devotion. The mind is tossed with vain thoughts, and diverted from the business in hand. It is hard to make a distracted heart fix. How often in hearing the Word, the thoughts dance up and down; and, when the eye is upon the minister, the mind is upon other things. Distracted hearing is far from sanctifying the Sabbath. It is very sinful to give way to vain thoughts at this time; because, when we are hearing the Word, we are in God's special presence. To do any treasonable action in the king's presence—is great impudence. "Yes, in my house have I found their wickedness." Jer 23:11. So the Lord may say, "In my house, while they are hearing my Word, I have found wickedness; they have wanton eyes, and their soul is set on vanity!"
Whence do these roving and distracting thoughts in hearing come?
(1) Partly from Satan. The devil is sure to be present in our assemblies. If he cannot hinder us from hearing, he will hinder us in hearing. "When the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan came also among them." Job 1:6. The devil sets vain objects before the imagine to cause a diversion. His great design is to render the Word fruitless. As when one is writing, another jogs his elbos—that he cannot write even; so when we are hearing, the devil will be jogging us with a temptation, that we should not attend to the Word preached. "He showed me Joshua the high-priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him." Zech 3:1.
(2) These wandering thoughts in hearing come partly from ourselves. We must not lay all the blame upon Satan.
They come from the eye. A wandering eye—causes wandering thoughts. As a thief may come into the house at a window, so vain thoughts may come it at the eye. As we are bid to keep our feet when we enter into the house of God (Eccl 5:1), so we had need make a covenant with our eyes, that we be not distracted by beholding other objects. Job 31:1.
Wandering thoughts in hearing rise out of the heart. These sparks come out of our own furnace. Vain thoughts are the mud which the heart, as from a troubled sea, casts up. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts." Mark 7:21. As the foulness of the stomach sends up fumes into the head, so the corruption of the heart sends up evil thoughts into the mind.
Distracted thoughts in hearing proceed from an evil habit. We so inure ourselves to vain thoughts at other times, and therefore we cannot hinder them on a Sabbath. Habit is a second nature. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good—who are accustomed to do evil?" Jer 13:23. He who is used to bad company, knows not how to leave it; so such as have vain thoughts to keep them company all the week, know not how to get rid of them on the Sabbath. Let me show you how evil, these vain distracting thoughts in hearing are:
 To have the heart distracted in hearing—is a disrespect to God's omniscience. God is an all-seeing Spirit; and thoughts speak louder in his ears than words do in ours. "I know full well what you are thinking." Job 21:27. To make no conscience of wandering thoughts in hearing, is an affront to God's omniscience, as if he knew not our heart, or did not hear the language of our thoughts.
 To give way to wandering thoughts in hearing is hypocrisy. We pretend to hear what God says, and our minds are quite upon another thing. We present God with our bodies—but do not give him our hearts. Hos 7:11. This hypocrisy God complains of. "This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me—but have removed their hearts far from me." Isa 29:13. This is to equivocate and deal falsely with God.
 Vain thoughts in hearing discover much lack of love to God. Did we sincerely love him—we would listen to his words as oracles, and write them upon the table of our heart. Prov 3:3. When a friend whom we love speaks to us, and gives us advice, we attend with seriousness, and suck in every word. Giving our thoughts permission to ramble in holy duties, shows a great defect in our love to God.
 Vain impertinent thoughts in hearing, defile an ordinance. They are as dead flies in the box of ointment. When a string of a lute is out of tune, it spoils the music; so distraction of thought puts the mind out of tune, and makes our services sound harsh and unpleasant. Wandering thoughts poison a duty, and turn it into sin. "Let his prayer become sin." Psalm 109:7. What can be worse than to have a man's praying and hearing of the Word—become sin? Would it not be sad, if the food we eat should increase our sickness? How much more when hearing the Word, which is the food of the soul, is turned into sin!
 Vain thoughts in hearing offend God. If the king were speaking to one of his subjects, and he should not pay attention to what the king were saying—but was playing with a feather—would not the king be provoked? Just so, when we are in God's presence, and he is speaking to us in his Word, and we do not much mind what he says—but our hearts go after covetousness, will it not offend God, to be thus slighted! Ezek 33:31. He has pronounced a curse upon such. "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the Lord Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations." Mal 1:14. To have strong lively affections is to have a male in the flock; but to hear the Word with distraction, is to give God duties fly-blown with vain thoughts, and to offer to the Lord a corrupt thing, which brings a curse. "Cursed be the cheat."
 Vain thoughts in hearing, when allowed and not resisted, make way for hardening the heart. A stone in the heart, is worse than in the kidneys. Distracted thoughts in hearing do not better the heart—but harden it. Vain thoughts take away the holy awe of God which should be upon the heart; they make conscience less tender, and hinder the efficacy the Word should have upon the heart.
 Vain and distracting thoughts rob us of the comfort of an ordinance. A gracious soul often meets with God in the sanctuary, and can say, "I found him whom my soul loves." Canticles 3:4. He is like Jonathan, who, when he had tasted the honey on the rod, had his eyes enlightened. But vain thoughts hinder the comfort of an ordinance, as a black cloud hides the warm comfortable beams of the sun. Will God speak peace to us when our minds are wandering and our thoughts are traveling to the ends of the earth? Prov 17:24. If ever you would hear the Word with attention, do as Abraham when he drove away the fowls from the sacrifice. Gen 15:2. When you find these excursions and sinful wanderings in hearing, labor to drive away the fowls; get rid of these vain thoughts; they are vagrants, and must not be entertained.
How shall we get rid of these vagabond thoughts?
(1) Pray and watch against them.
(2) Let the sense of God's omniscient eye overawe your hearts. The servant will not sport in his master's presence.
(3) Labor for a holy frame of heart. Were the heart more spiritual, the mind would be less feathery.
(4) Bring more love to the Word. We fix our minds upon that which we love. He who loves his pleasures and recreations, fixes his mind upon them, and can follow them without distraction. Were our love more set upon the preached Word, our minds would be more fixed upon it; and surely there is enough to make us love the Word preached; for it is the Word of life, the inlet to divine knowledge, the antidote against sin, the quickener of all holy affections. It is the true manna, which has all sorts of sweet tastes in it. It is the pool of Bethesda, in which the rivers of life spring forth to heal the broken in heart. It is a sovereign elixir or cordial to revive the sorrowful spirit. Get love to the Word preached, and you will not be so distracted in hearing. What the heart delights in, the thoughts dwell upon.
 Take heed of DROWSINESS in hearing. Drowsiness shows much irreverence. How lively are many when they are about the world—but in the worship of God how drowsy—as if the devil had given them opium to make them sleep! A drowsy feeling here is very sinful. Are you not in prayer, asking pardon of sin? Will the prisoner fall asleep when he is begging pardon? In the preaching of the Word, is not the bread of life broken to you? Will a man fall asleep over his food? Which is worse, to stay away from a sermon—or sleep at a sermon? While you slept, perhaps the truth was delivered which might have converted your souls. Besides, sleeping is very offensive in a holy assembly; it not only grieves the Spirit of God—but makes the hearts of the righteous sad. Ezek 13:22. It troubles them to see any show such contempt of God and his worship; to see them busy in the shop—but drowsy in the temple. Therefore, as Christ said, "Could you not watch one hour?" So, can you not wake one hour? Matt 26:40.
I do not deny, that a child of God may sometimes, through weakness and indisposition of body, drop asleep at a sermon—but not voluntarily or ordinarily. The sun may be in an eclipse—but not often. If sleeping is customary and allowed, it is a very bad sign, and a profanation of the ordinance. A good remedy against drowsiness is to use a spare diet upon the Sabbath. Such as indulge their appetite too much on a Sabbath, are fitter to sleep on a couch than pray in the temple. That you may throw off distracting thoughts and drowsiness on the Lord's-day, and may hear the Word with reverend attention, consider—
(1) It is God who speaks to us in his Word. Therefore the preaching of the Word is called the "breath of his lips." Isa 11:4. Christ is said now to speak to us "from heaven," as a king speaks in his ambassador. Heb 12:25. Ministers are but pipes and organs—it is the Spirit of the living God who breathes in them. When we come to the Word, we should think within ourselves, "God is speaking in this preacher!" The Thessalonians heard the Word Paul preached, as if God himself had spoken unto them. "When you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you received it not as the word of men—but (as it is in truth) the Word of God." 1 Thess 2:13. When Samuel knew it was the Lord who spoke to him, he lent his ear. 1 Sam 3:10. If we do not regard God when he speaks to us—he will not regard us when we pray to him.
(2) Consider how serious and weighty the matters delivered to us are. Moses said, "I call heaven and earth to record this day, that I have set before you life and death." Deut 30:19. Can men be regardless of the Word, or drowsy when the weighty matters of eternity are set before them? We preach faith, and holiness of life, and the day of judgment and eternal retribution. Here life and death are set before you; and does not all this call for serious attention? If a letter were read to one of special business, wherein his life and estate were concerned, would he not be very serious in listening to it? In the preaching of the Word your salvation is concerned; and if ever you would attend, it should be now. "It is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life." Deut 32:47.
(3) To give way to vain thoughts and drowsiness in hearing, gratifies Satan. He knows that not to mind a duty, is all one in religion as not to do it. "What the heart does not do—is not done." Therefore Christ says of some, "Hearing, they hear not." Matt 13:13. How could that be? Because, though the Word sounded in their ear—yet they minded not what was said to them, their thoughts were upon other things; therefore, it was all as one as if they did not hear. Does it not please Satan to see men come to the Word, and as good stay away? They are haunted with vain thoughts; they are taken off from the duty while they are in it; their body is in the assembly, but their heart in their shop. "Hearing, they hear not."
(4) Each Sabbath may be the last we shall ever keep. We may go from the place of hearing—to the place of judging; and shall not we give reverend attention to the Word? Did we think when we come into God's house— "Perhaps this will be the last time that ever God will counsel me about my soul; and before another sermon, death's alarm will sound in my ears! With what attention and devotion should I hear! My affections should be all on fire in hearing!"
(5) You must give an account for every sermon you hear. "Give an account of your stewardship." Luke 16:2. So will God say, "Give an account of your hearing. Have you been affected with the Word? Have you profited by it?" How can we give a good account, if we have been distracted in hearing, and have not taken notice of what has been said to us? The judge to whom we must give an account is God. Were we to give account to man, we might falsify accounts; but we must give an account to God. Bernard, "He is so just a God—that he cannot be bribed; and so wise that he cannot be deceived." Therefore, having to give an account to such an impartial Judge, how should we observe every word preached, remembering the account! Let all this make us shake off distraction and drowsiness in hearing, and have our ears chained to the Word!
In order to hear the Word aright, let the following things be attended to:
 Lay aside those dispositions which may render the preached Word ineffectual.
(1) Lay aside curiosity.Some go to hear the Word preached, not so much to get grace, as to enrich themselves with notions: having "itching ears." 2 Tim 4:3. Augustine confesses that, before his conversion, he went to hear Ambrose for his eloquence rather than for the spirituality of the matter. "You are unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument." Ezek 33:32. Many go to the Word to feast their ears only; they like the melody of the voice, the mellifluous sweetness of the expression, and the novelty of the opinions. Acts 17:21. This is to love the garnishing of the dish, more than the food; it is to desire to be pleased, rather than edified. Like a woman that paints her face—but neglects her health—they paint and adorn themselves with curious speculations—but neglect their soul's health. This hearing neither sanctifies the heart, nor the Sabbath.
(2) Lay aside prejudice.Prejudice is sometimes against the truths preached. The Sadducees were prejudiced against the doctrine of the resurrection. Luke 20:27. Sometimes prejudice is against the person preaching. "There is one Micaiah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord—but I hate him." 1 Kings 22:8. This hinders the power of the Word. If a patient has a bad opinion of his physician, he will not take any of his medicines, however good they may be. Prejudice in the mind is like an obstruction in the stomach, which hinders the nutritive virtue of the food. It poisons the Word, and causes it to lose its efficacy.
(3) Lay aside covetousness.Covetousness is not only getting worldly gain unjustly—but loving it inordinately. This is a great hindrance to the preached Word. The seed which fell among thorns was choked, Matt 13:22; a fit emblem of the Word when preached to a covetous hearer. The covetous man is thinking on the world when he is hearing; his heart is in his shop. "They sit before you as my people, and they hear your words—but their heart goes after their covetousness." Ezek 33:31. A covetous hearer derides the Word. "The Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they derided him." Luke 16:14.
(4) Lay aside partiality.Partiality in hearing is, when we like to hear some truths preached—but not all. We love to hear of heaven—but not of self-denial. We love to hear of reigning with Christ—but not of suffering with him. We love to hear of the more facile duties of religion—but not those which are more knotty and difficult; as mortification, laying the axe to the root, and hewing down our beloved sin. "Speak smooth things" (Isa 30:10), such as may not grate upon the conscience. Many like to hear of the love of Christ—but not of loving their enemies; they like the comforts of the word—but not its reproofs. Herod heard John the Baptist gladly; he liked many truths—but not when he spoke against his incest.
(5) Lay aside censoriousness.Some, instead of judging themselves for sin, sit as judges upon the preacher; his sermon had either too much gall in it, or it was too long. They would sooner censure a sermon, than practice it. God will judge the judger. Matt 7:1.
(6) Lay aside disobedience."All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient people." Rom 10:21. It is said of the Jews that God stretched out his hands in the preaching of the word—but they rejected Christ. Let there be none among you, who willfully refuse the counsels of the Word. It is sad to have an adder's ear and an adamant heart. Zech 7:11, 12. If, when God speaks to us in his Word—we are deaf; when we speak to him in prayer—he will be dumb.
 If you would hear the Word aright, have good ends in hearing."Come to the Word to be made better." Some have no other end in hearing but because it is in fashion, or to gain repute, or stop the mouth of conscience; but come to the Word to be made more holy. There is a great difference between one who goes to a garden for flowers to wear in her bosom, and another that goes for flowers to make syrups and medicines. We should go to the Word for medicine to cure us; as Naaman the Syrian went to Jordan to be healed of his leprosy. "Desire the sincere milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby." 1 Pet 2:2. Go to the Word to be changed into its similitude. As the seal leaves its print upon the wax, so labor that the Word preached may leave the print of its own holiness upon your heart.
Labor that the "Word" may have such a virtue in you—that it may kill your sins, and make your souls fruitful in grace. Numb 5:27.
 If you would hear the Word aright, go to it with delight.The Word preached is a feast of fat things! With what delight do men go to a feast! The Word preached anoints the blind eye; mollifies the rocky heart; it beats off our fetters, and turns us from the "power of Satan unto God." Acts 26:18. The Word is the seed of regeneration, and the engine of salvation. James 1:18. Hear the Word with delight and joy. "Your words were found, and I did eat them; and your Word was the joy and rejoicing of my heart." Jer 15:16. "How sweet are your words unto my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth." Psalm 119:103. Love the Word that comes most home to the conscience; bless God when your corruptions have been met with, when the sword of the Spirit has divided between you and your sins. Who cares for the medicine which will not work?
 If you would hear the Word aright, mix it with faith.Believe the truth of the Word preached, that it is the Word by which you must be judged. Not only give credence to the Word preached—but apply it to your own souls. Faith digests the Word, and turns it into spiritual nourishment. Many hear the word—but it may be said of them, as in Psalm 106:24 "They believed not his Word." If we do not mix faith with the Word, it is like leaving out the chief ingredient in a medicine, which makes it ineffectual. Unbelief hardens men's hearts against the Word. "Some were hardened, and believed not." Acts 19:9. Men hear many truths delivered concerning the preciousness of Christ, the beauty of holiness, and the felicity of a glorified estate; but, if through unbelief and atheism, they question these truths, we may as well speak to stones—as to them. That Word which is not believed, can never be practiced. "When belief is unstable, conduct also wavers." Jerome.
Unbelief makes the Word preached of no effect. "The Word preached did not profit, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it." Heb 4:2. The Word to an unbeliever is like a cordial put into a dead man's mouth, which loses all its virtue. If there are any unbelievers in our congregations, what shall ministers say of them to God at the last day? "Lord, we have preached to the people you sent us to, we have showed them our commission, we have declared unto them your whole counsel—but they have not believed a Word we spoke. We told them what would be the fruit of sin—but they would not heed. They would drink their sugared draught, though there was death in the cup. Lord, we are free from their blood!" God forbid that ministers should ever have to make this report to him of their people. But this they will be forced to do, if their hearers live and die in unbelief. Would you sanctify a Sabbath by hearing the Word aright? Hear it with faith. The apostle puts the two together, "belief and salvation." "We are of those who believe to the saving of the soul." Heb 10:39.
 If you would hear the Word aright, hear it with humility.James 1:21. Receive the Word "with humility". Humility is a submissive frame of heart, to the Word. Contrary to this meekness is fierceness of spirit, when men rise up in rage against the Word; as if the patient should be angry with the physician when he gives him a medicine to purge out his bad humours. "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and gnashed on him [Stephen] with their teeth." Acts 7:54. "Asa was angry with the seer and put him in prison." 2 Chron 16:10. Pride and guilt make men fret at the Word. What made Asa enraged, but pride? He was a king, and thought he was too good to be told of his sin. What made Cain angry when God said to him, "Where is Abel, your brother?" He replied, "Am I my brother's keeper?" What made him so touchy, but guilt? He had imbrued his hands in his brother's blood.
If you would hear the Word aright, lay aside your passions. "Receive the Word with meekness;" get humble hearts to submit to the truths delivered. God takes the meek person for his scholar. "The meek will he teach his way." Psalm 25:9. Meekness makes the Word preached to be an "ingrafted Word." James 1:21. A good scion grafted in a bad stock changes the nature of it, and makes it bear good and generous fruit; so, when the Word preached is grafted into men's hearts, it sanctifies them and makes them bring forth the sweet fruits of righteousness. By meekness it becomes an ingrafted Word.
 If you would hear the Word aright, be not only attentive—but retentive.Lay it up in your memories and hearts. The seed "on the good ground are they, which, having heard the Word, keep it." Luke 8:15. The Greek word for "to keep," signifies to hold the Word fast, that it does not run from us. If the seed is not kept in the ground—but is presently washed away, it is sown to little purpose; so if the Word preached be not kept in your memories and hearts, it is preached in vain. Many people have memories like leaky vessels. If the Word goes out as fast as it comes in! How can it profit? If a treasure be put in a chest and the chest be not locked, it may easily be taken out; so a bad memory is a chest without a lock, out of which the devil can easily take all the treasure. "Then comes the devil and takes away the Word out of their hearts." Luke 8:12. Labor to keep in memory the truths you hear. The things we esteem and love—are not easily forgotten. "Does a young woman forget her jewelry? Does a bride hide her wedding dress? No!" Jer 2:32. Did we prize the Word more, we would not forget it so soon. If food does not stay in the stomach—but is vomited as fast as we eat it, it cannot nourish; so, if the Word stays not in the memory—but is presently gone, it can do the soul but little good.
 If you would hear aright, practice what you hear.Practice is the life of all. "Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life." Rev 22:14. Hearing alone, will be no plea at the day of judgment—merely to say, "Lord, I have heard many sermons." God will say, "What fruits of obedience have you brought forth?" The Word preached is not only to inform you, but reform you; not only to mend your sight—but to mend your pace in the way to heaven. A good hearer opens and shuts to God—as the flowers opens and shuts to the sun.
(1) If you do not hear the Word to practice it, you lose all your labor.How many useless steps have you taken—if you are not bettered by hearing! If you are as proud, as vain, and as earthly as ever—all your hearing is lost. You would be loath to trade in vain, and why not to hear sermons in vain? "Why then, do I labor I in vain?" Job 9:29. Put this question to your own soul: "Why do I labor in vain? Why do I take all these pains to hear, and yet have not grace to practice it? I am as bad as ever! Why then, do I labor in vain?"
(2) If you hear the Word, and are not bettered by it, your hearing will increase your condemnation."That servant which knew his lord's will, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes." Luke 12:47. We pity such as know not where to hear; it will be worse with such as care not how they hear. To graceless disobedient hearers, every sermon will be a faggot to heat hell. It is sad to go loaded to hell with ordinances. Oh, beg the Spirit to make the Word preached effectual! Ministers can but speak to the ear; the Spirit speaks to the heart. "While Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the Word." Acts 10:44.
 Having heard the Word in a holy and spiritual manner, for the further sanctification of the Sabbath, confer with the Word.We are forbidden on this day to speak our own words—but we must speak of God's Word. Isa 58:13. Speak of the sermons as you sit together; which is one part of sanctifying the Sabbath. Holy discourse brings holy truths into our memories, and fastens them upon our hearts. "Then those who feared the Lord, spoke often one to another." Mal 3:16. There is great power and efficacy in holy discourse. "How forcible are right words!" Job 6:25. By holy conference on a Sabbath, one Christian helps to warm another when he is frozen, and to strengthen another when he is weak. Latimer confessed he was much furthered in piety, by having conference with Mr. Bilney the martyr. "My tongue shall speak of your Word." Psalm 119:172. One reason why preaching the Word on a Sabbath does no more good, is because there is so little holy conference. Few speak of the Word they have heard, as if sermons were such secrets that they must not be spoken of again, or as if it were a shame to speak of that which will save us.
 Close the Sabbath evening with repetition, reading, singing Psalms, and prayer.Ask that God would bless the Word you have heard. Could we but thus spend a Sabbath, we might be "in the Spirit on the Lord's-day," our souls would be nourished and comforted; and the Sabbaths we now keep, would be pledges of the everlasting Sabbaths which we shall celebrate in heaven.
Use one.See here the Christian's duty, "to keep the Sabbath-day holy."
(1) The whole Sabbath is to be dedicated to God.It is not said, Keep a part of the Sabbath holy—but the whole day must be piously observed. If God has given us six days, and taken but one to himself, shall we grudge him any part of that day? This would be sacrilege. The Jews kept a whole day to the Lord; and we are not to abridge or curtail the Sabbath, as Augustine says, more than the Jews did. The very heathen, by the light of nature, set apart a whole day in honor of false gods; and Scaevola, a high-priest of theirs, affirms that the willful transgression of that day could have no expiation or pardon. If anyone robs any part of the Christian Sabbath for servile work or recreation, Scaevola, the high priest of the heathenish gods, shall rise up in judgment to condemn him. Let those who say, that to keep a whole Sabbath is too Judaical, show where God has made any abatement of the time of worship; where he has said, you shall keep but a part of the Sabbath; and if they cannot show that, it robs God of his due. That a whole day be designed and set apart for his special worship, is a perpetual statute, while the church remains upon the earth, as Peter Martyr says. Of this opinion also were Theodore, Augustine, Irenaeus, and the chief of the fathers.
(2) As the whole Sabbath is to be dedicated to God, so it must be kept holy.You have seen the manner of sanctifying the Lord's-day by reading, meditation, prayer, hearing the Word, and by singing of psalms to make melody to the Lord. Now, besides what I have said upon keeping this day holy, let me make a short comment or paraphrase on that Scripture. "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable: and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words." Isaiah 58:13. Here is a description of rightly sanctifying a Sabbath.
"If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath." This may be understood either literally or spiritually. Literally, that is, if you withdraw your foot from taking long walks or journeys on the Sabbath-day. So the Jewish doctors expound it. Or, spiritually, if you turn away your affections (the feet of your soul) from inclining to any worldly business.
"From doing your pleasure on my holy day." That is, you must not do that which may please the carnal part, as in sports and recreations. This is to do the devil's work on God's day.
"And call the Sabbath a delight." Call it a delight, that is, esteem it so. Though the Sabbath is not a day for carnal pleasure—yet holy pleasure is not forbidden. The soul must take pleasure in the duties of a Sabbath. The saints of old counted the Sabbath a delight: the Jews called the Sabbath "a day of light." The Lord's day, on which the Sun of Righteousness shines, is both a day of light and delight. This is the day of sweet fellowship between God and the soul. On this day a Christian makes his sallies out to heaven; his soul is lifted above the earth; and can this be without delight? The higher the bird flies, the sweeter it sings. On the Sabbath, the soul fixes its love on God; and where love is, there is delight. On this day the believer's heart is melted, quickened, and enlarged in holy duties; and how can all this be, and not a secret delight go along with it? On a Sabbath a gracious soul can say, "I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." Canticles 2:3. How can a spiritual heart choose but call the Sabbath a delight? Is it not delightful to a queen, to be putting on her wedding robes in which she shall meet the king her bridegroom? When we are about Sabbath exercises, we are dressing ourselves, and putting on our wedding robes in which we are to meet our heavenly bridegroom the Lord Jesus; and is not this delightful? On the Sabbath God makes a feast of fat things; he feasts the ear with his Word, and the heart with his grace. Well then may we call the Sabbath a delight. To find this holy delight, is to "be in the Spirit on the Lord's-day."
"The holy of the Lord, honorable." In the Hebrew, it is glorious. To call the Sabbath honorable, is not to be understood so much of an outward honor given to it, by wearing richer apparel, or having better diet on this day, as the Jewish doctors corruptly gloss. This is the chief honor that some give to this day; but by calling the Sabbath honorable, is meant that honor of the heart which we give to the day, reverencing it, and esteeming it as the queen of days. We are to count the Sabbath honorable, because God has honored it. All the persons in the Trinity have honored it. God the Father blessed it, God the Son rose upon it, God the Holy Spirit descended on it. Acts 2:1: This day is to be honored by all good Christians, and had in high veneration. It is a day of renown, on which a golden scepter of mercy is held forth. The Christian Sabbath is the very dawning of the heavenly Sabbath. It is honorable, because on this day "God comes down to us and visits us." To have the King of heaven present in a special manner in our assemblies, makes the Sabbath-day honorable. Besides, the work done on this day makes it honorable. The six days are filled up with servile work, which makes them lose much of their glory; but on this day sacred work is done. The soul is employed wholly about the worship of God; it is praying, hearing, meditating; it is doing angels' work, praising, and blessing God. Again, the day is honorable by virtue of a divine institution. Silver is of itself valuable; but when the royal stamp is put upon it, it is honorable; so God has put a sacred stamp upon this day, the stamp of divine authority, and the stamp of divine benediction. This makes it honorable; and this is sanctifying the Sabbath, to call it a delight, and honorable.
"Not doing your own ways." That is, you shall not defile the day by doing any servile work.
"Nor finding your own pleasure." That is, not gratifying the fleshly part by walks, visits, or recreations.
"Nor speaking your own words." That is, words unsuitable for a Sabbath; vain, impertinent words; discourses of worldly affairs.
Use two.If the Sabbath-day is to be kept holy, they are reproved who, instead of sanctifying the Sabbath, profane it! They take the time which should be dedicated wholly to God—and spend it in the service of the devil and their lusts. The Lord has set apart this day for his own worship, and they make it common. He has set a hedge about this commandment, saying, "Remember;" and they break this hedge; but he who breaks this hedge—a serpent shall bite him! Eccl 10:8. The Sabbath day in England lies bleeding; and oh! that our parliament would pour some balm into the wounds which it has received! How is this day profaned, by sitting idle at home, by selling goods, by vain discourse, by sinful visits, by walking in the fields, and by sports! The people of Israel might not gather manna on the Sabbath, and may we use sports and dancings on this day? Truly it should be matter of grief to us to see so much Sabbath-profanation.
When one of Darius's eunuchs saw Alexander setting his feet on a rich table of Darius', he wept. Alexander asked him why he wept? He said it was to see the table which his master so highly esteemed, now made a footstool. So may we weep to see the Sabbath-day, which God highly esteems, and has honored and blessed, made a footstool, and trampled upon by the feet of sinners. To profane the Sabbath is a great sin; it is a willful contempt of God; it is not only casting his law behind our back—but trampling it under foot. He says, "Keep the Sabbath holy;" but men pollute it. This is to despise God, to hang out the flag of defiance, to throw down the gauntlet, and challenge God himself. Now, how can God endure to be thus saucily confronted by proud dust? Surely he will not allow this high impudence to go unpunished. God's curse will come upon the Sabbath-breaker; and it will blast where it comes. The law of the land lets Sabbath-breakers alone—but God will not. No sooner did Christ curse the fig-tree—but it withered. God will take the matter into his own hand; he will punish Sabbath violation. And how does he punish it?
(1) With spiritual plagues. He gives up Sabbath profaners to hardness of heart, and a scared conscience. Spiritual judgments are sorest. "So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust." Psalm 81:12. A seared conscience, is a mark of reprobation.
(2) God punishes this sin by giving men up to commit other sins. To revenge the breaking of his Sabbath, he allows them to break civil laws, and so come to be punished by the magistrate. How many such confessions have we heard from thieves going to be executed! They never regarded the Sabbath, and God allowed them to commit those sins for which they are to die.
(3) God punishes Sabbath-breaking by sudden visible judgments on men for this sin. He punishes them in their estates and in their persons. While a certain man was carrying corn into his barn on the Lord's-day, both house and corn were consumed with fire from heaven. In Wiltshire there was a dancing party appointed upon the Lord's-day; and while one of the company was dancing, he suddenly fell down dead. The "Theater of God's Judgments" relates of one, who used every Lord's-day to hunt in sermon-time, who had a child with a head like a dog, and it cried like a hound. His sin was monstrous, and it was punished with a monstrous birth. The Lord threatened the Jews, that if they would not hallow the Sabbath-day, he would kindle a fire in their gates. Jer 17:27. The dreadful fire which broke out in London began on the Sabbath-day; as if God would tell us from heaven, that he was then punishing us for our Sabbath profanation. Nor does he punish it only in this life with death—but hereafter with damnation. Let such as break God's Sabbath, see if they can break those chains of darkness, in which they and the devils shall be held.
Use three.It exhorts us to Sabbath holiness.
Make conscience of keeping this day holy. The other commandments have an affirmative in them only, or a negative; this fourth commandment has both an affirmative in it and a negative. "You shall keep the Sabbath day holy," and, "you shall not do any manner of work in it," shows how carefully God would have us observe this day. Not only must you keep this day yourselves—but have a care that all under your charge keep it; "You, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maidservant;" that is, you who are a superior, a parent or a master, you must have a care that not only you yourself—but those who are under your trust and tuition, sanctify the day. Those masters of families are to blame, who are careful that their servants serve them—but have no care that they serve God; who care not though their servants should serve the devil, so long as their bodies do them service. Not only have a care of your own soul—but have a care of the souls you are entrusted with. See that those who are under your charge sanctify the Sabbath. God's law provided, that if a man met with an ox or an donkey going astray, he should bring him back again; much more, when you sees the soul of your child or servant going astray from God, and breaking his Sabbath, you should bring him back again to a pious observation of this day.
That I may press you to Sabbath-sanctification, consider what great blessings God has promised to the strict observers of this day. Isa 58:14.
(1) A promise of joy."Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord." Delighting in God is both a duty and a reward. In this text it is a reward, "Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord;" as if God had said, "If you keep the Sabbath conscientiously, I will give you that which will fill you with delight. If you keep the Sabbath willingly, I will make you keep it joyfully. I will give you those enlargements in duty, and that inward comfort, which shall abundantly satisfy you; your soul shall overflow with such a stream of joy, that you shall say—Lord, in keeping your Sabbath there is great reward!"
(2) A promise of honor.And "I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth." That is, I will advance you to honor; so Munster interprets it. Some, by the high places of the earth, understand Judea; so Grotius. I will bring you into the land of Judea, which is situated higher than the other countries adjacent.
(3) A promise of earth and heaven."And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob;" that is, I will feed you with all the delicious things of Canaan, and afterwards I will translate you to heaven, whereof Canaan was but a type. Another promise is, "Blessed is the man who does this, who keeps the Sabbath from polluting it." Isa 56:2. "Blessed is the man;" in the Hebrew it is, "blessednesses." To him who keeps the Sabbath holy, here is blessedness upon blessedness belonging to him; he shall be blessed with the upper and nether springs; he shall be blessed in his name, estate, soul, progeny. Who would not keep the Sabbath—that shall have so many blessings entailed upon him and his posterity after him? Again, a conscientious keeping of the Sabbath seasons the heart for God's service all the week after. Christian, the more holy you are on a Sabbath—the more holy you will be on the week following.