BPC.ORG | Home | Westminster Shorter Catechism Project | Watson's "Body of Divinity"

Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

Body of Divinity
Contained in
Sermons upon the Assembly's Catechism
by the
Rev. Thomas Watson

Distracted thoughts in hearing proceed from an evil habit. We 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 ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil?' Jer 13:23. He that 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: -

[1] 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. 'He declareth unto man what is his thought.' Amos 4:13. 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.

[2] 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 honour me, but have removed their hearts far from me.' Isa 29:13. This is to prevaricate and deal falsely with God.

[3] Vain thoughts in hearing discover much want of love to God. Did we love him we should 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 leave to ramble in holy duties, shows a great defect in our love to God.

[4] 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.' Psa 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 meat we eat should increase bad humours? How much more when hearing the word, which is the food of the soul, is turned into sin!

[5] Vain thoughts in hearing offend God. If the king were speaking to one of his subjects, and he should not give heed to what the king says, but be thinking on another business, or playing with a feather, would not the king be provoked? So, when we are in God's presence, and he is speaking to us in his word, and we mind not much 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 be the deceiver, which has in his flock a male, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing.' 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 deceiver.'

[6] 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.

[7] 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 loveth.' Cant 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 travelling 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, labour 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) Labour 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 that 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 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; the pool of Bethesda, in which the rivers of life spring forth to heal the broken in heart; and 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.

[2] 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? and will a man fall asleep over his food? Which is worse, to stay 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 ye not watch one hour?' so, can ye not wake one hour? Matt 26:40. I deny not but 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 be 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 that 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 that 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 ye received the word of God, which ye heard of us, ye 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 that spake 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 judgement 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, 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 us about our souls, and before another sermon death's alarm will sound in our ears; with what attention and devotion should we feel, and our affections would be all on fire in hearing!

(5) You must give an account for every sermon you hear. Redde rationem: 'Give an account of thy stewardship.' Luke 16:2. So will God say, 'Give an account of thy hearing. Hast thou been affected with the word? Hast thou 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. Nec donis corrumpitur, nec blanditiis fallitur. 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.

VI. IN order to hear the word aright, let the following things be attended to: -

[1] Lay aside those dispositions which may render the preached word ineffectual. As,

(1) 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. 'Thou art 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 an ill 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 meat. It poisons the word, and causes it to lose its efficacy.

(3) Lay aside covetousness. Covetousness is not only getting worlds 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 thee as my people, and they hear thy 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; of reigning with Christ, but not of suffering with him; 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 spake 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 that wilfully 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.

[2] 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 ye 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 labour that the word preached may leave the print of its own holiness upon your heart.

Labour that the 'word' may have such a virtue in you, as the water of jealousy, to kill and make fruitful; that it may kill your sins, and make your souls fruitful in grace. Numb 5:27.

[3] 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 complacency. 'Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.' Jer 15:16. 'How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.' Psa 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 physic which will not work?

[4] 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 Psa 106:24 'They believed not his word.' As Melanchthon once said to some Italians 'Ye Italians worship God in the bread, when ye do not believe him to be in heaven;' so, many hear God's words, but do not believe that God is; they question the truth of his oracles. 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. 'Divers 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 and pillars of the church as to them. That word which is not believed, can never be practised. Ubi male creditur, ibi nec bene vivitur [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 them that 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 be any unbelievers in our congregations, what shall ministers say of them to God at the last day? Lord, we have preached to the people thou sentest us to, we have showed them our commission, we have declared unto them thy whole counsel, but they have not believed a word we spake. 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 them that believe to the saving of the soul.' Heb 10:39.

[5] If you would hear the word aright, hear it with meek spirits. James 1:21. Receive the word in mansuetudine, 'with meekness'. Meekness 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 wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house.' 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, thy 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.' Psa 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.

[6] 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 be 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 persons 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 taketh away the word out of their hearts.' Luke 8:12. Labour to keep in memory the truths you hear. The things we esteem are not easily forgotten. 'Can a maid forget her ornaments or a bride her attire?' Jer 2:32. Did we prize the word more, we should not forget it so soon. If meat does not stay in the stomach, but rises up 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.

[7] If you would hear aright, practice what you hear. Practice is the life of all. 'Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.' Rev 22:14. Hearing only will be no plea at the day of judgement - merely to say, 'Lord, I have heard many sermons.' God will say, 'What fruits of obedience have ye 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 heliotrope to the sun.

(1) If you do not hear the word to practice it, you lose all your labour. How many a weary step have you taken, your body has been crowded, and your spirit faint, 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 labour I in vain?' Job 9:29. Put this question to your own soul: Why labour I 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 labour in vain?

(2) If you hear the word, and are not bettered by it, you are like the salamander, no hotter in the fire; and 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 spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.' Acts 10:44.

[8] 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. Good discourse brings holy truths into our memories, and fastens them upon our hearts. 'Then they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another.' Mal 3:16. There is great power and efficacy in good 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 religion by having conference with Mr. Bilney the martyr. 'My tongue shall speak of thy word.' Psa 119:172. One reason why preaching the word on a Sabbath does no more good is because there is so little good 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.

[9] 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 earnests 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 religiously observed. If God has given us six days, and taken but one to himself, shall we grudge him any part of that day? It were 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 honour of false gods; and Scaevola, a high-priest of theirs, affirms that the wilful transgression of that day could have no expiation or pardon. If any one robs any part of the Christian Sabbath for servile work or recreation, Scaevola, the high priest of the heathenish gods, shall rise up in judgement 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 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.' Isa 58:13. Here is a description of rightly sanctifying a Sabbath.

'If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath.' This may be understood either literally or spiritually. Literally, that is, if thou withdrawest thy foot from taking long walks or journeys on the Sabbath-day. So the Jewish doctors expound it. Or, spiritually, if thou turn away thy affections (the feet of thy soul) from inclining to any worldly business.

'From doing thy pleasure on my holy day.' That is, thou must not do that which may please the carnal part, as in sports and pastimes. 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 be 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 dies lucis, 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 intercourse 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.' Cant 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, honourable.' In the Hebrew, it is glorious. To call the Sabbath honourable, is not to be understood so much of an outward honour given to it, by wearing richer apparel, or having better diet on this day, as the Jewish doctors corruptly gloss. This is the chief honour that some give to this day; but by calling the Sabbath honourable, is meant that honour 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 honourable, because God has honoured it. All the persons in the Trinity have honoured it. God the Father blessed it, God the Son rose upon it, God the Holy Ghost descended on it. Acts 2:1: This day is to be honoured by all good Christians, and had in high veneration. It is a day of renown, on which a golden sceptre of mercy is held forth. The Christian Sabbath is the very crepusculum and dawning of the heavenly Sabbath. It is honourable, 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 honourable. Besides, the work done on this day makes it honourable. 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 honourable by virtue of a divine institution. Silver is of itself valuable; but when the royal stamp is put upon it, it is honourable; so God has put a sacred stamp upon this day, the stamp of divine authority, and the stamp of divine benediction. This makes it honourable; and this is sanctifying the Sabbath, to call it a delight, and honourable.

'Not doing thine own ways.' That is, thou shalt not defile the day by doing any servile work.

'Nor finding thine own pleasure.' That is, not gratifying the fleshly part by walks, visits, or pastimes.

'Nor speaking thine own Words.' That is, words heterogeneous and 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 meat, 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's, 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 honoured and blessed, made a footstool, and trampled upon by the feet of sinners. To profane the Sabbath is a great sin; it is a wilful 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 suffer 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 see after the punishing of 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 judgements are sorest. 'So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust.' Psa 81:12. A sear in the conscience is a brand-mark of reprobation.

(2) God punishes this sin by giving men up to commit other sins. To revenge the breaking of his Sabbath, he suffers them to break open houses, 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 suffered them to commit those sins for which they are to die.

(3) God punishes Sabbath-breaking by sudden visible judgements 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 match appointed upon the Lord's-day; and while one of the company was dancing, he suddenly fell down dead. The 'Theatre of God's Judgements' relates of one, who used every Lord's-day to hunt in sermon-time, who had a child by his wife 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 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. 'Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy,' and, 'thou shalt 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; 'Thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maidservant;' that is, thou who art a superior, a parent or a master, thou must have a care that not only thou thyself, but those who are under thy 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. That which Paul says to Timothy, Serva depositum, 'That good thing, which was committed unto thee, keep,' is of large meaning. 1 Tim 1:11. Not only have a care of thy own soul, but have a care of the souls thou art entrusted with. See that they who are under thy charge sanctify the Sabbath. God's law provided, that if a man met with an ox or an ass going astray, he should bring him back again; much more, when thou sees the soul of thy child or servant going astray from God, and breaking his Sabbath, thou shouldest bring him back again to a religious 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 shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord.' Delighting in God is both a duty and a reward. In this text it is a reward, 'Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord;' as if God had said, If thou keep the Sabbath conscientiously, I will give thee that which will fill thee with delight; if thou keep the Sabbath willingly, I will make thee keep it joyfully. I will give thee those enlargements in duty, and that inward comfort, which shall abundantly satisfy thee; thy soul shall overflow with such a stream of joy, that thou shalt say, 'Lord, in keeping thy Sabbath there is great reward. (2) Of honour. And 'I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth.' That is, I will advance thee to honour, ascendere faciam; so Munster interprets it. Some, by the high places of the earth, understand Judea; so Grotius. I will bring thee into the land of Judea, which is situated higher than the other countries adjacent. (3) Of earth and heaven. 'And I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob;' that is, I will feed thee with all the delicious things of Canaan, and afterwards I will translate thee to heaven, whereof Canaan was but a type. Another promise is, 'Blessed is the man that does this, that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it.' Isa 56:2. 'Blessed is the man;' in the Hebrew it is, 'blessednesses.' To him that 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 from polluting it 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 thou art on a Sabbath, the more holy thou wilt be on the week following.

[ Go To Top Of This Page ]

This document is available at http://bpc.org/resources/watson/wsc_wa_057-062_b.html
Corrections or Information: webmaster@bpc.org