THE SABBATH"Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings." Leviticus. 23:3.
Leviticus enacts a train of rites. But their immediate purpose is brief and transient. Their life is short. They find an early grave. And now they teach, as records of a by-gone time—as text-books of the Church's infancy.
There is, however, a grand exception. In this code the Sabbath holds conspicuous place. But Gospel-beams have not obscured its light. It is no star, which waned before the orb of day. Far otherwise. It arose not as a ceremony among ceremonies. Sinai was not its birth-place. The wilderness was not its cradle. Therefore Calvary is not its tomb.
Reader, write this among undoubted truths. The Sabbath is as old as man. Adam's first day was hallowed rest.
The thought may here occur, why was Creation a six-days' work? Omnipotence requires no time. To will—to do—are one with God. Why was a gradual progress used? The reply is, God is wise love. Step succeeds step in forming worlds to sanctify our patient toil. God then announces, that He rests, to sanctify required rest.
Thus with high sanction, and benevolent intent, the Sabbath entered Eden by man's side. In its origin, it stands the firstborn of all ordinances. It is a portion of primary law. Its date precedes the date of sin. Away with the vain thought, that it is a short-lived flower of ritual field.
Reader, next mark how it endured. It flowed a blessing through the patriarchal age. That period was a foul hot-bed of iniquity. Rebellious hands were raised against God's will. Incessant blows were aimed at righteous law. But all this darkness failed to put out the Sabbath-light. Survey the chain from Adam until Noah. Adam received it. Intimations tell us, that Noah knew it. Therefore the intermediate links must have transmitted it. Eden received the seed. The ark upon the waters held the plant. Noah sends out the dove at intervals of seven days. Hence the conclusion is most sound, that antediluvian times observed the Sabbath-day. It lived, then, a long life before Judaic rites came in.
After the flood, there was extensive space before peculiar ordinances separated Israel's race. Noah and Moses are the extreme points of this line. The first, before the ark is left, recognizes, as has been seen, a weekly period. The latter taught, why manna fell not on the seventh day. Hear his clear testimony, "Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord." Ex. 16:23. This interval then dawns and closes with recognition of this day. The truth is thus confirmed. The Sabbath ever kept its unimpaired existence. Its stream rolled onward from the ark to Sinai's base. Again observe, its life is long, before Judaic rites come in.
Reader, advance to Sinai. A scene of more tremendous awe cannot be found. The thunder roars. The lightning glares. The mountain totters to its base. Appalling sights—appalling sounds—announce the present majesty of God. He comes to speak, as moral ruler of the world. The law, originally written on man's heart, is re-enacted amid prodigies of terrible display. Now mark what occupies the tables' central spot. It is the Sabbath-day. Thus God's own finger writes it, a portion of His unalterable will.
As such the golden ark within the veil received it. As such a curse attends its least infringement. Who now can turn from Sinai's fiery height, to pluck the Sabbath from its glorious place? It is no passing rite. It is the transcript of Jehovah's mind. It shines a jewel in the high crown of moral law.
When Prophets subsequently taught, did they remit its claims? Their lips denounce each violation, as a heinous sin. Their fervent eloquence repels intruders from the holy ground. They pull not down what God had raised so high. They cannot desecrate what God has permanently hallowed.
Next Jesus comes Himself. The mighty God instructs in human form. Are now the land-marks of this day removed? Is it laid open for promiscuous use. He has authority to bind or loose. As "Lord of the Sabbath," He is supreme. But He puts forth no abrogating power, when He states its purport to be the good of man. "The Sabbath was made for man." Mark 2:27. This is a mighty word. It looks backward, and forward. It seems to say, It always has been, for man always had need. It always shall be, for man will always need. Thus Jesus decks the Sabbath with undying freshness.
He finishes His work, and rises victor from the dead. Prefiguring ceremonies vanish. If the Sabbath's mission be fulfilled, it now will disappear. Is such the case? Far otherwise. A change indeed is made, but only to set the edifice on firmer base, and to bind it more closely to our living Head. The resurrection-day becomes the Christian rest. The same memorial records creation ended, and redemption finished. The same repose reminds of two completed works. The Lord's day tells of rest, when worlds were made—of rest, when souls were saved.
Next call Apostles to bear witness. They were most jealous of the Gospel-truth. With open mouth they warn, that the Judaic forms had fallen, as autumnal leaves. But no word from their lips—no thought in their pages—chases the Sabbath from our sight. Oh! no. They keep—they reverence—they commend it. As soon would they deny the Lord, as undervalue the Lord's day.
Reader, review now its position. It is God's first command. The Patriarchs kept it. Sinai preached it. The holy tables gave it central place. The holy Ark encased it. The Jewish church revered it. Prophets enforced it. Jesus upheld it. The Apostles sanctioned it. The Christian church throughout all time has prized it. The prophetic finger still points to it as a last-day blessing. Isa 66:23. Eternity waits to be an eternity of Sabbath.
What, if profane indifference would tread it down? Vain is the effort. It still must live. It has an innate life. The will, which made it, is divine. As in the ark, it rode triumphant over ungodly graves, so now it strides above ungodly foes. It must march on, until time is lost in one Sabbatic rest.
Reader, thus holy is the tree. Come sit awhile beneath its shade. Much precious fruit descends. It showers down rest upon a work-worn world.
Man's body is a wondrous fabric. Its various parts are exquisitely wrought. They are designed for toil. But toil brings strain. Rest must repair the waste. Rest must renew the vigor. Rest must bring oil to the wheels. The Sabbath day supplies it. "The seventh-day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God, in it you shall not do any work." Ex. 20:10.
Would man give this indulgence to himself? The love of gain—the reckless lust of profit—grudges each moment unemployed. It counts it to be miserable loss. Man would work self to early wreck, and drive self an early skeleton to dust.
Would man grant this repose to other men? Heartless taskmasters would lash their victims to a ceaseless mill. Work! work! would be the only cry. Work! work! until the enfeebled dying hands could no more move. If God's most positive command scarcely restrains, what would earth be, if left unchecked to human mercy? A dwindled race would fall as blighted buds. Incessant labor would be incessant woe.
Is renewed energy of body the fruit of seasonable rest? Let every tongue, then, bless the Sabbath's Lord.
But fleshy material is not the whole of man. There is that wondrous inner gift—the mind. There is the chamber, in which thought resides—the cradle, in which ideas are nursed. Here is our moving mainspring. These fibers are fine. Their edge soon loses point. To overwork them is to destroy. But overworked they will be, unless the Sabbath interpose its calm. Experience often shows the stream of thought run dry, because the seventh-day barrier has been broken down. This respite saves our noblest faculties from pre-mature decay. Let, then, each healthy intellect sing praises to the Sabbath's Lord.
But this day is more than resting-place for body and for mind. It brings refreshing nurture to the soul. It makes not a vacancy to leave it void. It shuts out the world only to make clear room for God. True it is, that the new-born heart lives habitually above. Its whole employ flows in a holy course. But when the Sabbath comes, God is not only mixed in every thought, but God and His work alone are present. The Scripture is the only Book. Things heavenly are the only converse. God's service is the one concern. This day, then, is the school of spiritual well-being. It keeps alive religion in the world. It checks the hand, which would expel devotion. Now countless multitudes learn the plague of a sin-fettered heart, and hear of Jesus, and turn from misery to joy—from Satan's chain to glorious liberty. These are the hours, when crowds rejoice in views of dying love—in deeper draughts of sanctifying grace—and in larger visions of the eternal weight of glory. Can there be one, who would divert these channels of pure joy? Vain man forbear! Earth, spoiled of Sabbaths, is a rapid road to hell.
The Sabbath serves a higher value yet. It is much more than outward health. It provides more than leisure to gain grace. Its name and use are emblems of Christ Jesus. As a mirror it reflects His work—His truth. It is a scroll, in which faith reads from age to age, the grandest lessons of redeeming love. What is the Sabbath? It is rest. What is Jesus? He is rest. God rests in Him. Souls rest in Him. Eternity is rest with Him.
God rests in Him. Each attribute here gains repose. Justice has claims. Each sin is debt, which must be paid. Jesus pays all; and justice is content. Truth finds in Him complete fulfillment of its every word—and asks no more. Holiness is more than satisfied; for every sin is washed from the redeemed, and all shine bright in righteousness divine. Mercy and love here trace a passage for their fullest exercise. Their arms embrace a family of ransomed souls. In Christ they sing an endless hymn, and enjoy an endless joy. No more is sought. God is well pleased. Christ is this Sabbath throughout heaven.
Souls rest in Him. When once the eyes are open to the realities of sin, the torpor of indifference ceases. "What must I do to be saved?" absorbs the man. Duties, and penitence, and ritual strictness, present no mountains, which the feet refuse to scale. But efforts like these remove no load of guilt. They guide to no peaceful haven of repose. The wearied soul becomes more weary. But when the Spirit leads the anxious trembler to the cross, then all disquietude is gone. Here is the needed rest. What more can be required? Jesus brings in one flood of peace. The search is over. All is obtained. Jesus is all for everlasting rest. The husks are left. Refreshing food is found. Faith ceases from all empty drudgery, to take up healthy toil for Him.
Heaven is one ocean of repose. No billow heaves. No storm affrights. No foe can enter. No change can cloud the calm expanse of the unruffled sky. But what is heaven, but to see Christ, as He is—to gaze forever on His unveiled beauty—to sit with Him—to realize, that never for one moment can there be absence from Salvation's home? Heaven is heaven, because it is an eternal Sabbath by the side of Jesus.
Reader, you see the varied blessings of this day. If every breath were praise, it could not adequately hymn the love, which gave it. Be wise; be wise; and let not Satan rob you of your treasure. He hates the ordinance. He hates its profitable use. He knows, that it stands high, a barrier to beat him back. By many wiles he strives to disfigure it, as a dull and gloomy check to joy. Be not deceived. Can it be dull to walk with God? Can it be gloom to hold communion with the center of delights? Oh! no. The Sabbath-breaker is the wretched man. His heart condemns him. His unhallowed merriment is gall. His foreboding mind sees pains and tortures, which no rest relieves. The holy Sabbath keeper lives with God—for God. Can happiness be more?
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