Great Texts of the Bible
The Lord’s Day
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.—Revelation 1:10.
1. The religious importance of the first day of the week arose from the conviction that Christ had risen from the dead on that day. The conviction is certainly found to exist very early in the Church, and we can hardly resist the conclusion that its origin must be sought in the fact that, in some mode which we shall never exactly understand, it was on “the first day of the week” that Christ so manifested Himself to His Apostles as to create in them the assurance of His being actually alive among them in the fulness of personal life. The phrase of the Apocalypse, then, is not hard of explanation. The first day of the week was known as “the Lord’s Day,” because in truth the Lord had then made clear His title to the lordship He claimed. It was on that day, so the Church believed, that the Son of Man, “who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,” was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead.” It was as an “Easter Day in every week” that the first day of the week first secured its religious importance.
The Church had no definite command from the Lord to change the date of its rest-day, nor indeed did the Church do that all at once; it was not possible. But the first day of the week, the day on which He rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples, the day, too, on which the Holy Spirit came, the Church has, by a sort of inspired instinct, set apart to Christian fellowship, meetings for prayer and worship, and the celebration of the Holy Supper. Gradually it took the place of the seventh day as the day of rest.
There is no historical fact that enjoys better proof than this—that the observance of the day by intermission of toil and by special religious exercises was the constant practice of the Christian Church from the days of the Apostles. The civil laws, when the secular arm was extended to the Church, tell the same tale. Constantine forbade lawsuits on this day: the courts were to be closed. The Valentians, elder and younger, follow. Theodosius enacts that all Sundays in the year be days of vacation from all business of the law whatsoever.
Secular business of a more private kind was also strictly forbidden, though ploughing and harvesting were at first excepted from the prohibition. Christian soldiers were required to attend church. And what is of special interest, in view of present-day tendencies, no public games or shows or frivolous recreations were allowed by law on the Lord’s Day.
From the very beginning the English people believed that this was a day apart, a day given of God, a day in which men could recover their connection with spiritual things, and refresh their hearts by waiting upon the invisible God. Perhaps no one has described the English Sunday better than the Royalist poet, George Herbert:
Sundays the pillars are
On which heav’n’s palace arched lies;
The other days fill up the spare
And hollow room with vanities:
They are the fruitful beds and borders
In God’s rich garden; that is bare
Which parts their ranks and orders.
2. The spirit of man is tidal and “the soul wins its victories as the sea wins hers.” The tides of the spirit are known to us all—the great reactions, the swinging tides of feeling, interest, and energy. These are from above, coming down upon us, unlike the pedestrian guides of common sense and principle which direct us evenly on our way. This does not apply merely to the ebb and flow of sweet or tender feeling, though it includes that also. Rather one thinks of the occasional heightening of life all round, the intensification of its powers in moments when it “means intensely, and means good.” Now this occasional quality of human nature is the explanation of the common delight in the observance of special days. Birthdays and other anniversaries, the return of friends from afar, the festivals commemorating national and religious events, are all of them times of spiritual rising tide. It is fitting to give them their opportunity, to set time apart, and to forbid encroaching duties.
Dr. Haegler, in his Expenditure and Repair of Vital Force, says that the night succeeding a day’s labour does not afford a complete recuperation of zig-zag lines. The Monday line shows a man at his maximum strength. With each succeeding day the line is shortened a little. On Tuesday morning the workman, refreshed by sleep, has regained most of his lost energy, but not all. On Wednesday the line is shorter still, that is, there is a larger margin of loss. On Thursday and Friday and Saturday the lines are shortened more and more. On Saturday night the minimum of strength is reached. Now comes Sunday. If the workman observes it, he regains his full normal vigour and begins again where he began a week ago. If he refuses to observe it, and keeps on doing so, he will never regain his normal standard of vital force, but will suffer a constant drain and decline until he ends in physical breakdown. Thus it appears as a scientific fact that the man who habitually refuses to rest on Sunday is living on his reserve. He is literally working himself to death.
3. The need for the observance of set days is embedded in human nature. Eternal as the constitution of the soul of man is the necessity for the existence of a day of rest. And on this ground alone can we find an impregnable defence of the proportion one day in seven. The seventh being altered to the first, one might ask why one in seven might not be altered to one in ten. The thing has been tried; and by the necessities of human nature the change has been found pernicious. One day in ten, prescribed by revolutionary France, was actually pronounced by physiologists insufficient. So that we begin to find that, in a deeper sense than we at first suspected, “the sabbath was made for man.” Even in the contrivance of one day in seven, it was arranged by unerring wisdom. Just because the Sabbath was made for man, and not because man was ordained to keep the Sabbath-day, we cannot tamper even with the iota, one day in seven.
Professor Hodge of Clark University, Worcester, Mass., demonstrated in his biological laboratory that the nerve cells are not fully restored from a day’s wear by a night’s rest, and that they need to be fully restored every few days, and that such perfect restoration cannot be accomplished with less than thirty to thirty-six hours of continuous rest, which means a rest-day added to the adjoining two nights, a rest such as the Sabbath regularly affords.
“I beg and pray of you,” said Dolly Winthrop, “to leave off weaving of a Sunday, for it’s bad for soul and body—and the money as comes i’ that way ’ull be a bad bed to lie down on at the last, if it doesn’t fly away, nobody knows where, like the white frost. And you’ll excuse me being that free with you, Master Marner, for I wish you well—I do.”1 [Note: George Eliot, Silas Marner.]
I certainly do feel by experience the eternal obligation because of the eternal necessity of the Sabbath. The soul withers without it; it thrives in proportion to the fidelity of its observance. Nay, I even believe the stern rigour of the Puritan Sabbath had a grand effect upon the soul. Fancy a man thrown in upon himself, with no permitted music, nor relaxation, nor literature, nor secular conversation—nothing but his Bible, his own soul and God’s silence! What hearts of iron this system must have made. How different from our stuffed-arm-chair religion and “gospel of comfort!” as if to be made comfortable were the great end of religion. I am persuaded, however, that the Sabbath must rest not on an enactment, but on the necessities of human nature. It is necessary not because it is commanded; but it is commanded because it is necessary. If the Bible says, “Eat the herb of the field,” sustenance does not become a duty in consequence of the enactment, but the enactment is only a statement of the law of human nature. And so with the Sabbath, and this appears to be a truer and far more impregnable base to place it on. You cannot base it on a law; but you can show that the law was based on an eternal fitness. There I think it never can be dislodged.2 [Note: Life and Letters of the Rev. F. W. Robertson, 211.]
Sunday is a quiet hollow, scooped out of the windy hill of the week.3 [Note: George MacDonald.]
4. To observe a day in any worthy sense, one must enter into its spirit. The true worth of Sunday to us all depends on our coming to find in it the opportunity, the hope, the means of some such rising above this world as that of which St. John speaks; some approach towards that entrance among things eternal which he links with the Lord’s Day. Yes, whatever may be our place and work in life, our share in its pleasures and hardships and interests and sorrows, if Sunday is to mean more and not less to us as the years go by, we must be using it to learn a little more of our duty, and of our need, of ourselves, as God sees us, and, above all, of His will, His ways, His mercy, and His justice.
As is the Spirit, so is the Lord’s Day. The one is proportionate to the other. You cannot make any day the Lord’s Day for a man who has no Lord. You cannot make any day a Sabbath, if a man has no Sabbath in him. True, our Saviour said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath,” but then the Sabbath which is made for the man must be made in the man, and by him. Forced rest is not restful. The man whose day is only an outer quiet can have no inner peace. There is no dreariness so dreadful as the dreariness of a period of loneliness, of solitude, to a man who fears his own society and pants for the distraction that comes from the society of other men. Hence there can be no Lord’s Day for any man unless he be in the Spirit, and just in proportion as he is in it will the day be to him rich with a message from heaven, great with the grace of God.
We all remember times when we have gone to our work all out of tune, and unable to fix the mind on what we had to do, half dead, as it were, to the demand; to find, as the time went on, that things were slipping through our hands to no sort of purpose; and when night came we had to say sadly, with the emperor, “I have lost a day.” We have lost the day, because we have not caught its spirit. But on another day we have found we were so clear of head and sure of hand that we have done the work of two men, and come out all aglow with the spirit which has borne us as on the wings of eagles.
I go into my study, and become absorbed in a book. The author may be dead and gone this thousand years, and no other trace of him remain on the earth; but if he has hidden his spirit in that book, and I can find it, he opens his heart to me, and I open mine to him, and find myself touched as he was touched when he wrote that chapter. I cannot help the tears in my eyes as I read, any more than he could help them when he wrote, or the strong throb of the heart, or the ripple of laughter. I see what he saw in human homes and human lives, catch the vision he had of the open heavens, or the lurid flame and smoke. I am in the spirit of this master of my morning, and his spirit is in me; my senses are simply the messengers between his soul and mine. I seem to hear the voice when I read they used to hear who knew the writer. There is a spell on me which makes time and place of no account, and I wonder how my morning has slipped away.1 [Note: R. Collyer, The Joy of Youth, 53.]
5. When we are in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, the gates of a new world open to us. The seer in Patmos saw visions and heard the sound of trumpets. The tradition is that he was banished to Patmos, to work in the mines there, because he was of the outcast and branded Christian sect; and if this is the truth, we cannot doubt that his overseers would keep a stern hand on him, and allow no day for rest, or time for worship. He would have to dig and delve his full stint, like the slave he was, until the time came to lay down his pick and go to his hovel. Or, if it was known among his keepers that this day was more sacred to him than any other in the week, they would mark it for him, it may be, with the rubric of a deeper misery.
Sunday was not a holiday in the mines, but the spirit of this redeemed man is free, and he has access to the spiritual world. While his feet and hands toil at their dreary tasks, he passes into an ecstatic state, suspending his connexion with this material world, and leading him into the other land, unseen of any eyes but his. In this exalted state the boundaries of both time and space are thrown down, and he moves free in a larger world. He is back again in the morning light of the day of Christ’s rising. Again he runs to the empty tomb with Peter; again the woman whom they have left solitary by that empty tomb comes and tells them what she has seen; and again, amid the evening shadows, he himself hears the words, “Peace be unto you.” Similarly he escapes from the narrow confines of the island, and shares the life of the infant Church scattered along the coast-lines of the Great Sea. He is their brother and companion, both in the tribulation and in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ; he is with them both in darkness and in glory. He is with them, too, in that patience of the saints which both the tribulation and the Kingdom have taught them—that wonderful patience of the Early Church, which had learned to be patient with life, both in its present trial and in its deferred hope.
Principal Alexander Whyte, in giving a New Year exhortation in 1913, testified: “If my experience of the Lord’s Day is of any value or any interest to any of you—well, here it is. I have had a long lifetime’s experience of, on the whole, a somewhat scrupulously kept Lord’s Day. And that day, so kept, has been to me one of my chief blessings in a life full of such blessings. I can testify, and that with the most entire integrity, that from my childhood down to this hour, I have greatly loved and greatly valued the seclusion, and the silence, and the rest, and especially the reading proper to the Lord’s Day. And at the end of a long life, I look back and bless God for those who brought me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord’s Day. Especially do I recall my Lord’s Day reading before my teens, and during them and after them. Speak for yourselves. But it would ill become me and it would be very unsafe for me if I were to be silent about the Scottish Sabbath, or were I to do less than all that in me lies to secure such a Sabbath to my own household and to yours.”
Alexander McLaren’s upbringing would now be called rigidly Puritanic, but instead of its having left on his mind any unhappy impression, all through life it was recalled with feelings of gratitude and pleasure. As for “Sabbath day” employments, no recollections were more lovingly dwelt on than their “unvarying round.” “When I was a boy,” he would say, “I was taken regularly to two services long before I was old enough to listen attentively to the sermon, but no remembrance of wishing the service to be over dwells in my memory. There was no evening service in those days. Parents were expected to teach their children then, and they did. In my father’s house, after an extra good tea, the lesson began, very often with the repetition of the second chapter of Ephesians, each member of the family, including father and mother, repeating one verse. I, as youngest, brought up the rear. I knew nothing of ‘dreary Sundays,’ so often spoken of as being the rule in Scotland, especially long ago.”1 [Note: E. T. McLaren, Dr. McLaren of Manchester, 8.]
O day to sweet religious thought
So wisely set apart,
Back to the silent strength of life
Help thou my wavering heart.
Nor let the obtrusive lies of sense
My meditations draw
From the composed, majestic realm
Of everlasting law.
I know these outward forms, wherein
So much my hopes I stay,
Are but the shadowy hints of that
Which cannot pass away.
That just outside the work-day path
By man’s volition trod,
Lie the resistless issues of
The things ordained of God.2 [Note: Alice Carey.]
6. A set day kept in the spirit goes far to hallow all our days. Christianity is not satisfied with one-seventh of our time. It lays imperious claims to the whole, and in our settings forth of the duty of Sunday observance, we may not stoop in her name to contract for a fraction, on the understanding that the residuum may legitimately be given to the world. It behoves us to bate not one jot of the sacred claims of Him who “desires not ours but us” for His purchased possession. In abandoning Egypt, “not a hoof may be left behind.” If “the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath,” we will bear in mind that this appropriation on His part does not imply the ceding of His lordship over all our days. He is Lord over the Sabbath, to interpret it, to preside over it, to ennoble it by merging it in “the Lord’s Day,” breathing into it an air of liberty and love, necessarily unknown before, and thus making it the nearest resemblance to the eternal sabbatism. But, in doing this as its Lord, He claims the first-fruits as holy only that the lump also may be holy, thus to secure that—
The week-days following in their train
The fulness of the blessing gain,
Till all, both resting and employ,
Be one Lord’s day of holy joy.
It is said that those who serve a battery on the battlefield are obliged at intervals to pause in calm self-possession, heeding not the awful excitement, that the guns may cool; yes, and that the smoke may lift to enable them to take accurate aim; and further that they may replenish their stores of ammunition. And so no Christian can truly fight the battle of the week without the quiet Sabbath to cool his guns, to lift off earth-lowering shadows, and to replenish his stores of strength from the secret place of the Most High.
Through the week we go down into the valleys of care and shadow. Our Sabbaths should be hills of light and joy in God’s presence; and so, as time rolls by, we shall go on from mountain-top to mountain-top, till at last we catch the glory of the gate, and enter in, to go no more out forever.1 [Note: H. W. Beecher.]
A conscientious observance of the Sabbath brings a double blessing—release from the pressure of outward business, and escape from the tyranny of a man’s own strength. All unvaried activity is apt to become engrossing; and the best thing a man can do, in order to preserve the completeness of a rich and well-balanced humanity, is to shake himself loose as frequently as possible from the domination of an exclusive current of thought. Nothing more dangerous or more hostile to moral health than what the Germans would call a pampered subjectivity.1 [Note: The Day Book of John Stuart Blackie, 52.]
Among the counsels written by Mr. Gladstone in 1854–1857 for the use of his eldest son is the following:—
“Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, is at once the emblem, the earnest, and the joy, of the renewed life: cherish it accordingly: grudge, and as it were resent, any intrusion of worldly thoughts or conversation: except upon real necessity, strive to shut out rigorously any worldly business: always view the devotion of the day to God, not as a yoke, but as a privilege; and be assured that if and so far as this view of it shall seem over-strained, the soul is not in its health.”2 [Note: Letters on Church and Religion of W. E. Gladstone, ii. 414.]
The Lord’s Day was observed as a remembrance of the Risen Lord. Its observance is a direct testimony to the greatest fact of the Gospel—the Resurrection; and to one of the chief doctrines of our faith—Christ’s Divinity. If it was not His day, the day He had for ever purchased and baptised to Himself by rising again from the dead, Christianity had no foundation, forgiveness no security, “men’s faith was vain, they were yet in their sins.” … It was a point of personal loyalty to Christ to keep it. It was one great way of showing love and worship to their Redeemer. It was not a command so much as a privilege. They did not ask, “What shall I lose by keeping it?” but, “What may I not miss by neglecting it?” Is this our attitude to the Lord’s Day? Is it a day of personal gratitude to One who gave Himself for me? You keep your friend’s birthday, you think of him, send messages and presents to him. Have you no thoughts, words, gifts for Christ on His birthday? You ask for ways of showing Him love, of letting it be known that you are His. Here is one. Show Him your love by dedicating to Him this day.3 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 56.]
Still Sundays, rising o’er the world,
Have never failed to bring their calm,
While from their tranquil wings unfurled,
On the tired heart distilling balm,
A purer air bathes all the fields,
A purer gold the generous sky;
The land a hallowed silence yields,
All things in mute, glad worship lie,—
All, save where careless innocence
In the great Presence sports and plays,
A wild bird whistles, or the wind
Tosses the light snow from the sprays.
For life renews itself each week,
Each Sunday seems to crown the year;
The fair earth rounds as fresh a cheek
As though just made another sphere.
The shadowy film that sometimes breathes
Between our thought and heaven disparts,
The quiet hour so brightly wreathes
Its solemn peace about our hearts,
And Nature, whether sun or shower
Caprices with her soaring days,
Rests conscious, in a happy sense,
Of the wide smile that lights her ways.1 [Note: Harriet P. Spofford, Poems.]
The Lord’s Day
Aitken (J.), The Abiding Law, 75.
Brindley (R. B.), The Darkness where God is, 151.
Burder (H. F.), Sermons, 408.
Collyer (R.), The Joy of Youth, 53.
Dean (J. T.), Visions and Revelations, 1.
Fuller (M.), The Lord’s Day, 327.
Henson (H. H.), Christ and the Nation, 210.
Kelman (J.), Ephemera Eternitatis, 1.
Knight (G. H.), Abiding Help for Changing Days, 147.
Lees (H. C.), The Sunshine of the Good News, 47.
Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 275.
Moule (H. C. G.), Thoughts for the Sundays of the Year, 14.
Nicoll (W. R.), Sunday Evening, 189.
Ogden (S.), Sermons, 248.
Paget (F.), Studies in the Christian Character, 32.
Pearson (A.), The Claims of the Faith, 140.
Rowland (A.), Open Windows, 20.
Smith (D.), Christian Counsel, 53.
Stanley (A. P.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 78.
Vallings (J. F.), The Holy Spirit of Promise, 207.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxviii. 275 (W. H. Bliss); lii. 56 (A. M. Fairbairn); lxvii. 361 (H. H. Henson).
Church of England Magazine, xvii. 369 (G. Burgess); xxxv. 185 (G. Venables).
Church of England Pulpit, lix. 313 (J. Pattison); lxi. 379 (W. M. Sinclair); lxiii. 252 (M. P. Maturin).
Expositor, 1st Ser., ii. 115 (E. H. Plumptre).
Homiletic Review, xxxi. 323 (A. Da Montefeltro).