The Sabbath Made for Man
Matthew 12:1-8
At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered…

Note in introduction that the chiefest interest of this passage centres in the last verses of it, and in their combined moral aspects. The occasion of these must be esteemed, with certain other passages of the Gospel, as one of no lesser import, recorded as it is by all of the three evangelists. That occasion arose not out of the direct course and tenor of the conduct of Christ, but out of that of his disciples. Nevertheless, his own use of the sabbath day for works of mercy originates more than once the similar sharp criticism of his shallow enemies. The conduct in question of the disciples, natural enough on the very face of it, might have been more easily open to exception if the sabbath day had been habitually found to confer some exemption from the experience of hunger. By the very dictate of nature we should be content to justify it, which proclaims everywhere so much universal love, free hospitality. But beside this, the permission was specially accorded to the Jew (Deuteronomy 23:25), and something more also, viz. the free appropriation for the occasion of the clusters of grapes. The objection of the captious critics now, however, concerned the point that the disciples took of these ears of corn on the sabbath, which still removes their inconsistency only one step further. For was there any qualifying addendum to the permissions quoted above, such e.g. that men should not walk through the fields at all on the sabbath, or if they did that they must beware of the corn-field and vineyard, and though they hungered, must on that day bear their hunger? No, but "this and many other like things they had put in their traditions." It was equally a sign of their presumption and of the alienation of their heart from the true Word of God. Christ, therefore, not arguing in any detail, but instancing two well-known precedents (1 Samuel 21:1-7; 1 Samuel 22:22), concludes the matter by the clearest statement of the true principle on which the observance of the sabbath was ever to proceed - it "is made for man, and not man for" it. Any man and every man is to use that sabbath that certainly was "made for him," and he is to use it intelligently and to the best of his light, and he is so far in one sense only appointed to be lord over it, while none the less he stands or falls to his Lord on the question how he uses it. Much more, therefore, must "the Son of man be Lord also of the sabbath day." Notice -

I. A GREAT HISTORIC CHANGE. Few enough men now come near the edge of the snare of supposing that they "were made for the sabbath." They triumph too loudly and too self-confidently in the help they themselves, perhaps, have given to the explosion of that heresy. May we not easily and truthfully imagine that if the moral majesty of Christ's presence were again amongst us, his gaze and his emphatic accents would all go to say, "The sabbath was made for man; have you forgotten that? Divinely suggested for man, divinely exampled for man; have you forgotten this? Man is not its lord and sovereign disposer in the sense you are practically interpreting it"? How does the world in its sad history pitch from one extreme of error to the opposite!

II. THE PRIOR GREAT HISTORIC FACT. That the "sabbath was made for man" is not, indeed, a revelation of things to come, but it is the pronounced and authoritative revelation of a great reality in this world's creation and design. Consider it by the aid of the light of a few contrasts and comparisons. What things are made for man! How divinely made! What wealth of possession, of beauty, of thought! What powers of body, the mere shadows and servants of richer and more wonderful faculties of mind! What lamps are hung up in the heavens; what seasons are made for man, and months, and days, and nights! Amidst them all, Christ says another thing, less evident, very likely, to sense, but not less real, "was made for man" - the sabbath? Strange, indeed, would it be that Christ should use so emphatic a sentence, without one hint of any waning importance of the day, if he and the force of his truth were about to assign it a lower standard, or to put altogether an end to it! The very first mention of it, as the day on which God ended his creative work - how striking it is] "On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which he had created and made." That majestic history is unaccompanied by any precept or command that it should be observed by men. Nor is it wonderful, when it is remembered that it is descriptive of a time when there was but one man in the world. But from that time forward, for many a century, there is not to be found one distinct and explicit reference to the "sabbath day" till the reference to it as placed in the ten commandments. Thence its checkered history for ages varied much with that of the one nation to whom it was expressly appointed, and it may safely be said about it that it was not most faithfully kept, or most profitably and in the spirit, when it was most scrupulously talked about. Once, then, "God hallowed and sanctified it," surely not for himself; then when it appears again on the surface of the sacred page it is emphatically introduced as a day to be "remembered," and not as though it were now new and unknown hitherto; and now in the bold and most authoritative language of the text, so universal in its scope and idea, it is said, "The sabbath was made for man." In another brief but solemn spell of time the day became the first day of the week instead of the seventh, when Christ's resurrection gave the signal. And in due time the first converted Roman emperor, Constantine, made it the legalized day for his wide dominions; and all the world has followed suit - an amazing, overwhelming indication that it was not he alone who did it! The day is one of those gifts specially entitled to the language of St. Paul, "a gift of God without repentance. It came with the sacred voice of God; it was revived to the favoured people to whom belonged the oracles; it rose from a long oppressed and discredited state with the appearance of the most intense new motives of religious feeling and principle and devotion; it still holds its own in the very whirlpool of worldliness, and amid the most constant and subtle undermining of the unbelieving; and it vindicates in deed what Jesus here says of it by word, it was made for man.

III. THE GRAND HISTORIC SWEEP SO CONFESSED TO OF ITS PRICELESS USEFULNESS. With such an Author, and with such nativity, it was well to be supposed that the use of the sabbath would be very comprehensive, and that it would win its way with the low on lower grounds even, with the high on the highest.

1. Of the millions careless to use it to highest gain, can there be found one willing or anxious to spare it for himself and for his own particular private purpose? All want what they think the gain of it! Who can count the advantage to man of even the inferior ends of the sabbath? For one day's rest out of seven the tool does not rust, nor does its edge grow blunt; but he who uses it does renew his strength, does repair his lost energies, does refresh his spirit. Macaulay wrote of it, That day is not lost while industry is suspended, while the plough lies in the furrow, while the Exchange is silent, while no smoke ascends from the factory. A process is going on quite as important to the wealth of the nation as any process that is performing on more busy days. Man, the machine of machines, the machine compared with which the contrivances of the Wattses and the Arkwrights and the Bessemers are worthless, is repairing and winding up so that he returns to his labour on Monday with clearer intellect, with livelier spirit, and with renewed bodily vigour." It is not to be believed that the sabbath is a day out of which a growing world will grow, but one into which it will grow more and more, in this one direction to begin with only.

2. Its wide sweep of nobler use for the highest glory of man - in the exercise of his faculty of worship; in meditation, faith in the Unseen, prayer, praise, and in the natural conditions of the growth of Christian love and brotherhood on earth. Few things can strike the devout as more really beautiful, impressive, or cheering than the vision of the faithful in church, as they present a sight so grandly distinct from any other. Every day of the week finds every one of us in different place, in different thought, in different work, in different attitude, different aspiration, and with all the varieties of character, age, position, and necessity - pressing heavily on us, and sundering us even, however unwillingly; but this day the opposite! One place holds all, irrespective of every one of these differences. One God attracts us all. One Saviour's love meets us all. One Holy Spirit's energy draws, enlightens, cheers us all. We all have one thought, one hope, seek one heaven, sing one song, bow down together before the Unseen with one penitent confession. And however slowly, and therefore betimes discouragingly, the Church of Christ is restoring even now, and immensely by aid of the sabbath day, the unity of God's great family of man so long, so sadly astray!

3. The sabbath day is mighty, indeed, in its very highest sweep of influence, when it is intelligently and devoutly used as the solemn and most grateful memorial of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, with all else that flows therefrom in strict relation to it - the sacrament of his body anti blood, and the holy communion which comes of it. The coronal fact of Christianity is the resurrection fact. It shows no longer man's hope sowed in the ground like a "corn of wheat," but appeared above ground, grown up some way, radiant with light and colour, full of promise, and the undoubted earnest of joy beyond all thought. For all such as are thus minded the day is stamped with highest and most reviving joy. It is "Morn of morns and day of days." It says, "Christ the Light of lights hath risen." The Church sings with one heart and tone, "Welcome, sweet day of rest!" And it deliberately says, while it muses with burning heart -

"Blest day of God, most calm, most bright,
The first and best of days;
The labourer's rest, the saint's delight,
The day of joyful praise!

"My Saviour's face did make thee shine,
His rising thee did raise;
This made thee heavenly and Divine,
Above the common days." B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.

WEB: At that time, Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the grain fields. His disciples were hungry and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.

The Sabbath a Day Doing Good
Top of Page
Top of Page