(Part 6, by sanctifying the Lord's Day and holy conversation)
The sixth duty wherein we must offer violence to ourselves, is the religious sanctifying of the Lord's day. That there should be a day of holy rest dedicated to God appears from its institution. 'Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.' Our Christian Sabbath comes in the room of the Jewish Sabbath: it is called the Lord's day, Rev. i.10. from Christ the author of it. Our Sabbath is altered by Christ's own appointment. He arose this day out of the grave, and appeared on it often to His disciples, 1 Cor. xvi. 1: to intimate to them (saith Athanasius) that he transferred the Sabbath to the Lord's day. And St. Austin saith that by Christ's rising on the first day of the week, it was consecrated to be the Christian Sabbath, in remembrance of his resurrection. This day was anciently called dies lucis, the day of light, as Junius observes. The other days of the week would be dark, were it not for the shining of the sun of righteousness on this day. This day hath been called by the ancients, regina dierum, the queen of days. And St. Hierom prefers this day above all solemn festivals. The primitive church had this day in high veneration: it was a great badge of their religion: for when the question was asked, servasti dominicum?, keepest thou the Sabbath?; the answer was, Christianus sum, I am a Christian; I dare not omit the celebration of the Lord's day! What great cause do we have to thankfully remember this day! As the benefit of Israel's deliverance from the Babylonish captivity was so great that it drowned the remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt, Jer. xvi. 14: so the benefit of our deliverance from Satan's captivity and the rising of Christ after finishing the glorious work of our redemption are so famous, that in respect of his other benefits, receive as it were in diminution. Great was the work of creation; but greater the work of redemption. It cost more to redeem us than to make us. In the one, there was only the speaking a word, Psalm cxlviii. 5: in the other, the shedding of blood, Heb. ix. 22. The creation was the work of God's fingers, Psalm viii. 3: the redemption, the work of his arm, Luke i. 5. In creation God gave us ourselves; in redemption he gives us himself. So that the Sabbath, putting us in mind of our redemption, ought to be observed with the highest devotion. -- Herein we must offer holy violence to ourselves.
When this blessed day approacheth, we should labour, that as the day is sanctified, so may our hearts be sanctified.
We must on this day rest from all the works of our calling. As Abraham, when he went to sacrifice, left his servant and ass at the bottom of the hill, Gen. xxii. 5: so when we are to worship God this day, we must leave all secular business behind. -- And as Joseph, when he would speak with his brethren, thrust out the Egyptians: so when we would have converse with God this day, we must thrust out all earthly employments. Though works of necessity may be done and works of charity, (for God will have mercy, and not sacrifice) yet in other cases we must cease from all worldly negotiations. It is observable concerning Mary Magdalene, that she refused to anoint Christ's dead body on the Sabbath day, Luke xxiii. 56. She had before prepared her ointment, but came not come to the sepulcher till the Sabbath was past. She rested that day from all work, though it were a commendable and glorius work; the anointing of Christ's dead body.
When this blessed day approacheth, we must lift up our heart in thankfulness to God, that he has put another price into our hands for gaining heavenly wisdom. These are our spiritual-harvest days; now the wind of God's Spirit blows upon the sails of our affections, and we may be much further on in our heavenly voyage. Christian, lift up thy heart to God in thankfulness, that he hath given thee another golden season, and be sure you improve it; it may be the last. Seasons of grace are not like the tide; if a man misseth one tide, he may have another.
This day approaching, we must in the morning dress and fit our souls for the receiving of the Word. The people of Israel must wash their garments before the law was delivered to them.Our hearts must be washed by prayer and repentance, the oracles of God being to be delivered to us.
And being met together, we must set ourselves, as in the presence of God, with seriousness and delight to hear God's sacred Word. Take heed of distractions which fly-blow our duties.
We must labor to be bettered by every Sabbath: where the Lord lays out cost, he looks for fruit. Fresh anointings of God are to be thirsted after; and new cubits are to be added to our spiritual stature. We must not be like the Salamander, which lives in the fire but never becomes hotter. Christians should on these days aspire after communion with God, and endeavor to have the illapses of his Spirit, and clearer discoveries of his love in Christ. In short, we should do on a Sabbath as Moses: he ascended the Mount that he might have a sight of God.
We must dedicate the whole day to God. Under the law a single sacrifice was appointed for other days of the week; but two lambs were to be offered upon the Sabbath. All this day must be spent with God: he must be worshipped in public; and when we come home, we must have family worship. Many leave all their religion at church, as I have seen some do their bibles; not hallowing God's name in their own houses, Mal. iii. 8. 'Will a man rob God?' When men pretend to worship God in the temple but cut him short from family and closet duties on a Sabbath; this is to rob God, and steal part of his day from him.
Good reason we should consecrate the whole Sabbath to God and give him double devotion is that God doubles his blessings upon us this day. As the Manna rained twice as much on the sixth day, as any of. the other days: so the Manna of spiritual blessings falls twice as much on the Sabbath day as any other.
We must rejoice in this day, as being a day wherein we enjoy much of God's presence, John viii. 56. 'Abraham saw my day and rejoiced. So when we see a Sabbath day coming, we should rejoice. The Protestants in France called their church Paradise, be cause there they met with God. The Jews called the Sabbath desiderium dierum, the desire of days, Isaiah lviii. 13. 'Thou shalt call the Sabbath a delight.' This we should look upon as the best
day, as the queen of days, crowned with a blessing, Psalm cxviii. 24. 'This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.' -- He has made all the days, but hath sanctified this. We should look upon this day as a spiritual market for our souls, wherein we have holy commerce and traffic with God. This day of rest is the beginning of an eternal rest. This day God sets open the pool of Bethesda, in which those waters flow that refresh the broken in heart. And shall not we call this day a delight? The Jews on the Sabbath laid aside their sackcloth and mourning.
This is in a right manner to sanctify a duty; and it is a duty wherein Christians must excite and offer violence to themselves.
Above all others, how well doth it become those into whose hands God hath put the power of magistracy to show forth holy violence in causing the Lord's day to be strictly observed? What a rare pattern has Nehemiah set for all good magistrates, Neh. xiii. 15. 'In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine-presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals,' verse 17. 'Then I contended with the nobles of Judea, and said unto them, what evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day?" How dare ye infringe the command, and make a false entry upon God's freehold? My lord, your proclamation for the pious observation of the Sabbath and your punitive acts upon some offenders have given a public testimony of your zeal for this day. The keeping of the honour of the Sabbath, which will keep up your magisterial honour.
The seventh duty wherein we must offer violence to ourselves, is holy converse: and indeed we are backward enough to it, therefore had need to provoke ourselves, Mal. iii. 17. 'They that feared the Lord spake often one to another.' A gracious person hath not only religion only in his heart, but also in his tongue, Psalm xxxvii. 30. 'The law of God is in his heart, and his tongue talketh of judgment:' he drops holy words as pearls. 'Tis the fault of Christians, that they do not in company provoke themselves to sey good discourse on foot: it is a sinful modesty; there is much visiting, but they do not give one another's souls a visit. In worldly things their tongue is as the pen of a ready writer, but in matters of religion, it is as if their tongue did cleave to the roof of their mouth. As we must answer to God for idle words: so also for sinful silence.
Oh let us offer violence to ourselves on this, in setting abroach good discourse! -- What should our words dilate and expiate upon but Heaven? The world is a great Inn; we are guests in this Inn. Travellers, when they are met in their Inn, do not spend all their time in speaking about their Inn; they are to lodge there but a few hours, and are gone; but they are speaking of their home, and the country wither they are travelling. So when we meet together, we should not be talking only about the world; we are to leave this presently; but we should talk of our heavenly country, Heb. xi. 16.
That we may provoke ourselves to good discourse (for it will not be done without some kind of violence) let these considerations be duly weighed.
The discourse demonstrates what the heart is. As the glass shows what the face is, whether it be fair or foul; so the words show what the heart is. Vain speeches discover a light, feathery heart; gracious speeches are the birth of a gracious heart. The water of the conduit shows what the spring is.
Holy conference is very edifying. The apostle bids us 'edify one another,' Ephes. iv. 20. And how more than in this way? -- Good conference enlightens the mind when it is ignorant; settles it when it is wavering. A good life adorns religion; good discourse propagates it.
Gracious discourse makes us resemble Christ. His words were perfumed with holiness: 'grace was poured into his lips,' Psalm xlv. 2. He spake to the admiration of all: his hands worked miracles and his tongue spake oracles, Luke iv. 22. 'All bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.' Christ never came into any company, but he set good discourse on foot. Levi made him a feast, Luke v. 29. and Christ feasted him with holy discourse. When he came to Jacob's well, he presently speaks of the
'water of life,' Jude 4. The more holy our speeches are, the more we are like Christ. Should not the members be like the head?
God takes special notice of every good word we speak when we meet, Mal. iii. 16. 'They that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him.' Tamerlain, that Scythian captain, had always a book by him of the names and good deserts of his servants which he bountifully rewarded. As God hath a bottle for the tears of his people: -- so he has a book in which he writes down all their good speeches, and will make honorable mention of them at the last day.
Holy discourse will be a means to bring Christ into our company. The two disciples were communing of the death and sufferings of Christ; and while they were speaking, Jesus Christ came among them, Luke xxiv. 15. 'While they communed together, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.' -- When men entertain bad discourse, Satan draws near, and makes one of the company; but when they have holy and gracious conference, Jesus Christ draws near, and wherever he comes, he brings a blessing along with him. So much for the first, the offering of violence to ourselves.