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HOW OUGHT I TO KEEP THE SABBATH ?
Remember the Sabbath day.—Exodus 20.
“This is an interesting question. It intimately concerns every one who hopes finally to enjoy an everlasting rest in heaven. The character of a man depends very much upon the manner in which he observes the Sabbath. And so of a whole community. This institution was established by God himself, and was intenaed to exert a powerful and salutary influence not only upon individuals, but upon whole nations. Go to any place you please and scrutinize the habits and character of the people, and you may easily be satisfied whether they pay a proper respect to the fourth commandment.
The duties of the Sabbath are in many respects peculiar. They differ from the duties appropriate to other days. Many things which it would be right and proper to do at other times, God has forbidden me to do on the day which he calls his own. I must not labor on the Sabbath, that is, I must not engage in my ordinary worldly pursuits, though duty requires me to attend diligently to those on other days. The prohibition of the divine law does not end here. I am commanded to shut out worldly thoughts from my mind, and worldly feelings from my heart, and give myself up to the delightful services of religion.
I can now think of a great many things which I ought not to do on the Sabbath, but which I sometimes find in myself a strong disposition to indulge in. Some of these I shall mention.
I. I ought not to lie in bed later on Sabbath morning than on any other. The early hours of the day should be given to God. Their breath should be esteemed sweeter and more precious than that of any other morning in the week. The sluggard who loves his pillow and will not rise because his worldly business does not call him, shows that he has little regard for the delightful privileges which the Sabbath affords. He loses what can never be made up to him, though he may not be sensible of his loss. He nfits himself in a great measure for the sacred duties of the day. I must take care not to imitate him. The pleasures of protracted sleep in the morning are nothing in comparison with the richer and more rational enjoyments, which I find in reading my Bible or meditating upon some serious subject. I wrong myself as well as sin against God, if I waste the “sweet hours” of Sabbath morning upon my bed. I ought not to do it.
II. I ought not to spend too much of the morning in dressing myself for church, and otherwise preparing for the religious duties of the day. I ought to be prepared to commence the Sabbath with the duties that appropriately belong to it. I must not prolong the previous week by adding to it any part of that day; all of which God has set apart for himself. It is very easy, and I am very apt to waste many a precious hour of this hallowed season in unnecessary attention to my person or matters which I ought not to allow to divert my mind from more important subjects.
III. I ought not, wherf on my way to the house of God, to talk or think upon subjects that have a tendency to unfit my mind for the services of the sanctuary. Worldly and distracting thoughts are sufficiently prone to steal my attention when listening to the preacher, though I make every effort to avoid them and have endeavored to shield my mind against them by previous prayer and meditation. But when I allow myself to think or converse upon topics inappropriate to the Sabbath until I enter the door of the church, I am sure to be harassed and disturbed by an uncomfortable train of reflections during the whole service. The thoughts which I have cherished and voluntarily taken with me to my seat, will not readily leave me to a calm and devout attention to the word of God. They are so obstinate and persevering in their solicitations that I sometimes know not what to do.
fight against them with all my strength, and still gain but a poor and partial victory.
There is hardly any thing in which I experience greater difficulty or find greater self-denial necessary than in regulating my conversation aright when going to the house of God. If I chance to be in company with a friend who is not pious, it may require a sacrifice of what the world deem politeness or sociability to refrain entirely from all conversation upon subjects of a worldly nature. The news of the past week are fresh in the memory, and nothing is more natural and common than to talk them over. It is exceedingly pleasant to exchange opinions on the current topics of the day; and one who should refuse to do it simply because it was the Sabbath, might be considered over strict and puritanical. Besides, this friend, especially if I do not see him often, may have a claim
upon my particular attention, and Christian politeness requires that I should have a kind and affectionate regard for his feelings. I may know at the same time that serious conversation is not what he desires. He wishes to talk of the political movements or peculiar aspect of the times, or the manifold schemes of benevolence, or the rapid advancement of society. In such a case I must be careful not to manifest greater regard for his present feelings or gratification than for his eternal welfare. The high obligations of Christian faithfulness are upon me. I must discharge my duty to God, to him and to myself, at the same time. How can I do this, if my conversation is wholly of a worldly nature, and in no respect different from what it would be likely to be on any other day of the week? I am persuaded I ought not to be thinking or conversing upon worldly matters, when on my way to the house of God.
IV. I ought not to engage in common amusements or recreation, when not at church. True I may be cheerful and ought to be so, and may relax my mind in pleasant and animated conversation, or in a great variety of other ways. But I must look well to the moral and religious tendency of every kind of relaxation in which I allow myself. A boundless field of proper and allowable pleasure lies before me. I may recount the scenes and incidents of my past life-call to mind the goodness and mercy of God in sustaining me and leading me safely. through so many dangers, and in giving me so many privileges and so much happiness. I may look forward to the bright scenes and pure enjoyments of the heavenly world; and if my heart is right, may, as it were, enter upon them by anticipation. Such thoughts and contemplations are sweet and refreshing to those who love God, and shall they not be so to me? Shall they not make a part of my Sabbath-day recreation ?
A Christian is hardly in danger of indulging in worldly amusements on the Sabbath, it would be so glaringly inconsistent both with his feelings and profession.
But the case of those who are not Christians, is very different. The temptation for them to indulge in what they perhaps may deem innocent diversions, is strong and besetting. They may find themselves engaged in them before they are aware. But let them take heed. They cannot plead exemption from any duties which are binding upon the Christian. Every act of theirs which would be wrong or criminal in a professor of religion, is wrong and criminal in them, and has a tendency to hinder them from becoming Christians. Worldly amusements on the Sabbath, however harmless they may appear, sweep away from the mind whatever of seriousness may have been occasioned by listening to the preacher—they dissipate the thoughts and drown reflection, and render the heart insensible to eternal things. They have been the instruments of perdition to millions ;-I would not have them such to me.
I ought not then to indulge myself in them on the Sabbath.
V. I ought not to read books on the Sabbath, that are not of a religious character or tendency. But why not? Because it would be as direct a violation of the fourth commandment as it would be to labor with my hands. The moral law of which the command, “to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy," is a part, has respect to the mind rather than the body. It is a law by which God governs the spirits of men, and may be transgressed in the stillness of private retirement as well as in the noise and bustle of a crowd in the streets. The reading of books which have not a religious tendency is often more unfavorable to such a state of mind as we should always cherish and maintain on the Sabbath, than almost any kind of bodily labor. It shuts out serious thoughts, leaving no room for them in the mind. I have observed that
who would not on any account, be seen occupied on the Sabbath in what, they consider, worldly business, feel little or no compunction for perusing works of history, travels, science, literature, and so forth, which have no connexion with religion. They regard this as a proper manner of spending the hours that are not occupied in public worship. Reading is not their every day employment; and, on this account hardly seems to be a worldly business. Besides, they disturb no one----all is done in the stillness of solitude, and their example they think, is not so pernicious to the interests of society, as that of the man who attends to his ordinary pursuits on the Sabbath, But are their reasons sufficient to justify the practice in question? Is the reading of books which are not of a religious character or tendency in any way more nearly allied to the appropriate duties of the day which the Author of all our blessings requires us to keep holy, than any other employment that does not interrupt the quiet or devotion of others ? Might not the merchant post his books, or the cashier prepare his bank bills for circulation, or the mechanic work in his shop, or the farmer in his barn, as well as one who is fond of reading, peruse such books as I have referred to in the parlor, or his chamber? I have often thought upon this subject, and am fully convinced that I ought not to spend the Sabbath in reading books, that have no particalar tendency to inspire me with such sentiments and feelings, as the whole spirit of its original design and institution requires of those who would properly observe it and profit by it.
IV. I ought not to form plans or make arrangements on the Sabbath for the business of the week. This I find myself at times quite too much disposed to do. When I expect to engage in any new undertaking, or take a journey, or receive a visit from particular friends in the course of the week, it requires an effort to keep all thoughts of these things out of my mind. They rush upon me unexpectedly and not unfrequently trouble me exceedingly,----for I feel all the time that I ought not to indulge them. They have no right to my attention during the hours God has set apart for his especial service. They may sometimes cost me a painful struggle, but I must not allow them a place in my mind, if I would have a pure conscience.
VI. I ought not to neglect private religious duties on the Sabbath, because I am occupied so much of the time in public worship. Iought to be even more fervent in my supplications and spend a longer time in my closet than is, on other days, usual. I must strive to live very near to God, and then will the Sabbath shed a sanctifying radiance over every
other day of the week. I ought not to allow the Sabbath to be to me a dull, uninteresting day. It should be the happiest and most delightful day of the seven. It was intended by its Author to be a joyful season, in which the heart should overflow with gratitude and holy joy, and exult in rapturous anticipation of an endless Sabbath in heaven. It brings along with it a train of most interesting and grateful recollections. It carries the
thoughts back to that eventful múrning when some pious women and two of the disciples went early to the Sepulchre, and found that Jesus was not there. He had risen, as he had told them----death had not power to hold him. On the Sabbath he met his disciples and by the gracious words he spoke, filled them with joy, revealing himself as a triumphant Redeemer who had achieved the great work of man's Salvation. On the Sabbath too, he rode on a bright cloud to heaven, leaving to his disciples the sustaining assurance that he would be with them, to the end of the world. On the Sabbath, the Holy Spirit came down and converted in a single day more than three thousand souls. Every thing connected with the history of the Sabbath is adapted to awaken the most pleasing emotions, and to render its return delightful. It ought not then to be to me a tiresome or uninteresting season.
The Sabbath is exactly adapted to my wants—it is a boon which I would not exchange for all the treasures emboweled in the earth—it was given me in order that, by a proper improvement of its privileges, I might be prepared for the hidden joys and glory of an endless Sabbath in heaven. In future, I hope to make more of the Sabbath, and keep it as I shall wish I had done, when I exchange its privileges and employments for those of an unchanging state in the coming world.”