Since there are many objections and misunderstandings of the Sabbath, I wish reverse the order of Robert S. Candlish’s sermon, “Man’s Right To The Sabbath.” I will begin by quoting his concluding remarks and in the next part I will quote the beginning of his sermon, which is his biblical defense for the Sabbath.
“Thus, in the first place, the Sabbath, as has been seen, is to be held always subordinate to the preservation of life. It is so not only negatively, but positively also. When the observance of the Sabbath rest comes into competition with the preservation of life, the Sabbath rest, as a positive institution made for man, must give way. Man, not being made for it, is not bound, he is not at liberty, to sacrifice himself for it. To suffer martyrdom for the Sabbath, to go to the stake rather than do enforced work on it, is not demanded by any principle of piety; nor need any scruple, at any time, be felt about doing what may fairly be regarded as needful for life and health. But this is not all. Not merely is the Sabbath not to be allowed to stand in the way of what life and health demand; positively, also, as well as negatively,—being made for man, the Son of man being Lord of it,—it is to be turned to account for the prolonging of life and the preserving of health.
How valuable, in this point of view, the Sabbath is, every one who duly keeps it knows right well; especially every one who works hard, with hands or with head, on other days. The strongest and most authentic testimonies of all sorts of men are recorded in its behalf. Very many of you, doubtless, have felt, and are feeling every week, the benefit to your exhausted frames of the physical and mental repose for which this blessed day gives leisure. You rest on the first day of each returning week; and with refreshed spirits and recruited strength of limb, you yoke yourselves on the second to your weekly drudgery again. Even those who do not spend the Sabbath devoutly experience this good effect, and reap this good fruit of it. Perhaps those who do spend it devoutly may not always get enough of this benefit, or attend enough to the getting of it. At all events, you are to consider it as one primary end with a view to which the Sabbath was made for you,—and with a view to which you have a right of command over it, and are to use it as made for you,—that your minds and bodies may have rest. Undue fatigue of either is a violation of the Sabbath.
So also is any sort of rest that is not invigorating and inspiriting. Mere sloth, slumber, weary idleness, frivolous and listless musing; or luxury, indulgence of appetite, vain conversation and companionship;—none of these is the kind of rest that makes the pulse of health beat strong, and the life-blood circulate freely and joyously in the veins. As well almost may you spend the Sabbath in some haunt of debauch, whence you reel forth with jaded look and fiery eye when it is past, as in any such rest as that. But prize the rest which, exercising in measure the limbs, not in their wonted posture, and drawing the thoughts away from the world’s worry into the calm serenity of heavenly contemplation, sends the man out to his work again, renewed, revived;—fresh from the green pastures where the good Shepherd has been leading him, and the still waters beside which he has been making him to lie down. And in all your family arrangements for the Sabbath, keep this great object steadily in view. Let them be such as to secure, as far as may be, yourselves, your children, your domestics, against mental exhaustion, and all weariness of the flesh. Let it be seen how foul a calumny it is on those who make conscience of keeping the Sabbath most strictly, to charge them with austerity and gloom. “It is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Surely it is sad ignorance, if it is not something worse, that would coarsely and falsely libel that inestimable boon of a sweet day, calm and bright, which Christians are so anxious to secure to all their fellow-men;—and would persuade the people that distracting pleasure, snatched in shows and spectacles, in travel and excursion, at the cost of subjecting others to servile drudgery, and themselves to jaded exhaustion before all is over, is to be preferred above the peace on which many a fond heart looks back so lovingly, when in after years of care and toil it recalls the humble house of prayer in which the family, yet unbroken, were wont to sit together, and the homely hearth round which, as evening closed, they were wont to kneel together in the holy harmony of a common faith in Christ, and a common hope of heaven!
Secondly, the Sabbath is to be held as having no place whatever in the settlement of the question as to man’s acceptance in the sight of God. It is not for a moment to be allowed to usurp, as a ground of confidence before God, the place which is to be occupied exclusively by Christ; by Him who himself, as the one great and only effectual propitiatory sacrifice, comes instead of the temple and all its offerings. But as a season and occasion for Christ being set before you, how highly is the Sabbath to be prized! Surely with a view to this among other ends,—with a view to this end pre-eminently,—the Sabbath was made for man; and man, represented by that Son of man, is lord of it. It is not to be interposed between you and the temple,—between you and the divine person who is greater than the temple. That is true. But that is not all. That is not enough. It is not only, negatively, not to interfere between you and Christ. Positively, it is to be instrumental in bringing you together; bringing Christ to you, and you to Christ; making you, and keeping you, one. It is a day for the hearing of good news. It is a day for the saving of souls. It is the day of Christ,—the Lord’s day. It speaks of the temple destroyed, and in three days raised up again. It tells of the stone which the builders despised, become the head stone of the corner. Its weekly return recalls the cross, the grave, the resurrection. It reminds the world of sin and of salvation. Why this pause once in seven days, on the first morning of every new week? Why but that you may come and see the place where the Lord lay! Being in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, you see the Lord himself; the Holy Ghost taking of what is Christ’s, and showing it to you. You spend the day with Christ, looking to him whom you have pierced, looking to him as pierced for you. As you look, the burden of guilt falls off. Not in the Sabbath, but on the Sabbath in Christ, you find, and are ever anew finding, pardon and peace.
Thirdly, and lastly, the Sabbath and its observances are by no means to be substitutes for the higher duties of justice, judgment, and mercy. For these, man was made; for these, he was made a man at first in the image of God; for these, he is made a new man, renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness. They are the good works unto which he is created anew in Christ Jesus. They are the fruit of the Spirit whom he receives to dwell in him,—“love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”
But is it enough to say merely that the Sabbath is not to be elevated above these excellent things, or placed on a level with them, or allowed so to set them aside that a man shall plume himself on his punctual keeping of this holy day, while he is neglecting the weightier matters of the law? Nay rather, shall we not in this view also remember always, and act upon the principle, that while man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for man; and that the Son of man is Lord of it, for the purpose and to the effect of making it subservient to your growth in grace, and available for your holy living?
Be not the slave of the Sabbath, as if it might tyrannize over you, and lay a burden on your conscience. Be not the worshipper of the Sabbath, as if the Sabbath were to justify and save you. Use the Sabbath as your servant,—your servant for all the purposes of your new life and new obedience in Christ. “All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” The Sabbath, as well as all other things, is yours; yours to be turned to most precious account,—not only for the performance of certain stated acts of worship, but for the cultivation of all the charities.
Why should a strict and faithful keeping of the Sabbath be held to be a thing distinct and separate from a right and faithful discharge of week-day obligations; as if somehow you were expected to be different men on the Sabbath from what you are throughout the week? Rather let the two be harmoniously blended. Let the Sabbath be the day of preparation for the week, and the busy week the time for giving practical effect to the plans and purposes of the Sabbath.
It is as if the Son of man, the Lord of the Sabbath, were here among you personally, in the flesh, and were inviting you to spend, not a half, but a whole holiday, with himself. As Lord of the Sabbath, he demands this leisure for you. He would have you protected in the enjoyment of it from the oppression of your fellow-men. His will is, that all who rule in his fear should secure effectually to their subjects and dependants an entire and unbroken weekly holiday.
And having, as Lord of the Sabbath, vindicated your right to it,—this gracious, loving Son of man, asks you to keep him company, and let him keep you company, in the spending of it. He will carry you with him, over and over again, through all the marvellous acts of his providence as God;—from the earliest date of that wondrous creation-week when he was beside the Father, as one brought up with him, being daily his delight, rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, his delights being even then with the sons of men;—downward through all the unfolding of his counsel of love, in the strange and stirring history of redemption;—onward to his coming in glory at the end of all things. He will carry you with him through all the scenes of his life on earth, and talk with you about them, and about his Father and your Father, his God and your God. He will open to you his heart—that heart of love that bled for you on the cross. He will open to himself your hearts, and you will feel as he felt when he pitied the widow of Nain, and wept with the sisters of Lazarus. From a day so spent with Jesus, in such fellowship and sympathy, will you not return to the business of life “more pure, more peaceable, more gentle, more easy to be entreated, more full of mercy and of good fruits;” more thoroughly and unequivocally seen, on all hands and in all your doings, to be “without partiality and without hypocrisy”?*
*Candlish, R. S. (1856). Man’s Right to the Sabbath: The Sabbath Made for Man; The Son of Man Lord of it; A Sermon (51–62). Edinburgh; London: Johnstone & Hunter; Nisbet & Co.; Groombridge & Sons.