Dane K. Jöhannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Church
Part 1: Preparing Our Hearts For the Lord’s Day
Agros Church being a confessional (and thus Biblical) church, we hold to what is called the “regulative principle of worship”, which means, that God decides how He is to be worshiped, not us. He, being our creator, can dictate to us how, when, where and why we are to worship Him; and we, being His creatures, must joyfully and thankfully obey His prescribed manner of worship. The confession that we at Agros Church hold to is the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (from now on, ‘LBCF’). It states in chapter 22 “Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day”, paragraph one: “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan … or [in] any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. Deut. 12:32; Ex. 20:4-6”
In a future article, we will look at the Biblical testimony for the idea of the Christian sabbath, or, ‘Lord’s Day’, and its being established as the first day of the week, Sunday, to be observed (kept holy) for the remainder of time. For now, let it suffice to say that the Scriptures (and the confession) are clear on this teaching.
(For further reading, see all of Chapter 22 in the LBCF; as well as, Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith and questions 115-121 in the Westminster Larger Catechism)
The Nine Commandments?
Although there is a growing number of professing Christians who divorce the Old Testament from the New and do not think that the law of God is relevant or important, still, the majority of American evangelical Christians would say that the decalogue, or the ‘Ten Commandments’ (found in Exodus 20), are relevant and important to the Christian life as well as our modern culture and must be upheld as the moral/ethical standard of all humans.
Yet, even among those who claim to uphold the decalogue, one of the ten commandments seem to be largely neglected or cast aside, namely, the fourth. The fourth commandment given through Moses to the nation of Israel is this:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:8-11 ESV)
This seventh day of the week, was the last day (our Saturday). In the New Testament Church, the Lord’s Day is to be the Christian Sabbath, held on the first day of the week (Sunday). On the first day of the week, believers are called to gather together in order to worship God as a body under the leadership of their pastors and elders where they will partake of the sacraments (the Lord’s Supper and Baptism), hear the preaching and reading of God’s word, offer gifts and tithes for the needs and ministries of the church, and sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in thankful adoration to God together. In addition to this, Christians are to spend the remainder of the Lord’s Day in fellowship, meditation, conversations about spiritual matters, reading of devotional and spiritual literature, the study of the Scriptures and prayer, both private and corporate. All work, such as secular duties, as well as all secular recreations are to be withheld from on the Lord’s Day, with the except of works of necessity and mercy. Again, this will be more fully proved and expanded upon in a following article.
The above paragraph may sound radical. It might even be slandered as “legalistic” by many Christians, but this only shows how far we have fallen away from a Biblical model of church and practice as a people. To have an entire day dedicated to growing in grace, faith and knowledge of God and fellowship with other believers, ought to be an exciting and refreshing idea to the Christian! This subject is talked about, preached about and written about very little in our day. Outside of some reformed circles (which spend a great deal of time debating whether it is permissible for Christians to go out to eat on the Lord’s Day) I have seen and heard almost nothing concerning the Christian sabbath and the command to keep it holy. It seems as though Evangelical Christianity in America may have only nine commandments.
The Public Duties of the Lord’s Day
My intention in these first two articles is to discuss how we as Christians can prepare our hearts for the public gathering of the local church on Sundays. Discussions about the intricacies and guidelines for working on Sundays and how to order our affairs prior to the sabbath will be explored elsewhere. At this point, we desire to look into the specific duties Christians are required to partake of on the Lord’s Day and then how we can prepare ourselves throughout the week to get and give the most in the public gathering of the saints on Sunday.
The LBCF gives us the following list (Chap. 22, para. 5):
General Encouragements to the Preparation of Our Hearts for the Sabbath
The keeping of the Lord’s Day was rediscovered in its purity during the time of the reformation, but it was the English and Dutch puritans (1550’s – 1770’s) who really explored and developed its practicalities and benefits. It was they who formulated and taught most clearly just how important it was for individual Christians and families to prepare their hearts prior to attending the public gathering on Sunday. In the Westminster “Directory For the Publick Worship of God” they discussed the “private preparations” which Christians were to do prior to Sunday. In the section titled, “Of the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day”, they wrote, “there [is to] be private preparations of every person and family, by prayer for themselves, and for God’s assistance of the minister, and for a blessing upon his ministry; and by such other holy exercises, as may farther dispose them to a more comfortable communion with God in his public ordinances.”(Westminster Assembly, 493)
It is not common for pastors in our day to even teach their people the necessity of the Lord’s Day, much less to teach them how to prepare for it and profit from it. We are truly in a sad state of affairs. But this cannot be said about the puritan pastors and teachers. I will give a small sampling of their words, taken largely from sermons given to their congregations, on how one is to prepare themselves for the public duties of worship on the Lord’s Day. In the next article, we will continue to look at how to prepare ourselves for the public gathering of Christians to worship together on the Lord’s Day; specifically, how we are to prepare our hearts, in our modern day and age, that we might most benefit from each of the duties in the list per the LBCF.
Puritan Views on Sabbath Preparation
“On the week day before the Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, remember it … Prepare yourself for the public holy services by reading, by meditation, Eccles. 5:1,2; and by putting away all filthiness, James 1:21, 1Peter 2:1,2; that is, repenting of every sin; and casting away the superfluity of naughtiness [the unsatisfying trifles of wickedness]; … Then pray for yourself, and for the minister, Eph. 6:18-20, that God would give him a mouth to speak, and you an heart to hear, as you both ought to do. [Do] all this, before you shall assemble for public worship.”(Scudder, 87-88)
“Remember the Sabbath-day, before it come, to prepare for it, and let your eye be on it before the week be done. Timeously lay by your worldly employment, and go not near the borders of the Lord’s day, and strive to get your hearts in a frame suitable to the exercises of this holy day. … Before you come to the public [gathering], spend the morning in secret and private exercises [religious duties], particularly in prayer, reading, and meditation; remembering how much your success depends upon suitable preparation. Put off your shoes before you tread the holy ground.”(Boston, 203)
“[Another cause] of the wandering of the thoughts in the worship of God is, want [neglect] of watchfulness. ‘Watch and pray’ are most necessary companions, else ‘shall we fall into temptation.’ – Matt. 26:41. … The neglect of watchfulness before holy duties causes distractions; and that is, by not heeding to order your affairs with discretion for God’s service. … For it is a true observation, that an indiscreet ordering of Saturday’s business hath great influence upon the unprofitableness of the Sabbath’s ordinances.”(Steele, 101-102)
Wilhelmus À Brakel:
“The necessity of preparation is apparent from the command: ‘Remember the sabbath day.’ … To this preparation belongs: (1) the knowledge of and acquiescence in our obligation to hallow this day, and the actual separating of this day from other days according to the command and example of God – thus being engaged in an activity which is so delightful, beneficial, and God-glorifying; (2) a spiritual desire for this day in order that one may quietly approach unto God and rejoice in Him, so that this day is a delight rather than a burden; (3) prayer for strength and ability to hallow this day, so that in some measure we may be inclined toward spiritual things – this in view of the aversion which the flesh has for this day;”(À Brakel, 145)
Elders and Brethren of the Baptist Faith. The Baptist Confession of Faith & The Baptist Catechism. Carlisle, PA: Solid Ground Christian Books & Reformed Baptist Publications, 2014.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.
Westminster Assembly. The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition. Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851.
Henry Scudder. The Christian’s Daily Walk. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1984.
Thomas Boston. The Complete Works of Thomas Boston Vol. 2. Stoke-on-Trent: Tentmaker Publications, 2002
Richard Steele.A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in the Worship of God. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1988.
Wilhelmus À Brakel. The Christian’s Reasonable Service Vol. 3.Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2001.
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