Dane K. Jöhannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Church
The Christian Sabbath: Its Vindication and Uses
Part 1: Preparing Our Hearts for the Lord’s Day (Reading of Scripture)
In our previous article we looked briefly at the biblical basis for the Christian observation of the sabbath, or Lord’s Day. But our main goal in that article was to demonstrate the need for believers to not only keep the Christian sabbath, but to prepare their hearts and minds for its observation. We quoted the Westminster divines who wrote in their “Directory for the Publick Worship of God” concerning the keeping of the Lord’s Day, “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) In the present article our aim is to seek to answer, in our day and age, what it means to prepare our hearts and minds for worship.
Heart Preparation In our Modern Day
Previously, we looked at some quotes from puritan pastors concerning sabbath day heart-preparation. What does this look like in our current age, an age of computers, smart phones, cars, microwaves, the internet, Netflix and a host of other distractions? We seek to answer this in light of the sabbath duties placed upon all individual Christians.
Last time, we developed a list based on Chapter 22, paragraph 5 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, which we here quote in full:
“The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord’s supper, are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to Him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; moreover, solemn humiliation, with fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner.”
Within this section, we find the following duties which Christians are to partake in on the Lord’s Day:
In the next few articles, we will look at each one of these individually and give some practical ways that we can prepare ourselves to partake in these activities at church each Sunday. The following practices for preparing our hearts are to be performed throughout the week; Saturdays (especially at night), Sunday mornings, during the service and after.
I like to remind people (particularly those who are going to read the scriptures to the congregation on Sunday mornings) that this is the only section of our liturgy that is guaranteed to be infallible, since it is simply God’s word spoken to us. It is a shame that so few today understand the importance of the reading of God’s word during the worship service. The number of Churches that practice this every Lord’s Day is quite slim. It seems that it has been forgotten that this is one of the express commands that the Apostle Paul, writing by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, gave to the young pastor Timothy! “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1Tim. 4:13 ESV)
When a church does practice this command, all too often the man who reads the Scripture passage (whether a deacon, elder or the pastor himself) reads it dryly and lifeless. We, as Christians, are to read the Scriptures aloud with authority, pathos and intonation! This is doubly true of those who are given the duty of reading the Scriptures publicly.
How then can we gain the most soul-profit from this part of the worship service?
If the Scripture passages for either the public reading, or the text of the sermon, are announced prior to the service, read them throughout the week and especially on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Meditate on them. Read them aloud to yourself and your family. Listen to audio of them being read. Read the surrounding contexts. Read commentaries upon them. Pray over them. Even memorize them! Remember this is God’s authoritative word, and as such is to be obeyed, meditated on and feasted upon.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple … More to be desired are they [God’s laws] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant also warned; in Keeping them there is great reward.” (Ps. 19:7,10,11)
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day ... How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (Ps. 119:97, 103,104)
Likewise, pray for those who will be reading the word, that they would read it with authority, fluency, power and proper emotion. Pray for yourself that you would benefit from the word as it is read; to be enlivened in faith, encouraged in duty and heightened in affection for God. Pray lastly for everyone else who will be present to hear the word of God publicly read; pray that God would convict the sinful, draw the elect and comfort the saint.
Bring and use a bible. A paper bible. One with both testaments. It does not matter if it is hardbound, paperback or covered in exotic leather, just bring it. If you enjoy using your phone or computer to read at home, that is fine (although I still would advocate for the use of a physical copy), but bring a paper copy with you to church. Our phones, i-pads and computers are too closely related to recreation and can easily distract us as alerts from e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and personal text messages steadily pop up on the screen. Although it could be argued that one can simply turn off the alerts or place their phone on the ‘do not disturb’ setting, still a physical copy of the bible is more profitable.
With a paper bible you are more engaged with the text. Flipping to the passages, the tactile feeling of the cover and paper on your hands, reading along while hearing it read aloud, and underlining/highlighting are all ways that we remain engaged with the word as it is read. Moreover, it is well known that the more of our senses that are being used while doing an activity, the better that activity will be imprinted on our memory. Try highlighting, underlining or writing on a separate piece of paper the key words and phrases within the text. Additionally, always use the same translation that the elders and deacons of your church use. It is fine to have your own personal preference of translation for reading and studying at home, but using the same translation as is being read from in public helps foster attention span and creates a feeling of unity within the church.
Re-read at home the sections that were read aloud publicly during the service. You can do this during family worship, with friends, or alone. Meditate on them, pray over them and study them again. Compare the passages in other translations and do further study. Let them become part of your heart, mind and soul. Write out ways that you can put the passages into practice.
The public reading of Scripture is an important part of the Church’s worship service and must be returned to its state of honor and authority. Do not take it lightly.
In our next article we will look at how to prepare for and benefit most from the preaching of the word on the Lord’s day.
Westminster Assembly. The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition. Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851.
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.
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All Agros Biblical Theology Book Review Church Church Government Ecclesiology Ethics Grafton Liturgics Log College Press London Baptist Confession Lord's Day Ministry Pastoral Theology Pastorate Presbyterian Presbyterianism Puritans Reformed Theology Sabbath Sacrifice Second London Baptist Confession Southern Presbyterians Sunday Sunday Worship Theology Thomas Witherspoon Westminster Westminster Confession Of Faith