Tag Archives: Puritans

Sabbath, Work on Sunday’s, and the New Testament Rest in Christ

SabbathRecently, I read a transformative chapter in A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer on the Lord’s Day.  In particular, how the Puritans viewed the Lord’s Day.  Right off the bat, I know some may say of the Puritans, “LEGALISTS!”  Maybe at times this can appear to be a fair critique of the Puritans, although I think it is a gross misunderstanding of who they were and what they stood for.  I think Puritans held to a high view of personal holiness and corporate or community holiness, so much so that at times it appears (especially to our more post-modern, antinomian minds) to be that the Puritans were legalists.  This is an especially important point for the Fourth Commandment.  Let’s remind ourselves of the Fourth Commandment:

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.  (Exodus 20:8-11, English Standard Version)

Now, the Reformers and the Puritans generally agreed on much, but as far as the Sabbath, the Puritans (who came after the Reformers), had what Packer calls “a corrected view of the inconsistent view” that the Reformers held of the Sabbath.  Packer goes on to say,

They (Puritans) insisted, with virtual unanimity, that, although the Reformers were right to see a merely typical and temporary significance in certain of the detailed prescriptions of the Jewish Sabbath, yet the principle of one day’s rest for public and private worship of God at the end of each six days’ work was a law of creation, made for man as such, and therefore binding upon man as long as he lives in this world...In fact, they saw it (the Fourth Commandment) as integral to the first table of the law, which deals systematically with worship: ‘the first command fixes the object, the second the means, the third the manner, and the fourth the time.’ (A Quest for Godliness, page 237, emphasis my own)

The Puritans agreed with the Reformers that the Sabbath was and is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  This point rests in the fact that the Jewish work of keeping the sacrificial system (old covenant) is replaced and trumped by the “Great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14) Jesus Christ, who became the sacrifice Himself (new covenant), and was accepted by God on behalf of, or for, His people.  Yes and amen!

But the Puritans pushed the Fourth Commandment further than only being a ceremonial law, and much of the emphasis came from the context of the other nine commands in the Decalogue – namely, that the other nine commandments are moral in nature and thus still binding on believers in the New Covenant.  The Puritans saw all ten of the commandments as binding – especially the fourth.  Packer says of them,

(The Puritans argued) that the seventh-day rest was more than a Jewish type; it was a memorial of creation, and a part of the moral law, and as such it was perpetually obligatory for all men.  So that when we find the New Testament telling us that Christians met for worship on the first day of the week (Acts 23:7; 41; 1 Cor. 16:1), and kept that day as ‘the Lord’s day’ (Rev. 1:10), this can only mean one thing: that by apostolic precept, and probably in fact by dominical injunction during the forty days before the Ascension, this had been made the day on which men were henceforth to keep the Sabbath of rest which the Fourth Commandment prescribes. (A Quest for Godliness, page 238)

I think the wording of the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20 is especially important for the New Testament believer in relation to purpose of the Sabbath and function of the Sabbath.

1. Purpose of the Sabbath – To keep it holy and to remember that which is holy

“The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…”  On this day, there is a specialness that ought to invoke a remembrance, memorial, and worship which is different and of more importance than the other six days of work.  Now, make no mistake, I am not saying that our “normal labors” are not an act of worship – they certainly are – but only that they are a different kind of worship.  Our “normal labor” is done by those who were made to work and as those who are given the charge to work.  These six day serve the purpose of worship through obedience – both in obeying the command of the Lord to work and in fulfilling the imago dei in which God has made us to work.

But the Sabbath day, the seventh day, is a different kind of worship, a special worship, a worship in which we explicitly and purposefully set aside all other work to do.  This worship is for the purpose of magnifying Christ and serving as a community expression of the gospel – namely, that God has saved sinners and gathered them together, that they will be His people and He will be their God.  This is an “already” aspect of the already-not yet aspect of the eschatological (end times) people of God.  We are already the people of God and we have God as our God, but we await the day of the New Jerusalem, where it will only be God and His people.

There are some special things, then, to do on this Lord’s Day.  In the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, we time and time again read of God’s people gathering to hear the Word of God spoken to them.  This comes in various forms, granted, and today specifically and primarily through the preaching of the Holy Scriptures.  Throughout Scripture, it sometimes came as verbal, or from the mouth of God Himself.  Other times it came prophetically, or from God to His messenger (the prophet, such as Moses, Isaiah, etc.), and from His messenger to His people.  Other times it came expositorally, or from the written Holy Scriptures, to the apostles or pastors/elders, and then to God’s people (this is primarily the New Testament method).

This shows in form the purpose of the Sabbath – to learn “thus saith the Lord” – and as we hear what God has said to us as His people, we are formed, or shaped, by it.  This leads us to function of the Sabbath.

2. Function of the Sabbath – to be Shaped and Formed in community by God through the Word of 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…”  There is community language in the Fourth Commandment – clearly as written to the community head.  The head has the responsibility to see that no one in the household (in those days, it would have included servants, sojourners, children, etc.) does anything except that which is used by God to make them holy.

I agree with the Reformers that the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ in ceremony, and thus He is our rest, and via union with Him, we (the church) are in His rest also.  In the Fourth Commandment, what was it that God was making to be holy?  It was the Sabbath – the rest.  In the New Covenant, what is it that God makes to be holy?  It is those inside of His Sabbath – those united with the fulfilled Sabbath, which is Christ.  So, Peter says to the church, “as obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV).

The Sabbath day is unlike the other six days.  What does this mean spiritually?  Those in the Sabbath – those in the rest that is Christ – are to be unlike those who are “conformed to the passions of ignorance”.  Those in Christ are to be holy, as our rest (CHRIST!) is holy.  The function, then, of the Sabbath, is to be the day that households gather together to meet with God, and are shaped and molded and formed by the Word of God to be made holy.

Conclusion

The Puritans understood this.  There was a ceremony, a specialness, a uniqueness to the Sabbath.  They approached the Sabbath expectantly.  They prepared for it on Saturday by praying and meditating on Scripture, and by going to bed early so that they would be in full faculty for their community worship gathering on Sunday.  They knew that this was a grace given by God to His people.  We don’t have to wonder when God is going to move – He is going to move in His people when they gather.

The Puritans not only approached Sunday differently than us, they treated Sunday differently than us.  After the service, the fathers would review their notes with their families to the point of meditation and memorization.  This would take place all day on Sunday, and Sunday dinner was spent discussing points of application from the sermon.  The pastor, later in the week, would visit different homes and quiz families on his sermon from earlier in the week.  This led to intense understanding and personal, as well as corporate, holiness, for the people of God were truly being shaped and formed by the Word of God.

What about you?  How do you view the Sabbath?  I welcome your comments in the comment section, and please share if you found this helpful.

 

 

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The Pilgrim’s Progress

Pilgrims progress

I read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan recently, and it was perhaps the best piece of literature I have ever read.  I love reading these types of books because they are engaging and the narration genre makes it like reading a great story, yet they are allegorical, which means they are meant to tell a story in which it causes reflection and affects change in you as you read it.  Pilgrim’s Progress is certainly all of that.  There are several encouraging things in Pilgrim’s Progress I wish to share with you, but this list is certainly not exhaustive.  I hope to encourage you to get a copy and read it in full for yourself.

Quick Summary

To summarize extremely quickly, Christian is the main character in part 1.  He is set on a journey by Evangelist, who tells him to go to the wicket gate (a wicket gate is a smaller, more narrow gate within a larger gate).  The wicket gate represents Christian’s conversion.  Once he goes through the gate, he is converted.  Think of Matthew 7:13 when Jesus says “enter by the narrow gate”.  Once through the gate, Christian comes in contact with several helpful people, including his friend Faithful, the Interpreter’s house (which represents the Holy Spirit), The Castle Beautiful (which represents the Church), and Hopeful, who goes with him until the end.

Along the way, Christian meets several challenges, such as the Slough of Despond, the demon ApollyonDoubting Castle and the giant Despair, the wicked town Vanity Fair, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death Christian and his friends meet with these different challenges and persecutions, but he and Hopeful eventually make it to the Celestial City, where they are met by the King of the Land, which is God Himself.

In part 2 of Pilgrim’s Progress, Christiana (Christian’s wife) and her sons, along with Mercy follow in the footsteps of Christian.  They are helped tremendously along the way with Mr. Great Heart, and their journey is much easier and they walk much more confidently towards Celestial City.  With ease they are able to defeat the different enemies of the Pilgrim’s along the way that gave Christian such a hard way.

This summary in no way does it justice.  Just go get the book and read it.  Seriously.  Stop what you are doing (after you read the rest of this review, of course 😉 ), and go get this book and read it.  Next I will give 4 reasons why I love Pilgrim’s Progress.

1. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because I love how it creates a picture of the life of a Christian

We (especially Western, American Christians) often have very “on the surface” Christianity.  Pilgrim’s Progress is written as an allegory, yet it comes from Bunyan’s own personal experience and life.  In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinner’s, Bunyan’s autobiography, he writes of similar struggles and doubts that Christian experiences in Pilgrim’s Progress.  Here’s the thing: the Puritan’s were so concerned with holiness and things of Jesus and God’s Word that it infected every single aspect of what they did on a day to day basis.  There was nothing that they did that was outside the realm of Christianity or outside the realm of mattering to God.  This is evidenced in Pilgrim’s Progress in that Christian struggles immensely on his way to the Celestial City.  My point?  The deeper we go into God, the less “on the surface” we become.

The Christian life is never meant to be easy.  In fact, we as believer’s are all but guaranteed suffering and persecution.  Christian certainly wasn’t concerned with the ease of his journey as much as he was concerned with being faithful on his journey in the midst of his trials and sufferings.  When He experienced extreme doubt and sadness in Doubting Castle, Christian remembered he had the key which opened all the doors there.  The name of the key was Promise.  Bunyan’s point here is that it is God’s promises which drive us into deeper and deeper trust in God, even and especially in the midst of suffering and trials.  This doesn’t mean that we necessarily pursue suffering, but it does mean that we have created an idol out of ease of life and comfortableness and pleasure.  Oh that we would be people who were so concerned with pleasing God that our minds and lives would be tormented in even the seemingly small things until we were walking in holiness and glorifying God through obedience and faithfulness!

2. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of the way Christian keeps his heart fixed on the goal – the Celestial City

This reminds me so much of Hebrews 12:2, which says “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith”.  Christian never let his circumstance grasp his heart.  Though he struggled and often needed reminders, he persevered until the end because of the greatness of the Celestial City and who was there – the King (Jesus, God).  What is it that sustains us in life?  God.  What keeps us going and ensures we will persevere until the end?  God the Holy Spirit.  There is a scene in the book where Christian comes in contact with the Interpreter’s House.  The Interpreter represents the Holy Spirit.  He takes Christian into several different rooms where different situations in life are displayed.  The Interpreter explains to Christian the meaning, and Christian is able to refer back to this time when he is encountering a difficult time.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God to us, so that when we face different challenges of life, we are equipped and ready to faithfully walk through these life-stages.  This aspect of the journey is crucial for Christian.  It’s what he reminds himself of over and over – the Celestial City and what has been revealed to him about it.  What keeps us going as believer’s in Jesus?  Jesus Himself as revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Holy Scriptures.

3.  I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of Mr. Great Heart as a guide for Christiana

Mr. Great Heart represents a Pastor who is ushering Christiana, her sons, and Mercy along the way.  He is the one who reveals different truths to them, encourages them with different things, and fights off and wards off different enemies.  As a pastor, it reminds me of the severity of the calling and the necessity of the calling.

Another aspect of this point is the submission and the trust that Christiana and her companions have for Mr. Great Heart.  I have encountered such skepticism from church goers in the past (and sometimes present) towards pastors.  Some of this may be warranted, but overall, I have witness a general lack of trust and respect towards the office of the pastor.  Christiana knew that Mr. Great Heart was responsible for her journey and her soul, and she gladly followed and thought well of him.  After all, the office of the pastor in Pilgrim’s Progress is Mr. Great Heart.  This names encompasses the courage, the boldness, the tenderness, the care, and the devotion (and so much more!) that is required of being a pastor, and it encourages me to be that type of pastor in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of the way it makes you think deeply while captivating your attention in the great narrative of the story

This is an aspect that is found in literature of old.  I am not against reading modern fiction, but too much of it is simply “pleasure reading” and is not true literature.  True literature is written for the purpose of making the reader think deeply while remaining engaging on the level of the story.  Pilgrim’s Progress is a theological book with out being a Systematic, Biblical, or Historical Theology book.  I love reading “theology books”, and have several and I want more.  But there’s something about reading Pilgrim’s Progress which draws me in and engages me on an even deeper level in theology than “just” a theology book.

When you encounter a great piece of literature like Pilgrim’s Progress which does what I have attempted to explain in the above paragraph, it is a jewel and a gem.  Perhaps that style is so great because it is most like the piece of work that God has communicated to us in the Bible, which is the best book of all to read.

Conclusion

My list could go on and on of why I love Pilgrim’s Progress.  I look forward to reading it to my children and having them experience the joys of this truly great book.  Maybe you don’t read much, or maybe you don’t have time to.  Maybe you love to read.  Maybe you wish you could read better.  Pilgrim’s Progress will satisfy you, no matter what your current reading habits are.  I couldn’t put it down, and if you approach it seriously, I promise that you will not be able to put it down either.

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What’s Worse – Transgressing God’s Law or Transgressing Our Preferences

George Herbert

In one of my classes at Boyce College, Great Books II, we read through western literature and discuss it with a theological bent in class.  I have found this class (mainly Great Books I, since Great Books II just started) is profoundly helpful in thinking through issues.  I have also discovered a passion of mine of reading classic literature, whether it is allegorical fiction, poetry, or treatises.  I encourage you: read, read, read some old books.  Read some Puritan books, read some reformation books, read some Christian poetry (like the one pictured above).  A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems, by Dr. Jim Scott Orrick (my Great Books professor), is so far a wonderful read.  Herbert was a 17th century Puritan writer, and his poems capture into few sentences great theological ideas that men having written voluminously on.

I wish to share with you the first poem, entitled “The Altar”, and then I want to seek to answer the “Ponder” section, which is Dr. Orrick’s encouragement to the reader to think more deeply on the poem which was just read.  Here is “The Altar”, by George Herbert, in it’s entirety (// = beginning of the next line.  To really see the picture, buy a copy of the book for yourself.):

1A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,//  Made of a heart, and cemented with tears://  Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;// No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same// A HEART alone// Is such a stone,// as nothing but// Thy pow’r doth cut.//  Wherefore each part// Of my hard heart// Meets in this frame,// To praise thy name.// That if I chance to hold my peace,// These stones to praise thee may not cease.// O let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,// And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

A few notes, which are given also by Dr. Orrick, must be allowed for.  First, God’s law required that altars for Him be made of stones which were natural and not cut by human hands.  Second, Herbert, in his poems, writes of the devastating effects of sin.  He references in this poem that natural stones may be cut other ways, but that the stone which is the human heart may only be cut by the power of God.  Third, Herbert says that even if he himself quits writing in praise and worship of God, that even the stones of the altars will continue to cry out and worship God.  He no doubt references Luke 19:40, which says “(Jesus) answered, ‘I tell you, if these (disciples of mine) were silent, the very stones would cry out’ (ESV).”2

The Ponder section, which is written for the reflection and deep thinking of the reader of the poem, is Dr. Orrick’s.  For this poem, Dr. Orrick asks the following questions:

3Does true repentance include sorrow for sin?  Herbert writes this poem not as someone coming to God for the first time, but as someone who has long loved and worshiped God.  Ongoing sorrow for sin is an integral element of the spiritual lives of many historic Christians we admire, but it is an element that is conspicuously absent in much modern worship, both private and public.  Why?

As the title of this post reflects, I want to hone in on a specific aspect of the last part of the Ponder section, namely, why sorrow for sin is absent in both private and public worship settings.  As the title also reflects, I think the answer is not so much that we are not sorrowful period.  I think the answer is that we are sorrowful for the wrong thing.  Growing up in church, and even still in my current ministry position, I hear complaint after complaint, whether explicit or implicit, of how this upcoming generation of children and students has no respect.  One specific thing I have heard a lot of is the lack of respect for the church building.  Now, I absolutely believe one area of improvement that has happened over the course of my life, being a mischievous, adventurous, curious boy, is that I have grown to respect property.  I think I am currently still going through this transformation, and I think being a husband, dad, and pastor to young people has helped reveal that weakness in which I am in need of much growth.  So, I am not saying that this specific complaint is inherently wrong.  I believe I have a responsibility to train our young people and my own children to have respect for persons and property.  I believe this is a universal truth which God has written on the hearts of men and women.

But, my rebuttal complaint is one of a different nature.  I am not in disagreement with the idea of tradition and preference.  I have my own preferences and traditions which I hold dear.  My disagreement lies in the same balance of what is true and factual as opposed to what is opinion and preferential based on tradition.  What I mean is this: we often give off the idea that it is far worse to have our own preferences transgressed than it is to transgress the holiness and righteousness of God.  We get more bent out of shape over something that has no eternal bearing or consequence, but has only hurt me because I was raised to do something in a different way.  I have very thin patience for this sort of attitude.  To add to the reason for being disagreeable, I see such a lack of sorrow for sin in our own lives and in our church.  We have become professionals at training and teaching our members to be traditional (I use this word in place of religious, because I think the main beef people have with the church, especially when they say Christianity isn’t a religion, is that they mean to say Christianity isn’t based upon personal preferences which are based on generational traditions).

We have become modern Pharisees when we would much rather deal with conforming the non-conforming to our traditions.  Instead, Jesus wants us to be passionate about sin in the body of Christ.  Matthew 7:1-5 is perhaps the most misquoted passage of this age.  Most of the time, I hear this verse in reference to the secularist cultural idea of tolerance – meaning – “don’t judge me bro”.  However, Jesus is dealing with a much different attitude.  He is making sure that we are dealing with sin, including our own!  Jesus wants us to deal with our own sin, and in our dealing with our own sin, we ought not to ignore the sins of others.  Instead, He wants us to restore with gentleness those who are in sinful lifestyles to the life that is free from sin!

So, as a response to Dr. Orrick’s question of the reason for the disappearance of the sorrow of sin in modern worship, I believe it is because we have misplaced our sorrow.  We are more broken hearted when personal preference and tradition is broken than we are broken hearted over rampant sin in our own lives and in the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  I absolutely agree that we have a responsibility to help teach the upcoming generation values such as respect, honor, service, stewardship, and so-on.  But let’s do it in the spiritual sense – let’s deal with sin, come to repentance and call others to repent and turn to the life-giver, Jesus Christ.  Then, we can teach and train better on values.  Why should I respect and honor people?  Because it is a sin not to, not because you have done something differently and broken the pattern of a certain tradition.

Have thoughts or comments?  I’d love to have some discussion.

Resources I Have Read in Great Books:

The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (Perhaps the most influential book I’ve read in terms of philosophy)

The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther (Reformer)

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Dante’s Inferno, Dante

Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan

Paradise Lost, John Milton

Bibliography:

1 A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems. Dr. Jim Scott Orrick, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011.  Page 2

2 A Year with George Herbert.  Dr. Orrick, Page 2

3 A Year with George Herbert.  Dr. Orrick, Page 3

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