Sabbath in the Light of Nature

Sabbath in the Light of Nature

Samuel Willard
Complete Body of Divinity, pp. 652-654.

Question 3.
Wherein does the morality of [the Sabbath] consist?
That we may take up a right conception of this matter, we must call to mind, what it is for a command to be moral, according as it has already been stated; namely, not merely as it stands distributively with that which is positive, but as it is differenced from ceremonial and judicial. Here then two rules may suffice for the clearing this case.

1. That the light of nature affords us a moral reason for the keeping of a sabbath.

And so far it is grounded on natural religion; inasmuch as the reason for it is fetched from the nature of man, and the relation that he bears to the special government of God; and for that reason it obliges all men universally, and is of the same force in all ages perpetually. Now the light of nature in fallen man, will, if duly improved, afford him such conclusions as these:

1. That man was made actively to glorify God. He that acknowledges a God, and man to be his creature, as the Gentiles do, must confess that man as such, owes himself to God; that argument is convictive, Psalm 100:2–3, “Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” And it is equally rational, that every creature do serve God, according to the capacity he has put into it. Man therefore being made capable of devoting himself actively to the glory of God, must needs owe it to him, Rom. 12:1.

2. That there is a worship due to God from man, wherein he is to serve him. It is true, man is to serve God in all his actions of all sorts, civil, as well as religious, by conformity to his precepts therein, and subordinating all his other ends to God’s glory as his last end, 1 Cor. 10:31. But there are religious services, which are not only ultimately, but nextly to be performed to God; which all nations have believed and practiced; so that a mere heathen could define man, a creature made for religion. In all places, where a God is believed, some worship is maintained, though they miss it both in the object and medium, Mic. 4:5.

3. That this worship is due from the whole man. The soul indeed is the next subject of the rational powers in man, and is therefore principally concerned in this, but it is the man as a subject of reason who owes himself to God; and all his senses and bodily organs were made to be used by the soul, as its instruments in the performing of its imperate acts, and are therefore to be employed in this worship. And as there is an argument for this from the redemption of the whole man, 1 Cor. 6:20, so we may argue from the creation of the whole; and the more forcibly, because we are redeemed, that we may be again restored to the service for which we were at first made, and fell short of, by the apostasy.

4. That hence every man has a double calling in this life, namely, a general and a particular. The reason of this is also clear in the light of nature. For all men are to worship God as their Lord after a religious manner; and this is a calling common to all men. And every man is to look after his support and maintenance in this world; for which there are the several employments which men are here concerned in; God having made it man’s duty to seek his supply in a course of means. Now God is to be served in both of these, and for that reason both of them are to be upheld and pursued by man while he lives. Nor may one be neglected under pretense of the other; for common reason will condemn such a neglect on either hand.

5. That men must have special times wherein to engage in such duties of worship, by which they may glorify him. It is a vain pretense that some make, that we ought always to glorify God in all that we can do, and on that account the whole life of a Christian should be a continual sabbath. For if besides man’s making God’s glory his end in all he does, there are special solemn acts of duty, which he owes to God, in pursuit of his general calling, there must be some special time allotted for his attending on them. Man is a child of time, he must have time for the doing of all his actions; if therefore he has a work of religion distinct to attend, he must have a distinct and separate time for his applying himself to it, that he may not be distracted in it; but at full and free liberty for the performance of it. And for this, reason will suffice, and we need not go to revelation for it. And the greater and more important the duty, the greater reason for it.

6. That there ought to be some preparation of time allotted for this service. Since man is to carry on both of these callings through his pilgrimage in this world, it is fit, both that there be a convenient quantity of time laid out for this as well as for the other; and that it have its suitable revolution, for maintaining the worship of God, so as that we may keep up our religious frames in and through our secular employments; and not lose the worship of God by too long vocations, and so our particular callings eat out our general one. And thus we see that the ground or foundation of a sabbath is laid in the law of nature; and the light of reason in man carries conviction of the equity of it, and the need that mankind have in this regard.

2. That when God has by a positive precept affixed this time, it is so made holy time, and a moral duty for us to observe it as such.

I shall essay the clearing of this assertion in the following conclusions:

1. The holiness of time is a relation put upon it with respect to a sacred use. Time, in its own nature is nothing else but the measure of the creature’s duration, and is not of the essence, but an adjunct to second beings. Now though the holiness of God is essential to him, and inseparable from him; yet the holiness of other things, is something that may be separated from them; and in things that are in themselves common, they become holy by a separating them to a peculiar and sacred use. When they are devoted to God, and he forbids any common use to be made of them, therein there holiness consists. In this regard was Israel said to be holiness to the Lord. And on this account may holiness be ascribed unto time. And this is signified in the body of the command.

2. Hence time becomes truly holy by an authoritative separation of it to such an use. The putting of such a relation upon it, requires a power or authority in him who affixes it thereto. It is not therefore in everyone’s power to put such a stamp upon any portion of time, so as to bind the conscience to pay such a respect to it. Men indeed may, and must in the time which they expend in attendance upon religious duties, abstain meanwhile from common business, but that is not for the time’s sake, but with respect to the duties which cannot be otherwise done regularly or acceptably.

3. That no time is more holy than other, antecedently to such a separation. Neither can the nature of time itself infer any such thing, for it is all alike, and is indeed a common adjunct to other beings as well as man, who can put no difference upon it. Nor do any of God’s great works put such a holiness on time, because they were wrought on it; for then might any day in the week lay claim on it. So that nothing but a juridical determination of it, can put such a stamp upon it. And for this reason God calls the sabbath, his sabbath, Ezek. 22:8.

4. That God is the Lord of time, and hence the determination of holy time, depends upon his pleasure and command. That none but God can put holiness upon time, has been already proved: and is further evident, because the putting such a difference between time in itself alike, is a thing arbitrary, and the so determining it belongs to one who has a sovereign power over time, which can be no other but God. And because this determination refers to worship, and is an ordinance of it, which God has reserved to himself, and has not given liberty to any creatures to assume such a power to themselves: as has been abundantly proved under the second commandment. Christ therefore in regard of his mediatorial dispensation has told us, Mat. 12:8, The Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

5. That hence because the light of nature saith that there is some time due for this, it was agreeable to God’s wisdom and government that he should determine a time for it, from the beginning. The reason of this is very manifest. For if man be made for the active and voluntary service of God, and must have a rule of government to direct him in that service, there is a hypothetical necessity that God do some way or other acquaint him with that rule, or afford him some medium by which he may be acquainted with it. If then the light of nature requires that some time be thus separated, and the stating of it in its distances and revolutions depends on the divine pleasure, there must have been a revelation of this at first unto man, else he must have remained at an utter uncertainty about it.

6. Hence when God has so stated and sanctified the time, it becomes a moral duty for us to observe it as holy time. Nor does the morality of it stand in the same point that obedience to merely positive institutions do, by virtue of the second commandment, which obliges us to obey God in all things which he enjoins, in subjection to his sovereignty; but because the duty itself is in its own nature moral, and owing to God by the law of creation, though the circumstances of the practice of it be regulated by a positive precept, which necessarily depended upon his arbitrament.

Get the Kindle e-book (ASIN: B016POKEP0) edited by Mike Christian here.


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