For six days out of the week, we are called to labor faithfully in the specific station and calling into which God has placed us. From Monday to Saturday we put in a hard day’s work. Throughout the week we look forward to Sunday, the day of rest. On this day we are able to lay aside the work and play of the other days.
But the rest of the Sabbath does not mean that we may be idle and inactive. It is not a day merely for us to “sack out.” We are called to active, spiritual labor on this day.
From that point of view, the Sabbath is a hard day’s rest.
In the previous post in this series we laid out the most basic calling we have as believers: to join ourselves to a true, instituted church. But that certainly does not exhaust our responsibilities. We are called to active church membership. The chief way that shows itself is in our attendance at the worship services of that church on the Sabbath day.
God in his Word demands this of us. He does so in the fourth commandment of his law, which commandment is still binding upon the New Testament believer. In its explanation of this commandment, the Heidelberg Catechism says in Lord’s Day 38 that God requires “that I, especially on the Sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian.”
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so such the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Consider also the example of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath. He spent the Sabbath day diligently frequenting the synagogues where God was worshiped and his Word was preached (e.g. Matt. 11:9). This was “his custom” (Luke 4:16). If this was his custom, certainly it must be ours also.
The necessity of faithful church attendance does not mean that there is never a legitimate reason for a person to be absent. Obviously if we are sick we are not going to be able to attend. There are also faithful saints who are “shut-in” and cannot attend, perhaps even for years. But talk to them and they will express the earnest desire to be in God’s house again. Their absence pains them.
Aside from these legitimate reasons, the clear demand of God’s word makes one wonder: How can a self-proclaimed Christian never darken the door of the church? How can an individual on the membership rolls attend so infrequently when he is able to do so? How can a Reformed church member in good conscience spend months overseas “seeing the world” and having “adventures” at the expense of faithful church attendance? Why would a Reformed church member want to take a job that requires him consistently to be absent from the means of grace?
Rather, the attitude of the child of God ought to be: How dear to me is the house of God! I’m going to do all in my power so that rarely (if ever) am I absent from God’s house!
But there is more. Not only are we called to be physically present in church on the Sabbath, we are also called to be mentally and spiritually present. It is not enough that we simply fill a spot in the pew, but we are called to joyful worship of God from the heart, in spirit and in truth. God is not pleased with mere lip service and outward ritual. May it never be true of us what was said of Israel of old: “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Is. 29:13).
This genuine, heartfelt worship does not come easily and automatically. Preparation is required. This means getting home on time on Saturday night and getting a good night’s rest. This means waking up early enough so that everyone has sufficient time to get ready. This means spending the day in God’s Word, prayer, singing, fellowship with other saints, and acts of service. This means the hard work of putting aside distractions and focusing our hearts and minds on worship and the Word.
Truly, a hard day’s rest!
But a blessed day, a day of spiritual refreshment in God’s house so that we can serve him faithfully for another week.
Jehovah summons: “Seek ye my face!”
Let the believing heart reply: “Thy face, Lord, will I seek!”
Previous posts in this series:
This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.