Afternoon Sermon: How Is The Sabbath To Be Sanctified?, Baptist Catechism 65, Leviticus 23:3

Baptist Catechism 65

Q. 65. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and spending the time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy. (Lev. 23:3; Isa. 58:13,14; Isa. 66:23; Matt. 12:11,12)

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 23:3

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.” (Leviticus 23:3, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.



The Sabbath is a very important theme that runs throughout the pages of Holy Scripture. It was instituted by God at creation. The people of God kept it even before the Ten Commandments were given to Israel on Sinai (see Exodus 16:22ff.) Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy. This law is at the heart of the Ten Commandments, which is rightly called a summary of God’s moral law. Christ kept the Sabbath himself, and he taught his disciples about the proper observance of it. Tell me, if Christ had intended to throw the Sabbath into the trash bin of history, why would he say so much about its proper observance? And the early church kept the Sabbath. They rested and assembled for worship one day out of seven. They assembled for worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day that Christ rose from the dead, entered into rest and inaugurated the new creation. This is the Christian Sabbath. And the writer to the Hebrews expressly says “there remains a Sabbath rest [Sabbath-keeping] for the people of God…” (Hebrews 4:9, ESV). The Sabbath will find its fulfillment in the new heavens and new earth. There we will enter into the fulness of the rest that Christ the second Adam has earned for us.

All of that is review. And all of that could be greatly expanded upon if we had the time. In fact, we have studied the Lord’s Day Sabbath in detail before, and I trust that we will have an opportunity to consider it in detail again in the future. But for now, I hope you are convinced that the Lord’s Day Sabbath is to be kept by the people of God even today. The fourth commandment still stands. In other words, when we fail to keep the fourth commandment we do in fact sin against God. Do you believe this? I hope you do. 

But now the question is, what are we to do on the Lord’s Day Sabbath? How are we to set it apart as holy unto the Lord. Baptist Catechism 65 is a very helpful summary of the scriptures teaching on this point. Again, “The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and spending the time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.” 

You will notice that neither the scriptures, nor our catechism, provide us with a detailed list of dos and don’ts for the Sabbath day. The Pharisees did that. And Christ rebuked them for it, especially when their lists went beyond or contradicted the teaching of Holy Scripture. And neither do I think that we should make detailed lists of dos and don’ts for one another. It is better to teach the principles and to let each person and family decide how exactly to keep the day. There are obvious violations, of course. And we will address those. But there is also room for differences in application. 

Let us now consider Baptist Catechism 65 


Baptist Catechism 65

It teaches that “the Sabbath is to be sanctified…” This means that the Sabbath day, which is now Sunday (as we learned last week) is to be set apart and treated as holy. In fact, this was established at creation. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1–3, ESV). And the fourth of the Ten Commandments requires this, saying, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8, ESV). The other days of the week are common days. We are of course to be holy on those days as well. But the days are common. They are for common things. Things like common work and recreation. But the Sabbath day is a holy day. It is set apart for holy things, principally worship — public and even private worship. 

So, “the Sabbath is to be sanctified…”and then we read “by…” By what? What are we to do on this day? “The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting…” The Sabbath day is a day of rest, but it is not a day of inactivity, as we will soon see. On the Sabbath day, we are to rest from certain common things so that we might devote ourselves to certain holy activities. 

If your view of the Sabbath is that it is a day for sleeping in or napping, I’m afraid you have missed the point. The Sabbath day is for you. God intended for us to find rest, enjoyment, and refreshment on this day. But we will find true rest, enjoyment, and refreshment on the Sabbath day only when we recognize that it is, above all, a holy day — a day to worship and to take our rest in God. 

Next, notice the words “all that day”. It is the Lord’s Day, not the Lord’s hour or morning. Break the habit, brothers and sisters, of running off from church in the morning to common things. The whole day is to be kept holy unto the Lord. Go from public worship to private worship. Go to the enjoyment of your family and speak of the things of God. Have brothers and sisters into your home and speak of the things of God. Read your Bible. Read good books about the Christian faith. Take a nap if you need one so that you might be strengthened for the rest of the day and the week to come. Treat the whole day as holy, dear brethren, and see how truly refreshed you will be. 

“The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employment and recreations as are lawful on other days”, our catechism says. In other words, we are to cease from our regular, common work and our regular, common recreation, not because they are sinful (I hope they are not!), but because they are not fitting for the day. Regular and common work and recreation is for the other six days, but not the Sabbath day. 

Does God care about what you do on the other six days of the week? Of course he does! We are to worship and serve him on those days too! And we are to work diligently on those days so that we might in fact keep the Sabbath. But on the Sabbath, we are to set those common things aside. The Sabbath day is not a day for common work or common recreation. It is to be kept holy.

So, we are to rest. We are to set aside worldly things (worldly means common here, not sinful). But what are we to do. We are to “[spend] the time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship…” This means, one,  that we are to assemble with God’s people for corporate and public worship. The Sabbath was always for this. In Leviticus 23:3 we read, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places” (Leviticus 23:3, ESV). What is a “convocation”? It is a formal assembly of people. So what were the Old Covenant saints to do on the weekly Sabbath day? They were to hold a “holy convocation”. In other words, they were to assemble for worship. Does that sound familiar to you? It should. The writer to the Hebrews spoke to New Covenant saints saying, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV).

I’m afraid that many modern Christians take this to mean, I really shouldn’t miss going to church… too often. Or, I can miss church, but I should at least get together with my Christian friend from time to time for… “fellowship”. I think it means something different. I think it means (quite clearly in the context of Hebrews, and in light of the rest of scripture), do not ever neglect to assemble with God’s people to worship God’s name on God’s appointed day. In fact, when you do, you break God’s law. In other words, you sin — sin being “any [failure to conform] unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Baptist Catechism 17).

Perhaps at this point you are thinking, he sounds like a legalist. But I might reply to you saying, I don’t think you know what legalism is. And, you might be guilty of lawlessness (antinomianism). The law is good, brothers and sisters. Have you forgotten what Paul wrote to Timothy? “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully…” (1 Timothy 1:8, ESV). And have you forgot the words of Christ, how he spoke to his disciples saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)?

Now, if I said, keep the Sabbath to earn eternal life, then I would be guilty of legalism. But I have not said that. I have taught you to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. This you must do, for you have violated God’s law. You (and I) have failed to keep the Sabbath day holy. But Christ never did. He kept it purely, perfectly, and perpetually. And though he had no guilt of his own, he died on the cross to pay the sins of others. Trust in him alone, and not in your own works-righteousness. But having believed upon Christ — because you love him and are grateful for his sacrifice made on your behalf — obey him. Keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. In them there is goodness, life, and peace.

Now one question remains. Are there any exceptions? Is there ever a time when it is right to work on the Lord’s Day Sabbath or to neglect to assemble with the people of God for worship. Answer: yes. “Except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.” 

What are works of necessity? They are not the things that you forgot to do on Saturday that can wait till Monday. But as you know, there are some things that simply must be done because they are necessary. You may cook on the Sabbath day and clean up after the meal. You may help a neighbor who is in need. Perhaps their car won’t start. Help them. You do not violate the Sabbath when you do. And some work jobs that are absolutely necessary in a continual sense. Criminals do not observe the Sabbath. Police officers must work. The same can be said of emergency room doctors, nurses, and even water district employees. You get the point, don’t you?

And what are works of mercy? These are acts of kindness shown to those who are in need. Do you remember how the Pharisees scoffed at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath day? They missed the point, didn’t they? Visit the sick on the Sabbath. Exercise hospitality. Help those in need. To use an example from biblical times, if your neighbor’s ox falls into a ditch, help him dig it out. The preservation of life, yes, even the life of an Ox, trumps the ceremonial observance of the Sabbath day. 



As you can see, I have not given you a detailed list of dos and don’ts. But I have, with the help of our catechism, set the teaching of the Bible before you. I hope to move you to keep the Lord’s Day Sabbath holy by appealing to the goodness of the thing. The Sabbath is a delight. The people of God should long for it. They should be eager to keep. For God has commanded it, and his law is very good.

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