Afternoon Sermon: How Is The Sabbath To Be Sanctified?, Baptist Catechism 65, Isaiah 58:13-14

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,  (Lev. 23:3; Isa. 58:13,14; Isa. 66:23; Matt. 12:11,12)

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:13-14

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14, 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.



Questions 62 through 67 of the Baptist Catechism are about the fourth commandment, which is “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” With the help of catechism questions 63-65, we learned that the practice of Sabbath keeping was not unique to Old Covenant Israel, but is for all people living in all places and times. The command was first given to Adam, remember? It was not first given to Abraham, or to Israel through Moses. All people ought to worship God alone, not with images, with reverence for his name, setting one day in seven apart as holy unto the Lord as a day for rest and for worship.

On which day was the Sabbath to be kept from the creation of the world until the resurrection of Christ from the dead? Answer: The seventh day, which we call Saturday. The seventh day Sabbath fit the Covenant of Works that was made with Adam in the garden. It communicated that faithful work would lead to eternal rest. Adam failed to enter that rest. But the seventh day Sabbath remained, one, as a reminder of what Adam failed to obtain, and two, as a reminder of the promise of God to provide a Redeemer from the seed of the woman (a second Adam) who would, in the fulness of time, earn eternal rest through his faithful obedience.     

On which day is the Sabbath to be kept holy now that the Messiah has come, has finished his work, and has entered into his rest? The Sabbath day is now the first day of the week, which we call Sunday. Christ met with his disciples after his resurrection on the first day of the week to establish this pattern (see especially John’s Gospel). The early church assembled on the first day, and they called it the Lord’s Day (see Acts 20:7, Rev 1:10). And this practice has remained throughout the history of the church. The first day of the week (Sunday) is to be regarded as the Christian, or Lord’s Day, Sabbath. 

So then, the pattern of one day out of every seven being set apart as holy remains, but the day has changed. Why has the day changed? Because the particular day is filled with symbolism. I’ve already explained the symbolism of the seventh day (it fit the Covenant of Works and communicated that eternal rest was still yet to be earned). And now I want you to see that the first day Sabbath fits the Covenant of Grace, of which we are partakers if we have faith in Christ Jesus. The first day Sabbath reminds us, not only of the original creation but of the new creation which Christ ushered in through his life, death, and resurrection. It reminds us that Christ, the second Adam, was faithful to finish his work (the work given to him by the Father in eternity), and has entered into his rest. It reminds us of the rest that is ours through faith in him – a rest that we enjoy now in part – a rest that we enjoy in full when Christ returns. The first day Christian Sabbath communicates a different pattern than the seventh day Jewish Sabbath. We do not work to enter rest, we rest in Christ, and then work to obey him with his help out of gratitude for all he has done.

And why does the practice of Sabbath keeping remain for the people of God under the New Covenant (Hebrews 4:9)? Because the thing that Sabbath signifies is not yet here in full, namely, eternal rest in the new heavens and earth.  

All of that is review. Now we ask, how is the Sabbath to be sanctified? In other words, how are we to go about keeping the Sabbath day holy? What should we do, and what should we not do on the Lord’s Day Sabbath? 

You will notice that our catechism does not provide a detailed list of things appropriate (or not appropriate) for Sabbath day. Instead, it presents broad principles. Of course, we must apply these principles in a specific way, and that will require wisdom.  


Baptist Catechism 65

How is the Sabbath to be sanctified? Answer: “The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day…”

The word sanctified means to “set apart as holy”. The Sabbath day is a holy day, not a common day. In our culture, we have many holidays. But which holy day is the Christian bound to observe? It is not Christmas, Good Friday, or Easter. And neither is the New Covenant Christian bound to observe the many holy days that were given to Israel under the Old Mosaic Covenant (see Colossians 2:16 – Sabbath is plural in the Greek, by the way  – it ought to be translated as “Sabbaths”). The Christian is bound to observe the Lord’s Day Sabbath only. One day in seven was set apart as holy for Adam in the garden. One day in seven was set apart as holy for Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. And one day in seven is set apart for all who are united by faith to the second Adam, the son of Abraham, Christ the Lord. 

Our catechism is clear that the Sabbath day is a day for rest. But the question must be asked, rest from what? Is the Sabbath day a day for sleeping? Well, naps are certainly permitted, if needed. But truly, the day is to be a day full of a particular kind of activity, as we will soon see. The word “holy” helps us to see this. Not only is it a day set apart for rest. It is also a day set apart for holy purposes, namely, worship. Leviticus 23:3 clarifies this, saying, “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). Convocation means “a formal assembly”. A holy convocation is an assembling together for worship. So no, the Sabbath day is not a day for sleeping in or napping. It is a day for worship. 

So again I ask, what are we to rest from? Our catechism is right to say that we are to rest “from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days…” In other words, the Sabbath day is a stop day. It is a day to cease (or rest) from a certain kind of activity (namely, common work and recreation) so that we can be devoted to another kind of activity (namely, public and private worship). Common activities are to be set to the side. Holy activities are to be taken up. 

The Lord’s Day Sabbath is not a day for common work, brothers and sisters. The Lord’s Day Sabbath is not a day for recreation. What then is it a day for? Our catechism is right to say that we are to “[spend] 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.”  

I like the word “spend”. It reminds us that time is spent kind of like money is spent. We only have so much of it, and we have to decide how to spend it. On the Lord’s Day, we are to spend the day (the whole day) “in the public and private exercises of God’s worship.” As has already been mentioned, the Sabbath day is a day for holy convocation, or assembling. That is what “public… exercises of God’s worship” refers to. The church of Christ is to assemble on the Lord’s Day for corporate worship. And this is why the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to, “not [neglect] 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 10:25, ESV).

The day is to be spent in “public… exercises of God’s worship.” And after public worship is over  (however much time the church decides to devote to that), Christians are then to spend their time in  “private exercises of God’s worship.” I take this to mean that we are to continue in a spirit of worship as we go our separate ways. We are to think upon the word that was preached. We are to pray. We are to read Scripture and talk about Scripture. We might even continue to sing! 

Are we to worship God privately on the other days of the week too? Yes, of course! But the Lord’s Day Sabbath is a day set aside for this. By resting from common work and common recreation, we are freed to worship the Lord corporately and privately in a pronounced and focused way. To state the matter differently, on the other days of the week we are often consumed with work and distracted by recreation. Work and recreations are not bad things. In fact, approached rightly and within proper boundaries, they are very good things. And yes, we are to honor the Lord in our work and in our recreations Monday through Saturday. But on Sunday, we are invited to set these common things to the side to enable us to fix our attention squarely upon the Lord, to worship him, and to delight in him.

Now to be clear, I do not know of any individuals or families that spend the entire Lord’s Day in strict private or family worship after assembling with the congregation. If that is what is intended by our catechism (and confession) then I would have to confess that we fall short of it. But I would like to think (and perhaps I am wrong) that our catechism is simply teaching us to go on from public worship in a spirit of private worship. Stated negatively, our catechism is teaching us to not run off from corporate worship to common work and to recreation but to continue to keep the day – the whole day – as holy unto the Lord by thinking and conversing about the things of God in private (wedding illustration).  

Lastly, our catechism mentions two exceptions: “except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.” A work of necessity is a work that absolutely cannot wait until the following day. If your ox falls into a ditch (does anyone have an ox?), you should pull it out to preserve the life of the ox and your property. If a water pipe bursts under your house you should fix it. If your neighbor is experiencing a difficulty like this, you should help them on the Sabbath day. An act of mercy is similar. It is an act of kindness done for someone in need. The Lord’s Day Sabbath is a good day for this, as Jesus demonstrated by healing the lame and the sick on the Sabbath. And it should also be recognized that some people are engaged in professions that involve doing acts of necessity or mercy. Emergency room doctors, police officers, and perhaps even water district employees will need to work on Sundays. Christians who are engaged in professions like these should do their very best to have Sundays off, however.  



Brothers and sisters, it is no secret that Christian individuals, families, and churches sometimes struggle to know and come to an agreement on what exactly should be done, and what should not be done, on the Lord’s Day Sabbath. I would like to conclude by offering a few pieces of advice that I hope will help.  

One, think about the purpose of the day and ask, does this activity (whatever it is) fit with the purpose of the day? This general question will serve you better than a strict and detailed list of do’s and dont’s. Most of the time, the answer will be obvious. Does playing in a baseball league fit with the purpose of the day? Does zoning out on a movie or the Supper Bowl fit? What about working on the house remodel, or doing some other chore or task that can easily wait until Monday? It’s hard to see how these sorts of activities could possibly fit the day. These are clear examples of common work and recreation that ought to be reserved for the common days of the week. 

Two, when trying to encourage others to keep the Sabbath day holy, appeal to the goodness of the thing. By that I mean, emphasize what it is that we get to do on the Lord’s Day Sabbath, namely, delight in the Lord, rather than what we don’t get to do on the day. The day was designed to be a blessing to us, and so this is what we should emphasize.   

Three, be careful with the little ones. Do not expect more out of them than they are able to give. Little ones do need to play. They have a limited ability to focus when compared to adults. I hope our children delight in the Lord’s Day as they grow up in the church. I hope they consider it to be the best of all the days. Brothers and sisters, we must be careful to not frustrate them with unreasonable expectations. With that said, we should encourage our children to keep the Lord’s Day with more and more care and seriousness as they grow older. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:11 seem to apply. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV). Our expectations of children ought to be reasonable. At the same time, we need to encourage our children to go on toward maturity in all things, including honoring the Lord’s Day Sabbath. 

Four, be patient with others even as you remain resolute in your convictions. Very few Christians today honor the Lord’s Day Sabbath. We need to leave room for others to grow in their understanding of this doctrine and in their application of it. Is there a place for exhortation? Yes, of course. When you see a brother or sister violating the Sabbath Day in an obvious way, it is right that you encourage them to turn from sin and to obedience in Christ. But we must be loving and patient with each other in all that we do. 

Five, leave room for differences of opinion regarding the particulars of Sabbath keeping. I think you would agree with me that there are activities that clearly do not agree with the purpose of the day. The Lord’s Day is not a day for common work, and nor is it a day for recreation. We ought not to be distracted by work and recreation on the Lord’s Day, therefore. But in my mind, there may be some activities that some would classify as recreation that may in fact serve the purpose of the day. I’m thinking of things like a walk, hike, drive, game of catch, or bike ride. All of these activities can be done in such a way as to encourage conversation and contemplation concerning the things of God and to serve the purpose of the day.  Now, it may be that you are convinced that these things ought not to be done on the Lord’s Day, and that is fine. But I would encourage you to not attempt to bind the consciences of others on these things but to consider them as matters of opinion. 

Six, we must call the Sabbath a delight. I think it is right for us to view the Lord’s Day Sabbath as a celebration, or festival. It is to be a joyous day! But note this: The Sabbath day is to be a delight to us, not because we spend the day pleasing the flesh, but because we feed the soul by delighting ourselves in God and in Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath.  

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