The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
2. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
2.4 The Fourth Commandment
'Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou
labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of
the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy
son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy
cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days
the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,
and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the
Sabbath-day and hallowed it. Exod xx 8 - 11.
This commandment was engraven in stone by God's own finger, and
it will be our comfort to have it engraven in our hearts.
The Sabbath-day is set apart for God's solemn worship; it is
his own enclosure, and must not be alienated to common uses. As a
preface to this commandment, he has put a memento to it, 'Remember
to keep the Sabbath day holy.' This word, 'remember,' shows that we
are apt to forget Sabbath holiness; therefore we need a memorandum
to put us in mind of sanctifying the day.
I. There is in these words a solemn command. 'Remember the
Sabbath-day to keep it holy.'
 The matter of it. The sanctifying the Sabbath, which
Sabbath sanctification consists in two things, in resting from our
own works, and in a conscientious discharge of our religious duty.
 The persons to whom the command of sanctifying the Sabbath
is given. Either superiors, and they are, more private, as parents
and masters; or more public, as magistrates; or inferiors, as
natives, children, and servants, 'Thy son, and thy daughter, thy
man-servant, and thy maidservant;' or foreigners, 'thy stranger that
is within thy gates.'
II. The arguments to obey this commandment of keeping holy the
 From the rationality of it. 'Six days shalt thou labour and
do all thy work;' as if God had said, I am not a hard master, I do
not grudge thee time to look after thy calling, and to get an
estate. I have given thee six days, to do all thy work in, and have
taken but one day for myself. I might have reserved six days for
myself, and allowed thee but one; but I have given thee six days for
the works of thy calling, and have taken but one day for my own
service. It is just and rational, therefore, that thou shouldest set
this day in a special manner apart for my worship.
 The second argument for sanctifying the Sabbath, is taken
from the justice of it. 'The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord
thy God;' as if God had said, The Sabbath-day is my due, I challenge
a special right in it, and no other has any claim to it. He who robs
me of this day, and puts it to common uses, is a sacrilegious
person, he steals from the crown of heaven, and I will in nowise
hold him guiltless.
 The third argument for sanctifying the Sabbath, is taken
from God's own observance of it. He 'rested the seventh day;' as if
the Lord should say, Will you not follow me as a pattern? Having
finished all my works of creation, I rested the seventh day; so
having done all your secular work on the six days, you should now
cease from the labour of your calling, and dedicate the seventh day
to me, as a day of holy rest.
 The fourth argument for Sabbath-sanctification, is taken ab
utili, from the benefit which redounds from a religious observation
of the Sabbath. 'The Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.'
God not only appointed the seventh day, but he blessed it. It is not
only a day of honour to God, but a day of blessing to us; it is not
only a day wherein we give God worship, but a day wherein he gives
us grace. On this day a blessing drops down from heaven. God himself
is not benefited by it, we cannot add one cubit to his essential
glory; but we ourselves are benefited. This day, religiously
observed, entails a blessing upon our souls, our estate, and our
posterity. Not keeping it, brings a curse. Jer xvii 27. God curses a
man's blessings. Mal ii 2. The bread which he eats is poisoned with
a curse; so the conscientious observation of the Sabbath, brings all
manner of blessings with it. These are the arguments to induce
The thing I would have you now observe is, that the commandment
of keeping the Sabbath was not abrogated with the ceremonial law,
but is purely moral, and the observation of it is to be continued to
the end of the world. Where can it be shown that God has given us a
discharge from keeping one day in seven?
Why has God appointed a Sabbath?
(1) With respect to himself. It is requisite that God should
reserve one day in seven for his own immediate service, that thereby
he might be acknowledged to be the great Plenipotentiary, or
sovereign Lord, who has power over us both to command worship, and
appoint the time when he will be worshipped.
(2) With respect to us. The Sabbath-day is for our interest; it
promotes holiness in us. The business of week-days makes us
forgetful of God and our souls: the Sabbath brings him back to our
remembrance. When the falling dust of the world has clogged the
wheels of our affections, that they can scarce move towards God, the
Sabbath comes, and oils the wheels of our affections, and they move
swiftly on. God has appointed the Sabbath for this end. On this day
the thoughts rise to heaven, the tongue speaks of God, and is as the
pen of a ready writer, the eyes drop tears, and the soul burns in
love. The heart, which all the week was frozen, on the Sabbath melts
with the word. The Sabbath is a friend to religion; it files off the
rust of our graces; it is a spiritual jubilee, wherein the soul is
set to converse with its Maker.
I should next show you the modes, or manner, how we should keep
the Sabbath day holy; but before I come to that, we have a great
question to consider.
How comes it to pass that we do not keep the seventh-day
Sabbath as it was in the primitive institution, but have changed it
to another day?
The old seventh-day Sabbath, which was the Jewish Sabbath, is
abrogated, and in the room of it the first day of the week, which is
the Christian Sabbath, succeeds. The morality or substance of the
fourth commandment does not lie in keeping the seventh day
precisely, but keeping one day in seven is what God has appointed.
But how comes the first day in the week to be substituted in
the room of the seventh day?
Not by ecclesiastic authority. 'The church,' says Mr Perkins,
'has no power to ordain a Sabbath.'
(1) The change of the Sabbath from the last day of the week to
the first was by Christ's own appointment. He is 'Lord of the
Sabbath.' Mark ii 28. And who shall appoint a day but he who is Lord
of it? He made this day. 'This is the day which the Lord has made.'
Psa cxviii 24. Arnobius and most expositors understand it of the
Christian Sabbath, which is called the 'Lord's-day.' Rev i 10. As
it is called the 'Lord's Supper,' because of the Lord's instituting
the bread and wine and setting it apart from a common to a special
and sacred use; so it is called the Lord's-day, because of the
Lord's instituting it, and setting it apart from common days, to his
special worship and service. Christ rose on the first day of the
week, out of the grave, and appeared twice on that day to his
disciples, John xx 19, 26, which was to intimate to them, as
Augustine and Athanasius say, that he transferred the Jewish Sabbath
to the Lord's day.
(2) The keeping of the first day was the practice of the
apostles. 'Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came
together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.' Acts xx 7; 1 Cor
xvi 2. Here was both preaching and breaking of bread on this day.
Augustine and Innocentius, and Isidore, make the keeping of our
gospel Sabbath to be of apostolic sanction, and affirm, that by
virtue of the apostles' practice, this day is to be set apart for
divine worship. What the apostles did, they did by divine authority;
for they were inspired by the Holy Ghost.
(3) The primitive church had the Lord's-day, which we now
celebrate, in high estimation. It was a great badge of their
religion to observe this day. Ignatius, the most ancient father, who
lived in the time of John the apostle, has these words, 'Let every
one that loveth Christ keep holy the first day of the week, the
Lord's-day.' This day has been observed by the church of Christ
above sixteen hundred years, as the learned Bucer notes. Thus you
see how the seventh-day Sabbath came to be changed to the first-day
The grand reason for changing the Jewish Sabbath to the
Lord's-day is that it puts us in mind of the 'Mystery of our
redemption by Christ.' The reason why God instituted the old Sabbath
was to be a memorial of the creation; but he has now brought the
first day of the week in its room in memory of a more glorious work
than creation, which is redemption. Great was the work of creation,
but greater was the work of redemption. As it was said, 'The glory
of this latter house shall be greater than of the former.' Hag ii 9.
So the glory of the redemption was greater than the glory of the
creation. Great wisdom was seen in making us, but more miraculous
wisdom in saving us. Great power was seen in bringing us out of
nothing, but greater power in helping us when we were worse than
nothing. It cost more to redeem than to create us. In creation it
was but speaking a word (Psa cxlviii 5); in redeeming there was
shedding of blood. 1 Pet i 19. Creation was the work of God's
fingers, Psa viii 3, redemption was the work of his arm. Luke i 51.
In creation, God gave us ourselves; in the redemption, he gave us
himself. By creation, we have life in Adam; by redemption, we have
life in Christ. Col iii 3. By creation, we had a right to an earthly
paradise: by redemption, we have a title to a heavenly kingdom.
Christ might well change the seventh day of the week into the first,
as it puts us in mind of our redemption, which is a more glorious
work than creation.
The use I shall make of this is, that we should have
the Christian Sabbath, we now celebrate, in high veneration. The
Jews called the Sabbath, 'The desire of days, and the queen of
days.' This day we must call a 'delight, the holy of the Lord,
honourable.' Isa lxiii 13. Metal that has the king's stamp upon it is
honourable, and of great value. God has set his royal stamp upon the
Sabbath; it is the Sabbath of the Lord, and this makes it
honourable. We should look upon this day as the best day in the
week. What the phoenix is among birds, what the sun is among planets
the Lord's-day is among other days. 'This is the day which the Lord
has made.' Psa cxviii 24. God has made all the days, but he has
blessed this. As Jacob got the blessing from his brother, so the
Sabbath got the blessing from all other days in the week. It is a
day in which we converse in a special manner with God. The Jews
called the Sabbath 'a day of light;' so on this day the Sun of
Righteousness shines upon the soul. The Sabbath is the market-day of
the soul, the cream of time. It is the day of Christ's rising from
the grave, and the Holy Ghost's descending upon the earth. It is
perfumed with the sweet odour of prayer, which goes up to heaven as
incense. On this day the manna falls, that is angels' food. This is
the soul's festival-day, on which the graces act their part: the
other days of the week are most employed about earth, this day about
heaven; then you gather straw, now pearl. Now Christ takes the soul
up into the mount, and gives it transfiguring sights of glory. Now
he leads his spouse into the wine-cellar, and displays the banner of
his love. Now he gives her his spiced wine, and the juice of the
pomegranate. Cant ii 4, viii 2. The Lord usually reveals himself more
to the soul on this day. The apostle John was in the Spirit on the
Lord's-day. Rev i 10. He was carried up on this day in divine
raptures towards heaven. This day a Christian is in the altitudes;
he walks with God, and takes as it were a turn with him in heaven. 1
John i 3. On this day holy affections are quickened; the stock of
grace is improved; corruptions are weakened; and Satan falls like
lightning before the majesty of the word. Christ wrought most of his
miracles upon the Sabbath; so he does still: dead souls are raised
and hearts of stone are made flesh. How highly should we esteem and
reverence this day! It is more precious than rubies. God has
anointed it with the oil of gladness above its fellows. On the
Sabbath we are doing angels' work, our tongues are tuned to God's
praises. The Sabbath on earth is a shadow and type of the glorious
rest and eternal Sabbath we hope for in heaven, when God shall be
the temple, and the Lamb shall be the light of it. Rev xxi 22, 23.
'Six days shalt thou labour.' God would not have any
live out of a calling: religion gives no warrant for idleness. It is
a duty to labour six days, as well as keep holy rest on the seventh
day. 'We hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly,
working not at all. Now, them that are such, we command and exhort
by our Lord Jesus, that with quietness they work, and eat their own
bread.' 2 Thess iii 11. A Christian must not only mind heaven, but
his calling. While the pilot has his eye to the star, he has his
hand to the helm. Without labour the pillars of a commonwealth will
dissolve, and the earth, like the sluggard's field, will be overrun
with briers. Prov xxiv 31. Adam in innocence, though monarch of the
world, must not be idle, but must dress and till the ground. Gen ii
15. Piety does not exclude industry. Standing water putrifies.
Inanimate creatures are in motion. The sun goes its circuit, the
fountain runs, and the fire sparkles. Animate creatures work.
Solomon sends us to the ant and pismire to learn labour. Prov vi 6;
xxx 25. The bee is the emblem of industry; some of the bees trim the
honey, others work the wax, others frame the comb, others lie
sentinel at the door of the hive to keep out the drone. And shall
not man much more innate himself to labour? That law in paradise was
never repeated. 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.' Gen
iii 19. Such professors are to be disliked who talk of living by
faith, but live out of a calling; they are like the lilies which
'toil not, neither do they spin.' Matt vi 28. It is a speech of holy
and learned Mr Perkins, 'Let a man be endowed with excellent gifts,
and hear the word with reverence, and receive the sacrament, yet if
he practice not the duties of his calling, all is but hypocrisy.'
What is an idle person good for? What benefit is a ship that lies
always on the shore? or armour that hangs up and rusts? To live out
of a calling exposes a person to temptation. Melanchthon calls
idleness the Devil's bath, because he bathes himself with delight in
an idle soul. We do not sow seed in ground when it lies fallow; but
Satan sows most of his seed of temptation in such persons as lie
fallow, and are out of a calling. Idleness is the nurse of vice.
Seneca, an old heathen, could say, Nullus mihi per otium dies exit;
'No day passes me without some labour.' An idle person stands for a
cipher in the world, and God writes down no ciphers in the book of
life. We read in Scripture of eating the 'bread of idleness,' and
drinking the 'wine of violence.' Prov xxxi 27; iv 17. It is as much a
sin to eat 'the bread of idleness,' as to 'drink the wine of
violence.' An idle person can give no account of his time. Time is a
talent to trade with, both in our particular and general callings.
The slothful person 'hides his talent in the earth;' he does no
good; his time is not lived, but lost. An idle person lives
unprofitably, he cumbers the ground. God calls the slothful servant
'wicked.' 'Thou wicked and slothful servant.' Matt xxv 26. Draco,
whose laws were written in blood, deprived those of their life who
would not work for their living. In Hetruria they caused such
persons to be banished. Idle persons live in the breach of the
commandment, 'Six days shalt thou labour.' Let them take heed they
be not banished from heaven. A man may as well go to hell for not
working in his calling, as for not believing.
Having spoken of the reasons of sanctifying the Sabbath I come
III. The manner of sanctifying the Sabbath.
 Negatively. We must do no work in it. This is the
commandment. 'In it thou shall do no manner of work.' God has set
apart this day for himself; therefore we are not to use it in
common, by doing any civil work. As when Abraham went to sacrifice
he left his servants and the ass at the bottom of the hill; so, when
we are to worship God on this day, we must leave all worldly
business behind, leave the ass at the bottom of the hill. Gen xxii 5.
As Joseph, when he would speak with his brethren, thrust out the
Egyptians, so, when we would converse with God on this day, we must
thrust out all earthly employments. The Lord's day is a day of holy
rest. All secular work must be forborne and suspended, as it is a
profanation of the day. 'In those days saw I in Judah some treading
winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading
asses; as also wine, grapes and figs, and all manner of burdens
which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day; and I
testified against them. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah,
and said unto them, "What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane
the Sabbath-day?' " Neh xiii 15, 17. It is sacrilege to rob for civil
work the time which God has set apart for his worship. He that
devotes any time of the Sabbath to worldly business, is a worse
thief than he who robs on the highway; for the one does but rob man,
but the other robs God. The Lord forbade mamma to be gathered on the
Sabbath. Exod xvi 26. One might think it would have been allowed, as
manna was the 'staff of their life,' and the time when it fell was
between five and six in the morning, so that they might have
gathered it betimes, and all the rest of the Sabbath might have been
employed in God's worship; and besides, they needed not to have
taken any great journey for it, for it was but stepping out of their
doors, and it fell about their tents: and yet they might not gather
it on the Sabbath; and for purposing only to do it, God was very
angry. 'There went out some of the people on the seventh day for to
gather, and they found none. And the Lord said, How long refuse ye
to keep my commandments and my laws?' Exod xvi 27, 28. Surely
anointing Christ when he was dead was a commendable work; but,
though Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, had prepared
sweet ointments to anoint the dead body of Christ, they went not to
the sepulchre to embalm him till the Sabbath was past. 'They rested
the Sabbath-day, according to the commandment.' Luke xxiii 56. The
hand cannot be busied on the Lord's-day but the heart will be
defiled. The very heathen, by the light of nature, would not do any
secular work in the time which they had set apart for the worship of
their false gods. Clemens Alexandrinus reports of one of the
emperors of Rome, who, on the day of set worship for his gods, put
aside warlike affairs and spent the time in devotion. To do servile
work on the Sabbath shows an irreligious heart, and greatly offends
God. To do secular work on this day is to follow the devil's slough;
it is to debase the soul. God made this day on purpose to raise the
heart to heaven, to converse with him, to do angels' work; and to be
employed in earthly work is to degrade the soul of its honour. God
will not have his day entrenched upon, or defiled in the least
thing. The man that gathered sticks on the Sabbath he commanded to
be stoned. Numb. xv 35. It would seem a small thing to pick up a
few sticks to make a fire; but God would not have this day violated
in the smallest matters. Nay, the work which had reference to a
religious use might not be done on the Sabbath, as the hewing of
stones for the building of the sanctuary. Bezaleel, who was to cut
the stones, and carve the timber out for the sanctuary, must forbear
to do it on the Sabbath. Exod xxxi 15. A temple is a place of God's
worship, but it was a sin to build a temple on the Lord's-day. This
is keeping the Sabbath-day holy negatively, in doing no servile
Works of necessity and charity however may be done on this day.
In these cases God will have mercy and not sacrifice. (1) It is
lawful to take the necessary supplies of nature. Food is to the body
as oil to the lamp. (2) It is lawful to do works of mercy, as
helping a neighbour when either life or estate are in danger. Herein
the Jews were too nice and precise, who would not suffer works of
charity to be done on the Sabbath. If a man was sick, they thought
they might not on this day use means for his recovery. Christ
charges them with being angry because he had wrought a cure on the
Sabbath. John vii 23. If a house were on fire, the Jews thought they
might not bring water to quench it; if a vessel leaked on this day,
they thought they might not stop it. They were 'righteous overmuch;'
it was seeming zeal, but wanted discretion to guide it. Except in
these two cases, of necessity and charity, all secular work is to be
suspended and laid aside on the Lord's-day. 'In it thou shalt do no
manner of work.' This arraigns and condemns many among us who too
much foul their fingers with work on that day; some in dressing
great feasts, others in opening their shop-doors, and selling meat
on the Sabbath. The mariner will not put to sea but on the Sabbath,
and so runs full sail into the violation of this command. Others
work on this day privately, put up their shop-windows, and follow
their trade within doors; but though they think to hide their sin
under a canopy, God sees it. 'Whither shall I flee from thy
presence?' 'The darkness hideth not from thee.' Psa cxxxix 7, 12. Such
profane the day, and God will have an action of trespass against
 Positively. We keep the Sabbath-day holy, by 'consecrating
and dedicating' this day to the 'service of the high God.' It is
good to rest on the Sabbath-day from the works of our calling; but
if we rest from labour and do no more, the ox and the ass keep the
Sabbath as well as we; for they rest from labour. We must dedicate
the day to God; we must not only 'keep a Sabbath,' but 'sanctify' a
Sabbath. Sabbath-sanctification consists in two things: (1) Solemn
preparation for it. If a prince were to come to your house, what
preparation would you make for his entertainment! You would sweep
the house, wash the floor, adorn the room with the richest tapestry
and hangings, that there might be something suitable to the state
and dignity of so great a person. On the blessed Sabbath, God
intends to have sweet communion with you; he seems to say to you, as
Christ to Zacchaeus, 'Make haste and come down, for this day I must
abide at thy house.' Luke xix 5. Now, what preparation should you
make for entertaining this King of glory? When Saturday evening
approaches, sound a retreat; call your minds off from the world and
summon your thoughts together, to think of the great work of the
approaching day. Purge out all unclean affections, which may
indispose you for the work of the Sabbath. Evening preparation will
be like the tuning of an instrument, it will fit the heart better
for the duties of the ensuing Sabbath.
(2) The sacred observation of it. Rejoice at the approach of
the day, as a day wherein we have a prize for our souls, and may
enjoy much of God's presence. John viii 56. 'Abraham rejoiced to see
my day.' So, when we see the light of a Sabbath shine, we should
rejoice, and 'call the Sabbath a delight:' this is the queen of
days, which God has crowned with a blessing. Isa lxiii 13. As there
was one day in the week on which God rained manna twice as much as
upon any other day, so he rains down the manna of heavenly blessings
twice as much on the Sabbath as on any other. This is the day
wherein Christ carries the soul into the house of wine, and displays
the banner of love over it; now the dew of the Spirit falls on the
soul, whereby it is revived and comforted. How many may write the
Lord's day, the day of their new birth! This day of rest is a pledge
and earnest of the eternal rest in heaven. Shall we not then rejoice
at its approach? The day on which the Sun of Righteousness shines
should be a day of gladness.
Get up betides on the Sabbath morning. Christ rose early on
this day, before the sun was up. John xx 1. Did he rise early to
save us, and shall not we rise early to worship and glorify him?
'Early will I seek thee.' Psa lxiii 1. Can we be up betimes on other
days? The husband man is early at his slough, the traveller rises
early to go his journey, and shall not we, who on this day are
travelling to heaven? Certainly, if we loved God as we should, we
should rise on this day betimes, that we may meet with him whom our
souls love. Such as sit up late at work on the night before, are so
buried in sleep, that they will hardly be up betides on a Sabbath
IV. Having dressed your bodies, you must dress your souls for
hearing the word. As the people of Israel were to wash themselves
before the law was delivered to them, so we must wash and cleanse
our souls; and that is done by reading, meditation, and prayer. Exod
 By reading the word. The word is a great means to sanctify
the heart, and bring it into a Sabbath-frame. 'Sanctify them through
thy truth,' &c. John xvii 17. Read not the word carelessly, but with
seriousness and affection; as the oracle of heaven, the well of
salvation, the book of life. David, for its preciousness, esteemed
it above gold; and for its sweetness, above honey. Psa xix 10. By
reading the word aright, our hearts, when dull, are quickened; when
hard, are mollified; when cold and frozen are inflamed; and we can
say as the disciples, 'Did not our heart burn within us?' Some step
out of their bed to hearing. The reason why many get no more good on
a Sabbath by the word preached, is because they did not breakfast
with God in the morning by reading his word.
 Meditation. Get upon the mount of meditation, and there
converse with God. Meditation is the soul's retiring within itself,
that, by a serious and solemn thinking upon God, the heart may be
raised up to divine affections. It is a work fit for the morning of
a Sabbath. Meditate on four things.
(1) On the works of creation. This is expressed in the
commandment. "The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea,' &c. The
creation is a looking glass, in which we see the wisdom and power of
God gloriously represented. God produced this fair structure of the
world without any pre-existent matter, and with a word. 'By the word
of the Lord were the heavens made.' Psa xxxiii 6. The disciples
wondered that Christ could, with a word, calm the sea, but it was
far more astounding with a word to make the sea. Matt viii 26. On the
Sabbath let us meditate on the infiniteness of the Creator. Look up
to the firmament and see God's wonders in the deep.' Psa cvii 24.
Look into the earth, where we may behold the nature of minerals, the
power of the loadstone, the virtue of herbs, and the beauty of
flowers. By meditating on these works of creation, so curiously
embroidered, we shall learn to admire God and praise him. 'O Lord,
how manifold are thy works, in wisdom hast thou made them all.' Psa
civ 24. By meditating on the works of creation, we shall learn to
confide in God. He who can create, can provide; he that could make
us when we were nothing, can raise us when we are low. 'Our help is
in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.' Psa cxxiv 8.
(2) Meditate on God's holiness. 'Holy and reverend is his
name.' Psa cxi 9. 'Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil.' Hab
i 13. God is essentially, originally, and efficiently holy. All the
holiness in men and angels is but a crystal stream that runs from
this glorious fountain. God loves holiness because it is his own
image. A king cannot but love to see his own effigies stamped on
coin. God counts holiness his glory, and the most sparkling jewel of
his crown. 'Glorious unholiness.' Exod xv 2: Here is meditation fit
for the first entrance upon a Sabbath. The contemplation of this
would work in us such a frame of heart as is suitable to a holy God;
it would make us reverence his name and hallow his day. While
musing; upon the holiness of God's nature, we shall begin to be
transformed into his likeness.
(3) Meditate on Christ's love in redeeming us. Rev i 5.
Redemption exceeds creation; the one is a monument of God's power,
the other of his love. Here is fit work for a Sabbath. Oh, the
infinite stupendous love of Christ in raising poor lapsed creatures
from a state of guilt and damnation! That Christ who was God should
die! that this glorious Sun of Righteousness should be in an
eclipse! We can never admire enough this love, no, not in heaven.
That Christ should die for sinners! not sinful angels, but sinful
men. That such clods of earth and sin should be made bright stars of
glory! Oh, the amazing love of Christ! This was Illustreamoris
Christi mnemosynum. Brugensis. That Christ should not only die for
sinners, but die as a sinner! 'He has made him to be sin for us' 2
Cor v 21. He who was among the glorious persons of the Trinity,
'was numbered with the transgressors.' Isa liii 12. Not that he had
sin, but he was like a sinner, having our sins imputed to him. Sin
did not live in him, but it was laid upon him. Here was an hyperbole
of love enough to strike us with astonishment. That Christ should
redeem us, when he could not expect to gain anything, or to be
advantaged at all by us! Men will not lay out their money upon
purchase unless it will turn to their profit; but what benefit could
Christ expect in purchasing and redeeming us? We were in such a
condition that we could neither deserve nor recompense Christ's
love. We could not deserve it; for we were in our blood. Ezek xvi 6.
We had no spiritual beauty to tempt him. Nay, we were not only in
our blood, but we were in arms against him. 'When we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son;' Rom v 10. When
he was shedding his blood, we were spitting out poison. As we could
not deserve, so neither could we recompense it. After he had died
for us, we could not so much as love him, till he made us love him.
We could give him nothing in lieu of his love. 'Who has first given
to him?' Rom xi 35. We were fallen into poverty. If we have any
beauty, it is from him, 'It was perfect through my comeliness which
I had put upon thee.' Ezek xvi 14. If we bring forth any good fruit,
it is not of our own growth, it comes from him, the true vine. 'From
me is thy fruit found.' Hos xiv 8. It was nothing but pure love for
Christ to lay out his blood to redeem such as he could not expect to
be really bettered by. That Christ should die so willingly! 'I lay
down my life.' John x 17. The Jews could not have taken it away if
he had not laid it down. He could have called to his Father for
legions of angels to be his life-guard; but what need for even that,
when his own Godhead could have defended himself from all assaults?
He laid down his life. The Jews did not so much thirst for his
death, as he thirsted for our redemption. 'I have a baptism to be
baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?'
Luke xii 50. He called his sufferings a baptism; he was to be
baptised and sprinkled with his own blood; and he thought the time
long before he suffered. To show Christ's willingness to die, his
sufferings are called an offering. 'Through the offering of the body
of Jesus.' Heb x 10. His death was a free-will offering. That
Christ should not grudge nor think much of all his sufferings!
Though he was scourged and crucified, he was well contented with
what he had done, and, if it were needful, he would do it again. 'He
shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.' Isa
liii 11. As the mother who has had hard labour, does not repent of
her pangs when she sees a child brought forth, but is well
contented; so Christ, though he had hard travail upon the cross,
does not think much of it; he is not troubled, but thinks his sweat
and blood well bestowed, because he sees the man-child of redemption
brought forth into the world. That Christ should make redemption
effectual to some, and not to others! Here is surprising love.
Though there is sufficiency in his merits to save all, yet some only
partake of their saving virtue; all do not believe. 'There are some
of you that believe not.' John vi 64. Christ does not pray for all.
John xvii 9. Some refuse him. This is 'the stone which the builders
refused.' Psa cxviii 22. Others deride him. Luke xvi 14. Others throw
off his yoke. 'We will not have this man to reign over us.' Luke xix
14. So that all have not the benefit of salvation by him. Herein
appears the distinguishing love of Christ, that the virtue of his
death should reach some, and not others. 'Not many wise men after
the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.' 1 Cor i 26.
That Christ should pass by many of birth and parts, and that the lot
of free grace should fall upon thee; that he should sprinkle his
blood upon thee; 'Oh, the depth of the love of Christ!' That Christ
should love us with such a transcendent love! The apostle calls it
'Love which passeth knowledge.' Eph iii 19. That he should love us
more than the angels. He loves them as his friends, but believers as
his spouse. He loves them with such a kind of love as God the Father
bears to him. 'As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.'
John xv 9. Oh, what an hyperbole of love does Christ show in
redeeming us! That Christ's love in our redemption should be
everlasting! 'Having loved his own, he loved them unto the end.'
John xiii 1. As Christ's love is matchless, so it is endless. The
flower of his love is sweet; and that which makes it sweeter is that
it never dies. His love is eternized. Jer xxxi 3. He will never
divorce his elect spouse. The failings of his people cannot quite
take off his love; they may eclipse it, but not wholly remove it;
their failings may make Christ angry with them, but not hate them.
Every failing does not break the marriagebond. Christ's love is not
like the saint's love. They sometimes have strong affections towards
him, at other times the fit is off, and they find little or no love
stirring in them; but it is not so with Christ's love to them, it is
a love of eternity. When the sunshine of Christ's electing love is
once risen upon the soul, it never finally sets. Death may take away
our life from us, but not Christ's love. Behold here a rare subject
for meditation on a Sabbath morning. The meditation of Christ's
wonderful love in redeeming us would work in us a Sabbath-frame of
It would melt us in tears for our spiritual unkindness, that we
should sin against so sweet a Saviour; that we should be no more
affected with his love, but requite evil for good; that like the
Athenians, who, notwithstanding all the good service Aristides had
done them, banished him out of their city, we should banish him from
our temple; that we should grieve him with our pride, rash anger,
unfruitfulness, animosities, and strange factions. Have we none to
abuse but our friend? Have we nothing to kick against but the bowels
of our Saviour? Did not Christ suffer enough upon the cross, but we
must needs make him suffer more? Do we give him more 'gall and
vinegar to drink?' Oh, if anything can dissolve the heart in sorrow,
and melt the eyes to tears, it is unkindness offered to Christ. When
Peter thought of Christ's love to him, how he had made him an
apostle, and revealed his bosom-secrets to him, and taken him to the
mount of transfiguration, and yet that he should deny him; it broke
his heart with sorrow; 'he went out and wept bitterly.' Matt xxvi 75
What a blessed thing is it to have the eyes dropping tears on a
Sabbath! and nothing would sooner fetch tears than to meditate on
Christ's love to us, and our unkindness to him.
Meditating on a Lord's-day morning on Christ's love, would
kindle love in our hearts to him. How can we look on his bleeding
and dying for us and our hearts not be warmed with love to him? Love
is the soul of religion, the purest affection. It is not rivers of
oil, but sparks of love that Christ values. And sure, as David said,
'While I was musing the fire burned' (Psa xxxix 3), so, while we are
musing of Christ's love in redeeming us, the fire of our love will
burn towards him; and then the Christian is in a blessed
Sabbath-frame, when, like a seraphim, he is burning in love to
(4) On a Sabbath morning meditate on the glory of heaven.
Heaven is the extract and essence of happiness. It is called a
kingdom. Matt xxv 34. A kingdom for its riches and magnificence. It
is set forth by precious stones, and gates of pearl. Rev xxi 19, 21.
There is all that is truly glorious; transparent light, perfect
love, unstained honour, unmixed joy; and that which crowns the joy
of the celestial paradise is eternity. Suppose earthly kingdoms were
more glorious than they are, their foundations of gold, their walls
of pearl, their windows of sapphire, yet they are corruptible; but
the kingdom of heaven is eternal; those rivers of pleasure run 'for
evermore.' Psa xvi 11. That wherein the essence of glory consists,
and makes heaven to be heaven, is the immediate sight and fruition
of the blessed God. 'I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy
likeness.' Psa xvii 15. Oh, think of the Jerusalem above!
This is proper for a Sabbath. The meditation of heaven would
raise our hearts above the world. oh, how would earthly things
disappear and shrink into nothing, if our minds were mounted above
visible things, and we had a prospect of glory! How would the
meditation of heaven make us heavenly in our Sabbath exercises! It
would quicken affection, would add wings to devotion, and cause us
to be 'in the Spirit on the Lord's-day.' Rev i 10. How vigorously
does he serve God who has a crown of glory always in his eye!
 We dress our souls on a Sabbath-morning by prayer; 'When
thou prayest, enter into thy closet,' &c. Matt vi 6. Prayer
sanctifies a Sabbath.
(1) The things we should pray for in the morning of the
Sabbath. Let us beg a blessing upon the word which is to be
preached; that it may be a savour of life to us; that by it our
minds may be more illuminated, our corruptions more weakened, and
our stock of grace more increased. Let us pray that God's special
presence may be with us, that our hearts may burn within us while
God speaks, that we may receive the word into meek and humble
hearts, and that we may submit to it, and bring forth fruits. James
i 21. Nor should we only pray for ourselves, but for others.
Pray for him who dispenses the word; that his tongue may be
touched with a coal from God's altar; that God would warm his heart
who is to help to warm others. Your prayers may be a means to
quicken the minister. Some complain they find no benefit by the word
preached; perhaps they did not pray for their minister as they
should. Prayer is like the whetting and sharpening of an instrument,
which makes it cut better. Pray with and for your family. Yea, pray
for all the congregations that meet on this day in the fear of the
Lord; that the dew of the Spirit may fall with the manna of the
word; that some souls may be converted, and others strengthened;
that gospel ordinances may be continued, and have no restraint put
upon them. These are the things we should pray for. The tree of
mercy will not drop its fruit, useless it be shaken by the hand of
(2) The manner of our prayer. It is not enough to say a prayer;
to pray in a dull, cold manner, which asks God to deny; but we must
pray with reverence, humility, fervency, and hope in God's mercy.
Luke xxii 44. Christ prayed more earnestly. That we may pray with
more fervency, we must pray with a sense of our wants. He who is
pinched with wants, will be earnest in craving alms. He prays most
fervently who prays most feelingly. This is to sanctify the morning
of a Sabbath; and it is a good preparation for the word preached.
When the ground is broken up by the slough, it is fit to receive the
seed; when the heart has been broken by prayer, it is fit to receive
the seed of the preached word.
V. Having thus dressed your souls on a morning, for the further
sanctification of the Sabbath, address yourself to the hearing of
the preached word.
When you sit down in your seat, lift up your eyes to heaven for
a blessing upon the word to be dispensed; for you must know that the
word preached does not work as physic, by its own inherent virtue,
but by a virtue from heaven, and the co-operation of the Holy Ghost.
Therefore put up a short ejaculatory prayer for a blessing upon the
word, that it may be made effectual to you.
The word being begun to be preached, hear it with reverence and
holy attention. 'A certain woman, named Lydia, attended unto the
things which were spoken of Paul.' Acts xvi 14. Constantine, the
emperor, was noted for his reverent attention to the word. Christ
taught daily in the temple: and 'all the people were very attentive
to hear him.' Luke xix 48. In the Greek, 'they hung upon his lip.'
Could we tell men of a rich purchase, they would diligently attend;
and should they not much more, when the gospel of grace is preached
unto them? That we may sanctify and hallow the Sabbath by attentive
hearing, beware of these two things in hearing: distraction and
 Distraction. 'That ye may attend open the Lord without
distraction.' 1 Cor vii 35. It is said of Bernard, that when he came
to the church-door, he would say, 'Stay here all my earthly
thoughts.' So should we say to ourselves, when we are at the door of
God's house, 'Stay here all my worldly cares and wandering
cogitations; I am now going to hear what the Lord will say to me.'
Distraction hinders devotion. The mind is tossed with vain thoughts,
and diverted from the business in hand. It is hard to make a
quicksilver heart fix. Jerome complains of himself, 'Sometimes when
I am about God's service, per porticus diambulo, I am walking in the
galleries, and sometimes casting up accounts.' How often in hearing
the word, the thoughts dance up and down; and, when the eye is upon
the minister, the mind is upon other things. Distracted hearing is
far from sanctifying the Sabbath. It is very sinful to give way to
vain thoughts at this time; because, when we are hearing the word,
we are in God's special presence. To do any treasonable action in
the king's presence is high great impudence. 'Yea, in my house have
I found their wickedness.' Jer xxiii 11. So the Lord may say, 'In my
house, while they are hearing my word, I have found wickedness; they
have wanton eyes, and their soul is set on vanity.'
Whence do these roving and distracting thoughts in hearing
(1) Partly from Satan. The devil is sure to be present in our
assemblies. If he cannot hinder us from hearing, he will hinder us
in hearing. 'When the sons of God came to present themselves before
the Lord, Satan came also among them.' Job i 6. The devil sets vain
objects before the fancy to cause a diversion. His great design is
to render the word fruitless. As when one is writing, another jogs
him that he cannot write even, so when we are hearing, the devil
will be jogging us with a temptation, that we should not attend to
the word preached. 'He shewed me Joshua the high-priest standing
before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand
to resist him.' Zech iii 1.
(2) These wandering thoughts in hearing come partly from
ourselves. We must not lay all the blame upon Satan.
They come from the eye. A wandering eye causes wandering
thoughts. As a thief may come into the house at a window, so vain
thoughts may be at the eye. As we are bid to keep our feet when we
enter into the house of God (Eccl v 1), so we had need make a
covenant with our eyes, that we be not distracted by beholding other
objects. Job xxxi 1.
Wandering thoughts in hearing rise out of the heart. These
sparks come out of our own furnace. Vain thoughts are the mud which
the heart, as from a troubled sea, casts up. 'For from within, out
of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts.' Mark vii 21. As the
foulness of the stomach sends up fumes into the head, so the
corruption of the heart sends up evil thoughts into the mind.
Distracted thoughts in hearing proceed from an evil habit. We
inure ourselves to vain thoughts at other times, and therefore we
cannot hinder them on a Sabbath. Habit is a second nature. 'Can the
Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye
also do good that are accustomed to do evil?' Jer xiii 23. He that is
used to bad company, knows not how to leave it; so such as have vain
thoughts to keep them company all the week, know not how to get rid
of them on the Sabbath. Let me show you how evil these vain
distracting thoughts in hearing are: -
 To have the heart distracted in hearing, is a disrespect to
God's omniscience. God is an all-seeing Spirit; and thoughts speak
louder in his ears than words do in ours. 'He declareth unto man
what is his thought.' Amos iv 13. To make no conscience of wandering
thoughts in hearing, is an affront to God's omniscience, as if he
knew not our heart, or did not hear the language of our thoughts.
 To give way to wandering thoughts in hearing is hypocrisy.
We pretend to hear what God says, and our minds are quite upon
another thing. We present God with our bodies, but do not give him
our hearts. Hos vii 11. This hypocrisy God complains of. 'This people
draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but
have removed their hearts far from me.' Isa xxix 13. This is to
prevaricate and deal falsely with God.
 Vain thoughts in hearing discover much want of love to God.
Did we love him we should listen to his words as oracles, and write
them upon the table of our heart. Prov iii 3. When a friend whom we
love speaks to us, and gives us advice, we attend with seriousness,
and suck in every word. Giving our thoughts leave to ramble in holy
duties, shows a great defect in our love to God.
 Vain impertinent thoughts in hearing defile an ordinance.
They are as dead flies in the box of ointment. When a string of a
lute is out of tune, it spoils the music; so distraction of thought
puts the mind out of tune, and makes our services sound harsh and
unpleasant. Wandering thoughts poison a duty, and turn it into sin.
'Let his prayer become sin.' Psa cix 7. What can be worse than to
have a man's praying and hearing of the word become sin? Would it
not be sad, if the meat we eat should increase bad humours? How much
more when hearing the word, which is the food of the soul, is turned
 Vain thoughts in hearing offend God. If the king were
speaking to one of his subjects, and he should not give heed to what
the king says, but be thinking on another business, or playing with
a feather, would not the king be provoked? So, when we are in God's
presence, and he is speaking to us in his word, and we mind not much
what he says, but our hearts go after covetousness, will it not
offend God to be thus slighted? Ezek xxxiii 31. He has pronounced a
curse upon such. 'Cursed be the deceiver, which has in his flock a
male, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing.' Mal i 14. To
have strong lively affections is to have a male in the flock; but to
hear the word with distraction, is to give God duties fly-blown with
vain thoughts, and to offer to the Lord a corrupt thing, which
brings a curse. 'Cursed be the deceiver.'
 Vain thoughts in hearing, when allowed and not resisted,
make way for hardening the heart. A stone in the heart is worse than
in the kidneys. Distracted thoughts in hearing do not better the
heart, but harden it. Vain thoughts take away the holy awe of God
which should be upon the heart; they make conscience less tender,
and hinder the efficacy the word should have upon the heart.
 Vain and distracting thoughts rob us of the comfort of an
ordinance. A gracious soul often meets with God in the sanctuary,
and can say, 'I found him whom my soul loveth.' Cant iii 4. He is
like Jonathan, who, when he had tasted the honey on the rod, had his
eyes enlightened. But vain thoughts hinder the comfort of an
ordinance, as a black cloud hides the warm comfortable beams of the
sun. Will God speak peace to us when our minds are wandering and our
thoughts are travelling to the ends of the earth? Prov xvii 24. If
ever you would hear the word with attention, do as Abraham when he
drove away the fowls from the sacrifice. Gen xv 2. When you find
these excursions and sinful wanderings in hearing, labour to drive
away the fowls; get rid of these vain thoughts; they are vagrants,
and must not be entertained.
How shall we get rid of these vagabond thoughts?
(1) Pray and watch against them. (2) Let the sense of God's
omniscient eye overawe your hearts. The servant will not sport in
his master's presence. (3) Labour for a holy frame of heart. Were
the heart more spiritual, the mind would be less feathery. (4) Bring
more love to the word. We fix our minds upon that which we love. He
that loves his pleasures and recreations, fixes his mind upon them,
and can follow them without distraction. Were our love more set upon
the preached word, our minds would be more fixed upon it; and surely
there is enough to make us love the word preached; for it is the
word of life, the inlet to knowledge, the antidote against sin, the
quickener of all holy affections. It is the true manna, which has
all sorts of sweet tastes in it; the pool of Bethesda, in which the
rivers of life spring forth to heal the broken in heart; and a
sovereign elixir or cordial to revive the sorrowful spirit. Get love
to the word preached, and you will not be so distracted in hearing.
What the heart delights in, the thoughts dwell upon.
 Take heed of drowsiness in hearing. Drowsiness shows much
irreverence. How lively are many when they are about the world, but
in the worship of God how drowsy, as if the devil had given them
opium to make them sleep! A drowsy feeling here is very sinful. Are
you not in prayer asking pardon of sin? Will the prisoner fall
asleep when he is begging pardon? In the preaching of the word, is
not the bread of life broken to you? and will a man fall asleep over
his food? Which is worse, to stay from a sermon, or sleep at a
sermon? While you slept, perhaps the truth was delivered which might
have converted your souls. Besides, sleeping is very offensive in a
holy assembly; it not only grieves the Spirit of God, but makes the
hearts of the righteous sad. Ezek xiii 22. It troubles them to see
any show such contempt of God and his worship; to see them busy in
the shop, but drowsy in the temple. Therefore, as Christ said,
'Could ye not watch one hour?' so, can ye not wake one hour? Matt
xxvi 40. I deny not but a child of God may sometimes, through
weakness and indisposition of body, drop asleep at a sermon, but not
voluntarily or ordinarily. The sun may be in an eclipse, but not
often. If sleeping be customary and allowed, it is a very bad sign,
and a profanation of the ordinance. A good remedy against drowsiness
is to use a spare diet upon the Sabbath. Such as indulge their
appetite too much on a Sabbath, are fitter to sleep on a couch than
pray in the temple. That you may throw off distracting thoughts and
drowsiness on the Lord's-day, and may hear the word with reverend
attention, consider -
(1) It is God that speaks to us in his word; therefore the
preaching of the word is called the 'breath of his lips.' Isa xi 4.
Christ is said now to speak to us 'from heaven,' as a king speaks in
his ambassador. Heb xii 25. Ministers are but pipes and organs, it
is the Spirit of the living God that breathes in them. When we come
to the word, we should think within ourselves, God is speaking in
this preacher. The Thessalonians heard the word Paul preached, as if
God himself had spoken unto them. 'When ye received the word of God,
which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but (as
it is in truth) the word of God.' 1 Thess ii 13. When Samuel knew it
was the Lord that spake to him, he lent his ear. 1 Sam iii 10. If we
do not regard God when he speaks to us, he will not regard us when
we pray to him.
(2) Consider how serious and weighty the matters delivered to
us are. Moses said, 'I call heaven and earth to record this day,
that I have set before you life and death.' Deut xxx 19. Can men be
regardless of the word, or drowsy when the weighty matters of
eternity are set before them? We preach faith, and holiness of life,
and the day of judgement and eternal retribution. Here life and
death are set before you; and does not all this call for serious
attention? If a letter were read to one of special business, wherein
his life and estate were concerned, would he not be very serious in
listening to it? In the preaching of the word your salvation is
concerned; and if ever you would attend, it should be now. 'It is
not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.' Deut xxxii 47.
(3) To give way to vain thoughts and drowsiness in hearing,
gratifies Satan. He knows that not to mind a duty, is all one in
religion as not to do it. 'What the heart does not do, is not done.'
Therefore Christ says of some, 'Hearing, they hear not.' Matt xiii
13. How could that be? Because, though the word sounded in their
ear, yet they minded not what was said to them, their thoughts were
upon other things; therefore, it was all as one as if they did not
hear. Does it not please Satan to see men come to the word, and as
good stay away? They are haunted with vain thoughts; they are taken
off from the duty while they are in it; their body is in the
assembly, their heart in their shop. 'Hearing, they hear not.'
(4) Each Sabbath may be the last we shall ever keep; we may go
from the place of hearing to the place of judging; and shall not we
give reverend attention to the word? Did we think when we come into
God's house 'Perhaps this will be the last time that ever God will
counsel us about our souls, and before another sermon death's alarm
will sound in our ears; with what attention and devotion should we
feel, and our affections would be all on fire in hearing!
(5) You must give an account for every sermon you hear. Redde
rationem: 'Give an account of thy stewardship.' Luke xvi 2. So will
God say, 'Give an account of thy hearing. Hast thou been affected
with the word? Hast thou profited by it?' How can we give a good
account, if we have been distracted in hearing, and have not taken
notice of what has been said to us? The judge to whom we must give
an account is God. Were we to give account to man, we might falsify
accounts; but we must give an account to God. Nec donis corrumpitur,
nec blanditiis fallitur. Bernard. 'He is so just a God that he
cannot be bribed, and so wise that he cannot be deceived.'
Therefore, having to give an account to such an impartial Judge, how
should we observe every word preached, remembering the account! Let
all this make us shake off distraction and drowsiness in hearing,
and have our ears chained to the word.
VI. In order to hear the word aright, let the following things
be attended to: -
 Lay aside those dispositions which may render the preached
word ineffectual. As,
(1) Curiosity. Some go to hear the word preached, not so much
to get grace, as to enrich themselves with notions: having 'itching
ears.' 2 Tim iv 3. Augustine confesses that, before his conversion,
he went to hear Ambrose for his eloquence rather than for the
spirituality of the matter. 'Thou art unto them as a very lovely
song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an
instrument.' Ezek xxxiii 32. Many go to the word to feast their ears
only; they like the melody of the voice, the mellifluous sweetness
of the expression, and the novelty of the opinions. Acts xvii 21.
This is to love the garnishing of the dish more than the food; it is
to desire to be pleased rather than edified. Like a woman that
paints her face, but neglects her health - they paint and adorn
themselves with curious speculations, but neglect their soul's
health. This hearing neither sanctifies the heart nor the Sabbath.
(2) Lay aside prejudice. Prejudice is sometimes against the
truths preached. The Sadducees were prejudiced against the doctrine
of the resurrection. Luke xx 27. Sometimes prejudice is against the
person preaching. 'There is one Micaiah, by whom we may inquire of
the Lord, but I hate him.' 1 Kings xxii 8. This hinders the power of
the word. If a patient has an ill opinion of his physician, he will
not take any of his medicines, however good they may be. Prejudice
in the mind is like an obstruction in the stomach, which hinders the
nutritive virtue of the meat. It poisons the word, and causes it to
lose its efficacy.
(3) Lay aside covetousness. Covetousness is not only getting
worlds gain unjustly, but loving it inordinately. This is a great
hindrance to the preached word. The seed which fell among thorns was
choked, Matt xiii 22; a fit emblem of the word when preached to a
covetous hearer. The covetous man is thinking on the world when he
is hearing; his heart is in his shop. 'They sit before thee as my
people, and they hear thy words, but their heart goes after their
covetousness.' Ezek xxxiii 31. A covetous hearer derides the word. 'The
Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they
derided him.' Luke xvi 14.
(4) Lay aside partiality. Partiality in hearing is, when we
like to hear some truths preached, but not all. We love to hear of
heaven, but not of self-denial; of reigning with Christ, but not of
suffering with him; of the more facile duties of religion, but not
those which are more knotty and difficult; as mortification, laying
the axe to the root, and hewing down our beloved sin. 'Speak smooth
things' (Isa xxx 10), such as may not grate upon the conscience.
Many like to hear of the love of Christ, but not of loving their
enemies; they like the comforts of the word, but not its reproofs.
Herod heard John the Baptist gladly; he liked many truths, but not
when he spake against his incest.
(5) Lay aside censoriousness. Some, instead of judging
themselves for sin, sit as judges upon the preacher; his sermon had
either too much gall in it, or it was too long. They would sooner
censure a sermon than practice it. God will judge the judger. Matt
(6) Lay aside disobedience. 'All day long I have stretched
forth my hands unto a disobedient people.' Rom x 21. It is said of
the Jews that God stretched out his hands in the preaching of the
word, but they rejected Christ. Let there be none among you that
wilfully refuse the counsels of the word. It is sad to have an
adder's ear and an adamant heart. Zech vii 11, 12. If, when God
speaks to us in his word, we are deaf, when we speak to him in
prayer, he will be dumb.
 If you would hear the word aright, have good ends in
hearing. 'Come to the word to be made better.' Some have no other
end in hearing but because it is in fashion, or to gain repute, or
stop the mouth of conscience; but come to the word to be made more
holy. There is a great difference between one who goes to a garden
for flowers to wear in her bosom, and another that goes for flowers
to make syrups and medicines. We should go to the word for medicine
to cure us; as Naaman the Syrian went to Jordan to be healed of his
leprosy. 'Desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow
thereby.' 1 Pet ii 2. Go to the word to be changed into its
similitude. As the seal leaves its print upon the wax, so labour
that the word preached may leave the print of its own holiness upon
Labour that the 'word' may have such a virtue in you, as the
water of jealousy, to kill and make fruitful; that it may kill your
sins, and make your souls fruitful in grace. Numb v 27.
 If you would hear the word aright, go to it with delight.
The word preached is a feast of fat things. With what delight do men
go to a feast! The word preached anoints the blind eye; mollifies
the rocky heart; it beats off our fetters, and turns us from the
'power of Satan unto God.' Acts xxvi 18. The word is the seed of
regeneration, and the engine of salvation. James i 18. Hear the
word with delight and complacency. 'Thy words were found, and I did
eat them; and thy word was the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.' Jer
xv 16. 'How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than
honey to my mouth.' Psa cxix 103. Love the word that comes most home
to the conscience; bless God when your corruptions have been met
with, when the sword of the Spirit has divided between you and your
sins. Who cares for the physic which will not work?
 If you would hear the word aright, mix it with faith.
Believe the truth of the word preached, that it is the word by which
you must be judged. Not only give credence to the word preached, but
apply it to your own souls. Faith digests the word, and turns it
into spiritual nourishment. Many hear the word, but it may be said
of them, as in Psa cvi 24 'They believed not his word.' As
Melanchthon once said to some Italians 'Ye Italians worship God in
the bread, when ye do not believe him to be in heaven;' so, many
hear God's words, but do not believe that God is; they question the
truth of his oracles. If we do not mix faith with the word, it is
like leaving out the chief ingredient in a medicine, which makes it
ineffectual. Unbelief hardens men's hearts against the word. 'Divers
were hardened, and believed not.' Acts xix 9. Men hear many truths
delivered concerning the preciousness of Christ, the beauty of
holiness, and the felicity of a glorified estate; but, if through
unbelief and atheism, they question these truths, we may as well
speak to stones and pillars of the church as to them. That word
which is not believed, can never be practised. Ubi male creditur,
ibi nec bene vivitur [When belief is unstable, conduct also wavers].
Jerome. Unbelief makes the word preached of no effect. 'The word
preached did not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that
heard it.' Heb iv 2. The word to an unbeliever is like a cordial put
into a dead man's mouth, which loses all its virtue. If there be any
unbelievers in our congregations, what shall ministers say of them
to God at the last day? Lord, we have preached to the people thou
sentest us to, we have showed them our commission, we have declared
unto them thy whole counsel, but they have not believed a word we
spake. We told them what would be the fruit of sin, but they would
not heed. They would drink their sugared draught, though there was
death in the cup. Lord, we are free from their blood. God forbid
that ministers should ever have to make this report to him of their
people. But this they will be forced to do if their hearers live and
die in unbelief. Would you sanctify a Sabbath by hearing the word
aright? Hear it with faith. The apostle puts the two together,
'belief and salvation.' 'We are of them that believe to the saving
of the soul.' Heb x 39.
 If you would hear the word aright, hear it with meek
spirits. James i 21. Receive the word in mansuetudine, 'with
meekness'. Meekness is a submissive frame of heart to the word.
Contrary to this meekness is fierceness of spirit, when men rise up
in rage against the word; as if the patient should be angry with the
physician when he gives him a medicine to purge out his bad humours.
'When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and
gnashed on him [Stephen] with their teeth.' Acts vii 54. 'Asa was
wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house.' 2 Chron xvi 10.
Pride and guilt make men fret at the word. What made Asa enraged but
pride? He was a king, and thought he was too good to be told of his
sin. What made Cain angry when God said to him, 'Where is Abel, thy
brother?' He replied, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' What made him so
touchy but guilt? He had imbrued his hands in his brother's blood.
If you would hear the word aright, lay aside your passions. 'Receive
the word with meekness;' get humble hearts to submit to the truths
delivered. God takes the meek person for his scholar. 'The meek will
he teach his way.' Psa xxv 9. Meekness makes the word preached to be
an 'ingrafted word.' James i 21. A good scion grafted in a bad
stock changes the nature of it, and makes it bear good and generous
fruit; so, when the word preached is grafted into men's hearts, it
sanctifies them and makes them bring forth the sweet fruits of
righteousness. By meekness it becomes an ingrafted word.
 If you would hear the word aright, be not only attentive,
but retentive. Lay it up in your memories and hearts. The seed 'on
the good ground are they, which, having heard the word, keep it.'
Luke viii 15. The Greek word for 'to keep,' signifies to hold the word
fast, that it does not run from us. If the seed be not kept in the
ground, but is presently washed away, it is sown to little purpose;
so if the word preached be not kept in your memories and hearts, it
is preached in vain. Many persons have memories like leaky vessels.
If the word goes out as fast as it comes in, how can it profit? If a
treasure be put in a chest and the chest be not locked, it may
easily be taken out; so a bad memory is a chest without a lock, out
of which the devil can easily take all the treasure. 'Then comes the
devil and taketh away the word out of their hearts.' Luke viii 12.
Labour to keep in memory the truths you hear. The things we esteem
are not easily forgotten. 'Can a maid forget her ornaments or a
bride her attire?' Jer ii 32. Did we prize the word more, we should
not forget it so soon. If meat does not stay in the stomach, but
rises up as fast as we eat it, it cannot nourish; so, if the word
stays not in the memory, but is presently gone, it can do the soul
but little good.
 If you would hear aright, practice what you hear. Practice
is the life of all. 'Blessed are they that do his commandments, that
they may have right to the tree of life.' Rev xxii 14. Hearing only
will be no plea at the day of judgement - merely to say, 'Lord, I
have heard many sermons.' God will say, 'What fruits of obedience
have ye brought forth?' The word preached is not only to inform you
but reform you; not only to mend your sight, but to mend your pace
in the way to heaven. A good hearer opens and shuts to God as the
heliotrope to the sun.
(1) If you do not hear the word to practice it, you lose all
your labour. How many a weary step have you taken, your body has
been crowded, and your spirit faint, if you are not bettered by
hearing! If you are as proud, as vain, and as earthly as ever, all
your hearing is lost. You would be loath to trade in vain, and why
not to hear sermons in vain? 'Why then labour I in vain?' Job ix 29.
Put this question to your own soul: Why labour I in vain? Why do I
take all these pains to hear, and yet have not grace to practice it?
I am as bad as ever! Why then do I labour in vain?
(2) If you hear the word, and are not bettered by it, you are
like the salamander, no hotter in the fire; and your hearing will
increase your condemnation. 'That servant which knew his lord's
will, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many
stripes.' Luke xii 47. We pity such as know not where to hear; it
will be worse with such as care not how they hear. To graceless
disobedient hearers, every sermon will be a faggot to heat hell. It
is sad to go loaded to hell with ordinances. Oh, beg the Spirit to
make the word preached effectual! Ministers can but speak to the
ear, the Spirit speaks to the heart. 'While Peter spake, the Holy
Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.' Acts x 44.
 Having heard the word in a holy and spiritual manner, for
the further sanctification of the Sabbath, confer with the word. We
are forbidden on this day to speak our own words, but we must speak
of God's word. Isa lxiii 13. Speak of the sermons as you sit together;
which is one part of sanctifying the Sabbath. Good discourse brings
holy truths into our memories, and fastens them upon our hearts.
'Then they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another.' Mal iii
16. There is great power and efficacy in good discourse. 'How
forcible are right words!' Job vi 25. By holy conference on a
Sabbath, one Christian helps to warm another when he is frozen, and
to strengthen another when he is weak. Latimer confessed he was much
furthered in religion by having conference with Mr. Bilney the
martyr. 'My tongue shall speak of thy word.' Psa cxix 172. One
reason why preaching the word on a Sabbath does no more good is
because there is so little good conference. Few speak of the word
they have heard, as if sermons were such secrets that they must not
be spoken of again, or as if it were a shame to speak of that which
will save us.
 Close the Sabbath evening with repetition, reading, singing
Psalms, and prayer. Ask that God would bless the word you have
heard. Could we but thus spend a Sabbath, we might be 'in the Spirit
on the Lord's-day,' our souls would be nourished and comforted; and
the Sabbaths we now keep, would be earnests of the everlasting
Sabbaths which we shall celebrate in heaven.
See here the Christian's duty, 'to keep the Sabbath-day holy.'
(1) The whole Sabbath is to be dedicated to God. It is not
said, Keep a part of the Sabbath holy, but the whole day must be
religiously observed. If God has given us six days, and taken but
one to himself, shall we grudge him any part of that day? It were
sacrilege. The Jews kept a whole day to the Lord; and we are not to
abridge or curtail the Sabbath, as Augustine says, more than the
Jews did. The very heathen, by the light of nature, set apart a
whole day in honour of false gods; and Scaevola, a high-priest of
theirs, affirms that the wilful transgression of that day could have
no expiation or pardon. If any one robs any part of the Christian
Sabbath for servile work or recreation, Scaevola, the high priest of
the heathenish gods, shall rise up in judgement to condemn him. Let
those who say, that to keep a whole Sabbath is too Judaical, show
where God has made any abatement of the time of worship; where he
has said, you shall keep but a part of the Sabbath; and if they
cannot show that, it robs God of his due. That a whole day be
designed and set apart for his special worship, is a perpetual
statute, while the church remains upon the earth, as Peter Martyr
says. Of this opinion also were Theodore, Augustine, Irenaeus, and
the chief of the fathers.
(2) As the whole Sabbath is to be dedicated to God, so it must
be kept holy. You have seen the manner of sanctifying the Lord's-day
by reading, meditation, prayer, hearing the word, and by singing of
psalms to make melody to the Lord. Now, besides what I have said
upon keeping this day holy, let me make a short comment or
paraphrase on that Scripture. 'If thou turn away thy foot from the
Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the
Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable: and shalt
honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own
pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.' Isa lxiii 13. Here is a
description of rightly sanctifying a Sabbath.
'If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath.' This may be
understood either literally or spiritually. Literally, that is, if
thou withdrawest thy foot from taking long walks or journeys on the
Sabbath-day. So the Jewish doctors expound it. Or, spiritually, if
thou turn away thy affections (the feet of thy soul) from inclining
to any worldly business.
'From doing thy pleasure on my holy day.' That is, thou must
not do that which may please the carnal part, as in sports and
pastimes. This is to do the devil's work on God's day.
'And call the Sabbath a delight.' Call it a delight, that is,
esteem it so. Though the Sabbath be not a day for carnal pleasure,
yet holy pleasure is not forbidden. The soul must take pleasure in
the duties of a Sabbath. The saints of old counted the Sabbath a
delight: the Jews called the Sabbath dies lucis, a day of light. The
Lord's day, on which the Sun of Righteousness shines, is both a day
of light and delight. This is the day of sweet intercourse between
God and the soul. On this day a Christian makes his sallies out to
heaven; his soul is lifted above the earth; and can this be without
delight? The higher the bird flies, the sweeter it sings. On the
Sabbath the soul fixes its love on God; and where love is, there is
delight. On this day the believer's heart is melted, quickened, and
enlarged in holy duties; and how can all this be, and not a secret
delight go along with it? On a Sabbath a gracious soul can say, 'I
sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was
sweet to my taste.' Cant ii 3. How can a spiritual heart choose but
call the Sabbath a delight? Is it not delightful to a queen to be
putting on her wedding robes in which she shall meet the king her
bridegroom? When we are about Sabbath exercises, we are dressing
ourselves, and putting on our wedding robes in which we are to meet
our heavenly bridegroom the Lord Jesus; and is not this delightful?
On the Sabbath God makes a feast of fat things; he feasts the ear
with his word, and the heart with his grace. Well then may we call
the Sabbath a delight. To find this holy delight, is to 'be in the
Spirit on the Lord's-day.'
'The holy of the Lord, honourable.' In the Hebrew, it is
glorious. To call the Sabbath honourable, is not to be understood so
much of an outward honour given to it, by wearing richer apparel, or
having better diet on this day, as the Jewish doctors corruptly
gloss. This is the chief honour that some give to this day; but by
calling the Sabbath honourable, is meant that honour of the heart
which we give to the day, reverencing it, and esteeming it as the
queen of days. We are to count the Sabbath honourable, because God
has honoured it. All the persons in the Trinity have honoured it.
God the Father blessed it, God the Son rose upon it, God the Holy
Ghost descended on it. Acts ii 1: This day is to be honoured by all
good Christians, and had in high veneration. It is a day of renown,
on which a golden sceptre of mercy is held forth. The Christian
Sabbath is the very crepusculum and dawning of the heavenly Sabbath.
It is honourable, because on this day 'God comes down to us and
visits us.' To have the King of heaven present in a special manner
in our assemblies, makes the Sabbath-day honourable. Besides, the
work done on this day makes it honourable. The six days are filled
up with servile work, which makes them lose much of their glory; but
on this day sacred work is done. The soul is employed wholly about
the worship of God; it is praying, hearing, meditating; it is doing
angels' work, praising, and blessing God. Again, the day is
honourable by virtue of a divine institution. Silver is of itself
valuable; but when the royal stamp is put upon it, it is honourable;
so God has put a sacred stamp upon this day, the stamp of divine
authority, and the stamp of divine benediction. This makes it
honourable; and this is sanctifying the Sabbath, to call it a
delight, and honourable.
'Not doing thine own ways.' That is, thou shalt not defile the
day by doing any servile work.
'Nor finding thine own pleasure.' That is, not gratifying the
fleshly part by walks, visits, or pastimes.
'Nor speaking thine own Words.' That is, words heterogeneous
and unsuitable for a Sabbath; vain, impertinent words; discourses of
Use two. If the Sabbath-day is to be kept holy, they are
reproved who, instead of sanctifying the Sabbath, profane it. They
take the time which should be dedicated wholly to God, and spend it
in the service of the devil and their lusts. The Lord has set apart
this day for his own worship, and they make it common. He has set a
hedge about this commandment, saying, 'Remember;' and they break
this hedge; but he who breaks this hedge, a serpent shall bite him.
Eccl x 8. The Sabbath day in England lies bleeding; and oh! that
our parliament would pour some balm into the wounds which it has
received! How is this day profaned, by sitting idle at home, by
selling meat, by vain discourse, by sinful visits, by walking in the
fields, and by sports! The people of Israel might not gather manna
on the Sabbath, and may we use sports and dancings on this day?
Truly it should be matter of grief to us to see so much
Sabbath-profanation. When one of Darius's eunuchs saw Alexander
setting his feet on a rich table of Darius's, he wept. Alexander
asked him why he wept? He said it was to see the table which his
master so highly esteemed now made a footstool. So may we weep to
see the Sabbath-day, which God highly esteems, and has honoured and
blessed, made a footstool, and trampled upon by the feet of sinners.
To profane the Sabbath is a great sin; it is a wilful contempt of
God; it is not only casting his law behind our back, but trampling
it under foot. He says, 'Keep the Sabbath holy;' but men pollute it.
This is to despise God, to hang out the flag of defiance, to throw
down the gauntlet, and challenge God himself. Now, how can God
endure to be thus saucily confronted by proud dust? Surely he will
not suffer this high impudence to go unpunished. God's curse will
come upon the Sabbath-breaker; and it will blast where it comes. The
law of the land lets Sabbath-breakers alone, but God will not. No
sooner did Christ curse the fig-tree, but it withered. God will take
the matter into his own hand; he will see after the punishing of
Sabbath violation. And how does he punish it?
(1) With spiritual plagues. He gives up Sabbath profaners to
hardness of heart, and a scared conscience. Spiritual judgements are
sorest. 'So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust.' Psa lxxxi 12.
A sear in the conscience is a brand-mark of reprobation.
(2) God punishes this sin by giving men up to commit other
sins. To revenge the breaking of his Sabbath, he suffers them to
break open houses, and so come to be punished by the magistrate. How
many such confessions have we heard from thieves going to be
executed! They never regarded the Sabbath, and God suffered them to
commit those sins for which they are to die.
(3) God punishes Sabbath-breaking by sudden visible judgements
on men for this sin. He punishes them in their estates and in their
persons. While a certain man was carrying corn into his barn on the
Lord's-day, both house and corn were consumed with fire from heaven.
In Wiltshire there was a dancing match appointed upon the
Lord's-day; and while one of the company was dancing, he suddenly
fell down dead. The 'Theatre of God's Judgements' relates of one,
who used every Lord's-day to hunt in sermon-time, who had a child by
his wife with a head like a dog, and it cried like a hound. His sin
was monstrous, and it was punished with a monstrous birth. The Lord
threatened the Jews, that if they would not hallow the Sabbath-day,
he would kindle a fire in their gates. Jer xvii 27. The dreadful fire
which broke out in London began on the Sabbath-day; as if God would
tell us from heaven he was then punishing us for our Sabbath
profanation. Nor does he punish it only in this life with death, but
hereafter with damnation. Let such as break God's Sabbath see if
they can break those chains of darkness in which they and the devils
shall be held.
It exhorts us to Sabbath holiness.
Make conscience of keeping this day holy. The other
commandments have an affirmative in them only, or a negative; this
fourth commandment has both an affirmative in it and a negative.
'Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy,' and, 'thou shalt not do any
manner of work in it,' shows how carefully God would have us observe
this day. Not only must you keep this day yourselves, but have a
care that all under your charge keep it; 'Thou, and thy son, and thy
daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maidservant;' that is, thou
who art a superior, a parent or a master, thou must have a care that
not only thou thyself, but those who are under thy trust and
tuition, sanctify the day. Those masters of families are to blame
who are careful that their servants serve them, but have no care
that they serve God; who care not though their servants should serve
the devil, so long as their bodies do them service. That which Paul
says to Timothy, Serva depositum, 'That good thing, which was
committed unto thee, keep,' is of large meaning. 1 Tim i 11. Not
only have a care of thy own soul, but have a care of the souls thou
art entrusted with. See that they who are under thy charge sanctify
the Sabbath. God's law provided, that if a man met with an ox or an
ass going astray, he should bring him back again; much more, when
thou sees the soul of thy child or servant going astray from God,
and breaking his Sabbath, thou shouldest bring him back again to a
religious observation of this day.
That I may press you to Sabbath-sanctification, consider what
great blessings God has promised to the strict observers of this
day. Isa lxiii 14. (1) A promise of joy. 'Then shalt thou delight
thyself in the Lord.' Delighting in God is both a duty and a reward.
In this text it is a reward, 'Then shalt thou delight thyself in the
Lord;' as if God had said, If thou keep the Sabbath conscientiously,
I will give thee that which will fill thee with delight; if thou
keep the Sabbath willingly, I will make thee keep it joyfully. I
will give thee those enlargements in duty, and that inward comfort,
which shall abundantly satisfy thee; thy soul shall overflow with
such a stream of joy, that thou shalt say, 'Lord, in keeping thy
Sabbath there is great reward. (2) Of honour. And 'I will cause thee
to ride upon the high places of the earth.' That is, I will advance
thee to honour, ascendere faciam; so Munster interprets it. Some, by
the high places of the earth, understand Judea; so Grotius. I will
bring thee into the land of Judea, which is situated higher than the
other countries adjacent. (3) Of earth and heaven. 'And I will feed
thee with the heritage of Jacob;' that is, I will feed thee with all
the delicious things of Canaan, and afterwards I will translate thee
to heaven, whereof Canaan was but a type. Another promise is,
'Blessed is the man that does this, that keepeth the Sabbath from
polluting it.' Isa lvi 2. 'Blessed is the man;' in the Hebrew it is,
'blessednesses.' To him that keeps the Sabbath holy, here is
blessedness upon blessedness belonging to him; he shall be blessed
with the upper and nether springs; he shall be blessed in his name,
estate, soul, progeny. Who would not keep the Sabbath from polluting
it that shall have so many blessings entailed upon him and his
posterity after him? Again, a conscientious keeping of the Sabbath
seasons the heart for God's service all the week after. Christian
the more holy thou art on a Sabbath, the more holy thou wilt be on
the week following.