Chapter 21.8

viii. This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

How is the Lord's Day (equal in principle to the Old Testament Sabbath) to be kept/observed? It is interesting to note that discussions took place in the Assembly itself as to whether an actual period of 24 hours is in view in the observance. The answer of 21:8 is that all common affairs are to be "set in order" so that the day itself is to be a holy rest from all our works and thoughts about our worldly occupations. And, in a statement that has caused much discussion, the Confession insists that we are to be "taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy."

Criticisms of the Confession as engaging in a nature-grace dichotomy are wide of the mark. More pertinent are concerns for trade and commerce. "Worldly employments and recreations" involve the issue of sport on the Lord's Day - a vital concern in puritan England. But less may be implied by this phrase than is often thought to be the case.

Matthew Henry said that the Sabbath was made a day of rest so that it might be made a day of holy work. If too much stress has been given to the ban on recreation, too little stress has been given the insistence upon works of mercy. Visiting the sick, taking care of widows and orphans - altruistic displays of the love of Jesus - these are proper displays of Jesus' own approach to the Sabbath  (Luke 4:16; 13:10-17; 14:1-6). 

The point is that our time belongs to Jesus, not to ourselves. We are stewards of the time God gives us and he asks for a day that is set apart for him, punctuated by the rhythm of pubic worship. Satan wants every minute of our time and secular society squeezes every last minute of our energy for little lasting reward. Make no mistake about it, a world without a Sabbath is tyrannical and unforgiving. It has no gospel.

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is minister of preaching and teaching at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.