(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 12)

Keeping the Lord's Day Holy

Lord's Day 38

Psalter No. 420 st. 1
Read Matthew 11:11-30
Psalter No. 348 st. 1, 2, 3
Psalter No. 227 st. 1
Psalter No. 250 st. 1 & 5


    In the passage of Scripture which was read to you, the Lord invites
those who labor and are heavy laden, saying, "Come unto Me, and I will
give you rest." The Lord did not mean those who labor physically, or
those who are laden with external difficulties. This is very clear from
the sharp contrast He expresses in the words of Matthew 11. The Lord
had just pronounced judgment against the cities in which most of His
mighty works were done by reproving them because they had not repented,
saying, "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida!" Then He
said, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden."
    When the Lord sees the accomplishment of the good pleasure of His
Father in them that are lost as well as in those that are saved, He
rejoices in the spirit and thanks His Father, saying, "I thank Thee, O
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things
from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so,
Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight." Christ sees the execution
of His Father's will in the casting down of all those in their pride
and unbelief who harden themselves to their eternal judgment, and on
the other hand in the gathering of those who are weary and heavy laden.
They are weary because of a burden they can no longer bear. Such He
invites, "Come unto Me", leaving all things in which you seek rest,
"and I shall give you rest." That is the great promise that the Lord
has given to His afflicted and poor people. For is it not He who
revealed Himself as the great Shiloh Who brings rest, and He to whom
all power is given in heaven and in earth? For all things were
delivered unto Him of His Father, so that He would be able to help His
people in all things and fulfill all their needs, especially to clothe
their souls with righteousness when they are weary and heavy laden
because of their sins, and cleanse them in His blood when they are
grieving before God, because of their iniquities. It is He Who gives
them ease and rest when they are oppressed and needy. It is He Who
makes them rest in Himself, Who guides them through life and when they
have fulfilled God's counsel, takes them up into glory.
    It is this invitation to come to Him and enjoy rest in Him that He
brings to His people in His Word. He draws them unto Himself in order
that they may forsake their own plans and devices, to rest only and
perfectly in Him, and to find peace for their souls.
    The church sings (in Psalter No. 94: 2b & 3):
        Beneath the shadow of Thy wings
        We may a refuge find.
        With the abundance of Thy house
        We shall be satisfied,
        From rivers of unfailing joy
        Our thirst shall be supplied.
    It is evident, therefore, that the Lord Himself gives this rest. He
does so also in connection with the commandment which He has given to
observe the seventh day as a day of rest. It is a day of rest for God's
people. In keeping this commandment, the church observes a spiritual
Sabbath in this life and is more and more prepared for the eternal
Sabbath above.
    This, then, is the rest which we must consider as we follow the
instructor in discussing the thirty-eighth Lord's Day of our Heidelberg
    Lord's Day 38
Q. 103. What does God require in the fourth commandment?

A. First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be
    maintained; and that I, especially on the Sabbath, that is, on the
    day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear His
    Word, to use the Sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and
    contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian.
    Secondly, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works,
    and yield myself to the Lord, to work by His Holy Spirit in me;
    and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.
    Our subject is the hallowing of the Lord's Day according to the
fourth commandment, which we shall consider by asking your attention to
the following two points:
     I. God's demand in this commandment,
    II. The spiritual meaning of this commandment.
    Let us first note God's demand: "Six days shalt thou labor and do
all thy work." The fourth commandment is founded in creation: "In six
days God made heaven and earth and all that in them is, and rested the
seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath Day and hallowed
it." The commandment itself states that the separation of one day of
the week is based on the fact, that God rested on the seventh day from
His work of creation. This does not mean that God was weary because of
His work, but that God delighted Himself in His work, which He reviewed
and when He saw all that He had made, behold, it was very good. The
pleasure which God had in His work on the seventh day, after He had
made heaven and earth in six days, He gave to man when He ordained the
seventh day as a day of rest. This means that God had already inscribed
this commandment in Adam's heart and that He incorporated it in the
covenant of works. Since it is true that this fourth commandment is
founded in creation, it remains a divine commandment for all people,
also after the fall, even though all people should be lost. Yes, every
one must keep God's law. God's law and God's demands were not annulled
after the fall. God will judge all men by this law.
    A little later I shall come to the spiritual intent, but let us
never forget that this commandment is for young and old. We must hallow
this day and consecrate it to the Lord. He has promised His blessing
upon those who do. Is there a sin more prevalent than the desecration
of the day of the Lord God? Is there a more aggravated sin in our
country than the transgression of this commandment, especially in these
days which follow a war (referring to World War II, Ed.) that caused so
much destruction world-wide, and so much spiritual disruption, that one
must tremble to see in reality that sin is no longer considered to be
    Let us first consider that creation was the source of this
commandment. Six days shalt thou labor but on the seventh day thou
shalt rest. This commandment remains God's requirement for everyone, as
it is stated so clearly: "thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man
servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is
within thy gates." It was especially to the Jews that the Lord, through
Moses, had presented this commandment as an uncompromising demand.
    This then was characteristic of the life of the people of Israel.
Although God revealed His grace to them, although the covenant of grace
was made at Sinai, that grace was enclosed in the shell of the law.
This was also true of the fourth commandment. Therefore the Catechism
expresses its meaning by saying, "that the ministry of the gospel and
the schools be maintained." How did our fathers arrive at such an
explanation? They do not give us a list of sins forbidden on the Lord's
Day. In the explanation we do not find that it is forbidden to use our
own vehicle if we live far from the church. We read nothing about
taking a walk on Sunday. Was it not necessary to point out these
things? Is the desecration of the Lord's Day not increasing so much
that we should earnestly warn against and punish various offenses? But
the Catechism says nothing of all this! Who of us would ever have said
the fourth commandment requires that the ministry of the gospel and the
schools be first maintained? Did our fathers think that the explanation
of this commandment was unimportant? No, certainly not! Why did they
not give us a list of forbidden sins? Because it would be impractical.
The result would have been precept upon precept, line upon line, here a
little, there a little, and with such a legalistic explanation, the
self-righteous person would swell with pride. Moreover, with every
change which is introduced from time to time, and with every new
invention, the Catechism would need revision. Furthermore, the Lord
Jesus teaches us that man was not made to give special glory to the
Sabbath, but contrariwise, the Sabbath was given for man to rest from
his labors and that this rest may bring him to the rest that remaineth
for the people of God.
    Hence our fathers chose as a guideline for their explanation the
spiritual significance of the Sabbath. They do not say, "This you may
do and this you may not do", but they say, "Here in one statement is
the true significance: You must separate the Lord's Day from the other
days and direct your life entire to keep that day holy." Therefore they
speak of maintaining the ministry of the gospel and the schools.
    The schools? What have they to do with the Sabbath? Because they
serve the ministry of the gospel. In the first place, there are the
seminaries where ministers are trained. How highly did the Reformed
Fathers value those schools. What a rich blessing God gave His church
by means of the schools. What a sad decline is evidenced by the fact
that the chairs of our universities are now occupied by professors who
despise the Reformed truths. Our fathers never expected called
ministers of the Word to be qualified immediately. They always pleaded
for the necessity of academic preparation, and used every means to
support the schools. Smytegelt says, "Let the church never lack men
qualified to teach the young. See to it that there are academies where
they may be taught, and teachers that rightly divide the Word of
truth." Let this suffice to convince those who have an aversion to
study and who would permit called servants to preach without training.
    The elementary schools are also included. We greatly need our own
elementary schools, because there the Word of God is taught. How
willing we should be to sacrifice in order that our children may be
taught the pure doctrine. How willing we should be, not only to support
the ministry of the gospel with material gifts, but also entrust our
children to the official ministry which the Lord Himself ordained. The
explanation of the fourth commandment arises therefore, from the fact
that our fathers discerned the broad spiritual scope of God's demand,
without ceremonial strictness; in other words, that day must be devoted
to the service of God, and I, especially on the Sabbath, must frequent
the church of God. Calvin wanted services every day. Do we ever desire
the week-day services? Do we make a real effort to go to God's house
then also? It is especially on the Lord's Day that we must put forth
every effort to attend the services with our children. Let it be our
constant concern that the children come to hear God's Word, not to be
filled with all kinds of thoughts which prevent us from receiving the
Word, but that we give our attention to the Word which is brought in
simplicity, so that the children themselves may take something with
them. It is surely the intent of the Word of God that it be not brought
with words which man's wisdom teaches, as the Apostle speaks; but that
the congregation may receive strength from that Word, and the people
may retain it and meditate on it. We are not in God's house to
entertain wandering thoughts, but to hear the Word of God and to use
the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is remarkable that
we read in this answer, "to hear God's Word, to use the sacraments,
publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the
poor, as becomes a Christian." We must not only separate ourselves and
pray in secret, but also publicly come together in the church to
commend ourselves to the Lord with our sicknesses and adversities,
together with the needs of the government and the citizens. Does not
the public worshipping of God bear this fruit, that here and there in
the church are born companions who sigh with us, but who also rejoice
with us in our joy? Furthermore, in the public worship services, we
also contribute to the relief of the poor. We have our own means of
service to the poor, our own deacons to care for the poor. The worship
of the Lord includes also the gathering of gifts for the poor, in order
that all their needs may be supplied.
    Christ has committed the poor to us to show kindness to them. Let
us by our cheerful giving enable the church to show to the poor the
mercies of Christ. The needs of our poor are not met with two or three
dollars a week. Put yourself in the situation of the poor. Imagine that
you were visited by the deacons and given an amount that was obviously
inadequate. It is needful for the poor to be thankful for the smallest
gift. It is our duty to see to it that they receive all that they
cannot do without.
    The deacons ought to have a warm heart for the poor. Deacons, learn
to know your poor. You are called to something more than to count money
and dole out a portion to each needy person. One time I stood near a
few people who were waiting in line outside the room in which the
deacons were meeting. As a name was called, one could go in with his
little money bag. One of them said, "What if the deacons themselves
were poor?" I say, one would rather work one's fingers to the bone than
stand in line like these humiliated church members who were treated as
beggars. In this case there was no love among the office-hearers. They
were devoid of sympathy. The office was hardened. Deacons, do seek out
the poor, come into their homes, visit their families and learn to know
their needs, so that you may give comfort and advice. Do not give
occasion for the church of Christ to be a rock of offense. You are
called to exemplify the mercies of the sympathizing High Priest, who
gave Himself for the salvation of His people. Do not attempt to carry
on such a ministry with an unfeeling heart. Your example is not the
Priest or the Levite, but the Good Samaritan. Be zealous in your
office; then the congregation will not withhold from you its gifts; but
love will flourish and God Himself will dwell among you.
    Our whole life must be directed to the hallowing of this day. We
should not think it too early to attend the morning service. We should
feel that it has not been Sunday for us unless we have been in God's
house both morning and afternoon. What a decline there has been in the
ministry of God's Word! When the command of God loses its sharpness,
there is no impression on the conscience. Then the Word does not exert
its power and convince us what is necessary, in order that God may be
glorified in our eternal salvation. May the whole of our lives be
centered around the Word of the Lord. What a lukewarmness is seen in
many toward the Word of God. What a decline there is among many of
God's children, who on the one hand have lost their relish for the
Word; while on the other hand God's church seems to be left to itself,
to walk in ways which are not in keeping with church order. Does not
God have a claim upon us by virtue of our creation, according to which
He will one day judge us? Let us therefore avoid all servile work. Our
fathers have stated it very simply. I am thinking of the simple
Catechism of Voetius which says so simply, "A builder may not build, a
baker may not bake, a student may not study." Let each one judge
according to his own daily work.
    Are there then no kinds of labor which must be done on the Lord's
Day? Yes, there are. They are works of necessity. Animals must be fed
on Sunday. Cows must be milked on Sunday. We must help a calf that has
fallen into a pit. Fires must be put out. A break in a dike must be
filled. Nowhere does God's Word teach us to live carelessly.
Sanctifying God's day does not consist in a slavish, legalistic keeping
of the letter of the law of God. There are works of necessity. Alas, we
must think also of times of war. This is a problem all of us must face.
In the congregation the question has arisen again and again of people
who were forced to work on Sunday. We must leave this to the judgment
of those that have been given authority over us. Moreover, there are
works of mercy which must be done in the work of the service of the
Lord. The Lord Jesus Himself worked, but did not desecrate God's day.
We must with our sons and daughters separate that day from servile
work, because it is the day of the Lord God.
    Also, works of love are not forbidden. Since there are six other
days in the week, why did Jesus choose to heal the palsied man on the
Sabbath? He knew the Pharisees would be offended if they saw the man
carrying his bed on the Sabbath. The Lord performed this work of love
on the Sabbath to teach that He is Lord also of the Sabbath, and that
the legalistic Jews, with all their rigorous opinions, had never
understood anything of keeping the Sabbath day holy.
    Now we come to our second main thought:
    that the Lord's giving to His church a day which He Himself has
hallowed has a spiritual meaning.
    This is clearly seen when we consider which day is set aside for
the Lord. We set aside the first, and not the seventh day. Some say,
"You must rest on Saturday, because it is written, 'On the seventh day
thou shalt rest.'" Why do we not follow those advocates of a
seventh-day Sabbath? Because Christ arose from the dead on the first
day. When the Lord led the children of Israel out of the house of
bondage, out of Egypt, it was the seventh month; then He said, "This
month shall be unto you the beginning of months. I make this month of
deliverance to be the first month of the year to you." Should then the
day upon which Christ accomplished the eternal redemption for His
church not become the first day of the week for the church of the New
Testament? Is it not written that John was in the spirit on the Lord's
Day? Did not the disciples come together on the Lord's Day? Was it not
that day which the church of the New Covenant began to hallow
immediately? Beneath the surface we find that the Lord made His people
free from the law, delivered them from bondage, and brought them to the
rest that remaineth for the people of God. It is this spiritual meaning
that the instructor has in mind, when he says that we not only come
together to avoid all servile labor, but that the principle which that
day exemplifies shall govern our lives, and that God's people shall
receive strength from that rest, to cease from their evil works, to
begin the eternal Sabbath in this life. The Lord therefore gave His
written law, not in the economy of the covenant of works, but in that
of the covenant of grace. After the fall He established a new covenant.
What do you read then? "In the days of Enos and Seth, men began to call
upon the name of the Lord." This means that they began to conduct
divine worship services openly. The Lord said on Mount Sinai, "I am
Jehovah, the God of the oath and of the covenant, who has brought you
out of the land of Egypt. Six days shalt thou labor, but on the seventh
day thou shalt rest; it is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God." Has not
the Lord then included this commandment in the covenant of grace? Has
He not included a blessing in the hallowing of the Sabbath day to the
joy of His people? For it is a special day.
    Does not the apostle Paul say: "Another esteemeth everyday alike."
Does it make a difference then which day is observed? Yes, because when
Paul speaks of observing certain days, he was speaking of the custom
still in practice among the Jews who were converted, of observing these
days in a spirit of legal bondage. Paul said that there were some who
wished to observe certain days, but others ignored them, esteeming all
days alike. Obviously this is not a reference to the Lord's Day, but to
the Jewish feast days. That day is the day of joy and gladness for
God's children. When God glorifies His grace in an individual, he
begins to have a regard for God Himself, for His service and His law,
but also for His day. His heart often yearns for the meetings in God's
house of prayer. Why? Because in the ministry of God's Word, mysteries
are unfolded for him and his soul is instructed in the way of
salvation. There are the hidden drawings of God's eternal love, which
sometimes enable him to take courage and hope. It becomes a day of joy
and gladness indeed when the Lord uses His Word to instruct him. Other
times may come all too frequently, when his soul complains of darkness.
He must learn not to base his expectations upon mere church attendance.
    With the ministry of the Word come also the sacraments. They are
holy signs and seals. It is God's will that His people become partakers
of His salvation in baptism. Not every child that is baptized will go
to heaven, but God will at His time bring elect children to salvation.
This He confirms in baptism. If God's people paid more attention to
this, how much more they would trust in the faithfulness of the Lord
God! But He also invites His saints to His table, namely, those who by
grace have learned to know themselves as lost sinners, to eat of His
flesh and drink of His blood. Sometimes they would like to say, "Who am
I, a dead dog, that I should sit at the King's table?" These were the
words of Mephibosheth when he was brought to David. God's people should
be humbled much more deeply than Mephibosheth when they are invited to
the Lord's table. He invites them to acknowledge that they lie in the
midst of death and that their salvation lies only in Christ. No man
living in a natural state, even though it be in conformity with a sound
confession of God's Word, has any right to approach the table. The
Lord's work in the hearts of His people gives them that right.
Consequently, He wishes to invite them to the table. He desires to
signify and seal His work to their souls, so that they may behold the
Mediator in all His riches and excellencies, exclaiming "He is the
chiefest among ten thousand", and that they may be brought into
communion with the Father. This is celebrating the Lord's Supper
indeed! How is it possible that some of God's children can live here on
earth without making use of that table, in spite of the fact that the
Lord Himself, the same night in which He was betrayed, gave the
commandment of love, "Eat and drink; this do ye in remembrance of Me."
This is the affectionate commandment from King Jesus. Will you despise
Him Who once gave Himself to die?
    Yes, this commandment has a spiritual meaning, namely, that you
cease from your evil works, not only from public sins, but also from
secret sins of thoughts, words, and deeds. There is nothing in man that
pleases God. It is necessary for us to be delivered from those evil
works. How mortifying this is to self. We must cease from evil works.
In other words, when God renews a person, he can no longer remain in
sin. Zacchaeus said, "Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor."
There comes the fault which God discovered. When the waters of the sea
came together behind Israel, God made a separation. This happens also
in regeneration. Immediately there is another life, although there are
remnants of the old life remaining in the heart. Even they who are led
farthest in grace know this. In the beginning of their way they may
ask, "Do God's people have the same experiences I have?" Remember what
Paul says in Romans 7, that he had another law in his members warring
against the law of his mind. We cannot mortify our members in our own
strength. God's people need the ministration of Christ for it.
Therefore they became an afflicted and poor people in the way of
sanctification. In them remains no strength, while on the other hand
the power of Christ is glorified in them, so that they shall mortify
sin and be more and more renewed according to the image of God. They
follow after, if that they may apprehend it, so that they may begin the
eternal Sabbath in this life. What is the eternal Sabbath? It is the
eternal rest, by which they will cease from their warfare and by which
they will be delivered from their sorrow to praise and glorify their
God and King perfectly forever. That which will be perfect in heaven,
namely the eternal Sabbath, the eternal day of rest, the same commences
already in this life. If it is to be well with us, we must learn to
know something of hell, as well as the eternal joy which God has
prepared for His people, and the happiness which shall one day be in
heaven. The first beginnings of this happiness are experienced already
in this life, when God's children may live in fellowship with God and
walk in the presence of God. Let that one day, the first day of the
week, govern the whole of our lives, so that our language may be that
of the psalmist in Psalm 84:
        O Lord of Hosts, how lovely
        Thy tabernacles are;
        For them my heart is yearning
        In banishment afar.
        My soul is longing, fainting,
        Thy sacred courts to see;
        My heart and flesh are crying,
        O living God, for Thee.
                Psalter No. 227 st. 1
    We have considered the demand which is made upon every man. It
comes to you and me. What is our conduct in relation to that
commandment? Do we and our children diligently frequent the church of
God? Is there any preparations to hear the Word? Or do we retire as
late as possible on Saturday night? Do we allow our thoughts to wander
on Sunday, instead of being occupied with the Word of God? At times I
have seen certain boys and girls arise and leave the church. You can
deceive your parents, boys and girls, but not God. When you are in
church, do you give your attention to the truth? I try to present the
Word to you as plainly as possible, avoiding difficult matters, so that
you may understand more readily. Have I then no right to expect that
you will give me your attention? What use do you make of the Word after
the service? All of us will soon have a whole evening before us. Do you
ever read the writings of our fathers? You must ask and answer for
yourself this question, "Have I kept this day holy to the Lord?" No
longer do we have a strict Jewish Sabbath, but we do have the command
of God to devote one day to the Lord. Let us then discuss the sermon
when we come home. Let the Word of God be in our heart again. The
warnings in that Word still come to all men. There are many who occupy
themselves with all sorts of heresies, but we still have the pure Word
of God. Will it not be to our eternal condemnation if it has not been a
means to our salvation? We come together in God's house, but we shall
also stand together before God's judgment seat. I would not be free
from the blood of my hearers if I did not tell you these things.
    The fourth commandment therefore is concerned not only with a
certain day in the week, but the force of the command affects the whole
of our lives. We are not to serve the world six days and be pious one
day. Such a life is a disgrace. But all the days of my life I am to
cease from my evil deeds. Grace makes us break with sin; and God's Word
admonishes us with sharp seriousness to cease from iniquities. Forsake
the foolish and live. How is God's Word to bear fruit when our daily
lives are steeped in the world and in sin? The seed that is sown is
snatched away or is choked. Our sinful lives resist the ministry of the
Holy Spirit. Of course, nothing can hinder God, neither our sin nor our
enmity; but we are responsible for our deeds. The Lord Jesus could do
no mighty works in Capernaum because of their unbelief. The Holy Spirit
cannot live and work where sin reigns. Therefore the instructor says
the fourth commandment requires that I cease from my evil works and
yield myself to the Lord, to work by His Holy Spirit in me. By living
in sin we resist the Holy Spirit. The Sabbath therefore dominates the
whole of our lives; in fact, each day. The true Sabbath rest is indeed
a beginning of life in heaven; "and thus begin in this life the eternal
Sabbath." A legalist does not understand this; he thinks only of
external things. For God's people there is more in the Sabbath than can
be seen externally. The Sabbath is a gift of grace. It flows from the
rest which God enjoys, not the rest which followed after creation,
because that rest was lost in Paradise; but the rest which proceeds
from the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Therefore the Sabbath of rest is
of grace. Because God found satisfaction for the requirements of His
perfections in that sacrifice, therefore a rest remains to the people
of God. How sad, because of sin, we are given up to eternal unrest; but
he who is no stranger of grace learns something of the rest of faith in
Christ, and of the liberating power which lies in His mediatorial work.
Keeping the Sabbath then is resting by faith in communion with Christ
in God.
    Do you know something of this? You must if it is to be well with
you. I entreat you, man, woman, give heed to the spiritual part of this
commandment. Ask yourselves what you know of this rest that God's
people enjoy by faith. Seek and press forward, uncomforted and tempest
tossed souls; press forward to win Christ. Rest is to be found only in
Him. Make use of Him Who dwells at the right hand of His Father to be
cleansed from indwelling corruption, so that sin does not rob your soul
of its rest. We know in all distresses, in suffering, in affliction, in
grief and in sorrow, there remains a rest to the people of God. That is
the Sabbath. That rest will one day be perfect. Then there will be no
sin to cause sorrow, no enemy to distress, no grief to toss us about.
An eternal Sabbath awaits those who fear the Lord. Come, people of God,
lift up your weary heads. If the rest of faith which we may enter here
is so great, what will that perfect rest be? The time of tribulation is
short, and time hastens on. Soon we shall be with the Lord always to
praise Him perfectly and eternally. God grant that we may keep the
Sabbath, by dying to sin and experiencing the ministrations of God's
Spirit in such a way, that our lives may be the beginning of the
eternal Sabbath that awaits the church of God. Shiloh merited that rest
for the church, so that she may rest eternally with Him. Amen. 

Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2
(continued in part 13...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc2-12.txt