'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: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it'. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
When the subject of the Sabbath is considered it is very often done from the negative point of view. The focus will be on what we ought not to do, those things which we should refrain from on the Lord's day. And it is true that observing the Sabbath does require us to cease from particular activities. In Exodus 20:10 the fourth commandment says of the Sabbath that 'in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:' Question number sixty one in the Shorter Catechism says that 'The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.' Clearly a right observance of the Sabbath includes ceasing from particular activities, yet if we only focus on the 'negative' commandments regarding the Sabbath then there is the danger that we will consider the Lord's Day in a negative light, and even regard it as an inconvenience. The prophet Isaiah says that we are to 'call the sabbath a delight'; it is a day which should be viewed positively by the Christian because of the great benefits which it holds.
1. The Sabbath provides physical and mental rest
When God instituted the Sabbath at creation we read that 'he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made'. God's resting and ceasing from his work was not necessitated out of tiredness, but was to be for an example to us; that one day in seven was to be specially set aside and sanctified. Man however does need to rest from both the physical and mental demands of modern life. The call to 'come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while' is one to which we must all take heed, and the Sabbath provides an ample opportunity for us to do so. For most people today their life is hectic, yet on the Sabbath much of that which consumes our time can be set aside. Although some will still be busy with church activities and with other necessities, in general we do not have the same requirements upon our time as we do on other days. Although we should not go to the extreme of spending the Sabbath in idleness, yet the Sabbath does provide that opportunity for rest. It is that holy rest which can be enjoyed on the Lord's Day which should cause us to call the Sabbath a delight.
2. The Sabbath helps us to come apart from the world
Whilst the believer may not be of this world, yet we must live in the world and during the week we will come into contact with much of the world's influences. No matter what efforts we make to keep ourselves from the sins of the world, we will be affected by the ungodly conversations and lifestyles that we encouter, and will, like Lot, be 'vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked'. On the Lord's Day however, we have the blessing that we can spend the day with God's people, under the sound of his word, and free from the worldly influences that we must battle on other days. The Christian cannot live a monastic life completely isolated from all worldly influences, nor should they seek to do so, yet we do need that time where we can come apart from those things and focus on God without such contaminations. Such time should be special to us, and it should be the desire of every believer who wishes to live a holy life in an unholy world. The Sabbath provides us with that time.
3. The Sabbath gives opportunity for public worship
Public worship has a dual purpose; it edifies and encourages the saints and it exalts the Saviour. The busyness of modern life simply does not allow us to worship God to the extent that we would desire during the week, however the rest of the Sabbath does make it possible. As we approach the weekend we can look forward to the Sabbath, for it is that time when we can gather together as God's people to worship him. Perhaps the indifference which many have towards the Sabbath is due to their indifference to worshiping God. Our desire to worship God should be such that we would desire the Sabbath to be longer and more frequent than it is, and it should be that day which we look forward to above all others. Let us say like David 'I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord'. It is this time spent in God's house, worshiping him, that will equip us for the week ahead. The is no replacement for the collective public worship of the Lord, and there is no day more suited to worshiping the Lord than the Sabbath.
4. The Sabbath is a time for private devotion
How ought the Sabbath to be spent? The Shorter Catechism instructs us to spend 'the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship'. The Sabbath not only provides opportunity for public worship, but also for private devotion. Perhaps we cannot spend as much time in studying God's word during the week as we would desire, the Sabbath provides the opportunity for us to do so. It is a time for reading good books, a time for private prayer, a time when we can get alone with the Lord and spend time in his word. That is not to suggest that the entire day should be spent in constant study, for such an approach would leave us little energy for the evening service, yet the Sabbath provides an opportunity for private devotion that is simply not available on other days.
The Sabbath should never be thought of as boring, as an inconvenience, because of the things which we cannot do, it should be a delight because of that which it allows us to do. Do we delight in the Sabbath?