The necessity of guarding and honoring the weekly Sabbath is plainly laid down in both Scripture and our ARP Standards, such that it really should not be a matter of dispute. Still, we thought it good, in Peter’s words, “to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Pet 1:12). Thus, we encourage you to remember the scriptural basis for observing the Sabbath day. When the Lord had finished making the heavens, the earth, and all that fills them, He rested on the seventh day, and so made it holy (cf. Gen 2:1-3). Therefore, as we’ve noted in recent sermons, the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, meaning it is something given for the benefit and observance of all people, in all places, at all times, without exception (cf. WCF 21.7). Later, in Exodus 16:22-30, we find the Israelites observing the Sabbath before the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, again revealing that it is not merely part of the Mosaic Law for Israel, but something that predates it. Years later, when at various times His people became complacent about or even opposed to keeping the Sabbath, the Lord strongly rebuked them and called them to remember that it was intended to be a blessing and source of delight (cf. Neh 13:15-22; Isa 58). Later still, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself consistently observed the Sabbath during His earthly life and ministry, and even bears the title, “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8; Lk 6:5; cf. Mk 2:28). Upon His rising from the dead on the first day of the week, the weekly day was changed from the last day to the first, but the commandment remained and continued to be observed by His gathering people, who also called it the Lord’s Day (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10; WCF 21.7). In all of this, it is abundantly clear that not occasional, but consistent, weekly observance of the Sabbath is a necessary part of our Christian obedience and growth in the Lord.
In addition, as part of the vows we took in becoming members of the ARP, we committed ourselves to regular attendance at and participation in the worship of the Lord on His holy day. We agreed to submit to the standards of the ARP Church, and that the doctrines and principles of the Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, are founded upon the Scriptures. Chapter 21.7 of this Confession reminds us of our obligation to observe the weekly Sabbath, and the next point instructs us as to how the day is to be observed:
This Sabbath day is then 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 (WCF 21.8).
What this means, then, is that, in addition to what should be a general recognition by all people of the necessity of keeping the Sabbath, by joining ourselves to a local congregation and denomination that subscribes to the Westminster Standards, we make a particular point of confessing that this is indeed the teaching of Scripture, to which we agree to submit as part of our obedience to the Lord. And, as part of this willing submission, we are agreeing, as the Confession states above, to devote the Sabbath day, each and every week, to resting from our normal labors and entertainments in order to spend the day worshiping the Lord – alone, with our families, and especially in the called gatherings of His people.
Of course, we are given no command in Scripture as to whether we must worship one, two, or five times on the Sabbath day. We do have the example of the priests of old being instructed to make an offering each morning and evening, so there is wisdom to guide us, but for the church today we have no clear precept. Therefore, it is a matter that must be determined by the Session of the local church, the Shepherds and Overseers who are given to watch over our souls, and to whom we are called by God Himself to submit (cf. Heb 13:17). The Session must use its wisdom to make the determination, and the members under their care must honor that decision. At Covenant of Grace, this means that, in agreeing to submit to the government of the local church (cf. FOG 4.5.A.7), we agree to be present for both the called gathering for worship that occurs on the morning of the Lord’s Day and the called gathering that occurs on the evening of the Lord’s Day. And, in a spirit of love and concern, it is to this that we, as your Session, want to call you. Thus, we urge you, for the sake of honoring our mighty and merciful God, and for the sake of your own spiritual nourishment and growth in grace, make this an absolute priority in your weekly life.
Please understand, we do not say this to place an undue burden upon you, but rather that you might experience the weekly lifting of your burdens as you spend the entire day marked out by the Lord enjoying His rest and sharing in His worship. The Sabbath isn’t given to be a weight upon our backs, but a source of refreshment and delight (cf. Isa 58:13-14). It is a day for lifting burdens and resting from the sometimes- heavy yoke of our labors (cf. Isa 58:6). It is a day for healing and blessing (cf. Isa 58:8). It is a day to remember Who made us and saved us (cf. Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15). It is a day to look forward to our coming rest, secured for us through the perfect work of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 4). The Lord made it for man (cf. Mk 2:27). So please, lay it down as a settled resolution that you will give glory to God and seek the good of your soul by sharing in both morning and evening worship each and every Sabbath day. Enjoy twice the time with His people, twice the time under His Word, twice the time praying, twice the time extolling His name and drinking from that bottomless well of life and refreshment that is the Lord Himself. Come, be unburdened, and magnify His great name!
We can think of nothing better with which to leave you than the clear teaching of our sovereign Savior and King Himself. Read His Word, heed it, and give Him glory:
“On the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation” (Gen 2:2-3).
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod 20:8).
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isa 58:13-14).
A letter from Covenant of Grace Session, Winston Salem, NC, to their congregation. Used with permission.