Q: What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A: The fourth commandment forbids 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.
Isaiah 58: 13-14 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.
As I explore this week's catechism question, I want to first express my appreciation, and give my recommendation for, Starr Meade's book, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds. This book is a wonderful family devotional that can be used to learn and explore the rich biblical truths expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. But not only is it helpful as a family devotional, it has also been incredibly helpful to me as I write these daily blogs!
For this week's question of the catechism, Meade hits on several key points that I think are helpful. First, concerning the issue that the catechism brings up about the careless performance of the duties required (as a reminder, the catechism here is talking about gathering for worship and works of charity), she writes:
We honor the Lord's Day when we set it aside as a day for being with God's people. We keep it a special day to worship God and to hear his Word. But we must no only honor the Lord's Day by doing these things, we must honor the Lord by the way we do these things. Some people attend worship out of habit or because someone makes them attend. Such people go to church grudgingly, wishing they did not have to go. They would rather stay home. All the time they are in the worship service, they think about what they will do later. They watch the clock all through the service, and if it goes past the time to end, they feel irritated...We fail to rightly honor God on the Lord's Day when we are careless about our worship. We can be careless about our worship in several ways. Often, people come into the worship service late. Imagine receiving an invitation to a meeting with someone important and showing up late! Coming to worship God is at least as important as meeting with an important human being. Yet Christians seem to feel quite free to walk into church late. Imagine being in a meeting with someone important-the president of the United States, for instance-and not paying attention to what he said. People often fail to pay attention in a worship service. When people sit in church, letting their minds wander during the sermon or when they sing the words of hymns without paying attention to them, they are being careless about honoring God.
Hard stuff. And while we may not all show up late for worship (although admittedly, I used that quote because who can deny that the sanctuary is much fuller 5 minutes into the service than it is 5 minutes before!?), I think we can all confess that we do indeed let our minds wander. We do indeed run through the various elements of liturgy without putting thought into it. We can all be "clock watchers". So I would challenge us all to remember what we're doing when we come together to worship. We are entering into the presence of the holy, eternal, Triune God. We are invited into his throne room as his blood-bought people, to worship, praise, adore, and extol his great and holy name. And what is truly remarkable about this is that because of our "Minister in the High Places", because of our "Great High Priest" Jesus Christ, God sees and hears our worship and finds it to be a pleasing aroma! What a tremendous privilege!
Now what about the last part of the catechism? The part about the fourth commandment forbidding us to do or even think about our worldly employments and recreations? I addressed some of these issues in last week's blog, so I'm not going to rehash a discussion on whether we're allowed to work or not, etc. on the Lord's Day. However, Meade is helpful here in getting us to think:
"Worldly affairs" are those things we need to think about and spend time on in order to be responsible. For a child, these my be chores or homework. An adult's "worldly affairs" would include the things he must take care of for his job. It is not necessary, however, to do these things on the Lord's Day. If we are careful to plan ahead, not leaving things until the last minute, we can take care of all our responsibilities Monday through Saturday, leaving Sunday free to concentrate on the things of the Lord."
Sinclair Ferguson says essentially the same thing in his class on the Westminster Standards at Westminster Theological Seminary (which can be heard for free here). He says, like Meade, that the issue of keeping the Sabbath is really an issue of priority the rest of the week. Do we order our week so as to assure that we can set aside the Lord's Day and keep it holy? Or do we, as Meade suggests, procrastinate, put things off until the last minute and find ourselves neglecting a restful and holy observance of the Lord's Day? I know that I am certainly guilty of mismanaging my time throughout the week, and often times find myself scrambling to get things done on the Sabbath. Let me again challenge all of us to think about this week. Let's make the Lord's Day not only a priority on Sunday, but throughout the week. Let's think about how we can order and structure our week so that when Sunday comes, we can truly give it over to the Lord in holy rest and worship.