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and Source of all good. Prayer properly follows devout meditation, and is a peculiar duty of the Sabbath. The reading of the scriptures is another part of the peculiar duties of holy time. But the public worship of God is the most peculiar and important duty of the day which he has set apart for himself. This, therefore, is mentioned in the text, as comprehensive of all the other duties of the Sabbath. “ Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary.” The sanctuary was the holy place for public worship among God's ancient people. There the divine oracles were deposited, explained, and inculcated. There the mercy seat was erected. There the Most High condescended to manifest his glory, and admit his unworthy creatures to near and intimate cominunion with himself. Now similar duties are required, and similar privileges are granted, under the gospel. God now requires his people not to forsake their assembling themselves on his day, to hear his word, to celebrate his ordinances, and to offer up their devout praises and prayers to him. Public worship is the capital duty of christians on the Lord's day. Nor can they properly keep his day holy, unless they do, if circumstances admit, appear in his sanctuary, and publicly worship their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. This is properly to keep his Sabbaths, and reverence his sanctuary.
Let us now consider in the last place,
III. The importance of keeping the Sabbath strictly and devoutly. It is important to perform every duty in its proper time and place; but it is of more importance to perform some duties strictly and constantly than others. The keeping of the Sabbath is distinguished from other duties by plain marks of importance. " Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary; I am the Lord.” By this last expression God stamps the Sabbath with all the solemnity and importance of his supreme majesty and authority. This is something more than usual, and designed to impress upon the minds of men the great importance of their keeping holy the day which he has set apart for his own glory, and for their spiritual and eternal benefit. When God formed man in his own image, a rational, holy, and immortal creature, he immediately appointed the Sabbath for his present and future good. For the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” God knew that such a day of rest, retirement and devotion, was suited to the nature and situation of mankind, who are probationers for a future and eternal state. For this cause, God has kept up the positive institution of the Sabbath, ever since the creation of Adam to this day. Other positive religious institutions have been abrogated and set aside. But the institution of the Sabbath has never been repealed, because it is more necessary and important than those positive institutions which have been abolished. Besides, God has guarded the Sabbath with very solemn sanctions. Under the law, he made it death for any one to break the Sabbath; and this heavy punishment was actually inflicted upon a guilty individual. When God complains of the great degeneracy of his people, he mentions their profanation of the Sabbath as one of their greatest offences, and as that which in a peculiar manner awakened his indignation, and drew down upon them the severest marks of his displeasure. All these things manifest the great importance of reverencing the Sabbath and the sanctuary. But to impress this idea the more deeply upon the mind, let me descend to particulars and observe,
1. The keeping of the Sabbath is of great importance, as a means of restraint. The hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil. They are bent to backsliding. They are strongly inclined to forget and forsake God. It is natural to them to neglect the concerns of the soul, and run into innumerable moral evils. But the keeping of the Sabbath properly, has a powerful restraint upon the corruptions of their heart. It obliges them, one day in seven, to throw aside the common concerns of life, and leads them to think of another world. And there is nothing which is so great a check and restraint upon the minds of men as serious consideration. This, there fore, God strictly enjoins upon them. “ Thus saith the Lord, consider your ways." To give the injunction the more force and weight, it is repeated. “ Thus saith the Lord, consider your ways." The Sabbath gives time for consideration, which calls upon men to stop and pause. And when they stop and pause, they are constrained to reflect; and the reflections which the Sabbath suggests are of the most serious and important nature. It naturally brings God, and Christ, and eternity into view. And these objects make men serious in spite of their hearts. It is hardly possible for men to become totally stupid, so long as they externally reverence the sanctuary, and refrain from secular employments and pursuits. This restraining influ- . ence appears from common observation. Those who externally obey the laws of the Sabbath, generally, if not universally, appear more regular and moral than those who openly and avowedly profane the Lord's day. This shows the great importance to every person, to every family, to every society, and to every community, of keeping the Sabbath as a means of restraint. All men, and all cominunities of men, stand in need of the Sabbath on this account. Nor can they live in order and regularity without being weekly reminded that they are
the creatures of God, and stand accountable to him for all their conduct. The experience and observation of every person teaches him the importance of keeping the Sabbath holy, as a means of restraining him from every evil and false way.
2. The keeping of the Sabbath is of great importance, as a means of instruction. Mankind are born like the wild ass's colt. They come into the world in a state of total ignorance. They are unacquainted with themselves and with their Creator, and know not their duty nor destination. And in this state of ignorance they are naturally disposed to live, and would live, were it not for instruction, and that instruction which is generally given on the Sabbath. God appointed the Sabbath as a day of instruction, as well as a day of rest. And he has accordingly appointed the means of instruction to be employed on the Sabbath. He appointed his word to be read, explained and inculcated on the Sabbath, under the law, and he appointed the priests to perform this public service. And under the christian institution he has appointed ministers to preach the gospel and administer divine ordinances on the Sabbath. These are means of instruction in matters of the highest importance to probationers for eternity. In order to enjoy these means of instruction, the keeping of the Sabbath is absolutely necessary. For if the observation of the Sabbath were laid aside, the word of God and divine ordinances would be generally neg. lected, and religious instruction generally cease. Men must have time, and generally appointed time, to gain instruction in the arts and sciences, and this is equally true in regard to religious instruction. The Sabbath is a time, and a time appointed by divine authority, to give and receive religious instruction. And if this time is not kept sacred to this purpose, religious instruction will soon come to an end. The keeping of the Sabbath, therefore, as the means of instruction, is highly important, in order to make men wise to salvation.
3. The Sabbath must be devoutly and strictly kept, as the means of the highest enjoyment. It is wisely and graciously adapted to afford all good men the highest delight and satisfaction. When they are wearied with the world, and longing after the enjoyment of God, the Sabbath allows them time, and gives them the means of drawing near to God, and of enjoying a sensible and joyful communion with him. They may then wait upon the Lord without distraction, and come even to his seat without obstruction. On this account good men_have highly 'esteemed and strictly observed the Sabbath. David prized the Sabbath as the means of his highest enjoyment. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” He expressed his delight in the Sabbath and the duties of the sanctuary, in still livelier and warmer terms. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” “ For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand; I had rather be a door keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." All good men thus reverence God's sanctuary, and find a peculiar pleasure in attending his word and ordinances in his house. The keeping of the Sabbath is to them the duty of duties, or that upon which all their religious duties depend. It puts life and alacrity into all their devout exercises and religious performances, and so, is the means of their highest joys and brightest prospects. I may add,
4. The keeping of the Sabbath is immensely important, as a means of preserving religion in the world. The Lord's day is consecrated to religion, and designed as a sacred enclosure, to prevent the intrusions of the world into it. The men of the world are united in their opposition to religion; and they would soon extinguish it, were it not for the sacred protection of the Sabbath. This holy day lays a restraint upon the world, and bids them let religious days alone. It ties their hands, and gives its friends full liberty to acknowledge their Creator and Redeemer, and publicly appear on the Lord's side, and promote his great cause. And to this, under providence, the preservation of religion has been more owing than to any other and all other secondary causes. We find, that wherever and whenever the Sabbath has been set at nought, then and there, religion has decayed and died. And we have reason to believe that religion will be preserved no longer in any place, than the Sabbath is sanctified and devoutly kept. Only let the Sabbath be profaned and treated as common time, and the forms of religion will no longer be seen. And if this be true, the keeping of the Sabbath is of infinite importance. There is no one duty on which so much good depends as the keeping of the Sabbath, and reverencing God's sanctuary; and of course, the neglect of no other duty can be so fatal to religion as the neglect of this.
1. If the due observance of the Sabbath be so necessary to promote and maintain the cause of religion in the world, as we have seen, then it may be pretty easy to determine whether religion is increasing or decreasing in this country at the present day, by the manner in which the people in general treat
the Sabbath. The strict or lax manner in which any people regard the Sabbath, is the most visible and infallible criterion by which their religious character can be formed. It was by this criterion, that God characterized his people of old, in respect to the increase or decrease of real religion among them. By the same criterion, the religious character of the people in New England has been estimated and represented by the most competent and impartial judges. While Israel maintained their primitive purity, and kept the Sabbath, and reverenced God's sanctuary, they were represented as holiness to the Lord, and the first fruits of his increase. This was their amiable religious character, while they followed God in the wilderness. And such was the amiable religious character of the people here, while they followed God in the wilderness and for many years afterwards. There was no one thing, that they were so strict and conscientious in, as in the keeping of the Sabbath. They considered the whole day of twenty-four hours as holy time. They abstained from all secular employments and amusements which they deemed lawsul on other days, and spent the whole day in religious duties, and not in idleness, visiting, nor travelling. Though human nature was the same then as it is now, and individuals esteemed the Sabbath a weariness, and wished to profane it, yet parents and rulers were so religious, and so cordially united in exercising their proper authority, that all external violations of the Sabbath were completely restrained. No straggler was to be seen on the road, and no member of a family to be seen from home, only as they were going to or from the public worship of God. T'he Sabbath was a still and solemn day from beginning to end. This was seen and admired by foreigners, who formed an exalted idea of their religious character, and spread the fame of their piety far and wide in the christian world. Now, if their strict observance of the Sabbath justly denominated them an eminently religious people, must not their present laxness and licentiousness on the Sabbath, characterize ihem as a degenerate, backsliding people ? Every person in the world must form this idea of them. Who that has travelled from Maine to Georgia, has not formed this idea of religious declension in the United States? Who that travels from town to town, and observes the laxness of people on the Sabbath, does not form his opinion of the religious character of every town and parish, according to their appearance and conduct on the Lord's day? Let the oldest man now living, who has had the best means and opportunities of knowing the religious state of the inhabitants in New England, give us his real opinion of the former and present state of the people, and will he not say that he is aston