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The Value of the Sabbath
By the Rev. Archibald Bennie, Minister of Lady Yester's Parish, Edinburgh.

We may illustrate the value of the Sabbath, by considering it, first, as a day of rest; and secondly, as a day of religions duty and privilege.

I. That occasional intervals of repose are necessary for the healthy and vigorous action both of the mind and the body, is felt by the most unthinking. We cannot continue long at any process of labour without pausing to recruit; and it has generally been observed, that when any one has attempted to dispense with repose for a considerable period of time, the unnatural attempt has issued either in premature decay, or in some violent shock to the system, which has unfitted him for farther exertion. The regular return of night, though a most wise provision in the divine economy, does not altogether meet our need of rest. It repairs the exhaustion of the preceding day, and refreshes for the toils of that which follows. But, besides that night, as a season of rest, is often abridged by our carrying the labours of day into it, there seems to be a necessity for occasional pauses, over against which no labour is to be set, during which, the constitution, like the soil, may follow, and both mind and body, freed from all labour and restraint, may be invigorated for that alternation of toil and rest, which makes up the ordinary day of life. The mind, it is true, is capable of much longer, and more intense labour than the body, and does not stand so much in need of relaxation and relief; but even it, though the better, the for nobler put, may be overstretched; sad though scarcely ever totally inactive, nor is it desirable that it should be so, it requires a cessation from its ordinary pursuits, a variety in its exercises and engagements, in order that it may maintain its vivacity and vigour unimpaired. Now, the Sabbath, as a day of rest, completely answers this end. It is a phase in the rapid flow of life. It is an interval of withdrawment from its business and cares. It is an interruption to the bustle and hurry, by which both body and mind are often worn out, and utterly enfeebled. Even when there is no real religion, it causes a man to stand still from want of scope for worldly transactions, and inability to obtain the co-operation of others, which, on the Sabbath, is not to be commanded. The mind, it is true, will be active on that day as well as on others, but it will not be active according to task. Its activity is voluntary, unforced, and, if we may so speak, non-exhausting. There is something in the very repose of the Sabbath, which has a refreshing effect upon the mind. The city is at rest. The plough lies motionless in the field. If a man goes abroad, he sees not the stir and crowd of other days. He feels that there is a respite from the ordinary law and tax of humanity. Even the brute-beast is spared. Though all the great processes of nature are going on, yet such is the effect of association, that the very aspect of the scenery around us seems to partake of the atillneas which rests upon the works and the ways of man. The poet of the Sabbath has very beautifully expressed this:—

“How still the morning of the hallowed day!
Sounds the most faint attract the ear,—the hum
Of early bee, the trickling of the dew,
The distant bleating mid-way up the hill.
To him who wanders o’er the upland leas,
The blackbird’s note comes mellower from tbe dale;
And sweeter from the sky tbe gladsome lark
Warbles with heaven-tuned song; the lulling brook
Murmurs more gently down tbe deep-worn glen."

Nor is it to be overlooked, that there seems to be a peculiar felicity in the appointment of each seventh day to be a day of rest. Habit, no doubt, has a great influence on our feelings with respect to this. But there is a general feeling that a longer term of business and toil than six days, would be oppressive, and that a shorter would be a hurtful interruption to the necessary avocations and pursuits of life. Even men who are not in the least alive to the religious sanction and design of the Sabbath, appear to be willing to admit this view of it. For though some, in their idolatrous pursuit of wealth and other objects, often break in on the rest of the Sabbath, and, in practice, literally blot it out of many weeks in the year, yet even these persons are conscious, sooner or later, that they have bent the bow too far; while all who reflect calmly and comprehensively on our nature and condition, will be ready to allow, that as interrupting the drudgery and care of life, which, in many cases, are little better than a grinding at the mill, the Sabbath justly claims to be considered as a most wise and-beneficent institution. In those countries in which it has been unknown, men, under the conviction that occasional rest is indispensable, have felt the necessity of holidays and festivals to break the tedium and the monotony of life. These, however, have afforded a poor substitute for the Sabbath, both because they have been rare, and because, partly owing to their rareness, they have been too often marked by an intemperance and excess, which, in a great measure, have counteracted their beneficial effects. If a sagacious statesman or monarch were to propose to himself the question, What institution of a general kind is best adapted to promote the health, the bodily activity and comfort, and the mental vigour and enjoyment of a people? he could think of none so simple, so wise, and so efficient, as the institution of the Sabbath. He could not issue a more admirable proclamation, than that each seventh day should be a day of rest a day, on which the hand of the mechanic should cease from its labour, and the foot of the pilgrim pause in its travels;— a day, on which the silence of repose should come down on city and plain, the business of life be suspended, and its cares forgotten.

II. The Sabbath is a day of religious duty and privilege. This is its grand distinguishing characteristic, to which the rest of the body is designed to be subservient. For though rest in itself is salutary, yet the rest of mere idleness, particularly as respects the mind, would be attended with pernicious effects. The body is respited from toil, and the mind from its ordinary pursuits, that duties of the most sublime spirituality may be engaged in. These duties give to the Sabbath its peculiar sanctity. It is a day set apart for religious meditation and devotional exercises. During the other days of the week, religion may be said to hold a divided empire. It is but one element, even when it is supreme, and all-pervading and though its influence should be powerfully felt, the mind is necessarily occupied with a variety of interests and cares, which exhaust its energy and consume time. But the Sabbath-day is designed to exclude other things, that religion may bare the whole field of thought to itself, that it may be considered in its vastness and glory without distraction, and that by calm meditation upon its truths, and the exercise of the affections in devotion, whatever injury, in point of clearness or influence, it may have sustained during the week, may be repaired, and a fresh impulse given to our diligence and zeal in the performance of its duties. This is what is implied in keeping the Sabbath holy, the language of the Fourth Commandment. For mere rest is not holiness, pastime or amusement is not holiness; and hence they who would interpret that commandment as only implying these, do most entirely mistake its import and design. To keep it holy, is undoubtedly to spend it in religions duty. It is the "day which God has made.” He made it for man to meet the great and urgent wants of his nature and condition; and it only answers its high end, when it helps him om in his preparation for eternity, in that Work Of Salvation, which, under grape, is his, highest employment on earth.

The worship of God, both in public and in private, forms the most prominent duty of the Sabbath. It is the only day, indeed, on which public worship can be conveniently and efficiently performed. Private worship belongs to every day; but public worship requires men to assemble in considerable numbers, and for a considerable period of time; and hence, it is peculiarly appropriate to a day on which the ordinary employments and cares of life are set aside. This great branch of duty invests the Sabbath, to the sincere Christian, with a deep and holy charm. In one sense, that day has a value to the impenitent, though they are insensible to it. As a divine institution, it is an appeal to a lost world, on the subject of their highest interests. Its very solemnity comes upon mankind like a voice of power. Its peacefulness, the cessation of toil, and bustle, and merchandise, has something religious in it. Besides, the Sabbath places the means of grace within the reach of the careless and profane. The sanctuary is open and the devout are seen hastening from their homes, in decent attire, that they may join in worship; the Word is publicly preached, and sinners are invited to partake of salvation. But the true value of the Sabbath belongs to the believer. Conceive a man, pursuing salvation with intense earnestness, deeply alive to spiritual excellence, realising things unseen and eternal and feeling from day to day the common concerns and engagement of life to be comparatively sordid, as well as to be accompanied with much to grieve, annoy, and hinder the soul in its upward progress, its aspirations after purity, peace, and love. Conceive the value of the Sabbath to such a man. He welcomes it as a refuge from distraction and care, it is as a haven after a storm. Its quiet comes down like sunshine upon his soul. It invites him to duties the most delightful and reviving. It brings him into the full presence of the God whom he loves, and the Saviour in whom he trusts—with no cloud or shadow intervening to impair his joy. It banishes all that is low, frivolous, and earthly. It calls him to the house of Prayer, the scene of his dearest associations, his most exalted pleasures, and his holiest desires. It spreads out before him the richly furnished table of divine provision, and supplies the food by which he is to be nourished and refreshed. It lifts him to a noble elevation above the world and its cares. When fully enjoyed, it is heaven upon earth. “One day in thy courts is better than a thousand.”

Private worship, we have said, belongs to every day. But the Sabbath affords peculiar advantages for observing it, both in the family and the closet. There is not only more time, more freedom from all disquietude and interruption, but public duty comes in aid of private, and attunes the mind to it. The train of pious thought being longer continued, the mind has time to kindle upon it, as well as to avail itself of those helps to devotion, which reading and meditation supply. Family worship is observed with more interest and solemnity than on other days. The members of the domestic circle can then be all assembled. Worship comes not as an intrusion on what is secular. There is no violent transition to it. It comes naturally and easily from the design of the Sabbath. It is closely allied to its public duties. The Bible, in one sense the book of every day, is emphatically the book of the Sabbath. Family too, beautifully crowns the lessons of parental advice, and the work of parental instruction. When the father has been imparting counsel, warning against temptation, and encouraging to piety and virtue, it is a most appropriate close to his task to worship God. There is not a more delightful spectacle, than is exhibited when a Christian father sits on a Sabbath evening in the midst of his children, explaining the wisdom of the precious Word; or kneels with the young worshippers around him in fervent reverential prayer. Such domestic scenes are the proper and hopeful nurseries of the Church.

“O Scotland! modi I love thy tranquil dales
But most on Sabbath eve, when low the sun
Slants through the upland copse, 'tis ray delight,
Wandering, and stopping oft, to hear the song
Of kindred praise arise from humble roofs;
Or, when the simple service ends, to hear
The lifted latch, and mark the gray-haired man,
The father and the priest, walk forth alone
late his gardeu-plat, or little field,
To commune with his God in secret prayer,
To bless the Lord, that in his downward years
His children are about him:"

Closet or secret prayer has also peculiar advantages on the Sabbath. A day, with so much of heaven in it, prepares the Christian for the most endearing communion with God. The whole day has a purer atmosphere than the other days of the week. The closet is a bright and hallowed spot. The Christian enters it with his mind serene, spiritually sensitive, and more than usually elevated in its thoughts. The great truths, heard or read during the day, have imparted to his views an extraordinary vividness. As he communes with God, it seems as if the realities of faith stood personified before him, and he felt the blessedness and joy of their presence. The closet is Bethel and the angels of God ascend and descend on the ladder of the New Covenant.

Such is a faint illustration of the value of the Sabbath. When thus spent, and thus enjoyed, it is indeed a day of high and holy privilege, a foretaste of heaven, a cluster of grapes from the vines of that promised land. It soothes the cares of discipline, and refreshes after the fatigues of pilgrimage. It repairs the injuries sustained in the spiritual conflicts of the past, and prepares for the hazards and hardships of trials yet to come. It is as a green spot in the wilderness, with the freshness of a flowing stream, and the shelter of an overshadowing rock. We conclude this paper with the following lines of the inimitable and truly Christian poet, Cowper, on the right observance of the Sabbath:—

“What says the prophet? Let that day be bless'd
With holiness and consecrated rest.
Pastime and business both it should exclude,
And bar the door the moment they intrude;
Nobly distinguish’d above all the six,
By deeds in which the world must never mix.
Hear him again. He calls it a delight,
A day of luxury, observed aright;
When the glad soul is made heaven’s welcome guest,
Sits banqueting, and God provides the feast."



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