LORD OF THE SABBATH
A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn March 13, 1994
“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work … ” (Exodus 20:8-10).
So reads the Lord’s third commandment. Our purpose is to investigate what is meant by remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy in our lives.
Unlike other commandments against murder, adultery and theft, which are sustained by the civil laws of society, Sabbath observance is not compulsory for us as it was for the Jews. Traditionally, Sunday has been set apart in the Christian world as a day of worship rather than a working day. However, civil statutes and regulations, often called “blue laws,” instituted to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath have been abolished for the most part. Public worship of the Lord is now, perhaps more than ever, in competition with a great variety of other activities, both occupational and recreational. The plain fact is, many people regard Sunday as just another day off, feeling little or no obligation to attend church services or to reflect on spiritual things.
The teaching of the church is that the worship of the Lord should be by free choice rather than by compulsion (see HH 603). “Worship from freedom is pleasing to the Lord,” we are told, “but not worship from compulsion … ” (AC 9588). We believe this refers to adults capable of making a free and rational choice, not to children. Yet all, adults as well as children, should heed the Lord’s commandment. We cannot be compelled to worship against our will, but we can compel ourselves. True freedom is born of self-compulsion (see AC 1947). And the Lord has said: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
It is not the purpose of this sermon to decry the state of the world or condemn those who appear to neglect Sabbath observance. We can feel smug about our hour at church and be little the better for it. As with all the commandments of the Decalogue, there is so much more for the New Churchman to learn about what is meant by keeping the Sabbath than its formal observance in public worship. What are the deeper implications of the third commandment?
The external statutes and obedience to them were effective only for the Jewish nation. They worshipped God by religious acts. By obedience to their sacrificial laws they served the world more than they could know until the Messiah came to reveal the deeper, weightier matters of Divine law.
We know that the strict observance of the Sabbath had been carried to extremes in the Lord’s time. Interpreters of the Law had added a proliferation of customs to its original intent. The legitimate forms of observance had been surrounded by man-made additions to the extent that the mercy and purpose of the Lord’s laws were obscured. The Lord came to open their meaning. His acts on the Sabbath, seemingly contrary to Scripture, actually were in accord with its spiritual intent and revealed His eternal laws.
The truth of the law of the Sabbath is simply this: that the Lord alone can save us by His teaching and His healing. This is the “work” of the Sabbath and He alone can do it. That is why we are taught that on this day we should do no work.
When the Lord came as the Son of Man into the world, He said He was “Lord also of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5). He could work the works of God on that day, teaching and healing. And what more appropriate day could there be for His Divine work of saving souls? So He said, ” … it is lawful to do good on the sabbath days” (Matt. 12:12).
We are taught that when the Lord came into the world, “that day became a day of instruction in Divine things … and of meditation on such things as relate to salvation and eternal life, as also a day of love toward the neighbor” (TCR 301). The particular rituals of the Jewish law were annulled, but the Lord in no way abolished the commandment that the Sabbath was to be remembered and kept holy (see AC 9394). Our need for this now is just as great as it was for the sons of Israel. And now we can know why.
The light of the spiritual sense of the Word opens up the deeper meaning of the Scriptural accounts of keeping the Sabbath. One such account is about the “manna” which the Lord gave to sustain the Israelites on their 40-year journey in the wilderness. According to the lesson which we read about this, they were to gather the manna each day, but not on the Sabbath day. This particular conceals an important spiritual reason. This is what we want to consider. First, however, some background about the whole story:
Manna was food. It sustained the people, yet they often tired of this heavenly food and longed for the “flesh and bread” they had left in the land of Egypt. While the manna was natural food, it was produced by correspondence, and signifies something deeper which sustains human life. As the Lord taught, “Man does not live by bread alone … ” so we know that natural benefits worldly possessions, prestige or power, the things of this world do not guarantee human satisfaction or happiness. The goods of natural life which bring pleasure and bodily sustenance can be shallow, even animal-like. People were created to rise above a purely natural existence, to attain spiritual goods of life that satisfy the spirit and bring lasting happiness. The manna signifies this good, called in the Heavenly Doctrine, “Christian good” (AC 8516) or the “good of charity.” Like the manna itself, good is a gift from God.
Hear this teaching concerning manna: “This bread signifies the good of charity that is begotten through the truth of faith. Before regeneration this good is quite unknown to man … For before regeneration a man believes that besides the delights of the love of self and of the world, which he calls good, there cannot be possible any good which is not from this source, or of such a nature” (AC 8462).
This is the reason the people, seeing the dew-like substance on the ground, said “Manna.” The word “manna” asks the question: “What is it?” This food was something entirely new to the people, just as the delights of heavenly love are new to us as long as we are in opposite delights.
“What is it?” we may ask when we hear of spiritual good. It is a gift from the Lord. Its delights and blessedness far exceed those of whatever worldly acquisitions and achievements we are able to attain on our own. There is no comparison between the two kinds of good and, we are told, the heavenly joy which accompanies spiritual good “infinitely transcends every other joy” (AC 8037). This recognition is a long time in coming.
Note that the Israelitish people were not allowed to gather more manna than they needed in any given day. If they attempted to store some, it not only spoiled but bred worms. Some tried this. Their disobedience illustrates our unregenerate state of life. We have a lack of trust. Gathering too much pictures our doubt that the Lord can provide us with lasting happiness, or that obeying spiritual laws which run counter to our natural inclinations will bring reward.
The truth is otherwise. We are taught that “they who trust in the Lord continually receive good from Him” even if what happens to them appears not prosperous, because it leads as a means to their eternal happiness. On the other hand, “they who trust in themselves are continually drawing evil upon themselves” whatever happens, because it leads as a means to their eternal unhappiness (AC 8480:3).
The Scriptural account of the manna reveals a spiritual training program for achieving trust in the Lord. The sons of Israel had no choice. They were forced to depend on the Lord for their “daily bread.” In fact, we too depend on the Lord for our daily bread, not only natural but spiritual as well. The difference between us and the sons of Israel is that we are free to pray for it, understand what it is, and seek it willingly while they were not.
We do not regenerate suddenly. Unregenerate states of life “cling to the man very firmly,” we are told (AC 8403:3). So the battle continues through a lifetime. Just as the Israelites often complained of their diet of manna and lusted for the flesh and bread of Egypt, so we often revert to a desire for our hereditary delights, then accounting heavenly delights “dry and tasteless” or as nothing.
But what of the part of the account that speaks of the Sabbath? The Israelites were allowed to gather manna each day for their immediate use. The sixth day, however, was an exception to the rule. On the sixth day, the people were to gather enough for that day and the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the day of rest, and the Israelites were forbidden to gather anything.
This special regulation shows that salvation is of the Lord alone. The Sabbath signifies a state of peace or rest that comes after labor. Just so, following the six days of creation, “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:3).
To labor signifies our part in the spiritual battle of regeneration. To labor stands for the effort we must make to compel ourselves to obey. We struggle to learn and apply the Lord’s truths to our lives. In doing so we often feel deprived of joy, or feel that some delight of our life is jeopardized because evil must be shunned. It is then we “loathe” or reject the bread of heaven which the Lord has sent down to sustain us. This is a preparation for the important state that follows.
The Sabbath ends the strife. For a brief time of peace, the fight is over. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall not do any work … ” (Exodus 20:9,10).
Spiritual progress comes when we rest! It comes when, at last, we put to rest those ambitions for self or the world that stand in the Lord’s way. On this Sabbath day of no work, we have respite from the struggle to do the right thing. At least in some small aspect of our life the Lord gives us heavenly peace. No longer do we lead ourselves to good by truth; we are led by the Lord through good. In the Heavenly Doctrine, this is described as a state of the conjunction of good and truth. “When a man is in this conjunction,” we are told, “he acts from good, and no longer from truth” (AC 8516).
Conjunction is a marriage. When marriage occurs, new life can be born. The conjunction signified here by the Sabbath day, when no one was allowed to work, generates a Divine birth, what the doctrine calls the birth of Christian good.
It is significant that the verse immediately following the Sabbath statute describes the taste of the manna “like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). So the spiritual food for our soul is sweet and good when we have learned to accept it from the Lord. It is delightful. The coarse and selfish delights of our former life are put aside, making way for this new birth. In this new state are loves deeply responsive to good from the Lord and acutely conscious of the joy of regenerate delights from first to last. No longer do we have to ask, “What is it?” The good of love will be familiar, a lasting blessing.
We keep the Sabbath holy when at any time, in any situation, we act from the Lord’s will instead of from our own. In essence, what is taught about the Sabbath has no relation to a day or to any time, but to a state of mind. To remember the Sabbath day is to acknowledge the goodness of the Lord, to recognize that the Lord alone is the source of all that is good and to trust that He is the way, the truth, and the life.
You see, the origin of all evil was to confirm in ourselves the appearance of self-life, the false appearance that life is our own. The remedy for evil must be the opposite: to acknowledge that life is not our own but the Lord’s gift to us. This is the inner message of the Sabbath day and the reason to keep it holy. We should value the remembrance of the Sabbath.
The true Sabbath is a spiritual state of peace. It is found in those fleeting but comforting moments when our confidence in the Lord is affirmed. For ” … peace has in it confidence in the Lord,” we are told, “that He directs all things, and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end.” And, wonderful to say, “When a man is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no anxiety about things to come disquiets him” (AC 8455). It is noteworthy that self-confidence is what takes away this state of peace.
Although there is an inner meaning to the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, it is important while in this world to remember the Sabbath in external as well as internal worship, and this for the following reasons: first, “by external worship internal things are excited”; second, ” … by means of external worship external things are kept in holiness, so that internal things can flow in”; third, ” … man is thus imbued with knowledges, and is prepared for receiving celestial things”; and fourth, he ” … is also gifted with states of holiness, although he is unaware of this, which states of holiness are preserved to him by the Lord for the use of eternal life” (AC 1618).
We cannot lightly dismiss the human need for regular opportunities to worship the Lord. The Heavenly Doctrine teaches that there are certain “signs of charity” pertaining to worship expressive of our internal charity. These include attending services of worship, partaking of the Holy Supper, praying privately as well as joining in public prayer, holding conversation about spiritual things with others, and reading the Word along with other books of instruction and piety. Further signs include thought and meditation concerning spiritual things, self-examination, aversion of the mind from impious, obscene and filthy language, and the discipline of our natural affections (see Char. 174-175). All of these external signs support internal worship.
The worship of the Lord and the external observance of the Sabbath day should be a regular part of our life in the church. We should respond in the spirit of the psalmist when invited to participate in the worship of the Lord: Can we say, as he did, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1)? “I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy … ” (Psalm 5:7). “Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2). Amen.
Lessons: Exodus 16:11-17, 22-31; Mark 2:23-3:5; AC 8516
Arcana Coelestia 8516
It was shown above that as by “the Sabbath” was signified the conjunction of good and truth, therefore by “the manna not being found on the seventh day” is signified that when a man is in this conjunction he acts from good and no longer from truth, and also that he must not act from truth any longer (n. 8510).
But as this appears a paradox, it may be further unfolded in a few words. Everyone ought to be led to Christian good, which is called “charity,” through the truth of faith, for the truth of faith will teach not only what charity is, but also what its nature must be; and unless he learns this first from the doctrine of his church (for he cannot possibly know it from himself), he cannot be prepared and thus adapted to receive this good. For example: he must know from the doctrine of faith that it is not of charity to do what is good for the sake of self, or for the sake of recompense, thus not to merit salvation through works of charity; he must also know that all the good of charity is from the Lord and nothing at all from self; besides many other things which instruct what charity is and what its quality must be. From these considerations it can be seen that a man cannot be led to Christian good except through the truths which are of faith. A man must know further that truths do not of themselves enter into good, but that good adopts truths and adjoins them to itself; for the truths of faith lie in the memory of a man as in a field extended beneath the interior sight. Good from the Lord flows in through this sight, and chooses from them, and conjoins with itself, the truths which are in agreement with it …
From all this it can now be known how Christian good is born with a man when he is being regenerated, and therefore also what must be the quality of the man when he has been regenerated, namely, that he acts from good but not from truth; that is, that he is led of the Lord by means of good and no longer by means of truth; for he is then in charity, that is, in the affection of doing this good. All who are in heaven are so led, for this is according to Divine order; and thus all things which they think and act flow as it were spontaneously and from freedom. It would be quite different if they were to think from truth and to act from it; for then they would think whether a thing ought to be so done or not, and they would thus come to a stand-still in every detail, and thereby would obscure the light they have, and finally they would act according to those things which they themselves love, thus according to influx from those things which favor their loves, which is to be led by themselves and not by the Lord.