(Image courtesy of http://www.ldssmile.com.)
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God..." (Exodus 20:8-10).
"Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17).
Recently, our church began to study the Puritans, a group of early Protestants in England who were not satisfied with merely reforming the order of the church, but were chiefly concerned with inward holiness of her members.  Many Puritans were later to move to the New World and begin their religious advancement of a pious society in New England (not for freedom of religion, which is more commonly stated).

Above all, Puritans were concerned with personal piety (holiness).  They desired that men and women not only look holy on the outside in what they did or said, but that their hearts be inflamed with love for God on the inside.  They sought to promote this inward holiness and affection for God through preaching God-adoring sermons, devoting their minds to learning the things of God, and worshiping the Lord with fervor.

One of the ways the Puritans sought to establish holiness was through the observance of the Sabbath, which was no longer on a Saturday, but on a Sunday.  We would do well to learn from them in this way.

When the King of England wanted the men of the country to play sports on Sunday so as to stay-in-shape for the army, the Puritans (making up most of the Parliament in the 1600s), pushed back, saying, "You have six days of the week for your men to train, but God has one day; do not take it from Him."  So, the men of the country were kept free of sports on Sunday.

When the National Football League (NFL) began in the mid-1900s in the United States, many people said, "This will never succeed.  No Christian will watch football on Sunday."  But look at where we are at today?  Christians leave church early to make it to the game!

Certainly, God does not command us to keep the Sabbath as a means to obtain the legalistic requirements of the Law; for Christ has fulfilled the Law.  The rest we now enjoy is not found in an observance of one day of the week, but in Christ daily.  God, Himself, works on the Sabbath day.  If He did not, we should not expect the sun to rise next Sunday.

Man is free from the legal requirement to observe the Sabbath because of Christ.  He is our rest; He is our better rest.

Yet, let us learn from the Puritans in this way:

Christ has fulfilled the Law, yes, but in order to make us free.  He has fulfilled our need to work for God's pleasure and has made us pleasing by His own imputation.  The Christian is now motivated by love, not by commandments and legal requirements.  The Puritans knew this, and yet they devoted themselves to the observance of the Sabbath.  Why?

They loved God.  They loved Him more than their work, more than their leisure, more than their sports, more than their family trips to the park, more than anything!  They weren't held by legal requirements of observance; they were held by love!  They wanted God more than anything else!

How sad it is, then, that we, today, do not love God the same way.  How sad it is that we leave church early to watch the game, or to beat the rush at the restaurant, or to do such and such.

I was once part of a church that was together almost all the time.  Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and often Saturdays.  I didn't know what I was a part of until much later.  I was a part of the family of God, and we loved God and we loved each other.  We loved to be in His presence!  For that blissful season, you couldn't keep us away from Him or each other!

Do we have the same fervor at our churches?  Do we hunger and thirst for God above all other tables and founts?  Christ has freed us from the strict, legal observances of the Sabbath so that we might worship His Father in spirit and in truth, with great love and affection and fervor and intensity!

Brothers and sisters, of course the legal cause for observing the Sabbath in order to gain the Lord's favor has been fulfilled in Christ.  He is our better priest, our better Sabbath, our better rest.  We rest in Christ from the work of keeping the Law.  But if we have what is better, why do we not meet together more?  If we have what is better, why do we not desire Him more than anything else?

I do not believe that keeping the Sabbath is a requirement for salvation, any more than baptism or observing the Lord's table is a requirement.  Yet the Christian would be forfeiting a great grace to not partake in these elements with full sincerity!

I pray we think seriously about our hearts and our affections, and the way our churches adhere to the Sabbath.  Let us not dismiss the Sabbath as unimportant.  On the contrary, it is a day to be most cherished - above all other days of the week!

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" (Matthew 22:37).