Thirteenth Day – The Sabbath and the Children

`The seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter.’ Ex. 20: 10.

Among the most precious blessings which a child going out into the world from a godly home can take with him, is the habit of reverent observance of the Sabbath. In its separation from evil company, in its leading to God’s house, in the calm and thoughtful quiet it sometimes brings over his spirit, it will, even if he be still a stranger to grace, be a safeguard and a help, a schoolmaster to bring to Christ. If he be a Christian, it will be one of his surest aids in the growth and strengthening of the life of faith. It is a part of a parent’s duty that needs to be studied in earnest prayer, and for the performance of which much wisdom and grace are needed. The Lord, who has enjoined the duty, will not withhold the grace.

Note in the words of the fourth commandment how specially the children are remembered. It is to parents the command is given; it is in the keeping holy of the day by their children, as well as by themselves, that their obedience is to be manifested. ‘Thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant:’ it is not so much as a private, nor as a national, but as a family ordinance, that the Sabbath was first of all appointed. `Thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter: just as the terms of the covenant, `a God to thee and to thy seed,’ the words suggest the two thoughts that it is first the parent, and then the child through the parent, with whom God wishes to deal. The parent must first learn to keep the Sabbath day holy himself, then to train his child to keep it holy too.

The parent’s keeping holy the Sabbath precedes the training of the child to do so. Here comes up the principle which lies at the root of all true education: What I am to make my child I must first be myself. Example is more than precept; being more than teaching; what I am and do, more than what I tell him to be or do. The question is often asked how we can teach our children to revere and love the Sabbath, and in answer many lessons of great value have been given. But we cannot too earnestly insist on the truth that the first requirement is that the day should be a holy day to the parents themselves. It is as they serve God upon it in the beauty of holiness, as the spirit of holiness breathes on and from them in the services of the Sabbath, as that day is to them a day not only of strict observance, but of joyful worship, of quickened devotion, of real loving fellowship with God, as the Sabbath is a delight, that the first condition will be fulfilled for teaching their children to love it.

Let Christian parents note this. God means the Sabbath to be to your child what it is to you, not in value of your training and habits, but what it is to your own experience, as a day you really love and rejoice in. Study to this end its wonderful significance and the riches of blessing connected with it.

Look upon it as the day of rest, of entering into God’s own wonderful rest. The rest of God is in a finished work; by faith in that work we enter into that rest, and the great calm, the peace that passes understanding, keeps the heart and mind (Gen. 2: 3; Heb. 4: 3-10).

Look upon it as a holy day, the day God has given as a token and pledge that He who is holy makes us holy too (Ex. 31: 13; Ezek. 20: 12). It is in fellowship with God that we are made holy; let His presence, His love, His joy, be the mark as well as the fruit of keeping it holy.

Look upon it as a day of blessing (Gen. 2: 3). Of the blessing God laid on the day sin robbed us. In the resurrection of Christ the finished work of creation was restored, was finished and perfected in a higher sense. Under the leading of the Holy Spirit, the first day of the week, the day of the Lord Jesus, the Sabbath of the new Life, took the place of the Sabbath of death, when the Lord of the Sabbath was in the tomb. The Sabbath of creation, rendered void by the fall and the law, is now glorified in the Sabbath of redemption. And now all the blessings of the Living Christ, His finished work and resurrection power and eternal rest, and of the Holy Spirit, who descended from Heaven on this new Sabbath, are to be made ours by this day. Oh let it be to you a day of blessing, in the fellowship of the Father’s love, and the Son’s grace, through the Holy Spirit, and you have taken the first and the surest step for its being a blessing and a joy to your son and your daughter too.

And now comes the second lesson. It is not enough that the parent keep holy the Sabbath day; the Lord lays it upon him to secure the child’s doing so too. As parent he is responsible for it, and must make it a matter of distinct effort and prayer. It is not enough that Christian parents seek to keep the day holy: the training of their children to do so is a sacred obligation resting upon them, and requires, just on account of its difficulty, the sacrifice of personal enjoyment, the exercise of thought and wisdom, and the patience of much faith and love.

In seeking to do so, there are two dangers to be avoided. In human nature we find that there are two principles implanted in our hearts to guide us to action — pleasure and duty. The former leads us to seek what is agreeable and for our own interest, and is one of the most powerful motives in all our conduct. When our pleasure, however, is at variance with the interests of others or the will of God, the sense of duty comes in to restrain and regulate the desire for pleasure. The reward of obedience to duty is that in course of time it is no longer a check to pleasure, but becomes itself the highest pleasure. The art of education consists in so bringing pleasure and duty into harmony, that without the sacrifice of either both may be attained.

In training the child to keep holy the Sabbath day, there is a danger of putting either of these principles too exclusively in the foreground. With our Puritan and Covenanting ancestors the former principle was urged, and the only sanction sought for keeping the Sabbath was the law. In our days we are in danger of the opposite extreme. To make the Sabbath interesting to the children, to make them happy on it, if possible to make them love it as a day of enjoyment, is so exclusively the object of attention, that the thought of obligation is almost lost sight of, and the principle almost unconsciously instilled that the day is to be hallowed and loved only as far as it is made interesting and pleasant. Let parents seek grace from Him who, as Divine wisdom says, guides in the midst of the paths of right, to be kept from the right-hand as well as the left-hand error.

Do not hesitate to speak of God’s command and of duty. God trained Israel as a child in the life of law for the life of love in Christ. Education consists, in its first stages, more in training to right habits than inculcating principles: these come later. Be not afraid, in connection with the Lord’s day, of the element of self-denial and quiet self-control which the thought of obedience to God’s will and to your will brings over the child’s spirit. They are part of the foundation of noble character. Tranquillity of mind and serenity of spirit are invaluable blessings; the quiet of the Sabbath helps to foster them. Holiness is much more than separation; it is a positive fellowship and enjoyment of God. But it begins with separation: the putting away of week-day toys and books and companions, the marking off of the day from other days, even in little things, is, under a wise guidance, a preparation for the truer hallowing of it later on.

This on the one side. On the other, exercise a wise and loving thoughtfulness as to the ways in which the day can be made a happy one. In the picture lessons to the younger ones, in the careful selection of suitable and interesting reading for the elder ones, in the merry singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord, in the forethought with which possible transgression is guarded, in the tone of gladsome and loving reverence with which the day is spoken of and spent, in the personal intercourse especially given in Bible study and prayer, the believing parent will find the means of leading the child on to call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord (Isa. 58: 13), and to inherit the blessing promised to those who do so.

Dear Christian parents, how deeply the thought of how we ought to train our children to love the Sabbath reminds us of our shortcomings and our impotence. But let not this discourage us. We have God, the God of the Sabbath, who gave it to us as a token of the covenant He has with us and our children, to sanctify us. We have Himself to teach us and our children to sanctify His day. Let us look to Him to give us grace to feel and show that the Lord’s day is the happiest of the week. In the divided life of the ordinary worldly Christian it cannot be so. God’s commandments cannot be obeyed without a wholehearted surrender to live for Him alone, without a life under the full power of His Holy Spirit. But if God be our chief joy, the desire after His service and love our highest aim, He Himself will sanctify our Sabbaths, our hearts, our homes, our children, by His Holy Presence. And the Sabbaths will be but a part of a life holy to the Lord.

Most Holy God! I thank You for the precious gift of the holy Sabbath day, and the wonderful blessings of which it is the pledge. I hank You above all for its redemption, in the death of Jesus, from the power of sin, and its restoration to us in the power and the joy of His risen life. Oh, grant that each succeeding Sabbath may lead me deeper into Your rest, the rest of God in Christ, and so into the fellowship of Your holiness and Your blessedness. May a daily life that seeks its only joy in Christ, and is wholly yielded to the Spirit, prepare me for keeping the day holy.

Blessed Father! I especially ask for grace to train my children to love and hallow your day. I know it, nothing but the joy of Your presence in my own life can fit me for it. Give me this. And then give me the wisdom, as Your servant, to bring to them the sense of Your Holy Will and Your loving-kindness, in claiming the day for Yourself, and then giving it to them as Your own day, that the fear of grieving You and the joy of pleasing You may each find due place in their hearts. So may the command and the promise, the duty and the pleasure, be one to them, and their delight in Your day indeed meet the promised reward, `Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord.’ Amen.