With the high pressure and stress that seems to have invaded our lives today, it brings sweet relief to be able to take a day a week to rest from our labours. In his great wisdom and love, God gave man a set of guidelines, His moral law to maintain high morals and standards and we find the admonition that we should keep these principles foremost in our thoughts and lives, both in the Old Testament – “Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which I command thee this day, to do them.” —Deuteronomy 7:11; and in the New Testament – “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” —John 14:15
History reveals there has always been a people who have been in obedience to these principles in the past, and what's more, there will be a people who will be obedient to them right through until the end of time – and then on right through eternity.
So what is at the heart of the commandment law? What commandment stands out among the others? It is the Sabbath. In fact, the Sabbath is the sign of God's ownership of His people. “Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations…” —Exodus 31:12-17. It was set aside right at the beginning of creation, blessed and sanctified (Genesis 2:3), and there have been and still are clear principles as to how to observe it properly.
In fact, the Sabbath command was so important in the early days of Israel's traveling in the wilderness experience, that there was a stiff penalty for those who choose to disregard and disobey it.
“And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, the man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.” —Numbers 15:32-36
It was the congregation who administered the punishment to this man. It was purposed that this would be a serious lesson; that God means exactly what He says, and that none would forget. Have the principles of God's law and the Sabbath changed down through the ages?
What about the time of Christ? “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” —Matthew 5:17
What about in the time of the apostles and the beginning of the Christian Church? “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”— James 2:10
What about in the early years of the Seventh-day Adventist Church when the whole of the ten commandments came to light again. “Far more sacredness is attached to the Sabbath than is given it by many professed Sabbath-keepers. The Lord has been greatly dishonoured by those who have not kept the Sabbath according to the commandment, either in the letter or in the Spirit. He calls for a reform in the observance of the Sabbath.” —Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p.353
Yes, it is sacred. “The Sabbath question is a test that will come to the whole world… Our whole term of probation is very brief and a short work will be done on the earth. God's own tests will come; his proving will be sharp and decisive. Let every soul humble himself before God and prepare for what is before us.” —3 Selected Messages, p.254,255
How many of us are gathering sticks on the Sabbath and don't realise it? Let’s review the principles of keeping God's Sabbath holy. Firstly is the preparation, secondly is the observance.
In regards to old Israel, at the end of the four hundred years in Egyptian bondage, God, working through Moses, delivered Israel out of Pharaoh's hand. Israel had been in slavery four hundred years and the moral principles of God's standard had been virtually obliterated from their minds. God needed to spend time with His people, so He took them out into the wilderness, away from Egyptian influence, and organised them in a camp around the base of Mt Sinai, to re-establish His law in His people.
But before He came down to His people there was a preparation. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.” —Exodus 19:10-13
Now that law is unchangeable. It will go through to the end of time and on into eternity. It will carry the Sabbath and the same reverence with it. Sabbath preparation really begins as the Sabbath is ushered out the week before. “All through the week we are to have the Sabbath in mind and be making preparation to keep it according to the commandment.” —Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p.353
But there is a final preparation. “On Friday, let the preparation for the Sabbath be completed….We must commence in the morning to look after every piece of clothing if we have neglected to do this through the week, that our garments may be neat and orderly and comely to appear in the place where God's people assemble to worship Him… Entering upon new business should be avoided, if possible, but endeavour to close up things already started that are half accomplished. Prepare everything connected with the household matters so that there shall be freedom from worries and the mind be prepared to rest and to meditate upon heavenly things.” —Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p.355; That I May Know Him, p.147
All differences between brethren, whether in the family or in the church should be made right. Let all bitterness and malice be expelled from the soul. —See Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p.353-356 / Child Guidance, p.528,529 / Signs of the Times, May 25, 1882.
“There needs to be much more close investigation of the week past. Review it and see if, as a branch of the living Vine, you have drawn nourishment from the parent Vine to bear much fruit to the glory of God. If there has been feverish excitement, if hasty words have been spoken, if passion has been revealed, these have surely been the working on Satan's side of the question. Clear the heart by confession. Sincerely make everything right before the Sabbath. Examine your own selves, whether ye be in the faith.” —That I May Know Him, p.147
The Edges of the Sabbath
“We should jealously guard the edges of the Sabbath. Remember that every moment is consecrated holy time… We would come up to the Sabbath with our work closed up in proper shape and not dragging into the Sabbath.” —Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p.355; That I May Know Him, p.147
We should gather for the opening of Sabbath well in advance before sunset. This allows the mind as well as the body to withdraw from the pressures of business and stresses of life, and to gain that peace and tranquillity of God's presence. Also, it allows the mind to prepare for meeting with God as He comes to be with His people in a special way at the setting of the sun.
“Around the family altar, all should wait to welcome God's holy day, as they would watch for the coming of a dear friend.” —Signs of the Times, May 25, 1882
Our prayer should be to lift our hearts and minds from this world, up to God and to keep our minds elevated in His presence. Offer our praise to His glory and majesty, asking for a cleansing of the heart and mind, asking for forgiveness and reconciliation, seeking His purity. May we invite the presence of His Holy Spirit and the angels of heaven to be with us in a special way over the Sabbath hours. During these hours, our thoughts and conversation should be on holy topics.
Observing the Sabbath
Firstly, in the morning, don't waste the precious early hours of the morning in bed that could be spent in communion with God. Rise early, freshen up and have time to pray, read and avoid hustle-and-bustle in the home. This rushing around brings an unholy atmosphere and the sanctity of the Sabbath is easily spoilt. Treasure every minute of the day. Time wasted is robbing God of His time. — See Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p.357; Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p.140; Child Guidance, p.530; 3 Spiritual Gifts, p.293, Testimonies for the Church, vol.2, p.701|
When we gather together for combined worship, our dress and conduct are of utmost importance. All should be neatly and cleanly dressed with no display of apparel as it encourages irreverence, drawing attention to people and taking away from God.
Everyone should be prompt and on time for worship, regardless of its location. Even if it is expected that some will come at a later time, the meetings should still start on time. —See Testimonies for the Church, vol.5, p.498,499; Review & Herald, May 30, 1871
On meeting with God, reverence should be exercised at all times in the house of God. Children should be taught reverence. Sometimes young men and women have so little reverence for the sanctuary that they keep up a continual communication with each other during the sermon. Could these see angels of God looking upon them, and marking their doings, they would be filled with shame, with abhorrence of themselves. — See Testimonies for the Church, vol.5, p.492,494
If we are early for service, we should quietly move to our seats as it is only respectful to sit quietly, taking time to commune with God and giving others the opportunity to do the same. Ask God to remove all evil from our hearts and minds and leave only that which He can bless into His house. Pray for the speakers that we may gain a blessing from what is about to be presented. Listen carefully to the message and absorb the words that you need most to hear, the very words which, if heeded, would save you feet from straying into wrong paths. Satan and his angels are busy creating a paralysed condition of the senses, so that cautions, warning and reproofs shall not be heard. —See Bible Training School, Oct 1, 1908; Testimonies for the Church, vol.5, p.492,493
All the service should be conducted with solemnity and awe as if in the visible presence of the Master of assemblies. Common talking, whispering and laughing should not be permitted in the house of worship, either before or after the service. After meeting, move quietly from our seats and wait until we are out of the sanctuary before starting conversation. —See Testimonies for the Church, vol.5, p.492,493
Keep your thoughts centred of God and His holiness. Business should not be discussed or plans made, in fact it is the unconverted heart that talks of the world. If we have studied and read during the week, we will have plenty to share with friends during the Sabbath hours. —See Child Guidance, p.579; Evangelism, p.245; Testimonies for the Church, vol.2, p.703
Parents have a great responsibility to restrain children and know where they are. This is not the job of the teachers and others; parents need to have good control over their children. This will instil good principles into their minds for later years. Also we should sit as complete families in our assemblies as well. This prevents children sitting in groups together. —See Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p.358,359; Testimonies for the Church, vol.5, p.494; My Life Today, p.287
After the spiritual food in the services of the morning, most of us look forward to satisfy our physical needs. As we partake of all our meals on Sabbath, we should not set great varieties in abundance on the table to encourage overeating. Our food should be simple and eaten in moderation that the mind may remain clear and vigorous to comprehend spiritual things; yet the food should be palatable, attractive and something should be provided that is a treat, different from other days to make it special. Children watch and imitate parents closely and by the parents' example and discipline can mould good Sabbath eating habits for their children at an early age. — See Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p.357; Manuscript Release 57, 1897
So often after a large Sabbath lunch, it is so easy to relax in an easy chair, and either fall off to sleep, or let the conversation relax, only to sadly turn away the angels of heaven. Our food has a lot to do with our mental and spiritual clarity on Sabbath.
Counsel in regards to washing dishes after the meal, is not to wash them during Sabbath if this can possibly be avoided. However, to eliminate disease where flies are liable to contaminate plates and other utensils, it would be sensible to rinse the food off and cover the with a cloth. — See Selected Messages, vol. 3, p.258
When the weather is fine, parents can take their children out into nature and explain the story of creation and beauty of the Sabbath. This will keep the family together and it gives purpose for the Sabbath in the minds of children. It will do wonders to avoid their minds running off onto things secular, plus avoid to a degree the family breaking up into their own aims and fancies, and even to help them keep off the streets of the town. — See Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p.583,584; Child Guidance, p.533; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p.36,37; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p.358
Other ideas, are to do some letter-boxing, door to door ministry, or personal handouts on the streets of some topical subject, or on salvation. If the weather is miserable, some visitation to rest homes can bring comfort to the sorrowing and lonely. That could involve playing music, singing or reading to them. We often don't realise the blessing we can bring to souls who seldom get visitors.
With bad weather, bible games and quizzes can be enjoyable and educational as well. — See Welfare Ministry, p.77
Closing Sabbath is as important as opening. The edges should be carefully guarded. “As the sun goes down, let the voice of prayer and the hymn of praise mark the close of the sacred hours and invite God's presence through the cares of the week of labour.” — Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p.359
Sabbath Reform Needed
To summarise, too many of us are still picking up sticks in God's holy time, but in His great mercy, He doesn't get others to stone us to death instantly. But that doesn't mean God has changed His terms on the Sabbath. If we have the light of the reverence and sanctity on that day, we are accountable for that light and knowledge.
“There is need of a Sabbath reform… God's holy day has been desecrated.” — Evangelism, p.245; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p.351
“Far more sacredness is attached to the Sabbath than is given it by many professed Sabbath keepers… We should carry out as far as possible in our families and in the church the order and harmony of heaven. Angels of God often turn away in grief from those who excuse disorder and confusion as trivial matters; they are not authorised to bless such.” — Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p.353; Signs of the Times, July 27, 1880
“If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” — Isaiah 58:13,14
“This prophecy also applies in our time… The time has come for that divine institution to be restored… The Sabbath question is to be the issue in the great final conflict in which all the world will act a part.” — Great Controversy, p.453; Testimonies for the Church vol. 6, p.352
As the law, including the Sabbath, was re-given to Israel after they came out of Egypt, it became the sign which distinguished them as God's true people when they prepared to enter the earthly Canaan. So it will be a distinguishing sign to God's true people as they come out of the world, to prepare to enter into the heavenly Canaan.
The Sabbath is a sign of the relationship existing between God and His people, a sign they honour. “And the Sabbath is a sign of obedience. He who from the heart obeys the fourth commandment will obey the whole law…The fourth commandments alone of all the ten contains the seal of the Great Lawgiver, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.” — Testimonies for the Church vol. 6, p.359
“Oh, that we could all realize the nearness of heaven to earth! When the earthborn children know it not, they have angels of light as their companions… Let us all bear in mind that in every assembly of the saints below are angels of God, listening to the testimonies, songs, and prayers. Let us remember that our praises are supplemented by the choirs of the angelic host above.
“Then as you meet from Sabbath to Sabbath, sing praises to Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light… As the word of life is spoken, let your heartfelt response testify that you receive the message as from heaven. This is very old-fashioned, I know; but it will be a thank offering to God for the bread of life given to the hungry soul. This response to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will be a strength to your own soul and an encouragement to others. It will give some evidence that there are in God's building living stones that emit light.” — Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p.366,367
Finally, as we have learned the principles of Sabbath keeping, may those principles become meaningful in our heart, for as we come to the close of time, the Sabbath question will continue to grow in significance as time closes up.
If we highly value the Sabbath now, it will give us the foundation to value it highly when severe trouble comes upon us. It will fit us for eternity to enjoy every Sabbath at the feet of Jesus Himself and to partake of the fellowship with the whole heavenly host.
“But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him… Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may, enter in through the gates into the city.” — I Corinthians 2:9; Revelation 22:14