Keith Hunt - Divine Rest - Page Ten   Restitution of All Things

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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #10

Celebration of the Sabbath


Continued from previous page:


     Taking time to remember historical and personal divine
interventions is not merely a memory drill, but rather a vital
exercise in maintaining a meaningful relationship with God.
Experience teaches that relationships are built on mutual
remembrance. "Did you remember me while you were away?" is a
question a wife will ask her husband. Forgetting a person means
removing him or her from one's life. God is cognizant of the fact
that human beings can only maintain a living and loving
relationship with Him to the extent that they are able to
preserve a fresh memory and awareness of His past, present and
future doing for them. Thus on and through the Sabbath the Lord
invites us to remember the Good News that He originally created
us perfectly; that He cares for us constantly; that He redeemed
us completely, and that He will restore us ultimately.
     To remember and to keep the Sabbath holy means to take time
to acknowledge and praise God for all His mercies. It means to
say "no" to the false pretensions of human self-sufficiency and
to say "yes" to the Lord of the Sabbath by making oneself
available for Him. It means to acknowledge God's doing rather
than trusting one's own achievements. It means to stop worrying
about one's own wants and start thinking about the needs of
others, whether they be "sons" or "servants" (Ex.20:10). It means
forgetting self and selfish interests in order like Mary to honor
Christ as the special guest, acknowledging Him in all one does.
     By remembering and cultivating the presence of Christ in all
his activities (whether these be worshiping, talking, eating,
walking, reading, listening to music, visiting, etc.), the
believer experiences and celebrates the holiness of the Sabbath,
that is, the manifestation of God's personal presence in his
life. The consciousness of the nearness of God quickens and
brings into life all that is purest and best.

2. Work and Rest

     Work six days. The Commandment also proposes a workrest
program as a means to celebrate and to experience on the Sabbath
God's sanctifying presence. Why is a clear line of demarcation
drawn between the "all your work" to be done in six days and the
"no work" to be done on the seventh (Ex.20:9-10)? Does the work
of the six days constitute an antithesis to the rest of the
Sabbath? No, because, as noticed earlier, both work and rest are
contemplated in the Commandment. The work of the six days is
conceived as a natural prelude or prerequisite to enter into the
rest experience of the Sabbath. Being the preparatory experience
for the Sabbath rest, the work of the six days shares in the
celebration of the Sabbath. One could say that as the doing of
all work during the week predisposes the believer to enter more
freely and more fully on the Sabbath into communion with God, so
the Sabbath experience of God's presence enables the Christian to
maintain an awareness of God's presence during the week. Thus the
work-rest program of the Sabbath commandment makes it possible to
extend to all the weekdays God's sanctifying presence experienced
in a special way on the Sabbath.

Rest on the seventh day. 

     Why does the Fourth Commandment make abstention from
weekdays' work absolutely necessary for experiencing the holiness
of the Sabbath? Why does it take such great pains to spell out so
explicitly all the classes of persons to whom rest is to be
granted (Ex.20:10; Deut.5:14)? Why does God make "rest" such a
categorical imperative for the sanctification of the Sabbath?
Does He find more pleasure in seeing His creatures inactive
rather than engaged in some meaningful activity? How does the
Sabbath rest enable the believer to keep the day holy? What is
involved in resting on the Sabbath? The answer to these,
questions provided to a large extent by the very function of the
Sabbath's rest, precisely to act It's a dividing line between the
six working days and the holy day. 
     How can one distinguish holy time, if there is no common
time from which to distinguish it? "Can we really understand the
holy day," asks Karl Barth, "before we have understood the
working day? ... Can man view and tackle his own work under the
command of God without first ... pausing, resting and keeping
holy-day in the sight of God, rejoicing in freedom? Can he value
and do justice to his work except in the light of its boundary,
its solemn interruption? Is not this interruption the true time
from which alone he can have other time?" 

     The Sabbath rest gives wisdom to distinguish between the
lesser and the greater, between the common and the holy. As God
by resting on the seventh day separated this day from the
previous six days, making it the day of His holy presence, so the
believer by resting on the Sabbath draws a clear-cut boundary
line between this day and his working days. The drawing of this
dividing line between work and rest, between working time and
holy time, is the basis of the sanctification of the Sabbath. God
has drawn the dividing line between the first six days of the
week and the seventh, choosing the latter as the special time to
bless human beings with His presence. The believer who accepts
God as his Creator must accept also what God has created and not
change it into something else. Such an acceptance expresses
reverence for God. It is in deference to God that the believer
interrupts his work program ("the seventh day is a sabbath to the
Lord your God" - Ex.20:10). Yet this pause is for man's own
salvation, since it is in God's presence that he finds rest,
peace and eternal life.


     Some Christians reject the distinctive lifestyle of the
Sabbath day, because they maintain that it has a divisive rather
than a unifying effect on the Christian life. Hiley H. Ward, for
example, in his book "Space-Age Sunday," argues that the notion
of a "Lord's Day" is outdated in today's spaceage and
consequently should be substituted by "a Lord's Week"
observance." Basically, Ward proposes that the Sunday "oneday
religion" should be replaced with a daily (pan-Sabbatism)
"prayer-consciousness," daily gathering with "Christian
friends... before breakfast, or at a later hour of the evening,"
and daily church-sponsored programs of "evangelism and
     Such a proposal may appear praiseworthy, but in reality it
is unrealistic and destructive of the very quality of spiritual
life it intends to foster. It is impractical because it expects
persons who hardly take time to worship God on what they regard
as their Lord's Day to engage in daily worship gatherings,
whether with few or with many. How can such a daily program be
implemented in view of modern life's pressing demands for time?
It is destructive because it represents the substitution rather
than the extension of the total worship experience of God's holy
day. Like praying "without ceasing" (I Thess.5:17), is meaningful
only if it represents not a substitution but a reflection of the
praying done at specific set times. So daily worship exercises,
whether private or public, are valuable only if they represent
not the substitution but the reflection of the total worship
experience of the Sabbath.
     Worship in its fullest sense is a total and orderly response
to God. Is such a total response really possible during the
weekdays when so much attention must be given to the pressing
demands of one's work? The subconscious awareness of God that a
person may experience while engaged in the Sunday through Friday
work can hardly be viewed as a total or adequate response to God.
The claim that everything a believer does is an act of worship is
as absurd as the belief that everything is God (pantheism). The
end result in both instances is that no real worship is offered
to God, because nothing really matters. Are not these views
deceptive devices designed to do away with both the belief in and
the worship of God? The theory that every day is Sabbath
ultimately results in no Sabbath at all. This truth is brought
out perceptively and cuttingly in the following poem:

     Shrewd men, indeed, these new reformers are! Each week-day
     is a Sabbath, they declare. A Christian theory! The
     unchristian fact is Each Sabbath is a week day in their

     It cannot be denied that some Christians live a one-day
religion, or perhaps more accurately, a one-hour weekly religion.
As soon as their churchgoing clothes are put away in the closet,
they seem to turn off God from their minds and live for another
week as though God did not exist. The solution to such a
perversion, widespread though it may be, is to be found not in
substituting the Sabbath precept with generic attitudes or
programs, but in helping Christians to rediscover its intended
meaning and function. The prevailing impatience to do away with
the Biblical plan for a whole seventh-day Sabbath rest may well
explain the widespread neglect for both daily and weekly worship.

     The work-rest program spelled out in the Sabbath Commandment
represents not only an astonishing revelation of God's concern
for human well-being, but also an indispensable condition for
experiencing an orderly way God's sanctifying presence. It
represents an orderly response to a Holy God, because it is not a
momentary spiritual elation, nor a carefree abandonment to an
unconventional life-style (religious communes) whose ideal is to
experience passively the moving of the Spirit, but a planned
encounter. The planning involves the completing of the goals set
for the week, or at least the best efforts put forth to complete
them, in order to be available on the Sabbath to experience in a
fuller measure God's holy presence.

     God's holiness cannot be extracted from objects but it can
be experienced in time. The Sabbath rest provides the setting for
experiencing God's holiness. It invites the believer to rest in
"the holy presence of his Maker, in order to understand all His
doing and making; in order to bring all into an often disorderly
life. This means that resting on the Sabbath is not simply a one-
day celebration of God's holiness, but it is the extending of    
the divine holy presence to all the other working days. With the
assurance of God's presence, the Sabbath sends us forth into the
other days of the week, making them all by reflex "little
Sabbaths." Since, then, the six working days find the meaning in
the seventh day of rest, and the seventh day finds its meaning in
God's presence among His people, the meaning of all human time is
found in communion with God.

     How should the Sabbath rest (free time) be used in order to
experience an enriching communion with God? This question will be
examined especially in chapter 6, "The Sabbath Good News of
Service," where an attempt will be made to formulate some
Biblical guidelines for the use of Sabbath time. 

     The Sabbath indeed proclaims glad tidings of God's care for
mankind. The study of the Sabbath work-rest program and its
divine blessings and sanctification has shown that the day
expresses God's profound concern for His creatures. The Sabbath
signifies God's assurance of a present and future abundant life,
blessed by His holy presence. It offers God's gift of freedom to
mankind: reedom to love and to serve both God and fellow-beings.
The seventh day provides a welcome weekly opportunity to
celebrate the "Good News of God's Care."


To be continued

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