Thomas Watson on work and sabbath-rest


Thomas Watson

“We must do no work in it. This is the commandment. ‘In it thou shall do no manner of work.’ God has set apart this day for himself; therefore we are not to use it in common, by doing any civil work. As when Abraham went to sacrifice he left his servants and the ass at the bottom of the hill; so, when we are to worship God on this day, we must leave all worldly business behind, leave the ass at the bottom of the hill. Gen 22: 5. As Joseph, when he would speak with his brethren, thrust out the Egyptians, so, when we would converse with God on this day, we must thrust out all earthly employments. The Lord’s day is a day of holy rest. All secular work must be forborne and suspended, as it is a profanation of the day. ‘In those days saw I in Judah some treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes and figs, and all manner of burdens which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day; and I testified against them. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, “What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath-day?’ ” Neh 13: 15, 17. It is sacrilege to rob for civil work the time which God has set apart for his worship. He that devotes any time of the Sabbath to worldly business, is a worse thief than he who robs on the highway; for the one does but rob man, but the other robs God. The Lord forbade mamma to be gathered on the Sabbath. Exod 16: 26. One might think it would have been allowed, as manna was the ‘staff of their life,’ and the time when it fell was between five and six in the morning, so that they might have gathered it betimes, and all the rest of the Sabbath might have been employed in God’s worship; and besides, they needed not to have taken any great journey for it, for it was but stepping out of their doors, and it fell about their tents: and yet they might not gather it on the Sabbath; and for purposing only to do it, God was very angry. ‘There went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?’ Exod 16: 27, 28. Surely anointing Christ when he was dead was a commendable work; but, though Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, had prepared sweet ointments to anoint the dead body of Christ, they went not to the sepulchre to embalm him till the Sabbath was past. ‘They rested the Sabbath-day, according to the commandment.’ Luke 23: 56. The hand cannot be busied on the Lord’s-day but the heart will be defiled. The very heathen, by the light of nature, would not do any secular work in the time which they had set apart for the worship of their false gods. Clemens Alexandrinus reports of one of the emperors of Rome, who, on the day of set worship for his gods, put aside warlike affairs and spent the time in devotion. To do servile work on the Sabbath shows an irreligious heart, and greatly offends God. To do secular work on this day is to follow the devil’s slough; it is to debase the soul. God made this day on purpose to raise the heart to heaven, to converse with him, to do angels’ work; and to be employed in earthly work is to degrade the soul of its honour. God will not have his day entrenched upon, or defiled in the least thing. The man that gathered sticks on the Sabbath he commanded to be stoned. Numb. 15: 35. It would seem a small thing to pick up a few sticks to make a fire; but God would not have this day violated in the smallest matters. Nay, the work which had reference to a religious use might not be done on the Sabbath, as the hewing of stones for the building of the sanctuary. Bezaleel, who was to cut the stones, and carve the timber out for the sanctuary, must forbear to do it on the Sabbath. Exod 31: 15. A temple is a place of God’s worship, but it was a sin to build a temple on the Lord’s-day. This is keeping the Sabbath-day holy negatively, in doing no servile work.”

Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, Banner of Truth Trust, [1662], [2009], P. 98.

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