If a man spent one-seventh of his life in a foreign culture, eventually aspects of that culture would become indistinguishable from his own customs, clothing, speech, and thoughts. He could not return to his own country without weaving something foreign into all he said and did. We ought to regard the Sabbath in the same manner. By virtue of our citizenship in heaven, we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth. On the Lord’s Day, our transactions should be almost exclusively with the heavenly country to which we belong. As we engage in the joys of worship for one whole day in seven, we will live in this world, bringing something “foreign” into everything we do. If heaven consists primarily of communion with God, then to the extent that we enjoy communion with God on earth, we have already begun to enjoy the glories of heaven.1 On the Sabbath day, God has commanded us to spend the whole day in heaven, so to speak. While we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6). We have not yet received our permanent dwelling place in our eternal homeland, yet on the Sabbath God allows us to visit heaven and return to this world with the glory of His presence shining from our faces.
It is common to connect the Sabbath to the hope of heaven. Most treatments of the Lord’s Day, including those that argue that the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ and is no longer in force, connect its significance to the hope of glory.2 However, the connection between the Sabbath and the hope of glory must not be limited to the fact that the Sabbath foreshadows and points to the joys of heaven. The biblical picture of heaven must, as far as possible, serve as the pattern for Sabbath-keeping. In order to establish this vital but often neglected point, I will examine the connection between the Sabbath and the eternal rest of heaven, the activities the Scriptures attach to the eternal rest of heaven, and the manner in which we should use the Sabbath to help us anticipate and long for the eternal rest of heaven.3 The true glory and beauty of the Sabbath day lie in the fact that when we set apart the day for the corporate and private worship of God, we partake in the primary joys of heaven. Because the Sabbath is a type or shadow of heaven, our earthly Sabbaths are designed to be the closest reflection in this life of the glory that will be revealed in the life to come. This is the highest reason the Sabbath must be a day of sacred rest consisting of worship.
The Eternal Rest
In Scripture, the Sabbath is inseparably connected to the hope of heaven. The classic passage that connects the day to the believer’s hope of eternal rest is Hebrews 4:1–11. The arguments presented in this text are highly complex and intricate. I do not intend to examine the passage in detail here, nor do I desire to improve upon the exegesis of other more capable scholars. By providing a brief overview of the general thrust of the argument, my goal is simply to establish the inseparable connection between Sabbath-keeping and the hope of our eternal rest in heaven.4
The author of the book of Hebrews wrote to Jewish Christians who were being pressured to return to the ceremonies, sacrifices, and customs of Judaism. He vehemently denounced such a return as apostasy from Christ and a denial of the grace of the gospel. For this reason, the book of Hebrews progresses through cycles of threats against those turning away from Christ, followed by glorious and majestic statements of the surpassing excellence and superiority of Christ over the ordinances of worship of Judaism. Christ is the end, fulfillment, and sole purpose of the entire Old Testament priesthood, worship, and sacrifices. It is in this context and with these emphases that the author begins his discussion of the purpose of the Sabbath day.
Hebrews 4 begins with an exhortation to Jewish believers to be diligent to enter the promised rest of God, reminding them that only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will enter that rest (vv. 1–3). The author then reminds them that this rest was first promised in the institution of the Sabbath day, on the seventh day following the creation of the world (v. 4). In other words, at the very inception of creation, the primary design of the Sabbath was to present mankind with an eschatological hope.5 The example of God’s resting on the seventh day is treated as an implicit promise or pledge that mankind should enjoy this eternal rest with God. Yet the people under the Old Testament did not enter into that rest, since Psalm 95 (ascribed to David) threatened that the disobedient would not enter into that rest in the future. By the time of King David, this Sabbath rest was a pledge and still remained a future promise. It should be noted that after the fall, in order for the Sabbath to continue to be a relevant pledge of rest, it not only referred to the pledge of rest in creation, but also to a pledge secured by redemption. This was why the reference to the exodus from Egypt was added in Deuteronomy 5:15 as a reason for Sabbath-keeping. The exodus itself was a pledge that God would ultimately redeem His people through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Roland Ward argued, appealing to the exodus was not so much an additional reason for keeping the Sabbath as a foreshadowing of the means by which the original purpose of the Sabbath at creation would be restored.6 It is only through faith in Christ as the Redeemer that we have hope of entering into God’s eternal rest. This fact, however, became clear in Scripture only through the gradual process of redemptive history. The eschatological promise attached to the Sabbath in creation and secured by redemption stands behind the arguments of Hebrews 4.
Implicit throughout this chapter is the assumption that the “rest” of God into which believers must enter is permanent in duration. This rest was promised by the Sabbath at creation, and it continued to be relevant because of the work Christ would accomplish. By the time David wrote Psalm 95, the promise of entering God’s rest still loomed ahead in the distance. Lest Jewish Christians be deceived by looking to the conquest of Canaan for the fulfillment of God’s promises, the author reminded them that Joshua did not bring them into God’s rest by conquering the land (v. 8). God’s people cannot enter into God’s rest by striving to return to the Old Testament way of life in the land of Canaan. Instead they must look to the future rest, which has been secured by Christ alone. This was the future hope alluded to by David in the psalm. The argument of the chapter continues: if the promise of entering into God’s rest remains for the future, then God’s people must look forward, not back, in order to enter that rest.
Every argument in this epistle focuses on the necessity of entering into the presence of God through the Lord Jesus Christ alone. This section is no different. God had promised eternal rest to His people; that rest did not come through Joshua. The promise remains for the future, and the hope of entering God’s rest comes only through Jesus Christ. This rest that comes through Jesus Christ was likely what the author had in mind when he wrote: “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (v. 10). Just as God gave a pledge of eternal rest to His people when He rested from the works of creation, so Jesus Christ secured this rest when He ceased or rested from His works of redemption. The rest of Christ, therefore, is compared to the rest of God in its magnitude and secures this rest for His people with unshakable certainty.7 In fact, the work of Christ excels the work of creation in that it not only restores man’s hope of eternal rest with the eternally majestic and glorious triune God, but it does so in a more glorious manner than if man had never fallen into sin! The hope of every Christian rests securely on the words of Christ on the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Christ completed His work of redemption just as God did His work of creation, so that all who are weary and heavy laden are given the promise of eternal rest for their souls, if they will only come to Him.
Verse 9 is the pivotal verse in this section. The author argues that in light of all he has said there still remains a rest (sabbatismos) for the people of God. This is an unusual term, and it differs from the other word translated as “rest” in this chapter. The sabbatismos most likely refers to the hope of keeping Sabbath with God in eternity. This interpretation is reinforced by the exhortation of verse 11: “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (emphasis added).8 Many authors have understood this term to refer here to the Christian Sabbath, which we must continue to keep as a pledge of God’s eternal rest. Even if this is not what is immediately asserted in the passage, it is an inescapable implication of the text. The use of the term sabbatismos inextricably connects Sabbath-keeping with the hope of glory. Our heavenly rest is keeping an eternal Sabbath, and our earthly Sabbaths hold forth the promise of this heavenly rest. Not to have an earthly Sabbath, while the promise of entering God’s rest lies in the future, is inconceivable. As believers, even though our hope of heaven is as secure as if we were already there, the fact remains that we have not yet entered into that rest. We must wait patiently for it, and we must persevere in expectation of it through faith in Christ’s finished work. From creation until consummation, there shall always be a Sabbath on earth to help the saints long to keep the Sabbath in heaven. It is only natural in this connection that the apostles, under divine guidance, should have occupied the day of Christ’s resurrection with acts of religious worship. As Owen wisely noted, if the example of God in completing the work of creation was sufficient to set apart the seventh day, then the example of Christ in completing the work of redemption was sufficient to change the Sabbath to the first day of the week.9
Many lessons ought to be drawn from this passage. The primary point in this connection, however, is that the concept of keeping the Sabbath day is inseparably tied to the hope of our eternal rest in heaven. The Sabbath is designed to be a shadow of heavenly realities. Just as the Lord’s Supper foreshadows the day when we will sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb with Abraham and the patriarchs, together with all who are called from the four corners of the earth, so the Sabbath continues to foreshadow our hope of communion with God and His church in heaven. A church without a Sabbath is a church that implicitly relinquishes its hope of heaven. Just as a shadow depends upon a body for its shape and not vice versa, so the picture of the eternal Sabbath should provide the pattern and shape of our earthly Sabbaths.
The Activities of the Eternal Rest
William Plumer made this astute observation: “No man on earth knows much of heaven.”10 The Puritan Thomas Manton added, “Heavenly joys cannot be told us in an earthly dialect; the Scripture is fain to lisp to us, and speak as we can understand, of things to come by things present; therefore our glory is in great measure unknown, and will be till we get up and see what a crown of glory is prepared for us.”11 In light of the large amount of speculation that often occurs concerning the activities of the saints in heaven, this is a vital reminder. We do not yet know what we shall be. When Christ appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:1–2). Our corrupt mortal bodies will be transformed into the image of His incorrupt and immortal body (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:49). Although we know little about the activities of heaven, it is clear that virtually the only activity explicitly connected with heaven in Scripture is the worship of God. If the earthly Sabbath is patterned after the heavenly Sabbath, then the little that has been revealed about our eternal state should play an important role in how we keep the Sabbath.12
Seeing and Worshiping God
Even with the disadvantage of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible eternal glory of the world to come, the basic biblical picture of heaven is fairly straightforward. The activity of heaven can be legitimately summarized in one word: worship. It is not much of an overstatement to use “eternal worship” as a synonym for heaven. Worship on earth is heaven begun; worship in glory is heaven perfected. The reason for this is that there is nothing more worthy of our attention and more satisfying to our natures than the glory of the Trinity. When the apostle Paul was taken up into what he called “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2), he heard “unspeakable [inexpressible] words, which it is not lawful for man to utter” (v. 4). God told His servant Moses that no man could see Him and live (Ex. 33:20). This limitation placed upon man is not exclusive to the Old Testament and continues in the New Testament. The apostle John wrote, “No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18; see 1 John 4:12).13 Even Paul in his transportation into “the third heaven” had neither the privilege nor the ability to see God in His unveiled majesty, since he later wrote that God “only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:16, emphasis added).14 Even the sinless angels in heaven veil their faces in the sight of the majesty of God (Isa. 6:2). Sinful creatures cannot behold the radiance of His glory and survive the encounter. The infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Maker of heaven and earth is above all blessing and praise. He is great and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable. Yet Christ promised that the “pure in heart” shall see God (Matt. 5:8). When we see Him as He is and stand in the presence of a being of such infinite worth and unfathomable glory, what else could attract our attention? How could we ever be distracted or “bored” in the presence of God?15 Even apart from considering our fall into sin and the redemption purchased by Christ, it is difficult to see how a sinless creature could possibly desire anything in heaven other than to explore God’s infinite glory and beauties, worshiping Him more and more with every wondrous discovery.
How much more will redeemed sinners have cause to be consumed with the worship of God in heaven! The greatness of redemption and the full realization of the magnitude of the debt we owed due to sin, coupled with the wonder of the Father’s love toward us in Christ, will utterly consume us when we enter into heaven. The precise details of heaven may be somewhat hazy, yet it is beyond doubt that joyful worship will set the tone for eternity. Revelation 4 and 5 illustrate this beyond doubt. In chapter 4, God is introduced as sitting upon His throne with all the host of heaven praising Him for His holiness and the creation of all things (Rev. 4:8, 11). At this stage in the unfolding picture, John wrote, “And they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (v. 8, emphasis added). In chapter 5, this scene of exuberant worship reaches its peak when the Lord Jesus Christ enters the scene. When He opens the scroll of God, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders burst forth into praise (Rev. 5:8–10). They are soon joined by an innumerable multitude of angels surrounding the throne (v. 11). As the thunder of these mighty voices spreads in praise to Jesus Christ, “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth” (v. 13) joins the chorus. If the angels praise the Lamb for His work in redeeming lost human beings, how could we who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb be consumed with anything other than eternal praise and worship? The extent to which we fail to understand why we would desire nothing other than worship in heaven reflects the proportion to which we have failed to understand the glory and wonder of the grace of the Trinity in the gospel. If you are in Christ, there will come a day in which you will be made like Christ, and being made like Him you will finally see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). If you have any doubt that it will take eternity to express your gratitude to the triune God, that doubt will be removed when you arrive there.
Other Activities in Heaven
Many Christians probably think implicitly of heaven in terms of a place where redeemed souls go when they depart from the body at death. This, however, is only the beginning of heaven. Ultimately, heaven will be a place where the Lord Jesus Christ will reverse the effects of the fall. After removing His enemies and casting them into the lake of fire, the Lord will inaugurate a world in which “all things” are reconciled to Himself (Col. 1:20). We must not think about heaven as a place for incorporeal ethereal beings. The bodies of those who are in Christ will rest in their graves until the resurrection, when they will be raised after the image of Christ’s glorious body (Phil. 3:21). These bodies will have an environment suited to their nature. Paul describes the present world, not as being annihilated, but as being resurrected in a manner comparable to the resurrection of our own bodies (Rom. 8).16 This means there will be some degree of continuity between this life and the life to come. This has led many to speculate about the continuation of various activities that men enjoyed upon earth, such as reading classical literature and even continuing in ordinary labor.
I cannot reject such notions absolutely, since we know so little about the life to come, but perhaps I am even less comfortable accepting them. While it is true that the Scriptures teach that this world will be redeemed and that its pre-fall purposes will be restored, we also must not underestimate how different things will be in the eternal state. This is illustrated well by considering the relevance of creation ordinances in eternity. Creation ordinances continue to be relevant in eternity, but they will be expressed very differently. Redemption and eternity will transform every creation ordinance. Marriage will not continue as we know it (Matt. 22:30), but will give place to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6–9; 21:9). In heaven, the weekly Sabbath will become obsolete because heaven itself will be the Sabbath. What about the creation ordinance of labor? By analogy to the other creation ordinances, the ordinance of labor will likely have some continuing relevance in eternity. Yet as with the other creation ordinances, labor is likely to resemble only vaguely its earthly counterpart. How can any form of ordinary labor be consistent in a state of eternal Sabbath-keeping when the earthly Sabbath excluded it? Will labor and Sabbath-keeping ultimately become the same act as worship becomes the sole labor of the saints in glory? Does this not illustrate that these are things of which we know little to nothing about? We will be certain only when we get there. Whatever is actually true about heaven, the old idea of heaven consisting of the beatific vision, or the sight of God, seems to be basically correct.17 It is clear that whatever else might be true about heaven, the clear picture God has painted in Scripture is one of unceasing and eternal worship of the triune God. If the Sabbath is meant to set forth the hope of heaven and serve as a dim earthly picture of a bright eternal glory, then on our earthly Sabbaths we should strive to be consumed with worship in a manner that agrees with this depiction.
The Other-Worldly Character of the Christian Life
Once again, the manner in which we regard the Sabbath day unearths more vital problems. The counterpart to Sabbath-breaking as a symptom of worldliness is that Sabbath-breaking is a symptom of either a shift in focus away from the life to come, or of distorted views of what God has revealed about the life to come. This has the highest possible significance for how we live our lives in this world. As John Carrick wrote, “The essentially other-worldly character of the Christian faith has, especially from the latter part of the nineteenth century onwards, been eroded; and it has been replaced by an essentially this-worldly interpretation. Thus the focus in much modern theology falls, increasingly, upon man at the expense of God and upon this life and this world at the expense of the life and the world to come.”18 This is not to say that everyone who does not view the Sabbath as a day set apart for worship is ungodly or has abandoned the hope of heaven, but the fact is that the church’s views of heaven and the life to come have shifted dramatically over the course of the past century. The corresponding decline in Sabbath-keeping is only an inevitable reflection of this fact. When the church’s primary hope is to see Christ face to face in heaven and to worship Him in His unveiled glory, this great and central hope will be the dominant feature of her members. The one day that God has designed to foreshadow heaven on earth will inevitably reflect this fact. If our primary hope is set on the life to come, and if we believe that the primary joy and privilege of that life is worship and communion with God, then our earthly Sabbaths should imitate the heavenly realities as much as is possible.
If the other-worldly character of the Christian life is being eroded, it is partly because men have adopted a this-worldly view of heaven.19 This is a subtle and dangerous distortion of the truth, since some men deceive themselves with a hope that is essentially worldly in the name of a Christianity that justifies and encourages such a hope. Our forefathers in the faith used to warn men that one test of hypocrisy was the manner in which people conceived heaven. If they did not find their greatest joy and longing in the hope that they would worship God without sin, it was unlikely that they truly understood and laid hold of the gospel. For the same reason, they gave the same warning to those who found no enjoyment in the worship and activities of the Sabbath. As Plumer noted, “The Sabbath is, and in Scripture is made to be, a type of the glorious rest of the people of God in heaven. If men do not relish the type, it is proof positive that they are not prepared for the antitype. Let us all diligently ask for grace to prepare us for ‘employments, the society and worship of that Sabbath which remains for the people of God.’”20 The case is even worse when the duties of the day and the use of the means of grace simply become burdensome. Owen warned:
He who really judgeth in his mind, and whose practice is influenced and regulated by that judgment, that the segregation of a day from the world and the occasions of it, and a secession unto communion with God thereon, is grievous and burdensome, and that which God doth not require, nor is useful to us, must be looked upon as a stranger unto these things. . . . Alas! what would such persons do if they should ever come to heaven, to be taken aside to all eternity to be with God alone, who think it a great bondage to be here diverted unto him for a day?21
Many gave similar warnings to those who conceived of heaven in a manner that was exclusively worldly. William Bates noted: This one consideration of heaven, that it is a holy rest, is that which makes it unamiable, and undesirable to carnal men. It is true, such may desire it as a refuge from hell: but they desire it not as a state wherein they are to be always conversant in the love of God, and in the presence of God, and the everlasting enjoyment of him. Carnal men cannot taste it, they have not a proper palate for it: it can only draw forth the heart of the saints: and yet, let me tell you, this is the substantial blessedness of heaven.22
Since there is much unknown about heaven, we do not know what relation we will have to our loved ones who have departed to be with the Lord. It does seem that we will find joy in their fellowship again, but we do not know in what manner life as we know it will continue in heaven. We know that we will be body-and-soul creatures in an environment suited to our physical as well as our spiritual natures, yet we must always recognize that the focus and emphasis of heaven is the worship and praise of God. Heaven will be like a great treasure room in which the greatest treasure of all lies in the center of the room, and the treasure in the center is so great that it diverts the attention of all who enter into the room, almost to the neglect of all else. Yet the wonder and beauty of the treasures that fill the room provide the only appropriate backdrop for this greatest of all treasures; the wealth contained in the room only accentuates the beauty of the centerpiece. We must never forget that God Himself is that great all-consuming treasure of heaven, and that whatever else He has designed to be part of that world will serve only to accentuate His beauty and to drive us to more soul-ravishing worship.
If the Sabbath is inextricably connected to the hope of heaven, then the biblical conception of heaven should shape our Sabbath-keeping. The eternal rest of God those who are in Christ hope to enter will be a rest that is consumed with plumbing the depths of God’s infinite attributes and triune nature with increasing joy, wonder, and astonishment over the depths of God’s love manifested in Christ. If heaven is consumed with worship, should not our Sabbaths also be consumed with worship? If the worship of God lies at the center of our heavenly rest, should it not also be at the center of our earthly rest? Out of all of the reasons why the Sabbath should be considered as a day sanctified to God for the purposes of the worship, this is the highest of all. Do we not enjoy communion with God with difficulty at the present time? Do we not long to enter into the full enjoyment of our God in eternity? The Sabbath is set apart for worship to help promote these ends. Let us test the manner in which we regard the Lord’s Day in light of Thomas Boston’s description:
The Sabbath, in the esteem of saints, is the queen of days; and they shall have an endless Sabbatism in the kingdom of heaven, so shall their garments always be white. They will have an eternal rest, with an uninterrupted joy; for heaven is not a resting place, where men may sleep out an eternity; there they rest not day or night, but their work is their rest, and continual recreation, and toil and weariness have no place there. They rest there in God, who is the center of their souls. Here they find the completion, or satisfaction, of all their desires, having the full enjoyment of God, and uninterrupted communion with him. This is the point to which, til the soul come, it will always be restless: but that point reached, it rests; for God is the last end, and the soul can go no further. It cannot understand, will, nor desire more; but in him it has what is commensurable to its boundless desires.23
The Anticipation of the Eternal Rest
When a family plans a vacation, sometimes the children can barely contain their anticipation. If the children know they are going to Walt Disney World for the first time, they can become so excited that all they think about is what it will be like. They look through everything they can find on it, they ask others who know about the place, and they begin to imagine what they will do when they get there. Children tend to be fairly particular about making sure they have meticulously accurate information in such matters.
Too often the simple excitement of a child betrays what little attention we give to our hope of eternal rest with the triune God. We need every help we can get to set our minds upon things above where Christ is, rather than upon things on the earth. The Sabbath day is one of the greatest blessings and helps provided by the Lord in assisting His people to long for the glories of heaven. If we sanctify and love the Sabbath day, we will find that God has filled that day with all of the means necessary to help us in our journey. Here are three ways in which Sabbath-keeping should help you anticipate heaven.
First, Sabbath-keeping should mimic or imitate the activities of heaven. Heaven is both the embodied hope and pattern for Sabbath-keeping. In some respects, worldly recreations are even more contrary to the purposes of the Sabbath than worldly employments.24 At least in our worldly employments we have the excuse of arguing that we are pursuing a legitimate calling that is necessary to sustain our lives in this world, which constitutes a large part of our obedience to God in this life. By pursuing recreations on the Sabbath such as sports and television, however, we implicitly declare that these earthly diversions are more interesting to us than the worship of God. Sadly, even the best of the saints on earth know that in some measure this often proves to be the case. We are weak and sinful, and we do not love God or His worship as we ought to. We must recognize our tendency to desire recreation on the day sanctified to the Lord for worship as a significant weakness. By worshiping God in public and private throughout the entire Sabbath day, we will mortify the desires of the flesh and our earthly-mindedness more than anything else we do on earth. We should look at Sabbath-keeping as training and practice for the worship we will enjoy in glory.
Second, Sabbath-keeping should encourage us on our way to heaven. On earth, God manifests Himself most clearly through the means of grace. These include the reading and especially the preaching of the Word of God, laying hold of the promises of the gospel set forth in the sacraments, and uniting in corporate prayer and fellowship. This is not an exhaustive list of the means by which God communicates His grace to His people, yet these means are some of the most vital ones, and they are a regular part of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. As we have seen, the means of grace are dispensed with the greatest power and effect in corporate worship. It is possible that in heaven we will enjoy corporate worship to the exclusion of private worship. In addition to this, one of the promises attached to Sabbath-keeping is delighting in God (Isa. 58:14). We must come to the Sabbath with the anticipation of travelers who are sightseeing in an exotic foreign land. Only the “sights” that we come to see in Sabbath worship are the glories of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The glasses we must use to see these “sights” are God’s appointed means by which He communicates His grace to His people.
Third, the Sabbath should increase faith in God through Jesus Christ. Most of us know too well the experience of not finding the same glory in corporate worship that the Scriptures attach to it. The primary reason for this is often because we do not actually believe that corporate worship is what Scripture says it is. We receive the blessings contained in the promises of Scripture by trusting that God will fulfill them, and it is by faith alone that we have appropriated the blessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have done so by laying hold of the promises of God in the Word and in the sacraments. The Sabbath should help us long for heaven because it demands that we exercise our faith by laying hold of God through the ordinances of corporate worship. In heaven, we will live by sight and no longer by faith, but on earth we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We need every encouragement to strengthen our faith in the promises of God, especially through using His ordinances. The Sabbath simultaneously requires us to exercise our faith, and it contains promises to strengthen our faith.
If you diligently, prayerfully, and joyfully use the means that God has attached to the Sabbath in order to get the most you can out of the day, I doubt you will have time for your worldly employments or recreations. Rather than longing for the Sabbath to be over, we will be left wondering where the day has gone. This is as it ought to be. If the Sabbath is like a short visit to heaven, then part of the blessing of our earthly Sabbaths is that they end so soon. The temporary rest afforded through the Sabbath should make you long for eternal rest. This does not mean that Sabbath-keeping will not be difficult for believers. Many find it is the most difficult task they have ever set their hands to, especially when they first begin; but you have exceedingly great and precious promises. Look to the Lord in your Sabbath-keeping. He will help you, and He will fulfill his promises. There has never been a word that has proceeded from His mouth that will ever fail.
Every moment we delight in our fellowship and communion with the triune God on earth testifies to the fact that we have already begun to enjoy the highest blessing of glory. God has given us one day in seven on which we may pursue fellowship and communion with Him to the exclusion of all else. The two places in the Bible where man is found in a state of perfection, he is keeping the Sabbath as a day of worship. Both the creation ordinance and the consummated purpose of the Sabbath demonstrate that it is a day in which the entire time is to be taken up in the public and private exercise of God’s worship. We must spend every day longing for heaven, yet on one day of the week we are to act as though we are already there. Have we misunderstood the requirements of the fourth commandments because of a misguided hope of heaven? I hope we know better. Yet how then can so many claim to keep the Sabbath with leisure and recreation when heaven is the pattern of it? Just as Christianity was not fashioned after Judaism but Judaism after Christianity,25 so heaven is not fashioned after Sabbath-keeping but Sabbath-keeping after heaven. If you still view heaven as your own private golf course in the kingdom, you are in for a rude awakening. In light of so many man-centered and shallow views of the life to come, it is not surprising that a commandment forbidding all unnecessary thoughts, words, and works about our worldly employments and recreations is foreign to most. What is surprising is that so many people who long for an eternity of uninterrupted worship and communion with the triune God cannot comprehend why we must exclude these activities from the Sabbath.
The glimpses given in Scripture of the glories of heaven depict the church of the Firstborn and of the glorified saints in heaven, along with an innumerable company of angels, worshiping God day and night with purified souls and glorified bodies. Whatever else is true about heaven, this picture of unceasing worship and communion with the great triune Jehovah of Hosts is clearly the focus that He intended to communicate to His church. God seems to have deemed it sufficient for us to view heaven as a place of worship and communion with Himself. A place of eternal worship is the pattern for our earthly Sabbaths. May you know the joys of an eternity with God in heaven by knowing the joys of a day with God on earth. As Thomas Watson exhorted, may you use every Sabbath as though it may be your last:
When this blessed day approaches, we must lift up our hearts in thankfulness to God that he has put another means into our hands for gaining heavenly wisdom. These are our spiritual harvest days. The wind of God’s Spirit blows upon the sails of our affections and we may be carried further in our heavenly voyage. Christian, lift up your heart to God in thankfulness that he has given you another golden season. Be sure you improve it; it may be the last. Seasons of grace are not like the tide: if a man misses one tide, he may have another.26
1. Burroughs, Earthly Mindedness, 20–21.
2. This is why some people believe that the Sabbath is no longer in force, since Christ has secured the promise of heaven for believers. See appendix 2 in this book.
3. One notable exception to this neglect is the last chapter of Iain Campbell’s First Day of the Week. Campbell lists six characteristics about heaven that should serve as the pattern for Sabbath-keeping. I have sought to avoid overlap with his material by utilizing different arguments from this chapter.
4. Richard Gaffin has furnished the church with two excellent expositions of this passage, which helps the reader to digest the content of Hebrews 4 carefully. Gaffin also provides useful responses to much of the modern literature that has been written against the continuing relevance of the Sabbath day. See Richard Gaffin, “A Sabbath Rest Still Awaits the People of God,” in Pressing Toward the Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986), 33–52; and “Westminster and the Sabbath,” in The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century (Geanies House, U.K.: Christian Focus Publications, 2003), 123–44.
5. For an excellent discussion of the eschatological promises implied by the institution of the Sabbath, see Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 73–76.
6. Ward, “Sabbath,” 197.
7. Gaffin argues on grammatical grounds that the pronoun “he” in this passage should refer to the believer entering into God’s eternal rest rather than to Christ resting from his work. However, it seems more consistent with the context and with the manner of argumentation in the book of Hebrews to root and ground all of his exhortations in the finished work of Christ. Verse 10 contains the indicative statement that provides the hope and encouragement to fulfill the imperative of verse 11. For criticism of Gaffin’s position, see Pipa, Lord’s Day, 119–22. For a thorough exegesis of the position I have presented, see Owen, Day of Sacred Rest, 411ff.
8. “Unbelief” should be translated “disobedience” in order to be more faithful to the Greek text.
9. Owen, Day of Sacred Rest, 409–10.
10. William S. Plumer, Theology for the People (New York: The American Tract Society, 1875; repr., Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 2005), 214.
11. Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, ed. A. B. Grossart (London: J. Nisbet, 1870), 20:457.
12. For an outstanding exposition of the biblical teaching on heaven, see Edward Donnelly, Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001).
13. There is strong textual evidence that the word “Son” here should actually be “God,” which emphasizes that the one who came and declared the glory of God was Himself the one and only God in human flesh.
14. In the context, it is interesting that this text actually refers to Christ.
15. Paul Helm argued that there would be no boredom in heaven because there would be a continual increase of creative activity on the part of man. However likely this may be, we do not have to go beyond the marvels of the glory of the triune God to explain why the redeemed shall never tire of heaven. See Paul Helm, The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989), 95.
16. Since this is not the appropriate place to discuss various views of the eternal state, for a useful treatment of the relevant passages in which the earth is restored at the second coming of Christ rather than destroyed see Joseph A. Pipa and David W. Hall, Did God Create in 6 Days? (Greenville, S.C.: Southern Presbyterian Press, 1999).
17. For an excellent exposition of the traditional “beatific vision” view of heaven, see Jonathan Edwards, “The Pure in Heart Blessed,” in Works, 905–12. The only hesitation I have with Edwards’s treatment of heaven in this sermon is that he tends to undermine and neglect the physical at points. He argues that the saints will not see God with the physical eye, but only with the eye of the heart. Edwards went beyond many of the earlier Puritans in this regard by treating matter as though it did not belong to true reality. At points, Edwards advocated an almost Platonic “typology” in which spiritual realities were treated almost as the only true realities. For an insightful analysis of Edwards on this point, see John Carrick, Preaching of Jonathan Edwards, 194–99. In contrast to Edwards, Manton wrote that part of the joy of seeing God in heaven must be “ocular . . . for our senses have their happiness as well as their souls.” Complete Works, 20:460. Nevertheless, Edwards’s description of the believer’s delight in beholding the glory of God is without parallel.
18. John Carrick, The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth), 118.
19. Richard Gaffin has asserted that the Westminster position on the Sabbath gave little attention to eschatology because it gave so much attention to worship. Gaffin, “Westminster and the Sabbath,” 142. However, even if the Westminster divines had devoted more attention to the eschatological focus of the Sabbath, they would have come to the same conclusions with respect to Sabbath-keeping because their eschatology was dominated by worship. The fact that the Sabbath should not leave room for activities other than worship does not so much reflect a neglect of eschatology as a different view of eschatology.
20. Plumer, Law of God, 341.
21. Owen, Day of Sacred Rest, 451.
22. William Bates, The Everlasting Rest of the Saints in Heaven, in The Complete Works of William Bates (repr., Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1990), 3:21.
23. Thomas Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State (repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 441–42.
24. See Dwight, Theology Explained, 3:271.
25. Eadie’s description of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism applies equal force to the relationship between heaven and the Sabbath: “The sketch is taken from the reality, and implies the existence of it. The shadow is the intended likeness of the substance. In other words, Christianity was not fashioned to resemble Judaism, but Judaism was fashioned to resemble Christianity. The antitype is not constructed to bear a likeness to the type, but the type is constructed to bear a likeness to the antitype. It is, in short, because of the antitype that the type exists.” John Eadie, Colossians (1856; repr., Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1980), 180.
26. Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm: Showing the Holy Violence a Christian Is to Put Forth in the Pursuit after Glory, ed. Joel R. Beeke (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 2000), 35.
Reprinted by permission of Reformation Heritage Books from The Day of Worship: Reassessing the Christian Life by Ryan McGraw.
Rev. Ryan M. McGraw is pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Conway, South Carolina.