Topical and Doctrinal Notes
Thought: Keeping the Sabbath
In our last lesson we learned something about the difference between the literal sense of the Word and the spiritual sense, especially the difference between the literal sense of the Old Testament and the real truth of the Word. We learned that most of the laws that were given by Moses about the manner of conducting worship, were representative of the Lord and of our worship of Him. For instance, when a lamb was burnt on the altar it represented that innocence is from the Lord and that we must love it, or else our worship is not genuine. For the lamb represented innocence, and the fire represented love, and the altar represented worship.
When the Lord was in the world He abrogated all such things as were merely representative; that is He taught men by His example, and also by explanations, that they were no longer to be kept; but instead, such things as they had represented were to be done.
Among the laws of Moses was the law about the strict keeping of the Sabbath. They were not allowed to gather the heavenly bread, the "manna" in the wilderness, on the Sabbath. They were not permitted to gather sticks for a fire on that day, and a man who did do this was stoned to death as a punishment. (Numbers 15:32-36.) No work of any kind was to be done on the Sabbath. This was because the Israelites and Jews did not have the true idea about work, such as we have in the New Church, where we can learn that work is really worship of the Lord, provided we engage in it because we love to work so as to be of use to other people.
The "six days of labor" which they were commanded to keep represented the labor of the Lord in fighting against the evil spirits, and in putting out of His own human nature all desires and thoughts that were merely human and not Divine. And the "Sabbath" represented the Lord's victory over the evil spirits, when He was through fighting them and had cast them into hell; and when He gathered together the good people in the world of spirits, and organized a heaven of them; while, at the same time, He made His human nature fully Divine. As all this accomplishment of His work on earth was most holy, therefore the Sabbath which represented it, was to be kept in the only way that seemed holy to the Jews: by not doing any work at all, but resting. Therefore also the day was called by a Hebrew name which means rest: - "Sabbath."
When the Lord came into the world, He taught them that the Sabbath had represented Him, and that now, that He had come, and was doing what it had represented, it was no longer to be kept as in the past. He said, that He "is Lord also of the Sabbath." He taught and showed them wherein true worship of Him consists: in doing things holy. He taught on the Sabbath day. He healed the sick, and He let one of those so healed carry his bed home. The Jews considered this as work. He let the hungry disciples pick ears of barley and rub them in their hands and eat them; in this way they seemed to be harvesting and threshing grain. And this again the Jews looked upon as being work and breaking the Sabbath.
But the Lord taught them in a few words just what is the right way to keep the Sabbath: "It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath day."
But the Pharisees, who did not care about doing well, and who would not see the holy, Divine spirit of the Lord's works, but who thought only of the literal keeping of the laws of Moses, and especially of their own way of explaining how to keep them, were very angry at Him, and came together to talk over how they could kill Him.
Does the Lord's teaching us that it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath day mean that we may go to work on the Sabbath just as on other days?
We may do so, if it is necessary in being of service to others, and if it does not interfere with one of the important purposes for which the Lord instituted the Sabbath day, and made it holy, when He was in the world. That purpose is that we may be instructed in Divine things. He not only worked by healing the sick, but He also taught on the Sabbath day. He made it a day of instruction in Divine things, and therefore a day of rest from our ordinary work. People are so busy during the week, that they
have little or no time to study the Word of the Lord, and in this way to learn about the Lord and heaven and the life hereafter, and to think just how to live during the week when working, so that they may do the Lord's will in the work. And then also on week days a person's mind is so occupied with the work itself that, even when he has a leisure hour, he cannot always bring his mind away from his work to things Diviner Therefore it is necessary that we stop work on the Sabbath day, so that we have at least one day in seven on which we may be prepared both as to our minds and as to our bodies to think about the Lord, and to learn from His Word; to pray to Him and to praise Him.
So we get ready for the beautiful day of rest, the Sabbath; or, as it is called in the Word, "the Lord's Day," or, as we call it nowadays, "Sunday." Workingmen, who have to wear rough clothes in their work, change them for their best clothes. Everyone prepares his house, his body and his mind to be clean and tidy and beautiful on that day. The noise of factory and commerce and farm machinery is hushed. The churches and Sunday schools are open. Ministers and teachers are in them to teach young and old about the Lord, about salvation and eternal life.
And since we do not attend to our ordinary work on that day, we think of other ways in which we may "do well" to our neighbor. We think of good things we cannot do on the week days because we are too busy with our day's work, and so we make use of the Sabbath to visit the sick and cheer and comfort them; to visit the poor and comfort them and see how we can help them. We visit our friends who are well, and talk to them about what we have learned in church and Sunday school, and how we can live better lives, and serve our city, our state and our country in such manner as to do the Lord's will. We take walks into the country or the parks in order to behold the works of the Lord, and to see His wonders in them. Or we stay at home and read good and pious books.
If there happens to be a Sunday on which it becomes absolutely necessary to do some work, it is not a sin to do it. But we must bear in mind that it is a special day of love to the neighbor, and therefore it would not be right to do anything that would disturb the worship of other people. Since it is one of the delightful things that people can do on Sundays to read good and pious books and think about salvation and eternal life, therefore it would be wrong to engage in noisy work or boisterous play that would disturb the people who are engaged in such pious meditation.