The Reign of Christ. Book One. Chapter Eleven: Setting Aside Certain Times For The Worship Of God
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Another common Christian ceremony is to set aside definite times for Christian religious services, and not only places. “The Lord” is indeed “to be celebrated” and invoked by us “at every time,” as also “in every place of his dominion” (Ps. 34:2 and 103:22) ; but since this is to be done with the congregation of the faithful assembled, and hence with deeper religious spirit, it has seemed good to the Lord for his faithful to have certain especially consecrated times for this, just as they have special places (Num. 28:2). Accordingly, besides the two services which he wished to be held daily for his people of old, in the morning and in the evening, to which only those who had the leisure might gather to hear his word and to pray, he consecrated for his whole people, wherever they were living, one day in every week when they might have time to worship him in a special way. As strictly as possible he commanded all who were of his people, or stayed among his people, to keep that day holy to himself. For he willed that on that day no external work at all should be done, neither by man nor by beast, but for all in any way associated with his people to be called together and congregated in the synagogues, there to hear his precepts and to pour forth prayers to him, and to give thanks to him for all his blessings, and thus to establish faith in his word and all piety (Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15; Mark 1:21; Luke 13:10; Acts 17:2; 18:4). But where the Ark of the Covenant was, there he commanded double sacrifices to be offered to him on that day (Num. 28:9-10).
He so sanctified this Sabbath worship that he ordered those who had violated it to be cut off from the people and stoned (Ex. 31:14-15; and 35:2). And this deservedly, for we live by faith in God (cf. Hab. 2:4). But this matter has need of much serious restoration because Satan and our flesh never cease to weaken it. Since now our God in his singular charity toward us sanctified only one of seven days for the grounding of our faith and hence of our eternal life, and blessed that day that religious services held on it might effectively work toward our salvation, whoever would not be eager to sanctify that day to glorify his Lord God and the attainment of his own salvation (especially since God has conceded six days for our business and labors in order to sustain our present life for his glory) would surely show himself a lost despiser of so admirable a blessing of God on us and entirely unworthy of living among the people of God.
These things surely “have been written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4). For although we have been released from all the pedagogy of Moses and we are not so bound by the religion of the Sabbath and other feasts which he commanded for the people of old that we must “observe” the same “days, months, and seasons” (Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16) in the way in which the ancient people were obliged to, nevertheless, as persons to whom the Kingdom of Christ has been more fully revealed, we ought to establish and assume for ourselves whatever can contribute to increasing faith in Christ with a much more ardent zeal than did the people of the old dispensation, and it is certainly our duty to. sanctify publicly one day in the week for religious services.
For we see very few people at daily religious gatherings, as those first Christians were accustomed to gather in the Temple. For some are impeded by the necessity of seeking their daily bread, others by religious indifference. Who, therefore, would not see how salutary it is for the people of Christ that there be one day in the week so consecrated to religious services that it should not be allowable to do anything else on that day except assemble in the congregation of worship, and there hear the word of God, pour out our prayers to God, confess the faith and render thanks to God, make sacred offerings, receive the divine sacraments, and thus with singular zeal glorify God and grow in the faith? For these are the works of Holy Days.
On that account, the Lord’s Day was consecrated for such things by the apostles themselves (I Cor. 16:2; Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10). The early churches observed this institution most religiously. The emperor Constantine also sanctioned it with most weighty authority, as Eusebius of Caesarea has testified in the fourth oration on his life. Other emperors also followed him in this, Theodosius, Valentinian, Archadius, Leo, and Anthemius. By these it was forbidden under most severe penalties to show spectacles on this day or to indulge in pleasures, as can be seen by their laws, which are contained in the Code (about Festival Days).
Two causes are suggested why the apostles and the early churches dedicated to religious activities the first day of the week rather than the seventh, which in the law God had commanded to be kept holy: One, that they wished to testify that Christians were not bound by the teachings of Moses; the other, that in this way they might celebrate the memory of Christ’s resurrection, which occurred on the first day of the week.
Certain other special occasions were afterward added to Sundays, as the feasts of Easter and Pentecost, the observation of Lent, Christmas, and Epiphany; indeed, special days for remembrance of the martyrs were frequently set aside in the churches; and the ancients also observed the Wednesdays and Fridays of every week with religious services and fasting. They did likewise whenever some particular disaster beset the Church, when the blessing of God was renewing her or when she was gripped by some undertaking of great moment. Either pious princes or bishops initiated such a solemnity.
Since, however, in appointing holy days this one thing has to be aimed at, that the people of Christ be better grounded in religion and more fully inflamed toward every devotion, and since it has to be diligently guarded against that no occasion be given to men for doing their own will on the Sabbaths of the Lord, it must be a matter of special concern for those who wish the Kingdom of Christ to be restored among them that Sunday religious observance be renewed and established (Isa. 58:13).
It is in accordance with our piety also to keep holy certain other days in memory of the principal acts of Christ: as the day of his Incarnation, Nativity, Epiphany, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost.
But it is not so much a matter for concern that many holy days be established, as that whatever ones have been established be truly kept holy to the Lord. For how much God detests it if on days consecrated to his name we do our own will and follow the desires of the flesh, Isaiah has testified in quite horrendous words, chs. 1 (vs. 13-15) and 58 (vs. 3, 13). Therefore whatever special days it has seemed good to observe in various churches, there must be a keen vigilance that they are totally kept holy to the Lord, i.e., not only that useful corporal works be omitted on such days, but much more that the works of the flesh be avoided. For we see that in this the people who are signed with the name of Christ have fallen frequently, so that on no days is God offended so gravely as on those days which are particularly set aside for the worship of God. Therefore the princes, priests, and elders of churches, and indeed all Christians, each according to his own share and vocation, who are not on the watch that whatever holy days the churches have dedicated to religion be also surely kept holy to the Lord by all the people, such persons certainly make themselves liable for all those sins and offenses against God which are committed by the people on the days consecrated to him.