« PreviousContinue »
all its hours. The stated hours of family prayer, of meals, and of public worship will give a general direction to its engagements. The times for private devotion and reading will shape themselves according to circumstances. Nevertheless, it will be wise for the parents of each household to have some general plan, to be carried out as far as occasion permits, so that the occupations of the day may be a potent and precious means of moral training. A great deal of sanctified ingenuity may be put forth in devising the quietest and best methods of reaping the full blessedness of the sabbatic freedom and gladness and fellowship.
6. A fourth and last characteristic of the sabbath lies in the words: “a holy convocation.” This leads us from the home to the meeting-place, from the private to the public worship of God. For a convocation is a meeting called together for joint action, such as the affairs of trade or state or religion. And a holy convocation is a meeting set apart for a purely religious purpose, such as the worship of God. The sabbath, then, is a day of holy convocation, of public worship in all the meeting places of the land.
The fundamental principle of all worship, public or private, is prayer, starting from a promise and waiting for an answer. The promise is a word of God, and the answer may be a word of God. The prayer, encouraged by these cheering words of God, will expand into praise. And so we have all the elements of worship — praise, prayer, and the word of God. We have a record of its early commencement, in the words: “ Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. iv. 26). The worship of the great Spirit is a rational service; and hence, though there could be no reading until there was a written revelation, yet it was ordained that a reason should be given of the ordinances of religion to the young (Ex. xii. 25–27 ; xiii. 8, 14; Deut. xxxii. 7). And as soon as the law became a written code, provision was made in it that it should be read before all Israel at the feast of tabernacles in the sabbatical year (Deut. xxxi. 10-13). And, in the course of time, the five books of Moses, which were the first Bible of Israel, were divided into fifty-four sections, one of which was to be the lesson of each sabbath-day, and thus the whole read over once every Jewish year. In the time of Daniel the service of song became a stated part of the Temple-worship, and was probably a custom in some meeting-places long before his day. We find that Moses had no difficulty in arranging the singing of a magnificent triumphal ode on the occasion of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. In the days of Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Nehemiah public attention was given to the teaching and expounding of the word of God throughout the land (2 Chron. xvii. 7-9; xxx. 2; Neh. viii., ix. Thus the worship of God grew, as occasion required, from the living root of prayer into the goodly tree of prayer, praise, reading and expounding the word of God, and exhorting the assembled worshippers in accordance with its heavenly lessons. Such was the occupation of the holy convocation on the sabbath of rest, according to the institution of Moses, the servant of the Lord. It was truly a rational and edifying service. Before the invention of printing and the appliances of a literary education, it was of inestimable worth to the successive generations of Israel as a training-school for truth and purity of morals and religion. And even in the midst of our present wealth of book-learning and periodical-intelligence, it has still the peculiar and indispensable advantage of the living voice of living men speaking to the living and the dead, whether they can read or not, of the things that concern eternal life. This holy convocation, with its spiritual exercises, may, without exaggeration, be said to be essential to the growth of true religion and the restitution of all things in a world that has sunk into moral disorder and decay.
Moreover, the people are instructed that these holy convocations of the seventh day are to be “ in all your dwellings. This is a circumstance of paramount interest and of the most momentous consequence. The seven holy convocations of the annual festivals were held in the ecclesiastical metropolis of the country, and therefore mainly representative, as the women and the children and many of the men were absent. But the holy convocation of the sabbath was to be held in all the dwellings of the land, in every hamlet, village, or township in which the people dwelt. In a genial clime the town square, the village green, or the sequestered dell under the widespread oak or terebinth will be the meeting-place of the holy convocation. There is nothing, however, to hinder the spreading of the tent, the rearing of the tabernacle, or the erection of the more permanent edifice for the holy convocation of the weekly sabbath. Thither went the rural multitude in their best array to keep the holy day, to pour out the desires of their heart to God, to raise the grave, sweet melody of thanksgiving to him, and to hearken with reverent attention to his word read, and it might be expounded, by the elders that had the rule over them. It is evident this ordinance was of vital importance for the growth of piety and the maintenance of true religion through the length and breadth of the land. And there can be little doubt that, in compliance with this wise and simple regulation, meeting-places were early established, and holy convocations held in many parts of the land from the very first settlement of Israel, and that they had the effect of keeping up the light and life of religion in some of the humble abodes of the country, when it had well nigh died out in the high places of the nation. This alone will sufficiently account for the knowledge of God and the habit of piety which in times of declension still lingered and occasionally gleamed out in unexpected places throughout the history of the people. It was owing, in part, at least, to this custom that Deborah and Barak, Gideon and Manoah, Boaz and Ruth, Elimelech and Hannah, and other judges and worthies, were found to espouse the cause of God, and that seven thousand in Israel in the time of Elijah liad not bowed the knees to Baal.
And it is equally undoubted that, if this institution had been fully carried out and faithfully maintained, the national piety would have flourished apace, the temptations of superstition would have been overcome, the encroachments of surrounding idolatry would have been successfully resisted, and the Lord's people would have sooner become, what they were destined to be, a light to the Gentiles. And it may be added, that primitive Christianity revived and carried to a higher perfection the rational observance of the sabbath and the religious ordinances of the holy convocation, and that the churches of the Reformation held their ground and perpetuated their vitality, just in proportion as they acknowledged and restored the sacred rest, as well as the holy convocation of the primeval sabbath, in all their dwellings.
This aspect of the sabbatic institution unfolds to us the origin of the synagogue. A synagogue is, in its original sense, a congregation for the worship of God. It afterwards came to signify the place of meeting for worship. It has been alleged that synagogues took their rise in the times of the Maccabees. They are, indeed, mentioned by Josephus (Jewish War, vii. 3, 3) as existing in their time, but not as then a new institution. Moreover, the stone and lime building is not the essence of the synagogue. This venerable institution had its rise in the custom of calling upon the name of the Lord, mentioned in Gen. iv. 26. It was reenacted in the verse now before us, and from the time of Moses it is probable that it did not altogether cease to exist down to our own day. It is most probable that the synagogues mentioned in Ps. lxxiv. 8 were really meeting-places or tents for holding the holy convocations of the weekly sabbath.
The sabbath, in fine, was sanctified by the example of God, who in six days made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day rested and was refreshed (Ex. xxxi. 17), who blessed the sabbath-day and hallowed it (Ex. xx. 11). It was deemed worthy of a place in the ten commandments. Its position there shows that it immediately concerns the glory of God, as well as the good of man. Its principle is, that one day out of seven should be dedicated to sacred rest and refreshment of body and spirit. Fathers and mothers, masters and mistresses, employers and entertainers, are
VOL. XXIX. No. 113.
made directly accountable for its observance (Ex. xx. 10). It is thus a salutary check on the temptation to avarice and tyranny on the part of the rich and the powerful. It asserts the right of God and man to a seventh part of time for hallowed rest, refreshment, and intercommunion. It is the reasonable and beneficent provision of him who made man and understands his nature. It is coeval with the origin of man, and congruous with his physical and moral nature. “Made for man,” looking back to his past and forward to his future, and intermingling with his habits and associations, it exercises a benign and sacred influence on the whole heart and life.
II. The Change in the Economy of Grace. 7. After the fall, the coming of the Messiah is the grand central point in the history of the human race. The former generations were taught by prophecy and figure to look forward with longing eyes for his advent. And the latter ages are directed to look back with thankful remembrance to the atonement completed by his death and attested by his resurrection, while they at the same time look forward with fond anticipation for his second coming to consummate the restitution of all things by raising the dead, pronouncing the final judgment, winding up the affairs of this world, and inaugurating the kingdom of glory. It is manifest, therefore, that the epoch of his first coming was fraught with a mighty revolution in the condition of the church, and attended with a corresponding alteration in the economy of grace. This is indicated in the following words of the apostle Paul: “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. ii. 16, 17). It is taken from a remarkable chapter, in which the apostle touches with a master hand the counter tendencies of rationalism and ritualism, which are constantly appearing in the religious history of man. To elucidate the change of the economy of salvation, we