Jesus summarized all the commandments in two simple statements. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,”1 and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”2 The Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,”3 concludes that first part of the Ten Commandments that relate to loving God. The rest of the series will deal with the “loving our neighbors” part.
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.”4 That is the charge of this beautiful commandment that, as with every other self-evident truth, accentuates reality (what we actually experience as human beings), instead of introducing some alien concept, suppressing our experiences, reason, and common sense – which is what some would have us do.
Two things stand out. The first trickles down from that first recognition of God, that acknowledgement that there is something more than the material. When we recognize that we are more than just a collection of cells, that we also have a spirit, it is only rational and reasonable to conclude that we are to pursue more than the material.
“Man shall not leave by bread alone,”5 said Jesus. And we all know that to be true! We have all experienced that spiritual hunger. It is self-evident. Why then should we be surprised that God, in His infinite wisdom, commands us to set aside a specific time to pursue Him above all else?
Remember what we have already established: we are to have no other gods before Him, to reject idols of any kind, and we are not to take His name in vain. This Creator is indeed to be respected and honored. We owe everything we have to Him, so it seems reasonable to set aside time to get to know Him.
Even in today’s materialistic, selfish age we can still recognize that there is more to life than the pursuit of the material. The Founders wrote about “the pursuit of happiness,” a phrase that encompasses the whole of life. How many times do we hear of those who spent their entire lives trying to reach the top of the material mountain, just to learn, once they get there, that “the top” is not only just as unfulfilling as the base, but it is also a lot lonelier?
The second part is related, yet even more basic: we are cyclical beings. It is the way God designed us and the universe. Rest is part of that design. As King Solomon, known to all for his great wisdom, wrote, “To everything there is a season.”6
We know it is not profitable for us to make our work, our hobbies, our favorite sport, the girl or guy of our dreams, or anything else, really, the single pursuit of our lives, to the detriment of everything else. A government which recognizes this, proceeding in law and policy within that framework, will inevitably reap the enormous benefits of a more stable and fulfilled citizenry that will, in turn, be a more productive and resilient society.
Is there any doubt that we have benefitted from laws requiring employers to accommodate a person’s day of worship? Laws against involuntary servitude, stemming from the Thirteenth Amendment, for example, prohibiting a person from employing someone 24/7, seven days a week, even out of an apparent “necessity,” have provided great security, order, and stability.
Individuals, families, communities, and our entire society are stronger when we follow this self-evident truth.
That is especially beneficial when the tough times come, as we all know they inevitably will. On November 15, 1862, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln quoted General George Washington in his “General Order Respecting the Observance of the Sabbath Day in the Army and Navy”:
The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, desires and enjoins the orderly observance of the Sabbath by the officers and men in the military and naval service. The importance for men and beast of the prescribed weekly rest, the sacred rights of Christian soldiers and sailors, a becoming deference to the best sentiment of a Christian people, and a due regard for the divine will demand that Sunday labor in the Army and Navy be reduced to the measure of strict necessity.
The discipline and character of the national forces should not suffer nor the cause they defend be imperiled by the profanation of the day or name of the Most High. “At this time of public distress,” adopting the words of Washington in 1776, “men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.” The first general order issued by the Father of his Country after the Declaration of Independence indicates the spirit in which our institutions were founded and should ever be defended:
The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.
Unfortunately, such a proclamation would be offensive in this day and age, but it was crucial to the formation and survival of our republic, and it still lies at our foundations, sustaining our very existence.
So strong was the Founders’ reliance on the importance of remembering the Sabbath that on December 4, 1800, even before Congress met in the Capitol for the first time, the building was approved to be used for church services. 8
Thomas Jefferson himself attended church at the Capitol,9 even as he wrote those famous words, “separation of church and state” – words that have been distorted today in an attempt to eradicate God from the public square. He saw no problem or contradiction between church at the Capitol and religious liberty – because, of course, there is none.
The only way to be free is to be truthful. We cannot escape the reality of who we are and how we were created. Like the man standing before a mirror, rejecting what he sees, so the modern man rejects the commandments of the Lord. But there is only one fool in that picture.
- Matthew 22:37 (NKJV), quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.
- Matthew 22:39, quoting Leviticus 19:18.
- Exodus 20:8.
- Exodus 20:9.
- Matthew 4:4.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1
- Abraham Lincoln, General Order Respecting the Observance of the Sabbath Day in the Army and Navy, November 15, 1862, available at http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=51.
- Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1853), p. 797, Sixth Congress, December 4, 1800.
- Bishop Claggett’s (Episcopal Bishop of Maryland) letter of February 18, 1801, reveals that, as vice- President, Jefferson went to church services in the House. Available in the Maryland Diocesan Archives.