The Lords Day

Like most Christians of his time Thomas Guthrie believed the Lords Day (Sunday) was to be kept as a special day of rest and to be used for public and private worship.  Like marriage the Lords Day is a creation ordinance.  If God rested on the seventh day, it is a fairly powerful argument that we need to rest one day in seven.  We believe that the Sabbath moved from Saturday to Sunday when Christ rose from the dead.  The Christian Sabbath, of course, used to be a great protection against exploitation of the poor and it is sad today  to see the Lords Day swept away in our 24 hour consumer driven culture.

There are many stories about peoples negative experiences of the Lords Day, of swings being chained up on Sunday and children being cooped up all afternoon without being allowed to blow off steam.  No doubt there has been legalism in the past with greater concern on the outward form rather than the inner reality, but there can be little doubt that the loss of the Lords Day in Scotland has been a huge blow to our national life.  Research abounds that families are not spending enough time together and the decline in the traditional Sunday get together had has a damaging effect on family life.  It is unusual even to find Christians today who believe in the Lords Day and the Church is poorer as a result.  There is more teaching on the reformed view of the Lords Day at the bottom of this post.

Thomas Guthrie was a great proponent of the Christian Sabbath and was frequently asked to speak at rallies and meetings on the subject.  He often mentions how grieved he is about those who do not keep the Lord Days in his Memoirs.  Guthrie expresses his shock when travelling through London on his way to France in 1826; I see no religion here; they sell and buy openly upon the streets on Sunday.  I was shocked the first Sabbath upon leaving my lodgings, when a fellow in the street asked me if I would buy an umbrella.  When I went a little further I was asked to buy fruit (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, page 229).

He was further shocked when he arrived in France and in a letter home on 17th January 1827 he says; It is on the Sabbath more than any other day that I think of you all at home: the awful scenes which obtrude themselves upon my view suggest by contrast the very different circumstances in which you are placed.  When I see the tricks of the jugglers and hear the music of the musicians, and observe the busy traffic of the merchants, and the reckless levity of the people on the Sabbath day, I think of the quiet streets of Brechin; and the stillness of our house is brought sadly to my remembrance, when I hear, in this one the light song instead of the sacred hymn, and see, instead of the Bible, the cards and dominoes upon the table, and the people, instead of repairing to church, driving off every Sunday night to the playhouse (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, page 231).

Later on in his Autobiography when Guthrie was in Arbirlot, he talks about a farmer who took his harvest in on the Lords Day. The farmer was an adherent rather than a member of Guthries church but it was still very unusual to do any work on Sunday.   It must have been around around 1835 and it was a very wet summer.  Suddenly on a Friday the clouds began to clear.  Most of the community turned out on Sunday to thank the Lord for the change in the weather and were all set to get to work on Monday.  But one farmer had gathered his ‘servants and cottars’ together on Sunday and ordered them to gather in the harvest on the Lords Day.  Despite remonstrating with the farmer, the workers were conscious that their livelihoods depended on him and they carried out his orders with an uneasy conscience.  Being members of Guthries church, the workers were summoned before the session, but due to the circumstances, the session recommended to Presbytery that great leniency and tenderness should be shown to them.

Guthrie says that the petty tyrant raged and fumed!  talking tall, big words about the liberty of the subject, and ending personal attacks on me by a challenge to defend myself and my Sabbatarian views at a public meeting in the church.  Eventually a meeting was arranged in the manse and Guthrie says that the farmer had little to offer against his own thorough Biblical knowledge.  The farmer exerted great pressure to get the Presbytery to erase all records of the incident which they refused to do.

It turned out that the farmer had harvested too early.  Guthrie tells us; Other farmers waited till Monday before they lifted stook or sheaf; and when they were stacking their crops in good condition, his barn-yard was smoking like a kiln.  His grain had not been ready for carrying on the Sunday, and every stack built on that day heated, as they call it, and had to be taken down on Monday; so this oppression of his underlings and breach of the Sabbath-day cost him, besides loss of character, loss of labour, of time and grain.  The people, as well they might, were much struck with this: his sin had found him out, and his neighbours who feared God, respected His law, and trusted in the old promise of harvest as well as seed-time, saw in the sound condition of their stacks and stack-yards how, in the words of Scripture, he that believeth shall not make haste  (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, page 108).

Guthrie was a confessional Christian and held that the teaching of the Bible was summarised through the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and  Shorter Catechism.  If you have never read them I would encourage you to read them.  One of the most helpful books for understanding the catechism is Thomas Watsons Body of Divinity published by the Banner of Truth.  Chapter 21 of the confession summarises the Biblical teaching on the Lords Day;

7. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.