I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ…
What is the meaning of this expression, "the Lord's Day"? Does it mean the day of judgment? Such a meaning would not serve St. John's purpose here. He is plainly giving the date of his great vision, not the scene to which it introduced him. Does it, then, mean the annual feast of our Lord's resurrection from the dead, our Easter Day? That day, as we know from the Epistle to the Corinthians, was observed in apostolic times. But it could hardly have served for a date; because in those days, as for some time afterwards, there were different opinions in the Church as to the day on which properly it ought to be kept. Does the phrase, then, mean the Sabbath Day of the Mosaic Law? God calls the Sabbath by the mouth of the prophet "My holy day." And the language of the fourth commandment, "the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God," might well seem to justify the expression. But there is no known instance in the New Testament of the Sabbath being alluded to except by its own name, "the Sabbath." If St. John had meant the Sabbath, or seventh day of the week, he would certainly have used the word "Sabbath." He would not have used another word which the Christian Church, from the days of the apostles downwards, has applied not to the seventh day of the week, but to the first. There is indeed no real reason for doubting that by "the Lord's Day" St. John meant the first day of the week, or, as we should say, Sunday. Our Lord Jesus Christ has made that day, in a special sense, His own, by rising on it from the dead, and by connecting it with His first six appearances after His resurrection.
I. THE FIRST PRINCIPLE EMBODIED IN THE OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD'S DAY IS THE DUTY OF CONSECRATING .A CERTAIN PORTION OF TIME, AT LEAST ONE SEVENTH, TO THE SERVICE OF GOD. This principle is common to the Jewish Sabbath and to the Christian Lord's Day. "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath Day." "Keep the day holy" — consecrate it — so the precept runs. Such a consecration implies two things. It implies a separation of the thing consecrated from all others, and a communication to it of a quality of holiness or purity which it had not before. The day is to be unlike other days, and it is also to be marked by some positive characteristics which should proclaim its dedication to God. Now, to this idea of a special consecration of a section of time, it is sometimes objected that in a true Christian life all time is already consecrated. Does not this consecration of a section of time ignore the obligation to a service which knows no limits? The answer is, that the larger obligation of love is not ignored because the smaller obligation of duty is insisted on. All a Christian's time is, properly, consecrated time. But, practically, in many cases, none at all would be consecrated, unless an effort were made to mark a certain portion of it off by a special consecration. And apart from its importance in the life of a servant of God, the public setting apart of a certain measure of time to God's service, is a witness to God's claims borne before the world, calculated to strike the imaginations of men. Such an observance makes room for the thought of God amidst the pressing importunities of business and enjoyment.
II. A SECOND PRINCIPLE REPRESENTED IN THE LORD'S DAY IS THE PERIODICAL SUSPENSION OF HUMAN TOIL. This principle is closely connected with that of the consecration of time. In order to make the day, by this particular prohibition, unlike other days; in order to make room for the acknowledgment of God on it, ordinary occupations are suspended. Here we have a second principle which is common to the Jewish Sabbath and to the Christian Lord's Day. In the Old Testament a variety of particular occupations are expressly forbidden on the Sabbath — sowing and reaping, gathering wood, kindling a fire for cooking, holding markets, all kinds of trade, pressing grapes, carrying burdens of all kinds; and in a later age the Pharisees and the lawyers added very largely to these prohibitions. It was against the Pharisaic perversions of the Sabbath that our Lord protested both by act and word, reminding His countrymen that the Sabbath was made for the moral good of man, and not man for the later legal theory of the Sabbath. But the broad principle of abstinence from labour, however it was caricatured in the later Jewish practice, was itself a sacred principle, and it passed on as such into the Christian observance of the Lord's Day. Thus the Sabbath and the Lord's Day agree in affirming two principles, the hallowing of a seventh part of time, and the obligation of abstinence from servile work on one day in seven. But are they identical? May we rightly, scripturally, call the Lord's Day the Sabbath? These questions must be answered in the negative. The Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord's Day, while agreeing in affirming two principles, differ in two noteworthy respects. First, they differ, as has already been implied, in being kept on distinct days. The change was made because there was an imperative reason for making it. For the Lord's Day and the Sabbath differ, secondly, in the reason or motive for observing them. The Sabbath is the weekly commemoration of the rest of God after creation. It brought before the mind of the Jew the ineffable majesty of the great Creator, between whom and the noblest work of His hands there yawns an impassable abyss. Now, the Christian motive of observing the Lord's Day is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. That truth is to the Christian creed what the creation of the world out of nothing is to the Jewish creed. It is the fundamental truth on which all else that is distinctively Christian rests; and it is just as much put forward by the Christian apostles as is the creation of all things out of nothing by the Jewish prophets. The Jewish Sabbath stands in the same relation to the Lord's Day as does circumcision to Christian baptism; as does the Paschal Lamb to the Holy Communion; as does the law in general to the gospel. It is a shadow of a good thing to come. It is only perpetuated by being transfigured, or rather it is so transfigured as to have parted with its identity. The spiritual consecration of a seventh part of time, the abstinence from labour, these remain; but the spirit, the governing motive of the day, is fundamentally changed.
III. But here a third, and a last principle, comes forward, which is embodied by the day. And this third principle is, THE NECESSITY OF THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD. The cessation of ordinary work is not enjoined upon Christians, only that they may while away the time, or spend it in self-pleasing or in something worse. The Lord's Day is the day of days, on which Jesus our Lord has a first claim. On this great day every instructed and believing Christian thinks of Him as completing the work of our redemption, as vindicating His character as a teacher of absolute truth, as triumphing publicly over His enemies, as conquering death in that nature which had always hitherto been subject to the empire of death, as deigning, now that He has overcome the sharpness of death, to "open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." And when the religious obligations of the day have been complied with, there are duties of human kindliness which may well find a place in kind deeds and words to friends, in visits to the sick, in acts of consideration for the poor; all of these are in keeping with the spirit of the day. Above all, the day should be made — mark it well, parents and guardians — a bright, as well as a solemn day, for children — first solemn, but then and always bright; so that in after life they may look back on the Sundays of childhood as on the happiest days of youth. Among the thoughts which Sunday, more than other days, brings to us is the memory of those whom we have known and loved, and who have passed away — the memory of the dead. We do well to make the most of these thoughts. They are sent to us from above to enable us to prepare, after our measure, and by God's grace, to follow. But, as I have said, the mental atmosphere of a true Christian, on Sunday especially, is above all things an atmosphere of worship. He may think it right and reverent to say little; but the day says to him from its early dawn, "Lift up thy heart," and his answer is, "I lift it up unto the Lord." He is, in his way, like St. John, "in the Spirit." He sees the higher and the everlasting realities; he measures earth against heaven, and time against eternity, and poor, weak man against the almighty and everlasting Creator. Sundays such as these are to the human life like shafts in a long tunnel — they admit at regular intervals light and air; and, though we pass them all too soon, their helpful influence does not vanish with the day. It furnishes us with strength and light for the duties which await us, and makes it easier to follow loyally the road which God's loving providence may have traced for each one of us, on towards our eternal home.
Parallel VersesKJV: I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.