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I.3. The Third Commandment
Thou shalt sanctify the holy day.
[Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.]
The word holy day (Feiertag) is rendered from the Hebrew word Sabbath which
properly signifies to rest, that is, to abstain from labor. Hence we are accustomed
to say, Feierbend machen [that is, to cease working], or heiligen Abend geben
[sanctify the Sabbath]. Now, in the Old Testament, God separated the seventh
day, and appointed it for rest, and commanded that it should be regarded as holy
above all others. As regards this external observance, this commandment was
given to the Jews alone, that they should abstain from toilsome work, and rest,
so that both man and beast might recuperate, and not be weakened by
unremitting labor. Although they afterwards restricted this too closely, and grossly
abused it, so that they traduced and could not endure in Christ those works
which they themselves were accustomed to do on that day, as we read in the
Gospel just as though the commandment were fulfilled by doing no external
[manual] work whatever, which, however, was not the meaning, but, as we shall
hear, that they sanctify the holy day or day of rest.
This commandment, therefore, according to its gross sense, does not concern us
Christians; for it is altogether an external matter, like other ordinances of the Old
Testament, which were attached to particular customs, persons, times, and
places, and now have been made free through Christ. But to grasp a Christian
meaning for the simple as to what God requires in this commandment, note that
we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they
have no need of it [holy days]), but first of all for bodily causes and necessities,
which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and
maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week,
that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed.
Secondly, and most especially, that on such day of rest (since we can get no
other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine service, so that we
come together to hear and treat of God's and then to praise God, to sing and
However, this, I say, is not so restricted to any time, as with the Jews, that it must
be just on this or that day; for in itself no one day is better than another; but this
should indeed be done daily; however, since the masses cannot give such
attendance, there must be at least one day in the week set apart. But since from
of old Sunday [the Lord's Day] has been appointed for this purpose, we also
should continue the same, in order that everything be done in harmonious order,
and no one create disorder by unnecessary innovation.