Urgent Necessity

From “The Order and Keeping of the Sabbath Day,” Decades, 2.4 (1552)

Christians do not forget the words of Christ in the Gospel, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath,” and that “the Son of Man is the Lord of the sabbath.” The godly know that God ordained the sabbath for the preservation and not for the destruction of mankind. And therefore God dispenses with the sabbath as often as urgent necessity or saving of a man requires it. Our Savior Christ has satisfied the faithful in Matthew 12 and Luke 6 and 13. In such things, truly, Christians may use their liberty to occupy themselves on the sabbath day.

Since the priests and Levites are held excused – in the temple, they openly kill, slay, burn, and boil beasts in making their sacrifices, and they are not thought to break the sabbath day, because they may, without offense to God, even on the sabbaths, dress and make ready the things serving to the outward worship of the Lord – so likewise may we on the sabbath dress and make ready food and other necessities which our bodies cannot lack. We may also minister medicine and treatment to the sick, visit the weak, and help the needy so that we may preserve the creature of God.

Here our savior gave us an example to follow: on the sabbath day, Christ worked deeds of charity and mercy. We have more than one example to be seen in the gospels, but especially in Luke 6 and 13 and in John 5. If it is lawful on the sabbath day to draw a sheep out of pit or save an ox in danger of drowning, why is it not lawful on the sabbath day to repair a house that is ready to fall? Why should it not be lawful on the sabbath day to gather and keep from spoiling hay or corn which, by reason of unseasonable weather, has laid too long?…

The sabbath has a very ample and large significance. It is a perpetual sign that God alone is the One who sanctifies those who worship his name. He says to Moses, “You shall keep my sabbaths because it is a sign between me and you and those who come after you, to know I am the Lord who sanctifies you… This is to be seen in Exodus 31 and is repeated in Ezekiel 20. And God applies himself also…

For God does by his Holy Spirit sanctify his faithful people and constant believers which he declares to the church by the preaching of the Gospel, bearing witness and sealing it with his sacraments. He commands us with continual prayers to crave incessantly that glorious sanctification.

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) was a Swiss Reformed pastor and theologian, the principal leader of the Church in Zurich for over forty years. He was among the primary drafters of the First and Second Helvetic Confessions, and worked with John Calvin to establish a common basis of teaching on the Eucharist among the Swiss Reformed Churches. His Decades were a series of doctrinal sermons, published as a source of theological instruction for pastors and teachers.


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