Friday, September 8, 2017

Of The Lord's Day and Easter

       Time is a circumstance no less inseparable from religious actions than place, for man consisting of a soul and body cannot always be actually engaged in the service of God: that is the privilege of angels, and souls freed from the fetters of mortality. So long as we are here, we must worship God with respect to our present state, and consequently of necessity have some definite and particular time to do it in. Now, that a man might not be left to a floating uncertainty in a matter of so great importance, in all ages and nations men have been guided by the very dictates of nature to pitch upon some certain seasons, wherein to assemble and meet together to perform the public offices of religion. The ancient Christians ever had their peculiar seasons, their solemn and stated times of meeting together to perform the common duties of divine worship; of which, the Lord's-day challenges the precedency of all the rest. . . .
       The name of this day of public worship is sometimes, especially by Justin Martyr and Tertullian, called Sunday, because it happened upon that day of the week which by the heathens was dedicated to the sun; and therefore, as being best known to them, the Fathers commonly made use of it in their Apologies to the heathen governors. This title continued after the world became Christian, and seldom it is that it passes under any other name in the imperial edicts of the first Christian emperors. But the more proper and prevailing name was Dies Dominica, the Lord's- day, as it was called by St. John himself, as being that day of the week whereon our Lord made his triumphant return from the dead. This, Justin Martyr assures us, was the original of the title. " Upon Sunday," he says," we all assemble and meet together, as being the first day wherein God, parting the darkness from the rude chaos, created the world, and the same day whereon Jesus Christ our Savior rose again from the dead; for he was crucified the day before Saturday, and the day after (which is Sunday) he appeared to his apostles and disciples ": by this means observing a kind of analogy and proportion with the Jewish Sabbath, which had been instituted by God himself. For as that day was kept as a commemoration of God's Sabbath, or resting from the work of creation, so was this set apart to religious uses, as the solemn memorial of Christ's resting from the work of our redemption in this world, completed upon the day of his resurrection. Which brings into my mind that custom of theirs so universally common in those days, that whereas at other times they kneeled at prayers, on the Lord's-day they always prayed standing, as is expressly affirmed both by Justin Martyr and Tertullian ; the reason of which we find in the authors of the Questions and Answers in Justin Martyr. "It is," says he, "that by this means we may be put in mind both of our fall by sin, and our resurrection or restitution by the grace of Christ; that for six days we pray upon our knees, as in token of our fall by sin; but that on the Lord's-day we do not bow the knee, does symbolically represent our resurrection by which through the grace of Christ we are delivered from our sins, and the power of death." This, he there tells us, was a custom derived from the very times of the apostles, for which he cites Irenaeus in his book concerning Easter ; and this custom was maintained with so much vigor, that, when some began to neglect it, the great council of Nice took notice of it, and ordained that there should be a constant uniformity in this case, and that on the Lord's-day (and at such times as were usual) men should stand when they made their prayers to God. So fit and reasonable did they think it to do all possible honor to that day on which Christ rose from the dead. Therefore we may observe, all along in the sacred story, that after Christ's resurrection the apostles and the primitive Christians did especially assemble upon the first day of the week: and, whatever they might do at other times, yet there are many passages that intimate that the first day of the week was their most solemn time of meeting. . . .
       They looked upon the Lord's-day as a time to be celebrated with great expressions of joy, as being the happy memory of Christ's resurrection, and accordingly restrained whatever might savor of sorrow and sadness. Fasting on that day they prohibited with the greatest severity, accounting it utterly unlawful, as Tertullian informs us. . . . They never fasted on that day, no, not in the time of Lent itself; nay, the Montanists, though otherwise great pretenders to fasting and mortification, did yet abstain from it on the Lord's-day. And, as they accounted it a joyful and good day, so they did whatever they thought might contribute to the honor of it. No sooner was Constantine come over the church but his principle care was about the Lord's-day. He commanded it to be solemnly observed, and that by all persons whatsoever. He made it to all a day of rest; that men might have nothing to do but to worship God, and be better instructed in the Christian faith, and spend their whole time without anything to hinder them in prayer and devotion, according to the custom and discipline of the church. And for those in his army, who yet remained in their paganism and infidelity, he commanded them upon the Lord's-day to go into the fields, and there pour out their souls in hearty prayers to God; and that none might pretend their own inability to the duty, he him- self composed and gave them a short form of prayer, which he enjoined them to make use of every Lord's- day: so careful was he that this day should not be dishonored or misemployed, even by those who were yet strangers and enemies to Christianity. He more- over ordained that there should be no courts of judicature open upon this day, no suits or trials at law; but that for any works of mercy, such as emancipating and setting free of slaves or servants, this might be done. That there should be no suits nor demanding debts upon this day, was confirmed by several laws of succeeding emperors. . . . Theodosius the Great, anno 386, by a second law ratified one he had passed long before, wherein he expressly prohibited all public shows upon the Lord's-day, that the worship of God might not be confounded with those profane solemnities. This law the younger Theodosius some years after confirmed and enlarged, enacting, that on the Lord's-day not only Christians, but even Jews and heathens, should be restrained from the pleasure of all sights and spectacles, and the theaters be shut up in every place ; and whereas it might so happen that the birthday or inauguration of the emperor might fall upon that day, therefore to let the people know how infinitely he preferred the honor of God, before the concerns of his own majesty and greatness, he commanded that the imperial solemnity should be put off till another day.
       The early Christians did not think it enough to read and pray and praise God at home, but made conscience of appearing in the public assemblies, from which nothing but sickness and absolute necessity did detain them: and if sick, or in prison, or under banishment, nothing troubled them more than that they could not come to church, and join their devotions to the common services. If persecution at any time forced them to keep a little close, yet no sooner was there the least mitigation, but they presently returned to their open duty, and publicly met all together. No trivial pretenses, no light excuses, were then admitted for any one's absence from the congregation, but, according to the merit of the cause, severe censures were passed upon them. The synod of Illiberis provided that if any man dwelling in a city (where usually churches were nearest hand) should for three Lord's-days absent himself from the church, he should for some time be suspended the communion, that he might appear to be corrected for his fault. William Cave

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