Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy–Hesshusen

hesshusiusUsually Lutherans are quick to point out that God does not command the observance of a certain day in the third commandment, but rather that we gladly hear and learn His word.  This sermon from the mid-1500’s is eye-opening for anyone who tends to think that way about “keeping the Sabbath.”  Generally Lutherans are used to think of the insistence that one do no regular work on Sundays as a Calvinist or Puritan phenomenon.  Hesshusen’s treatment is useful for pastors when thinking about how to approach teaching the third commandment to their congregations.

From Tilemann Heshusen’s “Sermon on the 17th Sunday after Trinity”, Postil (1590).

…The works forbidden by God on the Sabbath are those which are hindrances to the office of preaching, such as the works expressly declared in the law.


“You shall do no manual labor on the seventh day”—that is, your labor by which you make a living and by which you feed yourself—your trade, your work in the fields, your worldly business, taking care of your house—all that keeps you away from the preaching office and hinders God’s Word.


But on the seventh day you should let other works continue which do not hinder the preaching office and which help the neighbor in his need.  For that purpose God commanded that one should keep the Sabbath day…with the beautiful, holy works which are required by the 3rd commandment, such as: diligently hearing and learning God’s Word, instructing one’s neighbor, spreading God’s Name, helping to build up His Church, comforting sorrowful consciences, and openly giving thanks in the midst of the congregation for His gracious works (by which others are provoked and stirred up to faith), receiving the Sacraments, upholding and preserving the preaching office and the schools (that the knowledge of God may be brought to those who come after us).  That is the right understanding of the third commandment, and this is what is called “Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy.”


…Everyone should hallow the holy day with all diligence, and therefore be on guard against the works with which the Sabbath, which God Himself made holy, is profaned to the highest degree.  For instance—false doctrine, false worship and service of God, idolatry, blasphemy, despising the divine Word, persecution and slander of pure teachers, suppression of the preaching office when temporal authorities want to shut the mouth of the Holy Spirit, robbery of churches and schools, public scandals and offenses to the Church of Christ, and despising the most worthy Sacrament…


Accordingly, God also forbade all manual labor, worldly activities, and cares of the household, which pertain to the preservation of this life, such as baking, brewing, laboring in the field, plowing, threshing, practicing one’s trade, buying and selling, carrying out worldly affairs, and everything that keeps us from the preaching of the divine Word.  For God has ordained six days wherein we should work for our household and care for our bodies.  The seventh He set apart for the preaching of the divine Word, wherewith we are to take care of our souls for life everlasting. 


All of the trades, worldly stations, and work of the house are indeed made holy through the word of God…but God still set apart the Sabbath day on account of those things which hinder the Divine Word.  That’s because a person can’t plow his field, or be working at his trade and at the same time learn the Word of God.  As a result all such work and servitude on the Sabbath day has been forbidden.


Of course in an emergency…there we can use Christian freedom.  For instance, when in harvest time it keeps on raining but then on the Sabbath God gives good weather.  Then one can without sin and offense harvest grain and hay, without which God’s blessing would perish and die in the field.  The army does right and well that they go about war on the Sabbath day and have pushed  back the enemy.  Through this the Church of God was protected. 


Just as it is not right that one should conduct weddings on Sunday, it is also not right that worldly judgments and executions should be carried out on the feast days and on Sundays.  It is not only against God’s Word but also against the Imperial law.  Because even if the judgments of magistrates are not merely judgments of men but of God, nevertheless they only have to do with this life, and so they interfere with the holy preaching office which proclaims the judgment and absolution of God….


…Indeed how much greater a sin it must be when one indulges in frivolity and goes to see shows, jugglers, or fencing-schools.  How the devil has a special pleasure in seeing people engage in shame on a holy day and holding them back from the word of God. 


The guilds have set up their debaucheries on Sundays and have in many places imposed a fine on anyone who doesn’t come and drink beer.  Also the evil foe drives the people to set up their yearly markets on the festival days and to set up shooting tournaments and other practices on the high feast days—Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity, St. John’s day. 


If some magician comes into a city, he soon seeks out the authority that he might push his juggling and devil’s ghosts at city hall on Sunday, so that they can get the young people together.


The fencing schools and comedians will be commonly be employed on Sundays because they are more popular.  Meanwhile the blessed, saving Word of God must give way before the tricksters and moneychangers which lead to damnation.


In many villages there are frivolous dances on Sunday doing such damage to the catechetical instruction that one simply wants to get rid of it.  Satan works so hard to keep these dances going so that the servants do not want to serve.  Is it not great misery and blindness that one allows this to go on, the servants not learning the word of God, hence becoming disorderly and the whole household estate thrown into an uproar?

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