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“And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (Mark 2: 23- 28)

One of the most important questions which Christian people have to consider in these days—is that of the proper use of the Lord’s Day. What is its purpose? What place should it occupy among the days? What should it mean to us? How should it be observed? It would be a great calamity to us—if we were to lose our Sabbath altogether. We would then have no churches, no religious services, no Christian institutions, no Sunday schools, and no Christian fellowship; for it is the Sabbath that is the inspirer and helper of all these institutions and blessings. Jesus loved the Sabbath. He took from it certain things which had grown up about it and spoiled its beauty; but He did not abolish it. He sanctified it, and then gave it back to us an institution of good and of blessing.

One Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples were going through the grain fields. We may infer that they were on their way to the morning synagogue service—were going to church, as we would say. There are many evidences that Jesus was always regular in His attendance upon church ordinances. We would think that He did not require the spiritual help which comes from public worship; yet He seems always to have sought it. If Jesus kept up church-going habits, then surely we should not think that we can get along without them. We would do well to emphasise this particular part of Sabbath duty. Young people should feel the obligation and realise their own need of what the church can give them. We ought to come together to worship God, to recognise Him before men as our God, and to render due homage and praise to Him from whom all our blessings come.

Then we need the help that the Lord sends from the sanctuary. We need the instruction, counsel, warning, encouragement, and comfort—which come from the faithful preaching of the Word. We need the fellowship of Christians, the strength that comes from human sympathy. In our thought about how to observe the Sabbath, let us not forget to get into it a healthful measure of church-going. We may be sure that Jesus and His disciples were not merely taking a walk for pleasure that morning, and that they were not merely travelling somewhere. We need to be careful how we seek our own pleasure, on the Lord’s Day. We ought to make the Sabbath different from other days—restful, quiet, a day for receiving the divine blessings of health and renewal, as well as spiritual good and enriching.

The Pharisees were exceedingly punctilious in the observance of the letter of the law, and besides this, of the rabbinic rules which had been added form time to time to the law. They also regarded it as their duty to keep a close watch on others and to note any failure in them to follow the rules. They were especially keen in watching Jesus and His disciples. Their motive was not sincere interest in the teaching and example of Jesus—but to criticise Him, that they might accuse Him. They went along with Him, not because they loved to be with Him—but as spies upon His conduct, looking for some fault in Him!

We get two lessons. One is that the conduct of Christians is always watched by unfriendly eyes—eyes keen to detect the slightest apparent fault. We should live at all times most carefully, so as to give no occasion for just censure. Yet the example of our Lord’s disciples here, shows us that we are not to be slaves to traditional opinions which have no foundation in the Word of God.

The other lesson is that we can find better business than playing the spy on the life and conduct of our fellow men. The unfriendly espionage of these sanctimonious religionists on the actions of our Lord and His disciples, appears in our eyes very base and contemptible. Let us remember that it is no less base and contemptible for us—to watch our fellow Christians, in order to discover flaws. Suppose they do not live quite as they should live; are we their judges? Then perhaps our sin of uncharitableness in watching them—may be as great as theirs of some other inconsistency.

The scribes were always referring people, to what was written. With a keen irony Jesus reminded them of an incident in their Scripture which had a bearing on the matter which was troubling them (see I Sam 21: 1-6). David was a favourite Jewish hero, and what he did ought to be taken at least as a precedent. The teaching is for us, too, and its meaning is that “works of necessity” may be done on the Sabbath. It was in the literal sense, a breach of the ceremonial law for the priest to give David the shewbread; but it was not a breach of the spirit of the law, for the necessity of hunger overruled the ceremonial regulation. The work of the priests in the temple, was also in a literal way a continual profanation of the Sabbath; yet they were “blameless” because their work was necessary for the maintenance of the ordained worship of God. In like manner, our Lord taught that the act of His disciples in plucking and rubbing out the heads of grain to get food to satisfy their immediate hunger—was a work of necessity, and therefore was not a sin. Though the letter of the law may have been violated, there was no violation of its spirit.

So we get the principle, that “works of necessity” are excepted in the law of the Sabbath, which requires the cessation of secular labour. What these works of necessity are, cannot be established by minute rules and regulations. This would be to repeat the error of the Jewish teachers, who added to the plain and simple law of God—so many of their own traditions as to obscure and bury away the law itself—and make their religion burdensome and oppressive. What these works of necessity are—can be left to the enlightened conscience of the faithful followers of Christ.
(… to be continued)