Moral Briefs – Chapter XLVIII – Third Commandment, The Law of Rest

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonThe last of the three Commandments that refer directly to God, prescribes a rest from toil, and profane works; and in commemoration of the mystical repose of the Lord after the six days creation, designates the Sabbath or seventh day as a day that shall be set apart and made sacred to God. The peculiarity of the commandment is that it interferes with the occupations of man, intrudes upon his individual affairs and claims a worship of works. The others do not go thus far, and are satisfied with a worship of the heart and tongue, of affections and language.

Leaving aside for the moment the special designation of a day devoted to this worship, the law of rest itself deserves attention. Whether the Saturday or Sunday be observed, whether the rest be long or brief, a day or an hour, depends entirely on the positive will of God. More than this must be said of the command of rest; that law grows out of our relations with God, is founded in nature, is according to the natural order of things.

This repose means abstention from bodily activity. The law does not go so far as to prescribe stagnation and sloth, but it is satisfied with such abstention as is compatible with the reasonable needs of man. Of its nature, it constitutes an exterior, public act of religion. The question is: Does the nature of our relations with God demand this sort of worship? Evidently, yes. Else God, who created the whole man, would not receive a perfect worship. If God made man, man belongs to Him; if from that possession flows a natural obligation to worship with heart and tongue, why not also of the body? God has a Maker’s right over us, and without some acknowledgment on the part of the body of this right, there would be no evidence that such a right existed.

There is no doubt but that the law of our being requires of us an interior worship. Now, if that spirit of homage within us is sincere, it will naturally seek to exteriorize itself; if it is to be preserved, it must “out.” We are not here speaking of certain peculiarly ordered individuals, but of the bulk of common humanity. Experience teaches that what does not come out either never existed or is not assured of a prolonged existence. Just as the mind must go out of itself for the substance of its thoughts, so must the heart go out to get relief from the pressure of its feelings. God commanded this external worship because it alone could preserve internal affections.

Again, there are many things which the ordinary man ignores concerning God, which it is necessary for him to know, and which do not come by intuition. In other words, he must be taught a host of truths that he is incapable of finding out by himself. Education and instruction in religious matters are outside the sphere of his usual occupations. Where will he ever get this necessary information, if he is not taught? And how can he be taught, if he does not lay aside occupations that are incompatible with the acquisition of intellectual truths? He is therefore forced by the law of his being, and the obligation he owes his Maker, to rest from his every-day labors, once in awhile, in order to learn his full duty, if for nothing else.

Pagans, who never knew the law of Moses, observe neither Saturday nor Sunday; neither do they all give an entire day, at fixed intervals to the exterior worship of the Deity, as we do. But a case will not be found where they did not on certain occasions rest from work in order to offer the homage of their fidelity to their gods, and to listen to instruction and exhortation from their holy men. These pagans follow the natural law written in their souls, and it is there they discover the obligation they are under to honor God by rest from labor and to make holy unto Him a certain space of time.