John Wesley Speaks to a Sabbath Breaker


” Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Have you forgotten who spoke these words? Or do you set him at defiance? Do you bid him do his worst? Have a care. You are not stronger than he. “Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth; but woe unto the man that contendeth with his Maker. He sitteth on the circle of the heavens; and the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers before him!”

“Six days shalt thou do all manner of work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” It is not thine, but God’s day. He claims it for his own. He always did claim it for his own, even from the beginning of the world. “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” He hallowed it; that is, he made it holy; he reserved it for his own service. He appointed, that as long as the sun or the moon, the heavens and the earth, should endure, the children of men should spend this day in the worship of Him who “gave them life and breath and all things.”

Shall a man then rob God? And art thou the man? Consider, think what thou art doing! Is it not God who giveth thee all thou hast? Every day thou livest, is it not his gift? And wilt thou give him none? Nay, wilt, thou deny him what is his own already? He will not, he cannot, quit his claim. This day is God’s. It was so from the begin­ning. It will be so to the end of the world. This he cannot give to another. O “render unto God the things that are God’s,” now; “to­day, while it is called to-day!”

For whose sake does God lay claim to this day? for his sake or for thine? Doubtless, not for his own. He needeth not thee, nor any child of man. “Look unto the heavens and see, and behold the clouds which are higher than thou. If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? If thy trans­gressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him? If thou art right­eous, what givest thou him? Or what receiveth he of thine hand?” For thy own sake, therefore, God thy maker doeth this. For thy own sake he calleth thee to serve him. For thy own sake he demands a part of thy time to be restored to him that gave thee all. Acknowledge his love. Learn, while thou art on earth, to praise the King of Heaven. Spend this day as thou hopest to spend that day which never shall have an end.

The Lord not only hallowed the Sabbath day, but he hath also bless­ed it. So that you are an enemy to yourself. You throw away your own blessing, if you neglect to “keep this day holy.” It is a day of special grace. The King of Heaven now sits upon his mercy seat, in a more gracious manner than on other days, to bestow blessings on those who observe it. If you love your own soul, can you then forbear laying hold on so happy an opportunity? Awake, arise, let God give thee his blessing! Receive a token of his love! Cry to him that thou mayest find the riches of his grace and mercy in Christ Jesus! You do not know how few more of these days of salvation you may have. And how dreadful would it be, to be called hence in the abuse of his proffered mercy!

O what mercy hath God prepared for you, if you do not trample it under foot! “What mercy hath he prepared for them that fear him, even before the sons of men!” A peace which the world cannot give; joy, that no man taketh from you; rest from doubt and fear and sorrow, of heart; and love, the beginning of heaven. And are not these for you? Are they not all purchased for you by him who loved you, and gave himself for you? for you, a sinner? you, a rebel against God? you, who have so long crucified him afresh? Now “look unto him whom you have pierced!” Now say, Lord, it is enough. I have fought against thee long enough. I yield, I yield. “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon me!”

On this day, above all, cry aloud, and spare not, to the “God who heareth prayer.” This is the day he hath set apart for the good of your soul, both m this world and that which is to come. Never more disappoint the design of his love, either by worldly business or idle diver­sions. Let not a little thing keep you from the house of God, either in the forenoon or afternoon. And spend as much as you can of the rest of the day, either in repeating what you have heard, or in reading the Scripture, or in private prayer, or talking of the things of God. Let his love be ever before your eyes. Let his praise be ever in your mouth. You have lived many years in folly and sin; now, live one day unto the Lord.

Do not ask any more, “Where is the harm, if, after church, I spend the remainder of the day in the fields, or in a public house, or in taking a little diversion?” You know where is the harm. Your own heart tells you so plain, that you cannot but hear. It is a base mis-spending of your talent, and a barefaced contempt of God and his authority. You have heard of God’s judgments, even upon earth, against the profaners of this day. And yet these are but as drops of that storm of “fiery indignation, which will” at last “consume his adversaries.”

Glory be to God who hath now given you a sense of this. You now know, this was always designed for a day of blessing. May you never again, by your idleness or profaneness, turn that blessing into a curse! What folly, what madness would that be! And in what sorrow and anguish would it end! For yet a little while, and death will close up the day of grace and mercy. And those who despise them now, will have no more Sabbaths, or sacraments, or prayers for ever. Then how will they wish to recover that which they now so idly cast away! But all in vain. For they will then “find no place for repentance, though they should seek it carefully with tears.”

O my friend, know the privilege you enjoy. Now “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Your day of life and of grace is far spent. The night of death is at hand. Make haste to use the time you have; improve the last hours of your day. Now provide “the things which make for your peace,” that you may stand before the face of God for ever.

* The Works of Reverend John Wesley, A.M. in Seven Volumes. Vol VI. (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1839) pgs 352-354.

27 thoughts on “John Wesley Speaks to a Sabbath Breaker

  1. Hello Nate,

    Thanks for the great post and teaching, It seems that God put’s things in your path just as you need them, so thanks for allowing the Lord to use you as He wills!

  2. Nate Long, could you please tell me more about that John Wesley believed the Christian Sabbath was Sunday, or if you prefer, address me to some writing where he said or implied that believe? I had just accepted the Sunday as the day to worship in congregation as something established, never thought about that deeply before. I am studying about the Sabbath in these times. John Wesley quoted from the Last Testament ” Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Why he would think that the day was changed to Sunday if that is not stated in the Bible? Thanks

  3. Agnos, on the basis of someone Wesley calls “a late pious Writer” he has become convinced that Sunday is the 7th day from Creation, but that when the Israelites came out of Egypt that the day was changed to Saturday, and persisted that way till Christ’s resurrection, after which the observance of the Sabbath was returned to Sunday, the actual 7th day after Creation.

    I have not been able to determine who the “late pious Writer” that Wesley refers to is, nor do I have access to any information that would allow me to evaluate this idea as to whether it had merit. All I can tell you is that this is what Wesley believed.

    You can read his comments for yourself in Wesley’s Notes on Exodus 20:8.

  4. When does Sunday begin, Saturday evening to Sunday evening, sunset to sunset or Sunday morning to Monday morning or Sunday 12am to Monday 12am? Doesn’t the day begin in the evening so Saturday evening to Sunday evening (sundown)?

  5. Because Jesus resurrected on Sunday the disciples called this day the “Lord’s day” and met to worship on Sunday. When you read these verses you would know: Isaiah 58:13,14,Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2 & Revelation 1:10. I hope this blesses you.

  6. Sunday starts from Saturday’s midnight(12:00am) to the next Sunday’s midnight(12:00am) which leads to Monday dawn. It’s 24hours.

  7. God never changes, his Sabbath was, still is and will always be on Saturday. No where in the Bible does Jesus give a command to change the Sabbath to Sunday. There is also no proof of the Sabbath being changed from Sunday to Saturday when the Israelite’s came out of Egypt. If you trust the Bible you will believe that the Sabbath is none other than Saturday.

  8. I agree with you. Nevertheless, Wesley was convinced that Sunday was the New Covenant Sabbath. Though I disagree with him, wouldn’t it be great if more people had the perspective he shared in that quote from above? If they had that perspective about keeping Sunday as Sabbath that would be better than believing the Sabbath has been done away with. If they had that perspective about the Sabbath, that would be fantastic.

  9. The day of meeting is separate from the Sabbath. We can meet any day we want. We rest on the Sabbath. We worship every day, every minute.

    How would believers know which day was the first if they didn’t know which day was the last?

    Jesus taught in the synagogue on….Sabbath. Paul taught in the synagogue on….Sabbath.

    Wesley’s thoughts are good ones. But they amount to a defense of an unbiblical church teaching because his Sabbath is not the one God gave His people. A little leaven, no matter how poetic and grand, leavens the whole lump.


  10. I would have to disagree with you there, Bruce. First, as I’m sure you know, a meeting is commanded on the Sabbath–so I’m not sure what you’re getting at there. But more to the point, words spoken in defense of the Sabbath–even if that person was mistaken about whether the Sabbath has been transferred to Sunday–are worth being heard, for they call us to something mostly forgotten, and Christians would be far better off to observer Sunday as Sabbath than to do no resting/ceasing/guarding/observing at all. Who knows? Should folks start observing Sunday as a Sabbath, it might not be long before they would recognize the ongoing validity of Saturday as the Sabbath! I was greatly encouraged to find a “Collect for the Sabbath (Saturday)” in the most recent liturgy of the Anglican Church in North America.

  11. Are you talking about a “holy convocation?” If you are, the problem is that there is no “gathering together” nor does there have to be. There certainly is no service commanded such as the modern church has developed. And what we have developed I do not think can be called “worship” (maybe some of the songs and prayers), especially if the Word is not taught or is even taught wrongly. Exodus 16:29 has Moses telling the Israelites to “remain in their place” and again in the same verse “let no one go our of his place on the seventh day.” They had committed the sin of going out to look for Manna. If that’s not what you are talking about, I await enlightenment.

    I agree (and said so) that what Wesley says is very good and a model for us all. However, where do we draw the line at compromise? Do we draw it at the Word, or my application of the Word? Personally, I do not try to get people to follow the Law. People need to make their own choices, and if Wesley helps them have more regard then all the better. But if his impassioned defense brings people to Sunday and that’s it, then in my view it is nothing more than a defense of “doing what is right in their own eyes.” He should be bringing us to the Word.

    That’s the nub for me. When we compromise on something so clearly taught in the Word, where do we stop? People may not want to do it, but that is different than the Word doesn’t say it.


  12. It would be very difficult (read, “impossible”) to defend the assertion that מִקְרָא does not include gathering; it is an assembly for purpose, a convocation, a public proclamation.

  13. But they were already gathered.

    We might see a gathering, but can we have a gathering and stay in our places? Could it also mean “family gathering?”

    It would be easy to defend the assertion that it doesn’t mean a “church service.” I can also say that in a crowd of some several million they wouldn’t be driving for miles to “gather.”

    A public proclamation could just as easily be made with everyone in their place.


  14. I’m not worried about whether it means “church service;” that term could mean almost anything to anyone, and could be or not be synonymous with a “holy convocation” for the or a sabbath. The point here is that an already coalesced body (the kehal or edah) was asked to participate in a miqra kodesh, which means while they were not to leave their “place” for other things, according to the principle of a positive command always outweighs a negative (e.g., the priests working on the sabbath because they are commanded to do so, despite the general command not to) a holy convocation should occur, and given that on three of those occasions it meant traveling to the place where God had caused his name to dwell, it clearly included leaving one’s place for this gathering.

    Obviously, so far separated as we are from Bronze Age Israel, and living in a scenario of distributed exile, interpreting just how to honor these various commands is not a simple process… which is why, a focus on the necessity of not being a Sabbath-breaker is a positive thing, no matter how you look at it. While the vagaries of keeping that command in 21st century North America likely fall under the scope of the authority to bind and loose that was given to the Apostles (and by extension those who received ordination from them), I think we should be able to agree that an exhortation to honor God’s commands is always a good thing, even if one disagrees with how that congregation of the Body of Christ strives to do so.

  15. Sorry. Can’t agree with you. Gathering three times a year in Jerusalem is perhaps how the holy convocation was eventually observed, but there was a long time before that. To where did they pilgrimage before then? We also got an exception for traveling, if it was too far.

    Wesley acknowledged that the Sabbath was the seventh day, but he was conflating Sabbath with Sunday (and by extension, church).

    “So that you are an enemy to yourself. You throw away your own blessing, if you neglect to ‘“keep this day holy.”’
    “On this day, above all, cry aloud, and spare not, to the ‘“God who heareth prayer.”’
    “Let not a little thing keep you from the house of God, either in the forenoon or afternoon.”
    “Do not ask any more, ‘“Where is the harm, if, after church, I spend the remainder of the day in the fields, or in a public house, or in taking a little diversion?”’

    He might as well have been pointing to a golden calf. “Behold your God who brought you out of Egypt.” Or even “Behold the (Sunday) Sabbath that God ordained.” He doesn’t get to do that. He was a leader, a teacher. He doesn’t get to pretend that Sunday is the Sabbath. The average church-goer can perhaps be forgiven for confusing the two, but not someone like Wesley. Does he want to have “church” on Sunday? Fine and dandy. Does he want to make it an important day? Okee dokee. Does he want to say that Sunday is the Sabbath? There I have to put on the brakes. Saying so makes him a false teacher. Yes, he said many good things. There is a lot there I can respect. But leading people away from the Word I cannot respect.

    I know what you are saying. As people begin to apply the Bible to their lives, they are not going to do it perfectly. It takes time. And an attitude like this might help. More often than not, however, it doesn’t. Teachings like this, with poetry and power for sure, have led people away from the Word for a long time. I was denied the blessings of doing exactly and only what God says for years by similar teachings. They are almost like God’s. Almost. Missed it by that much. But miss it they do.


  16. Well, at the risk of more of your selective editing of my comments, the title of the post was that Wesley “speaks to a Sabbath breaker.” The Sabbath breaker, however, did not break Sabbath. He may very well have rested on Saturday as we are commanded, and did work on Sunday. Like I do. So Wesley’s comments are more pointed and wrong than beautiful. He’s remonstrating and correcting, pointing to the “right” behavior, which is a meeting on Sunday. He is not pointing to the Word. I’ll say the golden calf thing again and see if it gets edited out a second time. Wesley might as well be pointing to a golden calf and saying, “Behold your God who brought you out of Egypt.”

    I think “interpreting just how to honor these various commands” is, in fact, a very simple process. What is not simple is the hard heart. It’s not the Word, it’s the heart. Even Wesley’s. Resting on Saturday is not hard to figure out. A day off? What’s so hard about that? I submit that people avoid it because it’s “Jewish.” That is sort of an all purpose excuse to ignore His (plain and simple) Word.


  17. Apologies. Apparently you did not edit my comments. Yet. They seem to be waiting for moderation so I didn’t see them. But I couldn’t delete anything in the second post.

  18. I’m not sure how the editing of comments works, Bruce. Perhaps there is a setting that permits it for a time, and then turns it off. I don’t know.

    I’ve said my piece on this, and found nothing compelling in your further comments.

  19. Am happy John Wesley kept Sabbath tell us why his followers were against it?

  20. A L’époque de JOHN WESLEY, nul ne faisait de confusion entre le premier et le septième jour de la semaine. Je rends gloire à DIEU parce que je viens de découvrir que JW observait le sabbat de la bible. merci!

  21. Je suis désolé de vous décevoir, mais John Wesley a observé le sabbat dimanche, de même que presque tous les autres croyants anglais de l’époque.


  23. Mary, I quote below from Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on Exodus 20:8.

    “The fourth commandment concerns the time of worship; God is to be served and honoured daily; but one day in seven is to be particularly dedicated to his honour, and spent in his service. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy; in it thou shalt do no manner of work – It is taken for granted that the sabbath was instituted before. We read of God’s blessing and sanctifying a seventh day from the beginning, Genesis 2:3 , so that this was not the enacting of a new law, but the reviving of an old law. 1st. They are told what is the day, they must observe, a seventh after six days labour, whether this was the seventh by computation from the first seventh, or from the day of their coming out of Egypt, or both, is not certain. A late pious Writer seems to prove, That the sabbath was changed, when Israel came out of Egypt; which change continued till our Lord rose again: But that then the Original Sabbath was restored. And he makes it highly probable, at least, that the sabbath we observe, is the seventh day from the creation. 2dly, How it must be observed;
    As a day of rest; they were to do no manner of work on this day,in their worldly business.
    As a holy day, set apart to the honour of the holy God, and to be spent in holy exercises. God, by his blessing it, had made it holy; they, by solemn blessing him, must keep it holy, and not alienate it to any other purpose than that for which the difference between it and other days was instituted. 3dly, Who must observe it? Thou and thy son and thy daughter – The wife is not mentioned, because she is supposed to be one with the husband, and present with him, and if he sanctify the sabbath, it is taken for granted she will join with him; but the rest of the family is instanced in it, children and servants must keep it according to their age and capacity.In this, as in other instances of religion, it is expected that masters of families should take care, not only to serve the Lord themselves, but that their houses also should serve him. Even the proselyted strangers must observe a difference between this day and other days, which, if it laid some restraint upon them then, yet proved a happy indication of God’s gracious design, to bring the Gentiles into the church. By the sanctification of the sabbath, the Jews declared that they worshipped the God that made the world, and so distinguished themselves from all other nations, who worshipped gods which they themselves made. God has given us an example of rest after six days work; he rested the seventh day – Took a complacency in himself, and rejoiced in the work of his hand, to teach us on that day, to take a complacency in him, and to give him the glory of his works. The sabbath begun in the finishing of the work of creation; so will the everlasting sabbath in the finishing of the work of providence and redemption; and we observe the weekly sabbath in expectation of that, as well as in remembrance of the former, in both conforming ourselves to him we worship. He hath himself blessed the sabbath day and sanctified it. He hath put an honour upon it; it is holy to the Lord, and honourable; and he hath put blessings into it which he hath encouraged us to expect from him in the religious observation of that day. Let us not profane, dishonour, and level that with common time, which God’s blessing hath thus dignified and distinguished.”

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