For Owen, partaking of God’s rest includes praising him for his work and aligning one’s work with his, which brings satisfaction and enjoyment. The people who partake in this rest are those who already have faith, yet they need to be “encouraged unto believing.” Owen explains, true faith is not just hearing the “word of promise, with Christ and the atonement made by him therein” but also “giving unto them a real admittance into the soul, to abide there as in their proper place.”
Rest or Stress?
Until a couple of years ago, the terms “Sabbath” and “Lord’s Day” stressed me out. I would either hear them used to make me feel bad about eating lunch at a restaurant on Sundays, supposedly against the instruction of the Puritans who I loved, or used to denounce the legalistic Sabbatarianism of the Puritans. The former was from Reformed acquaintances I didn’t know very well and felt shunned by, the inheritors of Puritan theology. The latter came from Baptist friends who I trusted but now felt pressured by to criticize the Puritans on something I hadn’t studied yet. This view was even supported by such prolific scholars as Justo González who recently argued that the Puritan view of Sunday was not only restrictive but destructive; in his words, they ordered “forceful obedience of the ‘Sabbath’” on all people, which became a “draconian legislation” in their society, built on their revolution that “eventually result[ed] in further religious fragmentation, political chaos, [and] civil war,” in both Britain and its colonies, including America. In the conversations I was hearing, the Sabbath or Lord’s Day connoted anything but rest.
Thus, I was both surprised and comforted by the fact that John Owen seemed to witness the same kind of disagreements in his own time and managed to come to a wonderfully stress-less conclusion about what the Lord’s Day should really look like. In his Sacred Day of Rest and commentary on Hebrews 3-4, Owen sets forth the problem of stress—noting that everyone is arguing about the Lord’s Day and this prevents anyone from practicing it—and the solution of rest, which he defines as primarily spiritual, though also expressed in physical ways that are appropriate to one’s unique context.
The Problem of Stress
First, Owen laments the problem of stress, both in regards to the endless arguments about the Lord’s Day as well as the extra-biblical rules that have been placed on the shoulders of lay people, making them tired. He says that even though “Christians in general,” including Protestants and Catholics, “under one notion or other, agree that a day of rest should be observed, in and for the celebration of the worship of God,” people are still arguing about the details related to this overarching principle (e.g., how to practice it, when it can be taken, and what to call it) and have used the confused mess of controversies to neglect their duty to do it at all.