These verses are a sermon concerning sabbath-sanctification. It is a word which the prophet received from the Lord, and was ordered to deliver in the most solemn and public manner to the people; for they were sent not only to reprove sin, and to press obedience, in general, but they must descend to particulars. This message concerning the sabbath was probably sent in the days of Josiah, for the furtherance of that work of reformation which he set on foot; for the promises here (Jer. 17:25, 26) are such as I think we scarcely find when things come nearer to the extremity. This message must be proclaimed in all the places of concourse, and therefore inthe gates, not only because through them people were continually passing and repassing, but because in them they kept their courts and laid up their stores. It must be proclaimed (as the king or queen is usually proclaimed) at the court-gate first, the gate by which the kings of Judah come in and go out, Jer. 17:19. Let them be told their duty first, particularly this duty; for, if sabbaths be not sanctified as they should be, the rulers of Judah are to be contended with (so they were, Neh. 13:17), for they are certainly wanting in their duty. He must also preach it in all the gates of Jerusalem. It is a matter of great and general concern; therefore let all take notice of it. Let the kings of Judah hear the word of the Lord (for, high as they are, he is above them), and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for, mean as they are, he takes notice of them, and of what they say and do on sabbath days. Observe,
I. How the sabbath is to be sanctified, and what is the law concerning it, Jer. 17:21, 22. 1. They must rest from their worldly employment on the sabbath day, must do no servile work. They must bear no burden into the city nor out of it, into their houses nor out of them; husbandmen’s burdens of corn must not be carried in, nor manure carried out; nor must tradesmen’s burdens of wares or merchandises be imported or exported. There must not a loaded horse, or cart, or wagon, be seen on the sabbath day either in the streets or in the roads; the porters must not ply on that day, nor must the servants be suffered to fetch in provisions or fuel. It is a day of rest, and must not be made a day of labour, unless in case of necessity. 2. They must apply themselves to that which is the proper work and business of the day: “Hallow you the sabbath, that is, consecrate it to the honour of God and spend it in his service and worship.” It is in order to this that worldly business must be laid aside, that we may be entire for, and intent upon, that work, which requires and deserves the whole man. 3. They must herein be very circumspect: “Take heed to yourselves, watch against every thing that borders upon the profanation of the sabbath.” Where God is jealous we must be cautious. “Take heed to yourselves, for it is at your peril if you rob God of that part of your time which he has reserved to himself.” Take heed to your souls (so the word is); in order to the right sanctifying of sabbaths, we must look well to the frame of our spirits and have a watchful eye upon all the motions of the inward man. Let not the soul be burdened with the cares of this world on sabbath days, but let that be employed, even all that is within us, in the work of the day. And, 4. He refers them to the law, the statute in this case made and provided: “This is no new imposition upon you, but is what I commanded your fathers; it is an ancient law; it was an article of the original contract; nay, it was a command to the patriarchs.”
II. How the sabbath had been profaned (Jer. 17:23): “Your fathers were required to keep holy the sabbath day, but they obeyed not; they hardened their necks against this as well as other commands that were given them.” This is mentioned to show that there needed a reformation in this matter, and that God had a just controversy with them for the long transgression of this law which they had been guilty of. They hardened their necks against this command, that they might not hear and receive instruction concerning other commands. Where sabbaths are neglected all religion sensibly goes to decay.
III. What blessings God had in store for them if they would make conscience of sabbath-sanctification. Though their fathers had been guilty of the profanation of the sabbath they should not only not smart for it, but their city and nation should recover its ancient glory, if they would keep sabbaths better, Jer. 17:24-26. Let them take care to hallow the sabbath and do no work therein; and then, 1. The court shall flourish. Kings in succession, or the many branches of the royal family at the same time, all as great as kings, with the other princes that sit upon the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David (Ps. 122:5), shall ride in great pomp through the gates of Jerusalem, some in chariots and some on horses, attended with a numerous retinue of the men of Judah. Note, The honour of the government is the joy of the kingdom; and the support of religion would contribute greatly to both. 2. The city shall flourish. Let there be a face of religion kept up in Jerusalem, by sabbath-sanctification, that it may answer to its title, the holy city, and then it shall remain for ever, shall for ever be inhabited (so the word may be rendered); it shall not be destroyed and dispeopled, as it is threatened to be. Whatever supports religion tends to establish the civil interests of a land. 3. The country shall flourish: The cities of Judah and the land of Benjamin shall be replenished with vast numbers of inhabitants, and those abounding in plenty and living in peace, which will appear by the multitude and value of their offerings, which they shall present to God. By this the flourishing of a country may be judged of, What does it do for the honour of God? Those that starve their religion either are poor or are in a fair way to be so. 4. The church shall flourish: Meat-offerings, and incense, and sacrifices of praise, shall be brought to the house of the Lord, for the maintenance of the service of that house and the servants that attend it. God’s institutions shall be conscientiously observed; no sacrifice nor incense shall be offered to idols, nor alienated from God, but every thing shall go in the right channel. They shall have both occasion and hearts to bring sacrifices of praise to God. This is made an instance of their prosperity. Then a people truly flourish when religion flourishes among them. And this is the effect of sabbath-sanctification; when that branch of religion is kept up other instances of it are kept up likewise; but, when that is lost, devotion is lost either in superstition or in profaneness. It is a true observation, which some have made, that the streams of all religion run either deep or shallow according as the banks of the sabbath are kept up or neglected.
IV. What judgments they must expect would come upon them if they persisted in the profanation of the sabbath (Jer. 17:27): “If you will not hearken to me in this matter, to keep the gates shut on sabbath days, so that there may be no unnecessary entering in, or going out, on that day—if you will break through the enclosure of the divine law, and lay that day in common with other days—know that God will kindle a fire in the gates of your city,” intimating that it shall be kindled by an enemy besieging the city and assaulting the gates, who shall take this course to force an entrance. Justly shall those gates be fired that are not used as they ought to be to shut out sin and to keep people in to an attendance on their duty. This fire shall devour even the palaces of Jerusalem, where the princes and nobles dwelt, who did not use their power and interest as they ought to have done to keep up the honour of God’s sabbaths; but it shall not be quenched until it has laid the whole city in ruins. This was fulfilled by the army of the Chaldeans, Jer. 52:13. The profanation of the sabbath is a sin for which God has often contended with a people by fire.