The Lord’s Day
A brief and common inquiry into understanding the perpetuity and change of the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day as presented in the Old and New Testaments.
By Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
The American culture is engrossed with its varied freedoms. These freedoms are the signature mark of the country, even from its inception as a nation. However, in subsequent years, morality has become more and more abhorred, or rather, it is has become more and more a matter of personal taste. Freedom has become licentiousness. This appears as a result of post-modernity’s relativistic mindset. What is right for some is not right for others. What morals one person may hold may not necessarily be the same set of morals for another. Those who attend church are not immune to this relativism. Christian people who live in the world will be affected by the world in some degree or another. That is why the Apostle James tells us that we should keep ourselves from being spotted by the world, or why the Apostle John exhorts us “not [to] love the world or anything in the world.” The world can have a varied affect on the mindset of the Christian. Not only are Christians subject to subversive worldviews but a large amount of pressure faces them by the mere fact that the church is not like the world and the world takes notice. 1 Peter 4:4 tells us “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you:” The world thinks it is a strange thing when the Christian acts in a manner different than the world. When Christians set themselves apart from sin, the world takes notice. Such is the obvious witness of keeping a day holy unto the Lord.
One affect of post-modernity can be seen in the attitude that most of Christendom holds towards the moral law of God. Not only is there widespread ignorance about the Law, but there is a great amount of detestation against it. And of all the aspects of the moral law which are detested, one is singled out as being utterly abolished by the coming of Christ and of the dispensation of grace: it is the 4th commandment. Though the need to take up the issue of the moral Law as a whole and apply it to the life of the church is ever pressing upon 21st century Christendom, my intention here is to restrict my time to the 4th commandment. It may serve as a litmus test to the way some ignore the Law all together, or others use sly theological tactics to dismiss it as part of the Jewish ceremonial regulations given to Theocratic Israel. Some, like the heretical Antinomians, reject the Law altogether appealing to the theological position that the church is now under grace and does not need the Law. Others, who are partial Antinomians, reject one or two of the commandments, but keep the rest. This form of relativism plagues the church and will continue to weaken it. As the prescription for holiness, the 10 commandments, is rejected, the church will continue to act more and more like the world it lives in. I am certainly not espousing that the keeping of the Law will result in the justification of the believer. No, certainly not. The life of Jesus Christ and His atonement satisfy the requirements of the Law for those for whom He died. But that is not to say that since Christ died for me I am able to murder, kill, dishonor my parents, or dishonor the Sabbath. I am still bound to obedience, but not legalism.
In this paper I desire to set forth some summary statements and theological ideas which I believe show the unmovable character of the moral law, and the 4th commandment specifically in the life of the believer. Believers are not exempt from the moral Law of God. Even pagans are not exempt from the moral Law of God. But there are many who, in their desire to obey Christ, keep nine of the ten commandments, believing that the Sabbath has been abrogated in the New Testament. I desire to show that this idea is foreign to the Bible, and that the destruction of one commandment is the destruction of the entire Decalogue. Also, I will demonstrate the doctrinal position surrounding the 4th commandment, and the application of it in the Old Testament and New Testament.
When the task of building a house has begun, the laborers start building the house by installing the windows. After this, the roof is put on, then the walls are erected, then the foundation is laid, and then the electrical and plumbing is installed. Now those who are thinking people know that this is certainly not the way in which a house is built. The house must first be planned, then the ground cleared, the sand poured and leveled, the mold set, the foundation poured, and so on. The structure of the house is not built until all is in place, and even then, some of the last parts of the house are things such as windows and the roof. Houses are built from the drawing board up.
I have had the privilege of teaching the material you are about to read in a class for young adults in a reformed Baptist Church. Having grown up in the church, those attending the class knew the 4th commandment very well. The Law is reiterated twice in the Pentateuch (Exodus 20 and Deut 5). The commandment is recorded this way in Exodus 20:8, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” The group I was teaching had memorized their catechism and they had lived in a church environment which encouraged and disciplined them to keep the Sabbath holy. The day was referred to as the “Lord’s Day” being the designation of the New Testament early church and their example for meeting after the resurrection of Christ. However, though one grows up in the church surrounded and engrained by such ideas, many questions arise on this point when children mature into young adults. As a result of this, in my first class, we began with prayer, and then I drew upon a white-board with blue markers for illustrative purposes. I made two columns, one marked “do’s” and the other marked “don’ts”. Then I turned to the class and asked them what I should write concerning the acceptable and non-acceptable practices of the Lord’s Day. Some responded with a desire to see what my list looked like and prompted me to scribble down the do’s and don’ts from my personal “list.” They sat in eager expectation of the list I would create and unburden them with the responsibility of having think about the principles and practices of the Lord’s Day themselves. I took my eraser and erased the board and then sat down. No doubt, those attending the class were disappointed. They wanted a “list” of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable on the Lord’s Day before we had even discovered from the Bible that there was such a thing as the Christian Sabbath. They wanted to know if they could buy butter on the Lord’s Day if butter was not a mandatory “necessity” for the meal. I told them they would have to wait until the end of the series before making that decision.
Studying the sabbath cannot be done by assumption. The Puritan’s wrote vigorously on the subject of the 4th commandment, with the exception of a select few (and to my disappointment John Bunyan denied the 4th commandment as part of the moral Law, though he accepted the Lord’s Day with vigor). The Puritans upheld the teaching that the moral Law of God was binding on every Christian for obedience, but not for justification. Thus, their assessment demonstrated that the 4th commandment was binding from the beginning, and then continued into the New Testament as The Lord’s Day. In their endeavor to preach, teach and write concerning this doctrine of the “Lord’s Day” they relied on the Bible. Their adherence to the Reformation’s “Sola Scriptura” shined through brilliantly regarding this doctrine. Most Reformed Theologians in holding to the solas of the Reformation, apply this to the moral Law and the 4th commandment as well. Most Reformed Theologians through the last 500 years of church history hold, or held, that there is such a thing as the Christian Sabbath. In traversing even further than this to the very inception of the New Testament church, we will find that the second generation church also held this view as well. But this was not for the sake of tradition, but because they had a steady conviction that the Bible was true. Shall we trust history or the words of the Bible? If there a question as to whether the Christian Sabbath exists or not, or if the 4th commandment is truly binding upon the Christian, then let the Scriptures speak and they will vindicate themselves.
The Nature of God’s Revealed Will
I believe most Christians would like a manual for their life. I know some may say that the Bible is their manual for life, but that is not what I mean. Some would like a Bible just for themselves; a manual which explicitly told them what to do in every circumstance and in every situation. The Bible would voluminous if God were to specifically and intricately answer every question for every instance. However, God gave us a book which not only does tell us things explicitly, (like do not murder), but He also teaches us things implicitly as well (like hating someone is murder). Sometimes we must pick at the mind of God to arrive at the answers we desire and seek. We do not have every answer explicitly and intricately stated for every individual in every situation, but we do have the general teachings which contain explicit instructions for every area of life. Some teachings are just not as plain as others. It would be nice if every doctrine were explicit and straight forward, but not every doctrine is that way. We would love to have a clear revelation of every doctrine in the Bible. We would take greater comfort to point to chapter and verse which state plainly the doctrine at hand. But with many things in the Bible this is not so. Sometimes we must dig deep into the recess of the Bible, harmonizing the Old Testament with the New Testament in order to come to an understanding concerning a given doctrine.
How would you answer this question, “Is God sovereign as to the manner in which He will speak to His people in His Word?” I hope you would answer in the affirmative. God is sovereign in the way He speaks to His people. He has spoken to them in the Word, and the Word of God demonstrates the authority of God in every area of our life. When God speaks to us in His Word, in expressed terms, or in saying several other things which necessarily imply the truth, and from which we may plainly perceive it, should we listen? It is very easy to listen when God says “Love your neighbor.” Jesus is explicit when he explains many of the commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. He preaches about not murdering, then explains that we should not hate our brother as well. This seems straight forward no matter how much we may not like our brother. Christ also tells us that we should love our enemies. Though it be hard, it is not cryptic. However, there are doctrines contained in the Word of God which are very difficult to understand. For instance, there is no chapter and verse which states, “God is one God in three persons, all of one substance, but as Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” We do have a number of verses, which, if compiled together gives us an excellent doctrine of the Trinity; we can be sure of it as it is revealed in the Word of God. Another difficult doctrine is the hypostatic union. How do the natures of Jesus Christ as man and God fit together? What is the glue that binds them? We find references in John 1 which tell us that Jesus is the Word and that He dwelt among us, but there are no direct, specific verses which state exactly how His natures stick together. We believe the doctrine through the many Scriptures compiled together which emphatically demonstrates that Jesus had both a human and divine nature. However, chapter and verse of their explanation is not found. Does this mean we should discard these doctrines? Certainly not.
If God reveals something to His people in a way that facilitates their ability to understand what He says, He should be obeyed, even if it is not expressed in plain terms. Whether the Bible explicatively states the doctrine or idea, or we must take great pains in understanding the doctrine, in either case, God is sovereign in the way He has revealed Himself to us and the doctrine should be obeyed. Simply because the doctrine is cryptic, or exegetically difficult, does not warrant, in any fashion, that we may reject the doctrine. The doctrine of the Christian Sabbath is very difficult and exegetically tedious. It is a hard doctrine to master and may take a Christian years to understand as they traverse the various Scriptures and exegete the meat, and necessary inferences, which build the doctrine together. The point thus far is this, no matter how God reveals His commandments and doctrines in the Bible, it is still our responsibility to know them thoroughly, however long it takes.
How important is the 4th commandment? If you are an anti-sabbatarian, and you have not studied this doctrine, and the doctrine turns out to be right, then if you were to live to be 49, 7 years of your life would have been lived in flagrant violation of the moral law. When one law is broken, they are all broken. The 4th commandment regulates a 7th of life. We cannot afford to be confused on this point. If the doctrine of the Christian Sabbath is revealed in the Bible, no matter how cryptically or explicitly it may be seen, it ought to be observed. If such a great portion of your life is regulated by such a command in obedience to Christ, then the Christian is bound to be thoroughly acquainted with such an important doctrine for life and godliness. It is hard enough not to sin each day. How greater is Christ’s atonement for sin if we dismiss a seventh of our life obligation to Him in profaning the service of the Lord’s Day? We would have nailed Him to the cross all the more.
It is also worthy to note that one must be exceedingly careful when dealing with the moral Law. Jesus said that if we break one of the least of these commandments, and teach others to do so, we will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” This is no small matter. We must have a clear and biblically founded understanding of the moral Law and of the 4th commandment lest we cause weaker brothers to stumble and bring shame upon ourselves as ones who will be called least in God’s Kingdom. If we are not sure about the doctrine and would not be able to silence the gainsayer on the issues brought up concerning the doctrine, then we should hold our opinions until a later time when it is clear in our mind. Many preachers today, most in fact, do not believe in the binding nature and design of the moral Law. They preach an Antinomian Gospel which echoes time and time again that the church is not under the Law but under grace. This idea will be taken up later and in more detail. In any case, the propagation of this idea is quite extensive in Christendom today. Mix this with the relativism of secularism and you have a very difficult theological battle to deal with on this exegetically difficult doctrine. And it must be noted, those who are anti-sabbatarians would be compelled and obliged to say that Sabbatarians are “least” in the Kingdom of heaven because they cause men to stumble. They are obliged to believe we are lesser Christians as a result of the command of Christ. Are they ready to accuse us of such things?
The Indispensability of the Moral Law
God’s special government to rational creatures is different than those of a rock or tree. It is a special government because men can think rationally. Thus, God enters into a relationship with them through laws. Rational creatures are ruled by laws which obligate obedience before God. These laws they are obliged to follow. God is not impartial in these morals laws, but imposes them on every rational creature.
The Creator commands the obedience of the creature. This is the Creator/creature distinction which is evident from the light of nature. Since there is a Creator, and we are creatures, we are to obey His commands. Those obligations imposed upon rational creatures are called commands or laws. The commands demonstrate the unique relationship the creature has with the Creator. All things have a relationship to God. Rocks, trees, squirrels, rivers, etc, all have some type of relationship with the Creator. Men, however, have a unique relationship being rational creatures. Adam was fashioned in a way in which he was able to freely enter into a relationship with the Creator. God placed Adam in the garden and imposed on him certain obligations. Genesis 2:16-17 says, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Adam was not to eat of the tree. God did not restrict him from making a house out of the wood, or to study the bark, or to dissect the fruit. God never forbid him to abstain from scientific study of the tree in the midst of the garden – but He did command Him not to eat it. It was Eve, in her confusion about what God had said, who told the serpent that they were to not “touch it.” God had never said that, nor implied it.
Adam entered into what is known as a covenant with God – a relationship based on stipulations. Adam’s covenant is a covenant of works. He was commanded not to do something, and did it anyway. As a result, he fell from grace and all his progeny with him. Genesis 3:23-24, “Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” The Westminster Larger Catechism says this of the moral law in question 92, “What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience? Answer: The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:17; Rom. 2:14-15; 10:5).” Thus we see that covenants which God will make with men are managed by laws.
Many contend that the moral Law was given at Sinai and that the Jews alone were privileged with the “law” of God. In some sense, like receiving the special revelation of God, this is true. However, the moral law is not bound by special revelation. Natural law, and conscience, play a large part in understanding this. Paul’s arguments in Romans 2:14 (“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.”) concerning the law is important. If men do not have the tablets of the Law does this mean that they are free to do what they please? Do Gentile barbarians have a freedom to kill? Are they free from the charge? There are a great many tribes still living in the deep woods of Africa and South America who are barbarous. They have never heard of Christ, or of the Law of God. Are they excused from the Law? Not at all. (Rom. 3:31; 7:25; 13:8-10; I Cor. 9:21; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 6:2-3; I John 2:3-4, 7; Rom. 3:20; 7:7-8 and I John 3:4 with Rom. 6:15)
God governs the moral nature of all men through His Laws. These Laws will regulate everything men do, whether they obey or disobey. The Gentiles do not need the tablets of the Law to be regulated by the moral Law. They become a law unto themselves in such cases (study Romans 2:14). In these Laws God governs rational creatures in two ways: partly in making the Law itself and partly in establishing it. A law is made by commanding or forbidding. God commands or forbids certain actions, thoughts, and intents among men. But a law is also established by promising or threatening something. This is what it means to enter into a covenant with God through His special government with rational creatures. For instance, in Genesis 2:16-17 God commands Adam not to eat of the tree, then promises life to him, “do this and live”. The opposite of this is equally true. There is the threat and promise “violate this command and die.”
God’s revealed mind to us of His character
God’s unique relationship with men is based in and through Laws which reflect His character. What is the character of God’s image in the hearts of men? What should it reflect? God’s character is the pattern of what God’s image should be in man. Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy as I am Holy.” This is reiterated in the New Testament by the Apostle in 1 Peter 1:15. The nature of God determines what is morally right, and then the will of God imposes that standard upon His creatures as a moral obligation. What is right is not deemed good by God’s decree and command, but His decree and command set forth what His nature already reflects as good and right. How then may we define the moral Law of God? “The Law of God is the perfect reflection of His nature and will and binds all rational creatures to perfect conformity in character and conduct.” The Westminster Larger Catechism states this in question 91, “What is the duty which God requireth of man? Answer: The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will (Rom. 12:1-2; Micah 6:8; I Sam. 15:22).”
The Law of God defined in this way is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. It would be recommended that the reader complete a study of the numerous times which the Old Testament uses the various phrases “the law,” “the Law of Moses,” “the Law of God”, etc. The Larger Catechism explains it this way in question 93, “What is the moral law? Answer: The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding everyone to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it. (Deut. 5:1-3, 31, 33; Luke 10:26-27; Gal. 3:10; I Thess. 5:23; Luke 1:75; Acts 14:16; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10, 12)
The moral law is plainly revealed in the Bible as that which is binding for all time and for all men. The 4th commandment in particular will bear this out later being an ordinance from the beginning of creation. But since the fall in Adam, the law continues to be effective in the lives of men even though the formal tablets of the law were not given until 400 years later. Otherwise, Adam’ s banishment, Cain’s punishment for killing his brother, Lamech’s rebellion, Noah’s drunkenness and the like could not be judged by the moral law. God’s punishment of Cain is ill warranted. But we know this is a fallacy. God says to Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” (Genesis 4:6) Later, God curses him for his transgression, “And now art thou cursed from the earth,” (Genesis 4:11). As a result of this, the effect of the moral Law ought to stop every murderous hand from committing sin. But Cain was punished and marked as a transgressor, as a wicked man. Later, Lamech boasts that he is much more wicked than Cain and ought to be punished seven times more. Not only does he exemplify this wicked attitude, but he revels in the thought as well. Another passage in Genesis 6:5 says, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In this passage alone concerning the Deluge (the flood which was to come), the wickedness of man was great in the earth. How do we know what wickedness is? How did Noah know that men were wicked? Why did Noah preach to them? (2 Peter 2:5) He did so because the moral Law does not need tablets of stone to be binding on the hearts of men. The Larger Catechism says this in question 94, “Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall? Answer: Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law; yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 2:16; I Tim. 1:8).”
No one who has read through the Bible can deny that the Law is plainly revealed in the Scriptures. Exodus 20 and Deut 5 both reiterate the moral law in its entirety. Notice that the reiteration of the moral Law to the people of Israel in Deut. 5 is not the Levitical ceremonial law or the national judicial law, but the moral law first given in Exodus 20. This is the everlasting and continually binding moral Law of God upon all rational creatures. It is perfect, Psalm 19:7, “the law is perfect.” Christ came to fulfill this law perfectly in his active obedience, Matthew 5:17 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Nothing may be added to this at all, or taken away from it, Rom. 13:9ff says, “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is the whole of the second table of the Law, and all rational creatures are to abide by it.
How much of the Moral Law are we to keep?
Ask a Christian who is an anti-sabbatarian these questions: Should we worship other gods such as Molech or Chemosh? Should we make golden calves and bow down to them? Shall we use the name of God in a profane manner? Shall we rebel against our parents? Shall we murder, commit adultery, fornicate, lie, steal, or covet another’s possessions? If it seems so clear to the Christian that is addressed these questions that such commandments ought not to be broken, how then do they square this with New Testament’s instruction concerning the law? If the 4th commandment contains an allowable exclusivity from being kept in the New Testament, why then, are other laws excluded from the same warrant since the whole 10 constitute the moral Law in the Old Testament? In James 2:10 we are told that he who breaks one commandment breaks the whole Law. This is binding on the Christian. James does not say, “He who breaks one commandment, except for the 4th, breaks the whole law.” Jesus Christ nor His apostles ever abrogated the 4th commandment. Some attempt to reason that since the New Testament does not formally speak about the 4th commandment, and teaching concerning its adherence is not stated then we can dismiss it. But this is an unattainable fallacy.
The Law is not done away with but rather fulfilled in Christ. Jesus kept every commandment, including the Sabbath, and fulfilled the requirements of those commandments before God perfectly. Even the Christian establishes the law by his obedience, Romans 3:31 states, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
Is there a need for the moral Law? Or are we under grace?
Appeal is made to the grace of Christ in the New Testament in order to avoid the duty of heeding the moral law. The belief of Antinomians, or Semi-Antinomians, is that since Christ has died for us, then we are not obligated to keep the Law; we are under the Gospel dispensation and under the grace of Christ in this new church age. As a result of this dispensational mindset, many throw away the Law altogether. They believe it is not binding and live a life of carnality under the guise of Christianity. The reader may recall the past controversy over Lordship Salvation which arose concerning this issue. Others who are not totally Antinomian, remove certain laws they dislike from the 10 commandments. For instance, Roman Catholics remove the second commandment (Thou shalt not many unto thee any graven images) since much of their liturgy contains images of the saints and of Christ’s cross as a crucifix. Some remove the 4th commandment because they dislike the idea that God regulates the entire day and that worship should be given to God through the entirety of the whole day. Anti-sabbatarians do not like the idea since that would mean activities such as homework, mowing the lawn, going to Superbowl parties, birthday parties and like, would be excluded. This is not attractive to many since their work week is so “short” and they need the whole “weekend” to accomplish their own pleasures, designs and desires. However, Anti-sabbatarians do not really live out their position. For example, I do not know of one Anti-sabbatarian who’s conscience would be unaffected by attending church on Sunday morning then immediately going to the amusement park right after church. Most Anti-sabbatarians would not be so liberal on the Lord’s Day. They would use the day for their own personal recreation, but not to the extreme of attending an amusement park. Do they really believe their position then? If the Lord’s Day is simply another day, why would the amusement park be a hindrance right after taking communion in church?
Though John Bunyan is exegetically weak in his understanding of the moral law, even he said “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Savior.” Ignorance concerning the law will procure a number of wrong theological conclusions all throughout Biblical theology. For instance, sin is the transgression of the Law. Therefore, if there is no Law then there is no sin. Justification is the verdict of the Law. Therefore, if there is no Law, there will be no need for justification. Sanctification is the believer’s fulfillment of the Law. If there is not Law, there will be no need to be sanctified. Galatians 3:23-25 states, “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” Paul says that the Law was tutoring us towards the fulfillment in Jesus Christ. After Christ came in fulfilling and establishing the Law, the tutoring ended. Christ redeems us from the curse of the Law which we cannot fulfill, then leads us by the hand back to the Law that we may be obedient to it as a result of our new life in Him. The Law, now, does not justify us – Christ did that – rather, the Law now sanctifies us that we may reflect the character of God seen in the Law we are keeping. This is called holiness.
Natural Law and the Sabbath
If any argument is brought up against the continuity of the moral law in order to discard the 4th commandment, the one which is used most is the appeal to reason. There are appeals to the Theocratic Ceremonial Law and to certain New Testament passages which will be discussed later, but the appeal to reason and to natural theology is often the first to be utilized against Sabbath keeping. The argument goes like this: since natural men cannot, by the light of nature, abide by this commandment since they would have no idea that a Sabbath exists, then the law itself is not moral, but ceremonial. Thus, since the ceremonial law is abolished in Jesus Christ, the need to keep the Sabbath, in any form, is abolished as well. To his detriment, this is the argument that John Bunyan used being one of the very few exceptions to Puritan theology at that time concerning the 4th commandment. (Note: John Bunyan was a strict adherer to the Lord’s Day, but he did not believe this was as a result of the association to the 4th commandment. He took his proof from the New Testament passages which speak of the Lord’s Day. However, without the foundation of the 4th commandment, Bunyan simply contradicts himself in saying the Christian is “bound” by a New Testament Lord’s Day since he refutes himself in saying there is not moral obligation to do so under the Law. However, Bunyan’s line of reasoning is ill-founded.)
In the light of nature we are able to use certain arguments to prove the existence of God. In proving the existence of God in these various ways, rational men may come to know the invisible attributes and divine power of God (cf. Romans 1:18ff). Some say that this kind of reasoning is not applicable to the 4th commandment. They say “Men cannot rationally come to an understanding of the 4th commandment through the light of nature – they need special revelation in the Scriptures to understand this.” It is true that every person cannot come to a comprehensive Biblical theology on every one of the commandments from the light of nature. However, just as we come to a knowledge that there is a God, we can know that he ought to be worshipped and at an appointed time separate from other times. If this is true, then the nature of the moral law seen in the 4th commandment is eternally binding. As it is revealed in Exodus 20 and Deut. 5 the 4th commandment would be included with the rest of the eternally binding commandments. If there is warrant from natural theology in any respect concerning the 4th commandment, then it is still a part of the moral Law.
Let us first use the idea of business to set a precedence. Can the affairs of business be adequately contrived while sleeping? If I go to the grocery store and want to buy milk, can the cashier both be sleeping and sell me milk at the same time? Obviously not. The two actions are mutually exclusive. Must there be an engagement of the mind on the action to sell me milk? Absolutely. Is there a set and appointed time of business in general? Yes there is. If I go to the grocery store and read their hours of operation they are open for business from 6:00am to 11:00pm. If I arrive at the store and desire that the cashier allow me to buy milk at 2:00am I will not obtain my milk. The cashier is home in bed sleeping. So I must ask myself “Is one time better than another for buying milk to take place?” I am obliged to answer in the affirmative. It is much better to buy milk during the hours of operation than to stand outside a closed grocery store at 2:00am. I am further obliged to ask if this is exclusive to the United States? I am obliged to say “no it is not.” Is this exclusive to any one in any country in particular? I am obliged again to say “No.” When people are sleeping, they cannot sell me any milk and give me change and a receipt for my purchase. I then would ask, “Is this the norm through the entire history of the world?” Again, if I am cognitively alert, the answer is “Yes.” One time is better than another for buying milk no matter where I am in the world or at what period of history.
The illustration above is not without its proper use. In thinking about the 10 commandments we see that the 1st commandment regards the object of worship, the 2nd commandment regards the means of worship, the third regards the manner and the 4th regards the time of worship. Can I, through the light of reason, know that the Creator who created the world and all things it in, who has demonstrated His invisible attributes and divine power throughout creation, requires a time to worship Him? The answer is “Yes, absolutely.” If there is a Creator, and I know this, then I am bound to worship Him. He is the Creator who deserves worship. I am obliged, as a created being to worship the One who created me. I can know many things about this Creator – all of His invisible attributes (eternality, invisibility, infiniteness, perfection, etc) are clearly seen. As I come to a knowledge about Him, then I ought to worship Him. We see this in the various tribal cults through Africa and South America – men who have some light about a Creator begin to worship. Men are intrinsically made in that light – they need religion (cf. Romans 1:18ff).
As a result of my knowledge concerning the Creator/creature distinction, I am obliged to worship the God who made the universe, and who made me. I would reason in this manner: “Should there be fixed times spent in formal worship to this God? Yes, because He is the Creator and deserves that worship. Can I formally worship God and sleep at the same time? No I cannot. Can I be about other business and formally worship God at the same time? No I cannot. Must I set aside a time for worship? Yes, I must.” The 4th commandment then enhances the light of nature and tell me exactly when that time is to be – one day in seven. The light of nature can tell me there is a formal time to worship God apart from other times, but the only thing it cannot tell me is the length of time for that worship. It is not known unless God reveals it in special revelation. The same is said for God Himself – men are able to know He exists, but a fuller revelation of His nature and will is only revealed in the Bible. This does not abrogate the nature of God because it is not completely seen and understood by the light of nature.
The next question I should asked as a redeemed Christian concerning this commandment is this, “Should there be fixed times spent by the church for religious exercises?” The answer is an ardent “Yes!” We know from special revelation that the church should meet together during the congregations stated meetings (cf. Hebrews 10:25; Acts 2:42). We are also aware that the light of nature says we should be engaged in formal worship. This means we cannot sleep and formally worship God, or buy milk and formally worship God, at the same time (cf. John 4:24). We know the mind ought not to be engaged with other things simultaneously while we are worshipping the Creator, lest we dishonor Him and sin. Is it then fair to say that there are suitable times to worship? Most assuredly. Are certain times more suitable than others? Again, most assuredly. Why is this so? We can implement the idea of work here in contrast to worship. Should we work and gather for worship at the same time? No. Why? Because we cannot give ourselves to formal worship if we are working at our jobs, or doing homework, or watching TV. Is it fair to say that these times should be fixed and settled, that church may agree that time set should be the same for all? Definitely. Why is this so? This is so not only because the special revelation of God commands us to assemble when the church meets (Heb 10:24-25) but the light of nature tells us that we would be interrupted if this were not so, and chaos would reign. For example, Men would interrupt one another and the formal worship of God could never be done corporately. Let us imagine that a church has 3 elders. Each elder has 10 people which like to listen to their sermons in particular. All 33 people (3 elders plus 30 people) make up one body or one church. What if at 10:30 Pastor Harry stepped up to the podium with his 10 people listening in the pew and began preaching. This would seem fine. However, at 10:45 Pastor John stands beside Pastor Harry and begins preaching as well. 10 more people join the ranks in the pew and there to be 2 preachers preaching at once. But at 11:00am Pastor Frank stands up at the same pulpit with Pastor Harry and Pastor John and his 10 people take their places in the pew with the others. He then begins preaching. There are 3 men preaching 3 sermons off the same pulpit. Is this not chaos? Thus, we know that one time of formal worship is better than other times of formal worship. The preachers need to take turns. They cannot all preach at one time. There must be a set time of formal worship for God agreed upon between the people and the pastors, otherwise, formal worship cannot take place.
The next question we would be faced with is the frequency of worship. Is once a year too often? Once a month? Once a week? Once a Day? Once an hour? What is suitable to this? We know from the light of nature that some proportion of time, whether exactly known or not, is better than another. We can come to understand, though, that one length of time is better than another. How so? Ask yourself this question, “Is one hour an acceptable length of time for a Sabbath Day, or not?” Since the majority of Christendom dislikes the 4th commandment the answer to this is “Yes. A 20 minute sermon, a few announcements, prayer and a few songs is enough for a Sabbath.” However, after scrutinizing this, the answer must be “Absolutely not.” One hour is not enough time. How would the light of nature show this? We know there is a distinction between things of the world and the things of formal worship. We have been discussing how the light of nature shows us that we should set aside a time of worship. That “setting aside” shows us there are other worldly pursuits which we engaged in. One hour would not be enough time to formally worship the Creator because worldly things would crowd in too much onto spiritual things. Jonathan Edwards says rightly that there would not be enough time to properly focus the mind on God, and we would be about worldly things again too quickly. Formal worship would not impact us as it should. Our minds would be clouded by the business of other things too quickly afterward, or too soon before the gathering for formal worship. Things being so short, that which is the “worldly” would mix with that which is “religious.”
So we see the light of nature teaches us much about a time of formal worship. It shows us there should be a time to worship God apart from other times. There should be an orderliness to it. There should be a specific length of time for it. God’s special revelation will fill in the blanks and enhance this moral command to worship one day out of seven as we look at the Scriptures themselves.
Genesis 2, subsequent years, and the Sabbath of God
The 4th commandment has its origins in the creation ordinance of God. But before we link the special revelation of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 with the creation ordinance itself, I would like to deal with the Genesis accounts. Genesis 2:1-3 states, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” God creates the world then rests. The day on which He rested is the seventh day. It is a special day blessed by Him and sanctified by Him. First, is God to be obeyed by example alone? Ephesians 5:1 says we are to be “imitators of God” as beloved children. If God acts, then we ought to act, as much as is humanly possible, to step in accord with those actions. If God is holy we should be holy. Calvin rightly says, “It is no small stimulus to any action, for a man to know that he is imitating his Creator.” What then is the pattern which God has established before the fall of man from the Garden? The pattern is this: work six days and rest one day.
What kind of day was the seventh day? The seventh day was a holy day, hallowed by God, different than the six previous. In other words, God separated the whole day for a special reason which included holiness and blessing. He separated it from secular and common use and dedicated it to divine worship. How do we come to this conclusion? Blessing and sanctification are done for man not for God. Would God have been robbed of something if He did not make the seventh day for Himself or hallowed it? Certainly not. The Sabbath was made for Adam, not God. By this example, Adam should work six days and rest one.
This, being a creation ordinance, before sin entered the world, is binding upon all men. This was not only for Adam, but for Adam and all his progeny. Adam loved God perfectly while in innocence, with all his mind and strength, and he was issued the Sabbath, a holy resting day devoted solely to the separation of formal worship before God, his Creator. If this day was so important for Adam, especially being in the state of innocence, is it then more valuable for a fallen man? Assuredly. The very first day that Adam enjoyed was the Sabbath Day. On the sixth day he was created, on the seventh he rested on the day God rested. We often forget this. God made man to enjoy the Sabbath rest.
At this point, the gainsayer leaps in and then states that for the next 450 years there is no mention of the Sabbath at any time. This proves that the Sabbath was not binding upon men until the Law given at Sinai. My response, first, would be this, “Would silence necessarily dictate that it was not so?” The gainsayer says “Yes.” Scriptures disagrees with him. For instance, how are men forgiven? Men are forgiven by blood sacrifices. Well, since the time of Abel until the flood, which is a span of over 1500 years, there is no mention in the Scriptures at all of blood sacrifices. Does this mean blood sacrifices were not needed for the forgiveness of sin? Or, from the death of Moses until Jeremiah (8 centuries) there is no mention of circumcision. Does this mean God did not desire men to be circumcised? Or, the Sabbath day, after the Law is given, is not mentioned in Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel and 1 Kings— does this mean that silence dictates to us that there was no Sabbath even after the law given? Absolutely not.
The argument from silence that the Patriarchs did not observe the Sabbath is an exegetically poor position, and indefensible. The pattern set by God in Genesis 2 echoes through the entire book of Genesis. In Genesis 4:3 we find this, “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.” The words “process of time” are literally translated “end of days.” At the end of days, Cain offered a sacrifice for formal worship. This is very interesting though not conclusive. However, it definitely indicates that Cain offered formal sacrifice for worship with his brother Abel at the “end of days.” Could this be a allusion to the Sabbath? Possibly.
What importance does the number 7 have through the book? The number seven is very important all through the Bible, not only Genesis. But in the book of Genesis it is used frequently: in 7:2 there are 7 clean animals; in 7:4 there are 7 days (For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights.); in 8:10, 12 there are 7 more days (And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark.); in 29:27, a wedding festival lasted through one week; we also notice that 7 is a length of time customary for domestic service with Jacob and Laban; in 50:10, there is a week used for a funeral. Why the number 7? Why one week? Why not two weeks or 12 days? Why not 4 days? Because the pattern of the seven days is set by God as a pre-fallen creation ordinance which the Patriarchs were well acquainted. But how do we know they kept the Sabbath? We find the answer to this among the Israelites before they received the moral Law.
In Exodus 12:3-20, we find the institution of the Passover when as yet there were no Levitical institutions appointed to last a week. The Passover was one week long, and this is known before the Law is formally given, or the ceremonial law was in place. But more interestingly, Exodus 16:22-30 demonstrates that the Israelites knew how to prepare and keep the Sabbath before the Law had been given. In the account of the manna, the Sabbath was enforced even before they settled at Sinai to receive the Law. The text is as follows, “And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.” It must be seen that the people gathered twice as much manna on the sixth day before Moses or elders told them to do so. Verse 22 shows that the rulers went to Moses to tell him what the people were already doing. This was done before they had been told by the elders to do it! Their doing so was what prompted the elders to inquire of Moses about the subject! Next, verse 29 shows the past tense of the verb concerning Moses’ inquiry about the people’s action. “The Lord has given you”, the verb is past tense. The people of Israel already knew about the Sabbath. And is it not interesting that God allowed a double portion to be given to them on the sixth day before He told them what the seventh day was even about? The Israelites acted upon God’s already established ordinance and gathered a double portion before they had been instructed by the Law to do so. How did they know? Because they knew of the creation ordinance which is binding upon them, and all men, for all time. Why did God give them a double portion without saying what this double portion was for? They should have known due to the creation ordinance in Genesis 2.
God’s Clarity of the 4th commandment
Is the command moral or ceremonial? Is God clear in His presentation of the Jewish Sabbath to His people? Yes, God is very clear. The Old Testament witnesses to this Jewish Sabbath over 100 times. This Jewish Sabbath is also given to the Israelites more clearly in the formal Law and is moral in its nature. It is that aspect of the first table of the Law which gives the length of time of worship. (Remember, object, means, manner and time make up the first table of the Law.) The definition of the Law, again, is “The law of God is the perfect reflection of His nature and will and binds all rational creatures to perfect conformity in character and conduct.” This Law is not excluded from the other 9. It is part of the Decalogue. God did not give this Law during the ceremonial procedures or Levitical Laws concerning judiciary circumstances. It was given as part of the table of the covenant. It is remarkable that it is placed in the middle of the code instead of at the end or beginning. Possibly, one may desire to throw away the “hanging” Law at the end of the code, or the “shadowy Law” at the beginning, but how can so many rip the Sabbath Law from the middle of the code and believe they have warrant to do so? If this is done, worship is defaced of the length of time God requires of us in formal worship. Part of the purpose of the Sabbath is to hinder the mixture of the sacred and profane. God desires His worship secluded from the world. He does not desire it mixed.
In the Old Testament there are other shadows of the Sabbath which have passed away as annexed laws bound up in the Jewish Theocracy and ceremonial Law. These are the ceremonial sabbaths which are not the same as the morally binding weekly Sabbath. For example, the Levites were to number 7 sabbaths then mark 50 days as stated in Lev. 23:16, “Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.” This was a special ceremonial case. The seventh year was special as stated in Ex. 23:11. Indentured servants were released on the seventh year which was a type of sabbath as given in Deut. 15:12. These, and like sabbaths have passed away as part and parcel of the ceremonial and judicial laws. Paul will affirm this in Colossians 2:16, as we will see later.
The 4th commandment says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11) We find that the commandment’s character is both positive and negative. Positively the command states that Jews must “remember the Sabbath Day.” Negatively it states “thou shalt do no work.” The Jews must be actively engaged in the remembrance of the Sabbath, and actively set aside their common “work” for that whole day. It is a command to sanctify that day and dedicate it completely to God.
This particular command begins unlike any of the others. God commands that the Jews “Remember…” The Hebrew zaw-kar’ is a primitive root word meaning “to remember, recall, call to mind.” This commandment, unlike the others, is more explicit, more detailed, has more classes specified, and is sustained by more reasons than the others. The most detailed and picturesque of the 10 commandments is that which is most abused. God is so clear in the command that it is amazing so many desire to remove it as part of a ceremony (whichever ceremony that may be) in the Levitical ceremonial Law.
It also must be noticed that the commandment does not specify a day, but a pattern. This overthrows the contention that the 4th commandment is part of the ceremonial law at the outset. True, the Sabbath is spoken of, and it is set by the creation ordinance as the 7th day. But which 7th day? The seventh day from what day? In the Genesis account God does not specify that “Sunday” is the first day and “Saturday” is the seventh day. The narrative simply tells us that God set a pattern of six days work and one day to rest. It does not specify a day but a pattern. How so? The question must be asked, “Where did the Jews begin to know what day the Sabbath was suppose to be when they gathered the manna?” The plain fact is that they did not know. What they did was work for 6 days and then on the 7th (which happened to be Saturday) they rested. Their pattern pointed back to the Creation Ordinance of Gen. 2:1-3. They were in no way mimicking a ceremonial ordinance, but a pattern – an eternal pattern set for all men for all time. If the Sabbath day was specifically mention as “Saturday” then “Saturday” would continually and forever be the formal day of worship. But God, in His providence, set a pattern for the Jews and then a pattern for the church. The Sabbath rest is not a specific day in its moral aspect, but a section of time designated by the Lord. For the Jews this fell on the seventh day, Saturday. For the church, as we will see, God is able to change the day without disturbing the moral significance of the pattern. Christians still hold to six days work and one day rest. For the Jews, it is impossible that the Jewish weekly Sabbath is ceremonial simply in this light. The ceremonial law, which the Jews would have never known, had not even been given yet.
The Sabbath is set as the fourth command in the first table of the Law. The first four commandments deal with worship and God. The last six deal with the interaction between neighbors. (Please note that all the commandments deal with God, but they are divided into the two sections (or two tables) that Christ will later designate them as “Love God,” (table 1 ) and “Love your neighbor” (table 2)). The time of formal worship sets the uniform nature of the first table. The object, mode, manner and time are set for the believer to glorify God. As with all things for the believer, the primary intended goal of this formal worship is the glory of God, and the secondary goal is the sanctification of the believer.
Exodus 31:12 states, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.” The word qadash, “sanctify,” has as its root meaning “holy.” It means “to consecrate, sanctify, prepare, dedicate, be hallowed, be holy, be sanctified, be separate.”
4th Commandment Exegetically Viewed
The direction of the command points the people of God upon meditation of God’s past works. It would be inaccurate for God to tell them to “remember” something they had not heard before. This would impinge upon the Lord’s veracity and perspicuity in giving the command the way it is issued. This indicates plainness of thought and clarity. The Sabbath of God is revealed secondly in the command but primarily in the Creation Ordinance which this command reflects in the latter half. The Creation Ordinance is taken up in the words which direct the command to the heads of the household. It is directed first to husbands, being the head, and then wives being mothers of children. This is seen by the words “thou, and thy sons, and thy daughters, etc…” We see the need for family worship as a definite reminder here.
The moral Law was completely given at Sinai. There is no more moral Law left to give. Knowing it is a perfect representation and reflection of the character of God to the people, Deuteronomy 5:22 states, “These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.” The phrase “and he added no more” is quite important. God commanded Moses, and the people, all that He needed to give them for moral living in the Law of God. To break the 4th commandment was a capital offense. Ex. 31:14 states, “Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” Being “cut off” is to be stoned and killed. Through the Old Testament this also has reference to eternal damnation. But the question must be asked and answered, “Do ceremonial laws enact capital offenses such as “death” if they are broken?” No ceremonial Law ever had a capital offense attached to it. Only moral Laws have capital offences attached to them. That is why the defilement of the Sabbath is a sin which is punishable by death. It is also important to remember that no ceremonial law is mentioned here – only moral.
A word study of the 4th commandment is helpful. The reader may find the following etymologies useful concerning the Hebrew words:
“Remember” – zakar, to call to mind; actively remember
“Sabbath” – this is the specific use of the word for Sabbath – shabbath
“keep it holy” – qadash, separate it
“labor” – abad, to work or to serve one another in work
“to do all your work” – accomplish all work, occupation
“made” – abad, same as our work
“rested” – nuwach, ceased from it, to repose, be quiet.
“blessed and hallowed” – barak, to cause to be adored and, qadash, separated
Practical Consideration of the Jewish Sabbath
What were the Jews to do on the Sabbath day? They were to rest form their common labor and dedicate themselves wholly to the Lord in worship. They were not to work since they had 6 days to accomplish this. The common or profane had no place in the worship of God. This is exemplified by Numbers 15:30-35. Death was the result of breaking the Sabbath as seen in the incident with the man who was picking up sticks. The problem in the passage was that the Sabbath forbid a man from starting a fire, common labor. The man seemed to be in the midst of gathering wood to “kindle” a fire. I believe R.L. Dabney is correct when he states that the climate would not have prompted the man to need a fire, so he must have been starting a fire for the purposes of roasting dinner or the like. It would not have been a problem for him to continue to add fuel to a fire to keep things cooking through the day out of necessity, but to work, and begin starting a fire for lack of preparation the day before would have been in violation of the Sabbath commandment. He is subsequently stoned for his actions, and this was through the Lord’s directives.
What typology is seen in the Old Testament pertaining to the Sabbath? There are two types seen in the 4th commandment. The first is the old creation of the cosmos, and the second is the new redemption from Egypt. The Genesis 2 Creation Ordinance is plain enough, but there is more that this commandment commemorates and points forward to. The commandment is settled within the 10 commandments. These 10 commandments are prefaced by God who says he has rescued the people from Egypt, and thus, gives them His Law. The redemption from Egypt is a type of the redemption to come in Jesus Christ. The Israelites are to commemorate the Gen. 2:1-3 passage respectively. But they are also to look forward to the coming Messiah and the ultimate rest they will have in Him. In the new Gospel era, we commemorate a Gospel Renovation which Jesus procures for us.
It is interesting to note that since the fall of Adam, the Sabbath is always tied to a redemptive purpose in the plan of God. For instance, Jeremiah 4:22-28 describes the earth reduced again to formlessness and the void because of the sin. “For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger. For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.” God describes the wickedness of the sin and rebellion of the people. Such a time prefigures the “form and void” of pre-creation. However, in Isaiah 65:17-18 and in Isaiah 66:22 the description of a new Gospel age is given and the formless void is now created again in the Messiah as the paradise of God reclaimed by Christ. “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy… For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.” In the Gospel times the new heaven and earth are poetic language for the dispensation of the Gospel. God again will create a new rest in Christ that all believers shall rest in. However, this new rest is not complete until the heavenly Jerusalem is filled with the glory of God in the restored heavens and earth.
The Jewish Sabbath, in it typology, actually began the moment the Red Sea closed up over the armies of Pharaoh behind them. Egypt is seen as the house of bondage Deut. 5:14-15 show us this explicitly, “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.” When God delivered them, they began their rest from bondage. This is a type of the deliverance seen in Christ and the rescuing from sin, or the spiritual Egypt. Jonathan Edwards makes a point in his series on the Sabbath that the raising up of the Israelites out of the waters of the Red sea is like a spiritual resurrection; a spiritual Christ typology of sin being vanquished and Christ raising from the dead to trouble the Egyptians. (cf. Exodus 14:24) This is the antitype of Christ.
The Old Testament witness to the Sabbath
What does the remaining texts of the Old Testament tell us about the morally binding Sabbath? Nehemiah 10:31 and 13:15-22 are striking. In 13:31 it states, “And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.” Nehemiah noted that the Israelites would not buy anything on the Sabbath day – this was forbidden. In 13:15-22 it says, “In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.” Nehemiah was outraged that the people kept bringing back wares for the Israelites to buy. They were causing the covenant people of God to stumble. Nehemiah warned that that if they did not cease, that they would “lay hands on them.” The Sabbath is not a day for shopping. Shopping can be done 6 days of the week. The Sabbath is reserved specially for worship.
Psalm 118:22-24 is a prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah and the work He will accomplish. This is a most glorious shadow of the resurrection of Christ and the Lord’s Day. It states, “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” What is signified by the stone? The stone is Christ. The New Testament interprets this Psalm in Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Eph 2:20-22, and 1 Peter 2:4-5. This idea of a “cornerstone” or “capstone” is immediately linked with salvation. Jesus Christ was refused, rejected and put to death. The people rejected him, or as the Psalm states “refused” Him, but He has become the head cornerstone. Then the Psalmist says that it is the work of God which has accomplished this and it is marvelous. It is a day the Lord has made and we should rejoice and be glad in it. This is speaking of Jesus’ triumph over death. The resurrection of Christ marks the day in which we should be glad (which is the first of the week). This day is a day of rest and rejoicing in Christ for His victory over sin. Making Christ the head or cornerstone is what is marvelous. This is in His exaltation which began with His resurrection.hich is become the head of the corner.” Jesus’ resurrection creates a day which is marvelous. As we will see, the day on which this is done is made a day of rejoicing, and will later be deemed the Lord’s Day.
Isaiah 56:2-9, “Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him. All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest.” What does it mean to “pollute” the Sabbath? To defile the Sabbath is to neglect the formal worship which this day requires. This particular exhortation by the Lord is inclusive of Gentiles as well as Jews. Gentiles, just as Jews, may be blessed by the observance of the Sabbath which is a foretaste of the redemption in Christ for all nations. The eunuchs here are foreign caretakers of the women in the palaces of foreign kings. Even down to the lowly eunuch, the Sabbath applies.
Another well known verse pertaining to the Sabbath is Isaiah 58:13-14, “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” What are “our” pleasures? The “pleasures” mentioned are those common things we do for ourselves which we may enjoy. Not only is servile work and labor forbidden on the Sabbath, but those “works” of pleasure which we enjoy doing for our own personal benefit or recreation are forbidden. For example, playing softball in our church league on Sunday afternoon would not be an acceptable practice.
What we should be doing is delighting in Christ and in God during worship on that day. The word translated here as “delight” o’-neg refers to “exquisite delight” We should be so enamored with Christ on this day that world’s business seems like something so far away and so distant that we taste a bit of what heaven will be like. Mixing the profane with the sacred quenches this delight.
In Ezek. 20:20 the Sabbath is referred to as a sign. “And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.” What is a sign? A sign is something that “signifies” or “teaches” the people a truth concerning God. The Sabbath signifies something as is used by God as a sign between Him and His people. When Noah disembarked from the ark, one of the promises God made was that He would never destroy the earth by water again. The sign was the rainbow. The rainbow was a sign of the promise. It was not the promise itself but a reminder of the promise God had made with Noah. In the same way, the Lord’s Supper is a sign between the believer in Christ of what Christ has accomplished on the cross for the believer. The believer grasps Christ in this way by faith. The bread and wine are a sign of the promise made in Christ. In the same way the Sabbath is a sign. It is a sign of God’s promise for the rest which He desires to bestow on the people of God. Rest and salvation are synonymous. It is the day specially set aside for expressed purpose of worship, but with a forward look at the eternal rest believers will have in heaven with Christ.
The sanctification of the Sabbath, and those who a partake of that day, are blessed of God. Psalm 92:13-14 states, “Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.” To be in the court of God and the house of God is to partake in the corporate worship of the assembly. These people become fat and flourish in the nearness of God. Num. 28:1-10, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, My offering, and my bread for my sacrifices made by fire, for a sweet savour unto me, shall ye observe to offer unto me in their due season. And thou shalt say unto them, This is the offering made by fire which ye shall offer unto the LORD; two lambs of the first year without spot day by day, for a continual burnt offering. The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning, and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even; And a tenth part of an ephah of flour for a meat offering, mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil. It is a continual burnt offering, which was ordained in mount Sinai for a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD. And the drink offering thereof shall be the fourth part of an hin for the one lamb: in the holy place shalt thou cause the strong wine to be poured unto the LORD for a drink offering. And the other lamb shalt thou offer at even: as the meat offering of the morning, and as the drink offering thereof, thou shalt offer it, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD. And on the sabbath day two lambs of the first year without spot, and two tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and the drink offering thereof: This is the burnt offering of every sabbath, beside the continual burnt offering, and his drink offering.” The worship of the sacrifice was doubled on the Sabbath Day as a day specially given to the Lord. Instead of one sacrifice, there were two, one in the morning and one in the evening. Today, that sacrifice is seen in the formal gathering of the church in the morning and evening using the principle taken from the morning and evening sacrifices of the Old Testament. If the old covenant required two sacrifices which were shadows of the one perfect sacrifice to come in Christ, how much more would the Christian, being a living sacrifice for God devote a special portion of his time to formal worship when the church gathers to praise and give thanks to Christ. (Rom. 12:1-2)
1 Chronicles 9:32 demonstrates the preparation which was needed for the Sabbath with the shewbread, “And other of their brethren, of the sons of the Kohathites, were over the shewbread, to prepare it every sabbath.” Here there were certain men appointed for certain tasks to be accomplished on that day. In Isa. 66:23, which includes Gentile worship, it says, “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.” Here we find from month to month and week to week that God will be worshipped by “all flesh.” This “all flesh” is covenantally significant due to the new covenant in Jesus Christ under the Gospel dispensation. God refers to the worship which these New Testament saints will give to Christ as done from “one sabbath to another” which refers to week to week. The Sabbath here is still in force, just as the new moon, or each month, continues throughout the year. (cf. Ezekiel 46:1) In Jeremiah 17:21-27, “Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.” Jeremiah records the words of God where He instructs His people not to burden themselves with work on the Sabbath. It is interesting that God says it is a “burden” and not simply work. Worldly cares burden the believer and clouds the mind with the secular when the sacred should be solely noticed. And God does not simply exhort them to this, but threatens them by recalling the past sins of their fathers who defiled the day.
Jesus’ witness to the Sabbath
Who is better to help us understand the Sabbath day than the Lord of the Sabbath? It may be well worth asking, “Does God ever cease to be Lord of the Sabbath?” No He does not. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, is Lord over the entire Decalogue, which includes being Lord over the Sabbath. Concerning the Law He says, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20) The word for destroy does not refer to “dissolving” the Law. But the Greek is to “fulfill, to make full, fill to the brim.” As the prophets attested to the Law and proclaimed it among the people, so Jesus does not destroy their preaching or message (which would nullify most of the Old Testament exhortations to the people of Israel) but rather, He upholds the Law and fulfills it. He makes the Law “filled to the brim.” Otherwise, His preaching in the sermon on the mount would be in vain. How does Jesus “fulfill the law?” The fulfilling of the Law is seen in His active obedience in keeping all the commandments of God perfectly. Jesus was not a Levite. He was not from the tribe of Levi, but from Judah. He would not have sacrificed animals, or washed in the bronze basin as the priests had done in the temple. His sacrifice would be the in the mystical line of Melchizedek upon the cross of Calvary. Jesus’ active obedience, then, is the adherence to the moral Law of God, fully pleasing His Father in all points. He loved God will all His heart, soul, mind and strength.
The Gospels narratives record certain acts and miracles which Christ accomplished on the Sabbath. The first incident on the Sabbath which cause many expositors to use as a means to discard the Sabbath or create a more “lazy” attitude surrounding it is Matthew 12:1-12, “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hunger, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.” Jesus is not condemning the Sabbath, or abrogating the morality of the Sabbath, or lessening the design of the Sabbath. There is a contrast between Pharisaical impositions which He is refuting, and keeping the Sabbath in an acceptable manner. If Christ was not keeping the Sabbath acceptably, then His active obedience would not be perfect. Not only this, but He would have sinned in not keeping the Day as He should have.
There are 5 main ideas coupled here in the text which need to be brought forward. Jesus allowed the disciples to pick grain and eat it. According to the Pharisees this was a violation of the Sabbath because they were “working” for their food. Jesus would have never condoned the disciples to do something which violated the Law of God – that would make Him a false teacher. First, their hunger was a necessity which justified their departure from the letter of the law in this case, as did David’s necessity when fleeing for his life he innocently used the shew-bread to appease his hunger. (1 Sam. 21:5-6) Secondly, the example of the priests who performed necessary manual labor about the temple, such as skinning and dressing the sacrifices, cleaning out the altar and the like, on the Sabbath, were blameless. This also justified what his disciples had done. Thirdly, God prefers compliance with the spirit of the law, calling for humanity, love and mercy, to mere observance of its outer form. The Pharisees were guilty of this and were the one to condemn the Lord and the disciples on account of what their own human ingenuity had fabricated. Fourthly, God’s design in instituting the Sabbath had been a humane one, not as ascetic, burdensome to the worshipper (which the Pharisees had done) but as a means of promoting true welfare. The Sabbath is a day for rejoicing, not for being burdened. Fifthly, Jesus as Messiah was the supreme and present authority in maintaining the Sabbath law, as well as all others of his laws. He says the Sabbath was made for man. Who is this? Does Jesus mean all men? Yes, the Greek text proves the point well. The generic sense of the word is “of all men.” If the Sabbath was made for all men, then how can those who desire to restrict it to the Jewish Theocracy deal with this verse? Oftentimes, there is little said because of the apparent difficulty. Jesus grounds the answer in the preposition gar, “For.” The “for” emphasis that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. It demonstrates the ground or reason of that which is just asserted. He alone has authority over that day. In light of Christ as the Lawgiver and Lord of the Law itself, He was satisfied with what the disciples did. Out of necessity they ate. This was not breaking the Sabbath. (cf. Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5)
Other accounts show us that Christ performed a number of miracles on the Sabbath. Mark 3:1-6 says, “And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.” Here Jesus heals a man with a withered arm. The Pharisees detested Him for healing on the Sabbath, though they would pull one of their sheep (their property and money) out of a ditch on that day. Jesus is indignant with them because they would sacrifice their man-made sabbath to pull a sheep out of a ditch, but not to help a fellow brother and Israelites. In Luke 13:10-17 Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” because they would loose their ox, but have no compassion on the woman who was crippled by the devil for 18 years. He healed her on the Sabbath as well, and the people rejoiced. In Luke 14:1-6 Jesus heals a man with dropsy. He again makes mention of the Pharisees’ desire to save their livestock from a ditch, and the narrative account says they “could not answer him anything.” They knew they were in the wrong. In John 5:1-9 Jesus heals a cripple on the Sabbath. This was the man who lay beside the pool and waited for the angel to stir it but could not get into the water before any others. Jesus heals him and the man begins to spread the good news of his deliverance form the affliction. The Pharisees are again angry because “he had done these things on the Sabbath.” In a more detailed account, John 9:1-41 describes the healing of the man born blind. Jesus heals this man and there is a lengthy interrogation by the Pharisees of the man and his parents. The Pharisees ultimately cast the man out. Again, the Pharisees were angry that Christ had done such things on the Sabbath day.
What do we find Jesus accomplishing here? In picking grain, Jesus confirms the legitimacy of the disciples and their acts of necessity. In healing the various ill-stricken Israelites with the withered arm, blindness, cripple, and dropsy, Jesus Himself performed acts of mercy. We see by His example that acts of mercy and those of necessity were allowed on the Sabbath day. These attributed to the good of the congregation, and glorified God much.
A more poignant designation of the binding significance of the Sabbath is seen in Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24:20. In this chapter Christ describes the destruction of Jerusalem which would take place in A.D. 70 which would be about 40 years after his death, resurrection and ascension. The verse of importance to this study states, “But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day.” Jesus is instructing the disciples. Matthew 24:3ff says that the disciples came to him to be instructed “privately” concerning the “end.” In the discourse he exhorts the disciple to “pray”. What are they to pray for? That their flight be not in the winter, which would make their fleeing “difficult” due to inclement weather conditions (not to mention the war with the Romans) or on the Sabbath. The instruction is to pray. Part of the prayers of the disciples for the next 40 years would be that their flight from the coming destruction by the Roman legions upon the city of Jerusalem would not take place on the Sabbath. Does Jesus think the Sabbath is still binding after His resurrection? Absolutely. Having, out of necessity to flee Roman tyranny, would impede the formal worship of the church at that time. It is important to remember that the church would be well established 40 years after Jesus’ ascension. During this time the churches, under the direct supervision of the Apostles, would be keeping the Sabbath. Jesus commissioned the Apostles to oversee the church He was building. He even gave them the keys to church to bind and to loose (see Matthew 16 and 18).
Could this possibly be any more clear? Jesus instructs the leaders of the church that the Sabbath Law is still binding even in A.D. 70, 40 years later.
Many attempt to discredit this verse in stating that Jesus was speaking to Jewish men and so acquiesced to their “Jewishness” and the “transition” period which would need to be gentle nurtured through the early development of the church and Jewish converts. I believe this to be an huge strain on the text and exegetically impossible to prove. If this was truly the case, then everything Jesus said to them would fall under the same category. This does not fair with the text, nor the Gospels as a whole. Jesus chose the Apostles to lead the church. He instructed them as disciples and Apostles of the church, knowing they would be the future leaders of the church He was building. (cf. John 21:15ff and Peter’s restoration.) Also, why would Jesus tell them to follow something that would not have been morally binding? Does Jesus not understand that His sacrifice does away with the judicial and ceremonial aspects of the Law? Jesus should not tell them to keep a ceremonial aspect of the Law if that Law would soon be abolished in His death and resurrection. The anti-sabbatarian position has no answer for this.
We see that Jesus upheld the Sabbath through His earthly ministry. He accomplished works of mercy (healing) and approved works of necessity (picking grain for food). He instructed His disciples to pray about the future problems which may hinder Sabbath worship. He instructed them to beseech the throne of heaven that their flight would not be on the Sabbath. This He did knowing full well that He would already be risen and ascended to the Father, and that this instance would be 40 years in the future. The church would have been well established. And so we see the moral nature of the Law in the 4th commandment shines through in Jesus’ words.
The Christian Sabbath
The Christian Sabbath is a particular Day chosen by God for formal worship. It is one day set aside in seven. But which day shall be chosen? Are Christians to worship on Saturday? We have already seen that the pattern of the moral Law is one day in seven, not the day Saturday. Otherwise, If God had said that the seventh day must be Saturday – it would be a binding and morally constraining day. All Christians would then have to worship on Saturday until the consummation of the world. The Seventh Day Adventists believe this because they fail to see the morality of the 4th commandment as the pattern of worship. They think God said “Saturday is the Day.” But as discussed earlier, the Jews, after being redeemed from bondage, began their Sabbath six days later. The seventh day happened (providentially) to fall upon what we know as Saturday. We are also aware that Christ designated the Sabbath as morally binding in Matthew 24:20. But again, He referred to the day as the Sabbath and not Saturday. But is this the right Day for the Sabbath? And can the church choose whatever day they desire as the Sabbath so long as it fits the pattern, six days of work and one day of rest?
We know that there is such a thing as the Sabbath, a formal time of worship, both from the light of nature and from the Law itself. In the New Testament the Law of the 4th commandment is not formally repeated. But this affords no problems. Some appeal vigorously to the fact that the New Testament does not formally restate the 4th commandment, but why is there need? It does not need to restate the command to make it morally binding. The 4th commandment affords no objections against changing the Day if the Lord of the Sabbath changes it for the people of God.
To be sure the reader understands this, the commandment has no direction when to reckon the time, i.e. where to begin or end it. Do we begin the pattern of six days to work and one day to rest on Tuesday? Then the Sabbath would be Monday. Do we start the pattern on Friday? Then the Sabbath is Thursday. For the Jews, Exodus 16 sets the starting point of the first time they would observe the pattern. The Egyptians afforded them no Sabbath under the hard bondage. And it would have been very likely that the loss of days resulted from a 400 year stay in the iron furnace under Egypt’s whip. But we do find in the Old Testament prophetic directives which indicate that the old day would be abolished a new day would come. In Isaiah 65:17-18 it says “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.” Here we see that the old ways of the Jewish Theocracy would be abolished and the New Dispensation of the “new heaven and earth” which refer to the Gospel, shall replace them. God says that the old will not be remembered anymore, or will it come to mind. Deuteronomy 5:15, when the entire Law is restated, Moses tells the people that the Law given to them is in token of being redeemed from Egypt. This is the old way which shall be forgotten. The Christian does not remember the Egyptian bondage and thank God for the redemption by it, he remembers the sacrifice of Christ – the new Gospel era. The Sabbath, being linked in the Old Testament to redemption, encapsulates the Egyptian bondage and remembrance of God’s victory over Pharaoh. In the New dispensation, the moral Sabbath will look to Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, and the triumph over sin and death – the spiritually superior victory over spiritual Egypt. In Jeremiah 16:14-15 God says “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” The prophets spoke in eager expectation of the future restoration in Christ. The Day that the Lord has made, the Sabbath, is directly linked to the work of the Messiah. As noted earlier, Psalm 118:22-24 shows us how the resurrection of Jesus Christ (The Day the Lord has made) causes great rejoicing for the Christian. In these select verses, we see that the old is done away with and no longer remembered, and the new comes to replace it. But that does not mean the Sabbath is abolished, simply that the day has been changed.
The New Testament Witness to the Change
Each account of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is noted on as having occurred on the first day of the week. (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1) This is very important knowing what we do about Psalm 118. If the day which the Lord has made is the day which the cornerstone is set as unmovable, then the day is Sunday, the first day of the week. The Resurrection is the stamp of approval by God on the work and death of the Savior. The first Day will then be a pattern seen through the rest of the New Testament. And it is no accident that the Apostles will exhort certain actions upon this day as a result.
First day occurrences and notations abound. John 20:19 describes Jesus visitation to the disciples when they are gathered together on the first day of the week. The Holy Ghost is poured out upon the 120 waiting in the upper room on the first day of the week which was Pentecost (Acts 2:1ff – this can be seen by measuring the time from the Festival of Weeks (Harvest or First fruits) in Leviticus 23:15-16). In Acts 20:6-7 Paul made it a point to stay through the night on his visit. He did not leave until the following day, Monday, to continue the missionary journey. Rather, he honored the first Day of the week and preached to them for a lengthy amount of time.
In 1 Cor. 16:1-2 Paul directs the Corinthian Church to set aside money for the collection for the saints. The text says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” The command, or “order”, is to take up a collection on the first day of the week. This Paul says that all churches in Galatia are bound by this – and so the church in Corinth ought to do the same. Here we see this collection is not confined to one sect of Christians. It is something all Christians should do. Phil. 4:18 depicts this as an act of worship. “But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.” Those collections brought from Epaphroditus are seen as a “sweet smell” and a “sacrifice.” These are terms of worship. This is also the case as Paul shows us in 2 Cor. 9:12-13, “For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men.” We see, then, that the offerings we give in church are commanded to be taken on the first day of the week when we gather for formal worship.
When was the book of Revelation written? Most good commentators will tell you between 80-95 A.D. I support the latter, 95 A.D. or so for certain reasons not important here. Even if the time was 80 A.D. the force of the arguments loses no punch. Rev. 1:10 states that John was in the Spirit on “The Lord’s Day” when he received the symbolic visions and words from the Lord Jesus. Even at this time, 65 years after the Lord Jesus died, was raised and ascended to the Father, John still used the term “The Lord’s Day.” He does not make any other qualifying designation except to use the term. This shows us that Christians at the time would have known exactly what he was talking about. Exiled on Patmos he was alone and still keeping the Lord’s Day. John could have said “I am alone and without the brethren, how can I worship on this day alone?” But he knew the Lord’s Day is no ordinary Day. For example, I ate supper last night. I will eat supper tomorrow night. For one meal I ate chicken. For another meal I ate spaghetti. In church on Sunday I will eat bread and wine during communion. Are these three suppers the same? Certainly not. The supper I had during the week is not like the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is quite different. It is the Lord’s. It is a holy supper given to us by God (1 Cor. 11:20). Why is the meal different than the others? Because of the holiness of God. The Scriptures show us that various objects and places are designated as the Lord’s: The Lord’s City which is Jerusalem designated in Nehemiah 11:1, The Lord’s Temple in 1 Kings 8:43, the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 11:20, and even the Lord’s Day. The days of the week are common enough, but the Lord’s Day is a different Day. It is the Lord’s – it is holy. Christians should be ashamed for defiling the Lord’s Day to make it their own. God granted them such a day to worship Him in the midst of the corporate assembly and in private devotions, why would they want to take that away? Why would Christians not want to be bound by such an excellent day as this – even if the Lord did not give us a day! Most of the answers can be found in selfish living, and irresponsible stewardship of time. Oftentimes people take on far too much than their lives will allow. So they impinge on the Lord’s Day to make it a self-centered day which serves their own purposes, which may include church or not. The Lord’s Day is better used to mow the lawn or complete homework assignments because the previous days were not used wisely.
One of the more poignant passages concerning the perpetuity of the Sabbath is Hebrews 4:1-10. The master exegetical work on this, in my opinion, is John Owen’s work in his commentaries on Hebrews. I recall speaking with a brother who believed that Owen was an anti-sabbatarian. But Owen is no anti-sabbatarian. He argues for a Sabbath that continues into the Lord’s Day. He proves the pattern of the moral command and then links that pattern with the statements made concerning the Lord’s Day and then specifically in the book of Hebrews. It is one of the most thorough works on the subject.
The people of God have a rest. They have always had a rest. And there is an eternal rest which we look forward to. This rest is the rest of Jesus Christ. It is accomplished by His sacrifice and His work of perfect obedience of the Law of God – the whole Law. In Hebrews 4:1-10 the text states the following, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” We ought to first take notice of the movement of the “persons.” The writer of the epistles moves from “we” to “He.” Those who believe do enter into the rest of Christ. This rest is exemplified by the resting of God on the seventh day. The pattern for the rest we enter into is the pattern of the rest from which God had entered into His rest on the seventh day. Then the writer compares God’s rest to Christ’s rest. Creation is compared to redemption; and redemption is the new creation of the Gospel era. Christ rests from His work as God did from His. Jesus rests from the humiliation He had upon the earth, and the obedience which surrounds it even to the death of the cross. The word for Jesus’ rest is katapausis, which means “rest” or to “cease”. This is significant in the light of verse 9 and 10. In verse 10 the same word is used to refer to God’s rest. So we see that Jesus’ rest and God’s rest are paralleled. God rested after creating, so in the same way, Jesus rests after redeeming. In conclusion of this idea, the writer explains that there remains a rest for the people of God since Jesus has entered into His rest, and the Old Testament Israelites of old failed to enter that rest in any complete manner. As a result of Jesus’ work, and the entering into His own rest at the right hand of the Father through the completion of His work, there is still a rest for the people of God. This verse (v. 9) is very important since it is a sentence which exemplifies the “now and not yet” idea which the Bible so frequently entails. The word for “rest” here is sabbatismos, It is not katapausis. The shift in words is intentional and quite critical. The people of God still have a “sabbatismos” or “sabbath.” They do not simply await the eternal rest in Christ which will one day be known in full, but they currently have a rest in Christ called the “sabbath.” This current Sabbath in Christ has not ceased. For how can the moral Law cease to be binding upon every conscience? Jesus has redeemed these people and they enter into a rest now with a desire to see the full rest in Him at the consummation of the age. The use of the words and the point of the words are intentional. The writer is demonstrating the binding effect of the Sabbath, which had been given at as a creation ordinance, now fulfilled in Christ, but not fully realized. Thus, the people of God still have a rest here on earth, the Sabbath, while they eager wait for their rest in eternity. This is the “now and not yet” paradigm which the New Testament frequently demonstrates on a number of different theological topics. But I believe the exegetical point is clear.
If the writer did not want to bind the consciences of all believers with a Sabbath rest, then he would have never used the analogous parallels which point backward to the day of rest which had begun at Creation. The creation ordinance
is typified in the mentioning of David, and ultimately of the actual rest of Jehovah after creating the world and everything in it. He would have never have introduced the word “sabbatismos” if he has a different design than that of establishing the Christian Sabbath. And it would be foolish to think that the privilege of the Old Testament sabbath has been lost to the New Testament believers in Christ. Rather, now it has been fulfilled and made more glorious and powerful since it points to the eternal rest in Christ. Every Sabbath day which the Christian partakes in is a pointer to the eternal rest they shall ultimately have at the consummation of the world. John Owen, then, in the section dealing with verses 1-11, says this, “The whole church, all the duties, worship, and privileges of it, are founded in the person, authority, and actions of Jesus Christ. The first day of the week, the day of the resurrection of Christ, when he rested from his works, is appointed and determined for a day of rest or Sabbath unto the church, to be constantly observed in the room of the seventh day, appointed and observed from the foundation of the world and under the Old Testament.” I concur.
The Plight of Breaking the Sabbath
In the Old Testament the plight of breaking the Sabbath was death. Numbers 15:32-36 states, “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.” The man was stoned to death as a result of breaking the moral Law.
In the New Testament death is not the penalty of the Christian who breaks the Sabbath. Jesus has already died for the Christian for those sins of not keeping the Sabbath. Christ blood pardons the believer from sin, but a believer’s sanctification may be hindered nonetheless. James 2:10 plainly indicates, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” We know that James is speaking of the Moral Law since he quotes two of the moral commands in the next verse. Thus, if you violate the Christian Sabbath you break the whole Law. Christopher Plumer asserted, “Let those who indulge in Antinomian laxity concerning the law of the Sabbath, solemnly consider the course of reasoning adopted by James and be warned in time.” This should be important to the Christian. His disobedience in neglecting to keep the Christian Sabbath breaks the entirely of the Law each time. This does not mean that he loses his salvation or becomes unjustified. However, it does mean that he displeases God and will be chastised as a son before the Father. Usefulness in the Kingdom is often hindered since he is constantly breaking the Christian Sabbath and under the displeasure of his Heavenly Father.
The history of the church also affords us some insight into the minds of Christians and heathens who observed the Lord’s Day and had comments about it. Heathen men are aware that the Sabbath is to be observed even without the illumination of a regenerate mind. Hesiod, Homer, and Callimachus speak of the seventh day as “holy”. Theophilus of Antioch said the sabbath is “the day which all mankind celebrates.” Porphyry stated that “the Phoenicians consecrated one day in seven holy.” Linus said, “a seventh day is observed among saints or holy people.” Eusebius stated, “Almost all the philosophers and poets acknowledge the seventh day as holy.” Clemens Alexandrinus said, “The Greeks as well as the Hebrews observe the seventh day as holy.” The historian Josephus noted that “No city of Greeks, or barbarians can be found, which does not acknowledge a seventh day’s rest from labor.” Philo also concurred, “The seventh day is a festival to every nation.” And Pliny the Younger said, “Christians were accustomed to meeting on a “sacred day…to sing amongst themselves hymns to Christ as to God.”
No doubt the early Christians said much concerning the holiness of the day of rest and the Christian Sabbath. Ignatius said, “this is the Lord’s day, the day consecrated to the resurrection, the chief queen of all the days.” Justin the Martyr said, “neither celebrated the Jewish festivals, nor observed their Sabbaths, nor practiced circumcision.” In another place he says that they were “all accustomed to meet on the day which is denominated Sunday, for reading the Scriptures, prayer, exhortation and communion. The assembly met on Sunday, because this is the first day on which (God, having changed the darkness and the elements), created the world, and because Jesus our Lord on this day arose from the dead.” Irenaeus said, “On the Lord’s Day every one of us Christians keeps the Sabbath, meditating on the law and rejoicing in the works of God.” Athanasius asserted, “the Lord transferred the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day.” Ambrose of Milan said, “The Lord’s Day was sacred or consecrated by the resurrection of Christ.” Aurelius Augustine wrote, “the Lord’s Day was by the resurrection of Christ declared to Christians, and from that time it began to be celebrated as the Christian’s festival.” The theologian Tertullian at the close of the second century, says, “We Christians celebrate Sunday as a joyful day. On the Lord’s day we think it wrong to fast or to kneel in prayer. It was a common opinion of the earlier Christians that all public prayers on the Lord’s day should be uttered standing, because kneeling is a more sorrowful attitude and inconsistent with the joy and blessedness of Christ’s day.” Clement of Alexandria, a very learned Christian contemporary with Tertullian, says, “A true Christian, according to the commands of the gospel, observes the Lord’s day by casting out all bad thoughts and cherishing all goodness, honoring the resurrection of the Lord, which took place on that day.” Perhaps the most valuable, because the most important and explicit, as well as the most learned, witness, is Eusebius of Caesarea, who was in his prime about A. D. 325. In a commentary on the ninety-second Psalm, which, the reader will remember, i.e. entitled, ” A psalm or song for the Sabbath day,” he says, “The Word” (Christ) by the new covenant translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the morning light, and gave us the symbol of the true rest, the saving Lord’s day, the first of light, in which the Saviour gained the victory over death. On this day, which is the first of the Light and the true Sun, to assemble after the interval of six days, and celebrate holy and spiritual Sabbath; even all nations redeemed by him throughout the world assemble, and do those things according to the spiritual law which were decreed for the priests to do on the Sabbath. All things which it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s day, as more appropriately belonging unto it, because it has the precedence, and is first in rank, and more honourable than the Jewish Sabbath. It hath been enjoined on us that we should meet together on this day, and it is evidence that we should do these things announced in this psalm.”
Practical Application of the Doctrine
To practically apply the doctrine of the Christian Sabbath is an important aspect of the study. What good would doctrine do if it be not applied to the soul and worked out in the life?
First we must remember the pattern of rest which the Lord set forth in the Creation ordinance. With marriage and subduing the earth, the only other creation ordinance was the rest given to Adam after God’s pattern. Man needs to rest from his work and devote a set amount of time to the worship of God. This concept of resting is a now and not yet pattern. Now we have a shadow of what it shall be like in heaven. In heaven we shall fully realize the rest of Christ and enter eternally into devoted worship to Him in praise, thanksgiving, song and ministry before His throne in the midst of the holy city. Now we rest to worship one day each week. We need that day of rest to divert our minds away from the world and settle our thoughts on God’s character work.
But the question must be asked “What does it mean to rest?” Does this mean we sleep away the Sabbath Day in bed for physical rest? No it does not. We are to put down our work and pick up God’s work. We are to cease (sabbatos) from our labors and pleasures on that day and endeavor to glorify God in works of glorifying Him in the midst of the assembly. The ceasing from works may be seen in the varied principles and examples of the Bible. First, we ought to remember why we rest. The command in Exodus 20:8 tell us to remember. We should remember the Creator/creature distinction in that God created us and rested and so we are obliged to imitate Him as the beloved of God (Ephesians 5:1). The Christian ought to remember Christ Jesus and the rest He has taken from the labors of His humiliation for our sin. He was incarnate, lived, died and was buried for us. This sparks us to remember His rest since He rose from the dead and rested from His work. This should be the cause of much praise from the Christian’s lips.
Secondly, we ought to remember Nehemiah’s rebuke in Nehemiah 10:31; 13:15-22. Buying and selling on the Lord’s Day is prohibited. Buy gas on Saturday and be prepared for Sunday. Do your shopping through the week not the on the Lords’ Day. Devote that Day to Him without the worldly distractions that are upon us through the entire week. Recall that Nehemiah was exceedingly indignant at the people’s attitude in buying and selling, and he warned them that they would “lay hands” on them if they did not cease and desist the practice. How then should we act on the Sabbath Day before the Redeemer who bought us?
Thirdly, we ought to sacrifice of ourselves and of all our pleasures on that day. Isaiah 58:13-14 commands us not to do our “pleasure” on that day. The reader may ask, “What do the words “my pleasure” entail?” All those secular affairs which we enjoy we ought to put aside on that day. Shopping, movies, TV, sports, exercise, etc. The Christian Sabbath is not for the enjoyment of our worldly recreations. Rather, our delight should be focused and turned completely upon the Lord. Are we suppose to delight in God? Can a man worship merely externally? No, we must delight in Him, and deny ourselves, afflicting our souls on that Day for the glorifying of His name in corporate private, and family worship.
Corporate Worship is seen in Acts 20:6-7, 1 Cor. 16:1-2, and Rev. 1:10. In Acts 20 Paul stayed seven days with them then preached on the Christian Sabbath. He did not leave until the next day. They gathered together on this day for corporate worship, as the text states, “And upon the first day of the week…the disciples came together to break bread.” 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 demonstrate the offering collected for the saints on the first day of the week. This all the churches in Galatia did and so the Corinthian church should do as well. Corporately they gave offerings to aid the needy. And we know that in Revelation 1:10 John was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day. Even though he was alone on Patmos, he was still worshipping on the Lord’s Day, and on this particular instance, the Lord blessed him with a vision.
Works of Necessity
We must also remember the reformulation of the Sabbath from the words and actions of Jesus Christ. Jesus defended the disciples when they plucked and ate grain on the Sabbath Day against the accusations of the Pharisees. They were engaged on works of necessity. (Matthew 12:1-12; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5)
Here we see the letter of the Law vs. spirit of the Law. Jesus taught that the true letter of the Law was inherent in the spirit of the Law, not in the legalistic obligations that the Pharisees imposed on the Israelites. This is that which is necessary to the sustaining of life. Doctors, paramedics, policemen, firemen, nurses, nursing home staff and the like are all engaged in such godly pursuits of sustaining human life. However, they should attempt, to the best of their ability, work our their schedules so that they are not missing many of the Lord’s Days each month. Prayer should be invoked that God would allow them freedom with their employer not to be burdened with missing many of the corporate assemblies at their church.
Works of necessity may be divided into two areas: 1) permanent works, such as preparing for church, going to it, coming from it, and the like, and 2) Occasional works, such as unusual events which may need attending, like an emergency at work. These, though should be real and not self deceived. It is easy for some to constitute doing a last minute homework assignment as a work of “necessity” when that is simply a disillusionment accepted since they were bad stewards of their time during the week. Maybe it is true that they have taken on too much and need to cut back, rather than impinging on the Lord’s Day. Or what of the “health nut” who desires to work out every day because he is “taking care of the Lord’s temple (his body) and sees this as a necessary good to sustain life.” Christian discernment guided by the Scriptures must come into play. Obsession with working out cannot be used as an excuse to defile the Christian Sabbath. The body and mind need a day where worldly pursuits (which profit little) are put aside and godly pursuits are taken up.
Works of Mercy
Works of mercy constitute what is necessary to the good of the brethren and to the loving of one’s enemies. These works are of two kinds as well: 1) permanent works of mercy which may be the use of food to sustain ourselves, or feeding the family and guests, or even our animals. Or, works of mercy may be deemed occasional as when someone in the family becomes sick and care needs to be administered to them through the day – which may mean missing the corporate worship of the saints. Visiting the sick or poor and afflicted for the purpose of administering relief and comfort is a work of occasional mercy. Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in Matthew 12:9-14. We may desire to make a list of those works of mercy which we can we specifically set aside to do on the Christian Sabbath.
Works of Piety
Works of piety may also be accomplished on this day, and these works are actually the basis for the day. God has sanctified the day for us, and so we should sanctify the day as imitators of God. We should abstain from the common and servile works of our ordinary calling and vocations. Ezekiel Hopkins said, “The sanctification of the Sabbath doth especially consist in a diligent and conscientious attendance upon all the ordinances of God and the duties of His worship, appointed to be performed on this day; and that, whether in public, or in private, or in secret.” We should separate ourselves from the world and separate ourselves unto God. This may be seen in prayer, hearing of the Word, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and engaging in private and Family devotions (Jer. 10:25). And we should be diligent to make good use of the day before in preparation for the Lord’s Day that we may not be caught off guard and, out of necessity, to again be engulfed in the world.
How much of the Day should be given to these works of piety? Daniel Wilson says, “If the entire command is not complied with, then none is.” You cannot “kinda shoot a shotgun.” You either shoot it or you do not. You cannot “kinda” keep the Lord’s Day. Either the Day is hallowed or it is not. It must be noted that no Christian will keep the Lord’s Day perfectly. But this ought not to stop us from trying to keep it as much as we are able. Prepare the night before and in the morning to be sure a holy outlook has been sought out. Christians seem to have no problem going to work and getting there on time. Or even for School. But when it comes to the Lord Day, they become lazy. Why is this? The flesh does not desire to accomplish the things of the Spirit willingly.
How might we prepare for this day then? By reading the Word and mediating on four chief thoughts – on the works of creation and Creator, on God’s holiness, on Christ’s redemption for you, and on the glory of heaven. Then we should pray fervently. Thomas Watson said of prayer in preparation of the Lord’s Day, “The tree of mercy will not drop its fruit unless the tree is shaken by prayer.”
Then we enter into the corporate assembly. Here we ought to bring ourselves readily to the hearing of the Word. We should accomplish this without distraction (1 Cor. 7:35) for Satan rushes in our thoughts and our worship; Satan will be in our assemblies to hinder us (Zech 3:1). Sometimes distractions come from Satan. Thomas Watson said, “Each Sabbath may be the last we shall ever keep; we may go from the place of hearing to the place of judging; and shall not we give reverent attention to the Word?” These distractions which defile the Lord’s Day may be of ourselves as well. They come partly from ourselves; from the eye )when we look at every visitor walking in and out while preaching is engaged), heart (not setting our whole minds upon Christ) and evil habits (drawing, doodling, or talking with our neighbor while the service is continuing) (Mk. 7:21). To have a distracted heart in hearing the Word is disrespect to God’s omniscience. (Amos 4:13) To give way to these thoughts and actions is hypocritical. We pretend to hear what God says and our minds are on other things – things of the world. (Isa. 29:13) Vain thoughts at this time defile the ordinance at hand, and offend God; and they tend to harden our hearts and remove the comfort we would have received.
How might we be fully engaged for this day? How do we get rid of defiling thoughts and actions? We should fully fix our minds upon that which we love most – Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:1ff) We should sleep aright the night before to be wide awake. That means sacrificing the late night movie. We should consider how important the hearing of the Word is in comparison to worldly attractions (Deut. 30:19). We should remember that we will give an account of every sermon we hear (Luke 16:2). Judas himself heard all of Christ’s sermons, but what good did it do him if not mixed with a regenerate heart and by faith? How do we hear the sermons and preaching on this day aright? We should go to get grace with faith, as it is a delight. We should receive the Word with meekness. (James 1:21) We must endeavor to retain the Word after we hear it, discussing it with the family and friend of good Christian fellowship afterwards. If the Word goes out as fast as it comes in, what profit is it? Then, we should practice what we hear. Help in this way is available if we continue all day around the Word in some way. Repetition of the sermon’s points, reading the passages used, singing the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs already sung, godly fellowship, teaching each other, bible studies, etc may all be of help and useful to us in sanctifying the Christian Sabbath.
Objections to the Sabbath from the New Testament
There are three texts which are used in opposition to the perpetuity of the Sabbath in the Lord’s Day: Colossians 2:16, Galatians 4:9-11, and Romans 14:5-6. The first two texts deal with the idea of “sabbaths” recognized by the Jews, and the last concerns Christian Liberty.
It must be first noted that in the New Testament no writer links the Lord’s Day with the Jewish Sabbath of the seventh day being Saturday. The two are mutually exclusive working from the same pattern of work six days and rest one day, but they are not the same day. The Jewish Sabbath is a remembrance from redemption in Egypt, the Christian Sabbath is a remembrance of the redemption in Christ and the creation ordinance. The writer of Hebrews shows how the pattern of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day are bound up together in the rest of Christ, but no writer links Saturday with that day. Keeping this in mind we turn to the three passages in question.
Colossians 2:16 says, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” Here Paul is explicit in that the sabbaths, plural, which he is speaking about are shadows. They speak not of the moral Law but of ceremonial law restricted to the old covenant. If the reader recalls, sometimes there were extra sabbaths imposed on the Jews concerning jubilee, the festival of first fruits and the like which were not associated with the weekly Sabbath but other certain recognized days. These days have been abolished and fulfilled in Christ. The “no man” of the verse are those Judaizers who believed that keeping the Jewish laws were a means of justification. Paul refutes this and demonstrates that no man is allowed to judge the believer concerning these things which were but shadows of the fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Christ alone is able to save without Jewish ceremonial laws impinging on the liberty of the believer. This is also seen in a second Scripture is Galatians 4:9-11, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.” Here Paul shows that there are weak and beggarly elements which hinder the believer and place him back in the bondage of the ceremonial Jewish covenant. This is another gospel which Paul warned the Galatians concerning in the beginning of the epistle (Galatian 1:8-9). Certain Judaizers were trying to keep Jewish ceremonies by observing days and months and seasons and years, hoping to attain a justification through these beggarly element which have been done away with in Christ. Paul makes no connection here in either of these verses to the Christian Sabbath, but to the Jewish observance of the beggarly elements, and shadows of things fulfilled in Christ.
Romans 14:5-6 is a very interesting passage which shows the diversified nature of the early church. The Gentile Christians did not respect any day or ordinance except baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day. However, Christian Jews at this transition time observed both the Lord’s Day and the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday in the synagogue in order to proselyte other Jews who had yet to be converted. Thus, Paul writes in Romans 14:5-6: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” This is concerning the Jewish Sabbath, but not in its entirety. If the Jewish Christian stopped work on Saturday, what is that to the Gentiles who worked? Both knew that the Lord’s Day was the true rest, so if a Gentile worked, or a Jew decided not to work to win his brethren then so be it. One observes the day and another does not. But nowhere in this passage does Paul refer to the Christian Sabbath. Rather, from the varied aspects of the question of Christian liberty seen in the passage, the context is clearly not the moral Law.
These passages do no provide the anti-sabbatarian ample proof exegetically that Paul is dealing with the moral Law of God. The “sabbaths” mentioned are not the Sabbath mentioned in Exodus 20:8. They are the annexed elements of the Jewish ceremonial law abolished by the coming of Christ. But Christian liberty in abstinence of work on Saturday was a liberty which did not compromise the gospel in any way. Judaizers who took away liberties and bound people again to Jewish shadows are condemned and shown that justification is accomplished on by Christ lest another gospel be given which is no gospel at all. In any case, the anti-sabbatarian has no grounds to dismiss the Lord’s Day since none of these passages deal with the Lord’s Day at all.
Where is the final rest? We know the final and ultimate rest of the believer is in heaven with Christ. What do saints do in heaven? They execute the will of the Father in blessed worship for all eternity. Where is the Christian’s citizenship? It is in heaven. Thus, we should live now as we would if we were in heaven. Shall we sanctify God’s rest then? Yes we will, and we shall execute it perfectly. Shall we neglect to do it now? No we should not.
I would like to take a moment to answer the question, “Should we buy butter on the Lord’s Day.” This was a point of contention for the group I was teaching because butter could also be labeled “gas” or “medicine” or the like. Butter, in and of itself, was not such a stickler. They simply concluded that Nehemiah’s exhortation to not buy and sell on that day was their answer. But what about gas? One of those in my class presented the following situation: “What if I am driving to church and I almost run out of gas? Should I stop and cause another to work?” The group unanimously agreed that it would be a work of necessity to get the gas in that instance, though they also said it was a violation of the commandment to keep the Lord’s Day holy. The reason was this: the gas could have been purchased the day before. This showed that the one who owned the car was not preparing well for the Lord’s Day. Thus, they would buy the gas, and then remember to be more cautious the day before.
Also, when finishing up the lessons concerning the Lord’s Day, the group became sympathetic to those who were not keeping the day. They understood why many disregard the day. It had taken us 7 weeks, and a total of 18-21 hours of teaching and talking in our group study to come to a faithful understanding of the Lord’s Day. It was not easy, and it was not a clear straightforward verse or two which led the way. The exegetical work is long, and matching every piece of the doctrinal puzzle together was tedious. The group felt the most compelling information, though, was the example of the early church through the New Testament. Personally, I believe the perpetuity of the moral Law and the information provided for us in Jesus’ Statement in Matthew 24:20 and Hebrews 4:1-10 are the most compelling New Testament helps for us concerning the Lord’s Day.
I shall now summarize what has been said in conclusion to this brief, but necessary study of the 4th commandment.
1. The pre-fall Creation Ordinance of God is binding upon all men since it was given before creation and before the fall.
2. God rested on the seventh day as a pattern of work six days and rest one day which is binding for all men since God did not rest for Himself, but for Adam and his progeny.
3. All men are bound to imitate the Creator as much as is humanly possible.
4. All men should rest following the seventh day pattern which the Lord enacted from before the fall.
5. The Patriarchs knew and observed the Sabbath ordinance from the varied use of the “seven day week” and use of “sevens” seen through the book of Genesis.
6. Silence on observance of the Sabbath through Genesis and the lives of the Patriarchs does not negate the moral responsibility to follow the Law, as much as silence on sacrificing for sin negates the need for blood to atone for sin.
7. Natural light teaches us that a time of worship should be set aside for the created rational creatures of the earth to come together and praise the Creator.
8. The Law in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 is morally binding on all men. It is the Law of God as the perfect reflection of His nature and will and binds all rational creatures to perfect conformity in character and conduct.
9. The code of the Law is God’s revealed will for all men, not just the Jews and includes the moral code of the 4th commandment.
10. The moral Law has annexed to it some Jewish ceremonies which have been abrogated by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
11. The Moral Law has not been abrogated by Jesus Christ in the New Testament but rather fulfilled.
12. The Old Testament bears much witness to the sanctifying of the moral Law and the Jewish Sabbath.
13. The New Testament bears much witness to the sanctifying of the moral Law and the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day based on the resurrection of Christ and the witness of His apostles.
14. Jesus Christ upheld the Sabbath Day.
15. Jesus Christ taught the fullness of the spirit of the Law compared to the letter of Law.
16. The shift from the Jewish Saturday Sabbath to the Resurrection Sabbath of Jesus Christ is evident through various New Testament texts.
17. The shift does not impose a reformulation of the moral Law, but simply a shift of the day, still adhering to the pattern of work six days and rest one day.
18. The Old Testament Jewish Sabbath remembers the Egyptian bondage and redemption which is not abrogated by Christ.
19. God’s work and rest from creating is paralleled to Christ’s work and rest of redemption.
20. The New Testament Christian Sabbath recalls the works of Christ and looks forward to the eternal Sabbath soon to be consummated in heaven.
21. The Christian Sabbath is morally binding on every believer.
22. Works of necessity, mercy and piety are to accomplished on this day.
23. Objections taken from New Testament passages dealing with the Jewish ceremonial Law do not negate the Lord’s Day.
All good creeds have some mention of the Sabbath Day and the observance of that Day for the Christian. As a final note, I have added the Westminster Confession’s statements concerning the Sabbath: “As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week, and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.”
34. Exod. 20:8-11; Isa. 56:2- 7
35. Gen. 2:2-3; I Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7
36. Rev. 1:10
37. Matt. 5:17-18; Mark 2:27-28; Rom. 13:8-10; James 2:8-12
“This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”
38. Exod. 16:23, 25-26, 29-30; 20:8; 31:15-17; Isa. 58:13-14; Neh. 13:15-22
39. Isa. 58:13-14; Luke 4:16; Matt. 12:1-13; Mark 3:1-5