"STUDIES ON THE SABBATH PRINCIPLE"
Davis W. Huckabee
Sometimes "Seventh Day Baptist Churches," which have been around only since the 1700’s, and "Seventh Day Adventist Churches," which are of even more recent vintage, and other sabbatarians, will advertise themselves as "the church that observes the scriptural sabbath," which brings up several weighty questions. The law of the Ten Commandments contains three verses enjoining a sabbath-keeping, and this causes us to ask, Is the Decalog or Ten Commandments for Israel only, or is it also binding upon all nations, Gentiles as well as Jews?
By asking the following questions about this matter we may arrive at the truth. (1) Is there any group of persons anywhere, in any age, for whom it is not sin to kill, commit adultery, worship idols, etc? (2) Does not James 2:10 obligate believers to keep the Decalog when it says, "For whomsoever shall keep the whole law [the Decalog], and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (3) Does not Paul show that the Decalog was given to manifest the guilt of the whole world, and its subsequent need of Christ when he was inspired to write Rom. 3:19? "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." And again, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith," Gal. 3:24. He verily shows that the scope of the Decalog is universal. (4) Are we not compelled therefore to see that the Decalog is a Moral Law that contains eternal principles that are always binding upon all mankind.
This necessarily involves having a proper view of the will of God, for while the Decalog reveals what God’s will is, it does not compel obedience to it, but only tests one as to his willingness to be subject to God’s will. On the other hand, some things are God’s decreed will that He will without fail bring to pass in due time, irrespective of the will of Satan or sinners to the contrary. The fact that God does not compel obedience to the Decalog in no ways indicates that He approves the many and flagrant violations of it. Regarding this absolute sovereignty of God, it is well said—
There is almost an unanimity among scholars that the Ten Commandments constitute Moral Law, and so, are of eternal duration. Reason itself tells us this. Indeed, if we repudiate the Decalog as not binding upon us, then we are left in a lawless condition, for no other system of morality, and no other standard of right and wrong is left unto us.
But if we recognize that the Decalog is binding upon us today, are we at liberty to pare away those portions of it that do not suit us? If so, is not the atheist then at liberty to reject the first commandment, the idolater the second, the murderer the sixth, the adulterer the seventh, etc?
But if we once admit that the Decalog is still in force for all mankind, then we are compelled to accept it in toto. The unity of the Law of God is declared in James 2:10, before referred to. Not only so, but the same thing is manifest from the internal order of the first four commandments. The Decalog has two divisions; the first four commandments relate to man’s responsibility to God, and the last six commandments relate to man’s responsibility to man. This first division breaks down as follows: (1) Who is to be worshipped—Jehovah alone, Exod. 20:1-3. (2) How He is to be worshipped—not mediately, through images, but immediately, directly, 20:4-6. (3) The manner of worship—not irreverently, or even with undue familiarity, but reverently and respectfully, 20:7. (4) When He is to be worshipped—not on the seventh day of the week, but on a seventh day after six days of labor; i. e., on a recurring cycle of one day out of each seven, 20:8-11.
From this it may be clearly seen that should the law relating to the time of worship be abrogated, a definite gap would be left in our knowledge of our responsibility to worship the Lord. We would know everything necessary about our responsibility except how often our stated times of public worship were to come about. Now it is obvious that many people have mistaken ideas about what the Sabbath is, and so, in consideration of the matter before us, we must first ask—
WHAT IS THE SABBATH?
A great number of people assume without reason that the word "sabbath" means the seventh day of the week. This is a serious error that is brought about by association, for the Jews observed the seventh day of their week as the Sabbath. But in neither the Hebrew nor the Greek languages does the word mean the seventh day. In the Greek language the word sabbaton is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew word, and so there is no way of determining its meaning without reference to the original Hebrew word. The Hebrew word is shobat and is defined by the two following authorities.
"I. to rest from labor, with min; of land, to lie uncultivated.—II. to cease, desist… III. to cease, be interrupted… IV. To cease to be, have an end… V. to keep the sabbath."—B. Davidson, Analytical Hebrew And Chaldee Lexicon, s. v.
That the Sabbath was not bound arbitrarily to the seventh day of the week becomes more obvious when we realize that the word was not used alone of the weekly Sabbath. God commanded the observance of sabbaths of weeks, monthly sabbaths, annual sabbaths, the Jubilee year—the fiftieth year, which was after seven sabbaths of years—forty-nine years. It is a strange thing that sabbatarians, that are so scrupulous to observe (as they suppose) the seventh day of the week, completely ignore these other sabbaths that were also commanded by the same authority. Though most of these were on recurring cycles of seven, yet the Jubilee sabbath, falling as it did on the fiftieth year, is an exception to the rule, and proves that the sabbath is not tied to the number seven.
In connection with the question "What is the Sabbath?" we must also recognize that the Sabbath was not an end in itself. Being a part of the Moral Law, the sabbath law is also moral, and we can see the morality of it. In the words of our Lord, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath," Mark 2:27. The Sabbath was laid down in principle for man’s benefit, and he derives more from it than anyone else, although the observance of the sabbath principle certainly glorifies God. It has been well said that—
In considering the Sabbath as involving a principle, it is not sufficient to ask only what the Sabbath is, we must also consider—
WHAT IS THE TIME ELEMENT OF IT?
This is where so many people go astray in regard to the Sabbath, for they think that the word itself means the seventh day of the week. In actuality, there is only one instance in the whole of Scripture where it can be definitely proven that the Sabbath of rest occurred on the seventh day of the week, counting from the beginning of the creation. This was the first week of the world. "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," Gen. 2:2.
The principle involved in Exod. 20:8-11 does not say that man is to rest on the seventh day of the week; it says that man is to labor for six days, and then on a seventh day after those six days of labor he is to rest.
It must be carefully noted that the numbers here and elsewhere differ in that six is a cardinal number while seventh is an ordinal number. This cannot but be very significant. According to definition cardinal numbers are used in counting to show the amount of something, while ordinal numbers are always used in relationship to other numbers, thereby to show their relationship to the other numbers. As ordinals they cannot stand alone. Seventh, being an ordinal, cannot be isolated from others in a series, and consistently in Scripture when seventh is used in regard to the Sabbath, it emphasizes its relationship to the preceding six days of labor. That is what the Sabbath day is—a seventh day of rest after six previous days of labor, without regard to what day of the week it may fall upon. Those that make an idol of a particular day of the week, as supposedly being the only Scriptural Sabbath day assume a great deal that is entirely without proof.
The day of the week is not so important as is the principle itself. And this principle is what is continually set forth in the Decalog and elsewhere. Six is man’s number, and is constantly associated with man, while seven is God’s number, and generally has some spiritual significance. This sabbath principle therefore sets forth the fact that six days are given to man, but God has set apart one out of every seven days for Himself, so that man will be constantly kept mindful of his responsibility to God.
First, God changed Israel’s calendar at the first passover when He was about to lead them out of Egypt. "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you," Exod. 12:2. Now, how can we be sure that according to the new calendar the Sabbath still fell on the same day of the week as before? God has not revealed it, and so we cannot be sure that the day of the week that was the Sabbath before this change was the same day of the week afterward. If the month of the calendar was changed, it is probable that the days of the week were also changed.
Second, we must consider the fact that God allowed Israel to be led captive into Babylon for seventy years because she had failed to keep the land sabbaths for four hundred and ninety years, II Chr. 36:20-21. If she neglected to keep the land sabbaths, what reason do we have to believe that she kept the weekly sabbaths? And during those seventy years of captivity when the Israelites so forgot God's commands as to mingle with the heathen, intermarry, and even adopt their gods, did she not also violate, and even perhaps forget her weekly sabbaths as well? Can we reasonably think that she kept her weekly sabbaths inviolate during those seventy years, when scriptural evidence so clearly shows that most other things relating to the worship of Jehovah were corrupted?
Jeremiah shows that the weekly sabbaths ceased to be reckoned in Israel during those seventy years, Lam. 2:6, and unless those in captivity kept them, and this was not done, then the day of the week originally kept by Israel as a sabbath has been lost. The unconcern that the Israelites came to feel toward the Sabbath is manifest from Amos 8:4-5. "Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? And the sabbath that we may set forth wheat making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?" The weekly sabbath had become such a burden in Amos’ day that many longed for it to be over so that they could get back to their business of cheating people. This state of affairs was but one step from forgetting the Sabbath entirely, and all other evidence considered, we are sure that this was the case. Neh. 13:15-17 reveals that the Sabbath had come to be as common as other days of the week.
Third, The Jewish manner of reckoning time has always been a very complicated one, and has been changed several times. According to one system, the Jewish year had only 354 days, with provision made to periodically correct the calendar to correspond to the solar revolutions. According to the calendar of Hillel the Sanhedrin annually determined whether that year was to be a leap year or not, and thus corrected the calendar in that way. The Jewish months were based upon the moon, while the year was based, as much as possible upon the sun, so that all in all it was complicated to the point of confusion. Later, the calendar came to be juggled in order that the Day of Atonement should not fall on the sixth or first day of the week, and so that the seventh day of the feast of Tabernacles should not fall on the weekly sabbath. So much confusion has been brought into this matter that no scholar today, either Jewish or Gentile is able to compute the time backward with any degree of accuracy. To hold that there was not the mistake of so much as one day in six thousand years is to advocate the greatest human miracle of all time. But false worship always runs into absurdity sooner or later.
Fourth, even in reckoning time since the beginning of the Christian era men are brought face to face with mass confusion, and the best scholars can only estimate the year of the birth of Christ. Yet sabbatarians tell us that they know the exact day of the week on which the original sabbath fell. There is now a general agreement among scholars that our present method of reckoning time is at least four years off. That is, that Archbishop Usher’s chronology that is in most Bibles, is at least four years later than it should be. It is now known that Herod’s death took place in 4 B. C. according to Usher’s chronology, yet this took place after Jesus’ birth, Matt. 2:11-15. From this and other time-marks it is likely that Jesus was born four or five years before the present calendar date of A. D. 1. Indeed, at least one scholar holds that we have lost some thirty-three years in the last two millenniums. The ancient calendar had years of only 355 days with intercalary months periodically added to correct the calendar to the solar revolution. In 46 B. C. the Julian calendar was introduced which had years of 365 days length each, and every fourth year a leap year of 366 days long. But even this did not totally eliminate error, for the length of each solar year was not 365 and a fourth days long, but 365 days five hours forty-seven minutes and fifty-one and a half seconds. This seemingly minute error however amounted to the calendar being off by a full day every 128 years, and this calendar was not changed until 1582 when the Gregorian calendar was introduced. And this method of reckoning time was not accepted by Protestants and many others until another hundred years had elapsed.
With all this confusion and error that has certainly existed in the calendars of the past six thousand years, we can place no confidence in the dogmatic assertions of some that they know and observe the same day of the week on which the original seventh day of the creation week fell.
If anyone once removes the pride and prejudice from his mind, and will let Scripture speak simply and plainly, he will see that the Sabbath is a rest day, and as such may fall on almost any day of the week. In fact, we learn from the Old Testament that this was the case oftentimes. In Lev. 23 the seven great annual feasts of the Jews are set forth. These were the annual sabbaths, and are called "sabbaths." But this means that these sabbath days, together with regular weekly sabbaths, could add up to as many as nine sabbaths in a single month, or an average of almost two per week, and these must add up to at least six in a month.
To detail this out minutely: the first day of the seventh month was the feast of trumpets, and was a sabbath, Lev. 23:24. From the evening of the ninth day of the month to the evening of the tenth day was the Day of Atonement, another sabbath, Lev. 23:27, 32. On the fifteenth day of the month was the feast of Tabernacles, which was seven days long. On the first of these seven days, or, in other words, on the fifteenth day of the month was a sabbath, and the day following the seventh day of the feast, or, the twenty-second day of the month, was also a sabbath, Lev. 23:34-39. The regular weekly sabbaths, because of the thirty day months, would fall on different days of the month from year to year. And even in the years when the first weekly sabbath fell on the first day of the month, there would be some of the feast sabbaths which were not on the seventh day of the week. In other years, there would be an even greater number. There is no possible way in which one can make this harmonize with the view that only the seventh day of the week is, or can be, a sabbath.
These feast days being also considered "sabbaths" enters into the confusion over the day of the week on which the Lord was crucified. "Good Friday" as the supposed day that this took place is a glaring contradiction of Jesus’ words in Matt. 12:40 that He would spend three days and three nights in the grave. This would require seventy-two hours, and backing up from His resurrection early on the first day of the week, would make for a Wednesday crucifixion. But the argument is, that according to Jewish reckoning, even a small part of a day was considered one day. Thus if there was but one whole day plus one hour of a preceding day and one hour of a following day, that would be considered three days by the Jews. This reasoning works only on subsequent general statements that refer only to three days. It will not work on this first, and most definitive reference to Jesus’ time in the grave that requires not only three days, but also three nights. In Scripture days were reckoned "morning and evening"—in that order. Thus according to "Jewish reckoning" on the crucifixion day only one hour was required, but then followed a whole night of twelve hours = thirteen hours total. The second day would be a total of twenty-four hours for a total now of thirty-seven hours. Plus Jesus lay in the grave for the Sabbath day "morning and evening" so that there would be twelve hours of the day, and at least one hour of the night for a total of thirteen hours. This, added to the preceding thirty-seven hours makes for a total of fifty hours. But wait a minute! Jesus did not rise at night, but early in the morning, so that there must have been a full night spent in the grave on the Sabbath, so instead of the third day consisting of only thirteen hours, it had to have been a full twenty four. This, added to the thirty seven preceding hours makes for a total of at least sixty-one hours. Now back that up from early Sunday morning and see if you can have a Friday crucifixion! It would have had to be at least Thursday evening.
How did this "Good Friday" error come about? From failure to recognize that every feast day was a Sabbath, and there could be as many as three Sabbaths in one week. It is objected that, The "preparation day" was the day before the Sabbath, and so was Friday, and it was this day on which Jesus was crucified, Mark 15:42. Right, and Wrong! Fridays were called "the preparation" in relation to the weekly Sabbath but not every "preparation day" was on Friday. There was also a "preparation day" before each of the feast Sabbaths, and the preparation day so often emphasized at the crucifixion was "the preparation of the Passover," John 19:14, not of the weekly sabbath. "That Sabbath" on which Jesus was crucified was "an high day," John 19:31, because it was not the common weekly Sabbath, but the Passover Sabbath, a special Sabbath. The Passover Sabbath in that year when the Lord Jesus was crucified was on a Wednesday, thus giving full time for the "three days and three nights" to elapse during which Jesus was in the tomb. All subsequent references to "the third day," or "after three days," are general statements and not specific because they refer back to that first and most definitive statement in Matt. 12:40.
When we realize that the Sabbath is simply a day of rest, a "holy convocation" in which "no servile work" is to be done, Lev. 23, all difficulty is removed. So far as the word "sabbath" is concerned, it could be on any day of the week. The whole principle involved in the Sabbath is that one day in every seven belongs to the Lord, and is to be observed in obedience to His command. And this day is to be rendered up to Him in a regularly recurring cycle of seven days.
WHEN DID IT ORIGINATE?
A great many people assume that the giving of the law upon Mount Sinai was the origin of the Sabbath law, but this is erroneous, for just as the other Moral Principles of the Decalog were in force prior to this, so also was the Sabbath obligation. It is true that this sabbatic principle was not so prominent before this, as afterward. But even the word "Sabbath" appears before the giving of the Law and it is used in such a way as to show that the principle of the Sabbath was observed before the Law was ever given.
Turning to the Scriptures for proof of this, we observe in Gen. 2:2-3 that the Lord first set the example of observing a day of rest. "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 his work which God created and made." The question arises from this, Was God tired? To which we must certainly answer in the negative. Why then did He rest? To teach man by way of example that He had decreed a heptary division of time, a portion of which was set apart for sacred purposes. This is implied in the statement that God "blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it."
Beyond this, we learn from history that all of the sons of Adam must have known of this sabbatic principle, for the earliest records of many nations show that they practiced this form of time division. The further back one goes, and the nearer the fountainhead of the human race he comes, the more universal is the practice of a sabbath to be found. Surely this is significant!
Other nations have a similar record. Homer, the great Greek, says ‘Afterwards came the seventh, the sacred day.’ Hesiod, another Greek, says, ‘The seventh day is holy." Lucian says, ‘The seventh day is given to schoolboys, as a holiday.’ Callimachus speaks of the seventh day as holy. Porphyry says, ‘The Phenicians consecrated one day in seven as holy.’ Josephus says, ‘There is no city, either of Greeks or barbarians, or any other nation, where the religion of the sabbath is not known.’ Grotius says, ‘The memory of the creation being formed in seven days was preserved not only among the Greeks and Italians, but among the Celts and [east] Indians, all of whom divided their time into weeks.’ Eusebius says, ‘Almost all the philosophers and poets acknowledge the seventh day as holy.’
Now, whence came this almost universal prominence of the number seven, especially seven days? It corresponds to no natural period of time, nor with any known historical fact, outside the idea of the sabbath. It did not come from the Jews, for it existed long before their time. If a sabbath was instituted at the creation, and was more or less generally observed by the ante-Mosaic nations, that will account for it. But there is nothing else, either known or supposed to exist, among the nations anterior to Moses, that will account for it. If that is not the explanation, it is an accepted fact without even a proposed explanation."—A. D. Williams, The Christian Church And Its institutions, pp. 117-118.
WHO IS THE AUTHORITY FOR IT?
It is often assumed that Moses first gave the command for the observance of the Sabbath, and that he did this arbitrarily, i. e., without Divine authority for doing so. But such is not the case at all, for though the Scripture states that "The law was given by Moses," John 1:17, it clearly means that he was only the instrument by which it was transmitted to man, and not that he was the original authority for it. In truth the prologue to the Ten Commandments states, "And God spake all these words," Exod. 20:1. Not only so, but more express is Exod. 32:15-16. "And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables."
But this only shows us the authority and authorship of the Ten Commandments. It does not manifest the origin of the sabbatic principle. This commandment did not originate with the recording of the Decalog, but like it, was binding upon man from the very beginning of human history. This becomes obvious from a consideration of Gen. 2:2-3 where we have God Himself setting the example of observing a Sabbath Day, and then blessing it to man’s good.
Thus, the first Sabbath day was observed by God Himself, and that for an example to His creatures. This was the only Sabbath that God ever observed, for He has been constantly at work in providence and redemption ever moment since, as is evident from Jesus’ words in John 5:17. "But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." This answer was given concerning this very matter. The Jews had accused Jesus of profaning the Sabbath, and He answers by showing that both He and His Father had been constantly working since that first and original Sabbath. But the very fact that God did observe that first and original Sabbath is proof positive that the sabbathic principle is not Mosaic in origin, but antedates the Decalog by some twenty-five hundred years.
As has already been mentioned, this is the only place in all the Bible where it can be definitely proven that the Sabbath day was on the seventh day of the week. This was the seventh day of the first week in the world’s history. Hereafter in Scripture, when the word "sabbath" appears there is no possible way of knowing on what day of the week, reckoned from the creation, that particular Sabbath day would fall. In Exod 20:11 when this passage is quoted, as if to guard against the mistake that sabbatarians make, the Lord changes the wording slightly, so that instead of saying "God blessed the seventh day," He says "the Lord blessed the sabbath day." This shows plainly that it is the sabbatic principle of one day out of each seven set apart as a day of rest and worship that is the important thing, and not what day of the week is observed.
When we examine New Testament passages in connection with the creation, we learn that the agent in the creation was none other than Jesus Christ Himself. "God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds," Heb. 1:1-2. "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made," John 1:3. "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers: all things were created by him, and for him," Col. 1:16.
Fully in accord with the above is the statement of Jesus Himself in Mark 2:27-28. "And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath; Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath." Being the "Lord of the sabbath" He has the authority to perpetuate, change, or even abrogate the Sabbath as He liked. The Scriptures show that He perpetuated the Sabbath in principle, but changed, as was His right, the day of the week on which it was to be observed.
Sabbatarians accuse Christians that observe Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, of turning a pagan holiday into the Christian Sabbath. They claim that the Emperor Constantine the Great is the sole authority for the observance of a Sunday Sabbath, to which we answer in the words of A. D. Williams.
The Christian sabbath therefore owes its existence, not to the Jewish law, but to the example of Christ, of apostles, and of the church. That they rested and worshipped on the first day of the week, from the first until now, is beyond all question. It rests therefore upon substantially the same authority as baptism and the Lord’s supper."—The Christian Church and its Institutions, pp. 139-140.
The authority of the sabbatic principle being such as it is—not of men, but of God in both the Old and the New Testaments—we may pass on to consider yet another thing. This will reveal to us that the principle is the same in both dispensations even though the day of its observance may be different. Therefore we must note—
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF IT?
Negatively, the observance of the Sabbath has never been a means of salvation, which is the chief point around which this issue centers as far as sabbatarians are concerned. For almost universally, the advocates of a seventh day of the week observance make this the determination of a person’s eternal felicity or woe. Paul’s charge against the legalistic Galatians was, "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain," Gal. 4:9-11. These Galatians had become ensnared in the legalism of that Pharisaic party of Christians from the Jerusalem church, who seemed to make a point of following Paul on his missionary trips and trying to counteract his teachings on salvation by grace alone. Their two main points of emphasis were submission to the rite of circumcision, Acts 15:1, and the observance of the Jewish Sabbath, Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-17, both of which they made necessary to salvation. The spiritual descendents of these abound today with the slight difference that baptism has now taken the place of circumcision. It has always characterized the natural man to look for salvation by human works of some kind and degree.
People are wrong in both these things, as well as in any other human works, for never are human works ever proposed as a means of salvation. The ordinance of baptism is a symbol (or "likeness") of a spiritual truth, Rom. 6:3-5 (note that V3 is explained by V5: "baptized into his death" by a "likeness" or picture as presented in baptism. See the likeness drawn in V4 in the words "like as" and "even so." A symbol or picture never saved anyone.) Likewise the Sabbaths "are a shadow (or forecast) of things to come," Col. 2:17. Neither has a shadow ever saved anyone. It takes the substance that casts the shadow to save, and that substance is Christ.
The whole matter resolves itself thusly. Human deeds, observances or works, if presented in the hopes of attaining salvation thereby, would make salvation to be a matter of merit on man’s part. Yet the Scriptures universally disclaim this. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any one should glory," Eph. 2:8, literal rendering. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration (and this cannot be baptism, for it is literally ‘the washing of the new birth,’ not a washing in water. If this were baptism, this verse would not only antagonize with itself, but with many other Scriptures. Baptism is a work of righteousness to be observed by those already God’s people, Matt. 3:15, but this says that we are not saved by such.), and the renewing of the Holy Ghost," Tit. 3:5. "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work," Rom. 11:6.
If therefore the purpose of the Sabbath is not that man may attain eternal life by keeping it, then what is the purpose of it? We conceive from Scripture at least five important purposes for the Sabbath principle of one day out of each seven being set apart for non-secular purposes.
First, It is for Rest From Labor. This is for human welfare, and is that which is declared in Mark 2:27. "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." Man is constituted of flesh, and so, is not indestructible. He needs a recurring day of rest to recharge his batteries, as it were, and the man that does not do so soon finds himself taking an enforced and extended rest upon a sick bed. This purpose is inherent in the word itself, for the word translated "sabbath" means "rest." It was to be, according to Exod. 20:10 a day of rest for: (1) The individual. This would doubtless include the wife as well, since they two are "one flesh," Gen. 2:24. (2) His children. (3) His servants. (4) His cattle, and even, (5) The stranger within his gates. Surely this last category is evidence that this was not binding solely upon the Jews, but even the traveling Gentile when he came under Jewish roofs was encouraged to rest for the Sabbath.
Second, It Is For Reverence Of The Lord. This was also declared in the Decalog, for Exod. 20:8 declares that one is to "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." The holy character of the Sabbath is evidence that the Lord has His part in the day, and the person that refuses to set aside one day out of seven is practically denying either God’s existence, or else God’s claim upon him. The Sabbath day, beginning as early as the days of Cain and Abel, was a day of worship as well as of rest, and no person can rightly worship the Lord without having a regular Sabbath day.
Third, It is For Religious Instruction. Unless there is a definite, regularly recurring day of the week for religious instruction, man generally neglects or puts this off until it finally ends up not being done at all. But if a definite day of the week is set aside each week, in which both worship and religious study are integral parts, there is no danger of this. Long before the end of the Old Testament dispensation the Sabbath had come to be a day of instruction for the masses. And in New Testament times Jesus and His disciples made this a regular part of the weekly day of worship, Luke 4:16. Without a definite day, and religious instruction upon that day, how can man be kept aware of his responsibilities to his God?
Fourth, It Is For The Reviving Of The Saint. Just as man’s physical nature needs a time of rest and revitalization, so man’s spiritual nature also needs a definite and recurring time of recharging. And unless the Sabbath principle is observed, this will not be done. Every believer that has stopped to consider this matter knows that unless he regularly attends weekly religious services he has a tendency to become cold and indifferent and backslidden concerning the things of the Lord. Thus, practicality alone teaches the need of a regularly recurring Sabbath.
Fifth, It is For Recognition Of God’s Bounty. The Sabbath days are also times of offering, for hereby man recognizes and acknowledges that all that he has comes from the Lord. When man brings his tithes and offerings to the Lord, he is, in effect, paying rent to his Heavenly Landlord, for "The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein," Ps. 24:1. All that any person has of this world’s goods, he has from God’s bounty. "For it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth," Deut. 8:18. The Sabbath day is the logical time to bring any and all offerings to the Lord. Concerning a special benevolence offering for needy saints Paul was inspired to write, "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," I Cor. 16:1-2. He that observes no Sabbath will probably not "Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase," Prov. 3:9 either.
Thus, man’s physical, spiritual and material welfare, as well as the worship of God, all make a Sabbath day necessary. But all these purposes are fulfilled in the Lord’s Day—the first day of the week—as well as on the Old Testament Sabbath—the seventh day of the Jews’ week. If the purposes for which a thing are designed are equally adaptable to a different time, and if the authoritative agent see fit to change the time element then who can or should find fault?
HOW LONG IS IT IN FORCE?
As we have already stated the sabbath principle is still in force, and will continue to be until the end of the world, but the Jewish sabbath has been abrogated, together with all those typical sacrifices that were shadows of Christ. This was prophesied of in Hosea 2:11. "I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts." Attention should be called to the fact that it was "her" sabbaths—Israel’s—that were to be made to cease, and not "the sabbath." A comparison of Exod. 20 with Deut. 5 will reveal that while the Decalog in Exod 20 is so stated as to be applicable to all of God’s human creation, that repetition of it in Deut. 5 is narrowed down to the "seventh" day, which was Israel’s sabbath. Deut. 5 records the narrower, nationalized form of the Decalog, and so it speaks of the seventh day sabbath instead of simply a sabbath of one day out of seven. These "sabbaths" (plural) that were abrogated were the feast sabbaths of Lev. 23, which typified Christ and His work, the seventh year land sabbath, Lev. 25:1-7, the fiftieth year Jubilee sabbath, Lev. 25:8-12, and the weekly seventh day sabbath.
Inspiration speaks of these in Col. 2:14-17, and shows that they are done away with in Christ, and the Christian is not to let anyone judge him in reference to them. "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." If no man is to be allowed to judge me in regard to the sabbath, then how can it be so vital an issue—one upon which one’s eternal destiny rests—as sabbatarians make it?
"In the first place we would observe that there could have been no occasion for mentioning the sabbath day in this connection had there not been some one contending for a Christian observance of it. And those so contending were looked upon by Paul as an heretical party in the church. In the second place, Paul’s language here cannot be interpreted otherwise than as a plain repudiation of the contention that Christians be required to observe the Jewish sabbath—and this was the only application of the word ‘sabbath’ which Paul knew, for the Christian day of worship was to him simply the ‘first day.’"—H. E. Dana, a Tract, "Why We Keep Sunday," pp. 6-7.
That this sabbatic principle spans all of time seems certain from the facts already noted, namely, that it existed from the very fountainhead of the human race. And from the fact that even during the millennial reign of Christ there will be Sabbath days observed, Isa. 66:23. If, in this present dispensation the sabbatic principle of one day out of seven belonging to the Lord did not apply, it would be the exception to all the rest of time, and we cannot conceive of this being so.
Some might answer that even the Sabbath principle has been abrogated because all the Ten Commandments are expressly restated in the New Testament with the sole exception of the one in reference to the Sabbath. But a truth can be, and often is, taught by example as well as by precept, and this is the case here. True, the fourth commandment is nowhere expressly restated in the New Testament. But it is exampled by our Lord Himself, John 20:19, 26, by the Jerusalem church, Acts 2:1 (Pentecost came on the day following the seventh Jewish Sabbath after the Passover—on a Sunday), and by Paul, I Cor. 16:1-2, Acts 20:7. Paul’s practice of going into the synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath was nothing more than a means to an end. In every instance where Scripture speaks of him in connection with a Jewish Sabbath the very context shows that this was only that he might reach the Jews with the Gospel. "And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures," Acts 17:2. It is to be observed that this had nothing to do whatsoever with a Christian service beyond the fact that Paul was a Christian and was preaching Christ to a ready-made congregation of unbelieving Jews. Paul himself explained his action thusly: And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews: to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law," I Cor. 9:20. Though Paul was a Jew after the flesh, he was a Christian in spirit, and only met with the Jews on their Sabbath in order to bring some of them to faith in Christ. But never did he leave the converts to worship on the Jewish Sabbath, but all those converted under Paul’s preaching are thereafter found to be observing the Christian day of worship.
The evidence in the New Testament is all one way. After the resurrection of Jesus, there is not a single instance of any Christian observing the seventh day as a day of worship. Conversely, there are numerous examples of not only the Christians, but Christ Himself observing the first day of the week as the day of worship.
Not only so, but James testifies to the indivisible unity of the Decalog, James 2:10, which would be false if so be that one of the ten had been abrogated. Not the Sabbath, but the seventh day observance of it, has been abrogated. Why is this? Because the seventh day commemorated that which is natural, while the first day commemorates that which is spiritual. "Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual," I Cor. 15:46. The seventh day commemorated a physical creation, Gen. 1, and a physical deliverance, Exod. chapters 1-14. The first day commemorates a new creation, and a spiritual deliverance.
From this it must be observed: (1) He speaks of the Jewish Sabbath as "the seventh day," V4. (2) But "another day" is spoken of, V8, which contrasts with the "seventh day." (3) This other day is spoken of because Joshua did not give rest to the people. He was a type of Jesus, but the type failed where it concerned the giving of rest. (4) The conclusion therefore is that there "remains"—continues to the present time—a rest to the people of God. (5) But the Greek word for "rest" appears only in V9, and is radically different from the other Greek words rendered "rest." It means literally "the keeping of a sabbath." (6) Jesus gave a rest to His people that Joshua could not give to his. Jesus gives salvation rest, Matt. 11:28-29. (7) God’s people today keep a first day Sabbath in token of the fact that they have entered into this "rest of soul" in Jesus. And the professing Christian that does not keep holy the Lord’s day in essence denies in his actions that he has entered into this rest.
The Decalog is an abiding code of law. It is also an indivisible unity. Therefore all the laws are in force as a standard by which man will be judged. We are to recognize the Sabbath principle and honor it by our lives as Christians. The Lord’s Day—Sunday—corresponds in all essentials to the sabbatic principle set forth in Exod. 20:8-11. We ought to remember the Lord’s Day to keep it holy, and not make it a day of selfish indulgence. The Sabbath was indeed made for man, but not for him to desecrate nor use selfishly.
The sabbatic principle of one day out of each seven on a regularly recurring cycle is a scriptural principle that spans all time from the beginning of creation until eternity dawns. It is incumbent upon man, not as a Jew, nor as a Christian, but simply as man, and it becomes every son of Adam to recognize and honor this principle. Any person that honors the Lord’s Sabbath will find that he has brought himself into an area where there are mighty forces working to his blessedness. "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, honorable; and shalt honor 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," Isa. 58:13-14.
"There remaineth therefore a sabbath-keeping to the people of God," Heb. 4:9, literal rendering.
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