State Road, Del., August 2, 1881.
BROTHER BEEBE: – I have been requested to write something for your columns on the subject of the Sabbath day; or, I may suppose what is desired is, how far the obligations of the old Jewish Sabbath are binding upon the christians under the gospel dispensation. This subject has been written upon, discussed through the columns of the SIGNS, preached on and talked over, until I supposed all Old school Baptists were thoroughly posted and of one mind.
As the term Sabbath was first used to designate days and times set apart for observance by the Israelites of old, and always used in reference to those days and times, we of course must understand the term in that sense, as it was understood, and as those days were to be kept, by the Israelites. When people talk about keeping the Sabbath, and enjoin and press on each other this keeping of the Sabbath in these days, we have nothing else to go to to find what is intended, and what this keeping of the Sabbath is, but to the law given to that people. To all readers who are not read up on this subject, and who have been more or less in doubt as to whether the obligations of the Jewish Sabbath continued binding upon New Testament saints, I would call attention first to the fact that no Sabbath day was observed, or commanded to be observed, before it was given to Israel. Neither Enoch, nor Noah, nor Abraham, nor Job, mention anything of a Sabbath day. Not only is there no mention anywhere from Adam to Moses, either among the sons of God or the sons of men, of a Sabbath day, but from Moses to Christ we do not find such a day known or observed by any nation or people on earth except Israel; neither do we find among all the list of their crimes, and the judgments upon them (the nations of the earth), any mention of a Sabbath-breaking. We have then the Sabbath definitely located, both as to time and place, and it need not be difficult to fix both its character and design. This cannot be better done than it is done by the pen of inspiration, and by the word of him who appointed the days and years, and himself declared the design of their appointment. “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.” “Six days may work be done, but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever.” – Ex. xxxi. 13, 15-17. It will be seen that this setting apart of the seventh day was not as a day of worship, or of assembling together, but simply of abstaining from all manner of work, and devoting the time to absolute rest. As a sign, the observance of certain days and times as seasons of rest from the bondage and servitude of Egypt; and as a memorial of their deliverance these Sabbaths were instituted, and enjoined to be observed throughout their generations. It was not a question, in this observance of the Sabbath day, as to the amount or kind of work, but whether it was work at all. As its observance was rest, any kind of work, even the most trifling or the most benevolent, was a violation of it. In the mere matter of resting, abstaining from all exercise whatever, it might seem difficult to see any worship or religious service about it; but as a memorial of what the Lord had done for them, and a perpetual thank offering, we can see the design and force of it. If it was a perfect rest that the Lord had given them, the picture or memorial must present it perfect. And the least particle of work would mar its beauty, and spot and destroy the perfection of it. The Lord is jealous for his name’s sake, and for his own honor and glory; but he needs nothing at the hands of his creatures. It is for their sakes, and not for his own, as they can be benefited by it as he cannot, that it is enjoined upon them. His goodness and faithfulness to them were such that there was always comfort and profit to them in the remembrance of them. But such is the legal bent of the minds of men, that even the seasons of rest and of feasting appointed unto that people each of them memorials of some great display of the love and faithfulness of God to them, became in their hands a mere round of unmeaning legal duties, constituting a bondage only less galling than that from which they had been delivered. In this view of the subject, of what possible interest, or to what possible profit, could these Sabbath days, or these Jewish feasts, be to any other people? What would the feast of the passover be to Moabites or Assyrians, or to any other people except those who had experienced what they represented? We need not wonder that there was a vail upon the heart of national Israel, and that they could not see the design and emblematic character of those sanctified days and times; for with all the light of the New Testament dispensation there are multitudes now upon whose heart the same vail remains untaken away. How unsparingly the apostle denounced the Galatian brethren, for that they had got to observing days and times as a religious service. After that Christ has come, as the end of all the law and the prophets, and brought in everlasting righteousness, we would suppose that those who had faith in him would not feel any need to go back and dig up out of the law some religious duties. Keeping the Sabbath day is one of the most common phrases among religious people in this day that I could name. It is a prominent theme of pulpit discourse, and of Sunday School teaching. Not only is the observance of the Sabbath day enjoined as a christian duty, but its very strict and rigid observance seems in the estimation of multitudes of religious people to constitute a prominent, if not the most important, part of their religion. Have so many people failed utterly to understand that Christ is the end of the law? Or is it because Christ has not become the end of the law to them? You that desire to be under the law, do you hear what the law saith? If the Jewish Sabbath is binding at all upon disciples, it is binding just as it was originally given. No fire was allowed to be kindled, no victuals cooked, no horses or oxen driven, but men, women and servants, as well as beasts, were to rest. The penalty for violation was death. Every seventh day and every seventh year was to be so observed. Who among all the advocates of Sabbath keeping but have broken God’s holy Sabbath? Who but has incurred the penalty? Have they not all made void the law through their traditions, or rather perhaps I should say, substituted their own traditions for the law? Instead of keeping the seventh day, and resting from all their works, they substitute a different day, and make all imaginable uses of it, engaging in a multitude of works and duties, such as they deem to be charitable or benevolent, or such as necessity or mercy might seem to require, and call this keeping the Sabbath. Without meaning to say a word to the disparagement of any commendable action that may be done on the first day of the week, or on any other day, it cannot consistently be claimed that in this way the Jewish Sabbath is kept.
From what I have already written it will be understood that I believe the Jewish Sabbath, and all obligations to observe it as such, have passed away, with all the feasts, sacrifices, and other ceremonials of that dispensation. As Israel was a typical people, so they were also a carnal or temporal people; and the deliverances wrought for them, and the blessings and gifts conferred upon them, were all temporal, but they typified and looked forward to spiritual things. So the celebration of those temporal blessings and deliverances looked backward in acknowledgment and gratitude, and forward in faith and hope. God having reserved better things for Israel under the gospel. If they had spiritual understanding, they might look through the shadow to the substance, and from carnal to spiritual things. To those who know what it is to labor and be heavy laden, it must come, I think, as a welcome idea, that the Lord has provided a rest for his people. Redemption work is finished, the curse is borne, the law is fulfilled and satisfied, and all that was against them and contrary to them is taken out of the way. So “we which have believed do enter into rest.” And the rest is a perfect one. No works left unfinished, but all done. “His rest is glorious.” The finishing of the works of creation, and the everlasting and unbroken rest from creation work, is but a type or illustration of the work of salvation which the Lord should finish for his people. So “He that is entered into his rest hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” Whoso believes in Christ as a Savior must necessarily enter into rest. If we do not believe in him as he is, we do not believe in him at all. We have not known him. Those who act upon tradition are not apt to examine the word to see what it teaches. But those who go to the word for instruction will find nothing in the preaching of Christ or the apostles in regard to keeping a Sabbath day. Never once are they taught to observe the seventh day, or the first day, or any other day, as a Sabbath; neither in all the letters to the churches, nor throughout the acts of the apostles, do we find an instance of admonition or reproof touching the observance of a Sabbath day, Once in the New Testament do we find the term Lord’s day, but I have no idea that any particular day of the week is intended by that term. It was a day that the presence and favor the Lord had made. What, then, some will inquire, are christians not required to keep any Sabbath? O yes; christians keep Sabbath all the time. Their day of rest remains to them; and it must remain, because, it remains that the work is finished. And they who believe in a finished salvation must continue to enjoy rest. Those who violate and desecrate the Sabbath are those who have not ceased from their own works, but insist on conditions and other works to be performed on the holy Sabbath of rest that God hath appointed for his people. He heard their groaning and saw their affliction by reason of the hard bondage wherewith they were made to serve, and came down to deliver them. The apostle speaks of their “coming together on the first day of the week;” and this seems to have been their practice from the first, as it belonged to the gospel order to meet at stated times for worship. But he did not tell them that they must meet together on that day, or that the first was any better or more suitable than another day. As Christ had risen and opened the gates of paradise on the first day of the week, assembling together on that day ever afterward was like bringing an offering of the first fruits. Nevertheless, they were “daily in the temple,” &c.
The attentive reader will readily understand that the assembling together of those that love and fear God, to worship him and show forth his praise, is entirely another and different thing from the mere observance of stated days of rest. While we hold to keeping inviolate perpetual Sabbath, holy unto the Lord, we do not expect to make the days on which we meet for worship any more holy or sacred than they already are. If we do not observe the day to the Lord, our observance of it is vain. Now, if any readers should fail to appreciate this view of the subject, I would inquire of them, What can you see in merely abstaining from work and sitting still in your houses? Can you see anything of devotion or spiritual profit in it? Is it not rather work than rest, a round of religious duties and services, that constitutes the charm of the traditional Sabbath? Are not those who so fondly hug the idea of a Sabbath day to themselves, and are so zealous of its observance, giving evidence that they are building upon these and other duties, and making a savior of them? One inquiry more. What religious duty or service can you see in the restriction in regard to the fabric of your garments? Israel might not mix the fabrics, as linen and woolen. Do we know that this literal injunction upon Israel is one of perpetual obligation upon us? Not that God takes care in regard to our literal garments, or the teams we drive to the place; but his righteousness must not be mixed with creature works, and the faith of his people must be a pure, unmixed faith. The Lord requires the whole heart, and all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in that faith that recognizes its obligations to God and loves him supremely. As the first day of the week has so generally been adopted by the churches as day to assemble together for worship, I think it is well that the governments have generally set apart this day to preserve the worshipers from interruption and annoyance by the busy, working crowd, whose chief concern is for the things of this life only.
Yours to serve,
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 17.
September 1, 1881