THE common definition given of moral law, is, “that it is the eternal rule of right; arising from the relation that exists between men and their God, and between man and man; and that it will be unalterably binding, as long as the perfections of God and the faculties of men exist.” Very good. In a law there are three essential requisites, viz: the principle, the details, and the penalty. The principle of this law is remember the seventh day and keep it holy. The details are, thou shalt do no work, but rest within thy gates with thy children, servants and beasts: thou shalt neither gather sticks, kindle a fire, or think thine own thoughts. The penalty is, the Sabbath breaker shall surely be put to death. If, therefore, the observance of the seventh day is of moral obligation, the day cannot be changed – the exercises altered, nor the penalty remitted. If the fourth commandment is moral law, why should God, by an absolute precept, direct the Jews to break it, by circumcising their children on the Sabbath? and why should he instruct the priests, on the day of atonement, (which sometimes happened on the seventh day, and always was a Sabbath,) to butcher, burn, wash and profane the temple on that day?
It is sometimes said, that when Christ was on earth, being Lord of the Sabbath, he new modified the Law: but when God, who cannot lie, can change the eternal law of right, (while his perfections and the faculties of men endure,) then I shall believe that perfect good can be made better.
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The Sabbath of the Israelites was not appointed a day for social worship, but for rest. No active services were enjoined on them on the seventh day, but what they were to perform on other days; except that on the seventh day they were to offer two lambs instead of but one.
The reason given for the remembrance of the seventh day, in Ex. xx. 11, is, because God rested from the labor of creation on that day and hallowed it: but in Deut. v. 15, where Moses is rehearsing and explaining the law, the reason assigned why the day should be kept, is, that they were delivered from the bondage of Egypt. In this rehearsal of the ten commandments, he says, “The Lord MADE NOT this covenant with our FATHERS but with us.” That the fourth commandment was an integral part of this covenant, will not be denied, but it was not made with the fathers who were dead, but with those Israelites who were then living. See verse third.
In Psalms lxxiv. 8, synagogues are mentioned, (the only place in the Old Testament,) but if the text was written by David, it must be prophecy in historic style, for no synagogues or temple had been burnt up when David lived: the prediction seems to respect the calamitous times of the Jews by the Romans. After the Jews returned from Babylon, they filled their country with synagogues, and assembled in them on every Sabbath, to read Moses and the prophets, and hear the expositions of the scribes. For this, I see no precept given, and find no reproof therefor. It seems to have been a human, prudential affair; like the building of meeting-houses by Christians. In this synagogue worship, the Jews, in their scattered condition, were busy, when the HEBREW BOY was born, who was to give law to the world.
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In approaching the New Testament, our hearts should be open and our thoughts vigilant. Here a greater than Moses, with an unveiled face, is speaking to all. Christianity is for all nations – to be preached to every creature under heaven, and sounded in all the world. The precepts of it, therefore, must be such as can operate every where, and not be limited to any little section of the earth.
Has the blessed Saviour, or his inspired apostles, left on record any command for all men, or for any men to observe the seventh day – the first day, or any day in every week, as a Christian Sabbath? deriving its morality, either from the rest of God, on the seventh day, or from the law of Moses; but varying its mode of exercise to suit the Christian economy? If so, where is the precept to be found?
In the New Testament there is a marked difference between the Sabbath and the first day of the week; and (if our translation is admitted,) one is never used for the other.
The Sabbath that Jesus slept in death, the disciples rested according the commandment – but on the first day of the week, some were running to the tomb, others were travelling to Emmaus, and at night they collected together, and shut the doors, for fear of the Jews. And after eight days, not after six or seven, but after eight days they assembled again. If the Saviour had appointed a first day weekly Sabbath for his disciples to observe, they certainly had not understood him. Supposing they had continued to celebrate every ninth day, they would have found no more than forth Sabbaths in a year, instead of fifty two.
Is it good logic? It is honest, to draw and enforce consequences from premises that cannot be true? If the premises be true, and God does command all men everywhere, to keep the first day of each week in unison with each other, under the penalty of certain death; what shall we think of the wisdom and goodness of our Maker?
The history and precepts of the New Testament, with a bold front declare that the Christian religion, in all its parts, cannot be performed without a public assemblage: days must, therefore, be appointed, either stated and perpetual, or occasional and contingent: and these days must be appointed by God – by magistrates, or by a mutual agreement of those who assemble together. Magistrates made no Sabbatical or other laws, to direct the Christians when to assemble, before Constantine. The Christian church lived three hundred years, therefore, in her purest state, without them: and it has been a heavy curse to the Christian saints, that any such laws were ever in existence. It returns, therefore, that either God or the worshippers themselves must fix the day, for the solemnities of Christian worship. The Israelites lived condensed in a small section of the earth; and God appointed for them the seventh day Sabbath, and a number feasts and days beside; which, in their located situation, they could all of them keep. But as Christ’s subjects are in every kingdom and nation under heaven, (I have said,) it would be impossible for any day to be attended to by all of them.
The three passages in the New Testament, that the first-day worshippers place the greatest reliance upon are
First. Acts xx. 7. Where a narrative is given that Paul and Co., left Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to Traos, where the disciples came together upon the first day of the week to break bread; unto whom Paul preached until midnight, and talked even to break of day. This narrative recognizes the days of unleavened bread, as well as the first day of the week. What he had been doing at the feast is not recorded; but that he met with the disciples at Traos, who came together on that day for religious purposes, is certain. Paul’s visit at Traos was eight days. That he was busy among them in preaching, hardly admits of a doubt. The disciples got general information that he was there; and on the last day of his visit, which was the first day of the week, they came together. Whether this assembling was occasioned by Paul’s being there, or whether it was a stated day among themselves, on which they agreed to meet, I cannot say. In those days some of the Christians esteemed one day above another; while others esteemed every day alike, which would not have been the case, if Christ had given a commandment for his followers to sanctify the first day of the week, in distinction from all other days. But whether it was an occasional or stated meeting, it was a voluntary affair. If, however, the history of this interesting meeting is an imperious command on all others to do likewise, it follows, of course, that on the first day of every week the disciples must come together – preach until midnight – break bread between midnight and day-break, and converse until morning; for if any part of it is preceptive, the whole is.
Second. I Cor. viv. 1, 2. Paul, by the inspiration of Christ, had given order to the churches of Galatia, to collect for the saints at Jerusalem, and here he gives a so do ye to the church of Corinth. “Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” If this order respects the time, my argument fails; but if it has its bearings not on the time, but on the things to be done, the argument is not shaken. Does he say “I ordered the Galatians, and I order you to keep the first day of the week?” Nothing like it: I have just confessed too much, for in looking over the text carefully, I see no order for them to assemble on the day, or to perform any social acts of oral service; but every one of them was to be weighing, measuring, prizing and casting up to find out how much the Lord had prospered him, and lay by him in store, a portion of his gains for the suffering saints in Judea.
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Third. Rev. i. 10. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day. WE often read of the day of the Lord; but no where on the Lord’s day, except in this place. That there was one day in the year called Lord’s day, and that the people to whom John wrote understood which day it was, leaves no reasonable doubt; but which day of the year it was, is not easily ascertained. Some take it for granted that it was the first day of the week, and consequently call the first day in every week the Lord’s day: for this opinion I have not yet seen any reasonable evidence. It looks more likely that Christmas day was so called, which was kept in remembrance of the birth of Christ, and called by his name. But there are some reasons that produce a belief that Easter is the day here intended. This day is spoken of in Acts xii. 4. and if the first Christians were not in the habit of keeping Easter at first, they very soon fell into the usage. The first great split in the Christian churches was concerning Easter; not whether it should be kept, for in this they were all agreed, but at what time it should be celebrated: some pleading for the solar year and others for the lunar. All the proof, therefore, that can be drawn from this text, is, that there was one day in a week – in a month – in a year, or in a longer term, called Lord’s day. Here it may be noticed, that, including the Greek and Latin churches, an overwhelming majority of Christians, are seven times more attached tot he observance of Christmas, Easter, Witsunday, &c., than they are to keep the first day of each week: while a minority are strong advocates for the celebration of the first day, and esteem the majority ignorant and superstitious for observing days, for which they have no command in the laws of Christ. When I hear this, I heartily wish that the minority would point out a thus saith the Lord for the keeping of the first day of every week as a Christian Sabbath. This I am waiting for, but never expect to see as long as the New Testament continues, and the earth retains its present shape.
The ministry of John the Baptist is called “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” John never offered sacrifices, sprinkled blood, nor burnt incense like a Jewish priest, but preached repentance for sin, and faith in the Messiah, who stood among them. So, also, Jesus Christ was a preacher of the gospel, and spake as man never spake; but the ministration of the law continued until the death of Christ; after which sacrifices lost all their efficacy. There appears to have been a lapping of the two ministrations: the last began with the ministry of John; and the first ended with the death Christ: of course, Jesus Christ was a gospel preacher while the first testament retained its force.
Among other perfect qualities of the Lord Jesus, his example for gospel preachers was one. He found the men of eh world where they were; the Jews in particular, in the constant habit of synagogue worship; and his custom was to enter into the synagogue every Sabbath day; thus availing himself of their customs, for opportunities to preach unto them, and heal all that had need of healing. The old Sabbath was yet in force; but it was not an article which he enforced. He gave no information that the Sabbath should be changed, the seventh day for the first; or that synagogue worship was ordained by God.
With this view of the subject, I have constantly attended public worship on the first day of the week, for a number of years. When I travel among or live amidst those who conscientiously keep the seventh day, it pleases me equally well. And on any other day of the week, public worship is alike interesting. Did I live on the opposite side of the globe, where the day begins twelve hours before it does in this longitude, I should not be galled in my conscience about the hour. And if in the most northern island that is peopled, where days are long – if I found Christian saints – we should harmonize: for I would never worship a day, and make a Saviour of it; but worship the Lord, in spirit and truth, every day; and publicly assemble as often as duty called and opportunity served.
Among us, the first day of every week is attended to, by a majority of the people. The Jews among us, and those Christians who prefer the seventh day to the first, (though a very respectable body,) are a minority in these United States. If this day is clothed with a legal establishment to enforce its observance, it loses its Christian character and becomes a tyrant over conscience. Otherwise it is harmless in nature, and may be salutary in its effects.
The subject of present investigation admits of great improvement for the better. Let seven contiguous congregations appoint their stated worship on the seven days of the week in rotation. This would not only open a door for them to mingle together and assist each other; but in such a course, one preacher would answer all the good purposes that seven do in the present mode: then the preachers, like the apostles, would preach daily and not weekly: and by being instant int eh work – having their armor on every day, they would abound in zeal, and give a clearer light. Should this scheme be adopted, it would put to silence six-sevenths of the present solicitations, which meet us in every gate and every shape, to bestow our hard earnings, to educate and fit our preachers for destitute congregations and waste places. Yes, should this plan take effect, the saints would content themselves with the only rule given in the New Testament to raise up preachers, which is, “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into the harvest.”
Those who believe that Christianity is the principle of state policy – that the state should be divided into the religious districts, and that each district should be bound to have a preacher – that the preacher must pass through the expensive stages of literature and divinity to be eligible – and that his hearers must pay the back rents for his education, as well as his yearly wages, as a link of the same chain, will strongly plead for a day to be set apart by law, as an auction day in each week, for the priest to vend the production of his toils to the highest bidders. But for Christians to judge and set at naught a brother, who differs with them in respect of observing a day or not observing it, when every one is to be fully persuaded in his own mind, shows a great lack of the meekness of Christ. Cruel must that censure be, for one Christian to condemn another, for not observing a day nowhere enjoined in the Christian code. If such a command is to be found in the New Testament, let the text be designated, and I will take conviction.
Elder John Leland
1 If we admit of the common gloss, that “the Jews spoke in the manner,” when speaking of a whole week, as we now do in saying, “Sunday and Sunday make eight;” would the next Sunday make sixteen? This way of reckoning would make at most, only forty-five Sundays and a fraction of a year.
The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland
Pages 535 – 540