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ENQUIRIES CONCERNING THE SABBATH AND THE LORD’S DAY.

Brother Beebe: - I received a letter a short time since from brother Thomas McColl, of Canada West, requesting my views on Rev. 1:10, with a general reference to the observance of the first day of the week as a Sabbath. I have thought to address him, in answer, through the Signs; but if you think I am crowding too many communications upon you (as I have recently sent you several) for the prosperity and usefulness of the Signs, will you be so good as to enclose this in another envelope and send it to him? You know his post-office address; if otherwise, you will please publish it in its course.

Brother McColl, you mention in your letter having been accustomed to the observance of the first day of the week, as so strictly observed in Scotland, as the Sabbath, and the influence of custom on the mind. As I was in early life brought up among the New England Puritans, and was afterwards among the English Presbyterians, I know how to sympathize with you in reference to the influence of educational prejudices on the mind. But I have, I trust, as well as yourself, been led by Divine teaching to look away from all traditional teachings to the Scriptures, as the directory God has given for all religious observances. To the Scriptures therefore it becometh us to look, and to them alone, for our authority for observing the first day of the week. But in order to meet your former educational prejudices, it may be well first to enquire as to what the Scriptures teach concerning the Sabbath. We will come first to the fourth command as it stands in the decalogue, and inquire into its nature and design.

First; As to its nature in the letter of it, whether it is to be viewed as a positive or a moral command. I use the term moral here, not as relating to common morals, but as denoting that which has an obligation arising from the nature of things; or, in other words, that which is necessarily obliga­tory in consequence of our obligation to love God, and to love our neigh­bor. From our Lord's teaching on this point, I am led to the conclusion that this fourth command, in the letter of it, is positive, and not moral. That which is moral must alike be obligatory upon all who are obligated to love God and their neighbor. So the Jews seemed to view this command. Hence, when the Jews complained of the disciples doing that which was not lawful on the Sabbath day, Christ said to them, Mt. 12:5 - "Have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are blameless?" That is, in their kindling the fire on the altar, and offering the continual burnt offerings, &c. Now if this command was moral, it would be equally obligatory upon all. None could transgress the first command, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and be blameless. He further adds, in the same connection, "For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath day," thus showing that this law of the Sabbath in its letter, instead of arising necessarily from man's obligation to love God, depended altogether upon His sovereign command, and hence obligatory only on those whom He had commanded to observe it. And as it was given to national Israel, distinctively from the other nations of the earth, it was only obligatory on them. Again, Christ said to the Jews, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" Mark 2:27. But man was made to honor and love God; hence it is manifest that the keeping of the Sabbath is not essential to man's loving God, only as he is especially commanded to do it. Other texts might be quoted to the same effect, but the above are, I think, sufficient to convince you or any candid inquirer that the fourth command, concerning the seventh day Sabbath is positive and not moral, and therefore binding only to those who are directly commanded to observe it. And as there is not a text in the whole Bible to show that any but the nation of Israel were commanded to rest on that day, no others are obligated to observe it. Again, a positive command must be positive in the very wording of the command, and as this command particularly specifies the seventh day as the day of rest, we see how futile is the reasoning of those who would represent that the spirit of the command is observed by keeping the first day as a day of worship.

A second inquiry relative to this command is, Why, if it is not moral, was it placed in the decalogue among those that are moral? I answer, Paul tells us that the law is spiritual; meaning, evidently, the whole ten com­mands. Again, by showing us that Love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8-10), he shows us that the law in its spirit is all moral. So is the fourth command in its spiritual import. Let us consider it in its parts. First: Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work. There is manifestly a reference to the curse with which God cursed the ground for man's sake Gen. 3:17-19. In this, connected with his labor, or the sweat of man's face, is the sorrow with which he shall eat of the ground, and the thorns and thistles which it shall bring forth. Would not love to God, with all the heart, lead us patiently and cheerfully to endure the labor and to bear all the sorrows, the thistles and the thorns He has appointed to us in this world? The second branch: "But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work," &c. "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day," &c. Here is the reason assigned for the command, namely: That the heavens and earth and all that in them is are God's finished work; and therefore all that we are, all that we possess, and all with which we are surrounded, is God's, as being made of Him, and therefore rightfully subject alone to His government and disposal. Hence love to God would lead us to rest entirely in God, satisfied with what He has made, and for Him to dispose of us and all around us at His pleasure, and to seek to serve and glorify Him in all that we are and in all that we enjoy, not only for one day in seven, but, as seven and seventh signifies, and is used frequently to denote, a fullness and completeness, so this teaches that all our time should be the Lord's and all we do be for His glory. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." And I know of no command more fully calculated to show us our depravity, our selfishness, our want of submission to God's government, and our propensity to choose for ourselves, than is this fourth command when viewed in its spirituality. But all this is lost by confining it down to a seventh day rest. Truly, by their traditions the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, have made void the law.

A third inquiry is, Whether the seventh day rest or Sabbath is not typical, and of what? It is written, Ex. 16:29, "See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore He giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days." As to the bread here spoken of, the manna, it was typical of that true bread which the Father giveth from heaven, so the Sabbath must be typical of a gospel rest, in which those to whom it is given shall not have to labor for the bread then to be eaten, but it shall be given them beforehand. God says to Ezekiel, "Moreover, also I gave them" (that is, Israel) "my Sabbaths for a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifies them" Ezkl.20: 12. This must be typical of God's dealings with His spiritual Israel. But the apostle, in his epistle to the Hebrews (4:1-11), shows from a reference to the 94th Psalm that there is a rest remaining to the people of God, both after the rest which Joshua, here called (verse 8) Jesus, gave to Israel in the land of Canaan, and also God's rest on the seventh day; and further showeth it is by faith, and by that only, any do enter this rest, which was shadowed forth by the other two. This then is that rest which the believer finds in Christ. For this the reason is assigned: "For he that is entered into his rest hath ceased from his own works as God did from His" (verse 10). Many of our brethren understand by the He, who is entered into his rest, in this verse, the believer. It is true that when any, by faith, enter into this rest in Christ, they cease from their own works, but not, I think, as God did from His, as having finished it, and pronounced it all good. When Christ entered into rest in His glory, it was that He had ceased from the work of redemption, having finished it, and it was accepted as good, as well as pleasing to the Father. To the believer the fourth command and other commands concerning the Sabbath apply with full force anti-typically, and find a ready response in his heart. This work is all done beforehand. Christ has performed the whole six days work, and the curse with its thorns is removed; and he, therefore, rests in a finished redemption; he goes no more out to hunt sticks to kindle his fire - no more to look for bread beyond that he finds in Christ crucified. Why, then, my brother, should we cling to the typical rest, when the substance is already come, and we find it all in believing in Christ?

A fourth inquiry is, have we scriptural authority for considering the first day of the week, as particularly pointed out, as the day for the meet­ing together of the churches? I think we have. I do not say for worship as is commonly said, because if we do not feel led to reverence and worship God daily, I fear our hearts are far from Him. Some, in their opposition to a legal Sabbath, may have denied that any particular day is specified as a day for the church to meet together. I differ from them on this point. I cannot think there would have been any regular meetings of the churches kept up, if there had been no particular times or days set apart by apostolic custom and authority for the churches to meet to observe those ordinances and that order which the apostles, by the authority of Christ, had enjoyed. In those times of severe persecution after the apostles day, if the meetings of particular churches had not, from time to time, been broken up so as to prevent their making appointment for any future day of meeting, they would have been tempted not to make any regular appointments to avoid persecution, and thus their regular meetings would have been broken up, and they would have had to depend on some particular notice to get together again. Take away any regular day of meeting, and you take away all regular appointments of meeting.

But if you suppose that the apostles, by their institutions, established a uniform custom in the churches of observing the first day of the week, in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, as the day on which they were to come together, then it is evident as that day, from time to time, occurred, they would be reminded of their obligation not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. When we examine the New Testament on the subject, we find not as much said in reference to the observance of the first day of the week as might be expected from the confidence with which it is asserted that it is substituted for the Jewish Sabbath. From the Acts of the Apostles, it would appear that the church at Jerusalem was daily together and engaged in that which appertained to the gospel and its ministry. The apostles, as they went from place to place preaching the gospel, went, of course, where the gospel had not been preached, and where churches had not been planted. There they embraced, in the first place, the meeting together of the Jews in their synagogues on the Sabbath for preaching Jesus; and then other places of public resort, and even went from house to house preaching the gospel. In Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, he repeatedly speaks of their gathering together and coming together in one place as a church. This, of course, implies that they had stated times of coming together, but he, in these cases, gives no information in reference to the time of their coming together. Where, then, it may be asked, do we find any intimation of the first day being the day on which the disciples met together?

First, we know that it was on the first day of the week that our Lord arose from the dead; that He showed Himself to certain women and to Peter, and afterwards to two of His disciples, and then at night, when the disciples, with the exception of Thomas, were together, it being as ex­pressly said, the first day of the week He met with them. (See Luke 24, John 20:19-23.) We are again told that after eight days His disciples were within and Thomas with them; then come Jesus, &c. (John 20:26). It has been said that the expression after eight days would carry this second meeting to the second day of the next week; and so it would, according to our mode of computing time. But the scriptural mode is different; according to that, the day from whence a period commences and the day on which it terminates are both computed. I need but refer to two instances to establish this position; the first is found in Lev.23:15-16: "And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering, seven sabbaths shall be complete, even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days," &c. From the morrow after the Sabbath to the morrow after the seventh Sabbath would make but forty-nine days, unless we reckon both the morrow after the first-mentioned Sabbath, and the morrow after the seventh Sabbath in. Yet it is expressly said to be fifty days, and the feast is called Pentecost; that is, the fiftieth-day feast. The other is the declaration of Christ: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40).

It was about the ninth hour of the sixth day that Jesus gave up the ghost, and He arose early on the first-day morning. So that we have to reckon the sixth, seventh and first days to make the three days and nights. According to this mode of reckoning, an eight days after would bring us to the next first day at evening. Our Lord met His disciples at other times, but no mention is made of which day of the week it was. Hence we have a two-fold testimony of His meeting with them on the first days of the week, but none that He met with them on any other days than the first days.

Again the day of Pentecost, when the baptism of the Holy Ghost ushered in the kingdom of heaven in its full light, was on the first day of the week, as we have seen from Lev.23:16; that is, the morrow after the Sabbath. As on this day was the first establishment of New Testament order, it would seem to designate it as the proper day of the week for the church to meet together to observe that order. We find, also, that when Paul came to Troas on a certain occasion, he waited seven days, until the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread (Acts 20:7). Again, in 1st Cor. 16:2, we find Paul, in giving directions concerning the collection for the poor saints, tells them upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, &c. The incidental manner in which the first day of the week (or the first of the week, which is the same thing), is spoken of in these two instances, seems to me clearly to show that it was the custom of the disciples in those days to meet together in their church relations on that day. We have thus a double precedent of Christ's meeting with His disciples on the first day of the week, and a two-fold testimony of the apostolic churches meeting together in conformity to that precedent, as well as the clear testimony that on that day of the week, the morrow after the Sabbath, the apostles received their power from on high and commenced their witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the preaching of the gospel, and that with great success.

We have thus ample testimony, as in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established, to establish the order of the disciples meeting together in their church relations, and, of course, for the churches attending to those ordinances and order, as directed in other parts of the New Testament, on the first day of the week. And nothing beyond this. It would seem that the Holy Ghost, in inditing the New Tes­tament, was particularly careful that nothing should be written, not an apostolic injunction, to give any countenance to that legal observance of the day as especially holy, which he foresaw would be the case by legalists. There is no authority to show that wherein disciples are in any way providentially prevented from assembling together with the church, they should observe the day as a special day of rest, any more than there is for their eating the Lord's Supper by themselves, when prevented from meeting with the church to do it. The practice of the churches meeting together on the first day of the week is marked in church history and other writings up to the apostle's days. But I know of no account of its being observed as the Sabbath, until Calvin instituted the observance of it as substituted for the seventh day, Sabbath, under the law. Mosheim, in his church history, speaking of the internal history of the church in the fourth century, says: "The first day of the week, which was the ordinary and stated time for the public assemblies of Christians, was, in consequence of a peculiar law enacted by Constantine, observed with more solemnity than it had formerly been." This shows how the first day of the week was observed previous to Constantine's time, merely as a stated time for the assembling of churches. And even Constantine's law does not seem to require its observance as a Sabbath. But Calvin taught that the Abrahamic covenant was binding on the gospel church and that the law was a rule of life to the believers. Hence the Presbyterians have observed the first day as the Sabbath, and from them the Independents or Puritans of New England regard it as the Sabbath. And from them this view of the first day has been adopted by other denominations who are by no means favorable to Calvinism.

I now come, my brother, to your text, Rev. 1:10, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day." The term Lord's day in this text has been considered by some as designating the gospel dispensation. The gospel day is in a peculiar sense the Lord's day; it is a day enlightened by Him as the Sun of Righteousness, and is the day of His reign, as the Mediator, having all power in heaven and in earth. It is one day that is known to the Lord, and is a day to be observed by His subjects, or spiritual Israel, as a day of rest, as noticed in the view of the anti-typical Sabbath. But John, I think, certainly intended to designate by this term the particular day, or point of time, in which the Lord Jesus appeared to him, to make known to him the things written in that book. And I think it altogether probable that the first day of the week was intended. But I cannot think that this name was given to it to denote that the Lord claimed this day as especially His out of the seven days of each week. For, as noticed above, the whole gospel day is peculiarly His, in which He exercises His kingly power, and in which He requires His Israel to rest from all their works, and to honor and obey Him. If this name was designed to designate the first day of the week, it was evidently designed to mark it as the day observed by the saints for assembling together in commemoration of Christ, as the other days of the week were named after certain heathen gods, and probably to denote the times of their worship.

There is one point more in connection with this which it seems proper to notice. It has been contended that for the good of man, and of society, men should rest from their worldly labors one day in seven; and there are evident traces of such weekly rest being observed by other nations beside the Jews. To all this, in itself considered, I do not object. And I have no doubt that God, in giving laws to Israel as a nation, had in view their natural good in giving them the seventh day Sabbath, as well as their other holy days and sabbaths. But when these things are brought forward as arguments to support the idea of a first day Sabbath as belonging to the religion of Jesus Christ, I do seriously object to it. According to the argument, this rest belongs to national or worldly policy; but the religion of Christ belongs to a kingdom not of this world. As our Lord has, in His revelation of the institution and order of His religion, severed it from all connection with worldly governments, not intermeddling with their laws and policies. They have no business to intermeddle with His religion, or to hitch any of their policies or plans on to it. If civil governments think that custom and public opinion are not sufficient to protect the dependent laborer in the enjoyment of his weekly day of rest, it might be proper to pass laws requiring the release of minors, servants, &c., from their regular daily labor one day of seven, on the same principle with the ten and twelve hour systems of daily labor adopted by some States. But they have no right, under pretense of authority from God, to connect anything of religion with it, any further than to have those whose religious views would lead them to observe the seventh instead of the first day, to do so.

I have thus, my brother, given you what I think is, and what I believe you will on examination find to be, a scriptural view both of the Jewish Sabbath and of the New Testament practice of meeting together on the first day of the week. I have been lengthy, because I wished to take in review the whole subject in its various connections. I shall probably be thought too tedious on the subject, but I hope you will bear with that.

With brotherly regards, Yours,
Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia,
March 21, 1856.
S. Trott.
From: SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol.24 (1856)
Writings from Elder Samuel Trott
pages 414 - 422