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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Under this head, we propose to treat of the sabbatical institution as one of general and permanent obligation.
I. Concerning the time when the Sabbath was first instituted there have been different opinions. Some have maintained that the sanctification of the seventh day mentioned in Genesis 2 is only there spoken of διὰ προλήψεως, or by anticipation, and is to be understood of the Sabbath afterwards enjoined in the wilderness; and that the historian, writing after it was instituted, there gives the reason of its institution, and this is supposed to be the case, as it is never mentioned during the patriarchal age. But against this sentiment it is urged
(a) that it cannot be easily supposed that the inspired penman would have mentioned the sanctification of the seventh day among the primeval transactions if such sanctification had not taken place until 2500 years afterwards;
(b) that, considering Adam was restored to favor through a Mediator, and a religious service instituted which man was required to observe, in testimony not only of his dependence on the Creator, but also of his faith and hope in the promise, it seems reasonable that an institution so grand and solemn, and so necessary to the observance of this service, should be then existent.
Some find the institution of it in the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11); but the language employed is not apparently that of origination. The command to remember the Sabbath seems to imply that the Israelites were already acquainted with its existence and sacredness. But such injunctions, we are told, have often prospective significance, e.g. "Remember this day in which ye came out from Egypt" (Exodus 13:3); "Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you" (Joshua 1:13); "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). In all these citations the meaning is remember from this time. To this stricture it may be replied that such injunctions have always relation to the future, but that they also suppose antecedent knowledge. Children, for example, would not be told to remember their Creator unless they had been previously informed about creation unless they had been instructed that one God has made us, and that we are all his offspring. That an ordinance should be ushered into existence by the requirement to remember it is a strange idea to which facts give no countenance. Besides, the fourth commandment assigns a reason for observing the Sabbath, which, if good for the future, must have been always valid. We do not here enter into any disquisition about the days of creation. It is enough that God, in a manner befitting him, worked six days and rested on the seventh, and has required that, in a manner befitting us, we shall imitate his example. But how was it to be expected that this consideration should weigh much with the Jews in time to come, if, in preceding ages, God himself had made no account of it in his regulation of human conduct?
Some, again, have contended that we do not require to go far back in order to find its commencement; they think they learn when and how it began in Exodus 16:19-30, these verses have reference to the gathering and cooking of manna. That an institution so prominent as the Sabbath in the religion of the Jews should have been initiated in a manner so incidental, and almost unobservable, is in contradiction to the whole genius of the economy. Nor does the passage countenance any such notion. "It came to pass, "we are told (Exodus 16:22), "that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread." In other words, they gathered on the sixth day enough for that day and for the day following. But why provide beforehand for the Sabbath in order to respect and keep its rest, if not in supposed obedience to the will of God, as previously notified? It is alleged, in reply, that the order complied with is presented to us afterwards, and occurs in Exodus 16:23, "This is that which the Lord hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake today, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you, to be kept until the morning." By this exegesis the practice (Exodus 16:22) is first related, and then we come to the injunction (Exodus 16:23), of which it was the fulfilment! In such inversion of natural order there is obvious unlikelihood. But the exposition in question is otherwise untenable. The verses alleged to exhibit first the obedience, and then the statute obeyed, have no such intimacy of connection. They refer, in fact, to different things. Exodus 16:23 does not touch on the collection of the manna at all, but has regard to the baking of it — a new subject, and therefore the gathering of it on the sixth day in quantity sufficient also for the seventh day, not being here prescribed, remains without any explanation, except a previous appointment and prevalent knowledge of the sabbatical institution.
It is objected, however, that the Sabbath disappears from the record during the antediluvian and patriarchal periods. Why this protracted silence about it if it had then a place among religious articles and usages? This evidence of its absence is negative, and cannot outweigh express contrary proof of its initiation. Of these times, be it also remarked, we have not detailed accounts, and we must therefore make allowance for great brevity and many omissions. Succeeding annals are more ample, and yet we have no indication of the observance of the Sabbath during four hundred years after its sacredness had been confessedly proclaimed from Mount Sinai. Even if neglect of the day could be established, such negligence would not disprove obligation. The Passover, during protracted periods, fell into disuse, and there was general and continued departure from the marriage relation as originally constituted.
It is not the case, however, that allusion to the Sabbath is wholly wanting during the time alleged. Occasional mention is made of weeks; and we know that the heathen world very extensively distributed days into sevens, with some notion of sacredness belonging to the seventh. This arrangement is traced by some to the lunar month, divided into quarters, each of seven days, by the phases of the moon. But this computation does not accord, except proximately, with fact, as the lunar month exceeds twenty-nine days in duration. It ascribes consequence also to the number four, as well as to the number seven - partitioning the month into four divisions - and four has no distinctive sacredness in any known country or language. The explanation, though ingenious, is simply a guess, without any support from Scripture or other writings, and has like validity with another conjecture, that the assignment of seven days to a week may have been derived from the supposed number of the planets.
II. That the Sabbath owes its maintenance to its morality we will endeavor more expressly to substantiate. Here a consideration of first consequence is that it forms the subject of the fourth commandment. Some deny the ethical character of the decalogue. They allege it to be of a mixed nature, and insist that though particular elements in it are of inherent and enduring worth, yet, as a whole, it belonged to an economy of shadows, and has vanished with them. Therefore the presence of any statute in such a compendium is no decisive evidence of moral force.
1. But the decalogue in its integrity has a very distinctive place and consequence in the Bible. It was proclaimed with extraordinary solemnity, peculiar to itself, from Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-24). God caused it to be written on tables of stone, and he made these stones to be deposited in the ark, representative of himself. "These words," says Moses, "the Lord spake to all your assembly in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice, and he added no more." The decalogue was frequently called the covenant, and the chest containing it the ark of the covenant. Would a fragmentary and heterogeneous compound create or warrant any such designation? Again, as often as Christ cited any of these commandments he enforced them emphatically. The Jews seem to have distributed them into greater and less, and to have treated the less as scarcely deserving consideration. But he impressively declared, "Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whosoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." The kingdom of heaven is the Gospel dispensation. Certain statutes our Lord declares to be congenial with that economy, and their observance he characterizes as a sure constituent or guarantee of its greatness. But what statutes could he speak of which verify this description, and are recognizable from others, unless those composing the decalogue? When, also, he resolved the law into two great commandments, he made evident reference to the two tables of the covenant, for he instituted the same classification of devotional and social duties; and when he further resolved all duty into love. with God and man for its objects, he impressed on the whole code a moral interpretation. What can be more truly or purely moral than charity? — charity branching off into piety and benevolence? In a word, the decalogue is reproduced by the apostles. What it enjoins they enjoin in the identical terms, or with only verbal alterations; and how could they more decisively affix their seal to its indelible righteousness?
2. The decalogue, then, as a whole, is moral. (See LAW OF MOSES). If the Sabbath be an exception, it is the only exception. But when we have found it in a code collectively moral — the morality of which is attested by the clearest and most cumulative proof — and when we find it sharing all the conspicuousness and honors of the allied enactments, it would require strong argument indeed to render credible its exceptional ritualism. Let us see whether good cause for so regarding it be discoverable in its own nature, or in prophecy, or min what Christ said of it expressly, or in the apostolic epistles.
(1.) The Sabbath provides for rest and worship. Our sensuous being requires the one, and our spiritual being the other. To deny the laboring population any intermission of toil, or the heir of immortality any time for religious observances, would be to offend against the fundamental conditions of our state of existence. Under these aspects the Sabbath is not arbitrary. It is founded on the essentials and necessities of the human constitution, and nothing here below can be more solid and stable than its groundwork. To speak of our spiritual responsibilities more especially — if it be a moral duty to worship God, it must also be a moral duty to observe that worship to the best advantage. For this the Sabbath provides. It is advantageous for worship that a certain day be set apart for it, and guarded from intrusive distractions. It is advantageous that the worshippers set apart the same day, both to the end that one may not draw another into temporal toil, and that religion may have the aids of social stimulus. It is advantageous that the day recur with suitable frequency. What frequency would be best it might be difficult or impossible for us to determine; but that would not show the proportioning of the time to be a matter of indifference. We can easily perceive that there are extremes to be avoided. If every day were a Sabbath, our terrestrial occupations would be suppressed. If the Sabbath returned once a year, it would be inadequate for the maintenance of habitual devotion. One of these arrangements would have been evidently incompatible with what we owe to this world, and the other with dutiful regard for the world to come. If we can judge thus far of the too often and the too seldom, why may not God descry unerringly the mean, and perceive that one day in seven is the best possible adjustment? — the most conducive to moral good in our existing circumstances'? Experience has recommended no other division of time as preferable; on the contrary, every attempt to elongate or contract the week has utterly failed, and has owed the failure to a manifested impracticability or mischievousness. It follows that not only the duty, but the very timing of the duty, is of moral account, and that the Sabbath is entitled, by its nature, to the place it occupies in the decalogue — fitly and justly ranking with statutes which transcend casualties, and will maintain their jurisdiction while the world lasts. On the same principle, if the sacredness of the Sabbath has been enhanced by rendering it commemorative of some great event, such as the natural creation, there may be religious benefit, and therefore moral suitableness, in transferring it to another day of the seven, in order to commemorate another event of analogous but superior consequence — such as the accomplishment of a spiritual creation by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. (See LORDS DAY). Even the old economy, notwithstanding its necessary regard to times, did not show any rigid adherence to particular days, when a sufficient reason existed for departing from them. Thus, while circumcision was by the law fixed to the eighth day, the great mass of the people who had grown up in the wilderness were circumcised on the same day (Joshua 5:1-9); and when any obstacle prevented men from the eating the Passover on the 14th of the first month, they were allowed to postpone it to the next (Numbers 9:6).
(2.) The prophets, speaking in the name of God, always express themselves in reverential language of the Sabbath. (See, in particular, Isaiah 56:6-7; Isaiah 58:13-14; also 56:23.)
It is objected that in these and like instances the Sabbath is allied with acknowledged constituents of the Mosaic law, and that such passages would therefore equally prove their permanency. It is in plain accordance, however, with the moral claims of the Sabbath that its continued observance should be foretold, and the absence of such prediction would have been urged in proof of its abrogation. Besides, these prophecies are in no part meaningless. They point to real and to improved worship in such diction as the Jews were familiar with and could alone comprehend. Shall we say, then, that the change in worship would be improvement, and the change as to the Sabbath abolition? We cannot see that this conclusion is called for "by parity of reasoning." On the contrary, these passages, to have sense or truth in any of their clauses, require a perpetuated Sabbath; for the effect would be to sweep away worship altogether if a day for it were not preserved.
(3.) As regards Christ's express sayings on this subject, he discouraged, no doubt, such a traditional observance of the Sabbath as would have transformed it into a day of heartless neglects and sanctionless rigors. But he countenanced the keeping of it in its true spirit, as a day of personal privilege and beneficent usefulness avowing that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." This seems to teach that the Sabbath was made for man not as a Jew or as a Christian, but as man, and therefore entitled to his regard in all conditions and through all ages. In reply, however, we are told that the expression in the original is the man. This must mean, it is said, "those for whom it was appointed, without specifying who they were, and not at all designating man in general." We see no grounds for such a paraphrase, but very much to demand its rejection. The article in such expressions defines the individual or the species. No individual man could be thus singled out as having the Sabbath made for him unless it were Adam; and none will assert that it was made for him in any sense exclusive of his posterity. Again, the article may define the species, as we say the horse, the ass, the ostrich. Where the species is defined, all the individuals are comprehended, or such an allegation is made as would apply to any of them indifferently. For example, "If the salt have lost its savor, it is good for nothing but to be trodden under the feet of men" — literally "the men," or the species, men without the distinction of Jew and Gentile. "Let your light so shine before men," literally "the men," in the sense of any or all men. "That which cometh out of the mouth this defileth a man" — literally "the man," equivalent to man or any man. Practically the distinction here attempted to be made is visionary. Since man without the article is general, and the man, meaning the species man, is also general, the article may be dropped or retained without affecting the sense. Accordingly, these modes of expression are often used interchangeably. When Christ, then, declares that the Sabbath was made for man, we can only understand him as teaching that it was intended and instituted for our common humanity, and that it is to be so employed as to conduce to man's highest or spiritual good. But he also said that he was "Lord of the Sabbath; which shows," we are told, "that he had power to abrogate it partially or wholly." It seems as if some cannot think of power in connection with the Sabbath unless as exercised in abrogation. If it be placed in Christ's charge, they take for granted that more or less extinction must be the consequence. They speak as if Christ's scepter were an axe, and the only question were how much it would hew down and devastate! We maintain, on the contrary, that Christ would not be the Lord of the Sabbath to be its destroyer. In the language of the New Testament, this title points to assured prosperity. But though he will not superintend in order to annihilate either worship or worshippers, the designation "Lord" does suppose a manifested supremacy, and leads us to expect ameliorating modification with essential preservation — in other words, a Christian Sabbath or Lord's day.
(4.) In the epistles, much stress has been laid by opponents of the Sabbath on some expressions of Paul. "One man esteemeth one day above another, another esteemeth every day alike. Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5). To us this language is vague and seems general; but it had relation to specific disputes, and we do not know, because we have not been told, what days are more particularly intended. They may have been festival days of human appointment, or cherished relics of Judaism unconnected with its Sabbath perfectly known, without danger of mistake, to the parties addressed. It is admitted that the apostles had stated religious services with assigned seasons for them; and if in the passage commented on we give his words the absolute and exceptionless sense claimed for them, it will follow that he courted contempt for his own ordering of worship. Assuredly he sanctioned no such sweeping indifference to days as would invalidate the injunction, "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is."
It is said (Colossians 2:16), "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." This passage perfectly accords with a superseding of the Sabbath day as distinguished from the Lord's day, embodying substantially all that prior sabbatical observance had shadowed. In the same relation we would use the same language still. Independently of this answer to the objection, many have held, with bishop Horsley, that the word Sabbath is not here used in its strict acceptation, but with reference to other days observed by the Jewish Church with Sabbath like solemnity. Even if these passages had more difficulty than they present, two or three doubtful expressions, in relation to local circumstances and usages about which we have little information, are not to be balanced against the weighty and cumulative evidence which has been adduced for the morality of the Sabbath, and its consequent claims on the respect of all countries and ages.
It may appear to some an objection to these views that if the Sabbath were moral, and therefore immutable, it would remain in heaven, whereas first and seventh days equally lose in the heavenly state their distinctive characters. There all duration is Sabbath — all space sanctuary — all engagement worship. It is sufficient to reply that morality supposes facts in demanding conformity to them. Filial duty implies the existing relation of parent and child, and is ever binding while that relation subsists, but is otherwise non-existent. So the Sabbath supposes a sensible world, and in such a world it must ever be a duty to have time expressly for temporal and time expressly for spiritual occupations. But in the world of spirits, where even the natural body becomes a spiritual body, and which flesh and blood cannot inherit, this discrimination disappears. It is the glory of the Sabbath that it prepares us for this consummation — for inheriting blessings transcending its own privileges, and even induces approximations to celestial perfection under present adverse circumstances.
III. Under the Christian dispensation, the Sabbath is altered from the seventh to the first day of the week (see Stone, in the Theol. Eclectic, 4, 542 sq.). The arguments for the change are these:
1. As the seventh day was observed by the Jewish Church in memory of the rest of God after the works of the creation, and their deliverance from Pharaoh's tyranny, so the first day of the week has always been observed by the Christian Church in memory of Christ's resurrection.
2. Christ conferred particular honor upon it by not only rising from the dead, but also by repeated visits to his disciples on that day.
3. It is called the Lord's day, κυριακή, a term otherwise only used in the New Test. in reference to the sacred supper (1 Corinthians 11:20), and as in the latter passage it denotes that which specially commemorates the death of our Lord, it seems indisputable that it is applied in the former to that which specially commemorates his resurrection (Revelation 1:10).
4. On this day the apostles were assembled, when the Holy Ghost came down so visibly upon them, to qualify them for the conversion of the world.
5. On this day we find Paul preaching in Troas, when the disciples came to break bread.
6. The directions which the apostles give to the Christians plainly allude to their religious assemblies on the first day.
7. Pliny refers to a certain day of the week being kept as a festival in honor of the resurrection of Christ; and the primitive Christians kept it in the most solemn manner. (See LORDS DAY),
These arguments, it is true, are not satisfactory to some, and it must be confessed that there is no law in the New Test. concerning the first day. However, it may be observed that it is not so much the precise time that is universally binding, as that one day out of seven is to be regarded. "As it is impossible," says Dr. Doddridge, "certainly to determine which is the seventh day from the creation; and as, in consequence of the spherical form of the earth, and the absurdity of the scheme which supposes it one great plain, the change of place will necessarily occasion some alteration in the time of the beginning and ending of any day in question, it being always at the same time, somewhere or other, sun rising and sun setting, noon and midnight, it seems very unreasonable to lay such a stress upon the particular day as some do. It seems abundantly sufficient that there should be six days of labor and one of religious rest, which there will be upon the Christian and the Jewish scheme." (See SUNDAY).
As soon as Christianity was protected by the civil government, the Lord's day was ordered by law to be kept sacred. All proceedings in courts of law, excepting such as were deemed of absolute necessity, or of charity, as setting slaves at liberty, etc., were strictly forbidden; and all secular business, excepting such as was of necessity or mercy, was prohibited; and by a law of Theodosius senior, and another by Theodosius junior, no public games or shows, no amusements or recreations, were permitted to be practiced on that day (see Cod. Theod. lib. 2, tit. 8, "De feriis;" Cod. Justin. lib. 3; Cod. Theod. lib. 15, "De spectaculis," lib. 5, leg. 2). The day was consecrated by all the primitive Christians to a regular and devout attendance upon the solemnities of public worship, and other religious exercises; and, as Bingham says in his Christian Antiquities, "they spent it in such employments as were proper to set forth the glory of the Lord, in holding religious assemblies for the celebration of the several parts of divine service — psalmody, reading the Scriptures, preaching, praying, and receiving the Communion; and such was the flaming zeal of those pious votaries that nothing but sickness, or a great necessity, or imprisonment, or banishment, could detain them from it." A further proof of the sanctity in which they held the Sabbath was their pious and zealous observance of the Saturday evening, or, rather, from midnight to break of day on the Lord's day. This time the early Christians spent in the exercises of devotion; and persons of all ranks employed it in preparation for the sacred day. It must also be further observed that, in many places, particularly in cities, they usually had sermons twice a day in the churches, and that the evening was as well attended as the morning service; but in such churches as had no evening sermon, there were still the evening prayers, and the Christians of those times thought themselves obliged to attend this service as a necessary part of the public worship and solemnity of the Lord's day. The better to enforce this observance upon such as were ungodly or careless, ecclesiastical censures were inflicted upon them, whether they frequented places of public amusement or spent the day in indolence at home. These observations chiefly refer to the period between the publication of the Gospel by the apostles and the latter end of the 4th century — a period when this day might be expected to be observed more in accordance with the command of Christ and the will of the Holy Ghost.
IV. As the Sabbath is of divine institution, so it is to be kept holy unto the Lord. Numerous have been the days appointed by men for religious services; but these are not binding, because of human institution. Not so the Sabbath. Hence the fourth commandment is ushered in with a peculiar emphasis — "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day." This institution is wise as to its ends, that God may be worshipped, man instructed, nations benefited, and families devoted to the service of God. It is lasting as to its duration. The abolition of it would be unreasonable, unscriptural (Exodus 31:13), and every way disadvantageous to the body, to society, to the soul, and even to the brute creation. It is, however, awfully violated by visiting, feasting, indolence, buying and selling, working, worldly amusements, and traveling. "Look into the streets," says bishop Porteus, "on the Lord's day, and see whether they convey the idea of a day of rest. Do not our servants and our cattle seem to be almost as fully occupied on that day as on any other? As if this were not a sufficient infringement of their rights, we contrive, by needless entertainments at home and needless journeys abroad, which are often by choice and inclination reserved for this very day, to take up all the little remaining part of their leisure time. A Sabbath day's journey was among the Jews a proverbial expression for a very short one; among us it can have no such meaning affixed to it. That day seems to be considered by too many as set apart, by divine and human authority, for the purpose, not of rest, but of its direct opposite, the labor of traveling, thus adding one day more of torment to those generous but wretched animals whose services they hire; and who, being generally strained beyond their strength the other six days of the week, have, of all creatures under heaven, the best and most equitable claim to suspension of labor on the seventh."
The evils arising from Sabbath breaking are greatly to be lamented, they are an insult to God, an injury to ourselves, and an awful example to our servants, our children, and our friends. To sanctify this day, we should consider it —
(1) a day of rest; not, indeed, to exclude works of mercy and charity, but a cessation from all labor and care;
(2) as a day of remembrance; of creation, preservation, redemption;
(3) as a day of meditation and prayer, in which we should cultivate communion with God (Revelation 1:10);
(4) as a day of public worship (Acts 20:7; John 20:19);
(5) as a day of joy (Isaiah 56:2; Psalms 118:24);
(6) as a day of praise (Psalms 116:12-14);
(7) as a day of anticipation, looking forward to that holy, happy, and eternal Sabbath which remains for the people of God.
V. The literature of the subject is very copious. The following are the chief standard works: Brerewood, Treatise of the Sabbath; Prideaux, Doctrine of the Sabbath; Bramhall, Discourses on the Controversy about the Sabbath; White, Treatise of the Sabbath Day; Heylin, History of the Sabbath; Chandler, Two Sermons on the Sabbath; Watts, Perpetuity of the Sabbath; Kennicott, Sermon and Dialogue on the Sabbath; Paley, Natural and Political Philosophy, bk. 5, ch. 7; Holden, Christian Sabbath; Burnside, On the Weekly Sabbath; Burder, Law of the Sabbath; Wardlaw, Wilson, and Agnew, severally, On the Sabbath; Modern Sabbath Examined (1832); James, On the Sacraments and Sabbath; Maurice, On the Sabbath; Kalisch, Commentary on Exodus (ad loc.); Proudhon, De la Celebration du Dimanche; Hessey, Bampton Lecture (Lond. 1866); Johnstone, Sunday and the Sabbath (ibid. 1853); Domville, Inquiry into the Nature of the Sabbath (ibid. 1855, 2 vols.); Ellicott, History and Obligation of the Sabbath (ibid. 1844; N.Y. 1862); Hill, The Sabbath Made for Man (Lond. 1857); Coleman, in the Bibliotheca Sacra, 1, 526 sq.; and the literature cited by Malcolm, Theol. Index, s.v.; and especially by Cox, Literature of the Sabbath Question (Edinb. 1865, 2 vols. 8vo). Articles on special points connected with the institution of the Sabbath may be found (in addition to those referred to in Poole's Index, s.v.) in the Meth. Quar. Rev. Jan. 1849; April, 1857; Journ. of Sac. Lit. Oct. 1851; July, 1857; Theol. and Lit. Journ. 1852; North Brit. Rev. Feb. 1853; Biblioth. Sacra, Oct. 1854; South. Quar. Rev. July 1857; New-Englander, Aug. 1858; United Presb. Rev. Jan. 1860; Amer. Theol. Rev. April, 1862; Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. Jan. 1863; Princeton Rev. Oct. 1863. (See SUNDAY).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Sabbath, Christian.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/sabbath-christian.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.