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The Sabbath Day

Published by Laymen's Home Missionary Movement

Should Christians Keep The Seventh Day, Or The First Day, Or Both? What Is The Christian's True Sabbath-Keeping?


SEVEN is a very prominent number in the Bible -- in everything relating to the Divine program. In Gen. 1 the Sabbath Day is referred to in a figurative way in speaking of the seventh epoch of God's creation on our earth -- bringing order out of chaos. Not until the Law was given to Israel was the day sabbath made obligatory on anyone. And since the Law Covenant was made with one nation (Israel) and none other (Ex. 34:27; Deut. 5:2-3), the Sabbath requirements of that Law apply to that nation only. This does not signify that the setting apart of a certain time for rest would be of advantage to the Jew only, nor that a special seventh day devoted to God would be disadvantageous to all people. IT merely means that God entered into covenant relationship with the one nation only, and hence to them only He told His will, His Law -- obedience to which He made the foundation of the blessing He promised to that People.

There is no room to question the import of the fourth commandment of the Jewish Law. It distinctly commanded that the seventh day of the week should be to the Jews a rest day, in which no work of any kind should be done, either by parent or child, employer or servant, male or female, ox or ass, or any other creature owned by a Jew (Ex. 20:8-11). It was a rest day pure and simple. Divine worship was not commanded to be done on that day -- not because God would be displeased to have Divine worship on that day or on any other day, but because there is a reason connected with the matter which related, not to worship, but to rest, s we shall see. The strictness of this Law upon Israel is fully attested by the fact that on one occasion, by Divine command, a man was stoned to death for merely picking up sticks on the Sabbath Day (Num. 15:32-36). Therefore, it is plainly to be seen that the Law given to Israel on this subject meant what it said to the very letter.

JESUS NOT LAX IN SABBATH-KEEPING

In the New Testament Jesus is supposed by some to have taught a laxity in the matter of Sabbath observance, but this is quite a misunderstanding. Jesus, born a Jew, born "under the Law" (Gal. 4:4), was as much obligated to keep that Law in its very letter as was any other Jew. And He did not, of course, violate the obligation in the slightest degree (Matt. 5:17). The Scribes and Pharisees had strayed away from the real spirit of the Law in many particulars. Their tradition, represented at the present time by their Talmud, attempted to explain the Law, but really, as Jesus said, frequently made it void, meaningless, absurd. E.g., according to the traditions of their Elders, it was breaking the Sabbath, if one were hungry, to rub the kernels of wheat in his hands and blow away the chaff and eat the grain, as the disciples did one Sabbath Day in passing through the wheat field. The Pharisees called attention to this and wanted Jesus to reprove the disciples, because, according to their thought, this simple process was labor -- work -- reaping and threshing and winnowing. Jesus resisted this absurd misinterpretation of the Law and by His arguments proved, to anyone willing to be taught, that the Scribes and Pharisees had mistaken the Divine intention -- had misconstrued the Law of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28). On several occasions He healed the sick on the Sabbath Day. Indeed, the majority of His healings were done on that day, greatly to the disgust of the Pharisees, who claimed that He was a lawbreaker in so doing. We cannot suppose that Jesus performed these miracles to irritate the Pharisees; rather we are to understand that their Sabbath Day typified the great Sabbath, which is in the future -- the period of the Messianic reign and the healing of all earth's sorrows.

Jesus clearly pointed out to the Scribes and Pharisees that they were misinterpreting the meaning of the Divine arrangement: that God did not make man merely to keep the Sabbath, but that He made the Sabbath for, in the interest of, mankind. Hence everything really needful for man's assistance would be lawful on the Sabbath Day, however laborious it might be. Indeed, Jesus carried the thought still farther and pointed out to His hearers the absurdity of their position -- for, He said, if any of you should have an ox or an ass fall into the pit on a Sabbath Day, would you leave him to die and thus suffer loss, as well as allow the animal to be in pain? Assuredly they would not, and assuredly they would be justified in helping any creature out of trouble on that day. Then said Jesus, If so much might be done for a dumb creature, might not a good work of mercy and help for mankind be properly enough done on the Sabbath Day?

THE SEVENTH DAY STILL A SABBATH

A mistake made by many Christians is the supposition that the Law Covenant which God made with Israel ceased, passed away. On the contrary, as the Apostle declares, "The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth" (Rom. 7:1). The Jewish Law is as obligatory upon the Jew today as it was upon his fathers in the days of Moses. Only death (either actual death, or coming into Christ and thus becoming dead to the Law -- v. 4; Rom. 10:4) could set the Jew free from that Law Covenant until, in God's due time, it shall be enlarged and made what God, through the prophet (Jer. 31:31-34), styles a New Covenant -- a New Law Covenant. That will take place after the Mediator of the New Covenant shall have been raised up from among the people. That Prophet will be like unto Moses, but greater -- the antitype. that Prophet will be the glorified Christ -- Jesus the Head and the completed Church, who are frequently spoken of as members of His Body, and sometimes styled the Bride, the Lamb's Wife (Rev. 21:9). This antitypical Mediator (Acts 3:22-23), under the New Law Covenant which He sill then establish, will assist the Jews (and all who come into harmony with God through Him) back to that human perfection in which they will be able to keep the Divine Law perfectly in every particular. This great Mediator, Messiah, will for 1,000 years do this great work (Rev. 10:4, 6).

As stated above, the Law Covenant is still in force upon every Jew; but it is not in force upon any but Jews, as it never has been in force upon any other people. During the Gospel Age, between the death of Christ and the inauguration of the New Covenant, Jesus, as the great High Priest, has been offering the "better sacrifices" mentioned by St. Paul (Heb. 9:23) and described in the type in Lev. 16.

We remarked above that the Sabbath Day, still in full force and its observance obligatory upon the Jew, is not upon other nationalities. We should modify this statement by the remark that there are some who mistakenly endeavor to be Jews and try to get under the Law Covenant provisions as Sabbath-keepers, etc. St. Paul recognized this tendency in his day. Note his words to the Christians of Galatia, who were not by nature Jews but Gentiles. He says, "Ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" (Gal 4:21; 3:1). He proceeds to show them that the Jews are in bondage to their Law and can never get eternal life under it. His argument then is that if the Jews cannot get life by keeping the Law, it would be foolish for Gentiles to think that they could secure Divine favor and everlasting life by keeping the Law. He declares, "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his [God's] sight" (Rom. 3:20). The only way to obtain justification in God's sight is by the acceptance of Christ; and the only way we can maintain that justification is by a full consecration to be His disciples and to be faithful unto death in following in the Master's footsteps -- as it is written, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, . . . present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is you reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1).

CHRISTIANS AND THE LAW

St. Paul did not mean that Christians should not strive to keep the Divine Law, but that they should not put themselves under it as a Covenant, nor think that by striving to oppose the Law Covenant they would get or maintain harmony with God and gain the reward of everlasting life. On the contrary, he declares in so many words, "The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after [according to] the flesh, but after [according to] the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4). His meaning is clear. The Decalogue was never given to Christians, but it is quite appropriate that Christians should look back to that Decalogue and note the spirit of its teachings and strive to conform their lives thereto in every particular.

But what is the spirit of the Decalogue? Our Lord Jesus clearly set it forth to be -- "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul [being], and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength," and . . . "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Mark 12:30-31). Our Lord not only kept the Law, but He magnified it, or showed it to have greater proportions than the Jews ever supposed it had -- length and breadth, height and depth, beyond the ability of fallen humanity to perform; and He made that Law honorable (Isa. 42:21). The Jews, having tried to keep the Divine Law for more than sixteen centuries, had reason to doubt if anyone could keep it in a way satisfactory to God. But the fact that Jesus did keep the Law perfectly, and that God was satisfied with His keeping it, made the Law honorable -- proved that it was not an unreasonable requirement -- not beyond the ability of a perfect man.

In Matt. 5, Jesus showed the spirit or deeper meaning of several of the commandments; for instance, He indicated that the command, Thou shalt do no murder, would be violated by anyone becoming angry and manifesting in any degree an injurious or murderous spirit (1 John 3:15).

THE SPIRIT OF THE SABBATH

As there is another or deeper meaning to the other commandments than was understood by the Jews, so it is also with the fourth, which enjoins the keeping of the seventh day as a day of rest or Sabbath. The word Sabbath signifies rest, and deeper or antitypical meaning to the Christian is the rest of faith. The Jew, unable to keep the Mosaic Law and unable, therefore, to get everlasting life under the Law Covenant, was exhorted to flee to Christ; and, by becoming dead to the Law Covenant, by utterly renouncing it, he was privileged to come into membership in Christ (Rom. 7:4) -- to become a sharer in the Covenant of Sacrifice. So doing, he was promised rest from the Law and its condemnation, because "to them that are in Christ there is no condemnation" (Rom. 8:1) -- the merit of Christ covers the shortcomings of all those who are striving to walk in His steps, and the Divine Spirit and Word give them the assurances of Divine favor, which ushers them into peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ -- ushers them into rest. Thus the Apostle declares, "We which have believed do enter into [Sabbath] rest" (Heb. 4:3). Moreover, the Apostle indicates that although we have entered into a rest of faith now, through faith and obedience to Christ, Christians have a still greater rest awaiting them beyond their resurrection, when they shall enter into the rest which is in reservation for those that love the Lord.

FIFTIETH DAY AND FIFTIETH YEAR

We are reminded that Israel had two systems of Sabbaths -- one of the Sabbath Days and the other of Sabbath Years. The Sabbath Days began to count in the Spring. It was a multiple of seven. Seven times seven days (forty-nine days) brought them to the Jubilee day, the fiftieth day, which was styled Pentecost. Pentecost never had its true meaning until the Lord, as "the firstfruits of them that slept," arose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20). Then immediately the seven times seven, plus one, began to count, and on the fiftieth day the Holy Spirit was shed abroad upon all those "Israelites indeed" who, already consecrated, were waiting in the upper room for the antitypical High Priest to make satisfaction for their sins and to shed forth upon them the Holy Spirit, as the evidence of their restoration to divine favor. Immediately they had peace with God. Immediately they entered into rest. Immediately they realized that they were children of God, begotten of the Holy Spirit, that they might in due time become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ their Lord. And is it not true that throughout this Gospel Age under the Gospel call, all who followed in the footsteps of Jesus and the disciples, all who renounced sin, trusted in Jesus and fully consecrated their lives to Him, became recipients of the Holy Spirit and similarly entered into His rest? Only those who have entered into this rest and joy of the Spirit can fully appreciate it.

Now let us glance at the Sabbath Year. Every seventh year the land had its rest. And seven times seven (forty-nine) brought them up to the fiftieth year, or the Year of Jubilee, in which year all debts were canceled and each Israelite returned to his own inheritance. It was a year of rest, peace, joy. that Jubilee pictures the glorious Restitution Times of Messiah's Kingdom, which, we believe, are nigh, even at the door. When these times will be ushered in, all faithful new creatures will have reached the heavenly condition, to be forever with the Lord. Their rest (Sabbath-keeping) will have reached its completion, its perfection, and throughout that antitypical Jubilee the blessings of Divine favor will be gradually extended to the whole world, that every creature desirous of coming into harmony with God may enter into the rest which God has provided for the poor, groaning creation through the great Redeemer.

THE CHRISTIAN'S SABBATH

From what we have already seen it is manifest that God has put no Sabbath obligations upon the Christian -- neither for the seventh day nor for any other day of the week. He has, however, provided for him a rest in the Lord, which is typified by the Jewish Sabbath Day. Do we ask upon which day we should celebrate this rest? We answer that we should be in this heart attitude of joy, rest, peace in the Lord and in His finished work, every day. So, then, the Christian, instead of having a Sabbath rest day, as the Jew, has rest perpetual -- every day. And instead of its being merely a rest for his body, it is better -- a rest for his soul, a rest for his entire being. It can be enjoyed wherever he may be, for his is the constant rest of faith. This is the spiritual antitype to the spiritual Israelites, of the Law Sabbath given to the natural Israelites. Whoever quibbles for the Sabbath Day of the Jew show clearly that he has not understood nor appreciated as yet, to the full at least, the antitypical Sabbath which God provided for spiritual Israel through Christ.

But is there not a compulsion to the Christian to observe one day in the week sacred to the Lord? Yes, we answer; there is an obligation upon him such as there is upon no one else in the world. He is obligated by his covenant to the Lord to keep every day sacred to the Lord. Every day he is to love the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his being, with all his strength; every day he is to love his neighbor as himself. And while striving to the best of his ability to conform to this spirit of the Divine Law, and while realizing that the blood of Jesus Christ our Redeemer cleanses us from all the imperfections contrary to our intentions -- these may rest in the peace and joy of the Lord continually. "We which have believed do enter into rest."