The Sabbath Question
MacGregor (1830-1894) trained for the ministry under William Cunningham, whom he regarded as Scotland’s master theologian. After MacGregor had been a pastor for ten years, he was called in 1868 to the chair of systematic theology at the Free Church College, Edinburgh, in succession to James Buchanan. He responded to rising errors of his day by writing in defense of the Sabbath and against Amyrauldianism. Illness forced him to migrate to New Zealand in 1881, where he was again the pastor of a church, and published expositions of the confessional teaching about election and eternal punishment. The following material is excerpted from his book, The Sabbath Question, Historical, Scriptural, and Practical (Edinburgh 1866).
I. The Practice and Precepts of Jesus
I will introduce the discussion of the question by commenting on the lessons derivable from the gospel history of the Word Incarnate. It is true that, from the first verse of Genesis to the last of Revelation, every word of God prepares the believer for the due apprehension of all that follows; and that no one is duly prepared for apprehending any part of Scripture who has not been educated, in faith and love, by all that has gone before. Yet in a very obvious respect the gospel story of Jesus the Christ is the center and foundation of all theological study. For the Son of Mary is the keystone of the system of Bible evidence: everything rests on His purity and truthfulness as a man: no one who acknowledges His personal purity and truthfulness can consistently stop short of receiving the Bible as a true revelation of God.
Against our doctrine, with reference to the question of the Sabbath, to the wider question of the commandments of God in general, and to the yet wider question of the written Word of God, an appeal has been made to Jesus. They claim Him as their authority for rejecting the Sabbath law, and disclaiming allegiance to detailed commandments in general, and disdainfully disregarding the letter or form of the express mind of God as communicated in the Bible. It will be profitable here to consider the real bearing of the Saviour’s personal history and teaching on the varied aspects of the question now before us.
1. As to the Written Word of God. Here our adversaries make some confused reference to the distinction between the letter of the word and its spirit. But this distinction is nothing to their purpose. In any written word, the spirit or meaning is inseparable from the letter or form: on the one hand, the letter without the spirit is mere printer’s ink; and on the other hand, it is only in the letter that the spirit has “a local habitation or a name.” Where, if not in the letter of the written word, do our falsetto spiritualists find that spirit of God’s mind which is revealed in Scripture? Is it in some “innermost divine consciousness of their own,” independent of that written word which is His mind expressed? If it be, then let them give up the name of Christian; for Christianity, under one leading aspect, consists in believing “the Word of Christ” as prophet of the Church. But they have appealed to Jesus, and to Jesus we shall go with them.
They choose to reject the written word in favour of some “spirit” which they represent as peculiarly Christ-like and Christian. But this spirit of theirs is plainly antichristian; their Antinomian cant about a spirit which rejects the word is directly opposed to the teaching of Christ, — e.g. in John 14:21-26, where He represents it as one great work of His Spirit of truth to lead men to receive and cherish the Word which expresses the truth. And this part of His teaching is amply illustrated by His example.
After His baptism, or public consecration as the Christ of God, the first words we find Him uttering are, “It is written . . . It is written . . . It is written again.” The enemy, after exhausting the lower forms of temptation, when driven to his last shift, has looked for the least ignoble temptation that can be presented to a rational spirit, and quotes one of the noblest texts of one of the noblest chapters in the Bible (Ps. 91). Thus one of the two greatest spirits that ever met in mortal conflict reluctantly confesses the supreme importance of the “written” Word of God. But the Spirit of Jesus has made the same confession from the first. From the beginning of His wilderness temptation to its end, so far from drawing upon that “innermost divine consciousness” which with Him was an independent reality, — He rests with a babe-like simplicity on that “It is written, it is written, it is written again,” which is to this hour the stay of believers. Such is the example He sets us in that temptation which is His probation as the Christ, the trial of His qualification for the mediatorial office and work.
And such is the example He continues to set us throughout the temptation or trial of His life to its close, — until, on the cross, He breathes out His life in a sentence of Old Testament Scripture. The whole course of His ministry was in keeping with its beginning and its end. The human life of God’s incarnate Son is the most impressive illustration on record of the first sentence of that ministry: “It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word of God.” Throughout His ministry, He avowedly rested on the Old Testament Scripture as His warrant and witness in all things. If, then, we will follow His example, we too shall act on His maxim, “Man shall live only by the Word of God.”
2. As to the commandments of God in general, which are now represented as superseded by love, or by a lawless liberty which does not find its glorious realisation in keeping the commandments. It will be seen that this objection really tells against commandments as such, i.e., against all detailed precepts. But, in the first instance at least, it is meant to tell against the Ten Commandments of the Decalogue.
With reference to these, let us listen to the teaching of Jesus the prophet. He declares with special reference to the Decalogue, that He has not come to destroy the law but to fulfill; and that whoever will break — literally, “loosen,” or “deny the binding force of” — the least of the commandments, and teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. And so far from saying that love supersedes the law, he declares that the law is only the detailed application of the “two great commandments,” Love God, Love thy neighbour, — that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” These two great commandments, therefore, if we will believe Him, are the soul of the Old Testament system, the life-giving spirit which keeps the body from corruption and dissolution; and which only in that body has a sensible being and power. Hence, all who seriously receive Him as a teacher from God, “if they love Him, will keep His commandments”: if they love God and their neighbour, they will obey those Ten Words which are the incarnation and detailed application of the “royal law of love.”
This lesson for all men comes home with peculiar force to those who lay peculiar emphasis on the commonplace truth, that the Decalogue lay at the foundation of the Old Testament Church constitution, or of God’s covenant with His Church of old. That Church constitution had on the face of it a veil of evanescent ceremonial, which has passed away with the evanescent circumstances of the Old Testament Church. But in its substance, as distinguished from evanescent circumstances, that Old Testament constitution remains for the Church of all ages and lands; so that, if the Decalogue lay at the foundation of that constitution, it may be presumed that it is of perpetual obligation at least on Christians. Again, the covenant of God with His people cannot have been merely ceremonial, superficial, formal. It must have included some moral element; it must have bound them to do what man is bound to do as man. And that moral element — where is it to be sought for, if not in the code which lay at the foundation of the covenant?
3. As to the fourth commandment in particular. This our adversaries regard as the illustrative sample, in relation to which our Saviour’s sayings and doings justify them in assailing not only the Sabbath law but the whole Decalogue, and even the written Word of God as such.
(1.) He perfectly obeyed the Sabbath law. Our modern Sadducees loudly praise Him as a Sabbath desecrator. The ancient Pharisees no less loudly condemned Him as a Sabbath desecrator. But here Pilate and Herod condemn in crucifying The Truth. If we will believe Him, He was no desecrator of the Sabbath, but perfectly obeyed the Sabbath law. This is the ground on which He invariably stood in self-defence, on all the occasions on which He was accused of perpetrating or sanctioning a violation of the law. He did not plead that He had a right to break it, but He maintained that He had perfectly obeyed it.
(2.) He declared the purpose of the law to be “mercy and not sacrifice.” Hence the exception in cases of “necessity and mercy.” On account of our professing to recognise this exception to the rule, we Sabbatarians are scoffed at. But in recognising that exception, we do but follow the example of the Son of God. And the exception as declared by the Incarnate Word or Reason of God (Logos) commends itself to the reason of man. The purpose of the sixth commandment is to guard the sacredness of human life. But for this purpose, which is the spirit or meaning of the law, it may be necessary to depart from the letter of the law, “Thou shalt not kill”: e.g., in the death punishment of murderers, what society seeks is not the destruction of life but really the preservation of life, by solemn judicial vindication of its sacredness. And in thus departing from the letter of the law in order to obey its spirit, society does not reject the written Word of God, but accepts the letter of that word as the instrument of expressing the spirit of it, and obeys the word itself by doing what God really means men to do: i.e., by effectually providing for the protection of human life. So of the fourth commandment. What God really means in this commandment is to give rest to man’s body and soul. Therefore, He means that we should do everything we innocently can for the realisation of that rest; for example, that all should make due needful provision for bodily ease and comfort, and that ministers should be doing their great work for the healing and comforting of souls. And thus in all cases of real “necessity and mercy,” in working for the realisation of the God-given rest of body and soul we are not breaking the law but really obeying it, that is, doing what God really means us to do.
Hence, too, the law itself. Our adversaries appear to imagine that “mercy” is shown only in the exceptional cases; that the law itself is unmerciful, imposing a painful burden; and that the cases of “necessity and mercy” are simply cases in which the harshness of the law becomes intolerable, that is, extreme cases of the ordinary inhuman spirit of the law. It is not from the gospel history of Jesus that they have learned to think thus. He has taught us that the whole Old Testament system is pervaded by the “mercy” of God to man. He sets forth the Decalogue in general as a notable instance of that love of God, because it gives man so many calls and inducements to the blessedness of loving God and his neighbour. And what he gives us to understand with reference to the Ten Commandments in general He shows to be conspicuously true of the Sabbath law in particular.
It is a significant illustration of the unchristian position of our adversaries that this law, which they have selected as the illustrative sample of the harshness and inhumanity of the Old Testament religion as opposed to the religion of Jesus, is the one only commandment selected by Jesus Himself as an illustrative sample of that “mercy and not sacrifice” which he declares to be the spirit of the Old Testament religion as a whole (Matt. 12:7).
In selecting this law for that purpose, he does not, of course, deny, but virtually affirms the mercifulness of that religion of which it is an illustrative sample. This virtual affirmation extends to those minute ceremonial regulations, and even to those severe penal sanctions of the theocratic system, which have been abrogated by His death. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son.” Under the Old Testament the Church was a child. What a child needs, in order to be trained for a healthful maturity, is a daily and hourly subjection to positive precepts, all imbued with parental tenderness as well as invested with parental authority, and all combining to form a habit of subjection to lawful authority, — a habit which shall remain after the precepts which instrumentally formed it have long been forgotten. And even the severe penal sanctions were fitted to train the Church to feel the great value of the ordinances which were guarded at such a cost. Such is the training which every generation of children receives in well-conditioned Christian families. This training God gave to His Church in her Old Testament childhood by the ceremonial regulations and penal sanctions which are abrogated now. And we, who enjoy the fruits of that training, in a disciplined habit of subjection to God’s law, may well confess, as we look back to the Old Testament discipline, that its presiding spirit was always “mercy and not sacrifice.”
The Sabbath which the Saviour thus characterised as a signal illustration of the mercifulness of His religion as revealed of old, was the Jewish Sabbath; for it was in its Jewish form alone that the Sabbath existed in His day. From this we may learn what was the true character of that Jewish Sabbath of whose harshness and austerity and gloomy asceticism so much has been ignorantly said. Of the true spirit of Old Testament Jewish Sabbath-keeping, we have a fine illustration in the ninety-second Psalm, headed, “A psalm for the Sabbath day.” The whole song is replete with festive gladness. Again, we have a description of the true spirit of Jewish Sabbath-keeping in Isa. 58:13-14. There we see that what our Sadducees represent as a degrading bondage the true Old Testament Israel called “a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable,” enabling them to “delight themselves in the Lord” and to “feed on the heritage of Jacob their father,” i.e., on God’s redeeming love.
(3.) He declared that “the Sabbath was made for man.” God might have made man, like the other rational creatures, so as to be naturally incapable of receiving the Sabbath and the family; or, having made him as He has made him, He might not have given him these two institutions, which his actual constitution as man requires for the fullness of his completed well-being. And therefore, in first making man such as to be naturally susceptible of the law, and then building the law on the basis of the human constitution, the Creator has bestowed on mankind a signal gift of the tender mercy which extends over all His works. They, therefore, who break the Sabbath law are guilty of treading under foot, in swinish grossness of ingratitude and ignorance, a precious jewel, which should be all the more dearly prized by man because it is given to man alone.
But further, the Saviour teaches that the Sabbath was made, not merely for Jew, the man in exceptional circumstances, but “for man,” the man as such, i.e., for all men in all ages and lands. From this it follows that, both as a law to rule man’s life and as a boon to bless it, God has made the Sabbath for all nations and ages. There must therefore be a Sabbath in the New Testament Church. But where is this Sabbath in the New Testament Church? It is, and can be, only in the Lord’s Day; for this is the only festival which either we or our adversaries recognise as being divinely instituted for the Church of the new dispensation. So that it is not merely from ancestral tradition, nor merely from our own theological speculation, but really from the lips of Christ, that we have received the truth that the New Testament Lord’s Day is the “Christian Sabbath.” And if this Lord’s Day be the Christian Sabbath, it is thus “one whole day in seven,” set apart from the ordinary purposes of human life, and consecrated, with all due regard to emergent claims of “necessity and mercy,” to religious rest.
(4.) He declared that He, as “the Son of Man, is lord also of the Sabbath.” He has restored this among other things which constituted man’s natural heritage of blessing forfeited by sin. And therefore He claims a “propriety in” or lordship over the Sabbath, and asserts and seals the claim by transposing the resting day to the week’s beginning from its end, and giving to this Christian Sabbath the name of “the Lord’s Day.”
Here we see the truth that He, and He alone, has competent authority to effect that transposition. No human authority, of prince, or priest, or people, — no mere creature, — has power of right to alter even the form of a God-given law or institution. But the Son of Man, in the case now before us, has that power of right. What the Sabbath law requires in its substance is the consecration of one day in seven. Which day in seven shall be consecrated, is merely a question of form. And this question of form, not determined by the substance of the Sabbath law, falls to be determined by the positive institution of Him who is the “Lord of the Sabbath.”
II. Morality of the Decalogue in General
The Decalogue, because a code of moral laws, has lain at the foundation of God’s covenant with His church under both dispensations; and has thus become the instrument of connecting, not only the New Testament with the Old Testament, but the new creation with the old creation, by showing that our Redeemer is the true God and King of the whole moral universe, and that in our redemption He does not forget His holiness, nor cease to be a righteous moral governor, but really “magnifies the law and makes it honourable” when pardoning and blessing the guilty law-breaker.
A moral law is distinct in its nature from a positive law, whether ceremonial or judicial. A positive law is founded on some peculiar circumstances not existing in the nature or constitution of the creature: it binds only those who are in these peculiar circumstances; and them it binds only because it is the express will of the lawgiver. Such, e.g., were among the Jews the ceremonial law of the passover, and the judicial law of the death punishment of Sabbath desecrators. A moral law, on the other hand, is otherwise called natural, because it is based on the nature or constitution of man in his unchangeable relations to God and his neighbour: it binds all men in all ages; and so from its binding them merely because God has declared it, it has been declared by Him because it is obligatory in its own nature. And the question to which I now proceed to speak is this: — Is the Decalogue, or code of “Ten Words,” a code of moral laws, and not merely of positive laws, ceremonial or judicial? Our doctrine of the Decalogue is, that it is a code of moral laws. Sound divines often explain, that they insist on calling it moral or natural only in the sense of its being universally and permanently obligatory. It is obviously only in this sense that the authors of our Confession would emphasise the morality of the Decalogue [Westminster Confession XIX.ii, iii.]
I know, indeed, that some have said that though the Decalogue should be a code of moral laws, yet it may in some sense be abrogated, so as to be no longer obligatory on Christians. But this is not the only case in which nonsense has been talked in behalf of heresy. If the Decalogue really be a code of moral laws, then God on Sinai declared in effect, “This is My view of the duty of man as man, in all nations and ages.” And having said this He never can unsay it, unless He have said what was untrue, or unless He have changed His mind, or unless he have changed the moral constitution of the world as declared by Him on Sinai. The declaration of a moral law is like the placing of a star in the firmament: once placed there, it is never displaced, but shines in the firmament “for ever and ever.” God may have given us new light as to the import of the law, so as to enlarge and complete our conceptions of its heart-searching height, and depth, and length, and breadth. But to talk of the abrogation of a really moral law, is to perpetrate an absurdity as gross as though one had talked of the abrogation of the law of gravitation, or of the multiplication table.
We are now in a condition to look on the Scripture evidence in behalf of our doctrine of the morality of the Decalogue. That evidence is furnished partly by the circumstances in which the law was revealed and preserved.
(1.) Of the revelation of it. It is not merely that Israel had been delivered from Egypt with a strong hand, and miraculously led through the Red Sea and the wilderness to Mount Sinai. The utterance of the Ten Words was attended with circumstances so peculiar as to set them “high on a hill apart” from all the merely positive laws, whether ceremonial or judicial, which the chosen people received on that mountain from their God. The Ten Words were not merely delivered to them by Moses as he had received them from the Lord, but spoken in their hearing by the awful voice of God Himself. After being thus delivered, they were not committed to perishable paper or parchment by the hand of man, but graven by God’s own finger on both sides of two imperishable tables of stone. The law thus revealed was solemnly declared by God to be the foundation of His covenant with Israel: the tables, to be distinctively the tables of His “testimony.”
(2.) Not less impressively significant are the circumstances attending the preservation of the Decalogue. They all remind us of that cry in the fortieth Psalm, “Thy law is within my heart.” Literally, this law was in the heart’s heart of the Old Dispensation: while the Pentateuch was kept on the outside of the ark, the two stony tables were kept in the inside of the ark of the covenant, in that Holy of Holies which was the heart of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple. And really, the law has been always within the heart of God’s living temples, the only living temples he has had on the earth since the fall. First, in the heart of the Old Testament Church: not only the law was laid by God at the foundation of her constitution and covenant with Him; but, as we find in the book of Psalms — the utterance of her heart’s experience — that law was ever before her mind’s eye, whether broken or kept, whether hated or loved, as if in the very place of Jehovah the Lawgiver. Second, in the heart of the New Testament Church, which is a temple of the Holy Ghost. In Rom. 13:8-10, we find this divine Spirit writing on her heart the words, “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law,” and again, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” And if we ask what law? We find in the next verse that it is the law of the Decalogue, e.g., its second table, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, viz., Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Again, in James 2:10-12 we find the same Spirit speaking of “The whole law,” “the law of liberty.” And if we ask what law? again He answers, The law of the Decalogue, — producing two of its commandments to illustrate the point he is proving — “For he that said, do not commit adultery, said also, do not kill.”
Third, and last, the greatest of all, it is “within the heart” of Christ, the true living temple, in whom sinful men meet their Saviour God. It is really He (Heb. 10:5-9) who by anticipation uttered that cry in the fortieth Psalm. Thus in His conversation with the rich young nobleman (Matt. 19:17-19) He says, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young man asks Him what commandments; and He answers in effect, The commandments of the Decalogue, — producing those commandments of it which are best fitted to serve the practical purpose in His view: “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother, (and what ‘briefly comprehends’ them all), Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Again, in His sermon on the mount, when giving an outline of the character of His new kingdom as contrasted with the Pharisaic and Sadducean apostasy, He speaks of “commandments” in tones which might make the ears of some pretended Christian ministers in our land and time to tingle — (Matt. 5:17-19): “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I came not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever, therefore, 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, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” And if we ask, What commandments are these, receiving this new sanction, more tremendous than the thunders and lightnings of Sinai? again we find that they are at least the commandments of the Decalogue; on three of which (vers. 21, 27, 33), as illustrative samples, He proceeds to comment (21-37), so as to bring out the fullness of their spiritual import.
1. Christians are bound to obey the law declared in the Ten Commandments. This proposition is by no means inconsistent with the reality of that liberty with which Christ has made His people free. Liberty does not consist in the absence of law. In the preface to the Ten Commandments, He declares that He has brought His people “out of the house of bondage”; and yet in the commandments themselves, He goes on to bind His people to obey. It is evident, therefore, that binding of itself does not constitute bondage; that some sort of binding is indispensable to the realised freedom of rational creatures. The liberty of a son is not a disruption of the bond of obligation to obey the father. The filial love is a fountain, longing to rush forth in a stream of obedience. And the law of God creates so many channels in which that love may flow forth freely and gladly in a song of praise; the Ten Commandments are, so to speak, the ten fingers of God, creating the channels, pointing out the courses in which may flow that love which is “the fulfilling of the law.”
2. The “reason annexed” to the fourth commandment in Deut. 5:15 is not the “reason annexed” in Exod. 20:11. “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence, through a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm; therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.” This reason, of course, does not supersede the reason declared in Exod. 20:11. But it supplements it. And this supplementary reason shows these two things: — (1.) The reasonableness of the transposition of the resting day to the week’s beginning from its end. One great reason why we should keep one day in seven as a religious rest is the fact of redemption, or new creation. To exhibit this fact is one leading purpose of our Sabbath observance. And now that the redemption is achieved, this fact is most clearly exhibited by the observance of the first day of the week as the day of weekly rest in God, Creator and Redeemer. (2.) This “reason annexed” reminds us of the fact that it is ransomed men that alone are likely to keep the natural law of the Sabbath. The Gentile nations have shown in their institutions some glimmering reminiscence of a God-given law, commanding the observance of one day in seven as a religious rest. But they have not actually observed it. The day of weekly rest has been really observed only by Old Testament Christians or New Testament Christians. For they alone have seen and felt the superadded obligation to show forth the glory of God as Creator, arising from the fact that the God who is the Creator of all is the Redeemer of His “peculiar people.”
But this superadded “reason annexed” to the fourth commandment is but a special application of the preface to all the Ten Commandments. Christians should be peculiarly faithful in obeying the whole moral law, as a thank-offering to Him, not only as Creator, but also and especially as Redeemer. I have always admired the division of theology in the Heidelberg Catechism. Theologians have often been perplexed with the question, what place they should give in their systems to the Decalogue, — a perplexity which does not, perhaps, redound to the credit of their systems. But the Heidelberg Catechism very nobly resolves the vexed question thus: — It arranges the whole system of revealed truth under three heads, –our Ruin, our Redemption, and our Gratitude. And under the third head, of our Gratitude, it places the Ten Commandments of the Decalogue. This is not the whole truth; for (as is indicated by the “reason annexed” to the fourth commandment in Exod. 20:11), we are bound to keep the laws of the Decalogue even by nature. But it is a very important part of the truth; for (as we learn from the “reason annexed” to that commandment in Deut. 5:15, and from the preface to all the commandments in Exod. 20:2), we are laid under special superadded obligation to obey the natural law by the fact that God is not only our God and Creator, but also our Redeemer. He, therefore, who shall decry the commandments on the ground of his being eminently Christian, “knows not what manner of spirit he is of.” The only effect of our being Christians, in respect to the Ten Commandments as a rule of life, is to lay us under a new and superadded obligation to keep them, in order to show forth the praise of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light — who has brought us out of the true spiritual Egypt, and made us in spirit the true “Israel of God.”
3. We should be thankful for this preternatural revelation of natural law, or positive declaration of the law which is moral. In all men there does remain indefeasibly a conscience which speaks of some law written on their hearts. And the Pagan philosophers have occasionally lighted on some general principle which might have led men to the knowledge of good rules of life in relation to their neighbour: e.g., the Stoical maxim, “Regard yourself as one monad in a system of monads,” though immeasurably inferior to “the royal law of love,” is at least as good as the Kantian rule, “Act from a maxim fit to be law in a system of universal legislation.” But in point of fact, the nations left to themselves did not actually know and honour those plain moral laws which we — thanks to God in the Bible, educating our conscience by His word — have learned to regard as palpably self-evident. Thus, the whole of the first table has been a dead letter among Pagans in general. And there is no precept of the second table which has not been ignored or forgotten by some, at least, of the nations which know not God in Christ. We need a preternatural revelation in order even that plain laws of natural morality may be known and observed among the peoples.
Hardly less important is the Decalogue as a testimony to our unholiness. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” The vague Antinomian cant on which I have commented is little likely to lay sinners low in the dust, convinced of their guilt and depravity, and thus ready for the grace which He gives to the lowly, who hunger and thirst for His righteousness in Christ. The pantheism of which that cant is the unconscious echo formally destroys the very idea of moral law, and its correlate ideas of sin, and guilt, and depravity, and righteousness, and justification, and sanctification to life — in short, virtually declares that the saving doctrines of the gospel are not only untrue, but meaningless or absurd. And this pantheism is destroyed by the thunderbolts of Sinai, as well as by the sacrifice on Calvary. On these two mountains we see the personality and holiness of God, and the correlate personality and responsibility of man, clear as the noonday, in heaven’s own light of righteous wrath and redeeming love. But no man can see what God shows on Calvary, of true redeeming love, who has not first looked up, trembling and adoring, to the revelation of His holiness on Sinai. And thus the “Ten Words” are always needed, not only for the regulation of the life of God’s children, but also as a schoolmaster to lead those who now are lost to feel that they are lost, depraved and guilty — and bring them as convicted sinners to Christ, and through Christ to their lost life in God.
III. Morality of the Fourth Commandment in Particular
The doctrine of a Trinity in Unity is evidenced by the system of Bible facts regarding the constitution of the Godhead, because this doctrine, and this alone, accounts for them all. And in like manner we maintain that our doctrine of the perpetual obligation of the Sabbath law is evidenced by the system of relevant Bible facts, because our doctrine, and it alone, accounts for the facts: it is the only real theory of them, enabling us to see them as a system, to comprehend them in one view, from center to circumference all round.
The facts to be accounted for are all connected with the institution of the week, — the distribution of time into periods of seven days, each containing six days for work and one day of rest. And in connection with this hebdomadal distribution of man’s time there are three leading facts of Biblical revelation, which no Bible reader can fail to perceive, no matter what may be his opinion regarding the Sabbath or Lord’s Day. First, in the Bible account of creation and man’s first estate, we find (Gen. 2:3) revealed the fact that God blessed the seventh day, and the reason why He thus consecrated the hebdomadal distribution of time, — a reason which applies not merely to Jews, but alike to all men in all ages and lands. Second, for that reason, He declared the Sabbath law on Sinai, and set it in the heart of a code of laws distinctively moral. And third, the New Testament Church, under the authoritative guidance of inspired Apostles, continued to observe the institution of the week, altered in its form by the transposition of the resting-day from its close to its beginning, but unaltered in its substance as consisting of six days for work and one day of rest. These three leading facts are the principal witnesses for our doctrine, furnishing the primary Bible evidence of its truth.
Again, around these three leading facts there are three clusters of secondary facts, — planets round their suns, — which constitute so many groups of secondary witnesses, furnishing accessory evidence of the truth of our doctrine. First, in connection with the narrative in Gen. 2:3, — It appears on the face of the God-given record that the Sabbath law was revealed to man unfallen in Paradise, and was not unknown to the patriarchs before and after the flood; and it is certain, not only that the week has been more or less fully known by the Gentile nations, but that the Sabbath was known and observed by the Jews before God declared the law on Sinai. Second, in connection with that Sinaitic legislation, — The Sabbath law (with ceremonial circumstances) was observed by God’s Church from Moses to Christ, for fifteen hundred years; during that period He gave indications of a purpose to preserve a Sabbath for His Church in the New Dispensation; and when His Son had come in the flesh, the God-man declared, not only in general that He had not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it, but in special that “the Sabbath was made” — not merely for the Jews, but — “for man,” and is therefore a part of that indestructible inheritance of which “the Son of Man is Lord.” And third, in connection with the week, and weekly rest of the New Testament Church — a rest observed by the whole Christian world from the day of Pentecost to this hour — Neither the Apostles, nor the primitive Christians under them or after them, have left any trace of their having regarded this week as anything new or even surprising, so as to demand a divine institution or at least explanation: they present every appearance of having quietly accepted it as a matter of course, a thing with which the Church was familiar from of old, and which therefore demanded no formal explanation, in the New Testament.
These Bible facts, primary and secondary, must be accounted for by anything which plausibly pretends to be a theory of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day; and any supposition which really accounts for them all is evidenced by them all as being the Bible doctrine. Now our doctrine really does account for them all. It accounts for them as follows: — First, the Sabbath is moral or natural in its substance, as requiring the hebdomadal distribution of man’s time into periods, each containing six days of working for God and one day of resting in Him; and thus far it has remained in force through all ages of human history. Second, which day shall be the resting day is not determined by the substance of the law: the determination of this question does not arise out of the essence of the hebdomadal institution: the question falls to be determined by the positive institution of God. And it has been so determined: by God’s institution, the seventh day was kept holy in all the ages before, and the first day has been and shall be kept holy through all the ages that follow the resurrection of Christ for the justification of His Church. But third, while thus undergoing modification in its form, the law has been always unchanged in its substance: the week of man as prescribed by God has always contained seven days, — six days of holy working and one day of holy resting.
This manifestly is a clear and account of the system of Bible facts. Our doctrine is thus a veritable theory, enabling us to see the facts as a system, to comprehend them in one view, from center to circumference all round, in the light of a principle. On the other hand, no other “theory” of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day does account for the plain Bible facts. The Ecclesiastical and Dominical theories do not so much as pretend to account for them all. The Ecclesiastical theory, that the day has been appointed merely by the Christian wisdom of the Church, simply rejects the Bible facts as irrelevant to the question of our duty. The Dominical theory, that the day is kept only on the ground of apostolic institution, rejects all the Bible facts but one, — the fact of Apostolic institution of the Lord’s Day — and the one which it accepts it leaves utterly unaccounted for.
I now proceed to show, under the head of answers to objections, that there is no real insoluble difficulty in this case — no difficulty that does not, on calm and close inspection, vanish away into nothing. When closely examined, the objections alleged against it will be found to corroborate the Biblical demonstration of its truth.
The alleged counter-evidence of Scripture is derived from two remarks of the Apostle Paul — one in deprecation of a certain regarding of “days” (Rom. 14:5-6) and the other in disparagement of “Sabbaths” (Col. 2:16) in connection with “new moons.” As to these remarks, the question is, How do you account for them on the supposition that your doctrine is true? And to this question I answer:
1. As to the remark about regarding “days”: the question is, What species of regarding? And our answer is, a Judaical, superstitious regard: — a superstition consisting not in the religious observance of a day prescribed by God, — for the Apostles themselves observed a day, the first of the week. 2. As to the remark about “Sabbaths,” in connection with new moons: the question again is, What “Sabbaths”? And our answer is, Jewish Sabbaths, observed on the seventh day of the week. It is doubtful whether the name of Sabbath is given to the Lord’s Day so much as once in all the New Testament Scriptures. It is certain that the Jewish Sabbath is what is ordinarily designated by the name in the New Testament throughout. And it is notorious that the Hebrew members of the New Testament Church went on observing the Jewish Sabbath along with the Lord’s Day, as they went on observing the Jewish circumcision along with the Christian baptism, for a considerable time after the Jewish form of Sabbath and sacrament had been confessedly antiquated by the death of Christ. Their observance of this antiquated form was, as I have said, tolerated as a harmless weakness, and, in the case of the “Sabbath,” as a useful preparation for observing the Lord’s Day. But the observance of the Jewish form was in some cases regarded and inculcated by Judaisers as being necessary to salvation, or at least as incumbent on Christians by God’s law. And on this account the Apostles found it necessary to throw out such warnings with reference to the “Sabbath,” — i.e., the antiquated Jewish form of the weekly rest — as they more emphatically uttered with reference to circumcision, the antiquated Jewish form of the sacrament of initiation.
These two remarks are the only things which so much appear to be Scripture counter-evidence against our doctrine. We have seen that they are so only in appearance, and that even the appearance vanishes away on close inspection.
But in the absence of positive evidence of Scripture against us, some have based an argument on the silence of one part of Scripture: — “The Apostles do not formally declare your doctrine; and how can their silence regarding it be accounted for on the supposition of its truth?” To the advocates of the Dominical theory of the Lord’s Day, we might answer this question by proposing another: How do you account for that which is involved in your doctrine, the very singular circumstance that an institution (of the Lord’s Day), entirely new, and vitally affecting all human life, created by the Apostles, and universally observed by the primitive Church, has not in all the New Testament any record of its creation, nor even so much as one indication of its novelty? The institution of the Lord’s Day is thus wholly unaccountable on the Dominical hypothesis, but is easily and naturally accounted for on the Sabbatarian.
But we can give a more generous answer than this argumentum ad hominem. The question is, “If our doctrine be true, why do the apostles not formally and expressly declare it?” And the answer is: Because, if our doctrine be true, it had no need of formal and express Apostolic revelation: it was already well known: the institution of the week, as prescribed by moral law, was part of the immemorial revelation of God in His truth; and had thus been made familiar to the Church as the air she breathed, become inwrought into her constitution, by four thousand years of Sabbath observance.
For the sake of illustration, let us look at what most Christians will regard as a parallel case. The practice of infant baptism rests on the doctrine of infant church membership, and implies the substantial oneness of baptism and circumcision. But against circumcision, the antiquated Jewish form of the sacrament of initiation, the Apostle speaks much more strongly than he speaks against “Sabbaths,” the antiquated Jewish form of the weekly day of rest. Yet the Apostles take no pains to guard the Church against errors which might easily arise from misconception of such statements against circumcision. They do not explain, that what the statements are directed against is not the substance of the sacrament, but only its antiquated Jewish form. They do not formally and expressly declare the doctrine of infant church membership, as establishing the right of infants to be baptized. This doctrine they leave to be inferred, from the nature and circumstances of the case as revealed in Scripture as a whole: e.g., from an incidental allusion in Col. 2:11-12, not more conclusively clear than the allusion to the Sabbath in Heb. 4:9; or from the substantial identity of the Church’s constitution under both dispensations, Rom. 11:16-21, as we reason for our doctrine on the ground of the unchangeable constitution of man, for whom “the Sabbath was made”; or from the reason of the Old Testament institution, Rom. 4:11, a reason which equally applies to infants under the New, as we appeal to the “reason annexed to the fourth commandment,” because this reason equally applies to all men in all ages and lands. And why do they not formally and expressly declare the doctrine of infant Church membership as the basis of the practice of infant baptism? Because it did not need any express and formal Apostolic revelation: it was already well known: it had become familiar to the Church as the air she breathed by sixty generations of infant circumcision. This is a conclusive answer to the objection: — “If your doctrine be true, why do the Apostles not formally and expressly declare it?” And the same answer amply accounts for the Apostolic silence regarding our doctrine of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day.
It must always be remembered that, historically, the Jewish Church is the vine on which we Gentiles have been grafted. Of the Apostolic Church membership a very large proportion were Jews by birth and education. They alone brought into the Church a definite religious character and habit of thought and feeling and action, — a character and habit which had been formed in them by the Old Testament revelation of God; — so that Paul served God, no doubt “in Christ,” yet “from his forefathers.” The Gentile converts, on the other hand, with hearts renewed, but character and habits quite unformed, were, so to speak, as the molten gold. The Jewish element was the strong mould in which the Christian Church was cast, giving its own definite form to the Gentile. And thus it came to pass that the primitive Church accepted as a matter of course the seemingly reasonable institution of infant baptism; because the doctrine of infant Church membership, on which that practice is based, had been inwrought into the Jewish mind, so as to constitute a sort of religious “second nature,” by two thousand years of infant circumcision. So of our doctrine of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day. The primitive Church fell easily and naturally into the habit of observing the Lord’s Day, because the doctrine on which that observance is based had been known to the Church from the dawn of revelation in the form of “Sabbath” observance; — because, in short, the Sabbath law is a law of nature, and therefore the Lord’s Day was not a new institution, but an old institution, as old as the nature of man — the old institution under a new form, gradually acquiring, on account of its true nature, the proper name of “Christian Sabbath.”
Thus by the system of Bible facts as a whole we are shut in to the conclusion, that the Sabbath law is natural or moral, and as such binds all men in all ages and lands. The same conclusion is significantly indicated by God’s own finger, writing the law of the Sabbath on the two stony tables, in the heart of that imperishable code of which not a jot nor a tittle shall ever pass away. If the fourth commandment be merely positive, why has it been set, by God’s own hand, in the heart of a code of laws distinctively natural?
But the question remains, Is this doctrine of ours of such practical importance that it ought to form part of a Confession of a Church? And to this question we answer, That our doctrine is the only thing that will secure a real bona fide observance of a weekly day of rest. Let us look, for instance, at the doctrine which comes nearest to it, that of a Lord’s Day prescribed by the Apostles, but having nothing to do with the fourth commandment, not resting on “the law of nature.” This Dominical theory, in point of mere logic, leads to the same conclusion, as to the manner of observing the day of rest, which we contend for on the grounds on our doctrine: for a Lord’s Day is “one whole day in seven” devoted to religious rest. But it is one thing to show that the observance of the day is obligatory in mere logic, and another to secure the practical discharge of the obligation. In point of mere logic, the due observance of the Lord’s Day ought, perhaps, to follow from the merely Ecclesiastical theory of the day, i.e. from the supposition that it has been appointed merely by the Christian wisdom of the Church, on the ground that she finds the day of rest to be necessary to her completed well-being, temporal and spiritual. But this Ecclesiastical theory, whatever may be its logical consequence, is found in practice an utter failure. It never has secured a real observance of “one whole day in seven” as a bona fide day of religious rest. For it gives the institution no adequate hold of the conscience of man in the mass. And the Dominical theory, though not in the same degree, is characterised by the same practical weakness.
A Christian, no doubt, would be bound to observe the institution merely of inspired Apostles, as truly as though the law of that institution had been written by the finger of God, in an imperishable code, many ages before it issued with new sanctions from the Apostolic mint. But though as strongly bound in practice, the mass of men will never feel so strongly bound in practice. Again, we may be as strongly bound in logic, but we do not feel so strongly bound in practice, to obey a mere positive precept, which has no recognised root in the nature of things, as to obey the same precept when we recognise its rationale, its root or living foundation, in the whole revealed constitution of the world and the Church.
Take, for example, the case already referred to, of the baptism of infants. Paedobaptists justify their practice by Apostolic institution. But the New Testament evidence of that institution is by no means overwhelming. The mass of Christian men are not able to appreciate the corroborative testimony furnished by the facts of sub-Apostolic church history. And while their conduct is ruled by what they believe to have been the practice of the Apostles, their judgment and conscience ultimately rest, their belief itself is really rooted in the Biblical rationale of that practice, that which lies at the root alike of infant baptism and of infant circumcision — the Scripture doctrine of infant Church membership.
So with reference to the Lord’s Day. The Dominical theory represents it as a merely positive institution of the Apostles, having no vital connection with anything that went before; — leaves it to be regarded as a really arbitrary institution, standing in no vital connection with the constitution of man, either as citizen of the world or as member of the Church. And this, in the experience of the mass of men, must greatly detract from the force of the evidence for the institution itself. I believe that the evidence of the New Testament Church history, corroborated by the evidence of post-Apostolic Church history and doctrine, is logically conclusive for the observance of the Lord’s Day as a day of religious rest. But at the same time I believe that this evidence is by no means so practically indisputable and impressive as to rule the lives of men in the mass. The Lord’s Day without the fourth commandment would be what infant baptism would have been without a preceding infant circumcision. Some men might doubt whether, after all, the Apostles and their Church did rest on the first day in a sense in which they did not rest on the second or the third. Others might reason, even on the supposition that they did, that since they have given no express precept to us, their practice does not bind us to rest as they rested. And both classes might affirm, with really great force of reason, that it is antecedently improbably, ex facie incredible, a thing quite unprecedented in the constitution of the New Testament Church (a constitution which rests on the Old Testament), that there should be for us a binding law which has no reason in the nature of things, no root in the Old Testament, no living foundation even in the New Testament system, not even so much as an express and formal Apostolic institution, — but which rests only on a practice by no means indisputable, either in point of fact, or in point of relevancy to the question of our duty as Christians.
The force of these considerations is silently confessed by the advocates of the Dominical theory themselves, when they speak of the Apostles as having perhaps been guided, in instituting the Lord’s Day, by the analogy of the Sabbath law. In so speaking, they really, though perhaps unconsciously, rest on the ground of the God-given Sabbath law as a law of universal and perpetual obligation. And in truth, a rational soul can find no other possible rest. The Dominical theory is weak and ineffectual in practice, were it only on this account, that it is weak and poor in speculation. It is a lame and beggarly theory. It does not so much as appear to account for the system of Bible facts regarding the Sabbath. It does not even account for — it leaves wholly unaccountable — the one isolated fact on which it professes to stand, the fact of the universal acceptance of the Lord’s Day on the part of the Apostolic and post-Apostolic primitive Church. In fact, it really accounts for nothing. It gives no rationale of anything. It merely affirms one isolated fact, and calls the affirmation a theory! And therefore it is not entitled to the name of a theory. A theory is that which enables us to see many facts as one system, to comprehend them in one view, from center to circumference all round. A bare, bald, isolated, assertion of one fact is not a theory.
On the other hand, our Sabbatarian doctrine is practically strong and impressive, were it only on this account, that it is complete. So far from excluding any one of the Bible facts regarding the Sabbath, it demands them all. Recognising the fact of Apostolic institution of the Lord’s Day as frankly and fully as the poor Dominical theory, it presents that institution to our view as organically connected with the whole historical revelation of God in His word. And in thus showing the foundation, deep and wide, in the whole system of revealed truth regarding the nature of man in his relation to God, it secures to the Lord’s Day a place of corresponding depth and breadth in our affectionate veneration.
IV. Rationale of the Sabbath Law as Moral
“As it is of the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in scripture is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.” Westminster Confession of Faith XXI.vii.
That the Sabbath law is a law of nature, that the fourth commandment is a moral law, we conclude from the place of that law in the Decalogue, at the heart of a code of laws distinctively moral, and from a conjunct view of all the Bible statements regarding the Sabbath and Lord’s Day. But the question remains, how is this law a law of nature? how can the law be, properly speaking, moral as distinguished from merely positive, whether ceremonial or judicial? This question we might have been unable to answer. We might have been unable to point out the precise aspect or part of the natural constitution on which the law is based and yet be bound to believe that, somehow, it is moral, because we are so informed by the word of God. But the Bible not only declares the fact of the morality of the Sabbath, but also reveals its reason. And on that revealed reason or rationale I will now make some remarks.
The indisposition or incapacity to recognise the morality of this institution on the part of men who are willing to receive it as divine, originates mainly in a confusion of thought regarding what constitutes a moral law, or what proves its morality. The simple truth is, that a law is moral or natural if it be based on the nature of man. Some have imagined that it cannot be natural or moral unless, as soon as proposed, it commend itself to the conscience of all men. But (as we have seen) this imagination is a mistake. The laws of the first table of the Decalogue (though they are all moral) do not commend themselves to the conscience of Pagans in general. The conscience of an ancient Spartan, who deemed it a virtue to be a successful thief, would give no response to the law of the eighth commandment; nor will the sixth commandment find acceptance with the conscience of the Thug, who deems murder an acceptable worship of his goddess. Men are often so untrue to their nature as to be incapable of recognising what is based on that nature. And if a law be really founded on the nature of man in his relation to God or his neighbour, then, though all men should fail to recognise it, yet it is truly a moral or natural law, binding all men to obey it.
Again, the law is natural or moral, though it should not be founded on the nature of rational creatures in general, if only it have a foundation in the nature of man. Some have imagined that it cannot be natural or moral unless it be founded on the abstract nature of man as rational, the constitution he has in common with all rational creatures in the universe. But this imagination, again, is a mistake. All rational creatures are bound as firmly as man by those laws of the first table which bind man to have Jehovah for his God, to worship Him according to His nature and will, and to reverence His holy name; and also by those laws of the second table which bind man to love, and cherish, and defend as his own, his neighbour’s life, purity, property, good name. But these do not constitute the whole of what is truly moral or natural law.
Of what has been called “the law of nature and nations,” a very large part has no binding force to any creature but man; for it is founded, not on his abstract nature as rational, but on his concrete constitution, individual, domestic, social, as man, an incarnate spirit, the provincial of earth and time. These laws are not imperial, binding all rational creatures through infinity and eternity, but merely provincial, binding none but man, and binding man only in time on earth. And so of the last commandment of the first table, — “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The law of the Sabbath may be truly natural or moral though it should not be imperial, founded on the abstract nature of man as rational, but only provincial, founded on the concrete nature of man as man, the provincial of time and earth.
A provincial law thus founded on man’s nature is specifically distinct from a merely positive law — even of God. A positive law is not necessarily arbitrary or groundless. All the laws of God, whether positive or natural, are based by perfect wisdom on the circumstances of His creatures to whom they are applied. But of the circumstances on which His laws are based, some are local and evanescent in their nature. Such, for example, were the peculiar circumstances of His Church under the Old Testament, limited as she was to one land and race, and waiting for the promised Messiah. Correspondingly, the laws which were based on those peculiar circumstances — for example, the typical ceremonial of tabernacle and temple — are only of local and temporary obligation; they pass away with the circumstances on which they are based; they bind only some men in some ages and lands. But others, was we have seen, even of the provincial laws, are based on circumstances of man’s earthly condition which are inseparable from him in that condition, which are permanent and universal as his earthly duration. And these, from their very nature, are of an obligation correspondingly universal and unchangeable, binding all men in all ages and lands. And such, we maintain, is the law of the Sabbath.
It is thus we understand the statement, — “The Sabbath was made for man.” It is made for man in the sense of being adapted to his constitution or nature, both as a boon to bless his life and as a law to rule his life. It is thus made for man alone of all the rational creatures, — that is, the law is provincial and not imperial. And it is thus made, not merely for Jews, but for man, for all men alike, — that is, it is not merely positive but moral or natural: — not merely the Jew, the man in exceptional circumstances, but every man in every age and land, is morally bound “to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
How and where the law does really repose on man’s unchangeable nature, as distinguished from men’s accidental circumstances, may be learned from the “reason annexed” to the fourth commandment. This commandment is the only one of the Ten which is shown by the divine Lawgiver, in the very terms of the law, to be founded in the natural constitution of things. As was observed, the “reason annexed” to this commandment in Deuteronomy shows that the law is also founded in the supernatural constitution of the church. But in illustrating the morality of the law, I will, of course, refer mainly to the (fundamental) “reason” as given in Exodus.
1. Man lives in time. In eternity there is no periodic repose. Through all its infinite duration, the wicked find no peace nor rest, while the ransomed of the Lord run and never weary, walk and never faint. But man is now the denizen of time. So far as we know, he is its only rational denizen, the only immortal who has a life that ebbs and flows with the tides of mortality; whose constitution demands periodic repose, — repose not only returning every night, but also intervening in some days of his working life. And there is therefore a peculiar fitness to his nature, a grandeur of appropriateness in the law which ordains, that in all ages and lands every son of man shall consecrate to God in a holy resting a stated portion of his time. And at the same time the Creator, in claiming as a tribute what it blesses us to give Him, nobly illustrates the spirit of His law, — a spirit ever crying, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.”
This consecration of a part of our time is not a denial or evasion of the truth, that the whole of our time belongs to our Maker and Preserver. It is really a solemn recognition of that truth. In setting apart as “holy” to the Lord a fixed proportion of our worldly wealth, we do not deny, but solemnly acknowledge, that He is Lord of all, both of what we retain and of what we give away; that we are but His stewards, administering the whole in obedience to Him as paramount Lord and Proprietor. And so, in offering to Him the one day in a “holy” rest, we do not withdraw from Him the six days of work for our own mere pleasure; but we make solemn recognition of His sovereignty over all our time, — of the six days which He gives us for holy working, no less than of the one day He reserves for our holy resting: through that holy resting in God on the one day we seek His presence and power to dwell with us, and sustain us, and bless us all through the six days of our holy working for Him. The custom of all nations in observing religious festivals, or stated days of religious rest, is an unconscious testimony of religious humanity to the morality of the Sabbath law thus far, that it demands the consecration of a stated portion of our time for the solemn recognition and worship of God as the Lord of our life. But the “reason annexed” to the fourth commandment leads to the high Calvinistic form of that doctrine, — to the conclusion, that “one day in seven” is of the substance of the moral law.
Why should the adoring acknowledgment be made on “one day in seven”? Why should the week, the period of returning recognition, consist of seven days? Because, not only in general, man lives in time, but also, in especial —
2. Man lives on earth. From the inspired record of creation we conclude that it was the general plan of our world’s constitution that it should be a microcosm, or miniature image of the universe. This plan was completed in the creation of man, the subject-lord of earth, the image of God. He and his little earth are an image of God and His great universe. Thus the nature of man — in spirituality, freedom, and immortality — is an image of God’s nature. Man’s sovereignty over the creatures of earth is an image of Jehovah’s universal dominion. And in further prosecution of this plan through all possible details, man was made the image of his Maker in the distribution of his time. His week of seven days, six of holy working and one of holy resting, images the Creator’s work and rest of creation: “for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day.” Of the duration of those days of God, this “reason annexed” does not speak. Nor do the Westminster divines. Before subscribing the Confession, I made particular inquiry on this point, on which my mind was not made up; and ascertained that (1.) the Westminster divines were aware of the question of the duration of the Creator’s day; and that (2.) they have not pronounced any opinion on that question, but simply inscribed on their standards the words of Scripture, leaving the precise import of the words to be ascertained from any further light that God in His providence may reflect on this point.
The reason or rationale of the commandment is, that the life of man, being portioned out into weeks, should be an image, perpetually recurring, of the week of God. And for this end, it matters not whether the picture be full length or miniature, whether the image be of the same magnitude with the original or only on a scale indefinitely small: — all that is needed is a due proportion of parts. Thus man’s nature and dominion are faithful images, though only miniature images, of the Creator’s nature and dominion. The general plan is, therefore, that the image should be on a scale indefinitely small, that the picture should be a miniature. And if, as may by parity of reason be supposed, the same scale be observed in the distribution of time, and man’s week be only a miniature image of God’s, in the same proportion with his nature and dominion, this will not hinder the image from being true: a miniature may be as faithful a likeness as a full length; and the grand week of God is perpetually imaged in the life of every man who truly keeps the Sabbath law. In every such life there is a perpetual recurrence of the week of seven days — six days of work, productive toil, the image of God’s work in creation; and one day of rest, contemplative, conservative, restorative repose, the image of God’s providence, including the grand episode of redemption.
But here, too, we observe the universal and permanent obligation of the law, its reference to man on earth in time. Its reason applies to all men alike. For that reason is found, not in any exceptional circumstances — for example, of the Jews — but in the universal and permanent circumstances of men here below. Not only the Jew, but the man in all ages and lands, is bound by nature to make solemn acknowledgment of God as the Lord of his time. Not only to the Jew, but to the man in every age and land, the truth comes home as part of the life history of his world’s creation and preservation, that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is; and rested the seventh day.” And therefore, not only to the Jew, but to the man in every age and land, God’s work of creation and rest of providence perpetually preach as a law of nature, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” — that is, Be the image of God in the distribution of your time.
We see the value of a positive revelation of this law of nature. It is antecedently probable that the obligation to obey it shall not be universally felt and confessed by wicked men — and even that the law itself shall be forgotten or ignored by the nations which know not God. So, in fact, it has happened to monogamy, the natural law of the family. This law has been to a large extent ignored or trampled under foot by the Pagan nations. For the knowledge and due application of this law of nature we are largely indebted to the revelation of God’s grace in Him who has come to “restore all things,” — not only to bring a new creation into being, but to pour a flood of new light upon the old, and a flood of new life into its natural institutions. But though the family institution be thus restored by Christ, no one imagines that it is not an institution of nature: we all admit that it was “at the beginning” what He by His grace has made it to be again; that He has simply restored and adorned what He had created at the first, and we had corrupted and lost by our sin.
So of the twin institution of the Sabbath. It has been restored by Christ, as part of that original heritage which man had lost by sin; and therefore He claims it as part of His mediatorial possession, — just as, in the baptism of infants, He claims a lordship of grace over our families. It has been almost though not quite forgotten or ignored by the nations which knew not God; and He has reclaimed it and redeemed it with His blood. But from this it does not follow that the Sabbath is not, like the family, an institution of nature. It follows only that we had lost a precious pearl in the darkness of our sin, and that for the recovery of that “pearl of days” we had need of the saving grace of God revealed in Christ.
A railway proprietor reasons that it is lawful to run trains on the Sabbath, because “the Sabbath was made for man.” This reasoning would have been conclusive if the Sabbath had been made for man to run trains on. But if the Sabbath has been made for man “to keep it holy” as a day of religious rest, then the reasoning really amounts to this, that because the Sabbath was made for man “to keep,” therefore its divinely appointed keeper may lawfully break it! The same reasoning, if valid, will justify polygamy, adultery, disobedience to parents, cruelty to children; for the family, in the same sense of the Sabbath, was made for man, — that is, was made for him alone. But the circumstance of its being made for him alone, to bless and rule his life, surely gives him no right to corrupt the institution and violate its law. The Glasgow water-works were made for Glasgow, for Glasgow alone. Does this give the Glaswegian a right to break the law of the works, to poison the water, to refuse to pay the water rate? Surely not.
V. The Developed Calvinistic Church
The highest human authority that has ever pronounced on the Sabbath question is that of the Reformed Churches of Britain and the Continent in the first half of the seventeenth century. For these Churches had not yet, on the one hand, become dead and hard in their orthodoxy, nor, on the other hand, experienced the deadly chill of that “moderate” movement which extended all over Christendom in the eighteenth century, and which was signalised by a general break-up of Christian belief, the result as well as the cause of decay of Christian life and love. They were in the fullness of intelligent sympathy with the living Word of God. The study of that word was not only the habit but the passion of their members. Their divines were engaged in giving the last finishing touches to their symbols, in order that these might perfectly and definitively express the faith which at the Reformation God had given to His saints. And with reference to the Sabbath question, they were more favorably placed than the first Reformers. The first generation of Reformation divines had everything to begin — the very art of Biblical study to learn; and for the most part they were led, by their controversy with Rome, to look at our question only incidentally and cursorily, under some of its secondary aspects. But their successors in the second and third generations not only had the benefit of a previous generation of controversy as a discipline for theological study in general, but were compelled to study the Sabbath question in particular under all its aspects, by a controversy regarding it which had arisen between the orthodox Church on the one hand, and the fanatical Anabaptists and sceptical Socinians on the other. The beneficent influence of this controversy, which had begun to be felt before the first generation of Reformers passed away, was fully experienced by the second and third. And while all Protestant Churches were thus made awake and alive to the question of the Decalogue in general, the “Reformed” branches of the Reformation Church were free from the blinding influence of the festival-system with reference to the fourth commandment in particular.
Further, both in Holland and in England the mind of the Church had been led by providential circumstances, not merely to the general question — about which there was no difference in the catholic Church — of the perpetual obligation of the fourth commandment, but to the special question, whether “one day in seven” is not what is prescribed by that commandment in its substance, and whether the Lord’s Day is not the “Christian Sabbath.” And thus, in that first half of the seventeenth century, at least in the Reformed Protestant Church, every educated theologian had fully in view, with perfect comprehension of its bearings, the question — 1, in general, whether the Decalogue is a code of moral laws binding all men in all ages and lands; and, 2, in particular, whether the fourth commandment is a moral law of permanent and universal obligation.
This highest authority I will take at its culminating point, in the Synod of Dordt and the Westminster Assembly, — the two noblest Synods, in point of fullness and clearness of God-given light that have met on earth since the Council of Jerusalem. The two Assemblies of Dordt and Westminster are the principal witnesses on the stage of Church history. Their testimony is more important than that of all other human witnesses together. The Synod of Dordt had as its nucleus the divines of Holland, who — though no one of them equaled Francis Turretin — had by this time as a class borne away the palm from Geneva, and become the theological leaders of the Calvinistic branch of the Reformation Church. With them were associated representatives of the Reformed Churches of Britain, Germany, and France; so that the Synod was virtually a general council of Calvinistic Christendom. And though the articles on the Sabbath were occasioned by some dispute in Zeeland, and not drawn up till the foreign delegates had left, these articles, as may well be presumed, were simply the matured utterance of the real mind of all the Churches represented in the Synod. These articles (as agreed upon at the sitting of 17th May 1618) admit that the fourth commandment is partly ceremonial, in so far as it speaks of the seventh as the day of religious rest, and prescribes a rigidity in the form of observance which is distinctively Jewish. Here, I believe, the Synod was mistaken in point of fact: it is doubtful whether the Jewish Sabbath was really more rigid than the Christian; and it is certain that the fourth commandment does not prescribe any rigidity distinctively Jewish. But they also declare that the law is moral, of permanent and universal obligation, in so far as it prescribes a day to be kept holy as a day of religious rest, and forbids all such worldly recreations and employments as are incompatible with the due observance of that rest; and that, while the day thus prescribed by God’s unchangeable law of nature was the “Sabbath,” or Saturday, under the Old Testament, it is the “Lord’s Day,” or Sunday, under the New. How the fourth commandment can be made to bear on our observance of the first day of the week has been declared by this great Synod.
From this noble Synod we pass to what, perhaps, is a nobler. From the circumstance that the Westminster divines had no serious doctrinal difference among themselves it might be expected that their Confession would not protrude any doctrinal peculiarity into offensive prominence. From the circumstance that they stood at the culminating point of an epoch of serious research into Scripture, it might further be expected that their Confession would be unusually free from the exaggerations of crude immature thought. And in fact I believe that ninety-nine in every hundred of those who are seriously Presbyterian and Calvinistic, and who have studied the Calvinistic creeds and confessions comparatively, will regard our own Confession as the most complete and symmetrical, the freest from exaggeration or disproportion of parts. And I am certain that there is nothing in the general aspect of the Confession that ought to derogate from the Assembly’s authority with reference to the question of the Sabbath.
With reference to this question, the Westminster divines had the benefit of all the light derivable from the earlier controversies on the Continent, from the relevant articles of the Synod of Dordt, and from the luminous commentary on those articles by such first-rate divines as Walaeus. And to sharpen their faculties, they had enjoyed the discipline of a controversy in Britain. The Reformed Church of England had confessed the perpetual obligation of the fourth commandment, in that prayer of her liturgy to which all her congregations respond every Lord’s Day to this hour, “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” But long before the Westminster Assembly sat, the Puritan section of the English Church had found it necessary to fight the same battle which we are now fighting for the due observance of the weekly day of religious rest. That Assembly, therefore, by the influence of causes at home and abroad, had been made fully alive and awake to the nature of the Sabbath question under all its aspects, speculative and practical. And its decision on this question is thus invested with all the authority of what many have regarded as the noblest Assembly that ever met in Christendom, and what every one will confess to have been certainly the noblest Assembly that ever met in Britain.
This decision was uttered, not as a mere opinion, in the shape of a resolution, but as a deliberate judgment on a matter vitally affecting the permanent welfare of the Church. First, in that Confession it is declared (chapter XIX) in general, that all the Ten Commandments deserve the name of moral law, because they are of permanent and universal obligation. And second, in the Catechisms it is declared, not only in general that “the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments,” but also in special that the fourth commandment is part of that moral law, and morally binds all men, in all ages and lands, whether on the Old Testament seventh day, or on the New Testament first day, to observe “one whole day in seven as a religious rest.”
I now proceed to deal with certain utterances of the first Reformers which have often been quoted against the defenders of the Sabbath among us. 1. “That the selection of the Sunday to be the Lord’s Day has been determined, not by the sovereign will of Christ, but by the Christian wisdom of His Church.” This militates against the Puritan theory of the substantial oneness of the Old Testament Sabbath and New Testament Lord’s Day, by contradicting one of the Scriptural witnesses in behalf of that doctrine. But it does not so much as touch the catholic doctrine of the fourth commandment, even upon the Westminster view of that commandment, as in its substance or moral part prescribing “one whole day in seven.” For whether the Saturday, or Sunday, or Monday be observed as the Lord’s Day, there is “one day in seven” observed as a religious rest; the fourth commandment is therefore obeyed in its substance, as understood by the Westminster divines. In their estimation the commandment does not determine which day of the seven shall be kept, but leaves that to be determined by positive institution of competent authority. What is a competent authority on this point may be a question. Romanists may answer “The Church,” as consisting of lordly Prelates; Lutherans, Anglicans, and not a few early Calvinists, have answered, “The Church,” as consisting of the members and ministers; while the Westminster divines believe that the only competent authority is the “Lord of the Sabbath.” If, then, it were seriously proposed to keep the Saturday or Monday instead of the Sunday as the Lord’s Day, the Westminster divines would resist the proposal on the ground of the second commandment, because the Lord, through his apostles, has chosen the Sunday for His day. But they would not and could not oppose it on the ground of the fourth commandment; for this commandment, in their estimation, while prescribing some “one day in seven,” does not determine which. This first proposition, though (in our estimation) mischievous and untrue, does not so much as touch the catholic doctrine of the commandment, even in the “high” view of the Westminster divines.
2. “That the fourth commandment in its substance does not prescribe one day in seven, but only some days in the year.” This, again, militates against the Westminster view of the divine institution of the week, by contradicting one part of the evidence of one of its Scriptural witnesses. And thus it comes short of what we regard as the completed Scriptural fullness of the catholic doctrine of the Sabbath law. But it does not contradict, but so far affirms, the catholic doctrine even of the fourth commandment, and does not so much as appear to contradict the catholic doctrine of the Decalogue. It only, if true, would show that the question (not which day of the seven, but), what days in the year shall be consecrated to God, falls to be determined by positive institution of competent authority. But it shows, at the same time, that the fourth commandment binds us with the force of moral law — 1, in commanding us to observe some stated days; and, 2, in prescribing the form of observing whatever is really a consecrated day, by presenting the divine ideal of a consecrated day, as being negatively a day of cessation from secular work, in order to be positively a day of religious rest.
This incomplete view of the substance of the Sabbath law has proved by its fruits the evil of incompleteness. It was accepted by Romanists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, because it left them a standing ground even in the fourth commandment for their man-made system of Church festivals, — a system which has always been the leading stronghold of Antichrist in the Church, and which, wherever it has prevailed, has practically brought down the Lord’s Day far beneath the ideal of a bona fide day of religious rest. And once they had accepted it as a justification of their false position, their false position kept them ever after from rising to the true and complete Scripture doctrine. And thus, while the “Reformed” Churches, having abandoned the man-made festivals, have grown up to the fullness of Scriptural knowledge and privilege with reference to the God-given festival of the Sabbath, the Lutherans and Anglicans, pressed down by the festival system, have never grown an inch from their infancy, but, in their view of the Sabbath law, still remain as stunted and inadequate at this hour as at the first Reformation, — no unimpressive illustration of the vital importance of a pure scriptural worship, were it only in order that we may know and believe, not only “the truth,” but “the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” as God has revealed it regarding His ordinances.
Further, the Reformers, while coming short of the Westminster theory, really gave important though unconscious testimony to its truth. For they affirmed the leading facts on which that theory is founded, namely, — 1st, in the primeval revelation of God, the institution of the Sabbath in Eden; 2d, the revelation of the Sabbath law on Sinai as a law of nature, with a “reason annexed,” which obviously points to “one day in seven” as being of the substance of the law; and, 3d, the continued observance of that week, determined by a day of religious rest, which has been observed by God’s Church ever since she first began to be on earth. These three Bible facts, with accessory facts, can be accounted for only by the Westminster theory. Hence, the theory of “one day in seven” was accepted even by some of the first Reformers, e.g., Beza; in the second Reformation, it was generally adopted by the “Reformed” Churches, as we find in Francis Turretin, the greatest of systematic divines; and in the third generation, it was inscribed on those creeds which are the definitive expression of completely developed Reformed theology.
VI. The Duty of Christians
It is not my purpose here to give anything like a Christian directory for Sabbath sanctification at all times. What I have in view is to give some practical hints regarding some special aspects of Christian duty in connection with the controversy now fairly begun regarding Sabbath railway traffic. And these hints I will arrange on an ascending scale, beginning with what I reckon the least important, and concluding with what I reckon the most important.
1. There are certain public duties in connection with the Sabbath, to which we all are providentially called by the recent course of events in our land.
(1.) Political duties. — There is among some Christians a disposition to forget that they are citizens, and as such invested with certain powers, for the due use of which they are responsible to God. This disposition sometimes disguises itself under the name of peculiar spirituality, as if spirituality meant ghostliness, as if humanity had been carnality. But it is rebuked by the Spirit of God in the words, “If any man provide not for his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” The saving work of that Spirit is not to unman the man, but to restore the man whom sin has unmanned, in all his aspects, personal, domestic, social, and political, — to make him a true “man of God, . . . thoroughly furnished for every good work.” And the current history of the Sabbath question is well fitted to awaken all Christians from the indolent torpor of that real carnality which has assumed the aspect and usurped name of spirituality. For it has shown us that, were it only for the interest of their divine religion, Christians must now be up and doing their part as citizens of the nation.
The first political duty in this case is to ascertain the state of the civil law, or get it adjusted to the wants of our time. The Bible is the common law of every Christian country. The Ten Commandments, declared by the Confession of Faith to be a code of moral laws, are part of the statute law of Scotland. Of course the application of this divine law by the civil magistrate is limited by the principles of the Bible and the Confession regarding God’s sole lordship over the conscience, and Christ’s sole headship over the Church. But this limitation has nothing to do with ordinary systematic secular traffic, or pretends that to abstain from it would be a sin against God; no one imagines that in forbidding such traffic the magistrate would be invading the independence of the Church. But in such cases as that of Sabbath railways, it is doubtful whether the statute law of the Sabbath has not fallen into disuse. And it would be a good service to God and man to ascertain by some judicial process, whether the law of the land as it stands does not put it in the power of those who love the Lord’s Day to suppress the traffic, as not only a robbery of God and man, but a statutory offence against the Queen.
But the judges may possibly hold that so many years of Sabbath railway traffic have exempted this species of secular business from the control of the statute Sabbath law. And if it should be so, the question will remain, whether we ought not to agitate for a law that shall effectually suppress this nuisance; either wholesale, a Six Days’ Railway Act for Scotland; or, in detail, a clause prohibiting Sabbath traffic in the charter of every railway company.
This political aspect of the question ought to influence Christians in their choice of representatives, and dealings with their actual representatives in Parliament. There is no other national interest now at stake nearly so great as our interest in the Sabbath. And it is right and proper for every Christian citizen to see to it that those who represent him in the legislation of the country shall be “sound” on the great question of the weekly day of rest. Citizens should strengthen the hands of their magistrates, and see to it that they are faithful and uncompromising in the administration of the existing law for the protection of the Lord’s Day. And whether for the maintenance of existing laws or for the obtaining of new laws for Sabbath protection, Christians are bound to avail themselves fully of their constitutional right of public meeting and petitioning the legislature, so that the makers and administrators of our laws may have no room to doubt what is the opinion and feeling and wish of the serious Christian people of the land.
It is no real breach of logic to bring in under this head of political duties the duty of dealing by petition and remonstrance with railway proprietors. For if they really have by law the power of extending a Sabbath railway traffic over the country, they constitute a veritable “fourth estate,” and wield a formidable influence for good or evil to the nation as a whole. Whether they have this power de jure or not, they certainly exercise it de facto at present. In Christian prudence, therefore, we ought not to neglect them, but should endeavour, in every lawful way, to influence them in favour of that institution. Of course, in the event of our being met on their part by a cynical ungodliness, we are not only absolved from the obligation to approach them, but forbidden to approach them with any Christian memorial, by the law, “Cast not your pearls before swine.” We ought, therefore, to keep all Sabbath-trafficking railway companies fully informed regarding our conviction, that their traffic is in itself a sin.
(2.) There are ecclesiastical duties, to which Christians will do well to give heed. My remarks under this head may all be summed up in this one, — that Christians are now providentially called to be peculiarly faithful and firm in the administration of the discipline of the Church; i.e., in seeing to it that their ministers preach, and their members practice, the catholic doctrine of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day.
Under this head, I will say that the denial of the perpetual obligation of the Decalogue in general, and of the fourth commandment in particular, is a calamity. If that calamity had befallen the Church of which I am a minister, I for one would not stop short of bringing the heretic either to retraction or to deposition. And I would feel that I had a claim on the sympathy and support of all honest Christians in the Church. For a minister is not a licensed sceptic, with a commission to experiment on the credulity of his hearers; but a public officer, who has freely and deliberately undertaken to teach certain doctrines. If he do not believe these doctrines, no one asks him to undertake the office of teaching them. If he cease to believe them, and yet continue to cling to the office, he is simply a dishonest man. And if his Church allow him to retain her ministry while he denies her doctrine, she is a dishonest Church, and, at the same time, is consciously guilty of sending a wolf in sheep’s clothing to “feed the flock of God, which He has purchased with His blood.” Therefore I say that it is our public duty as Christians to see to it that our ministers teach the true doctrine of the Sabbath; or that, if they do not teach it, and much more if they teach a false doctrine, they cease to be ministers of ours. For if, while retaining our ministry, they teach a false doctrine, we, in the just estimation of God, are responsible for the consequences of their teaching.
At the same time, we ought to be peculiarly conscientious in seeing to it, that our members of churches do not scandalously offend against the Christian law of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day. When the ministers are loose in their doctrine, the members will be correspondingly loose in their practice. And this loose disposition may be regarded by some as a reason for corresponding looseness of church discipline. As well might they reason that where a fortress is strongly assailed, there it should be feebly defended. In reality, the prevalent looseness of doctrine and practice in relation to the Sabbath is a reason why we should be peculiarly firm and uncompromising in our discipline in relation to that institution of God. But we must distinguish between firmness and obstinacy, Christian law and ecclesiastical domination.
The Sabbath law is distinguished from the other nine commandments by expressly recognising the exceptional case of “necessity or mercy.” There is hardly a limit to the extent to which a Christian might conceivably be working on the Lord’s Day in the body while really resting in the spirit. We ministers do our hardest work on the Lord’s Day; and yet, if we be Christians, we really and fully enjoy the spiritual rest. And in the case of a slave in the primitive Church, under a pagan master, the outward rest of the Lord’s Day may often have been a thing utterly unattainable from the cradle to the grave, while yet, as often as the first day of the week came round, the man may have thrown himself, with all his heart and soul, upon the bosom of the Redeemer as the soul’s true rest and feast. In this respect the fourth commandment, as authoritatively expounded by our Lord, is obviously contrasted with the seventh or the ninth: there may be unlimited lawful occasions for working on the day of rest; but no occasion can justify adultery or false swearing. And this we must always keep in view in dealing with cases of alleged Sabbath desecration. We must remember that God has prescribed the exception in cases of “necessity and mercy”; that what is not necessary or merciful in one case may be in another; that there is no limit to the conceivable extent to which a sincere Christian, e.g., if he be a slave, may go on working on the day of rest; and that, therefore, the question whether this or that piece of Sabbath work is a breach of the Sabbath law is always a jury question of fact, and is not necessarily determined by the letter of the law.
Here, therefore, it may be imagined, is a backdoor of unlimited license of Lord’s Day non-observance. And here, certainly, for personal guidance, there is a very wide field of Christian casuistry. But for the practical purposes of church discipline, the guidance of God’s Word is amply sufficient. In our very complicated state of society, I do not know that we can safely or wisely be more precise and definite in our Sabbath legislation than our Westminster standards, which, declaring as the ordinary rule, that the “whole day” shall be devoted to religious rest, go on to state that the rule does not apply in cases of “necessity and mercy.” But this exception will amply suffice for our guidance in all really doubtful cases. When we remember that no one among us is a slave, that every grown man is his own master, we see that the number of doubtful cases must be really very small. And the question, Is this or that case a case of real “necessity or mercy”? may be very safely left to any jury of honest Christian men.
Such a jury we have in our kirk sessions, and, on appeal from them, in our presbyteries, synods and assemblies. Particularly, I value the judgment of a session, composed of Christian men, the elite of the congregation, who to an amount of Christian gifts and graces greater than is possessed by ordinary members of the Church, add a practical acquaintance with men and things not usually enjoyed by the minister. From personal experience in town and country, I have learned to regard the judgment of a really Christian kirk session on any such practical case as that of alleged Sabbath desecration, as being the best guide that, humanly speaking, we can hope to have in detailed matters of truth and duty.
It is therefore the ordinary duty of Christians, in reference to the Sabbath, to support the disciplinary judgments of the Church they belong to. There may be cases of real injustice perpetrated by a Church court — Humanum est errare — in which it may be the Christian’s duty to dissent from the judgment, and reclaim against it to Christ. But with reference to Sabbath observance in our day, Church courts are much more likely to be unduly loose than to be unduly stringent; Sabbath desecrators can easily get up a clamour for them, and against their judges, from the ungodly world; and, therefore, in all ordinary cases, what Christians have to do is to support the discipline of their Church against the ignorant clamour of a world “which lieth in the wicked one.”
2. Private duties. — Our Sabbatarianism is (falsely) represented as being essentially gloomy and ascetic. The Bible Sabbatarianism is essentially bright and festive. So is the Sabbatarianism of true Christians among us: it is a very common remark of theirs, that the Sabbath is the happiest day of their week. And in our present circumstances, it is their duty to show that it is so. I mean that Christians in their Sabbath day life should show on the face of their observance the glad festivity which fills their heart.
This remark does not need to be made with reference to their attendance on public worship; for even in their very attire they show that public worship is to them a festival; they do not wear sackcloth and ashes, but their best. But it may require to be made with reference to the Sabbath in the family. In Christian families, children are sometimes made to wear an aspect of gloom, or at least of something not joyous. And for this there is no reason in the nature of the Christian Sabbath. To children, there is nothing more fascinating than the Bible stories which Christian parents are most likely to make the theme of conversation on the holy day. The “psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,” which Christian parents among us are most likely to add to the theologico-historical instruction, are things which our children will relish at least as much as their parents. In the nature of the thing, there is no reason why, to children, the domestic Sabbath should not be felt and remembered as a veritable festival. And to give our family Sabbath-keeping this festive aspect, we are peculiarly bound in our time, by the circumstance that the Christian Sabbath is sedulously misrepresented as an institution essentially gloomy and ascetic. But while seeking to be duly festive in the spirit of the Lord’s Day observance, the circumstances of our time demand that we should be peculiarly careful and conscientious in attending to its form.
The most important duty at present is to know and profess and defend the true principle of Lord’s Day observance, — the catholic doctrine of the fourth commandment, as being a law of nature preternaturally revealed. Those who deny the truth of human responsibility for belief will probably not admit that the recognition of that doctrine, though it should be true, is, properly speaking, a duty at all. But an authority whom Christians adore has taught us that we are responsible for belief as for all other rational actions.
And this duty is the most important duty of Christians at present with reference to the Lord’s Day. For, first, Christians are the “pillar and ground of the truth”; to hold up the truth, as the candlestick holds up the candle, is one leading office of God’s Church on the earth. And the truth, the principle of Lord’s Day observance, and not the mere form of observing it, is what is most openly assailed at present. But, second, this truth is given, not only as precious in itself, but for the practical purpose of securing the due observance of the day among the peoples. The truth which God has given for that purpose is, we may presume, perfectly adapted for that practical purpose; and anything less than the God-given truth is, we may presume, not perfectly adapted for that practical purpose; so that, we may presume, in order to a due observance of the Lord’s Day among the peoples, there must be known and believed “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” which God has given for that end.
Thus, as to the nature of the case, we have seen that the Ecclesiastical theory does not result in a real observance of the Lord’s Day at all, as an act of obedience to Christ as King of the Church; for the observance resulting from that theory is dictated by the mere wisdom of man. We had seen that the Dominical theory, though it result in an observance which is an act of avowed obedience to Christ, yet does not result in a real observance; because it does not result in –what is required by God’s Word — an observance which is an express and formal homage to Christ as God, — the God who gave the law on Sinai, and is the ultimate fountain of all moral law, including the moral law of the fourth commandment. Thus the Ecclesiastical theory immediately results in mere pharisaical “will-worship”; and the Dominical theory falls far short, at its best, of producing the due worship of God required by the Scriptures. Experience teaches that the sure, though it should be remote, result of anything short of the catholic doctrine will be the disappearance even of the due outward form of Lord’s Day observance among the peoples.
This might have been anticipated from the fact, that, generally speaking, the practical purpose for which low doctrines of the Lord’s Day have been advocated, is to justify a low practice of Lord’s Day observance. It might have been expected that in proportion as the moral law disappears to men’s apprehension in the firmament of positive revelation, in that proportion it ceases to be known and observed, ceases to be mirrored in the hearts and lives; and that, while the Ecclesiastical theory expressly denies the divine institution of the Lord’s Day, the Dominical theory presents the fact of that institution so shorn of its scriptural evidences, as to have no adequate hold for practical purposes on the understanding and conscience of the mass of men. But what we might thus have divined is impressively demonstrated by modern Church history.
I have said that while the whole catholic Church from the Reformation downwards has maintained the doctrine of the morality and perpetual obligation of the fourth commandment, yet the doctrine as held by her has assumed two forms, which may be described as respectively high and low. Thus, on the one hand, the Reformed (Calvinistic and Zwinglian) branch of the Reformation Church, having thrown off the bondage of the system of church festivals, and being thus free to embrace the true doctrine in its fullness, gradually rose to the high form of the doctrine as definitely declared by the Synod of Dordt and the Westminster Assembly. On the other hand, the Romish Church, and the Ritualistic Protestant Churches, having clung to that system of man-made festivals, were not free to accept the high forms of the doctrines — to accept the fourth commandment as prescribing only “one day in seven.” They have felt constrained to construe the commandment more vaguely and loosely, as prescribing only that some stated days shall be consecrated to religious rest, and leaving the question what days, to be determined by the Church.
And this lower form of the doctrine has borne appropriate fruit, in the “Continental Sunday” of Popish and Protestant countries; the Lord’s Day, set theoretically on the same foundation with the man-made festivals, has sunk along with them in practical observance to the level of a secular holiday with a sprinkling of religion (like holy water on a robber). On the other hand, the only communities in modern Christendom in which there has been realised in practice anything approaching to the ideal which is prescribed by every theory of the Lord’s Day, are those Puritanic communities in Europe and America which have earnestly embraced the catholic doctrine in the high form it assumed in the developed Calvinistic Church.
This historical induction impressively illustrates the practical importance of holding the Catholic doctrine in its high Calvinistic form. And at the same time it furnishes an a posteriori evidence of the truth and divinity of the doctrine in this form. For it may be presumed that the doctrine which God has revealed shall accomplish the practical purpose for which He has revealed it.
If, then, we would see the Lord’s Day duly honoured, and the peoples fully blessed by its observance in our time; and if we would leave to our posterity a heritage of Sabbath observance and consequent prosperity such as our Puritanic forefathers have transmitted to us; let us know, and believe, and profess, and defend that high Calvinistic doctrine of the Sabbath which was embraced and inculcated by them with such broad and far-reaching beneficent results: if we would reap as they have reaped, let us sow what they sowed — the seed of that doctrine which God has revealed in His Word.
And let us remember that the most impressive form of preaching the doctrine is the practice of it. In the experience of the modern Church, we have seen how a low doctrine tends to bear fruit in corresponding low practice. If we would have our children to become unconsciously imbued with the high doctrine, we must accustom them from infancy to the high practice, teaching them by precept and example to follow in the footsteps of the saints of old, under both Testaments, “Calling the Sabbath a delight, holy of the Lord, honourable.” And a thorough-going practice of the truth, like the practice of the Puritans and the primitive church, is that which will, next to God’s own Word, most impressively commend it to the acceptance of God-fearing individuals, families, and communities which have not yet attained to the God-given truth in its fullness of life-giving light. The most effective answer to the popular objections to the Sabbath prescribed by God’s Word is a due observance and enjoyment of that Sabbath by God’s people.