What is the Sabbath and should we keep it? Part IV of IV

The following is the conclusion of a four part series on the Sabbath that was never published.  The original series was published in March/April of 2009.

Should we keep the Sabbath?  I won’t keep you in suspense.  The answer is, “yes.”  Yes, we should keep the Sabbath.  But if we keep it, why? Where is the authoritative command in scripture for the New Testament church to keep the Sabbath?

The Sabbath may have been part of the ceremonial Law, but it has already been proven that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance.  In other words, it predated the Law of Moses (Genesis 2 & Exodus 16).  Even when the Law was codified, the Sabbath was rooted in God’s moral law.  The moral law is what gave the Sabbath its power.  The Ten Commandments starts off with, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:2-3).  No other gods.  At its root the Sabbath is the recognition that there is only one God.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

The Sabbath is a creation ordinance that was blessed by God.  “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:3).  Not only did God bless the seventh day, He sanctified it.  The Hebrew word for “sanctified” means to set it apart.  It was not the same as the other six days.  It was, and remains, a holy day; a day set apart from all others.  It is set apart not because of creation, but because of the Creator.

The 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith has this to say about the Sabbath:

As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in 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 is called the Lord’s day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.

“As is the law of nature…which from the beginning of the world…and is to be continued to the end of the world…”  The framers of the 1689 LBC rightly understood the creation origin of the Sabbath.

It is generally accepted in Christianity that the Sabbath Day, which Christians commonly refer to as the Lord’s Day, is celebrated on the sixth day of the week.  The change from the seventh day to the sixth day was due to the resurrection of Christ.  The purpose of this short series is not to make a detailed case for observing the Sabbath on the sixth day.  I will address that issue at a later date.  It is enough that a case is made for observing the Sabbath in the New Testament church, and I believe that has been done.

Since Christians are to celebrate the Sabbath as the Lord’s Day, how do they actually go about doing it?  What does this celebration look like?  Again I turn to the our Baptist forefathers and the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.

The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

The Reformers and Puritans understood the Sabbath to be a day devoted to God in worship, fellowship, and acts of necessity and mercy.  This is why you will see many Reformed churches begin with morning worship and continue with a fellowship meal and evening worship.  These churches encourage the saints to worship at home as a family.  There may be acts of mercy done on the Lord’s Day, such as visiting a nursing home, shut-ins, or the sick and infirmed.  The day is not to be a burden.  The Lord’s Day is to be one of joy!  It is a day set apart for us to worship our risen Lord and to render service in His name.  How is that a burden to those who truly love God?  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure, And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13-14).  “You turn your foot from doing your own pleasure…”  On the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, we turn away from our own affairs in order to worship God and bless others in His name.

Now, there are works of necessity.  There are certain jobs that require someone to be present at all time.  Law enforcement, the military, public utilities, medical personnel etc.  It is understood that individuals in these fields will often have to work on the Lord’s Day.  Even though that may be a reality they can still honor the Lord’s Day in their heart and personal observance through reading  the Word, prayer, and family worship.  For the rest of us, we are not to work on the Lord’s Day.  The day belongs to the Lord.  We are to honor it.

What if your church does not observe the Lord’s Day beyond morning worship?  Consider making changes in the way you observe the day in order to honor the Lord.  Is there someone in your church who is sick?  How about a single mother who is struggling?  Could you have her over for a meal with her children?  Can you take your family and visit a nursing home?  How about family worship together in the evening?  Gather the family around the Word of God.  Begin by making small changes to your routine.  Begin changing it from Sunday to the Lord’s Day.  You will find true rest for your soul.

Do you love the Lord’s Day?

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish preacher in the mid 19th century. He died at the age of 29 from typhus, but during his ministry he was one of the most powerful preachers in Scotland. M’Cheyne had a deep and abiding love for the Lord’s Day. I provide for your edification the entirety of a sermon he preached on this very topic. May it have the same impact today that it did when it was first preached.

I Love the Lord’s Day – Robert Murray M’Cheyne

“The Sabbath was made for man”

DEAR FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN,-As a servant of God in this dark and cloudy day, I feel constrained to lift up my voice in behalf of the entire sanctification of the Lord’s day. The daring attack that is now made by some of the directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway on the law of God and the peace of our Scottish Sabbath – the blasphemous motion which they mean to propose to the shareholders in February next – and the wicked pamphlets which are now being circulated in thousands, full of all manner of lies and impieties- call loudly for the calm, deliberate testimony of all faithful ministers and private Christians in behalf of God’s holy day. In the name of all God’s people in this town, and in this land, I commend to your dispassionate consideration the following


I. Because it is the Lord’s day. -“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice, and be glad in it” (Ps. cxviii. 24). “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev. i. 10). It is His, by example. It is the day on which He rested from His amazing work of redemption. Just as God rested on the seventh day from all His works, wherefore God blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it; so the Lord Jesus rested this day from all His agony, and pain, and humiliation. “There remaineth therefore the keeping of a Sabbath to the people of God” (Heb. iv. 9). The Lord’s day is His property, just as the Lord’s Supper is the supper belonging to Christ. It is His table. He is the bread. He is the wine. He invites the guests. He fills them with joy and with the Holy Ghost. So it is with the Lord’s day. All days of the year are Christ’s, but He hath marked out one in seven as peculiarly His own. “He hath made it,” or marked it out. Just as He planted a garden in Eden, so He hath fenced about this day and made it His own. This is the reason why we love it, and would keep it entire. We love everything that is Christ’s. We love His word. It is better to us than thousands of gold and silver. “O how we love His law! it is our study all the day.” We love His house. It is our trysting-place with Christ, where He meets with us and communes with us from off the mercy-seat. We love His table. It is His banqueting-house, where His banner over us is love-where He looses our bonds, and anoints our eyes, and makes our hearts burn with holy joy. We love His people, because they are His, members of His body, washed in His blood, filled with His Spirit, our brothers and sisters for eternity. And we love the Lord’s day, because it is His. Every hour of it is dear to us-sweeter than honey, more precious than gold. It is the day He rose for our justification. It reminds us of His love, and His finished work, and His rest. And we may boldly say that that man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ who does not love the entire Lord’s day. Oh, Sabbath-breaker, whoever you be, you are a sacrilegious robber! When you steal the hours of the Lord’s day for business or for pleasure, you are robbing Christ of the precious hours which He claims as his own. Would you not be shocked if a plan were deliberately proposed for breaking through the fence of the Lord’s table, and turning it into a common meal, or a feast for the profligate and the drunkard? Would not your best feelings be harrowed to see the silver cup of communion made a cup of revelry in the hand of the drunkard? And yet what better is the proposal of our railway directors? “The Lord’s day” is as much His day as “the Lord’s table” is His table. Surely we may well say, in the words of Dr. Love, that eminent servant of Christ, now gone to the Sabbath above: “Cursed is that gain, cursed is that recreation, cursed is that health, which is gained by criminal encroachments on this sacred day.”

II. Because it is a relic of Paradise and type of Heaven.-The first Sabbath dawned on the bowers of a sinless paradise. When Adam was created in the image of his Maker, he was put into the garden to dress it and to keep it. No doubt this called forth all his energies. To train the luxuriant vine, to gather the fruit of the fig-tree and palm, to conduct the water to the fruit-trees and flowers, required all his time and all his skill. Man was never made to be idle. Still when the Sabbath-day came round, his rural implements were all laid aside; the garden no longer was his care. His calm, pure mind looked beyond things seen into the world of eternal realities. He walked with God in the garden, seeking deeper knowledge of Jehovah and His ways, his heart burning more and more with holy love, and his lips overflowing with seraphic praise. Even in Paradise man needed a Sabbath. Without it Eden itself would have been incomplete. How little they know the joys of Eden, the delight of a close and holy walk with God, who would wrest from Scotland this relic of a sinless world! It is also the type of heaven. When a believer lays aside his pen or loom, brushes aside his worldly cares, leaving them behind him with his week-day clothes, and comes up to the and comes up to the house of God, it is like the morning of the resurrection, the day when we shall come out of great tribulation into the presence of God and the Lamb. When he sits under the preached word, and hears the voice of the shepherd leading and feeding his soul, it reminds him of the day when the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed him and lead him to living fountains of waters. When he joins in the psalm of praise, it reminds him of the day when his hands shall strike the harp of God- Where congregations ne’er break up, And Sabbaths have no end.

When he retires, and meets with God in secret in his closet, or, like Isaac, in some favourite spot near his dwelling, it reminds him of the day when “he shall be a pillar in the house of our God, and go no more out.” This is the reason why we love the Lord’s day. This is the reason why we “call the Sabbath a delight” A well-spent Sabbath we feel to be a day of heaven upon earth. For this reason we wish our Sabbaths to he wholly given to God. We love to spend the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is taken up in the works A necessity and mercy. We love to rise early on that morning, and to sit up late, that we may have a long day with God. How many may know from this that they will never be in heaven! A straw on the surface can tell which way the stream is flowing. Do you abhor a holy Sabbath? Is it a kind of hell to you to be with those who are strict in keeping the Lord’s day? The writer of these lines once felt as you do. You are restless and uneasy. You say, “Behold what a weariness is it” “When will the Sabbath be gone, that we may sell corn?” Ah! soon, very soon, and you will be in hell. Hell is the only place for you. Heaven is one long, never-ending, holy Sabbath-day. There are no Sabbaths in hell.

III. Because it is a day of blessings. -When God instituted the Sabbath in paradise, it is said, “God blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it” (Gen. ii. 3). He not only set it apart as a sacred day, but made it a day of blessing. Again, when the Lord Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week before dawn, He revealed Himself the same day to two disciples going to Emmaus, and made their hearts burn within them (Luke xxiv. 13). The same evening He came and stood in the midst of the disciples, and said, “Peace be unto you;” and He breathed on them and said, “receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John xx. 19). Again, after eight days, – that is, the next Lord’s day,-Jesus came and stood in the midst, and revealed Himself with unspeakable grace to unbelieving Thomas (John xx. 26). It was on the Lord’s day also that the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost (Acts ii. 1 ; compare Lev. xxiii. 15, 16). That beginning of all spiritual blessings, that first revival of the Christian Church, was on the Lord’s day. It was on the same day that the beloved John, an exile on the sea-girt isle of Patmos, far away from the assembly of the saints, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and received his heavenly revelation. So that in all ages, front the beginning of the world, and in every place where there is a believer, the Sabbath has been a day of double blessing. It is so still, and will be, though all God’s enemies should gnash their teeth at it. True, God is a God of free grace, and confines His working to no time or place; but it is equally true, and all the scoffs of the infidel cannot alter it, that it pleases Him to bless His word most on the Lord’s day. All God’s faithful ministers in every land can bear witness that sinners are converted most frequently on the Lord’s day-that Jesus comes in and shows Himself through the lattice of ordinances oftenest on His own day. Saints, like John, are filled with the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and enjoy their calmest, deepest views into the eternal world. Unhappy men, who are striving to rob our beloved Scotland of this day of double blessing, “ye know not what you do.” You would wrest from our dear countrymen the day when God opens the windows of heaven and pours down a blessing. You want to make the heavens over Scotland like brass, and the hearts of our people like iron. Is it the sound of the golden bells of our ever-living High Priest on the mountains of our land, and the breathing of His Holy Spirit over so many of our parishes, that has roused up your satanic exertions to drown the sweet sound of mercy by the deafening roar of railway carriages? Is it the returning vigour of the revived and chastened Church of Scotland that has opened the torrents of blasphemy which you pour forth against the Lord of the Sabbath? Have your own withered souls no need of a drop from heaven? May it not be the case that some of you are blaspheming the very day on which your own soul might have been saved? Is it not possible that some of you may remember, with tears of anguish in hell, the exertions which you are now making, against light and against warning, to bring down a withering blight on your own souls and on the religion of Scotland? To those who are God’s children in this land, I would now, in the name of our common Saviour, who is the Lord of the Sabbath day, address


1. PRIZE THE LORD’S DAY.-The more that others despise and trample on it, love you it all the more. The louder the storm of blasphemy howls around you, sit the closer at the feet of Jesus. “He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” Diligently improve all holy time. It should be the busiest day of the seven; but only in the business of eternity. Avoid sin on that holy day. God’s children should avoid sin every day, but most of all on the Lord’s day. It is a day of double cursing as well as of double blessing. The world will have to answer dreadfully for sins committed in holy time. Spend the Lord’s day in the Lord’s presence. Spend it as a day in heaven. Spend much of it in praise and in works of mercy, as Jesus did.

II. DEFEND THE LORD’S DAY.-Lift up a calm, undaunted testimony against all the profanations of the Lord’s day. Use all your influence, whether as a statesman, a magistrate, a master, a father, or a friend, both publicly and privately, to defend the entire Lord’s day. This duty is laid upon you in the Fourth Commandment. Never see the Sabbath broken without reproving the breaker of it. Even worldly men, with all their pride and contempt for us, cannot endure to be convicted of Sabbath-breaking. Always remember God and the Bible are on your side, and that you will soon see these men cursing their own sin and folly when too late. Let all God’s children in Scotland lift up a united testimony especially against these three public profanations of the Lord’s day

(1) The keeping open of Reading-Rooms-In this town, and in all the large towns of Scotland, I am told, you may find in the public reading-rooms many of our men of business turning over the newspapers and magazines at all hours of the Lord’s day; and especially on Sabbath evenings, many of these places are filled like a little church. Ah, guilty men! how plainly you show that you are on the broad road that leadeth to destruction. If you were a murderer or an adulterer, perhaps you would not dare to deny this. Do you not know-and all the sophistry of hell cannot disprove it- that the same God who said,” Thou shalt not kill,” said also, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy?” The murderer who is dragged to the gibbet, and the polished Sabbath-breaker are one in the sight of God.

(2) The keeping open Public-Houses-Public-houses are the curse of Scotland. I never see a sign, “Licensed to sell spirits,” without thinking that it is a licence to ruin souls. They are the yawning avenues to poverty and rags in this life, and, as another has said, “the short cut to hell.” Is it to be tamely borne in this land of light and reformation, that these pest-houses and dens of iniquity-these man-traps for precious souls-shall be open on the Sabbath, nay, that they shall be enriched and kept afloat by this unholy traffic, many of them declaring that they could not keep up their shop if it were not for the Sabbath market-day? Surely we may well say, “Cursed is the gain made on that day.” Poor wretched men! Do you not know that every penny that rings upon your counter on that day will yet eat your flesh as if it were fire-that every drop of liquid poison swallowed in your gaslit palaces will only serve to kindle up the flame of “the fire that is not quenched”?

(3) Sunday Trains upon the Railway.-A majority of the directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway have shown their determination, in a manner that has shocked all good men, to open the railway on the Lord’s day. The sluices of infidelity have been opened at the same time, and floods of blasphemous tracts are pouring over the land, decrying the holy day of the blessed God, as if there was no eye in heaven, no King on Zion Hill, no day of reckoning. Christian countrymen, awake! and, filled by the same spirit that delivered our country from the dark superstitions of Rome, let us beat back the incoming tide of infidelity and enmity to the Sabbath. Guilty men! who, under Satan, are leading on the deep, dark phalanx of Sabbath- breakers, yours is a solemn position. You are robbers. You rob God of His holy day. You are murderers. You murder the souls of your servants. God said, “Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy servant;” but you compel your servants to break God’s law, and to sell their souls for gain. You are sinners against light. Your Bible and your catechism, the words of godly parents, perhaps now in the Sabbath above, and the loud remonstrances of God-fearing men, are ringing in your ears, while you perpetrate this deed of shame, and glory in it. You are traitors to your country. The law of your country declares that you should “observe a holy rest all that day from your own words, works, and thoughts;” and yet you scout it as an antiquated superstition. Was it not Sabbath-breaking that made God east away Israel? And yet you would bring the same curse on Scotland now. You are moral suicides, stabbing your own souls, proclaiming to the world that you are not the Lord’s people, and hurrying on your souls to meet the Sabbath-breaker’s doom. In conclusion, I propose, for the calm consideration of all sober-minded men, the following


(1) Can you name one godly minister, of any denomination in all Scotland, who does not hold the duty of the entire sanctification of the Lord’s day?

(2) Did you ever meet with a lively believer in any country under heaven – one who loved Christ, and lived a holy life – who did not delight in keeping holy to God the entire Lord’s day?

(3) Is it wise to take the interpretation of God’s will concerning the Lord’s day from “men of the world,” from infidels, scoffers, men of unholy lives, men who are sand-blind in all divine things, men who are the enemies of all righteousness, who quote Scripture freely, as Satan did, to deceive and betray?

(4) If, in opposition to the uniform testimony of God’s wisest and holiest servants-against the plain warnings of God’s word, against the very words of your catechism, learned beside your mother’s knee, and against the voice of your outraged conscience-you join the ranks of the Sabbath-breakers, will not this be a sin against light, will it not lie heavy on your soul upon your death-bed, will it not meet you in the judgment-day?

Praying that these words of truth and soberness may be owned of God, and carried home to your hearts with divine power-I remain, dear fellow-countrymen, your soul’s well-wisher, etc.

December 18, 1841.


1. Sabbath commanded.-Ex. xvi. 22-30; xx. 8-11; xxxv. 1-3. Lev. xix. 3-30. Dent. v. 12-15. Neh. ix. 14.

2. A sign of God’s people.-Ex. xxxi. 12-17. 2 Kings iv. 23. Ezek. xx. 12. Lam. i. 7. Heb. iv. 9.

3. Sabbath-breaking punished.-Num. xv. 32-36. Lev. xxvi. 33-35. 2 Chron. xxxvi. 21. Jer. xvii. 19-end. Lam. ii. 6. Ezek. xx. 12-26. Amos. viii. 4-14.

4. Day of blessing.-Gen. ii. 2, 3. Ex. xvi. 24. Lev. xxiv. 8. Num. xxviii. 9, 10. Isa. lvi. 1-8; lviii 13, 14. John xx. 1, 19, 26. Acts ii. 1, with Lev. xxiii 15. Rev. i. 10.

5. Rulers should guard the Sabbath.-Ex. xx. 10. Neh. xiii. 15-22.

6. Sabbath in gospel times-Psalm cxviii. 24. Isa. lxvi. 23. Ezek. xlvi. 1. Mark ii. 27, 28. Acts ii. 1; xx.6, 7. l Cor. xvi. 2. Rev i. 10.

What is the Sabbath and should we keep it? Part III

In Part II of “What is the Sabbath and should we keep it?” I closed with:

Christ became a curse for us; cursed by God because He took on His body the sin of the world.  The ceremonial law ended upon the perfect obedience of Christ on the cross.  With the ceremonial law ended, what of the moral law of God?  Was the entire Law fulfilled, or just the ceremonial part?

In this entry we will discuss whether the moral law is still applicable today.  

When does God’s moral law first appear, or when is it first alluded to in scripture?  We know that the Law was codified by Moses in Exodus 20.  By codified I mean that the Law was actually written down into specific commands.  But is Exodus 20 the first account of the moral law being evident to mankind?  Let’s look at a famous account in the book of Genesis.

Genesis 4:3-10  3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground,  4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering,  5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.  9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  10 And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 

Here we read the well known story of Cain and Abel.  Cain was jealous of his brother because Able presented a better sacrifice to God than he did.  The story records that Cain killed his brother out of jealousy.  But what is often missed in this narrative is that Cain knew that what he was doing was wrong.  Some may say that he knew it intuitively.  That would not be altogether inaccurate.  Cain knew it was wrong because God had made His moral law evident in Cain’s heart.  Notice what the LORD said to Cain:

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

The LORD reminded Cain that sin was “crouching at the door.”  The word picture here is off a lion, crouching, ready to kill and devour it’s prey.  Cain did not need to be told that murder was sin.  He knew it was sin.  All of us are born with an innate knowledge of God, and the ability to discern between good and evil.  Paul, in the book of Romans wrote:

Romans 1:19-20  19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 

Mankind did not need to wait until Exodus 20 to understand God’s moral law.  It was known all the way back in Genesis; since creation.  Look at a baby.  No one has to tell a baby how to misbehave.  It comes naturally to children.  A parent doesn’t need to say to his child, “This is wrong.  So don’t do it.”  The child instinctively knows how to disobey, without instruction.  Disobedience comes naturally because it is part of our nature when we are born.  The bible says:

Romans 3:10-11  10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;  11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 

Romans 3:23   23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 

Ephesians 2:1-2  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 

Adam’s sin plunged the human race into perpetual disobedience.  We are sinners because we are born sinners, and we are sinners because we sin.  We’re guilty coming and going.  Whether the LORD codified the Ten Commandments or not, His moral law would still be in force.  Since the moral law of God basically is the difference between right and wrong, it is still with us today.  The ceremonial aspect of the Law has ceased; no more animal sacrifices or temple ceremonies, but the command to obey and do what is right continues on.  If that is true, that God’s moral law is still operational, and if the Sabbath (the Lord’s Day) is part of the ceremonial law, are we to keep the Sabbath day?  We’ll finally get to that question in our next chapter.

What is the Sabbath and should we keep it? Part II

The nation of Israel observed the Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week.  The significance of this day was that it represented God’s rest from his creative work (Genesis 1:1 – 2:3).  God sanctified the seventh day (made it holy), and blessed it.  As we learned in Part I, Israel was commanded to observe the Sabbath, first in Exodus 16, and later in Exodus 20 at the giving of the Decalouge, the Ten Commandments.

The Sabbath is often considered to be part of the ceremonial law.  The Law of Moses (often called, simply, “The Law”) is divided into three categories: the moral law, judicial law, and ceremonial law.  The moral law consists of vertical and horizontal commands, given by God, that are binding upon all people in all times.  Vertical commands are: “You shall have no other God’s before me” (Exodus 20:3), and “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).  These commands are directed at men and towards God.  Examples of horizontal commands  are: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:23), and “You shall not commit murder” (Exodus 20:13).  Horizontal commands are directed at men and towards men.  The judicial aspect of the Law deals with societal rules and their corresponding remedies and penalties.  It is important to note that the judicial portion of the Law draws its authority from the moral law.  Consider the following passage.  “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep” (Exodus 22:21). The authority behind the penalty for stealing a sheep is contained in the moral law of, “Thou shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).  The ceremonial laws extend past the Ten Commandments.  The book of Leviticus provides specific laws on sacrifices and temple rituals.  Animal sacrifices were necessary under the Old Testament economy in order to satisfy God’s wrath on sin.  These sacrifices were never meant to permanently atone for sin.

Hebrews 10:1-4  For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?  3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year.  4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

It can be argued that the whole ceremonial law of God stood on the sacrifical system.  It was that sacrificial system that was fulfilled; or rather, made pefect, by Christ:

Hebrews 10:11-18  11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,  13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.  15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,  16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”  17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Jesus Christ fulfilled sins requirement for a sacrifice.  Because He was without sin, His sacrifice was a perfect sacrifice.  It satisfied God’s wrath and the Law’s requirement for retribution.  If the whole ceremonial law hinges on sacrifice, Christ’s perfect sacrifice fulfilled the requirement of the law.  Once fulfilled there is no longer any need for sacrifice.  Therefore, there is no more need for the ceremonial law.  It not only has been fulfilled, it is now forbidden for Christians to observe.  Nowhere is made more plain than in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 3:1-13  O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  4 Did you suffer so many things in vain- if indeed it was in vain?  5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith-  6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?  7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.  8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”  9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.  10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”  12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”  13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”-

Christ became a curse for us; cursed by God because He took on His body the sin of the world.  The ceremonial law ended upon the perfect obedience of Christ on the cross.  With the ceremonial law ended, what of the moral law of God?  Was the entire Law fulfilled, or just the ceremonial part? We’ll cover that in Part III.

What is the Sabbath and should we keep it? Part I

Most Baptists consider themselves to be under grace, and not the Law.  They are not obligated to follow the Law of Moses, because it has been fulfilled in Christ.  There is some truth to this statement.  The ceremonial part of the Law has, indeed, been fulfilled in Christ.  The need for animal sacrifice and elaborate temple rituals have been made obsolete.  More than that, they are now considered pagan worship.  But there is another aspect of the Law that continues to this day – the moral law.  The moral law of God is found in the Decalogue; commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments.  Exodus 20 lists these commandments.

Exodus 20:1-17  And God spoke all these words, saying,  2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  3 “You shall have no other gods before me.  4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,  6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.  7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.  8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,  10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.  13 “You shall not murder.  14 “You shall not commit adultery.  15 “You shall not steal.  16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

The fourth commandment refers to the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was set apart as a day of rest that was to be treated as holy by the entire nation of Israel.  It was observed on Saturday, the seventh day of the week.  On the Sabbath, the people of Israel were not to work as they did the other six days of the week.  But, was the Sabbath first introduced in Exodus 20?  Was the nation of Israel the first intended audience for this commandment?  Consider this passage:

Genesis 2:1-3  Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2 completes the creation narrative, the biblical account of God creating the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).  God chose six days in which to create, and in Genesis 2:2 we read that He rested on the seventh day.  This rest is not similar to our rest.  When we are tired we sleep.  Our mind and our body is disengaged from the world as our body recuperates.  God cannot rest in a similar fashion, for He keeps the universe, indeed all of creation, from oblivion by His powerful hand.  God’s rest was His ceasing from the work of creation.  His work of creation is a marvelous and holy thing.  He commanded the seventh day as holy, because on it He completed His creation.  The account of Genesis 2 takes place long before Moses was given the Ten Commandments by God; long before the Sabbath became part of the Mosaic Law.

There is another passage that deserves our attention.

Exodus 16:23-30  23 he said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'”  24 So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it.  25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field.  26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”  27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none.  28 And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?  29 See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.”  30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

The account of Exodus 16 also takes place before the LORD gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  The LORD gave Israel manna in the morning and quail in the evening.  It was an act of His grace.  They did not need to toil or work for it.  The manna was collected from the ground and quail just walked up in the camp.  On the seventh day, the LORD provided rest for Israel from all her labors.  The Sabbath was not mean to punish Israel, or do prevent them from enjoyment.  Instead it was a day for them to rest in the LORD.  They were to reflect upon the goodness of God, and rejoice in Him.  All of this was commanded before the Law was given in Exodus 20.  That is interesting to note because it will bear on our further study as to the disposition of the Sabbath after Christ’s death and resurrection.