Baptist History Homepage
The Lord's Day
By Alvah Hovey, 1877

      1. The Duty of Keeping the Lord's Day.

      Of the several theories maintained by Christians as to the Lord's day, the following deserve particular notice:

      (a) That men are under no obligation to keep it by abstaining from secular business; either (1) because reason and Paul unite in declaring that all days are alike, - a view which we need not pause to refute, or (2) because the fourth commandment of the decalogue and the original appointment of the Sabbath require all men to keep the seventh day of the week holy. But this view is inconsistent with the language of Paul in Colossians ii. 16; Galatians iv. 9, 10; and Romans xiv. 5; with the testimony of Christian writers, like Justin Martyr, as to the practice of the early churches; and with the principle laid down by Christ, that the Sabbath was made for man, — that is, for his highest good.

      (b) That by the authority of Christ, the first day of the week has been substituted for the seventh, - the day being changed, but the command to observe it by abstaining from all secular labor remaining in full force. The defenders of this theory insist that the decalogue is binding on Christians, from the first command to the last, though God has seen fit to ordain that the Lord's day shall take the place of the Jewish Sabbath. This theory has prevailed extensively in England, Scotland, and the United States; and a great deal may be justly said in its favor.

      Yet it does not seem to be entirely consistent with the language of Paul in the passages cited above, with the views of fair-minded Christian writers in the early Church, or with the general character of the new dispensation. It appears to emphasize unduly the legal side of the question, attaching more importance to the fourth commandment of the decalogue, as directly applicable to the Lord's day, than is altogether safe. The adherents of this view are careful to call the Lord's day the Christian Sabbath, - a designation which is never given to it in the New Testament, or by any Christian writer of the first three centuries.

p. 290
      (c) That the duty of keeping the Lord's day rests entirely on the practice and authority of the church. Many who accept this theory believe that the practice began in the days of the apostles; but they do not admit that this circumstance is of decisive importance. They may be divided into two classes; namely, those who concede to the church authority in such matters, and those who are willing to comply, in some measure, with a good and useful custom.

      This theory overlooks the real grounds of Christian obligation in this matter, and tends to great laxity in observing the Lord's day. Where it prevails, recreation, if not business, will be sure to encroach upon the proper use of the day, as a period for religious worship and instruction, and thus defeat the chief end of its appointment.

      (d) That the duty of consecrating the Lord's day to religious uses rests upon THE AUTHORITAT1VE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLES (Acts xx. 7; 1 Corinthians xvi. 2; Revelation i. 10; Hebrews x. 25); confirmed (1) by the practice of the early churches (see the works quoted supra); (2) by the Sabbath-keeping enjoined on the children of Israel (Exodus xx. 8 sq.); (3) by the original sanctification of the seventh day (Genesis ii. 2, 3); and (4) by the words of Christ, affirming that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark ii. 27).

      The practice of the early churches tends to establish very firmly the distinction between the Lord's day and the Jewish Sabbath. The fourth command of the decalogue proves that the Israelites needed to have one day in seven set apart from secular toil to religious service; the primeval institution of the Sabbath shows that it was meant for all mankind; and the reason of its existence, declared by Christ, fully accounts for the change from the last day of the week to the first, made by the apostles. For, since the resurrection of Christ, the first day of the week takes precedence of every other in religious interest, and it is practically impossible for Christians to feel as deep an interest in the finishing of the work of creation as they do in the finishing of the work of atonement.

      It should be borne in mind, that when God rested from

p. 291
creating, - a kind of secular work, - he entered at once on the moral and religious training of man; so that Jesus could say, "My Father worketh until now, and I work" (John v. 17); that is, even on the Sabbath, and, perhaps, especially on the Sabbath. But this primeval training was carried forward, chiefly, by means of the light which shines from creation, - a light which has proved insufficient for fallen man. Not the knowledge of creation, but the knowledge of redemption, provided by God, is what sinful man most needs. Hence the day which commemorates a completed atonement, ready to be applied by the gospel and grace of Christ, is the day of divinest significance and greatest spiritual influence for sinful men.

      This theory is in perfect accord with the doctrine of Paul, and with the character of the new dispensation. It recognizes the very important bearing of the primeval and Jewish Sabbath on the question of keeping the Lord's day; and it assigns a proper place to the inspired guidance of the churches. by the apostles.

      2. The Manner of Keeping the Lord's Day.

      It has been shown above, that it is the duty of Christians to consecrate the day to religious uses. But how strictly? Must they be governed by the same rules as were the Jews in abstaining from every kind of secular toil? Or have they greater freedom in this respect?

      It must doubtless be conceded that much is left to their own judgment and conscience, to their love of Christ, and desire to win men to his service. But with the general duty made plain, and with the law of love written upon their hearts, it is to be presumed that they will keep the day very much as Christ kept the Jewish Sabbath, finding no occasion for secular business or idle self-indulgence. Hence it may be remarked that their employments on the Lord's day should be: --

      (a) Those which are either embraced in religious service, or are immediately prerequisite to it. By religious service is

p. 292
meant not only worship in the sanctuary, or elsewhere, but all labor for the salvation of men.

      (b) Those which are evidently necessary for the preservation of life and health. A tender Christian conscience will guide one to the right application of this general rule; especially, with the aid of Christ's example.

      Those which are required to prevent or to relieve severe suffering in man or beast. Particular applications of this rule must also be left to the enlightened conscience. If it is honestly accepted, and interpreted in the light of the Saviour's conduct, few mistakes will be made.

      The idea of rest was more predominant in the Jewish law than it should be in Christian practice; for spiritual joy and activity are characteristic of the followers of Christ. Their religion is not conservative chiefly, but aggressive; it should go forth with joyful step, conquering and to conquer.

      In saying that it is the duty of Christians to keep the Lord's day in the manner specified, it is meant that all who have a knowledge of the Christian religion ought to do this; but it is not meant that some may compel others to do it. As to the Lord's day as a civil institution, something will be said in "Christian Ethics "; but, in this place, reference is made solely to the personal obligation of every man to do the will of God in this respect.

      3. The Relation of the Lord's Day to Sanctification.

      This may be indicated in a very few words. A proper use of the Lord's day affords opportunity, --

      (a) For protracted religious study and worship, as well in public as in private;

      (b) For special Christian effort in behalf of others, and especially of those who are impenitent; and

      (c) For breaking the current of worldly thought and desire, and thus gradually eradicating sinful affections, as well as strengthening those that are holy.


[From Avah Hovey, Manual of Systematic Theology, 1877, reprint 1986, pp. 289-292. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

Baptist History Homepage