The Sabbath, Moral Law, &c.
From The Columbian Star and Christian Index, 1830
This is a follow-up to the article “Sabbath Breaking.”
We had intended to renew the discussion of this subject before the present time; deeming it one which needs to be better understood than it now is. Whilst we were musing about it, the Review from which the following extracts are made came to us. Finding the truth so well stated to our hands, and indeed much better than we could do it, we claim the attention of our readers to the satisfactory and lucid statements here presented. — The quotation from Michaelis should be “marked and inwardly digested.” [WTB]
The seventh day was consecrated, not so much to keep up the remembrance of the fact, that the heavens and earth were made in six days, as to perpetuate the acknowledgement that they were made by Jehovah; that “whereas all the gods of the nations were idols, the Lord made the heavens.” ‘What the Israelites acknowledged by their keeping the Sabbath, namely the belief of the God who made heaven and earth, is a part of natural religion;' and, “by a profanation of the Sabbath, a man seemingly denied the only True God.' Such is the correct account of the Institution given by the learned and philosophical Michaelis, who certainly was not disposed to Judaize on the subject of the Sabbath. Again, in his commentary on the Mosaic Ordinances respecting the Sabbath, he shews that it was designed as a preventive of idolatry. The seventh day was to be kept holy, in remembrance of God's having on that day rested from all His works; and was therefore sacred to the God who in six portions of time, which Moses calls days, created all things, and, in the seventh, ceased to create any thing more, because the world was now complete and as He wished it to be. Genesis ii. 1–3. Exodus xx. 11. xxxi. 17. Hence, the celebration of the Sabbath was making a weekly profession, that they received and revered the Creator of heaven and earth as the true and only God, and was closely connected with the fundamental principle of the Mosaic legislation, whose object was, to keep the people from idolatry, and to maintain the worship of one God; and hence also, the punishment of death was denounced against the willful [sic] profanation of this solemnity. . . . “Observe my Sabbaths; they are to eternal ages, a sign of the o between me and you, wherein ye see that I have sanctified you to myself. For in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth; but, on the seventh, he rested and refreshed himself.” And it was because the Sabbath was meant to be a sign of acknowledging the Creator of heaven and earth for their God, that the Sabbath-breaker was considered as guilty of disowning the God of Israel.
What the Sabbath was, at the period of its re-promulgation from Sinai, what it had ever been from the Creation, that it still is — the only means of perpetuating that profession of belief in the Only True God, and that worship of the Creator, which are an essential part of natural religion. As the Jewish Sabbath was a main preventive of Idolatry, so is the Christian Sabbath a main barrier against Atheism. The profanation of the Lord's Day has ever been, in fact, the essential mark of irreligion, and the first step in the career of crime. The man who disregards the Institution, refuses to join in the public acknowledgment of a Deity, and to kneel before the Lord his Maker. Whatever he may secretly believe, he makes, an outward profession of atheism. By despising the only day set apart for social worship, he puts the greatest contempt in his power upon the authority and the claims of Him whom he thus refuses to remember and to glorify as God. And his guilt is aggravated by the additional motive for thanksgiving, love, and worship, furnished by that glorious event which has signalized the Christian Sabbath, and made the first day of the week more blessed than the seventh.
Wherever the worship of a Deity has obtained, there have been festal days consecrated to the various deities, on which the solemnities of religion have been observed, and the usual avocations of society suspended. Without stopping to inquire into the probable origin of such holy days, the fact is sufficient to shew the acknowledged connection between the worship of a god and the consecration of a day to his honor. The common names given to the days of the week; afford a standing memorial of the practice. The Jew still observes the seventh day as his Sabbath; the Mohammedan Sabbath is the sixth day; the fourth is sacred to Boodh[a?]; and each of the others, probably, has been appropriated to some form of idolatrous superstition. The Christian Sabbath-breaker alone, of all religionists, appears among the heathen or Moslem nations as an atheist, — without a God, for he observes no sacred day, has no hour of prayer, practises no outward worship. In too many countries, the natives have been indebted to the labors of our Missionaries for the recent discovery, that the English have any religion at all.
But it has been objected against this view of the subject, that “if the command by which the Sabbath was instituted, be binding upon Christians, it must be binding as to the day, the duties, and the penalty; in none of which it is received.” This assertion, which hardly deserves the name of an argument, we meet with a flat denial. As to the day, it will not be denied, that it might be changed by the same authority that ordained it; and the only question, therefore, relates to the evidence of such an authorized change having been made. As to the duties, they are substantially the same; and no penalty is denounced in the Fourth Commandment. What is obligatory upon Christians, is the Moral Law, not the Mosaic Code; and we have consequently nothing to do with any of the regulations contained in that code, respecting either the Sabbath or any other part of the Jewish ritual and polity. Even Heylyn recognizes this important distinction, blaming Hesychius for boldly cutting the Fourth Commandment out of the Decalogue, and making up the number ten by the same expedient that the Papists have had recourse to, in order to cover their suppression of the Second. “But here, he says, “Hesychius was deceived in taking this commandment to be only ceremonial; whereas it is indeed of a mixed or middle nature; for so the schoolmen and other learned authors in these later times; grounding themselves upon the Fathers, have resolved it generally. Moral it is as to the duty, that there must be a time appointed for the service of God; and Ceremonial, as unto the day, to be one of Seven, and to continue that whole day, and to surcease that day from all kind of work. As moral placed amongst the Ten Commandments,
extending unto all mankind, and written naturally in our hearts by the hand of nature: as ceremonial, appertaining to the Law Levitical, peculiar only to the Jews, and to be reckoned with the rest of Moses' Institutes.”
In the Fourth Commandment itself, however, we know of nothing that can be called ceremonial, except it be the prohibition to do any work on that day; — a prohibition which our Lord has taught us to interpret in its genuine spirit, as one not of rigor, but of mercy, and binding only to the extent that is required by the primary design of the institution. There is not, perhaps, in all the New Testament, a declaration which partakes more of the character of an abstract proposition or moral axiom, than that which our Lord made on this very subject, when He told the Pharisees, that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark ii. 27.) To an unprejudiced reader, both the terms of the proposition and the scope of the reasoning would appear to forbid the notion, that the Sabbath was instituted for the Jew only, — for an insignificant nation occupying a petty principality: it was made for man. But in what sense was it made for man? We do not conceive that Our Lord here means to define the whole end of the institution. It was certainly designed, as we have seen, to serve as a standing memorial, a sign, and a covenant between Jehovah and His people. It was set apart for the honor of His name, and was hallowed to His service. But, viewed under another aspect, as a day of rest, it was intended for the benefit of man. God has reserved, as it were, this portion of time to Himself, that He might bestow it afresh as a precious boon, guarded from infringement by Divine sanction, upon the laborer, the slave, and the domestic animals groaning under man's oppression. To man, sentenced in the sweat of his brow to eat bread, this day of rest comes as a mitigation of the curse, by enforcing a periodical suspension of his toils. In the repetition of the law, Deuteronomy v. a particular prominence is given to this part of the commandment — “that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant” (rather, a slave) “in the land of Egypt.” Six days labor might be exacted from those in servitude, but the seventh was at once sanctified and blessed, — holy to God, and blessed to man. Those persons who contend that the Sabbath was first instituted at Sinai, must explain in what sense the seventh day was “blessed' even from the Creation. Surely the blessing of the Creator was not wholly ineffective and inoperative for two thousand five hundred years. Yet, how could the Sabbath be blessed before it was instituted? Or how could the blessing take effect, if it was not observed? And if this be the primitive character of the institution, and it was made for man, who shall dare deprive him of the blessing, but He who gave it? Surely He who came to give His life a ransom for the sinner, who was anointed to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to set at liberty them that are bruised, — never revoked the boon, never reversed the blessing. Strange, indeed, would it be, if, in this respect, the Christian dispensation were less merciful than the Jewish, and had a less beneficent aspect upon the sons of labor and the victims of oppression. If the Gospel had abolished the Sabbath, the infidel would have been furnished with a stronger argument against the credibility of Christianity, than any which he has hitherto been able to devise.
Nothing could be more consonant with the merciful design, or with the sacred character of the Sabbath, than the miracles of healing by which our Lord shewed forth His Divine power, engaged attention to His teaching, and constrained the multitude to glorify the God of Israel. Those who malignantly charged Him with thereby breaking the Sabbath, He plainly convicts of inconsistency and hypocrisy, and with mistaking the very end of the Commandment. Had they understood their own Law and their own Scriptures, had they attended to the import of the Divine declaration, “I will have mercy rather than sacrifice,” they would not, he says, “have condemned the guiltless.” “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”* By the absurd superstition of the Jews, the outward sanctification of the day, instead of being regarded as a means subordinate to an end, was made the end itself; as if there were some intrinsic excellence, some mystic virtue in the seventh day, on account of which it was to be hallowed and as if man were created to do it honor. Thus was the very purpose of the command frustrated by their traditions, and the original character of the institution as a blessing and a boon, entirely perverted by a burdensome and vexatious system of ceremonial restrictions. To expose and discountenance this perverse misconstruction of the law of the Sabbath, our Lord taught, both in words and by His practice, that it was made for man's use and benefit, and that its ceremonial sanctity ought to yield to the moral ends of the institution. It is added, “Wherefore the Son of Man is lord also of the Sabbath;” which may, perhaps, be understood as claiming not only a freedom from its restrictions, and the paramount authority which belonged to one who was “greater than the temple” and greater than the Sabbath, but a power to make that change in the Institution which has followed upon our Lord's resurrection.
The superstitious veneration in which the Jews held the seventh day, because it was the seventh, and the manner in which they had overloaded the Sabbath with their traditional ordinances, may be considered as presenting a strong reason for setting aside the Jewish Sabbath altogether, by the consecration of a new day to the primary objects of the institution. And another reason may be given for such a change. The keeping of the seventh day was the badge of the Jew, by which he was distinguished from the worshippers of other deities than Jehovah.
“Culta Palestino septima sacra viro.”* (Ovid.)
It was proper that the Christian should in like manner be distinguished, not only from the idolater, but from the Jew, by a similar peculiarity, — the sacred festival of the Lord's Day. Thus, as the Jewish Sabbath was originally a preventive of idolatry, the Christian Sabbath was to be a preventive of Judaism. That such has been its operation, we know; and we can scarcely therefore doubt that such was the design of the change in the institution. This is the view of the subject taken by Bishop Horsley. “By keeping a Sabbath,” he remarks, “we acknowledge a God, and declare that we are not atheists; by keeping one day in seven, we protest against idolatry, and acknowledge that God who in the beginning made the heavens and the earth; and by keeping our Sabbath on the first day of the week, we protest against Judaism, and acknowledge that God who, having made the world, sent His only-begotten Son to redeem mankind. The observation, therefore, of the Sunday in the Christian Church, is a public weekly assertion of the first two articles in our creed — the belief in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
* The seventh day held sacred by the inhabitant[s] of Palestine.
[From W. T. Brantly, editor, The Columbian Star and Christian Index, August 7, 1830, pp. 84–85; via on-line document. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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