The Sabbath; the ground of its obligation,

And its proper place in relation to Christian life and duty,
by the Rev. William Symington

“Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day, and hallowed it.”—EXOD. 20:8–11.

Although it is in connection with certain discussions which have lately taken place among us regarding the Sabbath, the mode of its observance, and the grounds of its obligation, that the present course of lectures has originated, it is well to bear in mind that the Sabbath question, properly, is but one branch of a much wider question, involving many other truths, all-important, which it is the design of these lectures to illustrate and defend. Whether God has given to man, in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, a revelation of His will, which is the only infallible rule of faith and practice; whether that revelation contains, in any proper sense, a law for all men and for all times; and whether the Decalogue, as given from Sinai, and as interpreted and confirmed by our Lord, is to be regarded as a comprehensive summary of that law, still binding therefore as the rule of the Christian’s life;—such are some of the great questions at issue in the present controversy. And they are questions concerning which our opinions will necessarily, to a large extent, be modified by the views which we adopt as to the origin and obligation of the Christian’s day of weekly rest and worship. For this reason, as well as on account of the acknowledged importance and value of the institution itself, whether considered from a religious, moral, or social point of view, the subject is one well worthy of our best attention. If a man’s way of keeping the Sabbath may be taken as a good index of his Christian character, a criterion of stedfastness or decline in personal religion—and this is on all hands confessed—by a religious teacher’s doctrine concerning the Sabbath, we may judge as to his general soundness in the faith.

The grounds of the obligation of the Sabbath is the first, and indeed, the only part of the very extensive subject embraced in the heading to this lecture which I can attempt to speak on; although it is not possible to treat of the grounds of obligation, without indicating at the same time what the Sabbath’s proper place is in relation to Christian life and duty. This has sometimes been represented as a matter of but secondary importance. Though starting from different points, it has been said, we all reach the same terminus, so far as practice is concerned. Let it only be acknowledged that the Sabbath is a divinely-authorised institution, and admirably adapted to subserve in every way the interests of mankind; let us be agreed in believing, and teaching, and acting upon this, and it matters little where we rest the grounds of its obligation—whether on the authoritative example of Christ and his apostles, or on the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue. If Christians be only agreed as to the duty of observing the day in a proper manner, the reason for the observance is a point of inferior moment.

But there is great danger lurking under such a principle as this. We give all credit for sincerity to Dr. Hessey, and to those who think with him, when they claim for themselves a “respectful desire to set the institution on its true basis,” and repudiate any “disrespectful desire to undermine it,” or when they declare that their object in the present movement is “not to destroy, but to build up.” Archbishop Whately, who goes much farther, in some respects, than these writers, and who would found the Sabbath solely upon ecclesiastical law, long usage, and general expediency, has said that to seek support for it elsewhere than in “the power of the Church,” is “to remove it from a foundation of rock, to place it on one of sand.” And so our modern advocates of the “Dominical” theory, as it is called, imagine, no doubt, that they are only fortifying the position, and strengthening the foundation on which the Sabbath rests. It is our deep conviction, notwithstanding, that the tendency of their teaching is to undermine—to sap the true foundation—to shift the obligation from the only solid and defensible ground, and so inevitably to imperil the observance of the Lord’s-day, in such spirit and manner as He may be expected to approve and bless. Hence the importance of clear, scriptural, and decided views as to the grounds of the obligation of the Sabbath.

While we have read as text the Fourth Commandment, and regard it as the great charter of the Sabbath, we would not be understood as resting the obligation of the Christian on this precept alone, as if there was nothing else in the Bible about the Sabbath. Bearing in mind the historical character of revelation, and the principles on which its laws are to be understood and applied, we find the grounds of obligation in the whole teaching of Scripture concerning this institution, from beginning to end—whatever the form may be in which God has revealed His will, whether by positive precept, or promise, or example—the entire scheme or system of Bible doctrine on the subject from Genesis to Revelation. It is not necessary here to go over all the different theories which have been propounded on the subject. Those with which we are now chiefly concerned are the two following:—

First,—That the Sabbath has existed from the beginning; that it was given to man in Paradise—an institution not for the Jews only, but for man and for all time—never since abolished or superseded; that it was re-published from Sinai, not as a mere ceremonial appointment, but as part of that moral law which is of immutable obligation; and that at the resurrection of Christ, while for a very sufficient reason, the day of observance was changed, the commandment continued still in force, linked through all the succeeding ages with new associations, as the memorial of finished redemption as well as of completed creation. Such is substantially the doctrine of all our Presbyterian Churches, as set forth in those standards which we all acknowledge, and notwithstanding what has recently occurred, may be looked upon as the common belief of Presbyterian Scotland still, regarding the grounds of the obligation of the Sabbath. In England, as well as in Scotland, it was the commonly received opinion, not only among the Puritans, but among the most distinguished divines of the Church of England, that from the beginning of the world to the present time, the Sabbatic law has continued to be the same. Great stress has been laid on certain statements of Luther, and Calvin, and others of the Reformers; but not only has the attempt to make them out anti-Sabbatarians been proved to be an utter failure,—it has been very satisfactorily shown, also, that what has been just stated was in the main the universally received creed of Christendom at the time of the Reformation; and that those who repudiate it now, are virtually “cutting themselves off from the communion of the modern Christian world.” As for Scotland, we would fain share in the hope recently expressed by Principal Candlish, when he said, “Despite the present discussions, I cannot but hope that if only men will keep their temper and their patience for a little, and not misapprehend each other, and calmly study some other books besides Mr. Cox’s and Dr. Hessey’s, the same opinions which we as a nation have held, will continue to prevail, and even our brethren who have alarmed us may become satisfied that the monster they are fighting against is, when rightly understood, not so very monstrous after all.” But while such is the doctrine which heretofore has been most commonly received among us, there is another theory of the grounds of Sabbath obligation which has obtained considerable favour in certain quarters of late, and which is in many respects very different from this. It may be thus stated briefly. Secondly,—That the Lord’s-day is not the same in substance with the Sabbath; that it has no foundation whatever in the Fourth Commandment, which is no part of the law of nature, nor moral in any relevant sense, but merely part of that Mosaic ceremonial which was swept away when Christ came, and buried in His grave; and that the Lord’s-day is merely a positive institution of New Testament times, which had no existence before the apostolic age, and which owes its obligation solely to the authority of the Primitive Christian Church, as intimated by the example of our Lord Himself and His apostles. Great anxiety is shown, by the advocates of this theory, to draw a broad line of distinction between the ancient Sabbath and the present Lord’s-day—to make them out to be institutions entirely distinct and independent—the one having been merely a Jewish festival which, with other things Jewish, has been abrogated and passed away; and the other a wholly new appointment, resting upon different grounds, and given for higher and more spiritual ends. The “Christian Sabbath” is, according to their view, a misnomer—a phrase meaningless and distasteful. What seems especially obnoxious to those who have imbibed this opinion, is the idea of any identification of the Sabbath of the Old Testament dispensation with the Sabbath of the New, or even any connection between them; and what they most loudly demand of us is that we shall produce some direct and explicit proof from the New Testament that there is any such connection. Thus, the author of one of the numerous pamphlets which the recent controversy has called forth says:—“Never do we get the slightest hint that there is any connection between the observance of the Lord’s-day, and the Jewish law concerning the Jewish Sabbath. Therefore, when any one shall have succeeded in discovering a single passage in the New Testament in which any inspired writer makes even the most distant allusion to such a connection, then, but not till then, will this branch of the subject require discussion in the Biblical criticism of the Sabbath question.” And this is but the echo of a similar demand made by Dr. Hessey. “Men, rightly or wrongly (for my own part I believe rightly), demand that no weaker evidence should be given of the right of the Lord’s-day to succeed, in whatever degree, to the honours of the Sabbath, than of the right of a family to possess the temporal honours or the estates of a family which has preceded it. And, let me add, if they find it laying claim to a sanction which cannot be satisfactorily substantiated, they are inclined to look incredulously upon, or not to examine at all, the sanctions which it really possesses.” Now, such requirements as to the kind of evidence which alone will satisfy, are, we humbly think, unreasonable and presumptuous, and inconsistent with enlightened views regarding the manner in which God, in His infinite wisdom and condescension, has seen fit to reveal to us His will. It is not for us to prescribe to Him as to the amount or kind of evidence which He shall give, or we accept. “The Bible,” it has been well said, “rarely teaches by specific enactment. Much is to be learned by a careful comparison of the truths which it exhibits; and we do not know any process which so fully satisfies the mind, and gives stability to belief, as the gradual developement of cumulative evidence. We need not always expect clear statutory declarations of divine truth, but are fully satisfied with the evidence derived from many parts of Scripture, each in itself apparently trivial, yet in their integrity, constituting a perfect whole.… Religious opinions which involve the constant explanation and forced interpretation of Scripture, or the gentle constraint that warps each passage from its natural to a more artificial sense, carry with them to the candid mind the evidence of confutation, just as a blind man may know when he has left the high road, by feeling that the current of air has changed its direction and is flowing from the wrong point. It is well when the spiritual sense is so refined and perfected that it becomes intolerable to abide in any speculative position, if the current of divine teaching is against us.” What is desired on all sides is to find a broad, solid, unchallengeable ground on which to rest the obligation of the Christian to keep the Lord’s-day as a day of holy rest. And this is what we think the advocates of the theory in question do not and cannot furnish. Deny the proper morality of the seventh-day rest; set aside, as unsuited to the condition and privileges of the believer under the Gospel, the teachings of the Old Testament on the subject; and rely for evidence of the divine authority of the ordinance solely on those scanty, though by no means unimportant, notices to be found in the New Testament regarding the first day of the week—and the foundation on which you place the Sabbath is not a strong one. It is only when these notices in the New Testament are regarded in their relation to what existed before—as the “last links in a long chain of historical proof,” stretching from the beginning to the close of revelation—that you can truly appreciate their value; and it is only when you consider the combined force of the entire evidence furnished by revelation as a whole, that you can see how sound and immovable is the basis on which rests the obligation on all men, in all ages, to “remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.” It is only the briefest sketch of the scriptural argument that can be attempted within our limits. And in endeavouring to put that argument before you, I shall not be deterred, by the fear of presenting only what may seem trite and hackneyed, from travelling over old, oft-trodden ground. Nothing that has transpired in the recent controversy has served in the least to alter the impression derived from previous study of the question, that Dr. Paley’s way of explaining the opening verses of Genesis 2—where we read that, after having ended all His works which He had made, “God rested on the seventh day, and God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it”—is extremely forced and unnatural. The first impression, surely, on the mind of any ordinary reader of these words, would be that God blessed the very day on which He rested, and not that the existence of a Sabbath is here noticed only by way of anticipation—not that between the second and third verses of that chapter we must suppose a chasm of more than two milleniums and a half. Here, in the beginning of the history of our race, we have the original institution of the day of rest and worship; for, if God “blessed and sanctified” the seventh day—and the meaning of these terms, unless to over-refining critics, is not obscure—the act of consecration must have been for man’s sake, and not for His own. Why, the very object of the Sabbath, as originally ordained, was to commemorate God’s work of creation, as the terms of its appointment plainly intimate; it was to be a standing testimony to the world of that sublime truth, which could not otherwise have been known, and which faith only can receive, that “the worlds were framed by the word of God”—a memento to all men of the great Jehovah who made them, and who made the earth on which they dwell, and the sun and moon and stars. Now, what is it that gives to the silent testimony of any commemorative rite its value and validity? Is it not the knowledge that the observance of it commenced at the very time when the matter of fact to which it refers took place, and has been kept up ever since? Without this, it would be useless as a witness. Just as the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper would not serve the purpose of attesting the great fact of His death, and showing it till He come again, could it be proved that, instead of “the same night on which He was betrayed,” it was not instituted till long subsequent to the event—or, rather, that Christians were not to begin to observe it till some 600 or 700 years after the present time—so the keeping of a Sabbath would afford no conclusive proof that the Lord God was indeed the Framer of the universe, could it be made out that the Sabbath had no existence till the world was more than 2700 years old. As for traces of the observance of a Sabbath during the antediluvian and patriarchal ages, even though none were to be found in the brief record of those times, that would make nothing against our argument. But such traces we do find in the division of time into weeks—a mode of reckoning time which, notwithstanding all that has been argued to the contrary, is only satisfactorily accounted for by the original institution of a Sabbath. The Sabbath being thus as old as the creation of man, it does not surprise us to find it recognised by Moses and by the Israelites in the wilderness, at the time of the giving of the manna, as a familiar institution, by their regard to which God would test their obedience—“whether they would walk in His law or no.” It is evident from the whole passage now referred to (Exod. 16) that the Sabbath is not there spoken of as a new and hitherto unknown observance; and though, during their long servitude in Egypt, the discharge of its sacred duties, and the observance of its rest, must have been to a great extent prevented, it had not been altogether forgotten; and it is quite natural to find them, after they have been freed from the yoke of bondage, dutifully returning to the keeping of the Sabbath which the Lord their God had given them. And now, coming down to the time of the giving of the law, we find the Sabbath here, in this Fourth Commandment, “enshrined,” in the often-quoted words of Dr. Chalmers, “among the eternal sanctities or piety, and truth, and justice.” It stands associated with duties which are clearly and confessedly of permanent moral obligation, and no intimation is given that the requirement is only temporary. Is this fourth precept, then, to be regarded as an exception to the general principle,—as nothing more than a positive enactment, having no foundation in the nature of man as a moral being, and admitting, therefore, of being repealed at the will of the Lawgiver? Surely the duties of worshipping God, cultivating holiness, preparing for the rest of heaven, are duties of a moral nature, and can there be anything more directly and properly moral than the setting apart of a certain portion of time for giving special attention to these duties? It is founded in man’s moral constitution. And what if the very proportion of time, which He who knows our frame has appointed for the purpose of rest—a seventh, rather than a sixth or an eighth part—should be, as eminent physiologists have told us, exactly the proportion that is requisite to restore the balance of the circulation, so as to secure a long life? Then the Fourth Commandment would have nothing positive in it at all; even the very proportion of time which God has fixed is moral, if such an arrangement be founded in the nature of man. But let us look for a moment more closely at the terms of the command itself. There is really nothing so frightful and forbidding about it, which should make us shrink from it as a sort of bugbear. It has been represented as coming into perpetual contact with all our innocent enjoyments, and even with the merest trifles, as “an everlasting No.” “Can we do this or that on the Sabbath?—No. Why?—The Fourth Commandment.” Surely it must be a mistaken view of this commandment which could lead any one so to speak of it. No more than any other of the commandments of God is this one “grievous;” like all those among which it stands, it is “holy, and just, and good.” Not to lay undue stress on the first word, “Remember,” although that word does seem to imply that this is not the first time that the Sabbath has been spoken of, and to refer us back to the original appointment at the creation,—it is well worthy of notice that what is enjoined at the beginning, and what is said to be blessed at the end of the precept, is not the seventh-day, but the Sabbath-day. What this commandment fixes, is, not the relation of the day of holy rest to the other days of the week—that was determined by the original institution—but the proportion of time to be devoted to sacred purposes, as compared with that to be employed in secular pursuits. So that there is no necessity for supposing that the commandment was altered or repealed at the time when the change was made from the seventh to the first day of the week. The first-day Sabbath, observed by us now, is as strictly and properly the seventh day, following as it does six days of labour, as the Sabbath which was kept by the Patriarchs and Jews. If this be the correct view—if this commandment specifies merely the proportion of time, and not the particular day—not the seventh, but a seventh-day—six days of labour and one day of rest—every seventh day a Sabbath,—and we can see nothing deserving the name of “quirk” or “quibble” in such an interpretation,—then there is no need to suppose that any part of it was positive, or that any part of it has been abrogated by Christ. The whole precept, in all its integrity, stands there among the rest, as a portion of the moral law, unrepealed, immutable—as binding upon man now, as on the day when it was first revealed. It is no merely positive enactment that has strangely found its way into a place—and that place most conspicuous and honourable—among a number of others that are moral. And if it be our duty still, in obedience to the other commandments with which it is associated, to worship Jehovah only, to revere His holy name, to honour our father and mother, to abstain from murder, adultery, theft, falsehood, and covetousness,—it is equally our duty still, under the same authority, and by the sanction of the same law, to “remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.” Mark too, in confirmation of this, how, while the Passover, to which the Sabbath has frequently been compared, was rigidly restricted to the Jews—“There shall no stranger eat thereof,”—the keeping of the Sabbath is expressly enjoined, not only upon the Hebrew and his family, but on “the stranger within his gate.” And the same conclusion follows from the reason assigned for the observance, in which there is nothing national or local, nothing peculiarly interesting to the Jews more than to any other people:—“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth.” During the ages which followed the giving of the law, prophet after prophet, as he arose, testified concerning the Sabbath—not as a mere ceremonial and temporary institution, but as “a Delight, the Holy of the Lord and Honourable,” “the day which the Lord hath made,” and in which His people are to “rejoice and be glad.” They speak of it, as an institution which lay in the very heart of vital godliness, being “at once the symbol and the means of true religious reformation and revival.” But we hasten to notice the teaching of the New Testament on the subject. And here we are met by the statement to which we have already adverted, that there is no command to observe the Sabbath in the New Testament. It is admitted that there is none. But is an express command necessary to constitute a moral obligation? Is not a fair deduction as binding as an explicit injunction? And would not other commandments of the Decalogue, besides the fourth, be set aside, for want of an authoritative precept in the New Testament, if this principle were admitted? The best answer, however, to such an objection is, that a command to observe the Sabbath was not needed at the time. Had it been to cease, a command to abolish it would have been necessary; but a command to continue it would have been superfluous. Its permanent authority was amply covered by that utterance in the Sermon on the Mount, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Accordingly, throughout the whole course of our Lord’s public ministry and teaching, we find a constant recognition of the Sabbath as a divine institution. To use again the words of a writer already quoted:—“It was the constant object of the Saviour whilst on earth to raise the minds of His disciples to a level from which they could look back upon the ritual services of Judaism, as the ladder by which they had ascended to a loftier dispensation, and hence the spiritual element which He largely infused into the obligations of the Mosaic economy—its laws not abolished but grafted with far loftier truth. Sacrifice and ritual service, the splendour of the priesthood and of temple worship, were all destined to fade away in a brighter and purer light—the types and shadows of a glory which was perfected in Christ; but the principles they had involved must reappear under every form of religious belief.… Considering it in this light, how was the Sabbath regarded by Christ? Is it not obvious that He honoured it in every way, in His preaching, by miracle, and by precept? For it reappears again and again in His ministry, like some deep underlying stratum of rock that breaks its way through the soil continually, and though seen in fragments, gives undeniable evidence of its permanence and depth. Christ seemed in an especial manner to honour the Sabbath, and He endeavoured, by earnest instruction, to bring back the minds of the people to a true estimate of its spiritual character. The Sabbath was chosen for the first act of His public ministry. A great number of His miracles seem to have been performed for the express purpose of affording the Saviour an opportunity of expounding to His followers the true spirit and intention of Sabbath observance. And what means all this fulness of instruction with reference to an institution which, as the objectors assume, was just about to terminate in a more spiritual and happier dispensation? Can it be supposed that if this institution had been about to perish with the ritual services of Judaism, it would thus be distinguished in the ministry of Christ, and whilst its few last sands were running through, that these needed such effulgence to brighten them? Is it not far more consistent with the tenor of the Saviour’s life, and with the teaching that never dwelt on trivial things, but always occupied itself in the illustration of great moral truths, to believe that Christ was desirous of purging the Sabbath from the formal and traditionary observances which had gathered round it, and by expounding its true nature, vindicating its merciful character, and asserting His power over it as Lord of the Sabbath, to prepare and perfect this institution for a dispensation whose leading attributes were glory to God in the highest and goodwill to men.” The mere absence of any express command in the New Testament to keep the Sabbath cannot, therefore, be regarded as any valid objection against its moral obligation. But if we are still bound to obey the Fourth Commandment, then why do we keep our Sabbath on the first, instead of the seventh day of the week? There is nothing in the terms of the commandment itself, as we have already endeavoured to show, inconsistent with such a change; and, while holding its continued obligation, there is nothing to prevent us from maintaining that, “from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath, and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.” To add a new reason for the observance of such a day, over and above that which was intimated at the time of its appointment, does not change the nature or obligation of the institution. This had been done before. Although the primary reason—God’s resting from all His works—could never be annulled or consigned to forgetfulness; yet that did not hinder the addition of another reason—God’s special kindness to His people in delivering them from their bondage in Egypt—as a further ground why they should keep that commandment, (Deut. 5:12–15.) And when an event so transcendently important and glorious, as the Resurrection of the Redeemer from the grave—His resting from all His painful work, and completion of the great redemption—when that event took place, what more reasonable, more fitting than that this should not only be added to the former reasons for the observance, but should take the lead as foremost of the grounds for our grateful and reverential celebration? When Jesus, therefore, appeared first to His assembled disciples on the first day of the week—the joyful day of His resurrection—and on that day week repeated His appearance, as if on purpose to set a peculiar honour on the day, and to mark it as His own,—and on a subsequent first day, the day of Pentecost, when they were all assembled for worship, poured out upon them His promised Spirit,—we are not surprised to find the primitive Christians, no doubt under His own impulse and direction, making the first rather than the seventh day of the week—during which he had lain in the grave—their day of sacred rest and social worship, on which they statedly met to praise Him, and to break bread, and to hear His word—the day of days, in their estimation, for it was “the Lord’s-day.” If the evidence for the change of the day be chiefly inferential and indirect, it is not on that account the less conclusive. Not only is it an admitted principle that the practice of the first Christian churches, under the guidance of the apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, is equivalent in value and authority to direct precept, but there is a good reason for the absence of any explicit injunction, formally authorising the change. It is this, namely,—that the transition from the rites and ceremonies of the old economy, to the simpler institutions of the new, was not sudden and abrupt, but gradual and gentle. It was only slowly, and by degrees, that ancient observances—to which God’s people had been long habituated, and which they had been trained from infancy to revere—were broken off. Our Lord, and His apostles following His example, dealt very considerately and tenderly with the Jewish converts. For some time after the fulfilment and abrogation of the Mosaic ritual, circumcision, and laws concerning meats, and such like regulations, continued to be observed by the Jewish portion of the Church. And it seems very probable—almost certain indeed—that the seventh-day Sabbath was for some time religiously kept by Christians of that class, as well as the Lord’s-day. Christ, therefore, and His apostles after Him, avoiding all unnecessary giving of offence, sympathising with the weaknesses of their brethren, proceeded quietly in introducing the change, and by degrees so established it throughout the Church, that, in the records which remain to us of the first, second, and third centuries of her history, we find Christians constantly keeping the first day as the holy day. If indeed in any instance a disposition showed itself to cling in a self-righteous spirit to the seventh-day Sabbath, as if there were something legally meritorious in that, or if Judaising teachers insisted upon its observance as necessary—and such cases no doubt did occur—then, this was stedfastly and sternly resisted, as inconsistent with that liberty which He had purchased for His people, and with that state of grace in which they stood. And this is perhaps the true explanation—one explanation at least it is, and satisfactory so far as it goes—of that passage in the Epistle to the Colossians (2:16, 17), which has been so much referred to in the present controversy—“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holiday, or of the new moon, or of Sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.” They were not to be censured for omitting an observance, which, although allowable, and one which might be tolerated for a season, was no longer obligatory. Many of the passages, also, which have been quoted from the early Christian fathers, in which they speak of the “Sabbath” as having become antiquated by the death of Christ, and in a tone of disparagement and censure, have reference undoubtedly not to the Christian, but to the Jewish Sabbath, which was still observed by some on the Saturday. It has been held that the example and teaching of the Saviour Himself while on earth, were tantamount to a repeal of the Sabbath law. Did he not walk through the fields with his disciples on the Sabbath-day, and work miracles, and in other ways discountenance the Jewish strictness of observance, by doing things which were then deemed violations of the law? Did he not say “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath?” This is a point in regard to which there has been much misconception. It has been said that if still bound by the Sabbath law, we must be bound also rigidly to adhere to the Pharisaic mode of observance—to keep it with all the minute and punctilious strictness by which they were distinguished; and yet it was from that yoke of bondage that Christ came to set us free. But it is altogether a mistake to confound the ancient Sabbath as revealed by God in His word, and kept with joy and gladness of heart by His faithful people, who could enter into the spirit of His commandments, with the Sabbath as actually observed by the corrupt and formal Scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s day. It is altogether erroneous to ascribe to the Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment a character of gloom and harshness and severity, utterly uncongenial to the free and joyous spirit of Christianity, and to suppose that we cannot submit to its authority or attempt to obey it without involving ourselves in degrading bondage. Such seems to be the notion entertained by many, and which lies at the root of their ill-disguised or undisguised aversion to this precept of the Decalogue. It is taken for granted that if we consider ourselves bound by the Fourth Commandment, to be consistent, we must be out-and-out Pharisees. It is said, that because our fathers of the Puritan and Covenanting times, and even of later days, held themselves to be under this law, and strove to observe it to the utmost of their ability, hence all their ridiculous austerity and asceticism; they were “hide bound” by the letter; and a good deal of not very patriotic ridicule has been poured upon worthies of the olden time—men “of whom the world was not worthy”—on account of their alleged impotent endeavours to keep the Christian Sabbath after the Jewish fashion. As if men needed more to be scared by broad caricature from a too strict keeping of the Sabbath, than to be warned against the sin and danger of profaning it. “The Commandment” (it is declared) “is not kept by us. In a hundred things we do on Sunday what would have been unlawful for the pious Jew to have done on his Sabbath. Our servants do servile work, light fires, &c., and probably drive to church those who have carriages.” And the only way, it is imagined, in which we can get out of this deplorably inconsistent and uncomfortable position, and purge ourselves thoroughly of the old leaven of Judaism, is by throwing the Fourth Commandment overboard altogether, and shaking ourselves free from its intolerable bondage. Now, while it is freely admitted that there were some peculiarities of observance in Old Testament times—that under that dispensation there mingled some things which were of a ceremonial or typical character—these things were not essential but only accidental to it, and do not affect the morality of the institution itself. And it must be remembered that what our Lord discountenanced and exposed as of no authority, and cast to the winds, were the absurd and burdensome Pharisaical additions to the Divine law. Of the law itself He neither introduced nor sanctioned any relaxation; and not an instance can be produced of His having done any works on the Sabbath save such as had been not only allowed, but enjoined, all along—works, namely, of “necessity and mercy.” In regard to works of necessity and mercy, it is common to speak of these as exceptions from Sabbath sanctification. And exceptions they are, doubtless, from certain ways of sanctifying the day,—such as engaging in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, and resting from worldly employments that are lawful on other days. They are exceptions from these, but not from the sanctification of the Sabbath; rather they are among the things by which it is to be sanctified. Not only is the performance of these not a sin, but it would be a sin to omit them. Not only does the person employed in discharging them commit no breach of the Sabbath law, but a breach of the law would be chargeable on him by whom they were willfully neglected. This appears to be the only true light in which to regard works of necessity and mercy. The things themselves are not merely things which we may do, but which we must do, being things required by God himself. As for the order against kindling a fire on the Sabbath, for instance, that was, as Principal Fairbairn has forcibly stated it, “evidently a temporary appointment, suitable to the condition of the Israelites in a wilderness of burning sand, necessary there perhaps to ensure even a decent conformity to the rest of the Sabbath, but palpably unsuitable to the general condition of the people, when settled in a land which is subject to great vicissitudes, and much diversity as to heat and cold. It was in fact plainly impracticable as a national regulation; and was not considered by the people at large binding on them in their settled state.… Indeed, it is no part of the Fourth Commandment, fairly interpreted, to prohibit ordinary labour, excepting in so far as it tends to interfere with the proper sanctification of the time to God, and this in most cases would rather be promoted than hindered by the kindling of a fire for purposes of comfort and refreshment.… It was not work in the abstract that was forbidden by the Fourth Commandment, but work only in so far as it interfered with the sanctified use of the day. And the endless restrictions and limitations of the Jews, in our Lord’s time and since, about the Sabbath-day’s journey, and the particular acts that were or were not lawful on that day, are only to be regarded as the wretched puerilities of men, in whose hands the spirit of the precept had already evaporated, and for whom nothing more remained than to dispute about the bounds and lineaments of its dead body.” It was against such abuses and corruptions as these in the manner of Sabbath observance, which had long prevailed in the Jewish Church, and not against the Sabbath law itself, that our Lord lifted up His solemn protest, when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” It was made, not for Abraham and his seed; not for Moses and his adherents; but for man—not as Jew or Gentile, but as man. The whole philosophy of the Sabbath is here. It is intended for human beings as such, possessing as it does a marvellous adaptation to their constitution—physical, mental, moral, spiritual, and social. In the regulations for its observance among the Jews, there mingled some things of a ritual nature; but in itself it is strictly moral, having an equal fitness to men as they existed before the Mosaic economy had a being, and as they still exist after it has passed away for ever. Then there is the emphatic and significant statement, “The Son of man,”—the Author of the new dispensation, in which all distinction of Jew and Gentile is done away,—“is Lord of the Sabbath;” and He claims and exercises the authority which belongs to Him as such. He claims for himself a right—not to alter or modify the law—that did not come within the scope of His commission—but a right to place the commandment on its proper footing, to explain its true meaning, to show that the Sabbatic rest did not consist in mere bodily repose, but was perfectly compatible with activity in serving God and doing good to men. And thus, instead of invalidating the law or setting it aside in the exercise of His lordship, He only magnifies it and makes it honourable. There are many aspects of the question, of course, which we have altogether passed over, and even those now touched upon have been very inadequately illustrated; but enough has been said to indicate what appears to be the only sure and solid foundation on which we can rest the obligation to keep the Sabbath holy, and the only ground on which we can consistently defend it from the assaults and encroachments of its enemies. Not the authority of the Church, nor the example of the primitive disciples only; not established custom, or general principles of expediency; but the Word of Jehovah from the sacred Mount. Let not any one for a moment suppose, however, that while contending for the permanence of the old law, we would throw into the back ground, or give a secondary place to that grandest of all reasons for the observance, in the announcement which each first day brings to us with its dawn, “The Lord is risen.” Well may that thought take the chief place rather among the subjects of our grateful commemoration. Our Creator is our Redeemer. He who made all worlds has wrought out for us salvation. “His right hand and His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory.” “The stone which the builders refused is become the head-stone of the corner: this is the doing of the Lord; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The Christian’s Sabbath will be no true Sabbath to him unless it be pervaded and transfused with Christ—Christ in His glorious Person and finished work—Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King—Christ crucified for our offences, and raised again for our justification. “He is the beginning and the ending, the first and the last, of His own consecrated day. He is its bright and morning Star; He is the Sun of Righteousness that gilds it. His ‘All Hail’ meets us with its earliest beam; and when its shadows lengthen, our prayer is not in vain: ‘Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent!’ ” The proper place which the Sabbath holds in relation to Christian life and duty, is a field by far too wide and important to be entered upon now. This only let me say, that the question as to what that place really is, or ought to be, is one that will be, in a great measure, determined by the view taken as to the grounds of the obligation. If a Christian feels himself to be really under such obligation as that which we have endeavoured to exhibit, then he will not fail to know the place which the Sabbath ought to occupy in the affections of his heart and in the ordering of his life. He will know, and rejoice to know, that a seventh part of his time is, by divine appointment, specially sacred to God and to His service, and to the great business of preparation for eternity—not part of a day only, but an entire day, of the natural length, with its dawn and its twilight, as calm and holy as its noon—for nothing short of this will suffice for those purposes of refreshment and re-invigoration so needful to our well-being in every way, which it is the design of the Sabbath to afford. He will welcome the Sabbath when it comes, as his resting time from labour, when it is his privilege to withdraw himself from the bustle and cares of daily life; and while he gives to his body the needed repose, he will seek rest for his soul in God. He will then have fixed principles to guide him in deciding such practical questions as may from time to time occur, as to what of the nature of work it may be lawful for himself to undertake, or what work he may lawfully require at the hands of others, on God’s holy day. For these are questions which cannot properly be determined by others, but of which each man must be left to judge for himself, according to the dictates of conscience, the leadings of Providence, and the teachings of the Divine Word. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” “Why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?” “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” To him the Sabbath will indeed be a Delight—no season of sombre gloom, when he hangs his harp upon the willows, but the brightest and happiest day of all the week—when he himself breathes an atmosphere of peace and cheerfulness, and is prompted to diffuse a cheerful influence all around him:— “Thou art a day of mirth; And while the week-days trail on ground, Thy flight is higher, as thy birth.” And to such an one the Sabbath will be felt to be a delight, not in spite of, but because it is truly the Holy of the Lord, Honourable, and he honours it; because it is the day set apart for the public worship of the sanctuary and the ordinances of religion, which could not be maintained or enjoyed but for such an institution—the day which summons him into the most amiable tabernacles of the Lord God of Hosts—when he mingles with the multitudes who keep solemn holiday, and enters Zion’s gates with thanksgiving, and her courts with praise. Never was there a more baseless delusion, than to think that men may be made happier or better, more sober industrious and cheerful, by perverting the Sabbath from the purpose for which it was given—to be kept holy—and turning it into a day of mere bodily rest or recreation. “The mere animal,” said the late Hugh Miller, “that has to pass six days of the week in hard labour, benefits greatly by a day of mere animal rest and enjoyment: the repose, according to its nature, proves of signal use to it, just because it is repose according to its nature. But man is not a mere animal; what is best for the ox and the ass, is not best for him: and in order to degrade him into a poor unintellectual slave, over whom tyranny, in its caprice, may trample rough-shod, it is but necessary to tie him down, animal-like during his six working days, to hard engrossing labour, and to convert the seventh into a day of frivolous, unthinking relaxation.” Dr. R. Farre, in giving evidence before a Committee of Parliament, in 1832, said, “I consider that, in the bountiful provision of Providence for the preservation of human life, the Sabbath appointment is not simply a precept partaking of a political institution, but that it is to be numbered amongst the natural duties, if the preservation of life be admitted to be a duty, and the premature destruction of it, a suicidal act. This is said simply as a physician, and without reference at all to the theological question. But if you consider farther the proper effect of real Christianity, viz., peace of mind, confiding trust in God, and goodwill to men, you will perceive in this source of renewed vigour to the mind, and through the mind to the body, an additional spring of life imparted from this higher use of the Sabbath as a holy rest.” All history and experience prove that it is only when the day is observed according to the divine requirement, that it can be expected to yield those advantages of a physical, intellectual, social and civil kind with which it is so richly fraught. The two kinds of advantage—the higher and the lower—never can be separated; only when we avail ourselves of the former can we receive the latter. Much of the current talk about puritanical strictness—and forcing men to be religious—and much of the pleading for harmless and health-giving recreation on the Sabbath—serve only to display an utter ignorance of the very laws of the constitution of man, for whom—in express adaptation to whose whole nature—by his all-wise Creator, the Sabbath was made. To our hard-toiled working-classes, and to all grades of the community, there is no gift of God more precious, more worthy of jealous conservation, than the Sabbath—the true bulwark of our religion, and therefore the only safeguard of our liberty and nurse of national prosperity. But it is only when we receive the Sabbath as indeed God’s gift, and use it accordingly, that we can feel it to be our indefeasible birth-right as God’s children, and with good conscience and reasonable prospect of success, can defend ourselves from those who would seek to deprive us of the boon, as it is then only that we can verify in our own experience the truth of the old promise to the keeper of the Lord’s Sabbaths—no more effete Jewish thing, but ever fresh and new and gladdening to generation after generation of God’s children,—“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

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