PROBABLY at no time since the introduction, in the seventeenth century, of Sabbatarian views among English-speaking Protestants, has the Sabbath question commanded so thoughtful and so general consideration as during the past decade. Quite a number of books, pamphlets, review articles and tracts have issued from the press, treating of this many-sided subject. In the reactionary protest against the stern Sabbatarian regime of a generation or two past, there has been a degree of restless uncertainty of thought and practice which has boded no good to the Christian world. The purpose of the present article is to show the illogical and inconclusive nature of the argument, by which the sanctity of the holy Lord's Day is usually defended. It is exceedingly unfortunate that we find it difficult to approach any question of this moment with minds untrammelled by prejudice, and to make up our verdict solely upon the evidence adduced. And it is yet more to be regretted that one whose scholarly self-respect compels him to dissent from popular error, should not infrequently incur obloquy, or, at least, be misunderstood and sometimes misrepresented. Especially is there this danger to be incurred by those who antagonize the Sabbatarian view of the Lord's Day. It is hoped that we may see that this sacred day may be Scriptural and Divinely instituted, without such resort to Judaism as the New Testament writers and the church of the first centuries knew nothing of. If that institution has been inconsiderately placed in popular apprehension upon a false basis, surely it is desirable to remove that foundation that it may be rested
upon the enduring rock. In philosophy and ethics false ground sooner or later gives way. We ever injure a good cause when we claim for it sanctions to which it is not entitled. Men lose faith even in that which is holy when they see it defended by arguments illogical, unscriptural, and unhistorical. By such defence the Lord's Day unquestionably has been weakened in its obligatory force upon the conscience of thoughtful souls. To rescue that day from what is regarded as a serious peril is the purpose of this writing. If the word and practice of the Apostles, recorded in the New Testament, and the early Christian testimony, are to weigh anything, then the Lord's Day is a Divine institution. We shall see also, it is hoped, that it is essentially and peculiarly an institution of the Gospel dispensation.
Perhaps there was a Patriarchal Sabbath in commemoration of the received view of the six (literal) days of the creative week. I purposely say perhaps, rather than certainly, or even probably. The argument which affirms such a Sabbath is exceedingly indefinite and inconclusive. It seems almost a pity to spoil the pretty conceit of Bickersteth, whose glowing lines tell us of
That almost lonely rivulet, which flows
From Eden through the world's wide wastes of sand."
In sober prose, however, it must be said that no such rivulet flows. I am aware that many scholarly men find evidence of an Edenic Sabbath in Genesis ii., 3: "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made."
This is supposed to be the enactment of the Sabbatic law for the race. But it is an exceedingly frail support for such conclusion. It is only the historian's statement that the Sinaic Sabbath, instituted two thousand years afterwards, had a commemorative reference to the creation. It is mentioned by him proleptically, as giving the Divine determination to sanctify the seventh day, and to constitute it a religious rest
day in the future ceremonial law. No one knows what part of the Mosaic history was first written, whether Genesis or Exodus, or whether they were committed to writing simultaneously. To make the passage of any value as proof in this matter, it must be assumed that Genesis was a historic book coming down from patriarchal times, and that the later law of Exodus and Deuteronomy referred to it in the word "remember." Nothing was more natural than for Moses, when writing (or collating, it matters not which), the history of the creative week, parenthetically to note the fact that the Sabbath, then recently given to Israel, had a reference to the event. The Rev. J. H. McIlvaine, D. D., (in the Presbyterian Review, April, 1883), argues the Edenic institution of the Sabbath, declaring that "we have abundant evidence that the division of time into weeks of seven days extensively prevailed in the earlier ages; that it was known, not only among the Hebrews and other Arabic or Semitic nations, but also among the Egyptians, Greeks, Africans, and Peruvians, and almost, or quite, all primitive peoples." The Doctor does not afford the anxious reader a glimpse at this "abundant evidence," nor does he even tell where it may be found, but he adds: "The Assyrian and Babylonian arrowhead inscriptions * * * * afford unequivocal evidence that the Sabbath itself was known and reverenced by the ancient Babylonians, and that they regarded it as having been established by God at the creation of the world." In proof of this assertion a note informs us that "on the fifth tablet of the Chaldean Account of the Creation, we find the words:
'On the seventh He [the Creator] appointed a holy day,
And to cease from all business He commanded.'
Also in the Babylonian Calendar the seventh day is designated as the 'Sabbath,' the word signifying 'a day on which it is unlawful to work.'"
According to Rawlinson, Smith, and others, these "Assyrian tablets in their original form are at least two centuries
older than Abraham, and six centuries older than Moses, while the remarkable traditions they contain are older still." Of this Chaldean Account of the Creation far too much has been made. Professor J. L. Porter, of the Assembly's College, Dublin, in an elaborate paper printed in the Princeton Review some seven or eight years ago, tells us that "the tablets are unfortunately fragmentary;" that in some places they are "so obscure that the exact sense can scarcely be absolutely fixed," and that "the deciphering is attended with only a fair degree of certainty." Perhaps, too, it might be added, that Mr. Fox Talbot's quite poetic "translation" must be received with some allowance for the license usually accorded poets. At any rate, I shrink from the consequences to result from this feverish appeal to "Assyrian and Babylonian tablets" as verifying Scripture, especially when it is assumed that they antedate the Scripture record from six to twelve centuries. If these Assyrian tablets furnish an account of creation, in which the Genesis record is anticipated, a pertinent question arises, whence did the Assyrian chronicler obtain his information, so exactly giving the order of the creative week? Was he inspired, or did he guess? Maybe we shall yet have to admit that Ewald, Kuenen, and Robertson Smith are not so far wrong when they argue for the post-exilic origin of the Pentateuch! Perhaps, after all, Genesis was copied from Babylonian tablets!
Granting all that has been so unwarrantably claimed, about "all nations having traditions of a primitive week of seven days," it would not follow that a seventh-day Sabbath was instituted in Eden and had come down the centuries as the heritage of the race. Many reasons may be assigned for such septenary division of time; as, for example, the quartering of the lunar month, the seven primary planets known to ancient astrologers, the supposed perfection of the number seven, growing, perhaps, out of the traditions of the creation. Scholars inform us that the Jewish Talmud knows
nothing of any Eden-ordained Sabbath. Their doctors universally date the institution from the Mosaic legislation, generally referring its commencement to Exodus xv: 25: "There he made statutes," etc. They regard the fourth commandment as perpetuating (as a Jewish ceremonial) the Sabbath, instituted, with other things, at Marah. And it may be added that, among the writings which have come down to us from the first three centuries, no Christian "father" bases the observance of the Lord's Day upon either the Decalogue or a primeval and patriarchal Sabbatic law. Indeed, they argued that the Sabbath was only a Jewish ceremonial from the fact that the patriarchs knew nothing of it. The apostles and primitive Christians were born too early to have the benefit of the modern interpretation of Genesis ii: 3, and the light of the wonderful Assyrian tablets!
Of an Edenic patriarchal Sabbath there is no trace in the history of God's people prior to Moses and the Wilderness. The first mention of the institution is in Exodus xvi: 23; "To-morrow is a rest of a holy Sabbath " (Revised Version). The first intimation of this day of rest is in verses 4 and 5, where Moses is told of the double rate of manna to be gathered on the sixth day. When the people do this the rulers of the congregation, apparently (strangely enough) not having heard, or at least not remembering, the injunction given in verse 5, come to Moses complaining. He tells them: "It is that which Jehovah hath spoken of, a rest — a holy Sabbath — to Jehovah is to-morrow." It is only when we reach verse 29 that we definitely have "the Sabbath." This record is conclusive that neither rulers nor people knew anything of the Sabbath prior to the event. Otherwise the double gathering would have been expected. The rulers would have applauded the pious remembrance of the people. But they seem wholly unaware of such an institution. The weight of critical exegesis and scholarly interpretation places the beginning of the institution just here. Thus
Oehler, in the recently published Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, article "Sabbath": Moses introduced the Sabbath first in connection with the manna (Exodus xvi., 5, 23-30), in such a manner as indicated that the Sabbath was as yet unknown to the people. The people, by observing the Sabbath, having experienced its blessing, received then the commandment concerning that day on Sinai. The expression in Exodus xx., 8, "Remember the Sabbath day," is not intended to remind of the Sabbath as an ancient institution, but it rather means that the people should always remember the now existing order of the Sabbath.
Oehler has argued this question quite satisfactorily in his Old Testament Theology, recently issued in this country. So Hessey in his invaluable Bampton Lectures on Sunday, pages 110, 111. Beyond all question the almost unanimous opinion of the Protestant reformers, Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, and others, was against the existence of an ante-Mosaic Sabbatic law.
When on Sinai the law was promulgated, the Sabbath was constituted, designedly and essentially, a ceremonial institution of the Mosaic dispensation, confined to that people whom the Lord their God had "brought up out of the land of Egypt." It was to be a sign between Jehovah and Israel only. Exodus xx., 2; xxxi., 13, 17; Ezekiel xx., 12, 20. It is to be classed with the other rites of Judaism, and is no more spiritual or moral than are the Passover and new moon festival observances commanded in the law of Moses. It, as well as they, was but part of the " shadows" which were to "pass away" when the "body" should come. See particularly Colossians ii., 16, 17 ; 2 Corinthians iii., 7-13 ; Hebrews x., l ; xii., 27; Galatians iv., 9, to. Notwithstanding all that may be claimed about the "moral element" of the fourth commandment, the Sabbath is certainly a positive institution, and the observance of the "seventh day," as sanctified by God, rests solely on this positive law. It is therefore rightly called a "ceremonial institution." And this is true whether the phrase "seventh day" designates the special day of the week, or only sets
apart one-seventh of time. I care not how others may decide this point; for me it has no authoritative bearing on the question of the observance of the Lord's Day.
I confess I find it hard to understand how careful students of the Sabbatic legislation can deny its essential Jewish nature. Turn to the decalogue as given in Exodus xx. The very words evidence it as a law for Israel: "I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Surely this language cannot introduce a "moral code for all the race and for all time." But examine this decalogue as given by Moses in Deuteronomy v : "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in the land of Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us." In enforcing the keeping of the Sabbath, the commandment as here given (verses 13-15), says: "Remember thou wast a servant in Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence: therefore the Lord thy God commandeth thee to keep the Sabbath day." Passing strange that one can read these words and yet fail to see that the Sabbath was a "sign to a particular people." So the prophets treated the Sabbath. They caught the inspiration of the positive language of the lawgiver: "The Sabbath is a sign between me and the children of Israel." Exodus xxxi., 13-18; xxxv., 1-3. Hear Ezekiel (xx., 12, 29): "Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them." How could the Sabbath be a special "sign between Jehovah and Israel," if designed for all nations? And if for the race, is it not strange that the heathen, while censured for their many sins, are never charged with "Sabbath breaking?"
Being essentially and designedly part of the "old garment" and "old bottles" of Judaism, the Sabbath perished with the old dispensation when it was superseded by the "ministration of the Spirit" (Colossians ii., 14-17 ; 2 Corinthians in., 7-11). Some good brethren shrink from this proposition, and ask why the fourth commandment is declared to be peculiarly
Judaic and temporary. They assume that the decalogue was given as the "moral law for all the race and for all time." I dissent from the assumption. The decalogue, so far as it forbids immorality, was based upon the universal moral law written in the conscience of humanity; but in its ethical prohibitions that decalogue is greatly inferior to the more glorious positive inculcations of Jesus and his Spirit-guided Apostles. Paul specially mentions the "law graven on stones" as part of that which was "done away." No part of the old law was graven on stone except the decalogue. With the blessed gospel of the New Testament we have no need of the crude and rudimentary moral code of Sinai. Let no one misunderstand me. It is freely admitted that most of the decalogue is of perpetual moral force, binding on all men always; not because that law was designed as the universal moral code, but only because the moral duties negatively enjoined in the ten commandments are essentially of the universal moral law "written in the heart" (Romans ii., 14, 15). They are not duties because in the decalogue; they are in the decalogue because they are moral duties. But the sanctification of the "seventh day" by the fourth commandment is a positive, not a moral, law. It was right for the Jews to obey it, not because it was obviously of an essentially moral character, but only because God commanded them to "remember" it. It is not denied that there was a "moral element" in the commandment. Of course it was morally right to gratefully remember God and to worship Him; there was not, however, any moral element designating the "seventh day" as specially fitted to express such remembrance. When God had given this law to the Jews then they were under moral obligation to observe it in its letter as well as its spirit; for when the lawgiver imposes a positive or ceremonial precept, it becomes a moral law in a secondary sense. For example, baptism and the Lord's Supper are positive ceremonial ordinances of the New Testament, but it is morally obligatory upon all who love Jesus to observe them in the
letter of the commandments authorizing them. The "moral element" of the fourth commandment is eternally obligatory; that is to say, all souls will forever be under obligation to worship their Creator. But this is very far from saying that the decalogue was designed to be the law for the race and for all time; still less does it affirm the fourth commandment as the Sabbatic law of the new dispensation.
The Master's Sermon on the Mount — "that new system of morals," as Dean Howson calls it — lifted the believer's estimate of holiness and the moral virtues far above the decalogue prohibitions. When the Scribe came to Jesus with the weighty question: "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" He answered, not by quoting the decalogue, as if it were of supreme and peculiarly moral force, but the all-inclusive precepts: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And a second like unto it is this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew xxii. 35-40, cf. Deuteronomy vi., 5 ; Leviticus xix., 18.) Jesus taught us to regard the decalogue as beneath the purity of His ethical teaching, when He said: "Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time * * * * but I say unto you." (Matthew v. 21, etc.) So in the teaching of the Apostles and other writers of the New Testament, we find every moral duty inculcated and enforced, not by urging the authority of the decalogue, but by the constraining love of Him who died for us and rose again. Not from Sinai, nor its tables of stone, but from Calvary and its cross of love they drew the inspiration to obedient holiness. Not Moses, but Jesus, is Lawgiver to the Gospel dispensation.
In his earnest protest against the tendency of the Galatians to return to the "weak and beggarly rudiments" of Judaism, Paul gives that remarkable allegorical interpretation of the two covenants, in which he affirms the deliverance of the
citizens of the free Jerusalem from the Sinaic law (Galatains iv.). What law was that given till the Seed should come? The whole Mosaic legislation — decalogue and all. Thus the Apostle argues in a passage already referred to (2 Corinthians iii. 7-11): "If the ministration of death, written and engraven on stones, came with glory (so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly upon the face of Moses for the glory of his face), which was passing away, how shall not rather the ministration of the Spirit be with glory? For if the ministration of condemnation hath glory, much rather does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For verily that which hath been made glorious hath not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasseth. For if that which passeth away was with glory, much more that which remaineth is in glory." I quote substantially from the Revised Version, but note the parenthesis and italics, which clearly bring out the sense. The passage has been obscured by the supplied words of the common version, as if it was the glory of "the face of Moses" which was to be "done away!" It is difficult to command patience sufficient to seriously consider so puerile an interpretation of the glowing language of the Apostle. No, that which passed away when the promised Seed came was the ministration of death and condemnation graven on stones; that which remaineth forever is the ministration of the Spirit and righteousness! So the writer to the Hebrews: "And this word, yet once more, signifieth the removal of those things that are shaken, that those things which are not shaken may remain." Hebrews xii., 27. A suggestive contrast between the temporary Sinaic law and the enduring liberty of the Gospel. The "passing away " of that "ministration of death " virtually abolished the Sabbath, along with all its other "shadows." When Jesus cried, " It is finished," He announced the abrogation of the old, and the ushering in of the new, dispensation. Then He "blotted out the bond written in ordinances, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross." Henceforth
the Great Apostle to the Gentiles said: "Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day, or a new moon, or a Sabbath Day, which are a shadow of the things to come, but the body is Christ's " (Colossians ii. 14-17). It has been objected that the Greek is plural referring to the numerous Sabbath rests ordained in connection with the various fasts and feasts. It is enough to say in reply that the word is inclusive of the weekly Sabbath.
The interpretation of this passage here given is that which was universal among Gentile Christians during the first three centuries. Indeed, the period might be practically extended another century. Certainly it is the interpretation accepted by the ablest exegetical commentators and authors of modern times. It may be well to hear one who deservedly occupies a high place in exegetical criticism — the Rev. A. Barry, Principal of King's College, London. I quote from his article on the Sabbath in Smith's Christian Antiquities:The idea embodied in the title, the "Christian Sabbath" was, so far as we can see, entirely unknown in the early centuries of Christianity. * * * * The Sabbath, whatever may be decided on the controversy as to the existence of a patriarchal Sabbath, had become part and parcel of the Jewish law. Like circumcision and distinction of meats, it had served its purpose as typical and preparatory. Now it passed away.So Alford, Bengel, Meyer, and others. I content myself with recalling the words of one who, albeit decidedly "High Church" in his tendencies, has given us a valuable work in his Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology — John Henry Blunt:Of more weight than all the arguments drawn from Genesis, is the fact that Ezekiel deals with the Sabbath as dating from Moses, and that St. Paul reckons Sabbaths among the weak and beggarly elements of the law (Galatians iv. 10) ; among the shadows of the things to come, the body of which is Christ (Colossians ii. 16). St. Paul could hardly have spoken thus had the Sabbath been a primeval institution, intended to run through all time.And I cannot refrain from giving, before passing on, the conclusion of Hessey:Therefore the Sabbath, the Sabbath of the fourth commandment,
[p. 212]with everything contained under the word Sabbath, or akin to it, days, and times, and years, the strongholds, and yet the weaknesses of the law, is abolished.*Up to this point I have tried to show: 1. That the evidence is not sufficient to establish the existence of a primeval Sabbath enacted in Eden; 2. That the Sabbath of the fourth commandment was a ceremonial institution of Judaism, confined to that people whom "the Lord their God had brought out of the land of Egypt;" 3. That the Sabbath, as part of the typical Jewish economy, passed away with the other Mosaic institutions, when the "ministration of death" gave place to the Gospel "ministration of the Spirit." It remains to consider the nature and obligatory force of the Lord's Day. It is confidently maintained that the Lord's Day is essentially and originally an institution of the new dispensation — as much so as are baptism and the supper. It is no more the perpetuation of the Sabbath than the other mentioned ordinances are the continued observance of circumcision and the passover. The "first day of the week" is never in the New Testament called the Sabbath. "The Lord's Day has an origin, a reason, an obligation of its own. It is something better than, and beyond, the Sabbath." It depends not for its sanctity upon the abrogated Sinaic legislation. At most
* I find an interesting page in the Life of Judson, by his son, the Rev. Edward Judson, D. D. In the reminiscences of her husband, Mrs. Emily C. Judson says: "My impression, drawn from many a long talk, is that he considered the Old Testament as the Scriptures given to the Jews especially, and, as a whole, applicable to them, and to them only. He did not like the distinction commonly drawn between the moral and ceremonial law, and sometimes spoke, with an earnestness amounting to severity, of the constant use made of the ten commandments by Christians. He thought the Old Testament very important, as explanatory and corroborative of the New, but binding on Christians only so far as repeated in the New Testament. He used to speak of the Mosaic law as fulfilled in Christ, and so having no further power whatever. * * * Practically we had nothing to do with the Old Testament law. * * * Once when I introduced some lessons from the Old Testament into my Bible classes, he compared it to groping among shadows, when I might as well have the noonday sun."
it may be said to be analogous to — certainly it is not identical with — the Sabbath of the decalogue. So Schaff:The Lord's Day was not a continuation of the Jewish Sabbath, which was at first also observed [by Jewish Christians], but a substitute for it.Or, more comprehensively, Dr. Hessey:The Sabbath, a positive Jewish institution, ordained of God through Moses, as shown in Scripture, remained in right of its Divine authorship till the dispensation passed away to which it belonged; then prophecy being fulfilled, and express inspired declarations on the subject having been uttered, it passed away. The Lord's Day, a positive Christian institution, ordained of God through the Apostles, as indicated in Holy Scripture, remains in right of its Divine authorship until the dispensation to which it belongs shall pass away. (Page 142 )In this direction only can be obtained solid ground on which to rest the Christian's observance of the first day of the week. In order to develop the argument let us glance at the New Testament references to the question. The most cursory reading of the gospels will reveal our Lord in frequent collision with the Jewish rulers in regard to His treatment of the Sabbath. It is scarcely necessary to refer in detail to the many passages. The impression gained by careful comparison and study of the texts is that Jesus purposely wrought many of His miracles on the Sabbath day — frequently seeming to seek the occasion — in order to precipitate the controversy. Notably is this the case in the healing of the impotent man by the pool of Bethesda (John v.), and of the man with the withered hand, in the synagogue, immediately after the dispute about the plucking of the corn by the disciples. (Matthew xii.; Mark ii.). It was on one of these occasions that our Lord gave expression to the memorable and pregnant words: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath day." (Mark ii. 29, 28.) It is true that neither Jesus nor the persons complained of had really violated the Sabbath law of the Scriptures; they had only come in conflict with the Pharisaic glosses upon that law. As the Seed of the woman, Jesus was made under the law.
As such he faithfully fulfilled its righteousness, obeying all its obligations. To "remember the Sabbath day" was part of that law, and Jesus honored it. That law was in force till Calvary and the resurrection.Till that time He observed the law. Circumcision, holy days, and Sabbaths, were a part of the ordinances to which He submitted Himself for awhile, though, as is evident from His practice and teaching, from His spiritualizing of the law, and from His proclaiming the "acceptable year," and announcing Himself as its introducer, He considered them to be things decaying and waxing old, and ready to vanish away. (Hessey, p. 125.)Though seeming purposely to antagonize the Pharisees in the observance of the Sabbath, Jesus used these occasions to rebuke their misconceptions of that institution. He told them that it was a benevolent ordinance. God gave it for the good of His people — a day "in which man's welfare was to be wrought out in a different way, indeed, from that appropriated to other days, but still wrought out." "It was made for man," not a burdensome constraint, but a ministering mercy. Strangely enough these words of Jesus have been forced into the support of that view which perpetuates in the Christian dispensation the Sabbatic institution. It is argued that they affirm the perpetual and universal obligation of the Sabbath — "for man," i. e. the race. The context forbids this interpretation. It dissociates the two propositions, each of which supplements and explains the other. "The Sabbath was made for man — not man for the Sabbath." Clearly the negative clause limits and explains the positive. The question was not concerning the then obligation of the Sabbath; but, which is the more important, the Sabbath or man? "Which is the more precious in God's sight, the ordinance or the moral being?" They were not discussing the extent; rather the
, of the Sabbatic law.
In claiming to be "Lord of the Sabbath," Jesus intimated the coming abrogation of the institution and substitution of the Lord's Day. To have positively announced that future abrogation would have been premature. By virtue of that
Divine Lordship, in which all power in heaven and earth was given into His hands, the Sabbath, with all its kindred Mosaic ceremonial, was to be done away; the "shadows" were to vanish, the "body" only was to remain.
Having seen that the Sabbath passed away with the Jewish dispensation, to which it belonged, and also that the fourth commandment is no authority for the sanctification of the "first day of the week," it remains to be shown why Christians do and should honor this day as the Lord's Day. It cannot be too frequently emphasized that there is no Scripture authority for the transfer of the Sabbath obligation from the "seventh day" to the "first day." Of such "change of day," not only the New Testament, but also the Christian literature of the early centuries, is as silent as the grave. It was several hundred years after the establishment of Christianity before the Sabbath and the Lord's Day began to be identified, and the fourth commandment adduced in support of the sanctity of the latter. To say the least this is suggestive. We must look to the New Testament Scriptures, as interpreted in the teaching and practice of the churches immediately subsequent to the Apostolic age, to find the true authorization of the Lord's Day.
It is generally accepted by exegetical scholars and commentators that our Lord was buried before sunset, Friday evening of the Passover week, and that He rose "very early in the morning the first day of the week." Here and there may be found those who except to this opinion — erratic interpreters addicted to theological or ecclesiastical vagaries — but practically it universally obtains among sober and competent writers. On the evening of that Resurrection Sunday, as the bewildered yet hopefully-expectant disciples were assembled, their risen Lord appeared in the midst of them, and gave the assuring salutation, "Peace unto you." (John xx. 19.) Also on the following first day evening; for we must interpret John's "after eight days" as indicating one week, in accordance with a common Jewish method of computing
time, a part of a day being taken for a whole day. (Compare Matthew xvii. 1, with Luke ix. 28.) In the Epistle of Barnabas Sunday is called the "eighth day." It cannot be urged that these appearances of Jesus to His disciples, of themselves, prove His authorization of the "first day" as the memorial of His resurrection. The most that can be said is that they suggestively harmonize with such an authorization, supposing it to be otherwise probable. Our Lord remained on earth forty days after His resurrection, "speaking the things concerning the Kingdom of God." The record is silent concerning the nature of most of those post-resurrection interviews with His disciples What He may have taught them concerning the Lord's Day is not a matter of legitimate assumption. Yet there are certainly good reasons to believe that so important an institution was not wholly ignored in His instructions. The practice of the Apostles, and the primitive churches, as intimated in Scripture references, would, to say the least, afford presumptive evidence of some definite directions in relation thereto. Whatever may be concluded as to the reasonableness of this suggestion, it is certain that our Lord commissioned His Apostles to teach the churches, promising His ever-present Spiritual Presence and guidance into all truth. "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you." What they delivered unto the churches, in the exercise of that Apostleship, has the sanction of Divine prescription.
In the New Testament there are intimations quite clear that they honored the "first day of the week" as the Christian's day of worship, in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus. True, these intimations are neither as numerous nor as definite as we might wish them to be, yet, when they are considered in the light shed upon their meaning and force from the testimony and practice of the writers and churches immediately succeeding the Apostles, they are amply sufficient to justify the significance accorded to them in Christian interpretation. Hessey argues that "if the Apostles be
considered merely as uninspired persons, and in that capacity to have debated by what day they should mark their religion, and carry out what may be conceived to be a religious instinct, the duty of worshipping God specially on one day (the cycle of seven being suggested by the form of religion from which they were gradually emancipating themselves), they would have been likely to choose the day of the resurrection." The promised "baptism in the Holy Spirit" made those Apostles infallible teachers. That wonderful gift came on the Day of Pentecost, which, in that year, occurred on the first day of the week. Was it by accident that on that day "they were all with one accord in one place?" Would not that gracious descent of the Spirit most signally mark as holy that day which was already associated with the fulfillment of one of the Master's promises — His resurrection? Every suggestion of grateful sentiment and eminent propriety would naturally elevate that day into peculiar prominence.
Many years after that glorious Pentecost, the history in the Acts (Chapter xx. 7) brings Paul to Troas, by which time Christianity had assumed a comparatively fixed form. There Paul and his companions "tarried seven days, and upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached." Passing by all discussion of the phrase "breaking bread," and of some irrelevant matters which have been forced into the consideration of this passage, certainly we have here just such a record as one should naturally expect to read upon the supposition that the first day of the week was then the recognized stated day of Christian assembling. The matter-of-course way in which the circumstances are introduced seems to indicate an established order. There is a similar unstudied reference to the first day of the week in l Corinthians xvi. 1, 2, where Paul seems to allude to this day as one recognized for the celebration of religious worship. It is most natural to suppose that this "laying by" was in some general treasury, where the contributions of the faithful could be stored against the Apostle's arrival. The
apostolic injunction was to provide against any such gathering of the sums from the several Christian homes as would have been necessitated if they had laid by their offerings each in "his own home," as some interpreters have suggested. The weekly assembling of the people on the first day of the week — "the day after the Sabbath" — would prove convenient for the storing up of their free-will gifts. "Do you sanctify your gifts by offering them on the day which you already reverence?"
It was not till late in the first century (not till John wrote the Apocalypse, A. D. 90-96) that we meet the name "Lord's Day" (Revelation i. 10). By that time it had become usual by that term to designate its Divine origin and institution. There is no sufficient reason for objecting to the application of the term to the first day of the week. It is so understood by the oldest Christian writers. The phrase "day of the Lord" was common in the apostolic age to denote the great day of the second coming of Christ — the judgment day. John used a different word for Lord in the Revelation. It is an adjective, not the noun usually rendered Lord. It is found only in Revelation i. 10, and I Corinthians xi. 20 — "the Lord's Supper." It is a peculiar New Testament word, perhaps coined by Paul for the purpose of describing the holy feast. From the Supper it came to be applied to the sacred day on which Christians met for its observance. Sunday is still called Kuptaxn in the Levant, just as in most of the continental languages of Europe it is known by terms signifying the Lord's Day.
This argument is confirmed by an appeal to the interpretation of these Apostolic precedents by the earliest Christian writers. Those who immediately succeeded the New Testament age, though not infallible teachers, are certainly entitled to regard as witnesses to the established order delivered by the Apostles unto the churches. Barry, in Smith's Christian Antiquities, summing up the testimony, assures us
that "patristic usage from Ignatius downwards establishes the regular and technical use of the Lord's Day for the first day of the week." Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John, a fellow disciple with Polycarp, the renowned martyr. A very beautiful myth represents him as the little child whom the Lord placed in the midst of His disciples. This indicates the period when He is supposed to have been born and lived (A.D. 30-107). I quote from his Epistle to the Magnesians:Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we confess we have not received grace. * * * * If, therefore, those who were brought up on the old order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, etc.I use the recently published edition of the Ante-Nicene Fathers under the supervision of Bishop A. C. Coxe. In the Epistle ascribed to Barnabas, which, though not written by that apostle, was certainly in existence in the early part of the second century, in explanation of Isaiah i. 13, we have:Wherefore we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead.Justin Martyr flourished A.D. 140. In his First Apology, he says:On the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read. * * * * Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God dispelled the darkness and made the world ; and because Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. * * * He appeared to His apostles and taught them these things. (Coxe's edition, chapter 67.)Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, A.D. 178, has several references to the question, and applies the name Lord's Day to Sunday, all the while carefully distinguishing it from the Sabbath. Others might be mentioned, but I shall content myself by referring to the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, of which so much has been written within the past few years.
Whatever opinion may be entertained of the Didachc, it is certainly, in part, as early as the second or third century, and on this question may be cited. In Chapter 14, we read: "Coming together on the Lord's Day, break bread and give thanks," etc.
Thus with one voice these Christian "fathers" speak of the Lord's Day, just as they speak of baptism and the supper, and other matters of church order, which they received from the original promulgators of Christianity. As soon as the churches pass out of the Apostolic guidance into history, we find the first day of the week established and universally accepted as the divinely instituted (Gr.), on which the (Gr.) was celebrated. The Lord's Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Lord's Day are originally and peculiarly of the Gospel, the "Ministration of the Spirit," and are alike of Divine institution and authority.
The argument seems conclusive. We rest content upon so convincing proof of the Divine origin of this Gospel institution. We would not dishonor our Redeemer, whose glorious resurrection it ever commemorates, by degrading the Lord's Day to the lower level of the Sabbath; nor would we lessen its Gospel significance by seeking authority and prescription for its observance in the effete Sinaic decalogue! Rather let us take our stand reverently by the open tomb, that could not hold the Prince of Life in bond, and rejoice in the day which our Lord hath made.
C. E. W. Dobbs. Columbus, Miss. ===================[From The Baptist Quarterly Review 1886, pp. 201-220. Document from Google Books. — jrd] C. E. W. Dobbs Index
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