A Study of Exodus 20:8-11
“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 manservant, nor thy maidservant, 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.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
Our text plainly says that the Sabbath day is the seventh day; a point which we wish to strongly emphasize in this article. We do believe a very great misconstruction of the Scriptures has been done in attempting to transfer the Sabbath day from the seventh day of the week to the first, and making it a so-called Christian Sabbath for believers in the gospel age we now live in. We also believe it fairly impossible for those who hold to and teach a Christian Sabbath, to prove their position; either from the Bible, or from history. We full well recognize that such a statement will bring much criticism, and, even bitter dissent against us, for even suggesting that the Christian has no specific calendar Sabbath at this time. However, we feel it necessary to take our stand here, and to reaffirm the clear, plain, and obvious teaching of the Word of God; that believers are not under law but under grace. And too, that statement will no doubt bring additional criticism and distress among the legal day-keepers; and if our present feeling is not changed by our Lord, we will have to say, humbly, “So be it.”
We are continually bombarded with articles on the Christian Sabbath in Baptist papers, which we either receive by subscription or exchange. It seems that the notion of this Christian Sabbath is an increasingly important point among some today; to the extent that the writers of the same will bombast, vilify, and condemn those who cannot agree with them, or walk with them in this purely old covenant, legal way. Within a three-week period we noticed four different papers with articles on this subject. All condemned what they call Sabbath breakers (those of us who differ with them) and those who will not walk with them in their legal precept. Some were more critical than others, but all contended that God’s children today were as much obliged to observe the Sabbath as the Israelites were when the commandment was first given them in the wilderness by Moses. It would seem that if the believing remnant was to observe one particular day out of the week as a Christian Sabbath that we would have clear and concise instruction from the Word of God on when this was begun, and how we are to perform it. However, this is not the case! As we previously stated, there is not one shred of evidence that such is so.
Let us first consider briefly what the Sabbath is, according to the Bible. From our text we learn that the seventh day was the Sabbath of the LORD. It was a time for no work and the basis for its existence was that the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that was in them in six days, and rested on the seventh day. As says the text, “Wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” You will notice that the word “Sabbath day” and “seventh day” here mean one and the same thing. This is the day the Israelites were to remember as the day their LORD rested. So clearly, the Sabbath day was a day of God’s rest, and they, from His example, were to rest on the seventh day, so long as they lived under that economy. But, does that still apply today to the Child of God that has found rest in Jesus? By no means.
In Exodus 3 1:12-17 it was clear that the fourth commandment was different from all the others, in that it alone was a sign given by God. As we read, “For it (the Sabbath) is a sign between me and you throughout your generations.” Without lengthening the argument at this point it seems very plain that no one was intended here but the Israelites and their generations to whom this commandment or sign was originally given. It is also to be seen that all violators of this sign or commandment were to meet with sure and certain punishment. They were to be cut off from among the people, and put to death. They were allowed to work six days, but on the seventh was the Sabbath of rest, and it was holy to the LORD. Anyone who violated this day was to surely be put to death. We ask; are those who are so intent upon enjoining a Sabbath day upon us in this day, as willing to enjoin upon us the penalties of its violation? If we have today the same Sabbath principles, do we not also have today the same Sabbath protections against its violation? Wherein has one changed, and the other not? Or one remain the same, and the other not? We fail to see any consistency among those who lead us down this legalistic path to a Sabbath ordinance.
The idea of a Christian Sabbath seems to stem from the mistaken notion that there was at some point a change in the day the Sabbath was to be observed; from the seventh day to the first. However, when we begin to look through the New Testament for some indication of this, we find that a record of this supposed change simply does not exist. There is no text, or texts, which tells us anything of the kind. There is nothing stated, nor is there anything even implied, that the seventh day was changed to the first after the resurrection of Jesus our Lord. We fully concur, and believe with others, that the disciples met upon the first day of the week; that they broke bread upon the first day of the week, and many other things according to their worship was upon the first day of the week. We agree that the Scripture is plain that John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. But none of these things tell us that there was any definite break from the seventh to the first in order that we might have a specific day of legal rest. These things in themselves do not create a “Sabbath Day” by which we are legally bound to its observance. Conjecture is the best that can be said for this position. We further, in examining the Scriptures, find that no where did the Apostles teach, or act out in such a way, a doctrine that God’s children today must take one day out of seven, and set it apart to do nothing but worship. That worship is enjoined upon God’s children, and assembling likewise, we heartily concur; but that it must be carried out on one specific day is a point we fail to find in our Bibles.
We believe there are three wrong assumptions in this very erroneous view of the Christian Sabbath. The first wrong assumption is that the Sabbath was, in some unspecified manner, changed from the seventh day to the first at some point after the resurrection of our Lord. The second being that it became the believer’s particular day of rest. And the third is that it was commanded us by God as law to observe the first day of the week. We fairly conclude that all of these positions are no more than bare assumptions with not one single “Thus sayeth the Lord.” If it could be proved that the Lord’s people are to gather on the first day of the week, and that alone, it still would not prove that was the Sabbath day. It has been believed by God’s children for so long as there has been a people on this earth saved by grace, that they rest in Christ and not in days; that they cease from their labor when they are brought into union and communion with their Lord, and not by observing any legal periods of time. God’s children have found the Christian Sabbath to be little more than a renewing of the Israelitish ceremonies and ordinances that were given to those ancient people for their social rule of life and behavior, for that period of time when they walked in the wilderness, and were governed in Canaan’s land of promise. And, that we have a commandment as law to observe the first day of the week for a Christian Sabbath, we consider to be a grave error, and we wish not to be bound by it.
Let it be plainly understood that the true followers of the Lamb have no desire to defile themselves, or transgress the Lord’s injunctions by living wantonly before the world, or by themselves, for that matter. The children of the Most High would live the strictest life, could they but by grace do so; but they as well vehemently deny that they are governed by legalistic principles, that say “do this, and do not do that” regarding their rest in Jesus. Is not this something akin to what Peter taught when he said “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Acts 15:10.
There are three additional texts in this connection which we wish to address. The first is Romans 13:8-10:
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
In verse nine the portion of the ten commandments which deals with the relationship of one man toward another is listed; adultery, murder, stealing, lying, covetousness. Those commandments which embrace the relationship of man to God were comprehended, as Paul said, “If there be any other commandment.” But of them all, Paul clearly embraces the gospel way when he said they were comprehended in this, namely, “Thy shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Love was the fulfilling of the law. Thus, if love fulfills the law towards man regarding his commandment relationships to them, does not also love fulfill the law in our commandment relationships toward our God? Did not our Lord teach the same thing in the Gospels? (Matthew 22:34-40, Luke 25:28.) Then what of a supposed commandment regarding a particular day for worship? It was certainly not embraced in this text, for here, rather than singling out a time frame in which God’s children are required to legally serve their God, they find that the new relationship which God has worked in their hearts has bound them together in all of the commandments, and that is that God first loved them, and they love Him. And to the ability that He gives them in grace, they now serve Him. Not from a principle of commandment, but a principle of love.
The second text we wish to observe is Ephesians 2:15:
“Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.”
Paul instructs the church at Ephesus that something was abolished, and he describes it as the “law of commandments contained in ordinances.“ We do not believe that Paul taught that the law was abolished, or that commandments were abolished; but that rather, legal commandments that were contained in ordinances were abolished. Ordinances here means those systems of rigor and service enjoined upon the Israelites for their dispensation.
This same line of thought is found also in Colossians 2:14
“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.”
Here it was the “handwriting of ordinances” being blotted out, whereas in Ephesians it was the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” that was abolished. In one a blotting out; in the other an abolishing. In one, a handwriting of ordinances; in the other the law of commandments contained in ordinances. So then it is very clear that it was ordinances from which the child of God was freed. And it was further stated in the Colossian epistle that they were not to be judged in respect of Sabbath days (verse 16), for they were but a shadow of things to come (verse 17), whereas the Body was Christ.
Can it not be seen from these three texts that sabbath-keeping as a legal duty or precept was done by the Israelites, as was all other things in the Old Testament, to set forth in type and shadow, as well as in figures, things to come? The Sabbath prefigured in its legal sense the Spiritual rest the children of God found in Jesus. This is why, today, the child of God can rest in Jesus seven days of the week, and not just one. This is why the child of God can scorn the exhortation of the legalist, when they demand of us that we follow after the things which they think makes for Christian morality. This is true freedom and gospel liberty, which can be found only in Christ our Lord, and revealed by the Holy Ghost to the elect.
Finally, it seems necessary for us to set forth the error of one article we recently read concerning the Christian Sabbath. May we emphasize that we have no desire to act in an evil way toward the publisher of this article, but rather to show what we believe to be the truth, as opposed to error.
“The desecration of the Lord’s Day is the most noticeable and perhaps the worst evil of this generation that hath forgotten God. The loud cry always goes up when any mention is made of keeping the Lord’s Day holy: ‘We are under grace, not under the law.’ To tell you the truth, I am getting sick in my stomach at people excusing their ugly sins by waving the banner of grace.”
“God sets the day apart and requires us to remember it in the Fourth Commandment. Remembering the Lord’s Day is not a matter of Christian liberty, i.e., something neither commanded nor forbidden by God. Rather, it is law, the law of God just as are the matters of having no other gods, honoring our parents, and not stealing. It is the commandment of the Redeemer to His saved people. It is a commandment that at once teaches us to know our sinful nature more and more, so that we fly to Christ for righteousness, and directs us in the way of pleasing our Deliverer and of living a happy life. it is a commandment that the thankful believer gladly obeys, as a child willingly obeys the father whom he loves.” (Two separate paragraphs from an exchange paper.)
In the first paragraph, where we supplied italics, it was seen that the writer used the language “keeping the Lord’s day holy”. We do not accuse him of doing anything sinister, but it is clear he is, whether willingly or unwillingly, attempting to rewrite the Bible. We are not told anything in God’s Word about “keeping the Lord’s day holy”. The Children of Israel were told to “remember the Sabbath day”, but the keeping of the Lord’s day holy is something we are not familiar with. It will also been seen that the writer did not think too highly of the banner of grace, and attempted to accuse those who denied his legal Sabbath of trying to “hide their ugly sins under the banner of grace,” when nothing could be further from the truth.
In the second paragraph, the same error is observed. Again, the words in italics, “remembering the Lord’s day”. Was it not in the Scriptures the Sabbath day that was to be remembered and not the Lord’s day? The next thing in italics, he says, “rather it is law”. This is what he describes as “remembering the Lord’s day;” that it is law for us. We ask then fairly, again, “Are we under law or grace?” This writer would have us to be under law, as he plainly sets forth. Next he says “it is a commandment of the Redeemer to His saved people”. If it is a commandment, we desire humbly to know where this commandment is written.
And so the message goes, continually. The Sabbath day and the Lord’s day are supposed by the legalists to be one. God’s children, we are told we are to observe them with vigor and rigor, as though they were walking yet with Moses in the wilderness. We say honestly and openly to those; be not deceived, God is not mocked. We are free, brethren, to worship our God at any time, and the Scriptures say nothing about the 1st day of the week being our Sabbath, legal or otherwise. It is true, we are not free to sin; we are not free to walk with the world, and we are not free to violate the Lord’s plain teachings. Neither do we desire to do so. But we are not willing to be placed under a yoke for the satisfaction of legalists. If they desire to observe a Sabbath, that is fine with us. But we desire the privilege to walk with the Bible in our hand, and abstain from their course.
J.F. Poole – 1990