From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: June, 1939
We now approach what is to us, upon whom the ends of the ages are come (1 Cor. 10:11), the most pertinent and important aspect of our subject. It is therefore necessary to proceed slowly and enter more into detail, especially as there is so much confusion and error at this point. In seeking to open up this branch of our theme, we feel that we cannot do better than follow more or less closely the lucid and helpful writings of P. Fairbairn thereon. We would like to quote him at length, but this would occupy too much space, so we content ourself by summarizing his able exposition thereof, intermingling and adding some remarks and conclusions of our own.
First, a Christian Sabbath was clearly anticipated by Old Testament prophecy: or to put it another way, the Prophets plainly intimated that the Holy Sabbath would be perpetuated throughout the Christian dispensation. Thus we have a natural bridge which connects the Old and New Testaments together. A wide field is here opened for investigation, but for the sake of brevity and clarity, we shall confine our attention to two predictions: the first one enunciating the basic general principle, the second furnishing more explicit details. We have discussed the former passage under the Covenant articles in our Studies in the Scriptures, but for the sake of new readers, and particularly as it bears upon our present theme, we must again look at it.
Before turning to those ancient evangelic testimonies, it should be pointed out that a considerable portion of the prophetical writings pertains rather to the New, than to the Old Testament dispensation. They were designed to deliver the Jews from dwelling too exclusively in their thoughts on their present regime; on which they were ever prone to settle with a carnal and exclusive regard; and to direct the eye of faith forward to those better things which were to come, and which were to be disclosed in "the dispensation of the fullness of times" (Eph. 1:10). It was of those very things, the prophecies we are to consider, spoke. They were "the testimony of Jesus," witnessing beforehand of the work He was to do, the nature of that kingdom which He would establish, and the character of those blessings He should confer.
In proof of our contention that the Sabbath obtains for the Christian dispensation, we appeal first to, "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the (spiritual) house of Israel, and with the (spiritual) house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they break, although I was a husband unto them, saith the LORD. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the LORD, I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more" (Jer. 31:31-34). That the new covenant here mentioned is that brought in by Christ is expressly affirmed in the eighth chapter of Hebrews, so that there can be no doubt of this being one of those prophecies which had immediate reference to the Gospel economy.
Now the leading characteristic of this New Covenant, as contradistinguished from that which was made with carnal Israel at Sinai, is that God's Law is now written on the hearts of His people, whereas it was formerly written on tables of stone: in this the Law is transmitted internally, in that, the Nation had it externally. Yet, let it be said emphatically, it is identically the same Law: the moral Law, not the ceremonial, for so far from that being exalted into a higher place by Christ, it was in Him abolished, passing away like the shadow when the substance comes. Nor is the ceremonial law ever designated absolutely "the Law of God," and least of all could that be meant when the Law and the Covenant are viewed (as they are here) as in great measure identical. That which is pre-eminently called "the Law" in the Pentateuch and which formed exclusively the old covenant, was simply the Ten Commandments--those wholly and those alone.
It was the Ten Commandments, then, which the Spirit of Prophecy (through Jeremiah) foretold should one day, namely, in the Gospel dispensation--be inscribed by the finger of God upon the hearts of His people. By a miracle of grace being wrought in them, they would, after the inward man, delight in and serve God's Law (Rom. 7:22, 25). It could not be otherwise, for God has predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29)--initially so now, fully so in Glory. If then the Head could say, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy Law is within My heart" (Psa. 40:8), so in their measure can the members of His mystical Body say the same. Yet there is this great difference--for in all things He has the pre-eminence: Christ was born ("that Holy thing": Luke 1:35) with God's Law in His heart, whereas it is only written in ours at the new birth.
Now if the Ten Commandments as a whole be written upon the hearts of Christians it must be true of each individual part--the Fourth as well as any of the rest. That Commandment was most certainly included as an essential part of the Law or Covenant which was formerly written without and set before the Nation of Israel, but is now written within and infused with living power in the affections of the souls of God's people. And is not that very fact attested by Christian experience? How uniformly do they who are admitted into the privileges of the New Covenant love and delight in the Day of God! Nay, the more deeply anyone drinks into the spirit of the Gospel and experiences the grace of God writing the Law of holiness on the tablet of his heart, the more invariably does he count the Sabbath "the holy of the Lord and honourable."
So far from a renewed soul chafing at the restraints which the Day of Rest throws upon his conduct, and hankering after a larger freedom amid the pleasures and business of the world, he gladly hails its hallowed employments, and finds its weekly returns as so many "spring days" in his spiritual nature. He thinks and feels with the poet:
"Sweet day of rest! for thee I'd wait, Emblem and earnest of a state Where saints are fully blest! For thee I'd look, for thee I'd sigh. I'd count the days till thou art nigh Sweet day of sacred rest!"
The second passage to which we appeal for proof of the Sabbath in this dispensation is, "Neither let the son of the stranger that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from His people; neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep My Sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and take hold of My covenant: Even unto them will I give in Mine house and within My walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, everyone that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon Mine altar: for Mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people" (Isa. 56:3-7).
Now it should be unmistakably evident to all that the above prediction does and could not refer to Jewish but must relate to Gospel times. First, this is clear from the place it occupies in the chain of prophecy, and of which it is a part--i.e., beginning at 54:1 immediately after the atoning death of Christ in chapter 53. Second, it is directly connected with the revelation of "God's righteousness" and the "coming near of His salvation" (56:1), which can only be understood of Gospel times (see Rom. 1:16, 17), and is so regarded by all sound interpreters. Third, express mention is here made of the keeping of the Sabbath as a characteristic mark of godliness on the part of the "strangers" (Isa. 56:6) that is, the Gentiles who should join themselves to the Lord--"To the Lord," and not to the Nation of Israel!
It is also to be noted that the duty and blessedness of observing the Sabbath are spoken of in Isaiah 56:4 as belonging to the "eunuchs," who under the Mosaic dispensation were excluded from the congregation of the Lord, as also were the "strangers" as a body. Now the calling of the Gentiles and the removal of all outward, personal disabilities in God's sight, are emphatically marks of the New Testament Church; yet of such a Church it was definitely predicted that the observance of the Sabbath would form a distinctive characteristic. Finally, not only is the observance of the Sabbath three times repeated with singular emphasis, but it is coupled with laying hold of the Covenant, doing justice, and loving the name of the Lord--clearly importing that the Sabbath has its place with the most important and permanent appointments of God's kingdom.
Ere passing on, perhaps it will be well for us to anticipate an objection which some may be inclined to make against what has just been advanced. The dispensationalists, who are so fond of allocating to a Jewish "millennium" those prophecies which receive their fulfillment under this Christian economy, are likely to say Isaiah 56:3-7 cannot be understood as receiving its accomplishment in Gospel times, but must be regarded as describing conditions under a future and restored Judaism, because verse 7 says, "their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon Mine altar." From this and other passages the grotesque conclusion is drawn that an era yet to come is to witness a revival of the ancient Levitical ritual--a thing which is not only without a vestige of New Testament support, but which is expressly refuted by the entire contents of the Hebrews' Epistle, the special design of which is to show that the Aaronic priesthood has been forever set aside, superseded by the more excellent priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchizedek.
Surely only those who are blinded by prejudice could fail to see that so far from Isaiah 56:7 containing anything in favour of a future restored Judaism, the whole passage in which that verse occurs makes dead against such a preposterous view. Why, if there be any one thing more than another which outstandingly characterized the exclusiveness of Judaism, it was that the priestly functions were rigidly confined to the family of Aaron. "Therefore thou (Aaron) and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest's office for everything of the altar, and within the veil; and ye shall serve: I have given your priest's office unto you as a service of gift: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death" (Num. 18:7 and cf. 3:10, 38). In passage after passage "death" is threatened the "stranger" (Gentile) who dared to approach that altar. So strict was Jehovah in the enforcement of this restrictive statute, that even when one of Israel's own kings dared to usurp sacerdotal functions by burning incense upon the altar, He smote him with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-20)!
What shall be thought, then, of those "renowned Bible teachers," who are supposed to have so much more light than the rank and file of ministers, when they display such ignorance of one of the most elementary principles of Judaism, and give forth such a carnal and absurd interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures? Why, to put it as charitably and mildly as possible, that they are unsafe guides in spiritual things, and that though they may be able to amuse the curious, they cannot edify those seeking a closer walk with God. This childish and slavish "literalism" is so far from honouring God, that it brings His Holy Word into disrepute among sober-minded people. Anyone who possesses spiritual discernment and who is at all acquainted with the New Testament, should at once perceive that the "burnt offerings" of Isaiah 56:7 are the same, as the "spiritual sacrifices" of 1 Peter 2:5, expressed in the terminology of the Old Covenant.
What a blessed picture does Isaiah 56 furnish of the distinctive and special blessings of Gospel times! New Covenant privileges are portrayed under the figures of Old Covenant institutions, yet such remarkable contrasts are drawn that there is no excuse for mistaking their purport. Both eunuchs and strangers were expressly excluded from the sacred precincts of Israel's tabernacle and temple, and to here affirm that the Lord would give them a "place in His house," is only the Old Testament way of saying that the "middle wall of partition" would be broken down." When in verse 6 it says, "the sons of the stranger that join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him," the same Hebrew word is used as signifies the service of the altar: in other words, it was a prophetic announcement that the redeemed from the Gentiles were made "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) to offer no material and outward sacrifices, but spiritual and inward ones, the holy exercises of renewed hearts. The wild idea that it is "millennial" blessings which are here portrayed, is conclusively discountenanced by, "I will give them an everlasting name" (Isa. 56:5).
But to proceed: that the Sabbath should be continued throughout our own dispensation is just what might be expected, for the merciful nature and tendencies of the weekly Day of Rest is in perfect accord with the character and genius of Christianity. If a day of stated rest, on which all labour was forbidden as unlawful, and nothing permitted save what ministered to the life and well-being of the soul (with the exception only of works of necessity and mercy), was appointed by God for the good of His creatures under the Old Covenant, then certainly such a gracious provision is equally suited to the character and design of the New Covenant. If there be any feature of Christianity in its connection with human society, more prominent than another, it is the tenderness it breathes toward the poor and needy, and the beneficent influence it is fitted to exert on the conditions of those who require most of sympathy and kindness.
Christ Himself gave it as the leading characteristic of His work on earth that thereby the objects of deepest compassion were relieved, and that the poor had the Gospel preached unto them (Matt. 11:4, 5). There was in His heart an infinite tenderness and fellow-feeling for such, even in regard to temporal evils, which often excited the wonder of His immediate followers and rebuked their comparative indifference. And is not a weekly Sabbath, bringing a periodical release from the toils and burdens of life, permitting the most weary and oppressed a season of repose in the bosom of their families, and to attend to what they must otherwise neglect, namely, the higher interests of their being--is not such a Day an unspeakable boon to the great bulk of mankind? Has not the Sabbath been one of the most wise and benevolent gifts the Creator has bestowed upon His creatures, testifying His care both for their bodies and their spirits, by providing relaxation for the one and refreshment for the other?
Undoubtedly that is the real character of the Sabbath. And if Christianity has done anything to destroy the foundations on which such a blessed institution rests, it must surely in this particular, be strangely inconsistent with its general tendency and design. In its care for the poor and oppressed--it must then actually rank lower than Judaism, and be chargeable with removing one of the noblest bulwarks of the weak against the strong--of the labouring classes of society against the greed and grind of the monopolists. That the Gospel of the grace of God was intended to produce such an unfavourable effect, or can be made to do so otherwise than by some gross perversion of its meaning, will not readily be believed by any who know what the spirit of the Gospel is. The benevolent character of the Gospel, viewed in connection with the equally benevolent character of the Sabbath, amounts to a strong presumption that so far from subverting, the one must rather establish and support the other.--A.W.P.