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The Holy Sabbath: 9. Its Christianization Continued

By A.W. Pink

      From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: September, 1939

      In the first section of our remarks upon the Christianization of the Sabbath (in the August issue) we confined our attention mainly to two things. First, in pointing out that the many arguments advanced for the perpetuation of the Sabbath in this dispensation (June and July articles) cannot possibly be rendered invalid by the mere fact of a change in the Day of Rest--that it most certainly does not follow from the first day of the week now being the one specially hallowed for Divine worship, a proper Sabbath as such no longer obtains. Second, we sought to show that a change of economy required a change in the day of Sabbath observance: if the New Covenant was to stand out with clear distinctness from the Old, then a new Day of Rest best accorded with and testified to the establishment of the same.

      We are now to dwell more particularly on the fact that the first day of the week is the one ordained of God for the Christian Sabbath. We must ask our friends to kindly remember that these pages are read by people of varied shades of thought, some of them having been brought up under quite different teaching from what others have received, and as we desire (under God) to help one and all, we often feel obliged to take up an aspect of a subject which will not appeal to the majority, yea which may seem to them quite needless. Some of our readers have been influenced by "Seventh Day Adventism," and we must confess that in our wide reading we have come across very little indeed which was calculated to solve their difficulties; and therefore we deem it well to enter carefully and with some detail into this point.

      The old creation comprised in it the law of obedience of man unto God, this being implanted in his moral nature, which gave inclination unto the observance of it. The law of creation had a covenant inseparably annexed to it, as had also the Siniatic constitution. The immediate end of those covenants was to bring men by due obedience unto the rest of God, and as a pledge thereof and also a means of attaining it, the Day of Rest was instituted. All these things therefore must have a place also in the New Covenant belonging unto the new creation, the immediate end of which is our entrance into the rest of God, as the Apostle proves at length in Hebrews 4. But therein we are not absolutely to enter into God's rest as a Creator and Rewarder, but to God in Christ as Redeemer, the foundation of which is the work of God in the new creation, and the complete satisfaction or complacency which He finds in Christ's atonement.

      Thus it should be apparent that the particular day of the week on which the Sabbath is to be observed, resolves itself into what Covenant we walk under before God. If the Siniatic covenant has been annulled, then of necessity the Day of Rest has been changed. On the other hand, to insist that the Sabbath as given to the Jews is not abolished requires us to perpetuate the whole system of Mosaic ordinances which stood on the same bottom with it. That this is not simply an inference or dogmatic assertion of ours, that it is actually a Scriptural proposition is clear from the whole argument of Hebrews 7-10. "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Heb. 7:12). "The covenant being changed, the rest which was the end of it being changed, and the way of entering into God's rest being changed, a change of the day of rest must of necessity thereon ensue" (John Owen). With these introductory remarks we now proceed to offer further proofs for the first day of the week being the Christian Sabbath.

      First, it was plainly adumbrated in Old Testament times. This change in the weekly Day of Rest from the last to the first day of the week, that is, from the seventh to the eighth, as everything pertaining to the Christian era, was intimated under various types and shadows. The work of creation was finished in six days, and on the seventh God rested from His work, which completed a week, or the first series of time. The eighth day, then, was the first of a new series, and on that day Christ rose as the Head of the new creation. The eighth day is accordingly signalized in the Old Testament, pointing in a manner the most express to the day when Christ entered into His rest, and when in commemoration thereof His people are to rest.

      Circumcision was to be administered unto children on the eighth day (Gen. 17:12). On the eighth day, but not before, animals were accepted in sacrifice (Lev. 22:27). On the eighth day the consecration of Aaron as high priest, and his sons, after various ceremonies, was completed (Lev. 9:1). On the eighth day was the cleansing from issues, emblematic also of sin (Lev. 15:29). On the eighth day atonement was made for the Nazarite who was defiled (Num. 6:10). When the sheaf of the firstfruits was brought to the priest, it was to be accepted on the eighth day (Lev. 23:11)--a distinctive type of the resurrection of Christ. The eighth day was sanctified at the dedication of the Temple (2 Chron. 7:9), and in its sanctification at the time of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29:17).

      Now, can any spiritual mind suppose for a moment that this repeated use of the eighth day, in connection with the most solemn services of God's ancient people and in a manner so conspicuous, was without a special purpose? Did not the wisdom of God single out that day for some very important end? intimating thereby an antitypical new beginning? The eighth day corresponds with the first day of the week, on which according to all those appointments, Christ was received as the Firstborn from the dead, His sacrifice accepted, and on which, as the great High Priest He was "consecrated for evermore," having made atonement for His people, by which they are cleansed from all sin. That purpose of God is fully developed in the New Testament, where He who is Lord of the Sabbath, without in the slightest degree changing the obligation to observe a seventh day, appropriated to Himself the first instead of the last day of the week.

      Second, this change is clearly intimated by what is recorded of the first day in the New Testament. The alteration in the day of Sabbath rest and worship was emphasized by Christ's personal visitations to His assembled disciples on the first of the week. After His appearing to the travelers to Emmaus, the Saviour was seen no more until His mysterious and blessed manifestation in the upper room. "Then the same day at evening, being the first of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you" (John 20:19). What is the Holy Spirit's object here in mentioning the particular day of the week? Was it not to inform us that this was now a particular day? Jews would understand at once what was signified by the notice that a religious "assembly" occurred on the seventh day, and Christians are to equally understand what is denoted by such an allusion to the first day.

      The next detail to be noticed in the above passage is, "the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews." What is indicated by those words? Let it be remembered that the Lord had already "opened their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45), which must mean that, in a measure at least, they now knew the types had given place to the reality. We also know that, "He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments unto the Apostles whom He had chosen, to whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:2, 3). What other conclusion, then, can be drawn, but that the disciples now observed the Sabbath on the first day of the week, and that they therefore took the precaution of fastening the doors because they knew how incensed the Jews would be for their departure from the ancient observance of the Sabbath on the seventh day?

      Thomas was absent on the above occasion, and when he learned of its marvels, expressed strong unbelief. Throughout that week the Lord Jesus did not reappear. But when the disciples assembled again on the first day of the next week, Thomas being present with them, He once more stood in their midst and said, "Peace be unto you" (John 20:26). Is there nothing marked by that interval of time? His other interviews with them are not thus dated! Surely the fact that Christ was not seen by His disciples for a whole week, and that He then appeared to them again on the first day when they met for special worship, clearly signifies His definite sanction of this as the appointed day of meeting with His disciples? And is not this most expressly confirmed by the Holy Spirit's advent at Pentecost? Most assuredly the Spirit's descent on the first day of the week crowned this ordinance and ratified the newly instituted Christian Sabbath.

      Third, the first day of the week was celebrated by the early Church. That this was how the Apostles understood the matter appears from their custom, for they assembled together for the breaking of bread and the preaching of the Word "on the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7). Are we not compelled to conclude that what the Apostles did, and what the churches did under their supervision, must have been done in accord with the revealed will of their Divine Master? But, it will be objected, If God requires the Sabbath to be duly observed on the first day of the week during this Christian dispensation, why has He not given a definite command through His Apostles to that effect in the Epistles? To this question we make three replies. In the first place, it savors strongly of impiety: a taking it upon ourselves to say how God is to make known His pleasure to us--He has other ways of declaring His will besides through express precepts.

      In the second place, such a question loses sight altogether of the situation in which many of the early Christians found themselves--a situation very different from that which generally obtains today. In the first generation of the Christian era it was quite impossible for the Sabbath to be kept with the same sacred strictness with which the Jewish Sabbath had been observed. So long as the Christian Church was confined to the boundaries of Palestine, and its members were made up of Jewish believers and proselytes, as it was for some time, it was required of all the converts to continue in an exact observance of the Jewish Sabbath in compliance with the law of the land. They did, in addition, observe the Lord's Day, so far as that was possible privately; but they had it not in their power to render the first day one of holy rest for all their fellows.

      When the Christian Church enlarged her borders and converts from the Gentiles added thereto, the Christian Sabbath had to encounter most formidable obstacles and was met by almost constant opposition. Let it also be carefully borne in mind that many of the early Gentile converts were the slaves of heathen masters, and it will at once appear how impossible it was for the Church to secure anything approaching Sabbath observance, so far as that implies the setting apart of the first day from all secular interests and the devoting of it solely unto Divine worship. It was therefore most merciful on God's part to lay not upon them a burden which they could not have borne. Nevertheless there is clear evidence that those early Christians devoted at least a part of the first day to special worship so far as their distressed and persecuted state rendered possible.

      But in the third place, we ask, Is it true that no Divine command for the sanctification of the first day is to be found in the Epistles? And we reply, No, it is not. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come" (1 Cor. 16:1, 2). "I have given order," is certainly the language of authority, and cannot be regarded as anything less than an apostolic command. It is to be duly noted that Paul "gave order" concerning not only the principle of systematic Christian giving (for the relief of indigent saints), but also stipulated the time when such collections were to be made, that being appointed for "the first day of the week." Nor was such a regulation peculiar to the church at Corinth, as is intimated by his, "so I teach everywhere in every church" (4:17), "so ordain I in all churches" (7:17). Moreover, he expressly tells us, "the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37).

      "In view of this important verse, we may remark: there is here clear proof that the first day of the week was observed by the church at Corinth as holy time. If it were not, there can have been no propriety in selecting that day in preference to any other in which to make the collection. It was the day which was set apart to the duties of religion, and therefore an appropriate day for the exercise of charity and the bestowment of alms. There can have been no reason why this day should have been designated except that it was a day set apart to religion, and therefore deemed a proper day for the exercise of benevolence towards others. This order extended also to the churches in Galatia, proving also that the first day of the week was observed by them, and was regarded as a day proper for the exercise of charity towards the poor and afflicted. And if the first day of the week was observed, by apostolic authority in those churches, it is morally certain that it was observed by others. This consideration, therefore, demonstrates that it was the custom to observe this day, and that it was observed by the authority of the early founders of Christianity" (A. Barnes).

      It is abundantly clear, then, from this passage that the first day of the week was by Divine authority appointed for Divine worship--for this "collection" was an act of Christian fellowship. Ere passing on, it should be pointed out that the Greek which is here rendered "the first (day) of the week" is the very same expression that is employed by the four Evangelists in connection with the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 10:1), also in John 20:19 when He appeared to the disciples in the upper room. The word used is "Sabbaton," which means both "week" and "Sabbaths." Literally, then, it reads, "the first of the Sabbaths," the Holy Spirit using this particular term to denote the beginning of a new series. Thus we need not have the slightest hesitation in speaking of "The Christian Sabbath."

      The Christian Sabbath was most strikingly honoured by Christ Himself in His glorious appearing on the isle of Patmos and the Prophetic revelation which He there made to His servant John. In narrating the wondrous visions which he there received, the Apostle describes the time when they were given to him as, "on the Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10). Now all the days of the week are the Lord's, but that one of them should be singled out and thus designated to distinguish it from the others, shows that this day is His in a peculiar sense, as specially devoted to His honour. It is called "the Lord's Day" for precisely the same reason that the holy feast is called "the Lord's Supper" (1Cor. 11:20)--the one as a memorial of His death, the other of His resurrection. This particular designation supplies further proof that He is "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28).

      A number of testimonies are still extant that the Christians in the first three centuries observed the Sabbath on the first day of the week. "On the day which is called Sunday, all, whether dwelling in the towns or in the villages, hold meetings, and the memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the Prophets are read, as much as the time will permit; then the reader closing, the president in a speech exhorts and incites to an imitation of those excellent examples; then we all rise and pour forth united prayers" (Justin Martyr, in his Apology: A.D. 150). Another witness of the same era is Eusebius, "All things whatever that it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord's Day, as more appropriately belonging to it, because it has a precedence, and is first in rank, and more honourable than the Jewish Sabbath. It is delivered to us that we should meet together on this day," (Comments on Psalm 92).--A.W.P.

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