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The Holy Sabbath: 11. Its Christianization Continued

By A.W. Pink

      From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: November, 1939

      In these particular articles upon the Christianization of the Sabbath we are seeking to establish (from Scripture) two things. First, that there is a Sabbath appointed by God for this dispensation--a Christian Sabbath for His people to keep holy and enjoy. Second, that this Christian Sabbath is to be observed upon "another day" of the week than the one celebrated throughout the Old Testament era. The one passage in the New Testament which above all others most conclusively proves both of these points is Hebrews 4:8-10, and therefore are we seeking to give a careful exposition of these verses and their setting. We would ask those who are really interested and concerned to re-read at this stage our article in the October issue, and then proceed with this.

      Last month we got as far as Hebrews 4:9 which expressly declares, "There remaineth therefore a rest [keeping of a Sabbath] to the people of God." Nothing could be simpler, nothing less ambiguous than that verse. The striking thing is that it occurs in the very Epistle whose theme is the superiority of Christianity over Judaism--a theme developed by showing the superiority of Christ (the Center and Life of Christianity) over angels, Adam, Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and the whole Levitical economy. It is an Epistle addressed to "holy brethren partakers of the heavenly calling" (3:1). Therefore it cannot be denied that Hebrews 4:9 is referring directly to the Christian Sabbath. Hence, we solemnly and emphatically declare that the man who says that there is no Christian Sabbath takes direct issue with the New Testament Scriptures.

      "There remaineth therefore a rest [keeping of a Sabbath] to the people of God" (Heb. 4:9). In this, and the following verse, the Apostle evidences the perfect analogy between the several rests of God and His people discoursed of in this chapter. First, at the beginning there was the creative work of God and His resting therefrom, which made way for a rest for His creatures in Himself and His worship by the contemplation of the works He had made. A day was specially assigned for that purpose--that was the primitive Sabbatismos. Second, there was a great work of God in bringing Israel out of Egypt and the establishing of His people in Canaan, which made way for their entering into His rest and worship, a Sabbath day being appointed to express both the one and the other--this was the Mosaic Sabbatismos.

      So now, under the Gospel, there is a Sabbath comprised of all these. As we shall see there was another and greater work of God, and a rest of His own ensued thereon. On that work is founded the promise of rest spiritual and eternal to those who do believe, and the determination of a new day expressive of the one and the other. This is the Christian Sabbatismos. That the redemptive work of Christ has not only secured this spiritual rest to His people, but has also necessitated and resulted in a new Sabbath to celebrate it appears from two things in the Apostle's discourse. First, by his referring to our Gospel rest by the name of DAY (v. 8). Second, from his coining of this term "Sabbatismos" to express both our spiritual rest and the Sabbath-keeping which memorializes the same.

      "For He that is entered into His rest, He also hath ceased from His own works as God did from His" (v. 10). Plain and simple as these words are, yet they have been grievously wrested by most of the commentators. They are generally regarded as referring to believers entering into the rest of God, through their believing of the Gospel. But there are two considerations which expose the error of this view. First, the verse does not read, "they who enter into His rest," but "He that is entered into." Second, if the reference was to believers, what are the "works" from which they cease? Their sins, say some; their legalistic efforts to win God's approval, say others; their sorrows and sufferings, from which they shall rest in Heaven, say yet others. But how could they be said to rest from any such works, "AS God from His" own? It is utterly impossible to satisfactorily answer such a question. No, the verse speaks not of believers, but of Christ.

      "For He that is entered into His rest, He also hath ceased from His own works, as God did from His." Here the Apostle concludes his argument by declaring that the "rest" which remains for believers to enter into (4:3), and the new day appointed by God for this dispensation (4:9), have a new and special foundation, which the previous rests and days had no interest or concern in, namely, that the Author of it ceased from His own works and entered into His rest. Proofs that this verse refers to Christ are many. First, its opening "For," which denotes that the Apostle now indicates whence it is there is a new Sabbatismos remaining for the people of God. He had before shown there could be no such rest but what was founded upon the works of God. Such a foundation this new rest must have, and does have. It is the work of Him by whom the Church is builded: Hebrews 3:3, 4.

      Second, the change of number in the pronoun from the plural to the singular intimates the same thing. In Hebrews 4:1-3 the Apostle had used "us" and "we, "but here, verse 10, he says, "He that is entered." This is the more noticeable because in the verse immediately preceding he had mentioned "the people of God." That it is not they who are here in view further appears from the fact that they never cease from their works while left in this world. No other reason can possibly be given for this change of number except that a single person is here expressed. Third, note it is not simply said of this person that, "He that is entered into rest" (as in vv. 3 and 8), but "into His rest" absolutely. God spoke of "My rest"; here He mentions "His rest"--Christ's rest!

      Fourth, there is a direct parallel supplied by this verse between the works of the old creation and those of the new, which the Apostle is openly comparing together. 1. In the Authors of them: of the former it is said of God the Creator, He did "rest from all His works" (4:4). So "He (Christ) also hath ceased from His own." 2. The products of the One and of the Other are mentioned: Their respective "works," and there is a due proportion between them, each being creative and "very good." 3. There is the rest of the One and of the Other, and these also have a proportion to one another. It should now be unmistakably plain to every impartial reader that it is the Person of Jesus Christ who is the subject spoken of in verse 10.

      The blessed Person referred to, then, in verse 10 is the Lord Jesus, and none other--the Author of the new creation. This alone gives meaning to the causal conjunction: there is a Sabbatismos now for the people of God, FOR Christ is entered into His rest. What is denoted by His "rest" we must now inquire. This was certainly not His being in the grave. His body indeed rested there for a brief season, but that was no part of His Mediatory rest, as He is the Builder of His Church; and that for two reasons. First, His entombment was part of His humiliation (Isa. 53:9). Second, the separation of His soul and body was penal, a part of the sentence of the Law which He underwent, and hence Peter declares, "The pains of death" were not loosed until His resurrection (Acts 2:24).

      Nor did Christ first enter into His rest at His ascension, rather was that an entrance into His glory, as in the full public manifestation of it. No, Christ's entrance into rest was in, by, and at His resurrection from the dead. For it was then and thereon He was freed from the power and service of the Law, being discharged from the debts of our sins. It was then and thereon that all prefigurations and predictions concerning the work of redemption were fulfilled. It was then and thereon that He received "the promise of the Spirit" (Acts 2:33), and the whole foundation of the Church of God was laid upon His Person. It was then and thereon that He was "declared to be the Son of God with power" (Rom. 1:4). God manifesting unto all that this was He of whom He said, "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" (Acts 13:33).

      "Thus did the Author of the new creation, the Son of God, having finished His works, enter into His rest. And this was, as we all know, on the morning of the first day of the week. And hereby did He limit and determine the day for a sacred Sabbatical rest under the New Testament. For now was the old covenant (the Siniatic) utterly abolished, and therefore the day which was the pledge of the rest of God and man therein, was to be taken away. As the rest from the beginning of the world had its foundation from the works of God, and His rest which ensued thereon, which was determined unto the seventh day, because that was the day wherein God ceased from those works--which day continued under the legal administration of the covenant by Moses--so the rest of the Lord Christ is the foundation of our rest, which, changing the old covenant, and the day annexed unto it, He hath limited unto the first day of the week, whereon He ceased from His works and entered into His rest.

      "Wherefore when the Lord Christ intended conspicuously to build His Church upon the foundation of His works and rest, by sending the Holy Spirit with His miraculous gifts upon the Apostles, He did it on this day: which was then among the Jews the feast of Pentecost. Then were the disciples gathered together with one accord, in the observance of the day signalized to them by His resurrection (Acts 2:1). And by this did their obedience receive a blessed confirmation, as well as their persons a glorious endowment with abilities for the work which they were immediately to apply themselves unto" (John Owen, to whom we are indebted for much in this and last month's article).

      It remains for us to point out that the rest into which Christ entered is proposed unto His people in the Gospel. This is asserted in the precious verse and is here made manifest. "There remaineth therefore a rest [keeping of a Sabbath] to the people of God," (Heb. 4:9) because Christ has entered into His rest. As the other rests--the one at the beginning of human history and the other at the beginning of the commonwealth of Israel--had their foundation in the works and rests of God, whereon a Day of rest was appointed for them to keep, so has this new rest a foundation in the works and rest of Christ--who has built all things and is God (Heb. 3:3, 4), determining a day for our use in and by that whereon He entered into His rest, which is the first day of the week.

      Before giving a brief word on verse 11, let us refer to what may present a difficulty unto a few. It should be quite clear there is a Christian Sabbath, a Sabbath appointed for this dispensation. Some may be ready to say, Yes, "for the people of God" (v. 9), but how about unbelievers? First, we answer, we know of nothing in Scripture which intimates that God requires unbelievers to celebrate the first day of the week as a memorial of our Lord's resurrection, for Christ means nothing to them. But second, they are commanded to keep the Sabbath holy unto God their Creator and Ruler. The original Covenant of Works has never been repealed, and all out of Christ are under it. Though the day of Sabbath observance is changed, God requires all alike, believers and unbelievers, to abstain from all secular employment on the Sabbath and keep the day holy unto Himself.

      "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (Heb. 4:11). First, it is to be noted that the Apostle does not here use the term "Sabbatismos" (as in v. 9), but, "katapausis" as in verses 1, 3, 5, etc. This shows that he now returns to his principal exhortation--the reader will be helped on the passage as a whole if he places verses 4-10 in a parenthesis, thus connecting verse 11 with verse 3. In the opening verse of the chapter Paul has said, "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it," and here he now makes known how that "fear" is to exert itself. It is not a "fear" of dread or doubt, but is such a reverential respect unto the Divine threatenings and promises as would stir up its possessors unto all diligence to avoid the one and inherit the other.

      The utmost of our endeavours and efforts are required in order to our obtaining an entrance into the rest of Christ. We are to "labour" or give the greatest possible diligence thereto. Men are in real earnest and spend their strength in striving after the bread which perishes; the same intentness and zeal are required in our seeking the Bread of Life. He who teaches men that an entrance into spiritual and eternal rest is a thing plain, easy, and suited to nature, does but delude and deceive them. To mortify sin, deny self, cut off right hands, endure all sorts of afflictions and persecutions--are painful, difficult, and attended with many hardships. The future state of the Christian is one wholly of rest, but his present state is a mixed one, partly of rest and partly of labour--labour against sin, rest in the love and grace of God.

      Having now gone carefully through our passage let us see what we have learned from it. First, Hebrews 4 opens with a pointed warning taken from the case of the unbelieving Israelites of old (Heb. 3:16-18). Second, but though those Israelites failed to enter into it, yet there is a rest of God proposed unto us in the Gospel, and which believers enter into (v. 3). Third, this led the Apostle to take up the different "rests" of God and His people: the Edenic, Mosaic, and Messianic (vv. 4-10). Fourth, in leading up to his climax the Apostle throws the emphasis not so much on the "rest " as on the DAY appointed to celebrate it. In verse 7 he declares that God (prophetically) limited or determined "a certain day." In verse 8 he expressly refers to "another day" which supplies proof that a different one from the old seventh day is now instituted. In verse 9 this other day and the rest it memorializes is definitely designated a "Sabbatismos" or "keeping of a Sabbath." In verse 10 he shows why the Sabbath day had been changed: because it was on that day Christ entered into His rest.

      Well, then, may we with the utmost confidence exclaim with the Psalmist, "This is the day which the LORD hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it" (118:24). "We observe the day as henceforth our true Sabbath, a day made and ordained of God, for the perpetual remembrance of the achievements of our Redeemer" (C. H. Spurgeon). It should be pointed out that the passage we have last quoted is part of a remarkable prophecy, which set forth both the humiliation and exaltation of the Lord Jesus--"the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow." The passage is quoted in the New Testament no less than six times, being expressly applied to the Saviour. First, He is seen as "the Stone which the builders refused," and then as "became the Head of the corner" (Psa. 118:2).

      And how could that "Stone," contemptuously trodden underfoot by men, become "the Head of the corner"? How indeed except by being raised!? It was by His triumph over death that Christ became the Head of the corner--a "corner" is when two walls meet together, and in resurrection Christ became Head of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles! The Psalmist added, "This is the LORD'S doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes" (Psa. 118:23). And then follows, "This is the day which the LORD hath made." What could be clearer? How perfectly it accords with Hebrews 4:9, 10! That "day" was Divinely "made" to memorialize Christ's victory over the grave: God has "made it remarkable, made it holy, has distinguished it from all other days: it is therefore called the Lord's Day, because it bears His image and superscription" (Matthew Henry).

      And so it is: the Christian Sabbath is specifically designated "the Lord's Day" in Revelation 1:10. It is called such because it owes its pre-eminence to the Lord's institution and authority. By taking to Himself the title of "the Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28), Christ clearly intimated His authority to determine which day of the week a Sabbath rest was to be observed by His people, and by ceasing from His works and entering into His rest on the first day of the week, He has "limited" this one for us. Those who are determined to close their eyes to all this evidence and get rid of the first-day Sabbath at any price, wrest these words in Revelation 1:10 by saying they signify "the Day of the Lord" when He comes in judgment. But the immediate context is dead against them: all that follows from 1:10 to the end of chapter 3 shows that this opening vision respected present and not future things. Moreover, the Greek is different from 2 Peter 3:10! "The Lord's Supper" (1 Cor. 11:20) memorializes His death; "the Lord's Day" celebrates His resurrection.

      Here is a summary of the reasons why Christians should observe the Sabbath on the first day of the week. First, because that day was clearly anticipated by Old Testament typology--the striking things connected with "the eighth day." Second, because the New Covenant necessitated a new Day of rest to signify the old covenant was abrogated. Third, because the honour and glory of Christ required it: on the day specially appointed for Divine worship, God would now have us occupied with His risen and exalted Son. Fourth, His own example bears witness thereto: His repeated meetings with His disciples (John 19) and His sending the Spirit on that day (Acts 2:1) set His imprimatur upon it. Fifth, because the early Church so celebrated it (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1, 2). There is not a single recorded instance in the New Testament of the saints meeting together for worship, after Christ's resurrection, on any other day but on the first of the week! Sixth, because we are expressly told that God has "limited" or determined "another day" (Heb. 4:9) than the old one, and that, because Christ then rose from the dead (v. 10). Seventh, because we are Divinely assured that, in view of the raising up of the rejected Stone to be the Head of the corner, "This is the day which the Lord hath made" (Psa. 118:24), and therefore is it called "the Lord's Day" in the New Testament (Rev. 1:10).--A.W.P.

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