Dad has posted a lengthy article by the Rev. Warren Embree on the doctrine of the fourth commandment, contrasting the continental position (which he holds) with the Sabbatarian position. It’s very interesting. Warren takes the position that I take myself, and his scholarship is thorough, examining not only the Scriptural issues but also the church history aspect of the debate. Highly recommended.

3 thoughts on “Sabbath

  1. This is a very interesting and well-done paper that is certainly worth reflection and study. Yet, my initial response is, where is the positive duty of the 4th commandment? Rev. Embree says that the moral duty of the fourth commandment is to make every moment of our lives holy. And the Sabbatarians claim that Sunday is the Holy Day, and we are to make it so. I wonder if there is not a position somewhere in the middle. Acknowledging that I am not the scholar that Rev. Embree is, I would humbly suggest that there is a middle ground. I believe that that middle position is the true Continental position.

    First, I agree wholeheartedly with Rev. Embree that no one day is holier than another. His exposition on this is unassailable. Second, I am not a Sabbatarian. In my opinion, they do make very legalistic observances based on a strange reading of the 2nd commandment. With these points clearly established, let us continue with the heart of the discussion.

    I believe the Continental position affirms the “setting aside” of Sunday to be a day of congregational worship, accompanied by a “rest” from normal daily work. This can be seen both in the Bible and in the writings of the Continental Reformers. In the Biblical record, as Rev. Embree points out, the 4th commandment is always upheld, and indeed, people are encouraged not to forsake meeting together (Heb. 10:25). Christ himself meets with his disciples on Sundays. He rose from the dead on Sunday (John 20:1), he met with his disciples as a group on Sunday (John 20:19), and again the following Sunday (John 20:27). Pentecost was a Sunday, so the Spirit descended upon them on a Sunday (Acts 2). By the time of Paul, the church heard preaching on Sunday and probably took the Lord’s Supper as well (Acts 20:7). The collection of the offering was also on Sunday (I Corinthians 16:2). And by the time of the writing of the book of Revelation (pre-A.D. 70 in my opinion), there was already a day that the church considered the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:11). This Lord’s Day had to be a specific day for it to mean anything. It is distinct from the Sabbath, and to be kept differently too, I presume, so the day was not Saturday. Considering the apostolic examples, which were inspired by God to be recorded in His Word, and the weight of history calling Sunday the Lord’s Day, there is no reason to believe that the Revelation passage is not referring to Sunday. This does not mean that Sunday is holier than other days, it simply means that Sunday is the day the NT church set aside to worship the Lord.

    In addition to the Biblical record, the Early Church and the Reformers show this conjunction of Sunday being a special day and all days being equally holy. Take for example the quotation from Bullinger’s Confession given by Rev. Embree:

    “‘Although religion be not tied unto time, yet can it not be planted and exercised without a due dividing and allotting-out of time. . . . For except some due time and leisure were allotted to the outward exercise of religion, without doubt men would be quite drawn from it by their own affairs.
    In regard hereof, we see that in the ancient churches there were not only certain set hours in the week appointed for meetings, but that also the Lord’s Day itself, ever since the apostles’ time, was consecrated to religious exercises and to holy rest; . . . . Yet herein we give no place unto the Jewish observation of the day, or to any superstitions . For we do not account one day to be holier than another, nor think that mere rest is itself acceptable to God. Besides, we do celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, and not the Jewish Sabbath, and that with a free observation’ (Creeds of Christendom 899 emphasis added).”

    Bullinger asserts that if a day is not set aside for worship, men would be drawn to their own work. He goes on to acknowledge that the apostles themselves used the Lord’s Day to worship God and rest. Then Bullinger denounces the Jewish Sabbath and superstitions. Clearly he does not believe that resting from one’s own labors in order to worship God on Sunday was a superstition or akin to a Jewish observance. He does say that it is a free observation, but does that therefore mean the Lord’s Day could have been any day? Bullinger does not seem to think so. He states, “And although we do not in any part of the apostles’ writing find any mention made that this Sunday was commanded us to be kept holy; yet, for because, in this fourth precept of the first table, we are commanded to have a care of religion and the exercising of outward godliness, it would be against all godliness and Christian charity, if we should deny to sanctify the Sunday” (Second Decade 6th Sermon pg. 260). Calvin’s Institutes follow a similar pattern.
    As for the Early Church Fathers, they too seem to have the idea that no day is holier than another, and Sunday is a day set apart for worship and rest. Rev. Embree quotes Ignatius in denouncing the Jewish Sabbath, “no longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord’s day.” This quote supports my assertion, since it makes reference to Sunday (the Lord’s Day). Rev. Embree also quotes Justin Martyr’s harsh treatment of the Sabbath as a Holy Day, and rightfully so. Consider that elsewhere in Justin’s writings we see this statement: “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in darkness and matter, made the world, and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.” (Apology I, 67). Clearly Justin saw a theological, not a cultural, reason to gather on Sunday. The Didache commands, “On the Lord’s Day of the Lord, come together, break bread and hold Eucharist” (Didache 14). The Epistle of Barnabas supports a Sunday meeting day. Origen, Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius all argue for the worship and rest of the Sabbath to be transferred from the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Sunday. The II Epistle of Clement calls people to rest from their work on the day of worship. Chrysostom and the Fifth Council of Carthage (401) held that Sunday should be a day of rest and not work. The list could go on.
    It seems to me that there is still a positive command in the 4th Commandment to worship on a set day, which seems to have been established by the apostles as Sunday. It was treated as such from the early fathers on down to the Continental Reformers. Thus, I would argue that the Continental position holds that no day is holier than another, yet Sunday is the day for corporate worship and abstention from regular work.

    Humbly Submitted,

  2. Lee,
    Thanks for the thoughts, but it seems to me that the best the Biblical evidence could prove would be that the choice of Sunday for worship was not arbitrary. But your evidence does not rise to the level of a commandment, and it says nothing about the observance of an entire day.

    The quote from Bullinger is apt, but Bullinger and Calvin definitely differed in their views, and it was Bullinger’s view which eventually became the Sabbatarian view. I don’t know that he himself was such, but there was definitely a difference between the two.

    So even if it can be shown that the first day of the week is not an arbitrary choice, the nature of the observance of that day is still the matter of debate, and I’d suggest that the Bibilical evidence does not mandate any special observance.

  3. The commandment for Sunday worship, I argue, is in the 4th Commandment itself. This is the issue I have with Rev. Embree’s paper. When one reads the 4th Commandment it is completely about resting from work to worship on a specific day. Now is that all ceremonial so that it really means only ‘your whole life should be holy and rest in Christ.’ This loses all meaning for the actual words of the 4th commandment. This is why I think Bullinger’s position is preferable. It keeps a moral aspect that can be seen in the words of the commandment itself. The moral aspect is then not just ‘rest in Christ from your sin and be holy all the time’, but also a moral requirement to gather one day in seven to rest from our servile work to worship Christ. Then the NT evidence I mentioned helps prove the new ‘one day’ in seven is Sunday. To that one can add Ezekiel 20:12 that the sabbath is a sign between the Lord and his people. Also, Leviticus 23 and Festival of Tabernacles where the first day and the eight day are to be holy convocations where no servile work is done. Deuteronomy 5 that shows a basis for the 4th Commandment is redemption. This added to the weight of apostolic institution, which should be viewed as inspired by the Holy Spirit and commended to the churches with the weight of being mediately commanded by God. In this manner one can keep a moral requirement that reflects the words of the 4th commandment, and avoid the legalistic traps of Sabbatarianism.

    Bullinger’s view may have been taken by latter adherents to the Sabbatarian extreme, but his position stops short of it. I also think that his position was in the majority over against Calvin’s (and Rev. Embree’s) position. To Bullinger one can add, Beza and Turretin in Geneva, Viret in France, and Capito in Strassborg. Thomas Cramner, influenced greatly by the Continental Reformers, held this view. Also possibly Bucer and Vermigli, although I am taking Turretin’s word for these two. Later one can see Gisbert Voetius and other leaders of the Dutch churches hold to this position. Ursinus himself seems to hold a hybrid position where he does not think Sunday to be required, but holds the rest from one’s servile labors on the day of worship as a moral duty.

    I do believe that this is a middling position between the extreme that thinks that the rest is everyday in Christ and that no specific day is required for worship and the strict legalistic observance of the sabbatarians. It is expressed nicely in the pronouncement from the Synod of Dort. They stated that the ceremonial elements were the 7th day and the “strict’ observance. They argued that the moral element sets aside a definite day for worship and that day is Sunday. And on Sunday they are to rest from servile labors and such recreation that “prevent the worship of God.” This position seems to be the best to me. It advocates a day of worship that is definite and resting from one’s servile labors that can easily be seen in the 4th Commandment. Yet, it avoids the prohibition on all types of work, rest, and recreation that the Westminster advocates. And it keeps the usefulness of Feast days while setting no day up as holier than another, all of which are problems of the sabbatarian position.

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