THE BIBLE SABBATH
"He answered and said, Every plant, which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." Matt. 15:13.
The scribes had come to Jesus with the complaint, "Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?" Jesus answered them with another question, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?"
They had thought that Christ was introducing novelties, preaching new things, contrary to established church custom and practice. He showed them that He really stood for the old and established things of God's Word, and that their own religious customs, however old, were really the novelties, without divine authority. He said,
"In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." And finally He added the words quoted above, "Every plant, which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up."
Let the principles be applied to the question of Sabbath observance. Sometimes in our day those who preach the word of God regarding the abiding holiness of the seventh-day Sabbath are accused of preaching new doctrines, contrary to the traditions and customs of the church. But really, the observance of Sunday, the first day, is the innovation; the seventh-day Sabbath is of ancient foundation.
Is the Seventh-day Sabbath a Plant of Our Heavenly Father's Planting?
Which of these two institutions has our heavenly Father planted? It is possible to ascertain to a surety; for every plant of His planting, every doctrine of His truth, will be found rooted in the Holy Scriptures. 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
The Old Testament Record
From the Beginning.—When the Creator made the earth and man upon it, He made the seventh day of the weekly cycle His holy Sabbath.
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.... And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made." Gen. 2:1-3.
To sanctify is "to set apart," and so the day made holy and blessed by God was set apart for man. Then it was, as Jesus said, that "the Sabbath was made for man." Mark 2:27. Here the Sabbath institution was planted at the beginning of the world.
At the Exodus.—The people of Israel, in their bondage in Egypt, had fallen away from the knowledge of God and become corrupted by the idolatrous worship of Egypt, Hence, as the Lord called them out to be His people, He tested their loyalty to His law by observing how they regarded His holy Sabbath:
"Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My law, or no." Ex. 16:4.
So through the forty years the Lord sent the manna for them to gather on the six working days, withholding it on the Sabbath. (This scripture shows also that the Sabbath was a part of God's law before He spoke it from Sinai.)
At Sinai.—When the time came that the Lord would speak His holy law from heaven, the eternal foundation of His moral government, the Sabbath precept was enshrined in the heart of it:
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, 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." Ex. 20:8-11.
Through Israel's History.—Sabbath keeping was the great mark of loyalty to God. When Israel fell into idolatry, they "observed times" (see 2 Kings 21:6),—doubtless such heathen festivals to the sun god and other deities as were common among the idolatrous nations. These observances of other days meant Sabbath breaking. "Neither shall ye ... observe times.... Ye shall keep My Sabbaths." Lev. 19:26-30. The Lord had promised concerning Jerusalem:
"If ye diligently hearken unto Me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work therein; then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David,... and this city shall remain forever." Jer. 17:24, 25.
The divine pleading was slighted, and Jerusalem's fall and the Babylonian captivity came as the result of the Israelites' disregard of God's holy day.
Thus throughout the inspired record of the Old Testament the seventh-day Sabbath appears as a plant of the heavenly Father's own planting.
The New Testament Record
The Example and Teaching of Jesus.—It was Christ's "custom" to worship on the seventh day. Luke 4:16.
Jesus, who Himself made the Sabbath at creation (John 1:3), taught that it was "made for man,"—for the human race,—and declared, "The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath." Mark 2:27, 28. It is, therefore, "the Lord's day." Rev. 1:10.
He did on the Sabbath only that which was "lawful," or according to the law of God's holy day. Matt. 12:12.
He kept His Father's commandments throughout His earthly life. John 15:10.
And giving instruction regarding events to take place many years after His ascension, He showed that He recognized the continued existence of the Sabbath in the command, "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day." Matt. 24:20.
Among New Testament Disciples.—The women, after the crucifixion, "rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment." Luke 23:56.
Inspiration says that the apostle Paul's custom was to preach the gospel publicly Sabbath after Sabbath. Acts 13:14; 16:13; 17:1, 2; 18:4. When the Gentiles of Antioch heard the gospel preached by the apostle one Sabbath, they "besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath." Acts 13:42.
Throughout the New Testament, written years after Christ's ascension, the Holy Spirit, speaking of the seventh day, calls it "the Sabbath" upwards of fifty times. "Sabbath" means rest; therefore when the Holy Spirit, in the Christian age, calls the seventh day the rest day, it must infallibly be the day of rest for Christians, the Christian Sabbath.
In the Levitical or sacrificial ordinances of the sanctuary services there were annual sabbaths and feasts, associated with meats and drinks and ceremonial observances. But in appointing these the Lord specifically distinguished between them and the one and only weekly Sabbath, which was from the beginning. "These are the feasts of the Lord," He said, "beside the Sabbaths of the Lord." Lev. 23:37, 38.
The annual festivals and sabbaths, like all the ordinances of the Levitical service, were shadows of things to come, and found their fulfilment in the great sacrifice of Calvary. Col. 2:16, 17.
But the Sabbath of the Lord was made blessed and holy by God at the creation, before sin had entered the world, before any sacrificial or shadowy service was instituted to point to a coming Redeemer. It is a fundamental and primary institution, a part of the moral order of God's government for man, the same as the obligations set forth in each of the other commandments.
And Inspiration declares the eternal perpetuity of the blessed Sabbath day in the future home of the saved, when the prophet describes the felicity of the redeemed, as from month to month, and "from one Sabbath to another," all flesh shall come to worship before the Lord. Isa. 66:23.
Thus we find the seventh-day Sabbath a plant of the heavenly Father's planting, rooted deep in all Holy Scripture, and abiding eternally in the world to come.
Is the First-day Rest an Institution of God's Planting?
In the beginning, the first day was employed by God in the work of creation. Gen. 1:1-5.
Throughout all the Old Testament history it was one of "the six working days." Eze. 46:1.
It was the day of Christ's resurrection; but Inspiration says specifically that "the Sabbath was past" when that "first day of the week" came. Mark 16:1, 2. Inspiration called this first day merely by the ordinary secular name in common business use, with never a suggestion of attaching any sacredness to the day. For some of the disciples it was a day of journeying, in which the risen Christ joined them. Luke 24:13-29. Later He appeared to the other disciples in Jerusalem, gathered not in meeting, but at supper in their common dwelling house. Mark 16:14.
The only religious meeting recorded as occurring on the first day of the week was that held at Troas. (See Acts 20:6-13.) The context shows that it was an evening meeting, after the Sabbath,—Saturday night, as we would call it, for the Bible reckoning is from evening to evening. It was the last time the believers were ever to see the apostle's face, and as they lingered after the close of the Sabbath, he held an all-night farewell meeting, breaking bread with the believers, and leaving at daybreak Sunday morning for the eighteen- or twenty-mile journey afoot, across country to Assos. And while he spent the first day traveling afoot, his companions were journeying by boat.
Conybeare and Howson (of the Church of England), in that standard work, "Life and Epistles of St. Paul," tell the plain fact of the inspired record, save that manifestly they should not have applied the title "Jewish" to God's Sabbath; for it was not the Sabbath of the Jews, but "the Sabbath of the Lord thy God:"
"It was the evening which succeeded the Jewish Sabbath. On the Sunday morning the vessel was about to sail."—Chapter 20, p. 520.
Describing the road between Troas and Assos, they add:
"Strength and peace were surely sought and obtained by the apostle from the Redeemer as he pursued his lonely road that Sunday afternoon in spring among the oak woods and the streams of Ida."—Id., p. 522.
Once again the "first day of the week" is mentioned, in 1 Cor. 16:2. But that scripture says no word of any sacredness of the day or of any religious observance of it. The apostle was gathering a fund for the poor at Jerusalem, and asked every believer to "lay by" something every first day of the week, so that the money would be ready when he came. As Dean Stanley (Church of England) comments:
"There is nothing to prove public assemblies, inasmuch as the phrase παρ εαυτω ('by himself, at his own house') implies that the collection was to be made individually and in private."
And Neander's Church History says:
"All mentioned here is easily explained, if one simply thinks of the ordinary beginning of the week in secular life."—Vol. I, p. 339 (German ed.).
To meet the emergency of need in Judea, these believers were asked to look over their business affairs at the beginning of each week, until Paul should come, laying aside a gift as God had prospered them.
No Sunday Sacredness in the New Testament
This is the record—not one suggestion in all the New Testament of Sunday sacredness, to say nothing of precept or commandment of the Lord. The late R.W. Dale, D.D., a leading Congregationalist of England, wrote:
"It is quite clear that, however rigidly or devotedly we may spend Sunday, we are not keeping the Sabbath.... The Sabbath was founded on a specific, divine command. We can plead no such command for the observance of Sunday.... There is not a single line in the New Testament to suggest that we incur any penalty by violating the supposed sanctity of Sunday."—"The Ten Commandments," pp. 106, 107.
That religious classic, Smith and Cheetham's "Dictionary of Christian Antiquities," says that the "notion of a formal substitution" of the first day for the seventh,
"and the transference to it, perhaps in a spiritualized form, of the Sabbatical obligation established by the promulgation of the fourth commandment, has no basis whatever, either in Holy Scripture or in Christian antiquity."—Article "Sabbath."
Dr. E.F. Hiscox, author of "The Baptist Manual," says:
"There was and is a commandment to 'keep holy the Sabbath day,' but that Sabbath was not Sunday. It will, however, be readily said, and with some show of triumph, that the Sabbath was transferred from the seventh to the first day of the week.... Where can the record of such a transaction be found? Not in the New Testament—absolutely not."—The New York Examiner, Nov. 16, 1893.
Such declarations by well-known scholars might be multiplied, but it is not necessary. The record is open—any one may see it. There is not a word in the Holy Scripture of any first-day sacredness. The Sunday institution is not a plant of our heavenly Father's planting.
How the Change Came About
There has been no change of the Sabbath by divine authority. Men may choose to rest on any other day, but that cannot make such a day God's rest day, His holy Sabbath. One cannot change one's birthday by celebrating another day as such. It is a fact of history that on a certain day of the month one was born. That fact cannot be changed by choosing to celebrate another day as the birthday. Just so it is a fact of divine history that God rested on a given day of the week, and on no other. That made the seventh day His rest day.
It is different from other days in character also, for He blessed it and made it holy. To deny the difference between common days and the holy day is to say that when the great Creator blesses and makes holy, it is a vain performance. That cannot be. It would take away all hope of holiness or salvation for men. The blessing is upon the day, as every soul finds who keeps it by faith.
When men choose to set apart another day than that blessed and sanctified of God, it is plainly a setting up of the humanly appointed time against the divinely appointed time. It is exalting man's sabbath against God's Sabbath. It is man exalting himself "above all that is called God." 2 Thess. 2:4.
This was what made the Roman Papacy. The apostle Paul wrote that in his day the spirit of lawlessness was already working. He said it would lead to a "falling away" from the truth of God, and the full exaltation of the man of sin. 2 Thessalonians 2. The falling away came. As Dr. Killen (Presbyterian), of Ireland, says in the preface to his "Ancient Church:"
"In the interval between the days of the apostles and the conversion of Constantine, the Christian commonwealth changed its aspect.... Rites and ceremonies, of which neither Paul nor Peter ever heard, crept into use, and then claimed the rank of divine institutions."
In his "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine," Cardinal Newman (Roman Catholic) tells how rites and ceremonies were borrowed from paganism:
"Confiding then in the power of Christianity to resist the infection of evil, and to transmute the very instruments and appendages of demon worship to an evangelical use,... the rulers of the church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace, as well as the philosophy of the educated class."—Pages 371, 372.
Thus along with other adaptations came "the venerable day of the sun" (Sunday). It was by gradual process that it supplanted the Sabbath. Sir William Domville wrote:
"Centuries of the Christian era passed away before Sunday was observed by the Christian church as a Sabbath. History does not furnish us with a single proof or indication that it was at any time so observed previous to the Sabbatical edict of Constantine in a.d. 321."—"Examination of Six Texts," p. 291.
This law of Constantine's was as follows:
"On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain sowing or for vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations, the bounty of heaven should be lost. (Given the 7th day of March, Crispus and Constantine being consuls each of them for the second time.)"—Schaff, "History of the Christian Church," Vol. III, chap. 5, sec. 75.
Commenting on this law, Prof. Hutton Webster, of the University of Nebraska, says:
"This legislation by Constantine probably bore no relation to Christianity; it appears, on the contrary, that the emperor, in his capacity of Pontifex Maximus, was only adding the day of the sun, the worship of which was then firmly established in the Roman Empire, to the other ferial days of the sacred calendar."
"What began, however, as a pagan ordinance, ended as a Christian regulation; and a long series of imperial decrees, during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, enjoined with increasing stringency abstinence from labor on Sunday."—"Rest Days," pp. 122, 270.
Dean Stanley (Church of England) writes:
"The retention of the old pagan name Dies Solis, or Sunday, for the weekly Christian festival, is, in a great measure, owing to the union of pagan and Christian sentiment with which the first day of the week was recommended by Constantine to his subjects, pagan and Christian alike, as the 'venerable day of the sun.'"—"History of the Eastern Church," lecture 6, par. 15.
Thus the Sunday institution comes in, marked by its pagan origin, and adapted to ecclesiastical purposes by the church of the "falling away" that grew into the Roman Papacy. To quote again from the Baptist author, Dr. Hiscox:
"Of course, I quite well know that Sunday did come into use in early Christian history as a religious day, as we learn from the Christian Fathers and other sources. But what a pity that it comes branded with the mark of paganism, and christened with the name of the sun god, when adopted and sanctioned by the papal apostasy, and bequeathed as a sacred legacy to Protestantism."—New York Examiner, Nov. 16, 1893.
No wonder that with the coming of the latter days, and the proclamation of the message of preparation for Christ's second coming, there should come a call to Christians to follow Christ and Holy Scripture in keeping God's holy Sabbath.
Again the voice of Jesus is heard in protest against traditions that make void the commandment of God.
"Every plant," He says, "which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." Matt. 15:13.
Made for Man
The God that made the earth,
And all the worlds on high,
Who gave all creatures birth,
In earth, and sea, and sky,
After six days in work employed,
Upon the seventh a rest enjoyed.
The Sabbath day was blessed,
Hallowed, and sanctified;
It was Jehovah's rest,
And so it must abide;
'Twas set apart before the fall,
'Twas made for man, 'twas made for all.
And when from Sinai's mount,
Amidst the fire and smoke,
Jehovah did recount,
And all His precepts spoke,
He claimed the rest day as His own,
And wrote it with His law on stone.
The Son of God appeared
With tidings of great joy;
God's precepts He revered,
He came not to destroy;
None of the law was set aside,
But every tittle ratified.
Our Saviour did not die
To render null and void
The law of the Most High,
Which cannot be destroyed;
But, bruised for us, our stripes He bore,—
We'll go in peace and sin no more.