Continuity and Sanctity of the Sabbath Today

In the Garden, God creates in six days and rests on the seventh. Old Testament Israel was commanded to work on six days and to rest on the seventh. In the New Covenant, the church works six days a week and gathers corporately for worship on the Day of Rest, the seventh day. This pattern of work and rest is continual throughout the Scriptures until the very end. Revelation 14:13 says that those who die in the Lord enter permanent rest from their work.

The New Covenant church experiences the eschatological “not yet” on the Lord’s Day as the church gathers to worship and rest. They live out the eschatological “already” as the church scatters to be missional through their six days of work in the providential areas God has placed them in their communities. The already is a present reality because of the the in breaking of the new creation through of the work of Christ. The church must gather before it can effectively scatter. Therefore, the day of rest prepares the church for the labors of the week. A brief argument will be made for the continuity and sanctity of the Sabbath for today.

Abiding Validity of the Sabbath

As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished- Second London Confession 22:7

The abiding validity of the command to rest on the Sabbath begins in the Garden and does not end until eternity where we enter our eternal rest. The Fall nor the enacting of additional covenants after the Fall does not destroy the Sabbath. Though the day of observance changes after Christ’s redemptive work from the last day of the week to the first, the Sabbath remains in force and is essential to observe in ecclesiastical ministry. The Lord’s Church gathers on the Lord’s day to worship the Lord of the Sabbath. The emphasis is that the corporate worship of the church gathered is unlike any other day of worship. The church gathers on the Lord’s Day to worship and rest.

Creational Ordinance

           The principle of rest and the Sabbath observance remains for several reasons. First, the Sabbath is a creation ordinance. Many would seek to write off the abiding validity of the Sabbath today in the name of expediency. However, that which is expedient cannot bind the conscience of man nor carry the divine obligation that God’s law carries. Furthermore, expediency changes with the change of circumstances, and therefore, it is neither universal or perpetual. John Murray commenting on the issue of expediency,

The recognition of this is necessary not only to guard law; it is also necessary to guard liberty. If we allow expediency to dictate law then we are on the road to tyranny and conscience is no longer captive to the law of God but to the variable fancies of men.[1]

The Sabbath is first and foremost a creational ordinance, and thus it is universal and perpetual, which makes it far from being expedient.

God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, sanctifying the seventh day because He rested from all His work that He had done in creation (Gen. 2:2-3). God did not rest because He himself was tired, as if somehow God could change states of being from greater to lesser amounts of energy and strength, nor was God required to create everything in six days and rest on the seventh. God created all things in six and rested on the seventh in order to establish the biblical pattern and creational ordinance of the Sabbath for man. The repeated cycle of six days of labor to one day of rest each week is laid forth by God’s rest. Exodus 20:11 explicitly draws upon God’s resting and sanctifying the seventh day in Genesis 2:1-3. Beckwith and Stott make an excellent point on the significance of Exodus 20:11 explicitly referencing Genesis 2:1-3.

The seventh day, then, was `blessed’ and `sanctified’ to be a day of rest: indeed, by a significant variation of language we are told that it was not the seventh day but the `sabbath’ day … which God blessed and sanctified at the creation. So what Gen. 2:2f. implies, when read in the light of this commentary supplied by Exodus, is that at the creation God commanded man to imitate his Maker by `doing work’ for six days and `resting’ on the seventh. Since man had been `made in the image of God’ (Gen. 1:26f.), imitation of his Maker was no inappropriate vocation.[2]

The burden of proof is on those who would deny that the Sabbath is a creational ordinance. It is quite clear that God blessed and sanctified the Sabbath at creation, as a universal and perpetual ordinance.

The Sabbath is a creational ordinance along with marriage (2:24-25); labor (2:15); and fruitfulness (1:28). Therefore, because it is a creational ordinance, the entrance of sin into the world nor the unfolding of redemptive revelation does not abrogate or make the continued obligation and observance of the Sabbath unnecessary. Sin nor further redemptive revelation abrogated marriage, labor, or fruitfulness, and if one admits that, they will find a hard time consistently saying that this is the case with the Sabbath.

Codified in the Decalogue

Second, the Sabbath is codified in the Decalogue. Exodus 20:9, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The text then goes on in vs.9 to remind them the pattern of six days of labor and one day of rest. Then, as already mentioned, vs. 11 roots this command in creation where God blessed and sanctified the Sabbath day. The same moral law written on Adam and Eve’s hearts (Rom. 2:14-15), is the same law that was written by the hand of God on tablets of stone in the Decalogue. This is the moral law of God which abides forever regardless of the current covenant administration.[3]

The question then becomes, is the fourth commandment of a different substance than the other nine? Is it an addendum or a specific application from the moral law to only the nation of Israel? The question already needs no answer because of what has been pointed out previously about Exodus 20:11. “It would require the most conclusive evidence to establish the thesis that the fourth commandment is in a different category from the other nine,” remarks Murray.[4] The Sabbath is part of the moral law codified in the Decalogue.

Reaffirmed by the Lord of the Sabbath

Third, the Sabbath is reaffirmed in the New Testament by our Lord. In Mark 2:27-28 Jesus affirms that the Sabbath was made for man, and He is Lord over the Sabbath. Jesus while talking to the Pharisees, who had abused and misunderstood the Sabbath, affirms and vindicates the divine benefits of keeping the Sabbath. It is very likely that Jesus is specifically referencing Genesis 2:1-3 in His response for this is where the Sabbath was made. Dr. Waldron’s points this out,

The verb used here in Mark 2:27 for both the making of the Sabbath and the making of the man is γιvoμαι. It is used in John 1:1-3 of creation and, fascinatingly, in the LXX of Gen. 2:7 it is used to describe the “making of the man.” Nowhere else do we read of the “making of the Sabbath”, but such terminology clearly refers to the origin of the Sabbath.[5]

In the words of our Lord we see His affirmation that the duty to keep the Sabbath is rooted in creation.

Hebrews Explicit Affirmation

            Last, Hebrews 4:9 explicitly states a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God. To deny that Hebrews 4:9 is explicitly mentioning the Christian Sabbath is to directly run against the New Testament teaching.[6] In Hebrews 4 it is seen that arch type of rest is creation rest, Canaan is the type, and eternal rest is the antitype (4:3-5, 9-10). Thus, the rest in Canaan was symbolical both of the creational rest and consummation rest, and in like manner the Sabbath rest in the Old Covenant people of God remains for the New Covenant people of God (vs.9), and it is typical of the eternal rest vs.10. Dr. Waldron notes,

The weekly Sabbath instituted at creation was itself typical. It pointed forward to the consummation of history when Adam would have entered a higher condition and would have entered into God’s rest had he successfully completed His probation in the Garden of Eden. The six days of labor symbolized the labor of history and the 7th day the rest to be entered at the end of history when the creation mandates of God had been successfully completed.[7]

Therefore, the Sabbath both functions typically pointing forward to the eschatological glory of the “not yet,” and institutionally as a binding ordinance for the people of God to abide by as they are in the “labor of history” working six days a week living out the “already,” and resting one day a week experiencing a brief taste of the “not yet.”  The Sabbath abides today because it is a creational ordinance, it is contained in the Decalogue, it is reaffirmed by the Lord of the Sabbath, and Hebrews explicitly states a Sabbath remains.

Sanctity and Purpose of the Lord’s Day

The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy- Second London Confession 22:8

While it is true that every day we are to worship the Lord and all that we do is to be done for the Lord and His glory, there is still a clear difference and importance placed on the sanctity of worship on the Sabbath. God has clearly set apart one day out of seven for something special, unique, and holy from the other six days. The Sabbath is to be set apart unto the Lord (Ex. 20:10). Sunday is the Lord’s Day.

By the “rest” on the Sabbath it is not meant idleness or inactivity, but rather it is meant the cessation of ordinary employments and regular activities required of you during the six days. As we set apart the Sabbath from the six days, we are released from the labors of the six days and released to the mediation of the glory of God through piety (Matt. 12:5), works of necessity (Matt. 12:3-4, 11), and acts of mercy (Matt. 12:13). The Sabbath rest is as much about resting from labor as it is resting in or to the Lord. Those who delight in the Sabbath and honor the Lord by keeping the Sabbath will find great satisfaction and blessing in God, (Is. 59:13-14) as they seek to obey His good and gracious pattern for life in the “already.” Thus the Sabbath is sanctified in its separateness from the other days and in its singular focus on the Lord of the Sabbath.[8]

The Sabbath is a reminder of creation, redemption, and a foretaste of eschatological consummation.  The weekly Sabbath reminds God’s people of God’s completed work of creation and recreation after the Fall through Jesus whom is the Lord of the Sabbath. The people of God each week are reminded of all the blessings and benefits they have “already” because of their position in Christ. Also, the people of God experience a foretaste of the eschatological consummation of the “not yet” on the Sabbath because of Christ’s finished work. The weekly Sabbath points forward to the eternal Sabbath (Heb. 4:9-10; 2 Pet. 3:13).[9]

Therefore, as the church gathers to rest on the Sabbath, they are reminded of the “already” because of the in breaking of the new creation through Christ’s work. They experience a taste of the “not yet” as the church worships corporately together.  They are then equipped to live out the “already” as the church scattered in the “labor of history.”

Observing the Sabbath is a matter of obedience and not expediency; it is a matter of trusting in the divine benefits God has given to His people through this pattern. To reject the Sabbath is to reject’s God’s command, and pattern (framework) for life and ecclesiastical ministry.

[1] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 1 The Claims of Truth (Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, PA, 2001),  205.

[2] Roger T. Beckwith and Wilfrid Stott, The Christian Sunday, (Baker, Grand Rapids, 1978), 2-3.

[3] The Baptist Confession of Faith 19:1-5.

[4] Murray, 207.

[5] Sam Waldron, Lectures on the Lord’s Day, August 16, 2007.

[6] A.W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954), 210.

[7] Waldron.

[8] Murray, 210.

[9] Ibid., 216.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s