The Sabbath: A Creation Ordinance

sabbath-a-creation-ordinanceJohn Brown of Haddington,
A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion,
pp. 472-476.

The fourth commandment prescribes the proper time of God’s worship.

The precise quantity and part of time proper for the stated and social worship of God depending on his mere will, this command is introduced with a solemn charge to remember to observe it, and is both positively and negatively expressed, and enforced with manifold reasons. The law of nature teaches, that men having bodies as well as souls, and being social creatures, they ought to worship God in an external and social manner; but does not determine what proportion or precise part of time ought to be observed in that stated and solemn worship. But the seventh part of our time being appointed by God for that purpose, his command is universally and perpetually binding or moral.

1. This command concerning the Sabbath was imposed upon man in paradise before any typical ceremonies. Nor is there any more appearance of Moses mentioning the Sabbath, Gen 2:1-2, than of his mentioning the creation of the world, by an anticipation of 2500 years before it took place.

2. The appointment of the Sabbath is inserted in the very middle of that moral law which God solemnly published from mount Sinai, and wrote upon two tables of stone, which was not the case with any ceremonial institution, Exod 20:8-11; Exod 19:20; Exod 24:12; Exod 34:28.

3. Every reason annexed to this commandment, when thus published and written, is of a moral nature, forcible on all men in every age and place; and hence strangers, as well as Israelites, were obliged to observe the weekly Sabbath, Exod 20:9-11.

Immediately after the creation of the world, God appointed the seventh day of the week for the weekly sabbath.

1. Nothing can be more plain and express than Moses’ declaration on this head, that God, having finished his work of creation in six days, rested on the seventh, and sanctified it to be a sabbath to himself, Gen 2:1-2.

2. All the reasons annexed to this command were as forcible immediately after the creation, as ever, Exod 20:10-11.

3. The sabbath was observed before the giving of the law at Sinai, as a thing which the Israelites well knew to be already appointed, Exod 16:23.

4. In Heb 4:3-10, three distinct sabbaths are mentioned, one which commenced from the foundation of the world, which can be no other than that of the seventh day:—another which commenced from the Israelites’ entrance into Canaan, when their ceremonial sabbaths received their full force; and a third in commemoration of Christ’s resurrection and entrance into his glorious rest.—Nay, ancient heathens take notice of the division of time into weeks, and of the seventh day, which it cannot be supposed they learned from the contemned Jews, who were then scarcely known at any great distance from Canaan.—There is no reason to wonder that the observation of the sabbath from Adam to Moses is not mentioned in a history which dispatches the events of 2500 years in a few pages, especially as it is not common for historians to mention ordinary and stated observances, except at the beginning of them. In a much more extensive history of about 480 years, there is no mention made of the weekly sabbath from the second year of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness till the days of David. Nor have we one instance of a child circumcised on the eighth day from Isaac to John Baptist.—God’s giving his sabbath to the Israelites for a sign, only means, that the law of it was solemnly published and given to them, and a typical signification added to its original moral use, Ezek 20:12; Neh 9:14; Exod 31:17.

Nevertheless God’s appointment of the sabbath on the seventh day of the week was not strictly moral, but alterable by him.

1. Abstracting from his appointment, it is merely circumstantial whether it be on the seventh day or not.

2. It is not said in this commandment, that God blessed the seventh day, but that he blessed and sanctified the sabbath day, Exod 20:11.

3. The sabbath being made for man, not man for the sabbath, the day of it must be altered, if for, the fixing good of mankind, Mark 2:27-28.

4. Though the fixing it at first on the seventh, to commemorate the finished work of creation, was exceedingly proper, a greater event happening on another day, natively rendered it proper to change it to that day.

5. The seventh day sabbath having had a typical signification superadded to it, very properly fell into disuse with the other typical ceremonies, Exod 31:13,17; Ezek 20:12,20; Col 2:16-17.

The change of the sabbath from the seventh day of the week, on which Christ rose from the dead, is exceedingly proper.

1. Christ being Lord of the sabbath, it is proper that, in consequence of his resurrection, he should manifest his dominion with respect to it, Mark 2:28.

2. His resurrection, being his entrance into rest from his finished work of redemption, more deserved to be commemorated than God’s finishing of creation work did, Eph 1:19-21; Rom 1:3-4; Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 15:20; Col 1:18; Rev 1:5.

3. It was proper that the peculiar time, as well as the nature of Christian worship, should directly relate to his finishing the purchase of our redemption. It was not proper that the day of his birth should be commemorated in the sabbath, as on it he entered on his labour and suffering; nor the day of his death, as on that he was in the heat of his conflicts; nor the day of his ascension, as on that he did not enter, but proceeded into his rest.

4. It was proper that when the covenant of grace was clearly manifested, men’s religious rest should, according to the tenor of that covenant, precede their labour, Luke 1:74-75; even as the order of labour and of rest on the seventh day sabbath, had corresponded with the order of duty and privilege in the covenant of works, Gal 3:12; Matt 19:17.

God changed the weekly sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week, at the resurrection of Christ.

1. God foretold that the first day of the week should be the Christian Sabbath, Ezek 43:27; Ps 118:24.

2. This day is expressly called the Lord’s day. Now, except his healing of persons on the Jewish sabbath, no day of the week is ever ascribed to any of his acts, or events which befel him, but to his resurrection: nor is there any reason why that should be called his day, unless he had peculiarly sanctified and set it apart for his public worship, Rev 1:10.

3. Christ marked his peculiar claim to that day by repeated visits to his disciples, and by the miraculous outpouring of his spirit on it, John 20:19,26; Acts 2; Lev 23:16; Num 28:26.

4. His apostles, who were instructed by him in all things relative to the New Testament church, and who had his Spirit to guide them into all truth, observed the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath. On that day they assembled the Christians to break bread in the Lord’s Supper. After tarrying seven days at Troas, Paul preached on the first day of the week, and dispensed the Lord’s Supper, and continued till midnight, Acts 20:7. On that day, they required Christians to lay up their collections for the poor, 1 Cor 16:2; 1 Cor 11:2,23.—The apostles frequently preached upon the Jewish sabbath, not because they observed it, but because they then found the Jews assembled in their synagogues, Acts 13, etc.

The Christian Sabbath begins in the morning after midnight.

1. Christ rose early in the morning, Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2,9.

2. It begins where the Jewish sabbath ended, which was when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, Matt 28:1,3.

3. The evening which follows the day of our sabbath pertained to it, John 20:19.

Men cannot, without sin, appoint any holy days.

1. God has marked the weekly sabbath with peculiar honour, in his command and word. But, if men appoint holy days, they detract from its honour: And wherever holy days of men’s appointment are much observed, God’s weekly sabbath is much profaned, Exod 20:8; Ezek 43:8.

2. God never could have abolished his own ceremonial holy days, in order that men might appoint others of their own invention in their room, Col 2:16-23; Gal 4:10-11.

3. God alone can bless holy days, and render them effectual to promote holy purposes; and we have no hint in his word, that he will bless any appointed by men, Exod 20:11.

4. By permitting, if not requiring us to labour six days of the week in our worldly employments, this commandment excludes all holy days of men’s appointment, Exod 20:8-9. If it permit six days for our worldly labour, we ought to stand fast in that liberty with which Christ hath made us free, Gal 5; Gal 1; 1 Cor 7:23; Matt 15:9. If it require them, we ought to obey God rather than men, Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29.—Days of occasional fasting and thanksgiving are generally marked out by the providence of God: And the observation of them does not suppose any holiness in the day itself, Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15; Acts 13:2; Acts 14:23; Matt 9:15.

The weekly sabbath is to be sanctified,

1. By an holy resting from all such worldly works as are lawful on other days, whether servile, ploughing, sowing, reaping,—civil, as buying and selling,—liberal, studying of sciences,—or social, pleasures and recreations, Exod 20:9; Isa 58:13; Neh 13; 1 Cor 7:5. And our rest ought to be attended with much spirituality of mind and delight in God, Rev 1:10; Isa 58:13:

2. The whole day, except so much as is necessary for works of necessity and mercy, is to be spent in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, Rev 1:10; Luke 23:54; Ps 92; Mark 1:35-39; Acts 2:42; Acts 13:14-15,44; Acts 16:13; Acts 20:7; Acts 17:11; Luke 24:14,17.—

And it is profaned,

1. By omitting the duties required in whole or in part,—not duly remembering it before it come,—omitting the public, private, or secret duties of God’s worship on it, or even the works of necessity and mercy, such as visiting and healing the sick, relieving the poor, feeding cattle, and the like, Neh 8:12; Mark 3:3-5; Luke 13:16; Luke 14:1-4; Matt 12:7-12.

2. By a superficial, carnal, heartless, wearisome performance of the duties required, Matt 15:7; Amos 8:5; Mal 1:13.

3. By unnecessary sleep, idle talk, vain gadding, slothful rest, Matt 20:6.

4. By doing that which is in itself sinful, thrusting wickedness into the place of worship, Jer 44:4; Zech 11:8; Ezek 20:21; Ezek 22:26.

5. By unnecessary thoughts, words, or works about worldly employments and recreations, Isa 58:13; Amos 8:5. Exod 16:23-30; Num 15:22-36; Matt 24:20; Neh 13:16-17.

The reasons annexed for enforcing obedience to this commandment are,

1. That God, the original proprietor of all our time, has allowed us enough for our worldly employments, even six days in seven; which are sufficient for our earthly business, and to tire us of it, and raise our appetite for the spiritual rest of the sabbath, Exod 20:9; Exod 31:15.

2. That the Lord our God has challenged a special propriety in the seventh, and so it must be sacrilegious, ungrateful, and self-ruining to rob him of it, Exod 20:10; Exod 31:15; Deut 5:14.

3. God’s own example, which is most honourable and binding; and so we cannot profane the sabbath without pouring contempt on his example, as unworthy of imitation, and on his works of creation and redemption as unworthy of remembrance, Exod 20:11; Exod 31:17.

4. God’s blessing the sabbath day, in separating it, with peculiar honour, for his public worship, and for bestowing spiritual benefits on his people, and even promoting their temporal happiness; and so we cannot, without disregarding God’s honour, and our own true happiness in time and eternity, neglect to observe and sanctify it, Exod 20:11; Isa 56:2,4-7; Lev 25:20,22.


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