This thesis reflects part of the story of my life.
In the extreme mercies of Almighty God, at the age of twenty-one my soul was turned from my sinful ways to serve not the ecclesiastical tradition of fallible man, but to serve the living Lord according to His infallible Word — to serve Him in every sphere, including the sphere of sabbath observance.
But here my problems began. The Seventh-day Adventists told me that God would have me keep the sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. The Antinomians told me the weekly sabbath had been abolished in Christ's death, and that Sunday is not the sabbath and not to be kept as such, and that mere Church attendance suffices. The Modernists assured me that the whole issue was unimportant. And so I had to determine for myself: What saith the Scriptures?
My searching of the Scriptures against the claims of numerous Churches finally led me to Calvinism. Here my weary soul found rest: rest in the immutable counsel of that glorious covenantal Being, the Triune God, Who made me, preserved me, saved me, is now sanctifying me and shall presently perfect me. Here I could rest in the great Seventh Day creation sabbath of God the Father, rest in its principial fulfilment in the death and Lord's day resurrection of God the Son, rest in the assurance of the glorious advent of God's Eighth Day, the Day of the Lord — an assurance guaranteed me by Him Who came on Pentecost Sunday to abide with me forever — God the Holy Spirit.
These then are the necessary presuppositions which govern my approach to the subject of this thesis. I would not leave the reader in any doubt as to my point of departure. I consider academic neutrality to be impossible, and affirm my childlike faith in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Sacred Scriptures as the very Word of God, their exclusive role as the supreme arbiter in all matters of faith and conduct, and their substantially correct reflection in the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Decrees of Dordt, the Thirty-nine Articles and the Westminster Confession of Faith.
As a Calvinist, my foremost thanks and extreme gratitude must be given to the faithful GOD OF THE COVENANT and LORD OF THE SABBATH for His great grace in enabling me to undertake and complete this thesis. To God Alone be all the glory! "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever." (Rev. 5:13).
The present work is but a slight abridgement of my doctoral thesis. The only really substantial amendments of the original, in order to reduce printing costs. are: a reduction in the number of footnotes and the incorporation of some of them into the text itself: the omission of the twenty-page bibliography: and the omission of that part of the survey of the development of the doctrine of the sabbath in Church History dealing with the period between the French Revolution of 1789 and the present day.
The English Bible translation employed, except where otherwise stated, is the Authorized King James Version, to which I have consistently adhered, except insofar as I have capitalized all pronouns referring to God.
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Authorities are all agreed that the sabbath idea roots in the eternal counsel of the Triune God, Who "rested" in inter-Personal covenantal bliss before the foundation of the world. Furthermore, all are agreed that God rested from creation on the seventh day following His six days' work as recorded in Genesis chapters one and two. Opinions differ, however, as to whether God's creation days and His seventh day endured for twenty-four hours (thus the Seventh Day Adventists and some evangelicals) or longer (thus most others), or whether God's seventh day endures throughout all subsequent history (thus Kelman) or at least up to Calvary (thus the Epistle of Barnabas and Barth).
Opinions also differ as to whether God then instituted the sabbath for the immediate observance of Adam and all his descendants (thus the Reformers and the Seventh Day Adventists), or whether it was only later first instituted in the wilderness and thus intended solely for the Jews (thus Gomarus and Coccejus). Again, even amongst those who hold to the Edenic institution of the weekly sabbath commandment, some maintain that the day of rest was held on the first day of Adam's weeks before the fall (thus Barth and De Heer), and others maintain that it was kept on the last day of the week (thus the S.D.As.). Furthermore, some believe that the sabbath before the fall was demarcated from evening to evening (thus the Jews and the S.D.A's.), whereas others believe it was observed from dawn to dawn (thus Kelman), and others from midnight to midnight (thus the present writer).
All conservative theologians are agreed that the weekly sabbath was enshrined in the Ten Commandments given at Sinai as an obligatory ordinance to Israel, but some would question that it was even then ever intended for non-Israelitic believers (thus Gomarus and Coccejus). Even amongst those who believe in the universal obligation of the Decalogue and thus of the sabbath, however, some (thus the S.D.As.) insist that the command to observe the seventh day implies the keeping of "the seventh day of the week" (i.e. Saturday), whereas others (thus Greenham and Edwards) regard the omission of these latter words from the Biblical injunction as most significant, and as indicative of the fact that the specific day to be observed depends on extra-Decalogical circumstances which assuredly vary in the different dispensations.
All theologians are agreed that the covenant people observed their sabbath from Friday to Saturday evening at least from after the Maccabean activities of the Israelites up to the resurrection of Christ, but whereas some hold that this is still the position after the resurrection, (thus the Jews and the Seventh-day Adventists), an overwhelming majority hold that the Saturday sabbath was nailed to the cross of Calvary and thus is no longer to be observed, whereas religious meetings should henceforth be held on Sunday or the Lord's day, the weekly memorial of the Sunday of Christ's resurrection, and demarcated from midnight to midnight instead of from evening to evening (thus nearly all the Christian denominations).
However, the Christians who constitute the overwhelming majority, united as they are in their "Sunday-keeping", differ somewhat amongst themselves as to whether the Bible teaches that Sunday really replaces the "crucified" Saturday sabbath or not; and, if so, how it should be observed. Some (thus Zwingli and Foeken) would maintain that all days are now absolutely identical and that all holy days are now abolished, appealing to Rom. 14:4 & 5. Gal. 4:10 & 11 and Col. 2:16 in support of their views. It is a good idea to hold religious meetings on Sundays as the Apostolic Church did, they declare, but meetings may also be held with equanimity on any other day of the week too, Acts 2:46 and 19:9-10; and Sunday observance may quite well be dispensed with by Christians in countries where Sunday is a normal working-day, such as in Israel and in the Islamic lands.
Most Sunday-keepers, however, have always felt that Sunday is the Lord's own day — "the Lord's day" — and that religious meetings should always be held thereon wherever possible. Whereas the Romanists of this group ground their Sunday observance on the authoritative teaching of their Church, Protestants of this group ground it on Scripture, appealing to the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies such as Lev. 23:16 and Ps. 118:22, as well as to the New Testament practice of meeting on Sundays, which practice they feel is so clearly evidenced by texts such as John 20:19 & 26, Acts 2:lf, Acts 20:6 & 7 and I Cor. 16:1 & 2.
Some of these Protestant Christians would go even further and insist that the Fourth Commandment is still in force and now obtains in respect of Sunday as the sabbath or day of rest, appealing to texts like Heb. 4:1-11 and James 2:8-1l (thus the Puritans and most Calvinists). These strict Christians may differ amongst purely moral (thus Westminster and Amesius) or partly ceremonial (thus Dordt); whether Sunday was instituted by Christ (thus Amesius), by His Apostles (thus Voetius), or by the leading of His Holy Spirit (thus Geesink), or by all three (thus the present writer); and whether or not Christianized governments are obliged to hallow Sunday in public life and, if so, to what extent — a greater (thus Bownds) or a lesser (thus Kuyper)]. But these Sunday sabbatarians are all absolutely united in their emphatic conviction that Sunday alone is the Christian sabbath, even as they are equally united with all other non-sabbatarian Sunday-keepers as to the desirability of the Church regularly meeting on the first day of the week — seeing that all Sunday keepers regard it as unquestionable that the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Church did so.
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From the above differences of opinion, two main queries emerge: —
The solution of the first query ("Is the sabbath of perpetual obligation?") may be obtained by reducing it to the following sub-queries and finding their correct answers: —
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To arrive at a Protestant solution to the above queries requires the application of a Protestant methodology. This will entail the chronological re-arrangement and systematic examination of all the material bearing on the sabbath contained in the sixty-six books of Holy Scripture and — in order to throw Holy Scripture into historical relief — of the extra-Scriptural background too (such as traces of the sabbath amongst the heathen, Talmudic information on the sabbath between the two Testaments, Patristic documentation of the history of the sabbath from Calvary up to the advent of the sabbath-sanctifying Christian state in the fourth century AD. and thereafter, and the Post-Patristic views of Church Councils, the Reformers, the Puritans and their successors down to the present day). Only after this has been done, may the above queries be answered satisfactorily.
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And now, as regards the perpetuity of the sabbath and the practice of Sunday observance — "What saith the Scriptures?"
I would like to express my deep appreciation to "The Lord's Day Observance Society" of England for granting permission to reprint this outstanding work by Dr. Nigel Francis Lee on the Internet. There can be no doubt that this book's reappearance is timely and it's message desperately needed in our day. The modern church is more and more conforming itself to the world in so many ways, thus bringing dishonor to the One by Whose name it is called. There can be no doubt that it is in dire need of reformation. As it was from the beginning; the prophets of the Old Covenant, the Apostles of the New Covenant and those great men of church history, whom God was pleased to raise up, the Law of God was proclaimed to bring conviction upon those who had backslidden and call them to repentance. It is no wonder then, that the moral Law of God has come under considerable attack from without, but regrettably even more so from within the church. The Fourth Commandment and its glorious Sabbath has received an inordinate proportion of this attack, and thus it is our prayer that God would use this book to once again establish His Law in the hearts of men and that the church would return to the "Old Paths" (Jer. 6:16).
— Pilgrim —
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