In these past weeks, I have enjoyed the opportunity to study the fourth commandment which teaches us to remember to keep the Lord’s Day holy. There are many who believe this Old Testament law was done away with in the fulfillment of Christ’s death which is the antitype of many Old Testament practices. However, this law was given immediately upon the completion of the creation which tells us God intended it as a perpetual law that is given to all nations to remind us of His power and sovereignty.
Recently, I listed to a sermon by someone who holds a different opinion. He claimed the idea of a Christian sabbath is not very old but is mostly of English Puritan descent and was not believed by Christians other than the Puritans. One of his arguments said that Baptists are wrong, and we ought to reject the historic confessions of faith that teach Sunday is a sabbath that replaced the Old Testament seventh day sabbath. The argument goes that our most popular confessions do not use the term “Christian Sabbath.” It is true the New Hampshire Confession of 1833 to which we closely adhere in our own statement of faith does not use the term “Christian Sabbath” in the 15th article entitled The Observance of the First Day of the Week. However, the language is very clear this is meant by the exclusions and duties that are put upon the day. In addition, the last phrase says the day is to be used for “preparation for that rest that remains to the people of God.” This reference is to Hebrews 4:3-11 in which the author says in verse 9: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” Rest in this verse is the Greek word sabbatismos which is derived from the word that means sabbath. The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 in its article on the Sabbath begins, “The light of nature shows that there is a God…” This confession begins by connecting the sabbath to laws that are written on the human heart. It ends by using the word sabbath: “The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord.”
The man who preached this message is a Southern Baptist who referred to the Southern Baptist Abstract of Principles which is their confession of faith. He noted the Abstract of Principles does not use the word sabbath. And yet the language in the Abstract uses the same concepts as are found in others that do. James Petigru Boyce, one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention asked in his catechism: “Why do Christians keep Sunday as the sabbath?” Answer: “Because it was on that day of the week that Christ rose from the dead.” Further: “What name is given to it on this account?” Answer: “The Lord’s Day.” Likewise, Spurgeon’s catechism emphasis the same point even more extensively in positively declaring the first day of the week is the Christian sabbath.
It is interesting to note that the Reformers did not regard a Sunday sabbath. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Beza, and others argued against it. However, their opinions were fashioned against the background of the abuses of Roman Catholicism in making Sundays festival days, and of course to their sacramentarian views of salvation regarding it. Their opinions prevailed over their churches for less than a century when the practice overwhelmingly returned to a Sunday sabbath. Calvin’s arguments notwithstanding that the change to a Sunday sabbath happened about A.D. 60 instead of upon Christ’s resurrection, proves to be only an argument, whereas the law written on the human heart continues to prevail.
It is therefore disingenuous to assert the Sunday sabbath is a recent invention. It appears the Sunday sabbath did not prevail as practice among Bible believing Christians for only a short interval in the late 16th century. It only seems to hold sway today among those who are bent on returning to the enlightenment of the Reformation, which in most cases is good except when it is not.
Pastor V. Mark Smith