CONCERNING THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
by Warren C. Embree
The following is a written paper of an oral presentation I gave at the Swan Lake Reformed and Presbyterian Ministerial Retreat. The presentation was a quasi-debate in which I challenged the Westminster Standards’ (the Confession’s, the Shorter and Larger Catechisms’) exposition of the moral prohibitions and requirements of the fourth commandment. The Reverend Dr. Leonard Coppes opposed me, that is, in favor of the Westminster Standards. Because of this circumstance, there was a certain give and take process which does not lend itself easily to be translated into a written form. Therefore, when I thought it appropriate, I have end noted auxiliary remarks and observations--please read these end notes. These remarks and observations were either in direct response to some premise or assumption argued by Dr. Coppes, or they were in answer to questions raised by the listening audience.
Furthermore, as there was a certain time restraint placed upon the debate, I was unable to present all my reasons and proofs, nor was I able to present my understanding of the Apostle Paul’s exposition of the Decalogue as it is found in his letter to the Ephesians. Therefore, in the following paper, I have enhanced my arguments by including those reasons and proofs without note (although, as further study has persuaded me to alter some arguments, I have noted them), and I have added an addendum to the end of this paper which demonstrates Paul’s exposition of the Decalogue and in what way that exposition supports my position.
Finally, I agreed to make my presentation at the retreat and to write this paper because I believed then-- and still believe now--that it is necessary to demonstrate that those of us who disagree with the sabbatarian interpretation of the fourth commandment are not antinominian. Not only are we not antinominian, we firmly believe that those who hold to this sabbatarian interpretation have failed to make the transition from the types and shadows of the Old Testament to the reality and truth of Jesus Christ. If the reader desires to dismiss what is argued below based upon the charge of antinomianism, then the reader is mistaken. I am most willing to leave the judgment of the matter in the quite capable hands of the One who spoke from both mountains, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
By way of introduction, I would like to give a brief look at the way in which the outside world viewed the way in which the Jews and the Christians practiced “Sabbath keeping.” There are a few historical references to the issue which provide a telling commentary on the distinction between the way in which the Jews observed the Sabbath and the way that those not too far removed from the apostolic teachings practiced the moral requirements of the fourth commandment. If you look at the Roman historian Tacitus and his section on the Jews, you find that he was well aware of the Jewish practice of Sabbath keeping. He tells his reading audience that the Jews are lazy because they refuse to work on the seventh day of the week. In fact, he writes, “this charm of indolence beguiled them into giving up the seventh year also to inaction” (Complete Works of Tacitus, 659). In his section on the Christians, however, he is silent about this specific charge of laziness.1
This habit of resting upon the seventh day of the week was so widely known among the Roman population that Roman generals planned their primary assaults to coincide with the seventh day.2 It is with this in mind that King Agrippa (the same who spoke with Paul) warns the Jews against revolt. He tells them that “if you do observe the Sabbath-days [in the course of war] . . . , you will easily be taken, as was your forefathers by Pompey, who was the busiest in his siege on those days on which the besieged rested” (Josephus 489).3 The Jewish historian Josephus (who recorded the previous speech of King Agrippa) struggled with the problem of refraining from even war on the Sabbath--especially since the Jewish practice of resting on the seventh day was so widely known. He himself strove to avoid such conflict on the Sabbath (Josephus 9), but he nevertheless notes without censure that Mattathias (the father of Maccabeus) concluded that “this rule [which] continues among us to this day [Josephus’ time], that if there be a necessity, we may fight on Sabbath-days” (258).4 It is evident that the Roman (and most probably the Greek) world was well aware of the Jewish practice of resting upon the seventh day; an awareness that formed political and military policy toward the Jews.
On the other hand, even though the Christians were at first considered simply another sect of the Jewish religion and, even though the Christians were subject to more vile (if not greater) persecution under Roman rule, yet this charge of “indolence” is never leveled against the Christians. Pliny the Lesser, writing to Trajan concerning the proper way to deal with charges of engaging in Christian activity, professes some confusion on how to handle the situation. He informs Trajan that he had made inquiries of certain people, had resorted to torment of some of those called “deaconesses,” yet could not come up with anything or anyone particular to punish. In the midst of this investigation, he tells Trajan that he finds “their [the Christians’] main fault” was that
they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament (or oath,) not to do anything that was ill; . . . ; after which it was their custom to depart, and to meet again at a common but innocent meal, which they had left off upon that edict which I published at your command (Josephus 658).
There was no charge nor indication of laziness from Pliny. Neither Pliny, an educated man, could have been ignorant of the Jewish habit of “Sabbath keeping,” nor Trajan, who had done battle with the Jews, most certainly was not ignorant of the Jewish practice of resting on the seventh day. These men found no cause to address the refusal of the Christians to work on a certain day nor charge them with being “lazy.”
These few historical references demonstrate that the Jewish practice of resting on the seventh day was widely known and that the same practice was unknown among the Christians. But, some will want to say, these are arguments from silence. There are no references that explicitly state that the Christian practice was different from the Jewish one. To this I ask, what were these early Christians taught by those whom God had given them as Ministers of the Word? “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things,” writes Ignatius,” [possess] a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living according to the Lord’s Day” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 63 emphasis added).5 Justin Martyr so presented the Christian practice of not making one day holier than another that, in the voice of Trypho the Jew, he accuses himself of willingly ignoring those Scripture passages which enjoin such a practice (Dialogue with Trypho 207). The charge was precipitated by Justin telling Trypho that the purpose of the Sabbath day was for a “sign” (204), and the charge is answered by arguing that the Sabbath was given to the Israelites as means of recognizing and acknowledging their sinfulness and unholiness (208). Justin argues:
Do you see that the elements are not idle, and keep no Sabbaths? Remain as you were born. For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there for them now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin (206 emphasis added).
Irenaeus, whose extant work Against Heresies contains a great deal on the applicability of the Decalogue for Christians and is directed expressly against the antinomian position of Marcion, states that “the Lord [Jesus Christ] did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, . . . , but. . . He extended and fulfilled them” (477). Irenaeus goes on to tell us how that righteousness of Christians must exceed that of the “scribes and Pharisees,” that the righteousness which Jesus Christ taught requires a spiritual application to the precepts taught in the Decalogue. He too, like Justin, argues that the Sabbath, like circumcision, was a “sign.” “These things [circumcision and Sabbaths], then, were given for a sign; but the signs were not unsymbolical, that is, neither unmeaning nor to no purpose. . . . But the Sabbaths taught that we should continue day by day in God’s service” (481 Emphasis added).6 Then here is Tertull1an who, in his Answer to the Jews, remarks that “we [Christians] understand that we still more ought to observe a Sabbath from ‘servile work’ always, and not only every seventh day, but through all time” (155 emphasis added). Tertullian, having quoted numerous Old Testament passages to demonstrate that the Sabbath was often “profaned,” concludes that “it was not with a view to its observance in perpetuity that God formerly gave them such a law [Sabbath]” (156).
It is generally accepted that Ignatius, along with Polycarp, studied under and was trained by the Apostle John. Irenaeus was Polycarp’s pupil. It is evident from the writings of these early church fathers (Ignatius died circa 107, Justin circa 165, Irenaeus circa 202, Tertullian circa 220) that they all understood that the fourth commandment still held forth a moral obligation for Christians, but that moral obligation required not a sanctification of “one whole day seven” but rather a sanctification of every moment of our lives. “Living according to the Lord’s Day,” says Ignatius. I submit to you that neither Tacitus nor Pliny nor Trajan found it necessary to charge the Christians with an unwillingness to work on any given day precisely because the Ministers of the Word who instructed those early Christians taught them that every day was holy and that the notion of “secular” versus “sacred” work was contrary to the Biblical principle that all work is now holy in Christ Jesus. It is this principle of moving from the shadows and types of the Old Testament Sabbath to the reality and truth in Jesus Christ which guided these teachers. Christ did not abrogate nor abolish the moral principles of the fourth commandment, he “extended” them. That extension was based on the fact that, in Christ Jesus, we are now free to be righteous and holy and, as such, we are no longer to look to the lesson of being confined to “one whole day in seven” for our understanding of holiness: we are to serve God in holiness every day of our lives.
Over the years between these early church fathers and the Reformation, however, things changed. The church and the teachers of the church became more and more enamored with the notion of “holy days” and the “observance” of days. The notion of freedom taught by the apostles and so well understood by those early fathers gave way to a servitude toward days sanctioned not by Scripture but by the “commandments of men.” This bondage of days was so practiced that Calvin complains that “we really see how they [those who argue the “fixing of one day in seven” as still having moral force] profit from such teaching. For those of them who cling to their constitutions surpass the Jews three times over in crass and carnal Sabbatarian superstition” (Institutes 400).7 It is against this background that the Reformers worked out their understanding of the relationship of Old Testament Law to the New Testament Christian. They understood this relationship, in harmony with the apostles and the early church fathers, as being one of “type” to “archtype” or of “shadow” to “reality.” They therefore formulated a specific understanding of the fourth commandment which corresponds to that general understanding of this relationship of “shadow” to “reality.”
As the purpose of this paper (as was the purpose of the debate) is to defend the “continental” position concerning the fourth commandment over and against that of the “sabbatarian” (sometimes called “English” or “Puritan”) position, it seems wise to define precisely what is at variance between these two positions and, for the sake of focusing the discussion, do this definition before discussing the interpretative principle of “shadow” and “reality.” The “continental” position was espoused by Calvin and formulated into creedal form by Bullinger (Zwingli’s successor at Zurich). The “sabbatarian” position is set forth most eloquently in the Westminster Standards. At issue is not whether the fourth commandment is still “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteous” (II Timothy 3:16) as Paul tells us concerning Scripture. Both the “continental” and the “sabbatarian” position hold that the fourth commandment still has moral force. What is at variance is in what way the fourth commandment directs us by that doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Does the fourth commandment direct us, as the “sabbatarians” teach, to account “one whole day in seven” holy? Or, as is the position of this paper and the “continental” position, does it direct us to make every moment of our lives holy?
John Calvin wrote that the “truth” or “substance” or “reality” of our “newness” of life is directed by the fourth commandment, not by “accounting one day holier than another.” Rather, he argues that the moral requirement of the fourth commandment “is not confined within a single day but extends through the whole course of our life… Christians ought to therefore shun completely the superstitious observance of days” (Institutes 397 emphasis added). Calvin also notes that the fourth commandment teaches us that “we should all observe together the lawful order set by the church for the hearing of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and for public prayers” (400). In harmony with these statements of Calvin’s, the Second Helvetic Confession (written by Henry Bullinger) expresses the same thing. In the article on “Of Holydays, Fasts, and Choice of Meats” (Chapter XXIV), Bullinger writes:
Although religion be not tied unto time, yet can it not be planted and exercised without a due dividing and allotting-out of time. . . . For except some due time and leisure were allotted to the outward exercise of religion, without doubt men would be quite drawn from it by their own affairs.
In regard hereof, we see that in the ancient churches there were not only certain set hours in the week appointed for meetings, but that also the Lord’s Day itself, ever since the apostles’ time, was consecrated to religious exercises and to holy rest; . . . . Yet herein we give no place unto the Jewish observation of the day, or to any superstitions . For we do not account one day to be holier than another, nor think that mere rest is itself acceptable to God. Besides, we do celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, and not the Jewish Sabbath, and that with a free observation (Creeds of Christendom 899 emphasis added).
Over and against this understanding of the fourth commandment is the one set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith:
As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by 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 (Creeds of Christendom 648 emphasis added).
The Shorter Catechism expresses the moral requirement of sanctifying the day in even stronger terms. “The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy Sabbath to himself” (Creeds 689 emphasis added). The position of the Westminster Standards, as against Calvin and Bullinger (as well as a host of other reformers, including the Heidelberg Catechism and Ursinus’ exposition of the same), states that the moral doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness requires us to keep “one whole day in seven” holy. (Lest the reader attempt to diminish the intent of the Westminster Standards, what I would normally make an end note I make parenthetically. In the Latin, which was the “original” language of the Westminster, the Confession reads: speciatim e septenis quibusque diebus deum unum in Sabbatum designavit, sancta sibi observandum [“out of seven… one day… holy] (Creeds 648 emphasis added). And in the Shorter Catechism sanctum ei observemujs; integhrum nempe Diem e septenis unim [“to be kept holy; . . . one whole day out of seven”] (Creeds 689 emphasis added). It cannot be avoided; the Westminster Standards argues that one day in seven is holy.) The Westminster Standards, of course, given the fact that they claim that one day is holy, designate which day that is. “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” (Creeds 649).
The primary difference, then, between the “continental” and the “sabbatarian” understanding of the moral doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness is not that one is antinomian and the other is not. Nor is the difference as to whether some time needs to be set aside for the “exercise” of religious worship. As Calvin states: “we should all observe together the lawful order set by the church.”
As Bullinger argues: “except some due time and leisure were allotted to the outward exercise of religion, without doubt men would be quite drawn from it by their own affairs.” As the Westminster Confession notes: “a due proportion of time [should] be set apart for the worship of God.” Where these positions differ is precisely on the question of whether or not there are holy days and, specifically, what constitutes the holiness required in the fourth commandment and in what way it gives us moral doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.
It is imperative that the reader understand that those who hold to the “continental” understanding of the fourth commandment do not reject the moral doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness found in that commandment. Such a charge is without foundation and is scurrilous. Moreover, it is necessary to defend this position against the “sabbatarian” position precisely because the “sabbatarian” position fails to interpret the fourth commandment properly. In teaching the people of God that they should still “sanctify” a day, the “sabbatarian” position carries over the “sign” and “shadow” of holiness which, with the coming of Jesus Christ--His birth, His life, His work, His death, His resurrection--the reality of holiness and right worship of God has replaced those signs and shadows. The Old Testament cannot be understood, nor can the moral doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness of the Decalogue in general and the fourth commandment in particular be understood, unless we accept, understand, and apply this distinction between “shadows” and “reality,” between “type” and “archtype,” between “sign” and “signified.”
That the New Testament writers would have us understand that the external requirements and prohibitions of the Old Testament are not to be carried over full and complete is evident from both their writings and their example. Consider, for example, Peter’s vision of “a certain vessel descending [from heaven], as it were a great sheet” (Acts 10:11). We are to understand that contained within that “sheet” were a multitude of foods forbidden by Old Testament law. God, however, commanded Peter to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). Peter, however, refuses; he argues with God that he had never “eaten anything that is common (unholy) and unclean” (Acts 10:14). God, in His turn, tells Peter that “what God hath cleansed, make not thou common” (Acts 10:15). Peter demonstrates that he understood that this “shadow” distinction between “holy” and “unholy” has now been replaced with the “reality” of the work of Jesus Christ. “Unto to me God hath showed,” Peter tells us, “that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28 emphasis added). Where, pray tell, were there men in that “sheet”? I read of only “fourfooted beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven” (Acts 10:12). But Peter understood. He rightly recognized that, whereas by way of “shadow” the nation of Israel had been made “holy” (“set apart”) by God, the “reality” of the case is that in Christ Jesus God denies no man that exalted position.
Consider the teachings of the book of Hebrews. “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never. . . make perfect. . .” (Hebrews 10:1 emphasis added). The whole doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness found in the book of Hebrews depends expressly upon this distinction between the “shadow” of things and the “very image” of the things themselves. Or consider the teaching of Paul when he tells us “let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s” (Colossians 2:16,17 emphasis added).9 Or again, where Paul tells us that the historical events of the Old Testament “were our example [tupos, “type”], to the intent we should not lust after evil things” (1 Corinthians 10:6). Or again, when he teaches the Galatians the distinction between the Old Testament and New Testament people of God, he tells them to consider the position of the two sons of Abraham, between Hagar and Sarah, and tells us that this distinction “contains an allegory” (Galatians 4:24).10 Despite the abuses that have crept in by understanding the Old Testament with this interpretative principle of “shadow” and “reality,” it is the case that we will never understand in what way the Old Testament is to be understood unless we diligently--albeit carefully--apply this principle.
This principle applies as well to our understanding of the Decalogue itself. I would venture to guess that any of the readers who preaches a series of sermons on the Decalogue begins at least by making a distinction in the prologue. Who does not--without hesitation and quite rightly I might add--teach the people of God that, whereas the Israelites were to be obedient to the God who has brought them “out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2), the Christian is to be obedient because “being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:18)? It is readily evident to those who preach that the “shadow” of being brought out of the slavery in Egypt has been fulfilled by the “reality” of being freed from the slavery of sin. We, therefore, do not look to the exodus for confirmation of this liberty; we look to the cross.
Or consider the way in which Paul teaches the fifth commandment in his letter to the Ephesians. Whereas the fifth commandment recorded in the book of Exodus enjoins honoring our parents so that “thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12 emphasis added), Paul teaches us to consider this promise “that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:3 emphasis added). Why does he change the promise? Precisely because the “land” of the Old Testament was a “shadow” of the “reality” of the New. In the New, through Christ and in Christ, “all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come: all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (I Corinthians 3:22,23 emphasis added).ll Even the “sabbatarians,” in defiance of the fourth commandment, shift their holy day from the seventh day to the first. Most arguments defend this shift because it was on the first day of the week that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and, as such, marked the beginning of the “new” creation.
It is in recognition of this distinction between “shadow” and “reality” that Calvin does his exposition of the fourth commandment. He tells us that we cannot understand the moral doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness of the fourth commandment’ unless we recognize that Jesus Christ “himself is the truth, with whose presence all figures vanish; he is the body at whose appearance the shadows are left behind” (Institutes 397 emphasis added). It is imperative that the reader understand that those who hold the “continental” position do not reject--as is often asserted--the moral force of the fourth commandment.
What is at variance is the understanding of the holiness in general, and the holiness of time in particular, that is enjoined by that commandment. What is at issue is the argument that those who hold the “sabbatarian” position fail to recognize the difference between “shadow” and “reality.” It is the position of this paper (and the “continentalists”) that we cannot understand the Old Testament if we refuse to accept this interpretative principle of shadow and reality.
This is all the more true as it relates to our understanding of the fourth commandment. Jesus Christ is the reality of all that God has revealed to us-- including the Old Testament (Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us God spoke “by divers portions and in divers manners” through the prophets but that Jesus Christ is “the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance” emphasis added. Note also John when he says that “no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” John 1:18). Jesus Christ is the “reality” and “very image” of the Old Testament types and shadows; it is He from whom these types and shadows took their form and shape; it is He Who is the truth and light from which these types and shadows received their significance. While the glory of this reality may have been “hid for ages and generations” (Colossians 1:26) by these types and shadows, it is now “made manifest” to God’s saints. To return to these types and shadows is to turn away from the very source of truth and light which produced them. Our focus is to be upon Jesus Christ; we are to acknowledge and understand that in our interpretation of Scripture God has fashioned all His revelation to us to drive us to this focus. If we do not accept this, we will advocate things and practice things which are no more than the silly superstitions of an unregenerate world. As Calvin says, we must “leave them behind.”
We cannot understand in what way the setting aside of “one whole day in seven” in the fourth commandment is a shadow of a future reality unless we understand why God gave the Israelites “His Sabbath.” The purpose of the Sabbath Days, as they defined the relationship between God and His people, defined the righteousness in which they were to walk, is expressly stated in the book of Exodus:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily ye shall keep my Sabbaths: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord who sanctifieth you (Exodus 31:12,13 emphasis added).
Lest there be some reader who would like to argue that this passage reads “Sabbaths” and not ~ Sabbath (that is, the one mentioned in the Decalogue), God also has Moses instruct the Israelites that
Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; …. Israel shall keep the Sabbath, . . .. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested (Exodus 31:14,16,17 emphasis added).
This purpose of the Sabbath being a “sign” that it is the Lord “who sanctifies” His people is reiterated by the prophet Ezekiel. “I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifieth them” (Ezekiel 20:12 emphasis added). Ezekiel reasserts the same point later when he writes that God expects the Israelites “to hallow my Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God” (Ezekiel 20:20). Ezekiel, however, as a prophet of God and speaking of things which are to come, tells us what is going to be the reality of holiness in the future. “My tabernacle also shall be with them,” Ezekiel writes in behalf of God; “and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord that sanctifieth Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them” (Ezekiel 37:27,28).
Has this tabernacle of God, this sanctuary, been built? “And the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). “Destroy this temple,” Jesus challenged the Jews, “and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). John explains to us that “he spake of the temple (sanctuary) of his body” (John 2:21). The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19- 22).
Is there little doubt (and I hope there is none, either with the “continental” or the “sabbatarian”) that the real tabernacle and sanctuary of God has come? According to Ezekiel, with the “sanctuary in the midst” of us, the “sign” of the Sabbath that it is the “Lord that sanctifieth” us has now become reality; that sanctuary is Jesus Christ and it is in His presence, first as He walked upon the earth and later, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, that the world now knows that it is “the Lord who sanctifies us.” “Ye are the temple (sanctuary) of God,” Paul writes, “and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (I Corinthians 3:16). Therefore the “shadow” of the sign of the Sabbath has now been replaced by the “reality” of the very presence of God Himself.
It is this “reality” of the sanctifying presence of Jesus that He uses to defend His disciples against the charge of “breaking the Sabbath” (Matthew 12). Jesus had just exhorted His disciples that they should “take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29 emphasis added). It is “at that season” (Matthew 12:1) that Matthew records the Pharisees confronting Jesus with the charge that His disciples had broken the Sabbath. I trust the reader recognizes that this charge of Sabbath-breaking following the promise of “rest” for the souls occurred neither by chance nor by accident. Such confrontations by the Pharisees regarding the right understanding of the Law and Prophets were designed by God to give opportunity for the “reality” of Jesus to supercede the “types” and “shadows” which had heretofore hidden Him from the eyes of men. How then does Jesus answer this particular charge of “Sabbath-breaking?”
The specific charge (as we Reformed and Presbyterians are wont to call it) was that the disciples were doing “that which it is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:2). The disciples, being hungry, had plucked ears of grain and were eating them (Matthew 12:1). Was this charge by the Pharisees valid? Certainly the mere activity of gleaning from an unharvested field was not forbidden by Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 23:25). Nor can one find any direct prohibition against doing said gleaning upon the Sabbath. Nevertheless, the Pharisees were not making an unreasonable nor unwarranted inference. In the wilderness, there was to be no gathering of manna on the Sabbath; each family was to gather enough on the day before to suffice for the Sabbath day (Exodus 16).
Furthermore, the mere gathering of sticks on the Sabbath constituted sin and was punished by death (Numbers 15:32). With respect to any work on the Sabbath, no fires were to be kindled (Exodus 35:3), no burdens were to be carried (Jeremiah 17:21), and no work in general was to be done (Exodus 31:15). It seems to me that the Pharisees had drawn no other conclusion than the one the Westminster Confession does. The Confession teaches that the “ordering of” our “common affairs” are to be done “beforehand” (Creeds 649).
The Westminster Confession argues, however, that the Pharisees failed to realize that “duties of necessity and mercies” are an exception (Creeds 649. Remember Matthias?). But is this the defense that Jesus uses? As we look carefully at this passage, remember that it is an object lesson of that promised “rest” by Jesus. Remember that it is in “this season” that He defends His disciples. For Jesus Christ does not defend his disciples by arguing with “necessity and mercy”. No, He argues that any work which is done in the presence of God and for His service is holy.
Jesus argues His defense in three stages. First, He points out to the Pharisees that David and his men ate “showbread, which it was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them that were with them, but only for the priests” (Matthew 12:3). What, pray tell, does this have to do with the Sabbath? At that response, if I were a Pharisee, I would furrow my brows in perplexity and throw my head back in the proverbial double-take. For not a word was mentioned by Jesus concerning work nor work forbidden on the Sabbath nor exceptions to those prohibitions against work. What Jesus does mention is “showbread,” and He mentions it specifically because He is explaining the true nature of holiness.
The “showbread” (properly, “bread of the face” or “presence bread,” lechem panim) was part of the holy objects which were to be ever in the temple and maintained by the priests alone (Exodus 25). Furthermore, it was holy precisely because it was the priests who prepared the “showbread” and maintained that “showbread” in the presence of the Lord (Leviticus 24:5-9) .
Now David and his men were running from the wrath of Saul (1 Samuel 20). They carne to Ahimelech, a priest, at Nob, and David asked for food. “Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatsoever there is present” (I Samuel 21:3). Ahimelech, knowing the restrictions of the use of the showbread, responds that there “is no common bread under my hand, but there is holy” (21:4). He does allow to David, however, that if the “young men have kept themselves from women” it might be possible to give David and the men some of the “holy bread.” David immediately understands the implications of Ahimelech’s offer. “The vessels of the young men are holy,” even though it was but a “common journey” (21:5 emphasis added). David then adds, “how much more then today shall their vessels be holy.” I and the men are holy, now, today, because, (and David provides Ahimelech with his own point to ponder), I and my men are on a mission for the Lord.
Jesus does not therefore argue that it is because of the “necessity” of hunger that His disciples are free to eat on the Sabbath. That was not even Ahimelech’s reason; he did not say “weIl, if you boys are really hungry and there’s no other food around.” No, he said “but if you and the men are holy.” Jesus is saying to the Pharisees that his presence sanctifies the very field in which they walked, the food which was present in that field and that, like the priests, His presence, sanctifies His disciples.
Jesus’ second defense of His disciples follows upon and conforms with the first. “Have ye not read in the law,” He asks the Pharisees, “that on the Sabbath day the priest in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are guiltless” (Matthew 12:5 emphasis added). Do not allow yourself to gloss over this assertion of Jesus that the priests profane the Sabbath. He states sabbaton bebelousini that the priest treat the Sabbath as “common,” that they consider it allowable for them to “walk all over” the Sabbath. Pro fanus from the Latin; doing those things that are outside the perimeters and boundaries of things holy. Jesus argues that the priests treat the Sabbath in this “profane” way. But, Jesus adds, they are guiltless of breaking the Sabbath. Why? Because, as the “sabbatarians” wish to argue, their priestly duties are “necessary” and therefore, even though they get no “rest,” they must forge on.12 Does God, being merciful and recognizing this incongruity in His law, grant to these priests a special dispensation? Not at all.
I would ask the reader to look closely at what Jesus actually says. “I say unto you, that one greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6 emphasis added). Jesus is telling the Pharisees that work performed for and in the presence of God is holier than any day could possibly be. Don’t you see? Jesus is telling the Pharisees “My presence sanctifies this field. My presence sanctifies the work of these disciples.” They are eating holy food in holy service. David could eat the “showbread” because the “Spirit of the Lord” was “mightily upon David from that day forward” after he was anointed by Samuel (I Samuel 16:13). The priests were “guiltless” in “profaning” the Sabbath precisely because they labored “in the presence of the Lord.” Now one “greater than the temple” was here. Jesus is telling the Pharisees (and therefore His disciples and us) that the real moral doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness directed in the fourth commandment is service devoted to and in the presence of the glory of God. The purpose of the “shadow” of “one whole day in seven” was to direct us to the “reality” of a holy life--a holy life that is practiced and pursued every day of that life.
But, the “sabbatarian” wishes to argue with me, is it not the case that Jesus rebukes the Pharisees by saying “if ye had known what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7)? Is He not, the “sabbatarian” asks, telling the Pharisees that if they only thought about it a moment, the need to eat is a necessary thing and, if they had an ounce of compassion, they would not have begrudged the disciples a little effort on the Sabbath to satisfy that necessity? Look carefully at the rebuke and consider. Jesus used the same rebuke once before, when the Pharisees accused him of eating with “publicans and sinners” (Matthew 9:11). In addition to citing their lack of understanding God’s desire for mercy and not sacrifice, Jesus also asserts that “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). Is it because of “necessity” that Jesus must reduce Himself to hob-nobbing with the refuse of Jewish society instead of the more evidently good and noble Pharisees? Or, as I wish you to consider, is it because He is telling them that “where the Lord is, there is holiness”? Jesus Christ is not telling the Pharisees that it is out of necessity or a sense of mercy that His disciples should be allowed to pluck grain on the Sabbath. He is telling the Pharisees that they have not a clue as to what constitutes real holiness.l3
Jesus concludes His answer to the Pharisees by stating to them that “the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). Is He telling the Pharisees-- as some wish to argue--that because the “Son of man” is “lord” of the Sabbath, His “boys” can do whatever they like? Again, as by now I hope the reader understands, not at all. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” He is recorded as having made part of the argument (Mark 2: 27). What He is saying is that the holiness which was “signified” in the setting aside of “one whole day in seven” has been superceded and surpassed by the reality of the Lord who had sanctified that day. The “image itself” has now come. He is telling the Pharisees (and His disciples and us) that the veritable, real, Image and Presentation of holiness itself was standing in front of them. The lesser “shadow” of the “one whole day in seven” has now been eclipsed by the greater “reality” of the manifestation of holiness Itself. Isn’t this the whole point of Chapter 12 of Matthew? “One greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6) He says; that is, the real Holy One which produced the Old Testament “shadow” priests is now here. “One greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41); that is, the real Prophet which produced the Old Testament “shadow” prophets has now come. “One greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42); that is, the real King and personification of Wisdom which produced the real Old Testament “shadow” wise kings has now taken charge. Let us not, holding to the “shadow” teaching of the fourth commandment, fail to understand what Jesus Christ teaches concerning the Sabbath. The Holy One of Israel has come; let us find “rest for our souls” in Him--not in some day.
If we look at the book of Hebrews (and no discussion of the fourth commandment should avoid looking at the book of Hebrews: after all, it contains the claim that there “remains a Sabbath rest or Sabbath keeping for the people of God” Hebrews 4:9), we find in what sense the New Testament writers understood the “rest of God” into which we should desire to “enter.” As we consider what the writer of the book of Hebrews intends to convey to us in his section on “rest,” we must keep in mind the context in which that intention was written.14 He is concerned that we concentrate upon the work of Jesus Christ as our “faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17), and he desires us, in his discussion on the “rest of God,” to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). Furthermore, in the section of the letter in which he discusses that “Sabbath keeping that remains,” namely, Chapters 3 through 10, the writer focuses our attention again and again upon the fact that Jesus Christ is the real priest of God, that He operates in the real temple of God, that He has brought us into the real presence of God, that He has actualized the real covenant of God, as opposed to the “shadows” of these things recorded in the Old Testament. The writer’s presentation of the “rest” of God cannot be understood without this interpretative context and consideration.
The writer first focuses our attention upon the need for us to “hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6). He argues that the Israelites failed to do precisely that (that is, hold fast to the end), and then he defines for us in what that “boldness” and “hope” consists. The Israelites, who because of their disobedience and lack of faith failed, were refused entrance into the Lord’s “rest” (Hebrews 3: 11,19) . The writer warns us that we should “fear, therefore, lest haply, a promise of being left of entering into his rest, anyone of [us, actually, you] should seem to have come short of it” (Hebrews 3:1). He therefore tells us to “give diligence to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). But in what does this “rest” consist? This is truly the critical question. For if we are to be “bold” and give “diligence” to enter into it, if the Israelites were denied entrance because of disobedience and disbelief, if we are to “hold firm” to the end, if we are to beware lest anyone of us “come short of it,” it necessarily follows that we should understand what this “rest” is that should so capture our attention, our faith, and our effort.
First, let us consider the “rest” into which the Israelites failed to enter. The writer quotes Psalm 95, in which the disobedience and lack of faith of the Israelites is outlined, and then finishes his quote with God’s pronouncement “As I sware in my wrath, They [the Israelites] shall not enter into my rest” (Hebrews 3:11). What is this “rest” that God denied them. In Deuteronomy God promises rest to the Israelites:
Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes; for ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord thy God giveth thee. But when ye go over to Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God causeth you to inherit, and he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety (Deuteronomy 12:8-10).
This promise of “rest” from their enemies Moses reiterates later in Deuteronomy “when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, . . . .” (Deuteronomy 25:19). So there is a promise to the Israelites of “rest” from all their enemies.
But the writer to the Hebrews says that Joshua failed to give the rest to the Israelites into which they were denied entrance (Hebrews 4:8). Yet the book of Joshua claims that this “rest” from their enemies was accomplished through Joshua. “And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them” (Joshua 21: 44) . Or again, “and now the Lord your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as he spake unto them” (Joshua 22:4). Or again, “and it came to pass after many days, when the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, . . . “ (Joshua 23:1). It must be the case that this expectation of “rest” discussed by the writer to the Hebrews differs from that of “rest of our enemies round about.” This “rest,” as the writer takes pains to point out, was denied to the Israelites and, as is critical to any interpretation of the fourth commandment, is the same “rest” as that which God enjoyed on the seventh day of creation (Hebrews 4:4). Furthermore, the writer argues that, since there still remains some to enter into that “rest,” the Spirit of God “defineth a certain day, To day” (Hebrews 4: 7).15
What, then, is this “rest” of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks? If we look at Psalm 95 and the specific disobedience and disbelief that denied the Israelites entrance into that “rest,” we find a well-defined and specific sin. At issue in Psalm 95 is that the Israelites be not like their forefathers were at Meribah and Massah (Psalm 95:8). It was there that the Israelites exhibited that specific disobedience and unbelief that denied them that “rest” of God. And what was this specific charge? “They tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:7 emphasis added). (Sound familiar? If the Pharisees had recognized, believed, and acknowledged that “the Lord was among them,” they would not have even thought of questioning the sanctity of Jesus’ disciples’ action on the Sabbath). Look too at the second time at Meribah and Massah, when Moses failed to speak to the rock as directed by the Lord. God denies Moses and Aaron entrance into the Promised Land precisely because “ye believed not in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel” (Numbers 20:12 emphasis added). The whole episode at Meribah and Massah revolved around the very issue of holiness. For where the Lord is, there is holiness. And because of their disobedience and unbelief, the Lord was compelled to “show himself holy in them” (Numbers 20:13).
Let the reader consider the whole context of Psalm 95; it is concerned with coming into the presence of God. “Come before his presence with thanksgiving” the psalmist exhorts us (Psalm 95:2). “Come, let us worship; and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6 emphasis added). What does this “presence” of the Lord” have to do with the promised “rest”? It is there, as His feet, that the “resting” place exists. “We will go into his tabernacles; We will worship at his footstool. Arise, 0 Lord, into thy resting-place” (Psalm 132:7,8 emphasis added). “This is my resting- place for ever,” pronounces the Lord; “Here will I dwell; for I have desired it” (Psalm 132:14 emphasis added). What is the nature of this worship? What is the single, defining feature of worshipping in the presence of the Lord? What is the condition of being able to “enter this rest?” Holiness. “Ascribe unto the Lord the glory due his name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2 emphasis added).
I trust now that the reader w1ll understand the nature of that “boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end” which we are to “hold fast” (Hebrews 3:6). It is a “boldness” to “draw near” “unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). It is our hope to stand and live in the presence of God “in the beauty of holiness;” not because we ourselves possess such “holiness,” but because “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 emphasis added). It is a trust which accepts that we can now “enter into the holy place” not as polluted sinners but “by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way” (Hebrews l0: 19,20 emphasis added). I hope the reader understands that the writer to the Hebrews is telling us to enter into this “rest,” to approach the “throne of grace,” to “enter into the holy place,” to come, in other words, into the very presence of God, not just “one whole day in seven.” No, he tells us, but rather “day by day, so long as it is called To day” (Hebrews 3:13). Enfolded by the holiness which Jesus Christ has purchased for us, we are to live every day of our lives not only recognizing that “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), but by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we “live, and move, and have our being” embraced by the very presence of God.
This is all well and good, the “sabbatarian” wishes to argue, and I do not disagree altogether with what you say, but it is still the case that the writer to the Hebrews states that “there remaineth therefore a Sabbath keeping (rest) for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). Furthermore, such a “sabbatarian” argues, this remaining “Sabbath keeping” is a direct inference drawn from the same Psalm 95, that is, “He again defineth a certain day, To-day” (Hebrews 4:7). How can you “sentimentalists” deny that the writer to the Hebrews argues that Joshua failed to bring this “rest” and, afterward, the Spirit of God speaks of another day, namely, To-day, and the writer specifically asserts that it is a certain day (tina hemeran)? Not only that, the writer uses the term sabbatismos to define this “Sabbath keeping” that remains when everywhere else in the letter he uses katapausin. Surely it must be evident that the writer is telling us to make “one day holier than another.” Let us look, then, at what the writer to the Hebrews intended for us to understand by “To-day,” and in what things he considered a “Sabbath keeping” to remain.
I wish the reader to note that the writer to the Hebrews unequivocally, unambiguously, (and any other term the reader can find in some thesaurus that denies confusion), defines what he means by “To-day.” “Day by day (hekastan hemeran: “each day,” “every single day,” “each unique day”),” he writes; “so long as it is called To-day” (Hebrews 3:13 emphasis added). Therefore, we must understand that when the writer says a “certain day (tina hemeran),” he is using tina not in the sense of “one particular” day (in seven). Rather, he uses it in the sense of “anyone” or “another kind of” day.
Likewise with his use of allos to speak of “another day.” Again, we must understand that he is not indicating another “particular” day (again, in seven). Rather, he is using allos in the sense of “a different sort” of day. Indeed, when tis and allos are used together, they very often carry the sense of “any other.”
I cannot leave alone this point of letting the author of a book of the Bible define his own terms. Again, what I would normally place in an endnote--in order to force the reader to read it--I have put the following observation in the body of the paper. If we are to understand the teaching of the Scripture, if we are to commit ourselves to basing all our understanding of the doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness which the Old Testament provides for us upon the “foundation of the prophets and apostles,” if we are to “rightly divide” the Word of God, then we must allow the writers of the New Testament to define and to interpret themselves. We cannot allow ourselves, no matter how appealing it may seem, to interpret Scripture based upon the creedal positions we wish to subscribe to. To be sure, there are passages of Scripture which require the enlightenment of a systematic theology. There is no question that the “analogy of faith” demands that we not ignore one portion of Scripture in favor of emphasizing another. But the writer to the Hebrews leaves no doubt as to what he intends by “To-day;” “day by day,” he says, each and every and any sort of day. To understand his use of the term in any other way is to grant ourselves the right to define Scriptural terms in spite of the intention of the author.16
Returning to the question of a “Sabbath keeping” “remaining,” in what way does the writer to the Hebrews wish us to understand this “Sabbath keeping?” I would have the reader recall that the writer’s focus of the whole letter is upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. Particularly, as he enters into this discussion of “rest,” he would have us consider “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). Furthermore, he enjoins the exhortation to “hold fast our boldness” just before he quotes Psalm 95. Again, shortly after speaking of a “Sabbath keeping remaining,” he again exhorts us to “draw near with boldness” (Hebrew 4:16). Finally, having defined and defended in what sense “Jesus Christ is the “very image itself” of the Old Testament “shadows,” he again tells us we have “boldness to enter into the holy place” (Hebrews 10:19). I would submit to the reader that since the very substance of “our hope” of “rest” is to be in the presence of God, that the fact that it is the “blood of Jesus” which has opened the way to that presence (Hebrews 10:19,20), that it is now by Christ, who has “sprinkled” our “hearts. . . from an evil conscience” and washed “our body. . . with pure water,” that we can draw near to the presence of God, and that the whole section between Hebrews 4:16 and Hebrews 10:19 defines the means by which we can have “boldness” to be in the presence of God, what is written to us in Hebrews 10:23-25 defines the nature of that “Sabbath keeping.”
In this section there are three specific things which the writer tells us are the nature of the “Sabbath keeping.”17 First, he tells us to “hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not” (Hebrews 10:23). Remember the exhortation in Chapter 3 of Hebrews. The writer told us to “hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6). That hope, as has been demonstrated, is the “rest” into which we can now enter; a “rest” which is defined by being in the very presence of God, in the “beauty of holiness.” Therefore we, unlike the Israelites at Meribah and Massah who failed precisely because they raised the question “is the Lord among us, or not,” are to acknowledge that we walk continually in the presence of God. We Christians, having been sanctified by the blood of Christ and having been so united to Him that we are “partakers of Christ” (Hebrews 3:14), are to “sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer. . . concerning the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3: 15 emphasis added). We Christians are to account ourselves “a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). This, says Paul, is our “reasonable (or spiritual) service” (Romans 12:1).
This “reasonable service” is therefore not confined to “one whole day in seven. ,. “Holding fast our confession” is to be done day by day, everyday, by every Christian. The writer to the Hebrews is not simply speaking to those, who by the grace of God given to them, are teachers and leaders in the Church.18 Ditch digger, carpenter, used car salesman, housewife, beautician, mother, father, child, or what ever else one may be or do for a vocation and calling, each and at all times is in the holy service of Christ, having now in Jesus boldness to “walk before the Lord” “in the beauty of holiness.” All have a moral duty to sanctify everything they say, do, or think--including the very tools used to perform one’s labor (“In that day,” Zechariah tells us, “shall be upon the bells of the horses, HOLY UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar” (Zechariah 14:20 emphasis added). Compare this with the description of Aaron’s mitre in Exodus 28:36 and following. Are we to do, like the Roman Catholics, and allow that only the “clergy” have “holy” utensils? This I thinking defies the very name of “saints”). This, then, is the “hope of our calling”: The Lord is among us and, enfolded by the holiness Christ and clothed in the “beauty of holiness,” everything we do every day is consecrated to the service of God and His Christ, Jesus. Let us therefore “hold fast to this confession”: The Lord is among us, and let us not, like the Israelites at Meribah and Massah, be so foolish as to doubt and to complain “Is the Lord among us, or not?”
Second, “let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). It is not fitting that we, who now have boldness through the blood of Jesus Christ to enter into the presence of God, should fail to wear our “wedding garment.” Therefore, Paul says, “putting away, . . ., the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit” we should rather “be renewed in the spirit of [our] mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22,23). We have been “created in Christ Jesus,” after all, “for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We are to therefore cease from “dead works” (Hebrews 6: 1) and “press on unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1)--a perfection which consists precisely in that “righteousness and holiness of the truth,” that is, the renewed image of God, so that we walk with Him not only in the “cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8) but day by day, all day. In this fashion, by “putting off the old man and putting on the new,” we are like the land of Canaan which, having the wicked and sinful Israelites removed from it, was able ‘‘as long as it lay desolate” to “keep Sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years” (II Chronicles 36:21). We “keep Sabbath” then, when we, “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22), cease our practice of evil works and turn, by “provoking one another” not just “one whole day in seven” nor even “threescore and ten” but “day by day, so long as it is called To-day” (Hebrews 3:13). For we walk with God in the “beauty of holiness,” and in His presence we are to give continual expression to that “righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
Third, we are to “not forsake our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much more, as ye see the day drawing nigh” (Hebrews 10: 25). That “day drawing nigh” is, of course, “the day” that “shall declare it” in which “the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is” (I Corinthians 3: 13) . We are not “solitary lambs,” nor are we to go it alone. We are to assemble together for the express purpose of “exhortation” and “provoking one another to love and good works.” The Scripture elsewhere teaches us what we are to do when we assemble, and there are clearly defined things we are to do. One, “be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with [our] hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18,19). Two, give “thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Ephesians 5:20). Three, we are to “subject [ourselves] one to another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Four, “lay by . . . in store, as [each] may prosper” for the purpose of helping the saints in need (I Corinthians 16:2). Five, that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgiving, be made for all men; for the kings and all that are in high places” (I Timothy 2:1,2). Six, we are to attend to the preaching of the word, not refusing to hear “him that speaketh” (Hebrews 12:25), but rather “in season, out of season” receive from that preaching “[reproof], rebuke, [exhortation], . . . and teaching” (I Timothy 4:2). Seven, when “we assemble [ourselves] together” we are to properly observe the “Lord’s Supper” (I Corinthians 1:20 and following. I do not think it a stretch to include the sacrament of baptism as well).
This then constitutes the “Sabbath keeping” of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks; a “Sabbath keeping” which is based upon the reality of the corning of Jesus Christ who is the “very image” of the things. with respect to the fourth commandment, this reality is to bring us “boldly” into the presence of God, not just “one day in seven” but “day by day, so long as it is called To-day.” Our “boldness” in the presence of God is based upon the fact that Jesus, as the “Apostle and Great High Priest of our calling” has made us all “a holy priesthood.” Therefore our “Sabbath keeping” consists in consecrating our whole lives, at all times, in all ways, to service in the presence of God, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16 emphasis added). We are to “put off the old man and put on the new” lest, in disobedience and disbelief in the “glory” into which Christ has brought us, anyone count “the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy [or common] thing” (Hebrews 10:29). We are not to think, like Korah, that God has made us “all holy” and, therefore we can go it alone. We are to assemble ourselves together for the express purpose of praising, giving thanks to, subjecting ourselves one to another in fear of, giving of our financial prosperity to, praying to, listening to, and observing the sacraments of God. This is the reality of “Sabbath keeping” prescribed for us as the moral doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness of the fourth commandment. To understand otherwise is to return to the “shadow” and count the “blood of Christ as an unholy thing.”
“What shall we say to these things?” First, I would have the reader understand that neither I nor those to hold the “continental” position concerning the fourth commandment hold any alliance with those who simply dismiss the Old Testament in general, and the Decalogue in particular, out of hand. I believe without hesitation and without embarrassment that all “Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable.” It is the height of arrogance to ignore those things which the Apostle Paul teaches us are our “examples [types], to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they [the Israelites] also lusted” (I Corinthians 10:6). But it is critical to understand that neither do I, nor those who hold the “continental” position, consider ourselves living in the “shadow” of the Old Covenant. Jesus Christ has come; we now live in the “light” of His truth and grace. We believe, again without hesitation and without embarrassment, that in order to understand in what way those “examples” or “types” profit us, we must not ignore the distinction between the “shadows” and “the very image of things.” To interpret Scripture in general, and the Decalogue in particular in this kind of ignorance is to ignore the fact that “in the fulness of time. . . God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4).
Second, I would warn those who are “sabbatarians.” This warning is given with as much love, gentleness, compassion, and lowliness of mind that my sinful heart can muster. By convincing yourselves that God requires “one whole day in seven” to be holy and by teaching the same to those under whose care God has placed them, you are teaching yourself and others to look at the
“shadows” instead of the Light which had made those “shadows.” God’s intention from the beginning was to have a people “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but. . . holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). Because of the sin of our first parents, however, and the subsequence “actual sins” of their descendents, God choose to “hide” this intention in “types” and “shadows.” This choice was not without cause, for had the world known “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:8). But now is He revealed and, although before His coming God spoke “by divers portions and in divers manners,” He has now made known by means of the Light who is “the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance” (Hebrews 1:1,3). I fear for you because, denying that in Christ Jesus we now have “boldness” “to draw near unto the throne of grace” at all times, and we are supposed to “hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end,” you are unwittingly teaching yourselves and your people to treat the “blood of Jesus which sanctifies” you and them ''as an unholy thing” (Hebrews 4: 16; 3: 6; 10: 29).
Third, I would like to give a word of encouragement to those who, like I, accept and trust in the “continental” understanding of the fourth commandment. “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Colossians 2: 16). “These things are a shadow of the things to come,” Paul tells us; “but the body is Christ's” (Colossians 2:17). Do not ignore the metaphor. Jesus Christ is the real body, the very “object” which, when the light shines on it, casts a shadow. Granted, it was a long shadow, but the real High Priest has come. He has opened for us the “holy place” (Hebrews 10:19). Let no man therefore deny to you the boldness to enter into that “holy place” any time and all times. Do not allow any man to raise in your mind and to question whether on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday “Is the Lord among us, or not?” He is with us always, “even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28: 20). “Hold fast,” then, “our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm” unto the very end. For as with the disciples, so with us: Jesus has sanctified our very existence and has sanctified everything we do. We serve Him, not the shadows. We are holy in Him, not in days.
Finally, I wish us all to take seriously and rejoice in Christ's exhortation and promise:
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Let us therefore accept this “yoke;” let us all, whether “sabbatarian” or “continental,” accept our roles as a “royal priesthood.” Let us, in other words, be imitators of Jesus Christ Who, His whole life, was holy and was with His whole life dedicated to the service of God. Not just “one whole day in seven” but every moment of that Life. Then we can rest in the presence of God, without fear, walking in His light and love, glorying in His goodness, clothed in the “beauty of holiness” purchased for us by the blood of Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and our never ceasing adoration and thanksgiving.
1 It is the case that Tacitus exhibits a dislike, if not hatred of the Jews. He may very well have thought, since the Christians were simply another sect of these loathed Jews, he did not feel compelled to outline any things other than in what way they differed from the Jews.
2 I am persuaded that the Greeks (the Ptolemies) were well aware of this Jewish practice of the Sabbaths as well. I do not think it by chance that Antiochus attacked the Jewish people on Sabbath days; especially since one of his stated desires was to force the Jews to discontinue their religious practices. See Josephus pages 258 and following.
3 Josephus records that, as Pompey began his siege of the temple, he took “notice of the seventh days, on which the Jews abstain from fighting on those days” (Josephus 436). Therefore, Pompey restrained his men from fighting on that day as well. Rather, he used the day as a time for destroying the physical defenses set up by the Jews. Furthermore, it seems that the Jewish people, rather then actively fighting upon Sabbath days, chose rather to passively defend (Josephus 436 and following).
4 I cannot but help pointing out that the defense “of necessity” was not unknown to the Jewish people. Therefore, if Jesus would be defending his disciples’ breaking of the Sabbath (found in Matthew 12) as being an “act of necessity,” He could have very well pointed out to the Pharisees their own traditions. Jesus was not remiss in doing so elsewhere.
5 While there is some question as to the authenticity of the letters of Ignatius, the letter to the Magnesians is not in doubt. Furthermore, it is the case that in the “longer” version of this letter, we find reference to “the Lord’s Day” as being the “queen and chief of all the days” and that the prophets foretold that we should look “to the end, for the eight day” (Epistle of Iqnatius to the Magnesians 63). However, I concur with those who hold that it is the “shorter” version of the letters which are truly from Ignatius--the “longer” versions having been introduced to re-enforce later questionable doctrines.
6 I heartily encourage the reader to study Irenaeus. He defended the Old Testament against the nonsense of Marcion, who would have us believe that the New Testament Christian has nothing to do with the Old Testament revelation. On the contrary, Irenaeus argues. He shows that the precepts of the Decalogue were designed to “bind” the soul, in order that man might “serve God.” However, Irenaeus argues, “the Word set free the soul;” not for the purpose of therefore disregarding the Old Testament teachings, but rather pursuing the righteousness therein “willingly” (Against Heresies 477). I find Irenaeus not only a meek soul, but one with a keen intellect. He understood the distinction between “shadow” and “reality” and, rather than running from the problems incumbent upon interpreting the Old Testament in this way, saw that the difference between “bondage” and “freedom” lay precisely in the difference between being forced to perform and being willing to perform. See Heidelberg Catechism question and answer number one (#1). This “willingness,” however, requires giving up the type and shadows of the Old Testament and entering into the reality of a life in conformity to Christ’s life. Was it ever possible for Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, to have ever “broken” the Sabbath?
7 In a footnote on this section by Calvin, McNeill provides us with references for these “constitutions.” He further notes that the “penitential books of the early Middle Ages indicate heavy penalties for Sunday work” (Institutes 400 note 44).
8 During the question and answer period of the debate at Swan Lake, it was noted that, while Calvin and Bullinger in principle rejected the sanctity of “one whole day in seven,” in practice they did just that. Furthermore, it was argued that in Calvin’s Catechism he argues for “sanctifying” Sunday. I read all the questions and answers from that Catechism and demonstrated that this was not the case. Fairbairn argues much the same thing (that in practice the Reformers held to a “holy” day) in Appendix A of his book The Typology of Scripture entitled “Views of the Reformers Regarding the Sabbath” (447-459). Fairbairn also argues that Calvin and others were merely reacting to the excesses of the Jews. When I remarked that Bullinger argues that it was a “free observance,” I was accused of “quibbling about words.”
9. I have specifically avoided Paul’s arguments as found in Romans 14 and Colossians 2 concerning the charge not to “judge” anyone concerning “days” because, in many ways, this is rather well traveled ground. It can reasonably be argued that, in the Romans 14 passage, the context is dealing with days “outside” the Old Testament revelation. In the Colossians passage, however, such an argument cannot be made. “Feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day” is expressly a Jewish concept, and Paul would have drawn these terms from nowhere else other than the Old Testament. Furthermore, it is the case that the Sabbath day is included in this exhortation of Paul’s (It has been argued to me that Paul intends all other Sabbaths, exclusive of the seventh day). Ezekiel 46:1 states that: “The gate of the inner court that looketh toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath day…, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened.” A little later he writes “the people of the land shall worship at the door of the gate before the Lord on the Sabbaths and on the new moons” (Ezekiel 46:3). See also 1 Chronicles 23:31, 2 Chronicles 2:4 (where Solomon states that the temple is dedicated to the Lord for offerings “morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the set feasts of the Lord our God.” By what stretch of the imagination is Solomon excluding the seventh day?), 2 Chronicles 8:14, and so forth. In the Old Testament, from which Paul most assuredly drew his terms “feast day, new moon, and Sabbath day,” the seventh day was included within that designation.
Another point concerning “typological” interpretation needs to be made. Care must be taken that we do not look for Christ “under every rock.” Nor can we allow ourselves to degenerate into allegorical interpretation. That particular nonsense has already had enough time in the history of the Church.
10 I understand Paul to use “allegory” here in the sense of “illustration.” It is therefore like the “examples” or “types” of the Old Testament which, while being “shadows of the things to come,” nevertheless are not “unmeaning or to no purpose.” They serve to illustrate the reality of the accomplishments of Christ Jesus and point us to the fullness of revelation found in Him.
11 Paul also makes this shift from “land” to “world” in Romans 4:13 where he argues that Abraham was “heir of the whole world.” Genesis 17:8 has God telling Abraham that “I will give thee, . . ., the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan.” But Paul is telling us that, while the “setting apart” of the land of Canaan was a “type,” the “reality” is the “setting apart” of the whole world.
It is the case that Dr. Coppes argued that the “land” in the fifth commandment is not to be understood as the “land” of Canaan. I recognize his arguments; I do not accept the conclusions. I leave it to the reader to study the term “land” in the Old Testament and decide for himself whether the use of the term “land” in the fifth commandment can refer to anything other than the land of Canaan.
12 It is imperative that the reader recognize this progressive flow of Jesus’ argument. It is not “necessity” that sanctifies the priests. It is the very presence of God. The priest sanctifies the bread, the temple sanctifies the priest, the presence of God sanctifies the temple. The Sabbath was an external sign of presence of God in our lives. With God Himself among us, where pray tell, and when, is holiness ever absent?
13 This may seem overly harsh, but Jesus-was not hesitant to force the Pharisees into recognizing just how far off the mark they were. Furthermore, the avodah (“prototypes of the work forbidden and permitted on the Sabbath” Steinsalz The Essential Talmud 109) were based expressly upon those actions necessary for the construction of the tabernacle in the desert. The mishnah derives this model (that is, the thirty-nine “prototypes” of forbidden and permitted ‘labors’ from the construction of the tabernacle) because the rabbins believed that Exodus 35 and following forbid working on tabernacle on Sabbath. Now the reader may wish to assume that Jesus was ignorant of this fact, but I do not believe in such an ignorant Savior. It is not for nothing that Jesus is throwing into the faces of the Pharisees the fact that “one greater than the temple is here.” They did not have it right to begin with and, with the coming of the real tabernacle of God, they will never have it right if they persist in their unbelief.
14 Since there is some question as to the authorship of the book of Hebrews, I have used the unfortunate designation of “the writer to the Hebrews.” I, myself, waffle every other week. One week I believe the author to be Paul, the next week, Apollos. Since there are those who would like to argue the point, I have avoided mentioning anyone as the author. It seems wise to leave a debate over the authorship of the book of Hebrews to another time.
15 The Reverend Dr. Leonard Coppes recognized and acknowledged that there was a certain “eschatological” quality about the arguments presented in Hebrews. It seemed to be the consensus of the listening audience as well.
16 I must make a note on this as well. In 1 Corinthians 14:19 Paul writes “howbeit in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” It is evident from his whole argument on tongues, that Paul asserts that the “meaning” of a term or word is the “understanding” of the speaker. I realize that there are any number of interpretative approaches that look for the meaning of words, terms, and phrases elsewhere. I also realize that those who pursue these other approaches would consider me “naive” to think that the meaning of words consists in the intention (understanding) of the author. I marvel that these people would have me “understand” what they “understand” by using words. Since understanding is from the Lord and Paul teaches that the meaning of words is the intended understanding of the author, with all due respect to intellectual and scholarly study, I shall remain “naive.”
17 Calvin and others assert a fourth thing, namely, that we should “not inhumanly oppress those subject to us” (Institutes 400). At the time of the conference, I agreed with this. However, after a heated debate at the conference, in which I must admit the position seemed sillier and sillier, I re-examined the point. After careful study in the book of Ephesians, I have come to the conclusion that “not inhumanly oppressing those subject to us” more properly belongs with the fifth commandment. See Ephesians 6:5-9.
18 Jude warns us to beware of the “gainsaying of Korah” (11). Korah, the reader will remember, challenged Moses’ authority by arguing that God had made them all “holy,” and Moses said that we will leave it up to the Lord to decide “who are his, and who is holy” (Numbers 16:1-35). I am not advocating that I can be “out fishing” and worshipping the Lord while the rest the congregation are attending the worship service. The fact that all our lives are now sanctified does not overturn the lawful order of the church nor the requirements of the fifth commandment. However, I would have those readers who are pastors, elders, and deacons realize that your service is no more holy than those of us who pursue other vocations. It is the case that yours is a position of greater responsibility, but again, this responsibility rests in the fact that you have received leadership and teaching roles among the people of God. These roles are defined in the third and in the fifth commandments. There is no longer a “sacred” clergy; there is, however, to be a well-ordered government.
Furthermore, it is the case that pastors, elders, and deacons are “set apart by the laying on of hands” for the express purpose of “doing the Lord’s things,” that is, teaching, leading, overseeing, being an example to, and watching out for the Church of Jesus Christ. In this sense, Jesus Christ is a pastor’s, elder’s, or deacon’s direct “Boss.” Nevertheless, and again, this is not more “sacred” or “holy;” it is a more responsible position. This is how the apostles themselves made the distinction (James 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:10-4:21; Romans 12:1-8; et al). Please note also that Paul implies that anyone who is a “master” (and I assume, therefore, works “for himself”) has as his direct “Boss,” the Lord and the slave, while having a “master” over him, nonetheless has the same “Master. . . in heaven” (Ephesians 6:9).
I wish the reader to note that the Apostle Paul, having informed the saints at Ephesus that “we are his [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:9), then proceeds with an exposition of the Decalogue. I was not able to demonstrate this at the conference; so I have included it as this addendum. I am not concerned with giving a detailed analysis of Paul’s exposition. Nor am I arguing that it is because Paul gives such an exposition that we are to pay attention to the Decalogue. I merely wish the reader to note that all ten commandments are exposited by Paul, and this exposition teaches us in what way the coming of Christ Jesus has fulfilled the law and set us free to willingly serve Him. Beyond this, I will let the reader develop his own uses and applications of Paul’s exposition.
“I am the Lord thy God, which has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” “Ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, . . . ; were. . . separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. . . . So ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God . . . . etc.” (Ephesians 2:11-3:20 inclusive).
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”
“There is . . . , one Spirit, . . . , one Lord, . . . , one God and Father of all. . . .” (that is, it is no longer Jehovah but the Trinity. Ephesians 4:1-16 inclusive).
“Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image. . . etc.”
“Put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless. . . etc.”
“Let no man deceive you with empty words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5: 6) . “Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29). And elsewhere concerning speech.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . etc.”
“Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:15-21 inclusive. Notice, my reader, that everything the writer to the Hebrews enjoins upon us for “Sabbath keeping” is herein contained. “Hold fast the confession of our hope” and “walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” “Provoke one another to love and good works” and “subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.” “Not forsaking our own assembling” and “be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another etc.” Indeed, let the read note that Paul, consistent with his Colossian’s injunction against judging concerning days, does not require a “holy” day). [Note by Pastor Powell: A good summary of the 4th Commandment is Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Also: Col 3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. It is a violation of the Fourth Commandment to introduce strife into the church over the observance of days.]
“Honor thy father and thy mother. . . Etc.”
“Wives, be in subjection unto your husbands, . . . . Husbands, love your wives, . . . . Children, obey your parents. . . . Servants, be obedient unto. . . Your masters. . . . . Masters, do the same things unto them [the servants] . . . .” (Ephesians 5:22-6:9 inclusive. Note that Paul quotes this commandment directly).
“Thou shalt not kill.”
“Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. . . . Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:26,27,31,32).
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
“But fornication, and all uncleanness, . . . , let it not even be named among you. . . . no fornicator, nor unclean person, . . . , hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:3,5).
“Thou shalt not steal.”
“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Ephesians 4: 28).
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
“Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, . . . etc. “
“. . . covetousness, let it not even be named among you, . . .. [no] covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:3,5).
I hope the reader recognizes that Paul is not exhaustive in his exposition. Nevertheless, it is clear and evident that when he charges the Ephesians to “do good works,” he uses the Decalogue as his guide for directing those works. The Heidelberg Catechism is absolutely on the mark when it tells us that “good works proceed from true faith, and are done according to the Law of God and to His glory” (question and answer 91). For true faith requires belief in the reality of our transfer from a state of “death in sin” to “life in Christ” from “darkness” into “light.” From that grows the fruits of life. I would have the reader note as well, that when Paul exposits the fourth commandment, he enjoins us to “redeem the time” (any time, all the time), because the days are evils. With this I close the entire contents of this paper.
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