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Some Thoughts on the Fourth Commandment
 
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
 
Exodus 20:8
 

 

A Sabbath well spent

Brings a week of content

And health for the toils of the morrow;

But a Sabbath profaned

Whate'er may be gained

Is a certain forerunner of sorrow.

 

The Ten Commandments were engraved on stone by the finger of God.  The engraving of the holy, and just, and good (Rom. 7:12) law of God on stone signifies the perpetuity of the law of God.  As Matthew Henry says, “What can be supposed to last longer than that which is written in stone . . . ?”  There are Ten Commandments on the two tables of the law, not nine.  Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.  (Deut. 4:2.)  It is the law which brings men in guilty before God.  For by the law is the knowledge of sin.  (Rom. 3:20.)  Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.  (1 John 3:4.)  The purpose of the law is to bring us in guilty before God - that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful (Rom. 7:13).  The law is the revelation of the righteous character of God and it shows us how far we fall short of the glory of God.  The law of God is the indictment which the Holy Spirit produces in the court of conscience (in the case of the elect) or which God the judge of all the earth will produce at the great tribunal to the eternal condemnation of the reprobate.  And there are TEN counts on the indictment, not nine.  And all these ten counts are spiritual – as the apostle says, For we know that the law is spiritual (Rom. 7:14) – not carnal.  They reveal our carnality.

 

When the two tables of the law were put into the ark there were ten words on them, not nine.  The Ark of the Covenant, into which the Ten Commandments of the law were put, was typical of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.  (Ps. 40:7-8.)  The law of God was in Christ’s heart and he delighted to do the will of his Father in its entirety.

The Lord Jesus Christ was made under the law (Gal. 4:4) and he perfectly kept all God’s commandments including the commandment to Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8).  The apostle says that he did no sin (1 Pet. 2:22).  The accusation that he had broken the Sabbath was as false as the accusation that he had committed blasphemy (John 5).

Christ did not break the Fourth Commandment.  He kept all the commandments of the law.  Neither did he come to fulfil one commandment but all the Commandments.  It is not only the Fourth Commandment which is fulfilled in and by the Lord Jesus Christ, which seems to be the argument of some, but all the Ten Commandments are fulfilled in and by him.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.  (Rom.  10:4.)  He is the end  of all the law for righteousness.   And in the believer the righteousness of all the law is fulfilled, not just the Commandment regarding a Sabbath rest.  As the apostle says (Rom. 8:4), That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

This does not give the believer licence to sin (i.e. to transgress the law) – quite the reverse.   What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace?  God forbid.  (Rom.  6:15.)  No licence is given to break any of the Commandments of the law.

So why is the Fourth Commandment singled out for non-observance?  Why stop at the Fourth Commandment?  Let’s do away with the Seventh Commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery (Ex. 20:14)!  After all, the marriage union is typical of the mystical union between Christ and his Church.  And I, as a believer, am married to Christ.  It is all fulfilled in Christ therefore I am free from the observance of the Seventh Commandment!  This is the logic of the argument of some regarding the Fourth Commandment.

 

Colossians 2:16-17


Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.  (Col. 2:16-17.)

The Jews kept many other sabbaths besides the weekly sabbath and believers were under no obligation to keep them.  It may be argued however that it is the weekly Sabbath which is referred to here.  Well, Christians do not keep the seventh day as a sabbath; they keep the first day of the week.  Let no man therefore judge you . . . in respect of . . . the sabbath days.  Let no man judge you because you keep the first day of the week and not the seventh day as the Jews do.


A Creation Ordinance

In the book of Genesis we have the beginning of all things – man, marriage, sin, work, farming, agriculture, worship, persecution of those who are born after the Spirit, murder, cities, bigamy, nomadic lifestyle, music, art, crafts, the death penalty for murder, languages, nations etc. – and the keeping of a weekly holy day, the sanctifying of one day in seven.  And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.  And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.  (Gen. 2:2-3.)

 

Mark 2:27-28


The sabbath was made for man . . . (Mark 2:27).


Matthew Henry says:


“Whom the sabbath was made for (v. 27); it was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.  This we had not in Matthew.  The sabbath is a sacred and divine institution; but we must receive and embrace it as a privilege and a benefit, not as a task and a drudgery.  First, God never designed it to be an imposition upon us, and therefore we must not make it so to ourselves.  Man was not made for the sabbath, for he was made a day before the sabbath was instituted.  Man was made for God, and for his honour and service, and he must rather die than deny him; but he was not made for the sabbath, so as to be tied up by the law of it, from that which is necessary to the support of his life. Secondly, God did design it to be an advantage to us, and so we must make it, and improve it.  He made if for man.  1. He had some regard to our bodies in the institution, that they might rest, and not be tired out with the constant business of this world (Deu. 5:14 ); that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest.  Now he that intended the sabbath-rest for the repose of our bodies, certainly never intended it should restrain us, in a case of necessity, from fetching in the necessary supports of the body; it must be construed so as not to contradict itself—for edification, and not for destruction.  2. He had much more regard to our souls.  The sabbath was made a day of rest, only in order to its being a day of holy work, a day of communion with God, a day of praise and thanksgiving; and the rest from worldly business is therefore necessary, that we may closely apply ourselves to this work, and spend the whole time in it, in public and in private; but then time is allowed us for that which is necessary to the fitting of our bodies for the service of our souls in God’s service, and the enabling of them to keep pace with them in that work.  See here, (1.) What a good Master we serve, all whose institutions are for our own benefit, and if we be so wise as to observe them, we are wise for ourselves; it is not he, but we, that are gainers by our service.  (2.) What we should aim at in our sabbath work, even the good of our own souls. If the sabbath was made for man, we should then ask ourselves at night, "What am I the better for this sabbath day?’’  (3.) What care we ought to take not to make those exercises of religion burthens to ourselves or others, which God ordained to be blessings; neither adding to the command by unreasonable strictness, nor indulging those corruptions which are adverse to the command, for thereby we make those devout exercises a penance to ourselves, which otherwise would be a pleasure.”

Likewise J C Ryle: ‘"The Sabbath was made for man."  God made it for Adam in Paradise, and renewed it to Israel on Mount Sinai.  It was made for all mankind, not for the Jew only, but for the whole family of Adam. It was made for man's benefit and happiness.  It was for the good of his body, the good of his mind, and the good of his soul.  It was given to him as a benefit and a blessing, and not as a burden.  This was the original institution.’

He goes on to speak of the remainder of the verse: ‘But "man was not made for the Sabbath."  The observance of the day of God was never meant to be so enforced as to be an injury to his health, or to interfere with his necessary requirements.  The original command to "keep holy the Sabbath day," was not intended to be so interpreted as to do harm to his body, or prevent acts of mercy to his fellow-creatures.  This was the point that the Pharisees had forgotten, or buried under their traditions.  There is nothing in all this to warrant the rash assertion of some, that our Lord has done away with the fourth commandment.  On the contrary, He manifestly speaks of the Sabbath day as a privilege and a gift, and only regulates the extent to which its observance should be enforced.  He shows that works of necessity and mercy may be done on the Sabbath day; but He says not a word to justify the notion that Christians need not "remember the day to keep it holy."’

Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.  (Mark 2:28.)  The Sabbath is the Lord’s.  He is the Lord of it.  It is his day – the Lord’s day. It is a day sanctified by him and for him.  It is set apart from other days just as the Lord's Supper is set apart from other meals.  Again, to quote Matthew Henry: “The sabbath days are days of the Son of man; he is the Lord of the day, and to his honour it must be observed; by him God made the worlds, and so it was by him that the sabbath was first instituted; by him God gave the law at mount Sinai, and so the fourth commandment was his law; and that little alteration that was shortly to be made, by the shifting of it one day forward to the first day of the week, was to be in remembrance of his resurrection, and therefore the Christian sabbath was to be called the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10), the Lord Christ’s day; and the Son of man, Christ, as Mediator, is always to be looked upon as Lord of the sabbath.”

Stuart Olyott says, very solemnly, "To say that there is no longer any Sabbath day is a denial of the Lordship of Christ."

 


Matthew 5:19

 

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matt. 5:19.)

 

What of erasing one of the Ten Commandments written with the finger of God?

 

To break the least commandment – in thought, word or deed – is to be guilty of breaking the whole law.  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.  (Jam. 2:10.)  Thus the schoolmaster (pedagogue, disciplinarian) drives me to Christ – not that I might have licence to break the least of the commandments (as they may be so esteemed in the eyes of carnal men) but rather that I might be taught by Christ and led by his Spirit who never leads me into sin which is the transgression of the law.


Spiritual Significance of the Lord’s Day or Christian Sabbath

The Sabbath under the law teaches us that there must be a labouring to enter into rest – six days of work then a rest on the seventh day.  The spiritual significance of the Christian Sabbath, or the Sabbath under the Gospel, is that all our works proceed from our rest in Christ – we rest on the first day of the week (observing the day on which Christ finished his work and entered into his rest) and work six days.  Real faith in Christ, a resting in his finished work, is the only means by which fruit is produced (i.e. good works).  This is the spiritual significance of the first day of the week and the keeping of it.

It is significant of the new creation.  Athanasius said, "The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord's day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honour the Lord's day as being the memorial of the new creation."

It was foreshadowed in the Old Testament - the holy convocations on the eighth day (i.e. the first day of the week) in, for example, Leviticus 23:36, 39 and Numbers 29:35.


The Practice of the Early Church

The first day of the week - call it what you will, the Christian Sabbath or the Lord's day - has been observed by the Lord’s people in all ages and in all places since the death and resurrection of the Lord of the sabbath. It was on the first day of the week that the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead (John 20:1-18).  It was on the first day of the week that the risen Lord manifested himself to his disciples (John 20:19, 26).  And it was on the first day of the week that the Lord poured out the Holy Spirit upon the gathered church (Acts 2:1).  The churches met together for worship on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2).

Patrick Fairbairn, in an appendix to his Typology of Scripture, says that ‘a controversy arose concerning it [i.e. the Fourth Commandment] in Holland, that it began to attract much notice on the Continent, and that a careful investigation was made into the grounds of its existing obligation.  Before the meeting of the famous Synod of Dort, considerable heats had been occasioned by the subject in the province of Zealand; and with the view of somewhat allaying these, or at least restraining them within certain bounds, that Synod, in one of its last sederunts, held on the 17th May, 1618, and after the departure of the foreign deputies, passed certain resolutions which were intended to serve as interim rules for the direction of those who might still choose to agitate the controversy, until it might be fully and formally discussed in a future synod.  These resolutions were passed in the course of one day, and were carried with the consent of the Zealand brethren themselves, so that they may be regarded as embodying the nearly unanimous judgment of the Dutch Church at that period.  They are as follows: 1. "In the Fourth Commandment there is something ceremonial and something moral; 2. The ceremonial was the rest of the seventh day, and the rigid observance of that day prescribed by the Jewish people; 3. But the moral is, that a certain and stated day was appointed for the worship of God, and such rest as is necessary for the worship of God, and devout meditation upon him; 4. The Sabbath of the Jews having been abrogated, the Lord's day must be solemnly sanctified by Christians; 5. From the time of the apostles this day was always observed in the ancient Catholic Church; 6. The day must be so consecrated to Divine worship, that there shall be a cessation from all servile works, excepting those which are done on account of some present necessity, and from such recreations as are discordant with the worship of God."’  [Emphasis mine, CP.]

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrm's Progress, was famously convicted of the sin of sabbath-breaking.  He was to later write a treatise on the Sabbath Day entitled, "Questions about the Nature and Perpetuity of the Seventh-Day Sabbath and Proof that the First Day of the Week is the True Christian Sabbath."  Eric Lidell famously refused to run the 100 metres on the Sabbath in the 1924 Olympics.  He honoured God and God honoured him (1 Sam. 2:30).  He ran a 400 metres race on a different day as if he were running a 100 metre sprint and not only gained a gold medal but also broke the World Record.

 

If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Isaiah 58:13-14.

 

When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

Psalm 42:4.

 

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.

Revelation 1:10. 

 

 

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