The Sabbath: A Perpetual Precept Part 1

I was raised in a Christian home. I grew up in the Church. I attended the full spectrum of Sunday School classes. I went to VBS every summer. I went to a conservative Bible College. But through all of that I never (if my memory serves me correctly) remember hearing, discussing, or even reading about the doctrine of the Sabbath. This is partially a reflection of the particular theological stream that I was raised in and partially a reflection of the fact that “the times they are a changing.” We’ve come a long ways since people like Eric Liddell walked (and ran) on this earth, who refused to compete in the Olympics on a Sunday because of his desire to honor the Sabbath. In that day, the observance of the Sabbath was much more commonplace, especially in countries like Scotland. It was assumed that as a Christian you should observe the Sabbath and the burden of proof was placed upon those who didn’t. Now it is assumed that Sunday is used for keeping tabs on your fantasy football team and the burden of proof is placed upon those who don’t.

In the Pub Facebook group, which this blog is connected to, there is almost daily questions, discussion, debate and shock at the doctrine of the Sabbath. I am sympathetic to those who have questions and concerns about the doctrine of the Sabbath. It was such a foreign concept to me that when it was first brought up to me by my brother, I was convinced that he was reading a different Bible than me (and possibly coming under the influence of Judaizers like in Galatia). But my interest and a ferocious hunger to investigate this foreign doctrine and practice was awakened. One Sunday after Church I sat down with my recently purchased copy of The Lord’s Day by Dr. Joseph Pipa Jr. (a book I highly recommend) and didn’t get up until it was finished, footnotes and all. When I initially sat down in that chair, I was not a Sabbatarian by any stretch of the imagination. When I got up from that chair, I was a thoroughly convinced, passionate, cage-stage Sabbatarian. What follows is my attempt to lay out what convinced me (and should convince you of course) and why chapter 21 section 7 and 8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith are music to my ears.

It Began at the Beginning

Much of my initial objections to the Sabbath centered around my understanding of the temporality of the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Covenant. I was convinced that it was good and right for me to eat bacon because of Acts 10. Along with that, I was convinced that the Sabbath was part and parcel with the Mosaic Covenant, specifically the ceremonial components of the Mosaic Covenant. But a massive connection was made for me when I was shown that though the Sabbath was dressed with some ceremonial clothing during the Mosaic Covenant it didn’t find its origins there. This is clear in the very grounds that are given by Moses for why Israel is to observe the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Moses grounds the Sabbath observance of the Israelites in two things: (1) God’s seven day pattern and (2) God’s seventh day speech. Both of these grounds are firmly rooted in and based on the creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3, specifically what was recorded in Genesis 2:1-3.

God’s Seven Day Pattern

God created Adam in the image of God. The Image of God is not just limited to identity but also to activity. Being in the image of God, Adam was called to image forth God, to imitate God. But what was he to imitate about God? And how was he to know what about God he was to imitate? God’s pattern of six days of work and one day of rest WAS the blueprint laid down for Adam to imitate. We have been unhelpfully trained that unless there is a book, chapter, and verse that we can point that gives explicit affirmation or denial of something we are taught not to believe it or practice it. But that is not how God has written the Bible. God sometimes rather than writing his commands, displays them, in this case by the pattern in which he created the world.

God’s Seventh Day Speech

But it does get more explicit for those of you left wanting more. On the seventh day God rests and he says something about his rest as well. On the seventh day he “creates” the Sabbath. Most of us have been taught that mankind was the apex and final creation of God. This isn’t entirely true. God’s words in Genesis 2:1-3 (“he blessed it…and made it holy”) called into existence the Sabbath just as much as his words “let there be light” called into existence the light on the first day. Thus the apex of creation was not mankind but the Sabbath, displaying for us that man’s highest and chief purpose was not labor but but a cessation of labor and a focused worship of God.

A Creational Institution

This shattered my objection that the Sabbath was no longer binding because it was part of the ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic Law that had been fulfilled in the person and work of Christ. The Sabbath, as an creational institution, transcends the Mosaic Laws just as marriage does. Marriage was also instituted by God at creation as Moses clearly lays out for us in Genesis 2:18-25. This is a very important parallel to see because, like the Sabbath, marriage was clothed in much Mosaic garb that was abolished at coming of Christ. But the coming of Christ didn’t abolish the institution of marriage just the ceremonial components that it had been dressed with during the Mosaic Covenant. Why is this parallel between the Sabbath and Marriage so important to see? Because many who grant that the Sabbath was instituted at creation still object to it on the grounds that the Sabbath pointed to our spiritual rest in Christ, which we now have in light of his first coming.

But let’s apply this same reasoning to marriage. No one would argue that the creational institution of marriage is not a pointer to our spiritual marriage to Christ as Ephesians 5:22-33 clearly lays out. Do we not experience this spiritual marriage in Christ in light of his first coming? Then shouldn’t we also do away with the observance of marriage since the reality is here? If you’re going to argue it against the Sabbath YOU MUST argue it against marriage since both were instituted at creation and both point to Christ. But I don’t think we should do away with either…until the second coming of Christ. Why? Because the Sabbath and Marriage not only point to the rest and spiritual union we have with Christ now in light of his first coming, they also point through that to the ETERNAL rest and union we will have with Christ at his second coming. We do not have the eternal rest and union yet, so the creational institutions of the Sabbath and Marriage remain as emblems of the glorious eternity in the consummated new creation that still awaits us.

Not Just An Institution, A Gift

In arguing for the observance of the Sabbath, we can easily overlook the blessing of the Sabbath. In Genesis 2:1-3, God didn’t just call the Sabbath to be set apart by Adam, he declared a blessing over it. A blessing for whom? Those who would submit to his superior wisdom and set it apart. God’s knows our frame, he knows that we are but from the dust. In light of that, He designed the Sabbath for our good. The Sabbath is not just a precept but a promise, a promise that to those who “call the day a delight” will be refreshed just as God was refreshed on the Sabbath (I’m not kidding, read Exodus 31:17) and will prove the words of Isaiah 58:14 true, that your delight in the Lord will increase.

To Be Continued…

Leave a Reply

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!