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Monday, May 23, 2011

Remember the Lord's Day - Is there a ‘Christian sabbath’? (Part 4)

The following is from "Remember the Lord's Day" by Dr. Peter Masters. You can purchase the book here



In Spurgeon’s day many members of his congregation worked as servants in large Victorian households, and could worship only at one service each week and often less frequently. To leave their work would have left them without references to other employers (a necessity in those days) and destitute. Many of the 600 young women in Mrs Bartlett’s famous Bible Class were maids who could attend only once in every two or three weeks. Today we know of men who are working long shifts in security jobs, and we know how much they would love to be free throughout the Lord's Day, but cannot be. The churches of Jesus Christ support rather than alienate those whose faith must be lived out in difficult circumstances.

Once in a while a person in normal weekday employment is required to work on Sunday, such as for annual stock taking or audit preparation, and there is no way out. We understand that, especially if that person would be fired if not at work.

What about students completing assignments or revising for examinations? Is it a necessity for them to work on the Lord's Day, or is it a self-inflicted burden because they did not cover enough ground on other days, and now find themselves in a tight corner, with assignments due, or an examination in a day or so? Is it really a necessity, or has it become a necessity because they never had in mind the importance of the Lord's Day, and never planned to preserve it by bringing forward their work? The Lord's Day will yield to necessity, but we should not allow its hours to be swept away by self-induced problems of indiscipline, poor organisation, or excessive recreation on weekdays.

As the Metropolitan Tabernacle has its bookshop, we must make mention of this. Is it a ‘necessity’ for this to be open on the Lord's Day? Actually, it is open only following the evening service, and that is for ministry. Lord's Day opening is a not-for-profit activity, staffed by volunteers, to make printed ministry available chiefly to visitors, and giving them an opportunity to procure audio-video materials and literature to which they would not normally have access. Audio-video materials at no profit are sold after all services, because they are a clear extension of the preaching ministry, and would come under the next paragraph.

We note again the sabbath rule for the Lord's service in Matthew 12.5: ‘Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?’ The priests worked as today’s preachers work. We are not disregarding the Lord's Day when we are engaging in the service of the Lord.

In Matthew 12.11 there is also the category of permitted work, already referred to, that we call ‘works of mercy’. We have various acts of necessity also in connection with the service of the Lord, such as visiting the sick and helping others in emergencies. If the old sabbath allowed for such things, so will the gentler standards for the Lord's Day.

There is also the question of using public transport to travel to church on the Lord's Day. Even in these days of saturation car ownership, it may be a necessity for some to catch a bus or to take the tube. Is this not endorsing and supporting Sunday industry? Not necessarily, because local public transport is not quite like holiday air travel. It could be argued that some degree of public transport is an essential arterial system of modern society, and needs to be maintained. Certainly, it is used by worldlings for purely recreational travel and shopping, but it is bound to be operated to some extent.

The days have long gone when you could walk everywhere you needed to go. Society is now largely organised into city-sized communities, and these cities grow ever larger. Often we live where we are compelled to live, through house prices or social housing placement, and cannot buy or rent where we want to be. We cannot simply re-establish ourselves nearer to our churches, and are therefore compelled to travel. With so few sound churches, and such distances to be covered in both town and country, and with the dangers of violent crime in town centres to be considered, people are obliged to use public transport, and it may therefore be argued that the liberty of necessity applies in this matter. If, however, we choose to board a bus or train on Sunday because a special excursion fare is offered for recreational travel, this would certainly not fall into the category of necessity.


Proceeding to John 20.1 we find guidance on whether the Christian sabbath should be the seventh day or the first day of the week. The answer of all but a very small minority of Christians down the centuries has been – the first day. The authority for this is the example of the church of the New Testament, which was no doubt commanded by God, through the apostles. The special day for Christians was distinguished from the Jewish sabbath, and set on the day of Christ’s resurrection.

The Lord rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and in John 20.19 and 26we observe that other appearances of the resurrected Lord were also on subsequent first days. Verse 19 reads – ‘Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst.’ He stands amidst his people, and pronounces his peace upon them, on what came to be called, ‘the Lord's Day’.

Verse 26 reads: ‘And after eight days again . . . then came Jesus.’ We would say after seven days, but the Jews started counting on the first day and finished counting on the last day and so they made seven, eight. The text intends to tell us that the Lord appeared the very next Sunday. We believe this was to show the disciples that this day would be the commemoration day of the resurrection. While the Jewish sabbath remembered the deliverance from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5.15), the Christian sabbath would focus on the day of resurrection, which was the proof of Calvary’s victory and success.

In Acts 20.7, as we observed previously, we learn a little more about this special day of resurrection. ‘And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to -depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.’

This was obviously the Christian version of the sabbath, and it is no longer on the seventh day of the week, but the first. Luke is an eyewitness here, and this is the first reference in the New Testament to a distinctive Christian worship service, incorporating the Lord's Supper.

Further evidence for a Christian ‘sabbath’ on the first day of the week has also been cited already, namely 1 Corinthians 16.1-2, where Paul notes that not only Corinth but all the churches of Galatia met upon the first day of the week. The well-known words of the apostle John in Revelation 1.10 further imply a distinctive ‘sabbath’ for Christians on the Lord's Day, undoubtedly the day of the Lord's resurrection, the first day of the week. There are no pointless statements in the Scriptures, and we are especially told that it was on this day that John was taught great things.

The martyr Ignatius, who lived AD 30-107, the third minister of the church at Antioch and probably a student of John, wrote: ‘Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's Day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all the days of the week.’

The term ‘the Lord's Day’ powerfully indicates the way in which the day should be spent. It is for him, and it centres on him. It is not for us, for our earthly pleasures, our self-indulgence or our fun and games. It is for spiritual joys, learning and service, and for fellowship in him.


We have said many times in this booklet that the observance of the extra rules of the ceremonial law attached to the Old Testament sabbath after Moses is not prescribed for the Christian era, but the core duty of Exodus 20.9-11 remains – the laying aside, wherever possible, of work, to dedicate the day to the Lord. In this context the Old Testament warnings about sabbath-breaking still carry great weight for believers.

Says Jeremiah – ‘But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden [do your trading], even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day [to trade]; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched’ (Jeremiah 17.27).

Do we think such scriptures as these are purely historical, having no relevance whatever for the Christian era? The words of Paul should correct us: ‘They are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come’ (1 Corinthians 10.11). Some form of chastisement is bound to follow when believers persistently and wilfully disregard all ‘sabbath’ obligations, rejecting their sanctifying and shaping influence. We believe there will be discipline also for the secular state that neglects and destroys Lord's Day opportunities, but judgement begins at the household of faith.

Numerous Bible-believing churches no longer take seriously the Lord's Day, organising shows and recreational activities, cancelling evening services, and allowing Sunday Schools to wither and close because they interfere with leisure. Members do as they please, and wherever this laxity prevails, extreme spiritual superficiality and worldliness will ultimately follow, and this is already happening before our eyes.

Another warning is found in Ezekiel 20.13: ‘But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted.’ For all these things a generation was not allowed to enter into the promised land. Will we not be subject to some form of discipline from the Lord if we regard the Lord's Day lightly?

The details of sabbath-keeping in Old Testament times are no longer in force, but the spirit of the honouring of a special day continues, with leisure pursuits and unnecessary work being set aside for the Lord's Day of worship and proclamation. The warnings of the prophets still reflect the Lord's disapproval at the abuse of this day.

Nehemiah 13.17-18 reads – ‘Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.’ These are solemn texts and we should not think they represent an attitude and tastes on God’s part which he has now abandoned. The types and ceremonies of the law are no more, but the principle of commitment to a day of worship and proclamation remains most important for us today.


On a more positive note we refer to Isaiah 56.2 – ‘Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.’ The subsequent verses say that non-Jews and outcasts will also be blessed for keeping the sabbath, because – ‘Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.’

Isaiah 58.13-14 reinforces the promise: ‘If thou turn away thy foot from [work on]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 . . . ’

The promise is that we will know communion with God in a special way on his day and spread the Gospel far and wide like triumphant conquerors in the quest for souls. How much hinges on the sincere honouring of the Lord's Day!

The whole of Isaiah 58 is both a reproof to the Jews, and a prophecy for the future church of Christ. It focuses on the annual Day of Atonement, the only specified time in the Old Testament for fasting. This day was always to be treated just as if it were a sabbath day, and Isaiah shows how they should have kept this ‘sabbath’. At the same time, the evangelical prophet shows what the New Testament sabbath will be like, a day of unloosing spiritual burdens (verse 6), giving spiritual bread to the starving and the garments of righteousness to the naked (verse 7), shedding light and spiritual glory (verse 8), interceding for the lost (verse 9), reaching out to afflicted souls (verse 10), seeking guidance from on high and building up the church (verses 11-12).

‘If ye keep my commandments,’ said the Lord, ‘ye shall abide in my love.’ And the disciple whom Jesus loved said, ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.’ These commandments are the enduring moral law of the ten commandments, loved and appointed by God, never to be cancelled by us, and perfectly obeyed by Christ for our justification. The fourth of these moral commandments is especially designed for our blessing and enrichment, and we must honour it with great desire and anticipation all the days of our life, and out of love for our Saviour. It is his day.


1. God’s reserving of one day out of every seven is a creation decree, and also one of the ten commandments, which are abiding moral law, written by the finger of God.

2. There must, therefore, always be a day of commemoration of creation.

3. There must continue to be a day for worship and instruction.

4. There must continue to be a day for remembering and proclaiming redemption in Christ. Proclamation is a particular element of the day, for Christ displayed and explained the works of God on sabbaths, and so must we by the evangelisation of adults and children. (John 5.1-18; Luke 4.31; 6.6-11; 13.10-17; 14.1-5.)

5. There must continue to be a day of rest for all workers, so that they also may benefit from (1) to (4). This aspect of the fourth commandment naturally precludes the unnecessary use by Christians of Sunday trading industries, whether shops, restaurants, filling stations or recreational facilities. In Deuteronomy 5.14 this principle is expressly stated in the sabbath commandment: ‘That thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou’.

6. Just as sabbath observance was a witness to the world, so is the honouring of the Lord's Day.

7. It is a shaping, sanctifying practice, ordering the priorities of God’s people.

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