THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

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.

Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Hebrews 4:4-10:  For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

 

           Introduction

The most misunderstood of all the matters in the Scriptures may well be what role that the law of God has to play in the life of the Christian believer within the confines of the New Covenant.

We are told that the New Covenant, being new, has done away with all that is old, which is to say, the Old Covenant. We are further told that this includes the commandments as given at Sinai to the nation of Israel through angels by the intermediate agency of Moses (Galatians 3:19).

However, these laws, which we call The Ten Commandments, were in place well before being written on stone for the posterity of Abraham which became the geographic nation of Israel  which we trust we have shown previously (see: https://gracemeans.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/361/). In fact, as we looked through the first three commandments, we saw that there was a moral element that ran through the very first covenantal arrangement with Adam, on through the Noahic, through the Abrahamic, into the Mosaic, and if we look further, we will see that there is such an element of works within the covenant made with David, as to the fleshly seed of his offspring, for they had to keep the law as given through Moses in order to retain their place on their father, David’s, throne (I Kings 2:1-4).

The fact is, all that is of the moral law was in place from the creation of the world, and although Adam did not have the commandments as given to Israel, being a man made upright, without sin, walking with God in communion, and given the charge of the Garden, to keep evil from coming into it, to protect and care for it, and to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil encompassed all the moral law of God. Neither should we suppose that Adam did not know the law regarding the Sabbath, for he was created on the sixth day, and was there when God blessed the seventh day regarding the first creation, so, being the only man there, created upright, without sin, surely we are not to suppose that he would be ignorant of this primary and actually first commandment God set forth (although it occurs fourth in the Decalogue). There is nothing to intimate that God did not intend the commandment to be observed by the father of our race according to the flesh, and in fact, to the contrary, when God gives the Sabbath commandment to the Israelites before the giving of the law at Sinai, He does so by referencing the fact that the day is the Sabbath, and this is not something arbitrary that springs into being which the Lord had not before required of man (Exodus 16:23, 25, 29). That this reaches back to the creation Sabbath the Lord made holy and blessed is made obvious by the words of our Lord in Exodus 20:11: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.”

These words are so plainly put, that one wonders that there are those who think this part of God’s moral law was abrogated, or that the moral law of God, which we have seen stems from His character (Romans 7:12, 14a; cf. Psalm 25:8; 34:8; Job 6:10; Psalm 22:3; 30:4; Genesis 18:25; Proverbs 21:12; Isaiah 24:16), has in any sense been annulled. Again, it is amazing that there are some who study the Scriptures and do not understand the moral law, being perpetual, since it stems from the character of God, can never pass away. It is a spiritual manifestation[1], of He who is the unique, singular, Creator of all there is, who Himself is Spirit (John 4:24). If the law is spiritual  as we have seen it is, and God is the unique Spiritual Being who created all that exists, and all else depends upon Him, relying on Him for not only its creation, but sustainment and continuation, does it not stand to reason, in that understanding the Spirit has lifted beyond the shallow confines of being dead-in-sin, that the very laws which govern the relationships of His creatures – those who were created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) – would consist of those orderly spiritual laws that have been the foundation of every good and well run civilization and society since the creation of the world? We think this must be the case, and this present study will go about looking at these things more in depth as we go along, although I doubt it will be treated with the depth we desire to treat it with.

There are those who teach that the law of God is not divided into what we have observed, and what has been held throughout ages of the church, which is that there are divisions of/in/between it. As we saw in our former studies, that which was moral was in effect since the first creation, and though that creation was cursed by the fall, that which stems from He who created it was never subject to such. The moral law itself is not subject to change, any more than the character of God is subject to change, therefore, that moral law is connected to the creation.

THE SABBATH PRIMEVAL/CREATIONAL

Now, since there is a new creation, which began with the birth, life, sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, there is necessarily a change corresponding to the new creation regarding the moral law. This means that although the law has not changed (for it cannot), it is connected covenantally to the particular creation it pertains too. Our Lord taught that not one jot or tittle – not one dot or iota, or not one tiny bit or speck of the moral law would pass away until heaven and earth shall pass away (Matthew 5:17-18). That He was not speaking of those laws of ceremonial sacrifices which prefigured His everlasting sacrifice is apparent – we have but to read the book of Hebrews to understand this, as well as the fact of the old priesthood that ministered these sacrifices. Furthermore, that He was not speaking of the laws which governed ancient Israel is apparent, for those laws were put in place that the nation might, first of all, remain as a type of the people of God, set apart, separate from all other nations (Deuteronomy 4:5-7). Again, a reading of the book of Hebrews, as well as various other areas of the New Testament, shows us that these laws are not to govern each nation as they did ancient Israel, even as they were not to do so then. In fact, the people of God are now given the same title that ancient Israel once was named as, that is, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6; cf. 1 Peter 2:1-9). Notice that they were to keep all the laws given by God through Moses, in order to retain their temporal status as a holy nation and kingdom of priests, but now, the people of God are marked by their faith in Christ, which yields, both imperfectly now, and perfectly in glory, holy fruit consistent with the everlasting life and calling they have been given, according to the character of He who lives in them by His Spirit, and that this character is, indeed, holy, which is the epitome of morality (Ephesians 4:24).

While it is true that a man may be moral without being sanctified by God through His Spirit unto salvation by union with Christ, such morality is outward, belying the inner nature they possess, and it is only by a special common grace of God that they ever act in any moral manner at all (Romans 2:14-15; 5:7). This is according to the law of creation which pertains to all that God created, and will be fully found in those who have trusted in Christ when the new creation reaches its zenith at the time of the final judgment of the old creation, which began at the crucifixion of our Lord.

Now, it is notable that none of the moral law, as it was first given in the garden to Adam, and later revelation gave further light to it until it was summarized in the Decalogue, changed, and this is, as we have said, because it derives its character from that of our Creator. By this, some have argued that the Sabbath must still be given to observance on the seventh day, if we are to be consistent, but in this, they err, for as the Scriptures were known in the letter, yet not known as written on the heart, by those who practiced outward morality without an inward change of nature wrought by the Holy Spirit in the days of our Lord and His first disciples due to such a superficial reading of the Word, so those who would hold the Ten Commandments as they were given to the nation of Israel at the first do the same. Holding to the outward form of the moral law of God has never been a part of salvation, either temporal or eternal, for those who actually have, to the degree God has ordained, hold to that which is moral and pertains to temporal salvation, and indeed are found to have that eternal salvation that is coextensive with it. None can keep up appearances merely in such a shallow way, yet honor God in the inner man, and such the apostle observed of himself (Romans 7:25). By this, it may be observed that that which is spiritual is only able to be kept by those who are spiritual, and even then, the outward manifestation of that spirituality in moral characteristics is inevitably mixed with the fleshly remnants of their present condition, and so, even our best efforts may not earn us any standing before God, and certainly add no merit to our condition before Him, since all such merit is only continuously found in He who is being formed  in us (Galatians 4:19). As the apostle observed and so taught us, that which is of the flesh is not of the spirit, so that we only truly serve and worship our God by the mind, which is a synonym for spirit. That which is holy outwardly is only made so by He who is holy dwelling in us and working in us, so that we can take no credit for it, although the responsibility to do good works lay with us.

As the observance of the Sabbath is 1st connected to the creation to which that day of worship of the true God belongs, this has been the main and proper polemic of Reformed theology in addressing this issue. The fact that God demands and commands of all men a day wherein they worship Him specifically stems from the fact that when He finished with the first creation, He proclaimed it “very good.” This was because sin had not yet marred that creation. In bringing about the new creation, regarding the author and firstborn of that creation, the Father said that “this is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Since all of the merit of the new creation is founded and grounded in Christ, who never sinned, and is “the firstborn of the new creation” (Colossians 1:15), and since all who are saved find their identity via union with Christ, so are called “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), and further, since all creation is linked to the ultimate redemption found in Christ alone, awaiting the final redemption of the bodies of His elect (Romans 8:19-23), it has been noted that God still requires one day out of seven for His special worship, primarily of His people giving praise and thanks to Him through the normative means of grace (for God’s commandments have always been directed at primarily His people, although the moral law brings all under condemnation for not obeying it as seen in Romans 1-3). That this day is that which is connected with the new creation and New Covenant has been a mainstay among Reformed theology since the 17th century, and has also been largely observed throughout the history of the church, although at times lost[2]. The repeated usages of “The Lord’s Day” as the day of worship in Scripture within the New Testament should be enough to prove this point, as the day of worship has been known to be the Sabbath. This is an example of what our confession would call “necessarily contained in.”[3] This is not to say that all who have been in the Reformed tradition, of various origins, have held that this carries the same moral preceptive strength as it did with the Israelites – some have disavowed this, and rightly so, in regards to the covenantal connection to the Old Covenant which has been abolished. However, they are mistaken in taking away the moral strength of the commandment along with those ceremonial and civil forces it had in connection with the Mosaic economy, and this we will examine in the course of this study. As to the establishing of the evangelical/Christian Sabbath, we will consider various portions of Scripture below in our study.

THE SABBATH MORAL

We have already observed that the moral law, in every instance, proceeds from He who dictates morality by His very being and essence – another way to say this is by His character. God is holy, righteous, and just in infinite, eternal, unchanging active existence, so it is no stretch to see that which proceeds from Him in preceptive manner to govern His creatures – that which is unattached to a particular covenant economy must, of necessity, be as unchanging. This is not to say that these moral precepts are unattached to each covenant economy, but rather, to prove the fact that each covenant, of necessity, must also have that which transcends that covenant. The Moral Law of God is no less or to a greater extent moral in one covenant than it is in another, for proceeding from the very character of God, it must necessarily be first, transcendent, as He is, and secondly, inherent among all relations among His creatures with Himself and between themselves. Therefore, it is not limited to one covenant, but must inevitably be found as an integral, constituent part of each. The very fact of God’s relating to His creatures demands this is so, and the redemptive history of Scripture shows such to be the case. We will examine this a bit at this time, but as we do so, it is incumbent upon we who share in the worship of our God to understand that this, being a part of that perpetuity of His moral law, is given us to more fully and unitedly give forth that acceptable worship of Him on this, His sanctified day of worship.

The simplest exhibition from Scripture of this fact is in the creation account itself, where at each phase of that creation, our God declares it “good,” and at the end of it all, “very good.” This is capped off by the fact that, directly afterwards, He marks this goodness with that special day that is made for man to observe the goodness of his God and His creation and rest within that goodness in thankful worship of his Creator (Mark 2:23-28). To imagine our Lord was not speaking of the perpetuity of the principle of Sabbath rest here is to make the language meaningless.

To this end, remembering that the entirety of God’s law is moral as expressed in the various summaries of Scripture, the chief of these being the Decalogue, which we are considering, and somewhat following the reasoning of the Westminster Divines as summarized in the work of R.L. Dabney[4] which we previously mentioned, it is instructive to, as he does in that work, think on what the apostle Paul stated to the believers in Galatia, for the same reasoning applies in our present study.

Paul, when speaking to the Galatians, observes that “the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void” (Galatians 3:17). The KJV and NKJV renders it “covenant previously ratified in Christ,” which I find good and proper, as even in the ESV and NASB it must not be supposed that any covenant God made throughout redemptive history was made by any other than Christ, the member of the Triune God whose pleasure it has always been to manifest His presence among His people in this world He created.

Now, that the covenant made with Abraham preceded the Mosaic is the apostle’s argument here, and from this, we may gain that the covenant God made with Adam preceded that to Abraham, and so forth. We have already looked at the fact that the moral law of God is inherent in every covenantal dealing He has with man, so there is no surprise here that we are looking at the moral aspect of the Covenant of Grace, not as giving life, but as that which proceeds from life. Keeping the commandments of God can never give life to those who are not perfect, but by their being in Christ through faith because, comprehended in His perfection, they are counted as having it themselves.

So, our reasoning goes thusly: If that covenant with Abraham cannot be annulled by the Mosaic which came 430 years later, much less can that covenant of works which our Lord kept perfectly, the Covenant of Redemption, be annulled, since it was set in place from everlasting. Since it is this covenant which the promises spoke of (which we call the promissory aspect of the Covenant of Grace) breaking into redemptive history, and being further fleshed out in more explicit promises throughout the historic covenants until it finally found full fruition in the New Covenant, even more cannot the coming of the New Covenant annul that which our Lord came to fulfill, which was perfect obedience to God. In this perfect obedience, He kept the existing Sabbath as it was set in place, until such a time as it was taken out of the way, excepting the moral element of it, and as He is the firstborn of the New Creation, and the beginning of that New Creation. Therefore, the Sabbath is attached to the New Creation, as we have formerly looked at. The Covenant of Grace being completely reliant upon the completed Covenant of Redemption, when our Lord had finished His Work, He entered into His rest in glory. This, of course, links back to the creational aspect of the Completed Covenant of Grace.

Now, the apostle is not talking about the Sabbath, but the principle of annulment of one previously ratified covenant by another succeeding covenant is that which we are giving attention to here. That which God did at the completion of the first creation was rest, and in that rest blessed the day relating to that creation (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 31:17). That the Sabbath was not made for God, but for man, we have already read from Scripture, but the reason it was made for man remains to be explored, and this exploration necessitates looking into how the Sabbath is treated of within various of the Scriptures, not as it is attached to any covenantal economy, but as it is attached to the moral condition of man, which condition itself is attached to that creation of the one who is the federal head of it. Whether, however, under Adam as unregenerate in the curse of the Covenant of Works, or in Christ as regenerated in the blessings He obtained through His obedience to God in the Covenant of Redemption (of which we are encompassed in the Covenant of Grace), there remains that moral law inherent in all creation and from all creation, and man, in general, is required to obey that moral law, regardless of his desire or ability to do so.

In this, it may be seen that nature, both intrinsic and extrinsic, expects a certain manner in men, which is an attitude of worship. If it is asked who or what they are worshiping, I suppose the answers would be multiple today, but the question is not who or what they are worshiping, but is rather, who were they made to worship. Man, as a moral creature, was created to worship He from whom all morality flows (we have stated already that morality is the end of holiness, and so inseparable from it). Most Christians who know even a little of their Bible have learned that the root for the word “holy” is the same root that is used in “saints” and “sanctify” (in its various forms), and they will readily admit that the meaning of these words, that spring from that root, are defined as “to be set apart.” Now, that there is something to be set apart from, and something to be set apart towards, is also what most believers will have learned about these Scriptural terms, and it is this that has always been the crux of the moral element of the Sabbath, and yet still is the moral substance of the evangelical, or Christian, Sabbath. This we will find to be the case in looking at the conditions of the Sabbath as it was observed throughout Scripture. Holiness presupposes morality – it is a shunning of that which offends God, and a partaking of that which pleases Him. If, then, our duty as believers is to partake of a special day God has set apart for the worship of Himself in congregations of regenerate believers, and we do not, we have, at that very point, begun to fall away from true religion, and the meaning of this is what we will look upon now.

The first we shall look at is the very one that occasioned this study and discussion, which is Exodus 20:8 and following, for that which follows shows how the command of v. 6 is to be worked out.

Exodus 20:8-11:  8Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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. 11 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.

“Holy” occurs both at the beginning of this section and the end, but the working out of that which is holy, which is to say, moral, is defined in the body of the section. Those who are God’s are “not to do any work,” which must be qualified by further appeal to more Scripture, and this injunction is extended to all who are a part of the assembly of those people called God’s. This is based on the fact that God worked six days making the creation, and on the seventh day He rested. It must not be supposed that God gets tired, so the rest here stated of God is a cessation from His work of creation – as we already noted above, He “refreshed Himself” (Exodus 31:17), which should tell us something about that cessation of work we, as His children, are to observe in our day of worshiping our Creator. That God defines His rest as “refreshing” is an accommodation to the creature, for we know that the Lord does not grow weary, nor is He subject to creaturely limitations, as if, after creating, He must take a break to get His strength back. No, this is to show us His delight in that which is true of His creatures, that they rest in their worship of Him, and are so refreshed both spiritually and physically. A key to how this cessation from work is carried out is an example from the gospels, which we will look at next.

Matthew12:-8: At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (See also the parallel passage in Mark 2:23-28)

Here, we see traveling on the Sabbath – our Lord and His disciples are walking through the grainfields. We also see provision for food and gaining of that food through work – they were picking the heads of grain and rubbing them between their hands to get at the germ, or meat, of the grain, because they were hungry. These things constitute what is known as works of necessity[5], which are permissible on the Sabbath. Our Lord rebukes the Pharisee’s twisting of the law of God regarding the Sabbath by telling them they have “condemned the guiltless,” and gives them examples from the Old Testament that they would well know. The understanding that God made the Sabbath for man does not negate that man must eat and provide for that sustenance that is necessary for eating. It would be immoral to deny the basic needs of our existence in a perversion of God’s law (here, we are not speaking of fasting for a time to deny worldly needs in order to concentrate on God and the things of God). Rather than doing what was wrong on the Sabbath, what the disciples did was right, within the perimeters of that which God intended it for, since, as the 27th verse in the parallel passage in Mark states, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

The Sabbath is intended to serve man in His service to God, simply put. Whether it is by providing sustenance to strengthen one’s constitution as needed, so that they may more fully worship God in truth and spirit, or in other things we will look at, this is the intention of our God for Sabbath observance.

The Lord’s rebuke is based on many things – it includes the episode when David was being pursued by Saul in 1 Samuel 22:1-6, and various passages in the Pentateuch, or Torah, which speak of the preparations and works of the priests in the temple (Our Lord uses the wordprofaneto accommodate the Pharisee’s obstinance and twisting of God’s law according to that obstinance, not because that which the priests did was actually a profaning of the temple in the sense of disobedience), as well as the quote from Hosea 6:6, which is an oft repeated statement to the people of God in the Old Testament.

Just a bit further down in this section of Scripture (Matthew 12:9-14), our Lord heals a man’s withered hand, which is an act of mercy (see footnote 4 below), and for this, the Pharisees once again plan on destroying Him, for He has again shown that their religion, rather than being that which God commanded them, and so moral, is bound up with traditions of men that have nothing whatsoever to do with God’s law. To be merciful is not only permissible on the Sabbath, but as our study shows, it is required – it is part and parcel with observing the Sabbath, that spiritual and truthful worship of our God which He requires of us. In fact, since mercy is that which God shows to His creation every day, both in common grace and, especially, in salvific and sanctifying grace, it is most natural, and most moral, to do such things that show this mercy. Mercy is the prime manner in which God shows us His love, and is to be the primary manner in which we show this love to others, both among our brethren and those outside the household of faith.

Such mercy constitutes firstly, towards our brethren, seeing them as crucified in Christ, and also risen, so that we no more look upon their fleshly mannerisms as being that which defines their living in this world yet not being a part of this world (1 Corinthians 2:2; Colossians 3:1-3; John 15:19; 1 John 4:4-5; 5:19). Secondly, if their behavior shows more of the world than He who is in us, we are to admonish and instruct in love, that that conformity to Christ may gain the ascendancy which is to be true of those who are His (Colossians 3:16a; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).

THE SABBATH EVANGELICAL

This lead into our next point, which is simply as we enter into that rest of Christ on the day God has set apart for our enjoyment and worship of Him, so, mercy is shown toward the unbelieving by a proclamation of the gospel as the Lord gives opportunity, and in doing good to all (Matthew 5:42-48). It is not our intention to expound on these duties at this time greatly,  but merely to show that which is moral in our behaviors, choices and thoughts, and that these things are to be done not only at all times, but most especially in worshipful interaction with one another and, consequently, towards those who do not believe. That these are moral actions, thoughts and choices is self-evident to all thinking persons, and that is why we briefly mention them in this section of our study, as it pertains to morality, and observance of the Sabbath is a part of that moral duty that especially pertains to Christians, but naturally overflows in our interactions with those whom God has yet to call into the blessed belief of the gospel. If all we gain is that we are to fellowship with other believers from the worship of our God, we fail to see that our Sabbath rest is intended to be extended beyond our own local congregations and associations with other believers. The moral requirement of the Forth Commandments is, like all of God’s Moral Law, required of all men, both saved and unsaved, but because of the marring of that law in the unsaved, God has decreed to use secondary means by which He will give the outward call to observe these things as they enter, by that inward call of the Spirit, into that rest which is alone realized through salvation in the finished work of the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ. The call to rest in the finished work of Christ, which we most especially and particularly experience on the Lord’s Day, is to be taken to those who do not have this blessed communion with our God both during and after the Lord’s Day. As our Lord spoke to the multitudes, so we are to speak to them, that they who are graciously given to realize the weight of sin and the crushing of the demand of that law of God on them may take up the yoke and burden that are light (the rest Christ gives), and lay down those burdens and cast off those yokes which oppress them (Matthew 11:28-30). We know that this will not be the response of those who do not realize their burden, nor that all will realize that use of the law which is a delight to the freed soul, yet we are to share this freedom with all, knowing “God gives the increase.”

DIFFICULT PASSAGES?[6]

There are a few passages in the New Testament that those who propose a cessation of the Sabbath use to point to – we trust we have already shown the creational and moral aspects of the Forth Commandment, so we will but touch on these briefly.

Although there are more than these three, these are the main ones appealed too, so we will look at them in order of apparent difficulty.

Romans 14:5-6, Galatians 4:9-11 and Colossians 2:16-17.

These verses, upon a superficial reading, seem to say that we are not to attach meaning to any day, let alone one day, more than the other days in a week. They seem to appear stronger in the order we have given them: For instance, in Romans 14:5-6 we have a general prohibition of regarding any day better than another, and that those who do so are doing to the Lord, in either case, but to suppose that having no regard for the Christian Sabbath as it is attached to the New Creation and New Covenant is herein expressed is a stretch that cannot be warranted, and this is because of what we have already learned of such things, but a further consideration is brought for in that there was a mixed company of believers, both Jewish and Gentile, and while the former thought it appropriate to observe the special days of which they had been accustomed to and commanded within the Mosaic economy, such was not the case in the economy of the New Testament. Therefore, the apostle here enjoins observance of days, or the lack of them, regarding these former feasts and festivals and myriad Sabbath to Christian liberty, not to say that observance of the Creation Sabbath as it is linked to the New Creation and New Covenant are to set aside, but to give both those within the Jewish community who have come to Christ, and those of the Gentile community who have done so, to be forgiving of one another regarding such things at this time. Neither is the apostle condoning the continued observation of the Old Covenant practices, but rather sounds a note of love and peace to those who would judge their brethren over these things.

Next, in considering the same Jewish days of celebration and solemn assembly in Galatians 4:9-11, the apostle is not dealing with the mutual seeing of one another in the liberty of Christ, but of the Gentiles participating in these Jewish days and multiple Sabbaths (days, months and years) because the Judaizers had insisted that to be saved, they must not only believe in Christ, but do all the requirements of the Law of Moses. This is the birth of legalism in the fledgling church, and the apostle, knowing that adding any elements beyond grace given faith in Christ Jesus is deadly, deals with this adding to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the harshest of terms (“whose slaves you want to be again…lest I labored over you in vain!”). Because this is not the only passage using strong condemnatory words against the Judaizers and equally strong admonitory words to the Gentiles seemingly being beguiled by them to add “weak and beggarly elements of the world” to the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus, this is a continuation of that key contextual thread that runs through large portions of the epistle, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the New Covenant, New Creation Sabbath the Lord has set to worship Him among His people, and those who think it does could not mount any argument against it without applying the same argument to the rest of the Moral Law of God (and this they do, as to its perpetuity, in other places and in other ways, but that is beyond the scope of this present article). It is sufficient to say that which is of the Old has passed, and that which is of the New is established, both by our same Lord and God.

The last passage we are considering here – Colossians 2:16-17 – is also regarding the observation of Old Covenant Jewish feast days and the multiple Sabbaths entailed in such. Regarding these, the apostle observes that these positive laws which were attached to the Old Covenant worship were “nailed to the cross,” (v 14) and therefore are not to be used as that which is to judge proper worship of God in the New Covenant economy. That he is speaking of these same Jewish institutions is attested by the questions “of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” (v 16b) Stating that these were shadows of that which was to, and had come, which is the substance – that is, Christ – of these which were simply typical of Him, the apostle does not abrogate the evangelical Sabbath, for he is not even speaking about that. He is, however, strongly stating that none should judge them according to the shadows, and those who do so may well not be holding fast to the Head, which is Christ, of whom the evangelical Sabbath was established.

Regarding these things, Owen states

“We have the like common consent, that whatever, in the institution and observation of the Sabbath under the old testament, was peculiar unto that state of the church, either in its own nature or in its use and signification, or in its manner of observance, is taken away, by virtue of those rules…Nor can it be denied but that sundry things annexed unto the sabbatical rest, peculiar to that church-state which was to be removed, were wholly inconsistent with the spirit, grace, and liberty of the gospel I have also proved that the observation of the seventh day precisely was a pledge of God’s rest in the covenant of works, and of our rest in him and with him thereby; so that it cannot be retained without a re-introduction of that covenant and the righteousness thereof. And therefore, although the command for the observation of a Sabbath to the Lord, so far as it is moral, is put over into the rule of the new covenant, wherein grace is administered for the duty it requires, yet take the seventh day precisely as the seventh day, and it is an old testament arbitrary institution, which falls under no promise of spiritual assistance in or unto the observation of it Under the new testament we have found a new creation, a new law of creation, a new covenant: the rest of Christ in that work, law, and covenant: the limiting of a day of rest unto us, on the day wherein he entered into his rest; a new name given unto this day, with respect unto his authority by whom it was appointed; and an observation of it by all the churches; so that we may say of it, “This is the day which the LORD hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it,” as Psalm 118:24.[7]

CONCLUSION

Considering the thrust of the words of our Lord and His apostles regarding the Moral Law of God in various other passages (Matthew 5:17-48; Romans 13:8-10: 1 Timothy 1:5-11; James 2:10-11.), we understand that these so-called troublesome passages are neither troublesome or contradictory to the entirety of the teaching we have learned regarding the creational and moral perpetuity of God’s Moral Law as it applies through all ages and covenants, but that He has deigned to take out of the way those peculiar appendages of positive law which were attached to it for His Old Covenant people. The former in no manner is, or ever will be, abrogated by the fact of the latter.

Therefore, to truly understand these passages, first one must have a firm grasp of the law of God as it is taught in the Scriptures, relating to those principles already set forth. However, we need to know what these passages are speaking about, and this is actually easily set forth. That they are all speaking about Jewish observations of various festival days, including the many Sabbaths (not just the weekly Sabbath), when reading them through the lens of the rest of Scripture is quite apparent, especially when one reads of these days in both the Pentateuch of Moses, many which were call Sabbaths (Festival of Firstfruits, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles). Most of these are mentioned in Leviticus 23.

It is only because there are those who do not realize or who attempt to deny the perpetuity of the Moral Law of God that they seek to attach these allegedly problematic passages to the weekly, creational, covenantal Sabbath. Since our Lord showed us that the Sabbath is made for man, and He is Lord of the Sabbath in His kingdom Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27-28), and since we have seen that His kingdom is both now and to come in completion, as well as the fact that the Sabbath is attached to that kingdom which is of the New Creation and the New Covenant, knowing with certainty the perpetuity of the Moral law of God, we can say with assurance that “not one jot or tittle” of that law, including the Forth Commandment, shall pass away while heaven and earth remain.

[1]  By this, we intend the logical understanding of that which is incorporeal – that which is “spiritual” cannot be “seen, felt, or measured,” as in usual senses, yet it is no less real as a consequence. “Love,” for instance, is not measured by what it is, but by that which it does.

[2]   R.L. Dabney, in his Systematic Theology, does an excellent job of tracing this through various periods of the history of the church, showing that when it has been in decline, not only the church, but the various nations, have experienced moral decline in vivid demonstration. The overall moral climate of the world today stands as a marker for this era of history where this principle of moral decline holds hands with the loss of that morality of God’s perpetual moral law, the Sabbath being, perhaps, the first of those perpetual precepts to have been lost to the nations at large and so starting the downward spiral.

[3] 6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. LBCF 1689, 1. 6

[4]              Section 4 on the Law of God, chapter 31 on the First Table of the Law, Syllabus and Notes of the Course of Systematic and Polemic Theology Taught in Union Theological Seminary, Virginia. BY R. L. DABNEY, D. D., LL. D. – RL Dabney (Kindle Location 10976). Kindle Edition.

[5]8 The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Isaiah 58:13; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Matthew 12:1-13) 1689 LBCF 22.8

[6] This last brief section owes briefly to chapter 8 of Walter Chantry’s book, CALL THE SABBATH A DELIGHT

[7] Works of John Owen, Ages Digital Library Electronic Edition, Vol. 18 – EXERCITATIONS ON THE BOOK OF HEBREWS PARTS 4 & 5, pgs. 483-484

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One thought on “THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

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