To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.—Jer. 6.10

[The Contending Witness: The Sabbath.]


[By David Steele.]

Excerpted from:





No. II.

Sabbath signifies rest, or rather a season of rest.  It is a periodical portion of time set apart by the Creator, during which mankind are required to cease from secular labour, and to exercise themselves in religious employments. The morality of this precept, though questioned by heretics and denied by libertines successively, since the resurrection of the Lord of the Sabbath; is nevertheless abundantly sustained by arguments both from reason and revelation.  We need not be surprised that perverse disputers resist the morality and perpetual obligation of the fourth commandment: since some even go so far as to deny the obligation of the whole moral law!  And indeed this extravagant impiety was anticipated by an inspired apostle; for he supposes some, called christians, would be ready to imagine that the law is made void through faith. Rom. 3.31.  This class of nominal christians, {335} known in history by the name of Antinomians; are to be found in our own time among some sections of the Anabaptists.  Their hostility to the ten commandments is peculiarly fierce against the fourth. Some even carry their impiety so far as to declare,—"Were an angel from heaven to tell them there is a sabbath, under the present dispensation of the gospel; they could not believe."  Truly if they believe not Moses, the prophets, and apostles,—one rising from the dead, or an angel, can bring no better testimony.  Although our object in this article is not so much to argue the morality, as to notice some of the duties of the Sabbath; yet since antinomianism still finds advocates in some corners of the land, it may not be amiss to touch a little the divine institution and moral nature of the christian sabbath.   And

1. The sabbath was instituted by God, Creator, immediately after creation work was finished. Gen. 2.2, &c.  Some may imagine or insinuate, and Paley may adopt the insinuation;—That Moses speaks in Genesis, proleptically or by anticipation: but without the least shadow of even plausibility. It is wholly an imagination of those whose system of religion is too nearly allied to the beggarly elements of the Mosaic ritual; and whose lax morality is impatient of the restraint imposed by the Author of the sabbath.  Adam in a state of innocence, needed a law as a directory, and a sabbath in particular as subservient to devotion; much more do his posterity in a state of sin—wholly averse from communion with God.

2. The sabbath is an integral part of the decalogue, as revealed to Moses at Sinai, engraven on stone and laid up in the ark.  No laws of a typical or ceremonial nature were thus dignified.

3. Reason would say, some portion of time ought to be employed in the worship of God,— not only by man individually, but also by man socially.  Thus far the sabbath is natural; but to determine what proportion of time, is the prerogative of God,—and so far as the fourth commandment settles the seventh part of time, it is positive: that is, resolvable into the mere will of the Creator.

All objections to the moral nature and perpetual obligation of the holy sabbath, are resolvable into the allegation: "That it is peculiar to the Jews,—typical, ceremonial, and consequently cannot survive the abolition of the Mosaic economy.—Answer,—

(To be continued.)




APRIL, 1845.

No. 3.

(Continued from page 335.)

1. What the Lawgiver himself said to carnal Jews, relative to the ordinance of circumcision, may be repeated and applied in the present case:—Not because it [circumcision] is of Moses, but of the fathers. John 7.22;—so of the sabbath.  It was not made for the Jews,—the sabbath was made for MAN. Mark 2.27.

2. The Jews were familiar with the sabbath, before the law was given at Sinai. Exod. 16.23.

3. Our Lord Jesus, who is Lord also of the sabbath, speaks of it, as being still obligatory, long after the legal abolition of the ceremonial law. Matt. 24.20.

4. All men, of all nations need a sabbath, as well as the {357} Jews.  Social worship orderly conducted, requires mutual consent. One objection which is very popular, and in its nature different from the preceding, we briefly notice. It it usually phrased in some such language as:—"Every day should be a sabbath with the christian;" from which position the inference is,—There is no necessity for the sabbatical institution. The answers given to the foregoing objections, will furnish an answer to this also: but we offer the following practical question for the consideration of those who are not accessible by abstract arguments.— Was it ever known that one who insists that every day of the week ought to be a sabbath to the christian, did himself regard any day of the week as a sabbath? No, it will be observed universally that such selfstyled christians live and act as if there were no day holy to the Lord.—They profess to know God, but in works they deny him,—They are heathens. [Titus 1.16.]

But it is not with heathens we propose to treat in this article.  We are concerned with those whose profession and practice entitle them, in the judgment of charity, to be considered on Christ's side.  And among these we select first, ministers of the gospel, whose official responsibility demands of them to instruct, by precept and example, their follow sinners in the nature and duties of the Lord's day. There are too many even of this class in society, who practically counteract this object of their commission in a great variety of ways.  If a gospel minister be found engaged in worldly conversation on the sabbath,—such as the gain or loss in secular transactions,—the prospects of a political candidate, &c. &c. his efforts in the pulpit, or even as a member of a "Sabbath Sanctification Society," will certainly prove abortive.  If he is known to shave, black his boots, &c. on the morning of the Lord's day; every christian—every individual, of whatever class, will be ready to say,—Such an example will defeat all his oratory in the pulpit or popular assembly.  But there are two ways especially, in which ministers, even settled pastors, greatly retard the progress of reformation in sabbath sanctification. One is, by unnecessary journeying on that sacred day. True their avowed object is to effect moral reform—by attending such and such a society, to deliver or hear a lecture on temperance, abolition, colinization, &c.  To effect these objects, railroad, steamboat and other companies, must be patronized in the practical desecration of the holy sabbath. The profane multitude, {358} managers, attendants, and fellow-travellers, do not inquire into the object of the pastor's journey, but they feel much strengthened and encouraged in their sinful course by his presence and example.  Surely this is not the import of the scripture phrase—"a sabbath day's journey!"  The other way in which the sabbath is profaned by too many gospel ministers, is by dishonesty! We do not intend to charge them with burglary, swindling, or even failing in their contracts and promises in secular dealings; though it were to be wished that some would be more exemplary in the last:—we refer to their public, solemn ministrations in the sanctuary. Will a man—a minister rob God? Yes, he will, and if challenged, will defend the practice—attempt to justify the outrage!  The great Lord of the harvest has employed him as a reaper; but he is unwilling to "bear the burden and heat of the day." The preacher entertains, or perhaps detains his audience from fifty to sixty minutes with what is called a sermon.—pronounces a benediction and dismisses the congregation. This constitutes his day's work. "One whole day in seven" he professes to regard to the Lord, and solemnly engages to enforce the like observance upon his pastoral charge; but in the face of his published profession and ordination vow, he labours scarcely one hour on that whole day!  Is this honest dealing?  "Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person?" [Mal. 1.8.] No,—no man will accept an hour's labour for a day's work.—No honest man will offer such "eye-service" to his fellow man.  "God will not be mocked." [Gal. 6.7.]

(To be continued.)




June, 1845.

No. 4.

(Concluded from page 358.)

But it may be alleged, that public worship does not consist altogether in preaching and hearing the word; and that besides prayer, singing occupies a portion of time; so that all the exercises in the aggregate, cover a period of perhaps two, or it may be, three hours of the sabbath.  All this may be true, and still the inquiry be urged—Is this an honest day's service? Would it be satisfactory from man to man? If not, shall it be so from man to God?  This indolence in ministers, whereby they are guilty of habitually robbing God, must have a ruinous effect upon their people.  This is lamentably evident in observation.  Those professors who are thus trained from generation to generation, having abundance of idle time on the sabbath, find it necessary to gratify the cravings of unsanctified nature by worldly conversation, reading the news of the day, or visiting—not the afflicted, the fatherless, and the widow, but their heathenized christian neighbors that they may strengthen and harden each other in their iniquity.  If by accident, such christians are found in a congregation of worshipers, whose pastor will not do the work of the Lord deceitfully, but "continue his speech" like the apostle {366} of the gentiles beyond the customary thirty minutes; how uncomfortable they feel, how listless they appear,—often bewraying in the anxiety of the countenance, and the shiftings of position, that the language of the heart is;—"When will the sabbath be gone?" [Amos 8.5.] These and such like results are fairly chargeable to the account of such pastors, as through indolence diminish the tale of brick, when there is no want of straw.—The leaders of the people cause them to err. [Exod. 5; Isa. 9.16.]  Hymn singing is generally practised by this class of christians; and a large proportion of the brief services of the sanctuary, consists in recreating themselves with what they term spiritual songs.[1]  This is perfectly natural.  Those who have little or no relish for the things of the Spirit; usually delight in any substitute which will exhilerate animal nature.  Those who ordain many holy-days, without divine warrant, regard not the one holy day of the Lord.  So, those who loathe instructive preaching, and honest sabbath services, are in their element only while offering will-worship.  See Isa. 50.11.

The sabbath is profaned also by idleness.  Those christians who regard the Lord's day only as a season of rest to the body after the labors of the week, are not in this respect above the beasts that perish.  Such a man has no preeminence over the beast, with which he labors through the week. As the one rests, so rests the other.

The sabbath is also too often profaned by professing christians, as a season for medical treatment of the body. There are not wanting individuals who seize upon the Lord's day and appropriate the "whole time," to the treatment of a disease which does not interfere with their activity in the secular business of the by-gone week.  Indeed it is presumable that often the avaricious heart prompts to unnatural exertion, to such degree that the lassitude [fatigue] of the frail tabernacle calls for restoratives.  Are such persons doing justly to God, to themselves, or to their fellow creatures?  Are they "seeking first the kingdom of heaven?"—preferring the interests of the immortal soul to those of the mortal body?  No, "they profess that they know God, but in works they deny him." It is very obvious that the indisposition, real or imaginary, which hinders the individual from "going up to the house of the Lord" on the sabbath; retards him not in seeking his gain from his quarter, on the other days of the week. But his disease is a reality;—it is one that is fatal in its tendency; and without repentance by interposing mercy, it will eventuate in the death of soul and body.  The sabbath {367} is the special season of divine appointment, for applying "the benefits of Christ's redemption" to those who "have need of a physician." [Luke 5.31.]

The disease of which we speak, called spiritual sloth, demands a speedy remedy; and yet in its own nature resists the only prescription.  When once seated in the moral constitution by lapse of time, it becomes ultimately desperate.—"The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick."

Nor is it to be thought strange if the men of the world profane the sabbath by secular business and recreation; when the public teachers of religion often practically give the lie to their profession.

The great national iniquity and fruit of infidelity—carrying the mail, and so employing many hands in the post-office department on the Lord's day, is calculated to heathenize the whole community.  The displeasure of heaven has been displayed against this nation in variety of successive judgments; yet "the people turn not to him that smiteth them," but persist in "bringing more wrath upon the land, by profaning the sabbath." [Isa. 9.13; Neh. 13.18.]  The only means of averting judgments is, by confessing and forsaking sin.  The national legislature have turned a deaf ear to Jehovah speaking in the fourth commandment; and also to the petitions of the Lord's people urging the righteous claims of the God of the whole earth. Well may the Ruler of the universe bring against us the charge—Ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.  Mal. 3.9.

In bringing this article to a close, we suggest the necessity among all ranks, of "doing justly"—first in relation to God. The sabbath is his by special and positive claim, let us beware of "doing our own works or finding our own pleasures" on the Lord's day.  It is vain to expect reformation in this respect among the men of the world, until christians give evidence that they are "in the spirit on the Lord's day," [Rev. 1.10,] by "spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship and in works of necessity and mercy."  It is to be feared that too many parents habitually neglect the instruction of their children, by catechising them on the sabbath evenings, since sabbath-schools have gained popularity in the christian community.  While it is vain to expect that any invention of man will accomplish the immediate ends of a divine ordinance; a heavy woe is impending over such as neglect to cultivate the immortal spirits of their own offspring. {368}

The father to the children shall make known thy truth. Isa. 38.19.  Not only the doctrines of God's word, but the doings of God's hand; are to be taught by parents to their children. Psalm 78.5,7.

Happy are they who experience that it is good for them that they draw nigh to God; who have a foretaste of the joys of heaven in the sanctuary on the sabbath—the two special emblems of future glory.  How can the christian professor expect to reach heaven, who, so far from making the sabbath day's journey thitherward; with reluctance spends an hour in the house of God once a week, who will hardly defile his foot or cool his fingers, in reaching the place of public worship?  No, no, unless the sabbath be our delight, and our delights be with the excellent ones of the earth; we shall in no wise enter the holy city.  Let us ever remember that heaven is a sanctuary, a holy place, where the redeemed will be forever praising God,—in the spending and enjoying of an everlasting sabbath.  In this world, "they that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; and they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit:" and so will it be in the world to come,—only the former class shall be forever deprived of the objects which unrenewed nature craves, subjected to the infliction of avenging wrath,—remorse, the never dying worm increasing and perpetuating pain, in view of misspent and especially desecrated sabbaths.  Of this state of things we have sometimes a specimen from the malefactor at the gibbet, who traces all his enormities to breach of the sabbath.

Finally,—where there is no sabbath, there is no true religion.  He that offendeth in this one point, is guilty of transgressing the whole law.  For as there is one Lawgiver, so the law is one: now if thou commit no adultery, theft, &c. yet if thou profane the sabbath, thou art become a transgressor—not of the fourth commandment only, but of the law. James 2.11.

We only add our regret, that many, yea the great body of professing christians, have so much respect for paganism, and inherit so much popery, as to substitute the name sunday for sabbath, or the Lord's day.  For the other days of the week, we have no special designations by inspiration; and it is surely enough that we have these distinguished by designations borrowed from heathen mythology, without thus desecrating the christian sabbath.


1. For the sake of modern readers, not acquainted with the purity of worship once observed & cherished in the Presbyterian Church, it should be noted that "Hymn singing" is mentioned here as contrasted with the singing of Scripture Psalms. So also, when the author mentions "what they term spiritual songs," his intention is to express the lamentable fact that in so many churches unauthorized hymns are regarded as "spiritual songs" merely because they are songs on spiritual subjects; whereas the Psalms of Holy Scripture alone are the spiritual songs and hymns which Christians are commanded to sing in Eph. 5.19, and Col. 3.16, these alone being inspired by the Spirit of God for this very purpose.—JTKer.