J.C. Ryle on the Sabbath

I acknowledge that Bishop J.C. Ryle regarded Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. Yet, his words are still instructive:

My own firm conviction is, that the observance of a Sabbath Day is part of the eternal law of God. It is not a mere temporary Jewish ordinance. It is not a man-made institution of priestcraft. It is not an unauthorized imposition of the Church. It is one of the everlasting rules which God has revealed for the guidance of all mankind. It is a rule that many nations without the Bible have lost sight of, and buried, like other rules, under the rubbish of superstition and heathenism. But it was a rule intended to be binding on all the children of Adam.

Ryle, J.C. Knots Untied, 1877.

John Wesley Speaks to a Sabbath Breaker

A WORD TO A SABBATH BREAKER

” Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Have you forgotten who spoke these words? Or do you set him at defiance? Do you bid him do his worst? Have a care. You are not stronger than he. “Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth; but woe unto the man that contendeth with his Maker. He sitteth on the circle of the heavens; and the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers before him!”

“Six days shalt thou do all manner of work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” It is not thine, but God’s day. He claims it for his own. He always did claim it for his own, even from the beginning of the world. “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” He hallowed it; that is, he made it holy; he reserved it for his own service. He appointed, that as long as the sun or the moon, the heavens and the earth, should endure, the children of men should spend this day in the worship of Him who “gave them life and breath and all things.”

Shall a man then rob God? And art thou the man? Consider, think what thou art doing! Is it not God who giveth thee all thou hast? Every day thou livest, is it not his gift? And wilt thou give him none? Nay, wilt, thou deny him what is his own already? He will not, he cannot, quit his claim. This day is God’s. It was so from the begin­ning. It will be so to the end of the world. This he cannot give to another. O “render unto God the things that are God’s,” now; “to­day, while it is called to-day!”

For whose sake does God lay claim to this day? for his sake or for thine? Doubtless, not for his own. He needeth not thee, nor any child of man. “Look unto the heavens and see, and behold the clouds which are higher than thou. If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? If thy trans­gressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him? If thou art right­eous, what givest thou him? Or what receiveth he of thine hand?” For thy own sake, therefore, God thy maker doeth this. For thy own sake he calleth thee to serve him. For thy own sake he demands a part of thy time to be restored to him that gave thee all. Acknowledge his love. Learn, while thou art on earth, to praise the King of Heaven. Spend this day as thou hopest to spend that day which never shall have an end.

The Lord not only hallowed the Sabbath day, but he hath also bless­ed it. So that you are an enemy to yourself. You throw away your own blessing, if you neglect to “keep this day holy.” It is a day of special grace. The King of Heaven now sits upon his mercy seat, in a more gracious manner than on other days, to bestow blessings on those who observe it. If you love your own soul, can you then forbear laying hold on so happy an opportunity? Awake, arise, let God give thee his blessing! Receive a token of his love! Cry to him that thou mayest find the riches of his grace and mercy in Christ Jesus! You do not know how few more of these days of salvation you may have. And how dreadful would it be, to be called hence in the abuse of his proffered mercy!

O what mercy hath God prepared for you, if you do not trample it under foot! “What mercy hath he prepared for them that fear him, even before the sons of men!” A peace which the world cannot give; joy, that no man taketh from you; rest from doubt and fear and sorrow, of heart; and love, the beginning of heaven. And are not these for you? Are they not all purchased for you by him who loved you, and gave himself for you? for you, a sinner? you, a rebel against God? you, who have so long crucified him afresh? Now “look unto him whom you have pierced!” Now say, Lord, it is enough. I have fought against thee long enough. I yield, I yield. “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon me!”

On this day, above all, cry aloud, and spare not, to the “God who heareth prayer.” This is the day he hath set apart for the good of your soul, both m this world and that which is to come. Never more disappoint the design of his love, either by worldly business or idle diver­sions. Let not a little thing keep you from the house of God, either in the forenoon or afternoon. And spend as much as you can of the rest of the day, either in repeating what you have heard, or in reading the Scripture, or in private prayer, or talking of the things of God. Let his love be ever before your eyes. Let his praise be ever in your mouth. You have lived many years in folly and sin; now, live one day unto the Lord.

Do not ask any more, “Where is the harm, if, after church, I spend the remainder of the day in the fields, or in a public house, or in taking a little diversion?” You know where is the harm. Your own heart tells you so plain, that you cannot but hear. It is a base mis-spending of your talent, and a barefaced contempt of God and his authority. You have heard of God’s judgments, even upon earth, against the profaners of this day. And yet these are but as drops of that storm of “fiery indignation, which will” at last “consume his adversaries.”

Glory be to God who hath now given you a sense of this. You now know, this was always designed for a day of blessing. May you never again, by your idleness or profaneness, turn that blessing into a curse! What folly, what madness would that be! And in what sorrow and anguish would it end! For yet a little while, and death will close up the day of grace and mercy. And those who despise them now, will have no more Sabbaths, or sacraments, or prayers for ever. Then how will they wish to recover that which they now so idly cast away! But all in vain. For they will then “find no place for repentance, though they should seek it carefully with tears.”

O my friend, know the privilege you enjoy. Now “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Your day of life and of grace is far spent. The night of death is at hand. Make haste to use the time you have; improve the last hours of your day. Now provide “the things which make for your peace,” that you may stand before the face of God for ever.

* The Works of Reverend John Wesley, A.M. in Seven Volumes. Vol VI. (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1839) pgs 352-354.

A Poem

Sabbath

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.

Wendell Berry

Berry, Wendell. A Timbered Choir (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998), p.7.

As quoted in Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson

Why the Sabbath?

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told, “Jesus is my Sabbath. To me every day is now the Sabbath.” And while not exactly correct, this does reflect part of the truth.

Messiah has rested from His work, and we can rest in our knowledge of having received “at-one-ment” with God.

However, there is more to the story. And, as usual, Scripture repeats itself in themes, and our spiritual heritage pre-figures our future.

The day you recognized your need for a Savior and believed in the Lord, Jesus the Christ, you entered the first fruits of your Sabbath. It was the day you crossed the Jordan River. But, you’ve not yet conquered the Canaanites and occupied the Land. Our final Sabbath day will last for eternity, but does not begin in full until the return of Messiah.

In the meantime, our weekly Sabbath is to memorialize Messiah having parted the waters (atonement), and our having crossed the Jordan (justification). The fact that it ends each sundown reminds us of the ongoing work of exterminating the Canaanites (sanctification). Additionally, we celebrate with hope and heighten our anticipation of the return of Messiah, the perfecting of the work God has begun in us, and the permanent dwelling of God among men (glorification).

Rest Today, Rest Tomorrow

Rest is presented as representative on 3 levels in Scripture. 1) the Promise Land that God led the Israelites too, was their rest, 2) the specific Sabbath day was a day of rest, and 3) of that final, eternal Rest which is the eventual outcome of our salvation.

In Hebrews 4, the writer urges us not to follow the example of disobedience, but rather to be diligent to enter the rest that is available today. What was the example of disobedience the writer urges us not to repeat? The refusal of the Israelites to obey God’s command and enter the Promised Land. (hence, the reference to Joshua in verse 8, and we are told specifically in chapter 3 that this is the disobedience referenced by verse 11.) The author of Hebrews reminds us in verse 9 that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. And he refers both to the weekly Sabbath and to the eternal Sabbath.

When we refuse to enter the weekly rest that God has enjoined upon us, we are re-enacting the Israelites refusal to enter the Land, and directly violating a New Testament command not to follow that example of disobedience. Sure, we can rest every day in the knowledge that Yeshua has finished His work, but when God finished His work (creation), did He start a memorial or end a memorial? Why would we think that God no longer wants us to memorialize His great creative and then great redemptive work–and its finished nature–by ceasing from our labors?

This idea that because we now know more fully (with the benefit of hindsight) what the types and shadows anticipated by the OT are, we no longer need to honor or practice them befuddles me. Yes, they are shadows; shadows cast by the reality, the substance of Messiah. They remain the best picture we have of the eternal future and the truths upon which our participation relies.

I will never forget a story a friend of mine once shared. He went to Wheaton College outside of Chicago, IL and was greatly excited to learn that the Chicago Bulls would be practicing in the Wheaton College gym. He was shocked to discover upon entering that the team of professional basketball players were practicing layup drills, passing drills, etc. All the basics that he practiced in junior high and highschool!

Don’t you see? Just because we are “New Covenant” saints doesn’t mean that we can forsake the instructions of God, the keeping of by which you shall find life. No, they are the expression of a loving God’s heart for his am segullah–treasured possession. God is not capricious, no He is immutable. He would not give legalistic, binding, heavy, unbearable commands to His chosen people! God’s heart for his people (in which we Gentiles are now privileged to be included) has never changed, it has always been passionate and desirous that we might have life abundant!

What was the promise of the New Covenant? That God’s Spirit would write His Torah (instructions) on our hearts! Why? So we could subsequently ignore them? Of course not! “Do we then nullify the Torah through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah.” (Romans 3:31)

What is this “obedience of faith” that Paul speaks of? “For it is not the hearers of the Torah who are just before God, but the doers of the Torah will be justified.” (Romans 2:13) And why will the doers of Torah be justified? Because of their doing? No! Because those who love God, keep His commandments. Those who believe in God, love Him. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Are we made righteous by keeping the commandments of God? Heaven forbid! Once having become part of His covenant people, does God wants us to honor His commandments? Absolutely! “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:5)

What does this word “fulfill” mean? Does it mean “made it so that you no longer need to abide by God’s commands?” Of course not! Messiah himself said that the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul writes, “Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10) When Paul says “fulfillment” does he mean that once having loved our neighbor we no longer need to keep the commandment? No; how silly that would be. That’s right! How silly it is to think that Messiah said, “I did not come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it.”…”In fact, to fulfill it so much that it is effectively abolished!”

This word “fulfill” (pleroo) means to fill up, like you fill up the hull of a ship, in this case to fill full of significance! So now that we understand so much more, let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (oh yeah, that was one of the commands for Sabbath wasn’t it?), rather let us encourage one another all the more toward love (the royal command) and good deeds! And what are good deeds? They’re the practice of God’s commands! There the very things that God fashioned before the creation of the world for us to walk in–for us to do (Eph. 2:10)!

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)

Not all the feasts of the Lord (note that they are never called “the feast of the Jews”) have been fulfilled, the event which some anticipate still remains unrealized. Let us then celebrate those that have been seen and testified to with joy and great gladness, but let us celebrate those which remain to be fulfilled with great joy and anticipation! Let us be “diligent to enter that rest”, to physically keep the Sabbath in celebration and anticipation of that final, joyous, everlasting Sabbath, when God will return to be our God and us to be His people, when God will finally dwell among men forever and ever.

Some might say, but “Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Torah, having become a curse for us. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” (Gal. 3:13) Well, of course He did! He redeemed us from the curse that was written in the Law, from the condemnation of the Law, that stood as witness testifying to our sin (lawlessness). Is the Torah itself a curse? Absolutely not! “So then, the Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.” (Romans 7:12) One is only under a curse, if one looks to the keeping of Torah as a means of salvation. If one accepts the gracious gift of God, then one can keep the Torah with glee and gratitude. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10 NASB)