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§ 57. Sacred Times—The Lord’s Day.


George Holden: The Christian Sabbath. London, 1825. (See ch. V.)

W. Henstenberg: The Lord’s Day. Transl. from the German by James Martin, London, 1853. (Purely exegetical; defends the continental view, but advocates a better practical observance.)

John T. Baylee: History of the Sabbath. London, 1857. (See chs. X. XIII.)

James Aug. Hessey: Sunday: Its Origin, History, and Present Obligation. Bampton Lectures, preached before the University of Oxford, London, 1860. (Defends the Dominican and moderate Anglican, as distinct both from the Continental latitudinarian, and from the Puritanic Sabbatarian, view of Sunday, with proofs from the church fathers.)

James Gilfillan: The Sabbath viewed in the Light of Reason, Revelation, and History, with Sketches of its Literature. Edinb. 1861, republished and widely circulated by the Am. Tract Society and the "New York Sabbath Committee," New York, 1862. (The fullest and ablest defence of the Puritan and Scotch Presbyterian theory of the Christian Sabbath, especially in its practical aspects.)

Robert Cox (F.S.A.): Sabbath Laws and Sabbath Duties. Edinb. 1853. By the same: The Literature of the Sabbath Question. Edinb. 1865, 2 vols. (Historical, literary, and liberal.)

Th. Zahn: Geschichte des Sonntags in der alten Kirche. Hannover, 1878.

There is a very large Sabbath literature in the English language, of a popular and practical character. For the Anglo-American theory and history of the Christian Sabbath, compare the author’s essay, The Anglo-American Sabbath, New York, 1863 (in English and German), the publications of the New York Sabbath Committee from 1857–1886, the Sabbath Essays, ed. by Will. C. Wood, Boston (Congreg. Publ. Soc.), 1879; and A. E. Waffle: The Lord’s Day, Philad. 1886.

As every place, so is every day and hour alike sacred to God, who fills all space and all time, and can be worshipped everywhere and always. But, from the necessary limitations of our earthly life, as well as from the nature of social and public worship, springs the use of sacred seasons. The apostolic church followed in general the Jewish usage, but purged it from superstition and filled it with the spirit of faith and freedom.

1. Accordingly, the Jewish Hours of daily prayer, particularly in the morning and evening, were observed as a matter of habit, besides the strictly private devotions which are bound to no time.

2. The Lord’s Day took the place of the Jewish Sabbath as the weekly day of public worship. The substance remained, the form was changed. The institution of a periodical weekly day of rest for the body and the soul is rooted in our physical and moral nature, and is as old as man, dating, like marriage, from paradise.688688    Gen. 2:3. This passage is sometimes explained in a proleptic sense; but religious rest-days, dies feriati, are found among most ancient nations, and recent Assyrian and Babylonian discoveries confirm the pre-Mosaic origin of the weekly Sabbath. See Sayce’s revision of George Smith’s Chaldean Account of Genesis, Lond. and N. York, 1881, p. 89: "If references to the Fall are few and obscure, there can be no doubt that the Sabbath was an Accadian [primitive Chaldaean] institution, intimately connected with the worship of the seven planets. The astronomical tablets have shown that the seven-day week was of Accadian origin, each day of it being dedicated to the sun, moon, and five planets, and the word Sabbath itself, under the form of Sabattu, was known to the Assyrians, and explained by them as ’a day of rest for the heart.’A calendar of Saints’ days for the month of the intercalary Elul makes the 7th, 14th, 19th, 2lst, and 28th days of the lunar months, Sabbaths on which no work was allowed to be done. The Accadian words by which the idea of Sabbath is denoted, literally mean: ’a day on which work is unlawful,’and are interpreted in the bilingual tablets as signifying ’a day of peace or completion of labors.’" Smith then gives the rigid injunctions which the calendar lays down to the king for each of these sabbaths. Comp. also Transactions of Soc. for Bibl. Archaeol., vol. V., 427. This is implied in the profound saying of our Lord: "The Sabbath is made for man."

It is incorporated in the Decalogue, the moral law, which Christ did not come to destroy, but to fulfil, and which cannot be robbed of one commandment without injury to all the rest.

At the same time the Jewish Sabbath was hedged around by many national and ceremonial restrictions, which were not intended to be permanent, but were gradually made so prominent as to overshadow its great moral aim, and to make man subservient to the sabbath instead of the sabbath to man. After the exile and in the hands of the Pharisees it became a legal bondage rather than a privilege and benediction. Christ as the Lord of the Sabbath opposed this mechanical ceremonialism and restored the true spirit and benevolent aim of the institution.689689    Matt. 12:1 sqq., 10 sqq., and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke; also John 5:8 sqq.; 6:23; 9:14, 16. When the slavish, superstitious, and self-righteous sabbatarianism of the Pharisees crept into the Galatian churches and was made a condition of justification, Paul rebuked it as a relapse into Judaism.690690    Gal. 4:10; Comp. Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16. The spirit of the pharisaical sabbatarianism with which Christ and St, Paul had to deal may be inferred from the fact that even Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, and one of the wisest and most liberal Rabbis, let his ass die on the Sabbath because he thought it a sin to unload him; and this was praised as an act of piety. Other Rabbis prohibited the saving of an ass from a ditch on the Sabbath, but allowed a plank to be laid so as to give the beast a chance to save himself. One great controversy between the schools of Shammai and Hillel turned around the mighty question whether it was lawful to eat an egg which was laid on the Sabbath day, and the wise Hillel denied it! Then it would be still more sinful to eat a chicken that had the misfortune to be born, or to be killed, on a Sabbath.

The day was transferred from the seventh to the first day of the week, not on the ground of a particular command, but by the free spirit of the gospel and by the power of certain great facts which he at the foundation of the Christian church. It was on that day that Christ rose from the dead; that he appeared to Mary, the disciples of Emmaus, and the assembled apostles; that he poured out his Spirit and founded the church;691691    The day of Pentecost (whether Saturday or Sunday) is disputed, but the church always celebrated it on a Sunday. See § 24, p. 241. and that he revealed to his beloved disciple the mysteries of the future. Hence, the first day was already in the apostolic age honorably designated as "the Lord’s Day." On that day Paul met with the disciples at Troas and preached till midnight. On that day he ordered the Galatian and Corinthian Christians to make, no doubt in connection with divine service, their weekly contributions to charitable objects according to their ability. It appears, therefore, from the New Testament itself, that Sunday was observed as a day of worship, and in special commemoration of the Resurrection, whereby the work of redemption was finished.692692    John 20:19, 26; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10.

The universal and uncontradicted Sunday observance in the second century can only be explained by the fact that it had its roots in apostolic practice. Such observance is the more to be appreciated as it had no support in civil legislation before the age of Constantine, and must have been connected with many inconveniences, considering the lowly social condition of the majority of Christians and their dependence upon their heathen masters and employers. Sunday thus became, by an easy and natural transformation, the Christian Sabbath or weekly day of rest, at once answering the typical import of the Jewish Sabbath, and itself forming in turn a type of the eternal rest of the people of God in the heavenly Canaan.693693    Comp. Heb. 4:1-11; Rev. 4:18. In the gospel dispensation the Sabbath is not a degradation, but an elevation, of the week days to a higher plane, looking to the consecration of all time and all work. It is not a legal ceremonial bondage, but rather a precious gift of grace, a privilege, a holy rest in God in the midst of the unrest of the world, a day of spiritual refreshing in communion with God and in the fellowship of the saints, a foretaste and pledge of the never-ending Sabbath in heaven.

The due observance of it, in which the churches of England, Scotland, and America, to their incalculable advantage, excel the churches of the European continent, is a wholesome school of discipline, a means of grace for the people, a safeguard of public morality and religion, a bulwark against infidelity, and a source of immeasurable blessing to the church, the state, and the family. Next to the Church and the Bible, the Lord’s Day is the chief pillar of Christian society.

Besides the Christian Sunday, the Jewish Christians observed their ancient Sabbath also, till Jerusalem was destroyed. After that event, the Jewish habit continued only among the Ebionites and Nazarenes.

As Sunday was devoted to the commemoration of the Saviour’s resurrection, and observed as a day of thanksgiving and joy, so, at least as early as the second century, if not sooner, Friday came to be observed as a day of repentance, with prayer and fasting, in commemoration of the sufferings and death of Christ.

3. Annual festivals. There is no injunction for their observance, direct or indirect, in the apostolic writings, as there is no basis for them in the Decalogue. But Christ observed them, and two of the festivals, the Passover and Pentecost, admitted of an easy transformation similar to that of the Jewish into the Christian Sabbath. From some hints in the Epistles,694694    1 Cor. 5:7, 8; 16:8; Acts 18:21; 20:6, 16. viewed in the light of the universal and uncontradicted practice of the church in the second century it may be inferred that the annual celebration of the death and the resurrection of Christ, and of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, originated in the apostolic age. In truth, Christ crucified, risen, and living in the church, was the one absorbing thought of the early Christians; and as this thought expressed itself in the weekly observance of Sunday, so it would also very naturally transform the two great typical feasts of the Old Testament into the Christian Easter and Whit-Sunday. The Paschal controversies of the second century related not to the fact, but to the time of the Easter festival, and Polycarp of Smyrna and Anicet of Rome traced their customs to an unimportant difference in the practice of the apostles themselves.

Of other annual festivals, the New Testament contains not the faintest trace. Christmas came in during the fourth century by a natural development of the idea of a church year, as a sort of chronological creed of the people. The festivals of Mary, the Apostles, Saints, and Martyrs, followed gradually, as the worship of saints spread in the Nicene and post-Nicene age, until almost every day was turned first into a holy day and then into a holiday. As the saints overshadowed the Lord, the saints’ days overshadowed the Lord’s Day.

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