The Divine and Perpetual Obligation of the Observance of the Sabbath by Perowne



Head Master of Harrow School,



Rector of St. John’s Maddermarket, Norwich.



Price One Shilling.

The following pages are published with considerable reluctance. The Author read Dr. Vaughan’s pamphlet several weeks since, and was much pained that some of the sentiments contained in it should proceed from such a quarter. He hoped and expected that some one with more leisure than he can command, and more capable of doing justice to the important points under discussion, would undertake to refute what he felt to be the very erroneous notions of the learned Doctor. Since, however, no one else has taken up the subject, he ventures to submit his sentiments to the Christian public. He has no love for polemics, and very unwillingly appears in print; but he has reason to know, that the notions to which he alludes have already, in several instances, encouraged a violation of the Sabbath, and that they are likely to produce more extensive mischief, from the circumstance of no attempt having been made to refute them. To prevent this evil, is one object of the present undertaking. Another is, to counteract the erroneous sentiments of Dr. Vaughan’s pamphlet; while the writer’s chief aim is, to set forth what he believes to be the will of God on the important subject of the Sabbath. He is convinced that the principles enunciated in the following pages are in conformity with the teaching of the Bible; and being fully assured that obedience to the will of our Heavenly Father, is in all things the only way of peace and safety, he will rejoice if this pamphlet shall become the means of removing error, or of confirming those who already believe that the Sabbath is of divine and perpetual obligation.

Before entering on the question that we intend more particularly to discuss, there are some remarks that we deem it necessary to make on the tone and general character of Dr. Vaughan’s pamphlet. And in the first place, we were struck with the entire absence of scripture proof in support of the views propounded. Assertions are made of the most sweeping character, and inferences are thence drawn, involving matters of the highest moment; and yet no passage of scripture is adduced in support of these assertions. Thus we are told “that not only the fourth commandment, but the whole decalogue has ceased to be, as such, the rule of our life.” But the authority for this declaration is no-where given. If this doctrine be plainly taught in the New Testament, surely we should be informed where it is to be found.

Another thing that we could not help remarking, was the manner in which the authority of the Old Testament is repudiated. “With reference to the observance of the Sabbath, and to every point of moral duty, the appeal now lies primarily to the scriptures of the New Testament, and secondarily to any other records which we may possess of the practice of the apostolical age.” How different is the mind of Dr. Vaughan from that of the Apostle Paul on this important point. The Apostle tells us (alluding more especially to the writings of the Old Testament), that all scripture is “profitable p. 6for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Dr. Vaughan tells us in effect, that our rule of practice is the New Testament and tradition!

Again Dr. V. condemns what he designates “a low and slavish spirit,” in those who wish “to have an express law to shew for our Christian Sunday.” But we would ask, whether an express law makes the obedience of love less sincere, less warm, less free and spontaneous? St. John tells us, “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.” In a matter of such moment we feel bound to follow the opinion of the inspired Apostle.

Dr. Vaughan is of opinion, that “if we found even a human institution, which testified throughout Christendom, by a speaking sign, by an act at once self-denying and beneficent, our faith in realities unseen and future; even this would bind us to its observance.” And yet when we find in the word of God, a plain command to keep holy the Sabbath-day, we are told that we are not legally bound to observe it, and that a wish to have a law to that effect, bespeaks “a low and slavish spirit.” If, however, the express will of God does not lead men to keep the Sabbath, we cannot conceive of any other motive, by which (on Christian principles) they will be induced to observe it. In man’s present condition, liberty without law soon degenerates into licentiousness; and no law but that of God, can so restrain and regulate men, as to preserve real religious freedom. Repeal the laws by which life and property are protected, and try to persuade men to be good and virtuous, from a love of virtue, or from a sense of gratitude for the kindness and beneficence of their rulers; and we should soon see the necessity and benefit of our laws. p. 7And so it will be found, that the religious observance of the Sabbath, will soon give place to a general neglect of God’s house, and to practical atheism, if once the people are persuaded, that there is no divine command to keep holy the Sabbath-day.

But while the authority of the Old Testament is thus repudiated, the Rev. Doctor “thinks” he “sees” (what other people may be blind to, and about which he himself is not quite certain—so poor a guide is man’s intellect in the absence of a plain command from God,) “indications from the very earliest days, of which the Scriptures contain the record, of man’s need of a periodical rest, and of God’s purpose to secure it to him.” He believes “that it is essential to the well-being of his bodily and mental structure.” He believes that it “is yet more essential to the well-being of his immortal spirit, to his education for that state in which earthly life issues.” He believes that this was “foreseen by man’s Creator, and provided for by the disposer of man’s heart.” And yet he does not believe that God has adopted the only means of securing this all-important blessing permanently to his creatures. Once, indeed, for a few hundred years he made it imperative upon a small portion of the human race, to keep an appointment so essential to man’s present and eternal welfare. But when by the mission of his Son, and the publication of the gospel, he manifested his marvellous love to the whole human race, then, by an unaccountable and inexplicable mode of procedure, he set aside this appointment, and left him to the dictates of his own will, or to the selfishness or caprice of those under whose authority he might happen to be! All was thenceforth to be left to man’s mental perception and moral sense! [7] Is p. 8this view consistent with God’s goodness? Is it consistent with his general dealing with men under the present dispensation? God has provided a Saviour for all men. He has commanded the gospel to be preached to the whole human race. He has commanded all men every where to receive the gospel. And yet he has abolished the only command by which an opportunity can be permanently secured to all men, to become acquainted with the truths of the gospel, and be made wise unto salvation! Is this worthy of God? A human parent would not withhold from his children, explicit instruction on any point that he deemed essential to their welfare. He would not leave them to conjecture, but would tell them plainly what was for their good. Is God less wise or less good than man?

The Rev. Doctor evidently feels some difficulty in reconciling his views with the teaching of the Church of England. For after speaking of the privilege and blessing of Sabbath observance, as if conscious of the dilemma in which his principles placed him, he proceeds to ask, “And shall those who look back through long years upon their frequent failures to improve the blessing, see no reason for the confession which bewails their past neglect of it, and the prayer which asks help to honour it (i.e. the blessing) hereafter?” Now we p. 9confess that we cannot help feeling, as we think most must feel, that this attempt to escape from the appearance of inconsistency in using the prayer alluded to, is most unsatisfactory. The prayer to which allusion is here made, is offered by the whole congregation immediately on the reading of the fourth commandment by the Minister. Its language is, “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” And the meaning and intent of the prayer are thus expressed in the rubric at the head of the commandments in the Communion Service: “The Priest shall rehearse the ten commandments; and the people shall, after every commandment, ask God mercy for their transgression thereof for the time past, and grace to keep the same for the time to come.” This, then, is the meaning of the prayer; and in this there is necessarily implied a recognition of the moral obligation of the commandment, with regret for its violation, as well as a prayer for pardon, and for help to keep it in future. But is this the meaning which Dr. Vaughan attaches to the language of this prayer? No, with his views, it must be something of this sort: “Have mercy upon us for not improving this blessing in time past, and incline our hearts to honour this blessing in future.” Surely if the fourth commandment be no longer in force, to use this prayer is to confess guilt where no law has been transgressed, to ask pardon where no offence has been committed, and to seek aid to amend what is not legally wrong.

Nor is this the only practical difficulty connected with the views in question. We presume it is the duty of the Masters of our public schools, as well as of the Clergy generally, to teach their charge the Church Catechism. But in the Church Catechism are the following questions and answers:—

Question. You said that your godfathers and godmothers p. 10did promise for you, that you should keep God’s commandments. Tell me how many there be.

Answer. Ten.

Question. Which be they?

Answer. The same which God spake in the twentieth chapter of Exodus, &c.

Here is a plain acknowledgment that the ten commandments are still in force, and that we are bound by our baptismal vows to keep them. Dr. Vaughan affirms that they have “ceased to be our rule of life.” How can these conflicting opinions be reconciled? or how can those persons consistently use the formularies of our church, who so directly contradict her teaching?

Having thus noticed more generally what we consider the unscriptural opinions set forth in the pamphlet under review, we shall now proceed to consider more particularly the Sabbath question. This is confessedly one of the great questions of the day. So momentous, indeed, are its bearings on the temporal and spiritual well-being of men, and so intimately is it connected with the worship and honour of God, that its importance can scarcely be overrated. If God is to be publicly acknowledged and worshiped in his own world—if men are to be instructed in the principles of revealed religion, and trained to habits of virtue and christian love—if personal, domestic, social, and national happiness is to be promoted—if time is to be so improved, as to make it the passage to a blessed immortality—the obligation to keep the Sabbath must be recognised, and its observance must be enforced and regulated according to the injunctions of God’s holy word.

It is indeed asserted by some that, under the Christian dispensation, the observance of a day of rest is a mere matter of expediency—that we are under no divine obligation to p. 11abstain from labour or other worldly pursuits—that the Sabbath was purely a Jewish institution, and has passed away with the other “weak and beggarly elements” of Judaism. But on what grounds are such assertions made? because, as it is alleged, there is no positive command in the New Testament to keep the Sabbath, “no direction for its observance, nor any reproof for the neglect of it,” and because certain expressions are employed by St. Paul, which seem to bespeak “indifference to its retention, or even rebuke for its revival.”

With regard to the first objection, viz. the want of a direct command, this could scarcely be necessary, inasmuch as our Lord not only himself kept the Sabbath, but in all his remarks in reference to it, spoke in a manner that necessarily implied his recognition of its divine origin and perpetual obligation. Besides, as he expressly declared that he came not to destroy the law or the prophets, (both of which are full of exhortations to keep the Sabbath), what right have we to deny the obligation of the fourth commandment, because it is not expressly repeated in the New Testament? The safer and more just way of reasoning would surely be this: Under the former dispensation God in the most solemn manner promulgated a law, connecting with its observance great temporal and especially great spiritual blessings, and visiting its violation with the most severe judgments. This law has not been formally and explicitly abrogated, nor its sanctions withdrawn. The law, therefore, still remains in force. Shew us that the fourth commandment has been abrogated in as plain terms as those that were employed in its promulgation; and then, and not till then, we may with a safe conscience regard the observance of the Sabbath merely as a matter of Christian expediency.

Where, again, was the necessity of “direction” for the observance of the Sabbath, when the first Christians, (many p. 12of whom, as well as the Apostles, were Jews) had the services of the Jewish synagogue as a model, and the plain instructions of the law and prophets to guide them, both as to the proper manner of keeping the Sabbath, and the spirit in which it should be kept? We might as well deny the Christian obligation to maintain the public worship of God, because in the New Testament no directions are given for conducting it.

Nor would the absence of “reproof for the neglect” of the Sabbath be any valid argument against the continued obligation of its observance. If “in the primitive age” there were “churches in which both (the Jewish and the Christian Sabbaths) were observed,” it is scarcely probable that any number of Christians would be found who neglected the Sabbath altogether; and if there was little or no neglect of the observance of the Sabbath, there would be little or no room for reproof on account of its neglect. But is there no reproof to be found in the New Testament? What does St. Paul mean by exhorting the Hebrews not to neglect the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some was? [12a] Few will deny that this passage refers to the public worship of the Christian church, which we know was held on the Lord’s day. Here, then, we have at least indirect reproof; and its connection with what follows will perhaps suggest an additional reason for the absence of more frequent and more direct reproof. So essential a part of practical Christianity was the observance of the Sabbath deemed, that scarcely any ventured to neglect it, and they who did so, were considered in danger of apostasy. [12b] If the reasons stated be valid arguments against the divine obligation to keep the Sabbath, what can be urged to prove the duty of females to partake of the p. 13Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? Here, although the institution was entirely new, and peculiar to the new dispensation, yet we find neither direct command, nor reproof for neglect, nor even mention made of any females having partaken of that Sacrament. And yet who would venture to pronounce these sufficient reasons for denying the obligation of women to receive the memorials of their dying Saviour’s love?

With regard to those passages in which “the language employed is” said to be “that either of indifference to its retention, or even of rebuke for its revival,” we apprehend that the intention of the apostle was neither to condemn the observance of the Jewish Sabbath, nor to intimate that Christians were under no moral obligation to keep any Sabbath whatever. If he was speaking exclusively of the Jewish weekly Sabbath (of which there is no sufficient proof), his object was, either to vindicate Gentile Christians from the obligation of its observance, or to condemn the self-righteous spirit in which it was kept. “Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbaths” (or sabbatical appointments.) [13] All these were Jewish ordinances, from which the council at Jerusalem, guided by the Holy Ghost, had declared Gentile believers to be free. They were local and national, and the various sacrifices p. 14and offerings connected with them could be presented only at Jerusalem, and by Jews or proselytes. They were therefore declared to be of no obligation to the Gentile believer. On the contrary, these observances became injurious both to Jewish and Gentile Christians, if they were kept in a self-righteous spirit. “I am afraid of you (says St. Paul to the Galatians), lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” Was the apostle rebuking his brethren for the revival of what had “died out?” Was he not rather blaming them for observing in an antichristian spirit, what they were not bound to observe at all? In his epistle to the Romans, he declares that the observance of these days is in itself a matter of indifference. “One man esteemeth one day above another, another esteemeth every day. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it to the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” [14] How then could he be rebuking the Galatians for simply doing what he himself declares might be done with a good conscience, and acceptably to Christ? Besides if the language of the Apostle must necessarily be understood as conveying rebuke for observing the Sabbath, and consequently be a valid proof, that the obligation to observe it is done away, much more might the same argument be deduced from the still stronger language employed by God in the book of the Prophet Isaiah: “Bring no more p. 15vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.” [15] What would have been thought of a Jewish teacher who should have affirmed from this passage, that the rites here enumerated were for ever abolished? And yet such a view would have had more to support it, than the doctrine attempted to be established by the statement of the Apostle. In both cases, we apprehend, it was not the observance that was condemned, nor the obligation that was denied; but the reproof was levelled at the motives and the state of mind by which the observance was attended. An antinomian spirit was condemned by the Prophet—a self-righteous spirit by the Apostle.

The absence of a formal abrogation of the Jewish Sabbath, and the formal substitution of the Christian Sabbath in its place, is in perfect accordance with the whole plan of divine providence, for the introduction and establishment of Christianity in the world. The religion of Moses was never formally abolished. Our Lord lived and died in it; and his Apostles and the early Jewish disciples occasionally at least observed its rites, and still worshiped at the temple and in the synagogue. Both religions were from God. Both had the same end. The same truths and the same spirit were essential to both. The shadows of the one gave place to the substance of the other. But in all that was vital, moral, saving, the two religions were identical. “He was not a Jew who was one outwardly, and circumcision was that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.” In like manner we conceive, what was purely and necessarily Jewish in the observance of p. 16the Sabbath, passed away with the mere externals of Judaism; but all that was essential to the spirit of the command remained in full force.

But it is asked, if the observance of the Sabbath be of divine and perpetual obligation, why have Christians changed the day, and why do they not keep the Sabbath in the manner enjoined in the Old Testament? We reply, that the lawgiver, the “Lord of the Sabbath,” has by his own acts, declarations, and example, and by the example of his inspired Apostles, sanctioned both the change of the day, and the alteration in the manner of its observance. Christianity was not to be confined to one country, nor was it necessarily to be a national religion. It was to overspread the world, and was to be suited to all countries and climes. It was therefore necessary that whatever was merely local and national in the observance of the Sabbath, should be relaxed or removed; and this might be done, and was done, without either touching the moral obligation of the law, or taking from its observance a particle of what is vital and essential. [16] Our Lord p. 17did not abrogate the seventh commandment when he declared, that the unchaste look was a breach of it. Neither did he set aside the fourth commandment, when he worked miracles of mercy on the Sabbath day; when he defended his disciples who were blamed for plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath day; when he declared it was “lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.” And if the seventh day had hitherto been kept as a sign between God the Creator and his creature man, and as a memorial of creating goodness; surely there was great propriety in changing the day, so as to make the Sabbath observance a sign between God the Redeemer and his redeemed creature man, and a memorial of redeeming love, as well as an emblem of the eternal Sabbath, [17] which is the hope of the christian. Nor can we imagine that the most explicit command for the change of the day, could have come with greater force to the followers of Christ, than the recorded facts, that the Saviour rose on the first day of the week, that after his resurrection, he selected that day to meet his disciples, that his people ever after regularly kept the first day, and that this day bears in Scripture the honoured appellation of “the Lord’s day.” In this change, however, nothing is given up that is essential in the command to keep holy the Sabbath day. One day in seven is to be set apart to the service of God; in it no unnecessary work is to be done; but p. 18works of necessity and of charity on that day are sanctioned by our Lord himself. And this is so far from being opposed to what was required under the former dispensation, that it agrees entirely with the teaching of the prophet Isaiah, who instructed the Jews, that the proper and acceptable way of keeping the Sabbath, was, “not to do their own ways,” nor to “speak their own words,” nor to “find their own pleasure;” but to “call the Sabbath a delight, holy of the Lord, honourable.” [18]

Here it will be objected, that this reasoning proceeds on the assumption, that the Sabbath is of divine and perpetual p. 19obligation, and that the justness of this assumption is altogether denied. Well then, let us proceed to the proof. It will not be denied, that in the law of the ten commandments, commonly called the moral law, twice written by the finger of God, and delivered to the Jews in the most solemn manner by the voice of Jehovah himself, there is a plain command to “keep holy the Sabbath day.” It will not be denied, that this appointment was made as “a sign” or memorial of the relation that subsisted between God and his Church, and that this sign was to be continued in succeeding generations. It will not be denied, that this appointment was guarded by sanctions of the most important kind—great blessings being promised to its observance, and severe judgments being threatened against those who should disregard it. In all this we see, that to the Jews the observance of the Sabbath was of divine obligation, and that that obligation continued so long as the law itself was unrepealed. In other words, until the same authority by which the law was promulgated, shall plainly declare it abolished, every Jew is bound to keep the Sabbath, on pain of incurring the displeasure of Almighty God.

But was the Jew the only person that was brought under the sanctions of this law? Were not all proselytes from the Gentiles bound by the same obligations, as they were also partakers of the same blessings with the Jews? And does the obligation stop even here? What is the meaning of this passage from the prophet Isaiah? “Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer . . . for mine house p. 20shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” [20a] Surely this language must have reference to the times of the gospel, when the gentile nations would be admitted into the church of God, and become partakers of the blessings of the new covenant. In support of this view it may be mentioned, that St. Paul states expressly that gentile believers have no separate and independent standing in the economy of redemption, but are as scions cut out of a wild olive tree and grafted into the Jewish stock, and so with the natural branches, partake of its root and fatness. Or, using another figure, he reminds the Ephesians, that before their conversion they had been “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,” but that now they were “fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” If this view be correct, and we see not how its correctness can be disproved, the Sabbath with its responsibilities and its blessings, is not confined to Jews, or to proselytes to the Jewish religion. Its observance is binding upon all who profess to believe the scriptures and to worship the God of the Bible.

We cannot help regarding as very untenable the opinion of those, who dissever the fourth commandment from the rest of the decalogue, under the plea that it is not properly speaking moral, [20b] and therefore has not the same force as the commandments of the second table—as if the express command of our Maker were not infinitely above every consideration arising from the nature of the injunction given, or as if man’s reason p. 21or man’s moral sense were competent to make a distinction where God has made none. What right have we, under any pretence whatever, to deny the obligation of a law, so plainly, so solemnly, so awfully promulgated by the God of heaven himself? The very position of the fourth commandment in the decalogue, might teach men to regard it with peculiar veneration. It is the link that binds together heaven and earth—our duty to God and our duty to our neighbour. It is the pillar that supports the whole moral and religious fabric. To attempt to set aside the obligation to observe the fourth commandment, is therefore, in our view, a daring attack on the authority of the Lawgiver. It is a temerity equalled only by that of the church of Rome in expunging from the decalogue the second commandment.

We acknowledge the greater consistency of those who affirm, that the whole moral law is swept away by the gospel; though we much regret that any true Christians, and those too, persons who are friendly to a proper observance of the Lord’s day, should hold notions which appear to us opposed to Scripture, and calculated to produce among the unthinking multitude, the most serious consequences. If indeed it were true, that the whole decalogue is abrogated by Christianity, no supposed immoral results would deter us from boldly proclaiming the fact. In that case, we should not shrink from telling men that our church is under a serious mistake, when she teaches her members to confess their guilt in breaking each of the ten commandments, to ask for pardon, and to implore grace to keep them in time to come. But it is because we believe in our heart that the decalogue is still in force, and that God’s honour and man’s happiness alike demand its observance, that we are not “bold enough” to proclaim as “liberty” what we are sure would lead to the greatest licentiousness. p. 22A theory of the kind may not seriously injure men of real piety and great spirituality of mind; but to others it would be productive of the most lamentable consequences.

But if Christianity has freed us from the moral law, an announcement to that effect must be recorded in the New Testament, and recorded in no obscure or doubtful terms, such as can by any possibility be misunderstood, but in language as plain, as perspicuous, and as authoritative, as that employed in the original promulgation of the law. For here we are not called upon to give up merely some external observance, or to change the mode or the time of performing some appointed duty (for that a less explicit intimation of the divine will would suffice); but we are told to renounce what in its very nature is essential to all acceptable obedience, and what above every other part of revelation bears marks of the divine impress. If the moral law is to be renounced as part of “the weak and beggarly elements” of the Mosaic religion, we must have the voice of God as distinctly abrogating the ten commandments as it was heard in their original promulgation. Nothing less will satisfy us, and nothing else, we venture to say, ought to satisfy any man who believes, that at the bar of God he must answer for the use he has made of the divine revelation contained in the Bible. [22]

Now, can any man shew, or does any man pretend to shew, a single passage of scripture in which it is plainly stated, that the decalogue is abrogated under the Christian dispensation? We are well aware that obedience to the law forms no part of man’s justification—for “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” We know too that love is the essence of all obedience—for “love is the fulfilling of the law.” But we know likewise that “this is p. 23the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” Nor can we conceive how the purest and most fervent love can be properly manifested, towards God or man, without some infallible guidance for its expression in the different relations of life. [23a] This we have briefly and essentially in the decalogue; while the principles there enunciated, are in the prophets and in the New Testament more fully developed and expanded. And in the absence of some plain revelation to justify such a course, we would fain know on what principle the comment (so to speak) is retained, when the text itself is rejected. If the law written by the finger of God and published by his own mouth may thus be ignored, what reason can be urged for listening to the moral teaching of Prophets and Apostles? But if the law of the ten commandments has not been annulled, the command to keep the Sabbath is still in force. For he that said “thou shalt not kill,” said also, “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” On this ground then we rest our defence of the divine and perpetual obligation of the Sabbath. God has not revoked his own solemn decree published with his own lips on Mount Sinai. Till this is done, the decree with all its sanctions continues in full force.

Here we are content to stop; though we feel that the argument might be carried much further. For we believe that had there been no command in the law of Moses, enjoining the observance of the Sabbath; still both Jews and Gentiles would have been bound by the original institution, [23b] coeval p. 24with man’s being, and forming the only positive appointment of God, imposed on our first parents in a state of innocency. He “blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.” This thought will probably have little weight with those who are not convinced by our previous arguments; but it will doubtless lead some to reflect, that if the Sabbath was needed for man’s welfare even in the garden of Eden, much more is it required for the good of both body and soul in his present condition of sin and toil and sorrow; and that if the Father of Goodness gave his sinless creatures a day of rest from worldly employment, and a weekly Sabbath for more continued and intimate communion with himself; the compassion of the same gracious Being would not only lead him to continue the appointment, now so much more needed in man’s fallen state, but also to command such an observance of the day, as man’s altered circumstances rendered necessary. Now, this can only be effected by making it imperative on all to “keep holy” the sacred day themselves, and to afford to others facilities to keep it. If it were to be regarded merely as a privilege, to be enjoyed or neglected at pleasure, it would p. 25not answer the end intended. In man’s present condition, he cannot by nature appreciate the boon, nor desire the spiritual blessings that the appointment is especially intended to convey. The observance of the Sabbath must therefore be laid upon his conscience as a duty, that in seeking to fulfil that duty, he may be continually brought under the means of grace, and the influence of Christian principles, until by God’s grace he is led to feel the blessedness of a well spent Sabbath, and keeps from a motive of love, what he at first observed from a sense of duty.

Some persons require a proof that the decalogue is binding on Christians. They acknowledge that it is still in force towards the Jews. But assuming that the whole Jewish economy is abrogated with regard to Christians, they demand evidence from the New Testament that the ten commandments are a rule of duty to us. Now this is a demand they have no right to make. It proceeds on an assumption, the correctness of which we deny. It is therefore, the part of those who maintain that view, to prove that the moral law has ceased to be in force; not of us, to shew the contrary.

While, however, we maintain our vantage ground, and contend that nothing less than a plain declaration in the New Testament to that effect, can or ought to satisfy us, that the decalogue is annulled, we do not despair of being able to satisfy any candid mind, by an appeal to the New Testament, that we are as much bound by the ten commandments as are the Jews, to whom they were originally given.

No one can say, that there is an express declaration in the New Testament, to the effect, that the decalogue is set aside under the present dispensation. Those who arrive at the conclusion, must confess, that it is merely inferential. In this respect, then, both parties stand on equal ground. Neither our opponents nor ourselves can adduce an undoubted and positive declaration. But we ask which have the greatest need of such a declaration—they who assert that the moral law, written and pronounced by God himself, has been abrogated, or they who affirm that it is still in force? On which side lies the greater probability, and with whom rests the greater responsibility? No very serious harm can result from the error (if such it be) of maintaining the perpetual authority of the moral law, but the most disastrous consequences may flow from the rejection of its claims. And surely it is more likely that God would continue his own law in force without a direct renewal of it, than that p. 27he would abrogate it without a plain announcement to that effect. In the absence then of positive evidence, the probability lies on the side of its retention.

Now, this probability advances a step towards certainty, when it is remembered, that Judaism is not formally abrogated in the New Testament—that in fact Christianity is not a new religion, but the extension and expansion of the moral and spiritual part of the Mosaic dispensation—believing Jews still remaining on their own stock, and believing Gentiles being scions grafted into the Jewish olive tree. The religion of Jesus is in reality the perfection of the religion of Moses. But where would be its superiority in a moral point of view, if the authority of the very standard of morality were taken from it? At any rate, if such were the case, some express intimation to that effect is to be expected.

This argument is still further strengthened by the fact, that the spirit and essential requirements of Judaism and Christianity are identical. It has indeed been asserted that the morality of the Old Testament was one of legal enactment; whereas that of the New Testament is one of motives and principles. But our Lord teaches a very different doctrine. He tells us that love was the essence and sum of all the requirements of the Old Testament, even as love is the fulfilling of the law under the present dispensation. [27] Christianity presents a new and powerful motive for obedience—namely gratitude for the incarnation and death of the Son of God; but this neither changes the nature of man’s moral obligation, nor removes the necessity of a positive enactment to guide him in his obedience, and enforce conformity to God’s will. If then in spirit and essence the moral requirements of the law and of the gospel were the same, what reason should there be for setting aside the decalogue, and what authority have we to ignore it without an express command from God?

The probability that the moral law remains in force under the present dispensation, is still further strengthened by the use which is made of it by the inspired writers of the New Testament. St. Paul indeed speaks of the law as the “ministry of condemnation,” in opposition to the gospel, which is the “ministry of righteousness,” or justification—the one dispensation bearing on its front the justice of God, the other, his mercy.

p. 28He tells us plainly that the law can only condemn, while the gospel alone has power to justify. He assures us that in this respect—in its condemning power—it is “done away” to the believer, while the free grace of the gospel alone “remains.” But when he speaks of the moral requirements of Christianity, while he tells us that (as in the religion of Moses) love is the essence and sum of all, he nevertheless sends us to the commandments of the second table, to learn how love is to be exhibited, or rather perhaps to shew us, that the moral requirements of the two dispensations were essentially the same. [28a] What an extraordinary use to make of the law, if the decalogue be part of “the weak and beggarly elements” abolished by Christianity. St. John tells us that to love God is to keep his commandments. But we know not which of his commandments we are bound to keep, if we reject those which he wrote with his own finger, and pronounced with his own voice. St. James refers to the moral law as if recognising its obligation. “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now, if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” [28b] It may be objected, that this reference to the law is merely for the purpose of illustration. But surely if the violation of one precept involves the guilt of breaking the whole law, the whole law must still be in force. For if the enactment has been repealed, there is no law; and if there is no law, there can be no transgression; and if there is no transgression, there can be no guilt. How strange, too, is this appeal to the law by the Apostle Paul, if the law has been annulled: “Children obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honour thy father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on the earth.” [28c] We thus approach very near the establishment of our position, that there is evidence in the New Testament, that the moral law is still binding on men.

It may indeed be objected, that in the scriptures quoted or alluded to, the reference is chiefly, if not exclusively, to the second table of the decalogue. But we think few will venture to deny, (especially after the assertion of St. James, that the violation of one precept is the violation of p. 29the whole law) that if the part which regulates our duty to man is in force, the part which teaches our duty to God must be equally in force. Besides, if love is the fulfilling of the law, and the love of God is keeping his commandments, how can we express our love to him, if we reject that part of the law, which especially guides us in the proper manner of shewing our love directly to him?

But there is one passage of the New Testament, which, in the absence of a positive enunciation to the contrary, to our mind, of itself establishes the permanent authority of the decalogue, and which, when added to what has already been said, more than completes the proof that has been demanded of us. We allude to our Lord’s declaration: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” [29a] There can scarcely be a doubt to what the Redeemer refers when he speaks of “the law and the prophets.” He could not intend the ceremonial law, because the breaking of its least commands would not make a man “least in the kingdom of heaven.” Neither was it true that he did not come to put an end to its observance. It is the moral law, and those instructions of the prophets which flow from it—it is “the law and the prophets” as embraced in the precept, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself,” which our Lord evidently meant. The entire discourse to which this declaration forms the introduction, is of a moral character; and whatever meanings may have been put upon our Lord’s language, we think any unbiased mind, on reading the whole discourse, will come to the conclusion, that the moral law was chiefly and prominently in the Saviour’s mind, when he employed the language above quoted. [29b] But if one jot or tittle cannot p. 30pass away from the law, how should the entire law be abrogated? We conclude, therefore, that there is satisfactory evidence in the New Testament, that the decalogue is still in force in the Christian church—not so indeed that obedience to it forms the ground of the believer’s justification, or that want of perfect conformity to its requirements brings him under condemnation (this was not the case under the Jewish dispensation), but as the standard of right and wrong, as the infallible regulator of conscience, as that perfect rule of moral obligation, by seeking conformity to which we honour our Creator and Redeemer, perform the duties of this present life, and become fitted for the presence of God and the inheritance of the saints in light. To the believer the moral law has always been “the law of liberty,” because, it being “written in his heart,” he has “delighted in it after the inner man,” and kept its precepts from a principle of love.



[7] It is the fashion to extol highly the power of man’s mental and moral perception of what is right and wrong. But from whom do we hear most on these subjects? From those who, having lighted their torch at the lamp of God, affect not only to be independent of divine illumination, but even to eclipse the light of heaven itself. If they will fairly test their own principles, let them try them by the condition of that portion of the human family on whom revelation never cast its direct rays. Let them seek in the records of the heathen nations of antiquity, or in the principles and practice of modern heathendom, for proofs of man’s inherent power to think and act aright. They will then find that their wisdom is folly, their religion the most degrading idolatry, and that their moral code allows and even commands actions of the most revolting kind. The moral sense of the New Zealander made him a cannibal. In the Hindu it is seen in the worship of the Linga, in the horrid rites of the Suttee, and in the filthy and unnatural crimes that form a part of what is considered their most acceptable worship. It is hardly necessary to refer the classical reader to such works as the Phædrus and Symposium of the greatest philosopher of the most civilized nation of antiquity.

[12a] Heb. x. 25.

[12b] Vide x. 26, et seq.

[13] After examining all the places in which the word σάββατον and the defective plural σάββατα occur, both in the New Testament and in the Septuagint, we are satisfied that the following extract from Bishop Horsley’s Third Sermon on the Sabbath, gives the proper exposition of the passage. “I must not quit this part of my subject without briefly taking notice of a text in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, which has been supposed to contradict the whole doctrine which I have asserted, and to prove that the observation of a Sabbath in the Christian church is no point of duty, but a matter of mere compliance with ancient custom . . . From this text no less a man than the venerable Calvin drew the conclusion, in which he has been rashly followed by other considerable men, that the sanctification of the seventh day is no indispensable duty in the Christian church—that it is one of those carnal ordinances of the Jewish religion which our Lord hath blotted out. The truth however is, that in the apostolical age, the first day of the week, though it was observed with great reverence, was not called the Sabbath day, but the Lord’s day . . . and the name of the Sabbath days was appropriated to the Saturdays, and certain days in the Jewish church, which were likewise called Sabbaths in the law. The Sabbath days, therefore, of which St. Paul speaks, were not the Sundays of Christians, but the Saturdays and other Sabbaths of the Jewish calendar.”

[14] Rom. xiv. 5, 6.

[15] Isaiah i. 13, 14.

[16] We are reminded of certain expressions in some of the Fathers, from which it is inferred, that they did not deem it necessary to keep the Lord’s day so strictly as we contend it ought to be kept; and that Constantine passed a decree permitting persons in the rural districts, to get in their crops on Sunday, should the weather be such as to threaten their destruction or serious injury. Without discussing the propriety of the particular edict in question, we deem it a sufficient answer, that the Bible, and not the Fathers or Constantine, is our rule of faith and practice. Many erroneous notions were held by the Fathers; and no one will pretend that either Constantine or the church generally in his days, was so correct in practice, as to present a perfect model for us to follow.

We are also reminded, that there were some in the early church—slaves, for instance—who could not keep the Lord’s day; and these, it is argued, would rather have died than have desecrated it, had they considered it of the same obligation as the command to abstain from idolatry. To this it may be replied, that the question is not what certain individuals thought, or what was the practice of certain communities, but what the word of God teaches. There is, however, a marked distinction between the two cases here supposed, arising from the difference between the two commandments. Many instances may occur, in which it is physically impossible to obey the letter of some of the commandments. Thus, poverty, sickness, or other providential impediment, may incapacitate the most obedient child from ministering to the wants of his parents. In like manner, bodily infirmity, imprisonment, or other providential restraint, may prevent the observance of the fourth commandment in the letter, while the heart longs to honour God’s holy day, and to enjoy its blessings. The Christian slave, therefore, whose body (in the providence of God) was under the power of his master, might be compelled to work on the Lord’s day without incurring guilt. But he could not worship an idol, without an open renunciation of Christianity. Surely there is no need to insist on the difference between the two cases.

[17] Heb. iv. 9. σαββατισμὸς.

[18] We cannot see the distinction contended for by some, between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s day; namely, that the former was “rest,” while the latter is “public worship.” To us they appear identical. The Jewish Sabbath was not merely “rest,” but holy or sanctified rest. “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.” Moses calls it “the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord;” and God frequently declares that it was appointed as a “sign” between himself and his people, and commands them to keep it holy. Now, how could the Jewish Sabbath answer the description thus given of it, if mere rest, or cessation from bodily labour, was all that was required in its observance? We know that the Sunday, as kept by those who only lay aside their usual worldly employments, is neither “blessed,” nor “sanctified,” nor “holy,” nor a “sign” between them and God. On the contrary, it is made the occasion of the most awful immoralities, and is productive of the greatest misery. Instead of a blessing, it is converted into a curse. Besides, did not the instructions of the heads of families, and the teaching and ministrations of the Levites, in the earlier part of the Jewish history, and the services at the synagogue in after times, afford means of instruction very similar to those in the Christian church? By divine appointment the Levites were to teach the people (Lev. x. 11; Deut. xxxiii. 10), and the people were to teach their children (Deut. vi. 7); and we cannot conceive how this could have been done, or the Sabbath have been kept holy, according to the commandment, without some stated instruction and worship on the day of rest, from the first settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. A whole nation keeping holy every seventh day, without the aids and restraints of public worship, appears to us an impossibility. Indeed, why is the Sabbath expressly called “a holy convocation” [מקרא קדש] (Levit. xxiii. 3), if no assemblies of the people for worship took place on that day? But after all, what do the advocates of the strictest observance of the Sabbath require, more than was required of the Jews by God himself? (Isa. lviii. 13.) We therefore consider the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday, the same in spirit, in character, and in their general religious requirements.

[20a] Isaiah, lvi. 6, 7.

[20b] The fourth commandment is in its nature partly moral and partly positive. Reason teaches the duty of devoting a portion of our time to the worship of God. Revelation determines the amount by a positive enactment. Now, it is very remarkable, that while all the other sabbatical institutions (which are peculiar to the Jews) are omitted in the moral law and inserted in the ceremonial law, that of the seventh day alone stands in the decalogue. Is not this a tacit indication of its moral character?

[22] See Appendix.

[23a] How often has the fondest love of parents become destructive to their offspring, for want of proper regulation in its expression. So, love to God and man, if mere feeling, without proper intellectual guidance, might produce results the reverse of its intention. It would be the propelling power without the regulator.

[23b] “It is a gross mistake to consider the Sabbath as a mere festival of the Jewish church, deriving its whole sanctity from the Levitical law. The contrary appears, as well from the evidence of the fact which sacred history affords, as from the reason of the thing which the same history declares. The religious observation of the seventh day hath a place in the decalogue among the very first duties of natural religion. The reason assigned for the injunction is general, and hath no relation or regard to the particular circumstances of the Israelites. The creation of the world was an event equally interesting to the whole human race; and the acknowledgment of God as our Creator, is a duty in all ages and in all countries, equally incumbent upon every individual of mankind.” From Bishop Horsley’s Second Sermon on the Sabbath.

Professor Blunt has elaborately demonstrated, that the Sabbath was observed in the Patriarchal age. See Scriptural Coincidences, pp. 18–24. The hebdomadal division of time by the Pagan nations of the West, and by the Hindus and other people in the East, seems to indicate a traditional recognition of the Sabbath, though the observance of the day, as a day of rest, passed away with the worship of Him, in whose honour it was originally instituted.

[27] Matt. xxii. 37–40.

[28a] Rom. xiii. 8–10.

[28b] James ii. 10, 11.

[28c] Ephes. vi. 1–3.

[29a] Matt. v. 17, 18.

[29b] Our Lord refers to some of the moral precepts, and to some of the civil enactments of the law of Moses; because the meaning and application of both had been perverted or obscured by the glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees; and his intention evidently was, to remove those false glosses, and to teach the legitimate application, meaning, and extent of the divine commandments. Thus, the civil enactment, “An eye for an eye,” &c. was perverted by the Pharisees, so as to encourage the notion, that personal revenge was justifiable by the divine law. This perversion was met by our Lord’s command, “Resist not evil,” &c. Again, God had commanded the Jews to love their neighbours as themselves. The Scribes, it would seem, chose to infer that this command necessarily implied the inculcation of an opposite feeling towards enemies. They therefore interpreted the precept to mean “Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.” Our Lord gave the most decided negative to this gloss, by his injunction, “love your enemies,” &c. Moreover, the Scribes taught that the mere outward observance of the precept was all that the law required. Our Lord shewed that God regards the inward feelings and motives of men—that the unchaste desire was adultery, and that causeless anger was murder. In this, his object was not to condemn or contradict the teaching of the law and the prophets, but to free it from human perversion, to shew its real character, and to point out its moral beauty and excellency. Hence his solemn assertion, that not one jot or tittle should pass from the law.