Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
THE SABBATH DAY
By C. T. Russell
Pastor London and Brooklyn Tabernacles
"The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath."
SEVEN is a very prominent number in the Bible—in everything relating to the Divine Program. In the first chapter of Genesis, the Sabbath Day is referred to in a figurative way in speaking of the seventh epoch of God’s creations on our earth—bringing order out of chaos. Not until Mt. Sinai, however, when the Law was given to Israel on two tables of stone, was the Day Sabbath made obligatory on anybody. And since that law covenant was made with the one nation (Israel) and none other, the Sabbath requirements of that Law apply to that nation only. This does not signify that the setting apart of a certain time for rest would be of advantage only to the Jew, nor that a special seventh day devoted to God would be disadvantageous to all people. It merely means that God entered into covenant relationship with the one nation only, and hence to them only He told His will, His law—obedience to which He made the foundation of the blessing He promised to that people. There is no room to question the import of the Fourth Commandment of the Jewish law. It distinctly commanded that the seventh day of the week should be to the Jews a rest day, in which no work of any kind should be done, either by parent or child, employer or servant, male or female, ox or ass, or any creature owned by a Jew. It was a rest day pure and simple. Divine worship was not commanded to be done on that day—not because God would be displeased to have Divine worship upon that day or upon any day, but because there is a reason connected with the matter which related, not to worship but to rest, as we shall see. The strictness of this law upon the Jew is fully attested by the fact that upon one occasion, by Divine command, a man was stoned to death for merely picking up sticks on the Sabbath Day.
It is plain, therefore, to be seen that the law given to Israel on this subject meant what it said to the very letter.
In the New Testament, Jesus is supposed by some to have taught a laxity in the matter of Sabbath observance, but this is quite a misunderstanding. Jesus, born a Jew, "born under the law," was as much obligated to keep that law in its very letter as was any other Jew. And he did not, of course, violate the obligation in the slightest degree. The Scribes and Pharisees had strayed away from the real spirit of the law in many particulars. Their tradition, represented at the present time by their Talmud, attempted to explain the law, but really, as Jesus said frequently, made it void, meaningless, absurd. For instance, according to the traditions of their elders, it was breaking the Sabbath if one were hungry to rub the kernels of wheat in their hands and blow away the chaff and eat the grain, as the disciples did one Sabbath Day in passing through the wheat field. The Pharisees called attention to this, and wanted Jesus to reprove the disciples, because, according to their thought, this simple process was labor—work—reaping and thrashing and winnowing. Jesus resisted this absurd misinterpretation of the law, and by
OV279 His arguments proved to any one willing to be taught that they had mistaken the Divine intention—had mistranslated the law of the Sabbath. On several occasions He healed the sick on the Sabbath Day. Indeed, the majority of His healings were done on that day, greatly to the disgust of the Pharisees, who claimed that He was a law-breaker in so doing. We cannot suppose that Jesus performed these miracles to aggravate the Pharisees; rather we are to understand that their Sabbath Day typified the great Sabbath of blessing and healing—the antitypical Sabbath which is in the future—the period of the Messianic reign and the healing of all earth’s sorrows.
Jesus clearly pointed out to the Scribes and Pharisees that they were misinterpreting the meaning of the Divine arrangement, that God did not make man merely to keep a Sabbath, but that He had made the Sabbath for, in the interest of, mankind. Hence everything necessary for man’s assistance would be lawful on the Sabbath Day, however laborious it might be. Indeed, Jesus carried the thought still farther, and pointed out to His hearers the absurdity of their position—for, He said, if any of you should have an ox or an ass fall into the pit on a Sabbath Day, would you leave him to die and thus suffer loss, as well as allow the animal to be in pain? Assuredly they would not, and assuredly they would be justified in helping any creature out of trouble on that day. Then said Jesus, If so much might be done for a dumb creature, might not a good work of mercy and help for mankind be properly enough done on the Sabbath Day?
The Seventh Day Still a Sabbath.
A mistake made by many Christians is the supposition that the law covenant which God made with Israel ceased, passed away. On the contrary, as the Apostle declares, "The law hath dominion over a man so long as he liveth." The Jewish law is as obligatory upon the Jew to-day as it was upon his fathers in the days of Moses. Only death could set the Jew free from that law covenant until, in God’s due time, it shall be enlarged and made what God, through the Prophet, styles a new covenant—a new law covenant. That will take place just as soon as the Mediator of the new covenant shall have been raised up from amongst the people. That prophet will be like unto Moses, but greater—the antitype. That prophet will be the glorified Christ—Jesus the head and the completed church, who are frequently spoken of as members of His body, and sometimes styled the bride, the lamb’s wife. This antitypical mediator (
), under the new law covenant which He will then establish, will assist the Jews (and all who come into harmony with God through Him) back to that human perfection in which they will be able to keep the Divine law perfectly in every particular. This great mediator, Messiah, will for a thousand years carry on this great work.
This mediator is not yet completed. The head has passed into glory centuries ago, but the body, the church, awaits a completeness of membership and resurrection change—to be made "like Him and see Him as He is" and share His glory and His work.
Meantime the law covenant is still in force upon every Jew; but it is not in force upon any but Jews, as it never has been in force upon any other people. During these eighteen centuries, between the death of Christ and the inauguration of the new covenant, Jesus, as the great high priest, is offering the "better sacrifices" mentioned by St. Paul (
) and described in type in Leviticus 16. The first part of the great high priest’s sacrifice was the offering of the human body which He took for the purpose when He was made flesh—"a body hast thou prepared Me" "for the suffering of death." (
#Heb 10:5, 2:9
.) The second part of His "better sacrifices" is the offering of His mystical body—the church. This work has been in progress since Pentecost. To
OV280 the consecrated ones who approach the Father through Him He becomes the advocate.
He accepts them as His members on the earth; and their sufferings thenceforth are His sufferings so fully that He could say of them to Saul of Tarsus, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." These, accepted as His representatives in the flesh, their blemishes covered by their advocate’s merit, are begotten, by the Heavenly Father, of the Holy Spirit to be members of the new creation—the spiritual body of Christ, of which He is the head.
We remarked that the Sabbath Day, still in full force and its observance obligatory upon the Jew, is not upon other nationalities. We should modify this statement by the remark that there are some who mistakenly endeavor to be Jews and try to get under the law covenant provisions as Sabbath-keepers. St. Paul recognized this tendency in his day. Note his words to the Christians of Galatia, who were not by nature Jews, but Gentiles. He says, "Ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" "Oh, foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" He proceeds to show them that the Jews are in bondage to their law and can never get eternal life under it until the Mosaic law covenant shall ultimately be merged into the Messianic new law covenant. His argument then is that if the Jew cannot get life in keeping the law, it would be foolish for Gentiles to think that they could secure Divine favor and everlasting life by keeping the law. He declares, "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in God’s sight." The only way to obtain justification in God’s sight is by the acceptance of Christ and by a full consecration to be His disciples and to join with Him in His covenant of sacrifice as it is written, "Gather together My saints unto Me, saith the Lord, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice." (
.); and again, "I beseech you, brethren, present your bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, your reasonable service." —
Christians and the Law Sabbath
St. Paul did not mean that Christians should not strive to keep the Divine law, but that they should not put themselves under it as a covenant, nor think that by striving to oppose the law covenant they would get or maintain harmony with God and gain the reward of everlasting life. On the contrary, he declares in so many words, "The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who are walking, not after (or according to) the flesh, but after (or according to) the spirit." (
.) His meaning is clear.
The Decalogue was never given to Christians, but it is quite appropriate that Christians should look back to that Decalogue and note the spirit of its teachings and strive to conform their lives thereto in every particular. But what is the spirit of the Decalogue?
Our Lord Jesus clearly set it forth to be—"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy being, with all thy strength, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." St. Paul says that our Lord not only kept the law, but that He magnified it, or showed it to have greater proportions than the Jews ever supposed it had—length and breadth, height and depth beyond the ability of fallen humanity to perform; moreover, the apostle declares that our Lord Jesus made that law honorable.
The Jews having tried to keep the Divine law for more than sixteen centuries, had reason to doubt if any one could keep it in a way satisfactory to God. But the fact that Jesus did keep the law perfectly, and that God was satisfied with His keeping of it, made the law honorable—proved that it was not an unreasonable requirement—not beyond the ability of a perfect man.
Jesus showed the spirit or deeper meaning of several of the commandments; for instance, the commandment Thou shalt do no murder, He indicated
OV281 would be violated by any one’s becoming angry and manifesting in any degree an injurious or murderous spirit. (See also
.) The commandment respecting adultery our Lord declares could be violated by the mind without any overt act—the simple desire to commit adultery if an opportunity offered would be a violation of the spirit of that commandment. It is this magnified conception of the Ten Commandments that the apostle says Christians are better able to appreciate than the Jews, because of having received the begetting of the Holy Spirit. And it is this highest conception of the Divine Law which is fulfilled in us (Christians—footstep followers of Jesus) who are walking through life, not according to the flesh and its desires and promptings, but according to the spirit—the spirit of the Divine law, the spirit which the Father hath sent forth into our hearts—the desire to be like Him who is the fountain of love and purity.
The Spirit of the Sabbath
And there is another or deeper meaning to the other commandments than was understood by the Jews; so it is also with the Fourth, which enjoins the keeping of the seventh day as a day of rest or Sabbath. The word Sabbath signifies rest, and its deeper or antitypical meaning to the Christian is the rest of faith. The Jew, unable to keep the Mosaic law and unable, therefore, to get everlasting life under the law covenant, was exhorted to flee to Christ; and, by becoming dead to the law covenant, by utterly renouncing it, he was privileged to come into membership in Christ—become sharer in the covenant of sacrifice. So doing, he was promised rest from the law and its condemnation, because "to them that are in Christ there is no condemnation" —the merit of Christ covers the shortcomings of all those who are striving to walk in His steps, and the Divine Spirit and Word give them the assurances of Divine favor, which ushers them into peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ—ushers them into rest.
Thus the apostle declares, "We which believe do enter into (Sabbath) rest."—
Moreover, the Apostle indicates that although we enter into a rest of faith now, through faith and obedience to Christ, Christians have a still greater rest awaiting them beyond their resurrection, when they shall enter into the rest which is in reservation for those that love the Lord—the rest, the perfection, on the spirit plane, attained, as the Apostle describes, by resurrection—"sown in weakness, raised in power; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown an animal body, raised a spirit body."
Fiftieth Day and Fiftieth Year
Here we are reminded that Israel had two systems of Sabbaths—one of Sabbath days and the other of Sabbath years. The Sabbath days began to count in the spring. It was a multiple of seven. Seven times seven days (forty-nine days) brought them to the Jubilee day, the fiftieth day, which was styled Pentecost. It is scarcely necessary to call attention to the fulfillment of the anti-type of this. Pentecost never had its true meaning until the Lord, as "the first-fruits of them that slept," arose from the dead.
Then immediately the seven times seven, plus one, began to count, and on the fiftieth day, the Holy Spirit was shed abroad upon all those "Israelites indeed" who, already consecrated, were waiting in the upper room for the antitypical high priest to make satisfaction for their sins and to shed forth upon them the holy spirit, as the evidence of their restoration to divine favor. Immediately they had peace with God. Immediately they entered into rest. Immediately they realized that they were children of God, begotten of the holy spirit, that they might in due time become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, their Lord. And is it not true that all down throughout this gospel age all who followed in the footsteps of Jesus and the disciples,
OV282 all who renounce sin, trust in Jesus and fully consecrate their lives to Him, become recipients of the holy spirit and similarly enter into His rest? Only those who have entered into this rest and joy of the holy spirit can fully appreciate the matter.
Now let us glance at the year Sabbath. Every seventh year the land had its rest. And seven-times seven (forty-nine) brought them up to the fiftieth year or the year of jubilee, in which year all debts were cancelled and each Israelite returned to his own inheritance. It was a year of rest, peace, joy. That jubilee pictures the glorious restitution times of Messiah’s kingdom, which, we believe, are nigh, even at the door.
When these times shall be ushered in, all the faithful followers of Jesus will have reached the heavenly condition, to be forever with the Lord. Their rest (Sabbath keeping) will have reached its completion, its perfection, and throughout that antitypical jubilee the blessings of Divine favor will be gradually extended to the whole world, that every creature desirous of coming into harmony with God may enter into the rest which God has provided for the poor, groaning creation through the great Redeemer.
The Christian’s Sunday Sabbath
From what we have already seen, it is manifest that God has put no Sabbath obligations upon the Christian—neither for the seventh day nor for any other day of the week. He has, however, provided for them a rest in the Lord, which is typified by the Jewish Sabbath day. Do we ask upon which day we should celebrate this rest? We answer that we should be in this heart attitude of joy, rest, peace in the Lord and in His finished work, every day. So, then, the Christian, instead of having a Sabbath rest day, as the Jew, has rest perpetual—every day. And instead of its being merely a rest for his body, it is better—a rest for his soul, a rest for his entire being. It can be enjoyed wherever he may be, "at home or abroad, on the land or the sea," for "as his days may demand, shall his rest ever be." This is the spiritual antitype to the spiritual Israelite, of the law Sabbath given to the natural Israelites. Whoever quibbles for the day Sabbath of the Jew shows clearly that he has not understood nor appreciated as yet, to the full, at least, the antitypical Sabbath which God has provided for the spiritual Israelite through Christ.
But is there not a compulsion to the Christian to observe one day in the week sacred to the Lord? Yes, we answer; there is an obligation upon him such as there is upon no one else in the world. He is obligated by his covenant to the Lord to keep every day sacred to the Lord. Every day he is to love the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his being, with all his strength; every day he is to love his neighbor as himself. And while striving to the best of his ability to conform to this spirit of the Divine law, and while realizing that the blood of Jesus Christ our Redeemer cleanses us from all the imperfections contrary to our intentions—these may rest in the peace and joy of the Lord continually. "We which believe do enter into rest."
There is no day of the week commanded to the spiritual Israelite as respects physical or mental rest—the latter they may have always, and the former may be ordered by human regulations for one day or for another. The Christian is commanded to be subject to the laws that be, in all such matters as are non-essential, not matters of conscience.
The Right Use of Liberty
Let us remember, however, that our liberty in Christ is the liberty from the weight and condemnation of sin and death. Let us not think specially of a liberty from the Jewish restraints of the seventh day, nor think especially of the fact that no day above another has been commanded upon Christians in the Bible. Let us rather
OV283 consider this liberty as of minor consequence and importance as compared with our liberation from the power of sin and death.
If one day or another be set apart by human lawgivers, let us observe their commands.
Let us be subject to every ordinance of men. In Christian lands generally the first day of the week is set apart by law. Shall we ignore this law and claim that God has put no such law upon us, and that we should have our liberty to do business, etc.? Nay verily; rather, on the other hand let us rejoice that there is a law which sets apart one day in seven for rest from business, etc. Let us use that day as wisely and as well as we are able for our spiritual upbuilding and for assistance to others. What a blessing we have in this provision! How convenient it makes it for us to assemble ourselves together for worship, praise, the study of the Divine word! And if earthly laws provided more than one Sabbath (rest) day in the week we might well rejoice in that also, for it would afford us that much more opportunity for spiritual refreshment and fellowship.
Nor should our knowledge of the liberty we enjoy in Christ ever be used in such a manner that it might stumble others. Our observance of the Sabbath enjoined by the law of the land should be most complete—to the very letter—that our good be not evil spoken of—that our liberty in Christ and freedom from the Mosaic law be not misunderstood to be a business or pleasure license, but a privilege and opportunity for the worship and service of the Lord, and the building up of the brethren in the most holy faith, "once delivered to the saints."
Who Changed the Sabbath Day?
Often the question is asked, Who changed the Sabbath day to Sunday? The proper answer is that nobody changed it. The seventh day (Saturday) is still as obligatory upon the Jew as it ever was.
The early Christians observed the seventh day for a long time, because it was the law of the land, which gave them a favorable opportunity for meeting for praise, prayer and the study of God’s word. In addition, the fact that Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, and that He met with them on that day, led them to meet again and again on the first day, in hope that He would again appear; thus gradually it became a custom for them to meet on that day for Christian fellowship. In this way, so far as we know, both the first day and the seventh day of the week were observed by Christians for quite a time, but neither was understood to be obligatory—a bondage. Both days were privileges. And as many other days of the week as circumstances would permit were used in praising God and building one another up in the most holy faith, just as God’s people are doing, or should be doing, in this, our day.
Are we told that a pope once designated that the first day of the week should be observed by Christians as the Christian Sabbath? We answer that this may be so, but that neither popes nor any beings, not even the Apostles, could have right to add to or to take from the word of God. St. Paul particularly warned the church against coming into bondage to the Jewish custom of observing new moons and Sabbaths, as though these were obligations upon Christians. The Son of God has made us free—free indeed.
But our freedom from the Law Covenant of Israel enables us the more and the better to observe the very spirit of the Divine law daily, hourly, and to present our bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God through the merit of our Redeemer.