In Support of the Fourth Commandment

By | November 2, 2012

John Piper on the Sabbath:
“Is There a “Lord’s Day”?
So the final, eternal, blood-bought Sabbath rest has begun. We enter into it when we cease from our works and trust Christ and his finished work for us on the cross. This is the great and final meaning of the Sabbath. Christ has become our rest, our Sabbath. This is what Hebrews 4:9-10 is saying, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” Past tense. We have entered. But then the writer adds in verse 11: “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.” In other words, we have entered it, and we must yet enter it. Redemption is accomplished. It must now be applied and consummated. Our eternal Sabbath is begun but is not fully present.

This is probably why the early church did not abandon the celebration of one day in seven as a day belonging especially to the Lord. In Revelation 1:10 it is called “the Lord’s Day.”I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” They knew that the final rest was still future. A day was still needed to bear witness to a self-reliant, self-sufficient world that our work does not save us or define us, Christ does.

What did Paul mean then, when he wrote to the Colossians (in 2:16-17), “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ”? I think he meant: Christ himself is our final Sabbath rest. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Christ has come and purchased our rest, and becomes our resting place. The burden of saving ourselves is lifted. There is rest for our souls.

But the shadow remains because Christ has not yet returned. Someday there will be no more weeks because there will be no more night or month or years. The Sun and the moon will not be needed, because “the Lord God will be their light” (Revelation 22:5). There will be only Sabbath and no other day.

But not yet. We taste the final rest only in part as we trust in Christ. Therefore the Sabbath principle was not abandoned by the early church. The shadow of Christ across this weary world still offers shade, namely, the first day of the week—the Lord’s day. And the meaning of that day is that Jesus is risen and Jesus is Lord and Jesus is Creator and Jesus is Redeemer and Jesus is the only place of rest for the soul. It’s a day for worshipping Jesus. It’s a day for saying by what we do and don’t do that Jesus, not our work and not the money we get from our work, is our treasure and our meaning. It is a special day for the honor and the glory of the Lord. A day for mercy and for man.

So Does Romans 14:5 Refer to the Lord’s Day?

So, does Romans 14:5 refer to the Lord’s Day when it says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind”? I answer with Paul Jewett: “It is unconvincing . . . to press Paul’s statement in Romans 14:5 so absolutely as to have considered John [the apostle] a Judaizer for having called one day in the week the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), thus giving it the preeminence.” (The Lord’s Day, p. 78). Jewett takes John’s conviction as having apostolic authority and assumes he is not among the “weak” of Romans 14:2. That is, John does not call one day in the week “the Lord’s Day” as one option among many. He calls it “the Lord’s day” because he and the early church treat it in a special way among all days.

I cannot escape what seems to me compelling evidence that the Lord’s Day remains till Jesus comes and that it is set apart for the glory of Christ and the good of our souls. May the Lord give you wisdom and freedom and joy as you display his work and his worth on his day.”

From “The Life of Faith” by A.W. Pink

“In the next place, we emphatically deny that this Sabbath law has ever been repealed. Those who teach it has, are guilty of the very thing which the Saviour so pointedly condemns in Matthew 5:19. There are those who allow that it is right and proper for us to keep the other nine Commandments, but they insist that the Sabbath has passed away. We fully believe that this very error was anticipated by Christ in Matthew 5:19: “Whosoever shall break one (not “any one”) of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven”. Hebrews 4:9 tells us that Sabbath-keeping remains: it has not become obsolete.

The Sabbath (like all the other Commandments) was not simply for Israel but for all men. The Lord Jesus distinctly declared “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27) and no amount of quibbling can ever make this mean Jews only. The Sabbath was made for man: for man to observe and obey; also for man’s well-being, because his constitution needed it. One day of rest each week is requisite for man’s physical, mental and spiritual good.”


From “Calvin and the Sabbath: The Controversy of Applying the Fourth Commandment” by Richard Gaffin:

“The point to be drawn from Calvin’s view of the Decalogue pertinent to our study is this: any remarks he makes regarding the meaning and present obligation of the Sabbath can be understood and properly evaluated only within the scope of his firm conviction that the fourth commandment, as an element of the Decalogue, applies to all people in every age. There is not the slightest indication that he had the remotest sympathy for the view, though subsequently it has often appealed to him in support, that the Sabbath no longer exists, on the basis either that the Decalogue is not valid for the Christian era or that the fourth commandment alone has been abolished while the other nine are still in force. Rather, he plainly opposes any view of the Sabbath question based on the notion of the abrogation of all or even one of the ten commandments.”   -page 47

“The weekly Sabbath instituted at creation is a type of eschatological rest. But, as we have also seen, as such and more concretely, it points to the order of the Spirit in its perfect, consummate finality. It therefore continues to serve a typical function until what it prefigures is realized. That eschatological consummation, 1 Corinthians 15, for one, makes clear, will not be until the resurrection of the body (vv. 42-49), until the time “when he [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father…, so that God may be all in all” (vv. 24-28).

Certainly, believers have already received the Spirit as an actual deposit on their eschatological inheritance (Eph. 1:14); the blessings they enjoy are “semi-eschatological.” But to reason, on the basis of these incipiently enjoyed blessings, that the weekly Sabbath has ceased, reflects a greatly impoverished view of biblical eschatology. To conclude that the Sabbath institution has been abrogated because all the blessings of the eschatological order are in principle realized in the New Testament church, as if nothing essentially new remains to be realized, is to lose sight of the present incomprehensibility of the consummate glory of the new heavens and new earth that God, in Christ and through the Spirit, has prepared for his people, glory that neither eye has seen nor ear heard (1 Cor. 2:9). The weekly Sabbath is the type of that still future perfection and will continue to picture it until it becomes reality.”    -page 159


“The main reason why the Jews rested on the seventh day was that on that day God himself rested. “The Lord commended it by his own example that they might observe it with greater piety.”

“And Calvin goes on to add that there is no greater incentive for obeying this commandment than the fact that in keeping it, the creature is imitating the Creator.

It is difficult to see how those who have asserted either that Calvin nowhere teaches that the Sabbath is grounded in creation or specifically, that this idea is missing in the Institutes, could have overlooked the import of this statement. Certainly there is no explicit mention, in terms of language that came into vogue in later discussions, that the Sabbath is a “creation ordinance”; nor does he say that it was observed prior to the giving of the Law at Sinai. But it is equally certain that he here refers implicitly to the teaching of Genesis 2:2-3, and that the rest of God described in these verses furnishes a basis, if not the basis, for the Sabbath command given to Israel. Admittedly we might wish that he had been more explicit, but we should hardly expect a statement in terms of language which was largely determined by the long and intense debates that did not begin until after Calvin’s death. In short, the notion of the Sabbath institution as a creation ordinance (in the sense of being grounded in God’s own resting after creating), although not explicitly stated, is consonant with and perhaps even implied in the teaching of the Institutes.”    pages 30-31


From “The Doctrine of the Christian Life: A Theology of Lordship” by John Frame:

“But the clinching argument is the language of the fourth commandment itself. There the Lord says that Israel should keep the Sabbath because of the events of Genesis 2:2-3: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11).

It is important to ask, What Sabbath does Exodus 20:11 refer to? Does “Sabbath” here refer to God’s rest after creating the world or to man’s own Sabbath rest? It must refer to both. The first sentence of Exodus 20:11 refers to God’s own rest, but “Sabbath” in the second sentence must refer to the “Sabbath” of verse 8, the weekly Sabbath that God requires of Israel. Exodus 20:11 sees an identity between these. It teaches that when God took his own rest from his creative labors and rested on the seventh day, which he hallowed and blessed, he also hallowed and blessed a human Sabbath, a Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). In other words, when God blessed his own Sabbath rest in Genesis 2:3, he blessed it as a model for human imitation. So Israel is to keep the Sabbath, because in Genesis 2:2-3 God hallowed and blessed man’s Sabbath as well as his own.

In my judgment, this argument establishes that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance (cf. chapter 13). It is one of those institutions like marriage, labor, and the cultural mandate given to Adam and Eve before the fall and therefore to all mankind. Although it is not unthinkable that God might change a creation ordinance at some time in history, such changes are very unlikely. For creation ordinances are given to man as man (Mark 2:27 again). They are not given merely as symbols of redemption, and therefore they are not “ceremonial.” Rather, they express the basic relationship between Creator and creature.” pages 532-533

From “A Puritan Theology: A Doctrine For Life” by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones:

“In Owen’s view, the institution of the Sabbath at creation is based on two texts in the Bible, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. “And,” writes Owen, “both of them seem to me of so uncontrollable an evidence that I have often wondered how ever any sober and learned persons undertook to evade their force or efficacy in this cause.” These two texts are, of course, Genesis 2:1-2 and Hebrews 3-4.

In the controversy over the Sabbath, Owen claims that his opponents affirm that the Sabbath commandment is a positive law in general, and specifically, both ceremonial and typical; but Owen views the Sabbath as a moral law in its substance, which means the obligation to keep this commandment is universal. Yet the specific day to be sanctified is positive, thus explaining how the Sabbath can be moved from the seventh day to the first day of the week.

Owen makes his case that the fourth commandment has “an equal share with the other nine in all the privileges of the whole,” thus showing the perpetuity of the fourth commandment.

The “learned” opponents of Owen’s position typically argued that since Christ has come, the type has been abrogated. Believers now find their rest in Christ, by resting from their evil works and resting in and living for Him. J.I. Packer sums up the basic position of Owen and his Puritan contemporaries, saying they “insisted, with virtual unanimity, that, although the Reformers were right to see a merely typical and temporary significance in certain of the detailed prescriptions of the Jewish Sabbath, yet the principle of one day’s rest for public and private worship of God at the end of each six day’s work was a law of creation, made for man as such, and therefore binding upon man as long as he lives in this world. They pointed out that, standing as it does with nine undoubtedly moral and permanently binding laws in the decalogue, it could hardly be of a merely typical and temporary nature itself.”    pages 656-658

From “Systematic Theology” by Robert L. Dabney:

“If the Sabbath command was in full force before Moses, the passing away of Moses’ law does not remove it. If it always was binding, on grounds as general as the human race, on all tribes of mankind, the dissolution of God’s special covenant with the family of Jacob did not repeal it. If its nature is moral and practical, the substitution of the substance for the types does not supplant it. The reason that the ceremonial laws were temporary was that the necessity for them was temporary. They were abrogated because they were no longer needed. But the practical need for a Sabbath is the same in all ages. When it is made to appear that this day is the bulwark of practical religion in the world, that its proper observance goes hand in hand with piety and true worship of God; that where there is no Sabbath there is no Christianity, it becomes an impossible supposition that God would make the institution temporary. The necessity for the Sabbath has not ceased, therefore it is not abrogated. In its nature, as well as its necessity, it is a permanent, moral command. All such laws are as incapable of change as the God in whose character they are founded.”    pages 379-380

From “Systematic Theology” by Charles Hodge:

“The Sabbath was instituted from the beginning, and is of perpetual obligation.

This may be inferred from the nature and design of the institution. It is a generally recognized principle, that those commands of the Old Testament which were addressed to the Jews as Jews and were founded on their peculiar circumstances and relations, passed away when the Mosaic economy was abolished; but those founded on the immutable nature of God, or upon the permanent relations of men, are of permanent obligation…

All men need to be arrested in their worldly career, and called upon to pause and to turn their thoughts Godward. It is of incalculable importance that men should have time and opportunity for religious instruction and worship. It is necessary for all men and servile animals to have time to rest and recuperate their strength. The daily nocturnal rest is not sufficient for that purpose, as physiologists assure us, and as experience has demonstrated. Such is obviously the judgment of God.

It appears, therefore, from the nature of this commandment as moral, and not positive or ceremonial, that it is original and universal in its obligation…All this was obligatory before the time of Moses, and would have been binding had he never existed. All that the fourth commandment did was to put this natural and universal obligation into a definite form.

Objections…Appeal is made to such passages as Colossians 2:16, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days;” and Romans 14:5, “One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Every one knows, however, that the apostolic churches were greatly troubled by Judaizers, who insisted that the Mosaic law continued in force, and that Christians were bound to conform to its prescriptions with regard to the distinction between clean and unclean meats, and its numerous feast days, on which all labor was to be intermitted. These were the false teachers and this was the false doctrine against which so much of St. Paul’s epistles was directed. It is obvious reference to these men and their doctrines that such passages as those cited above were written. They have no reference to the weekly Sabbath, which had been observed from the creation, and which the Apostles themselves introduced and perpetuated in the Christian Church.”

From “The Law and the Saint” by A.W. Pink:

“The “Law of God” expresses the mind of the Creator, and is binding upon all rational creatures. It is God’s unchanging moral standard for regulating the conduct of all men. In some places “the Law of God” may refer to the whole revealed will of God, but in the majority it has reference to the Ten Commandments; and it is in this restricted sense we use the term. This Law was impressed on man’s moral nature from the beginning, and though now fallen, he still shows the work of it written in his heart. This law has never been repealed, and in the very nature of things, cannot be. For God to abrogate the moral Law would be to plunge the whole universe into anarchy. Obedience to the Law of God is man’s first duty. That is why the first complaint that Jehovah made against Israel after they left Egypt was, “How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws” (Ex. 16:27). That is why the first statutes God gave to Israel were the Ten Commandments, i.e. the moral Law. That is why in the first discourse of Christ recorded in the New Testament He declared, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17), and then proceeded to expound and enforce the moral Law. And that is why in the first of the Epistles, the Holy Spirit has taught us at length the relation of the Law to sinners and saints, in connection with salvation and the subsequent walk of the saved: the word “law” occurs in Romans no less than seventy-five times, though, of course, not every reference is to the Law of God. And that is why sinners (Rom. 3:19) and saints (Jas. 2:12) shall be judged.

What, we may well inquire, is the cause of the lawlessness which now so widely obtains? For every effect there is a cause, and the character of the effect usually intimates the nature of the cause. We are assured that the present wide-spread contempt for human law is the inevitable outgrowth of disrespect for Divine Law. Where there is no fear of God, we must not expect there will be much fear of man. And why is it that there is so much disrespect for Divine Law? This, in turn, is but the effect of an antecedent cause. Nor is this hard to find. Do not the utterances of Christian teachers during the last twenty-five years go far to explain the situation which now confronts us?

History has repeated itself. Of old, God complained of Ephraim, “I have written to him the great things of My Law, but they were counted as a strange thing” (Hos. 8:12). Observe how God speaks of His Law: “The great things of My Law”! They are not precepts of little moment, but to be lightly esteemed, and slighted; but are of great authority, importance, and value. But, as then, so during the last few years—they have been “counted as a strange thing”. Christian teachers have vied with each other in denouncing the Law as a “yoke of bondage”, “a grievous burden”, “a remorseless enemy”. They have declared in trumpet tones that Christians should regard the Law as “a strange thing”: that it was never designed for them: that it was given to Israel, and then made an end of at the Cross of Christ. They have warned God’s people to have nothing to do with the Ten Commandments. They have denounced as “Legalists” Christians of the past, who, like Paul, “served the Law” (Rom. 7:25). They have affirmed that Grace rules the Law out of the Christian’s life as absolutely as it did out of his salvation. They have held up to ridicule those who contended for a Christian Sabbath, and have classed them with Seventh-Day Adventists.

The characters of the cause determinates the character of the effect. Whatsoever a man soweth that (the same in kind) shall he also reap. Unto them who of old regarded the great things of God’s Law as a strange thing, God declared, “Because Ephraim hath made many alters to sin, alters shall be unto him to sin” (Hosea 8:11). And because many of our Christian leaders have publicly repudiated Divine Law, God has visited us with a wave of lawlessness in our churches, homes, and social life. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked”!! Nor have we any hope of stemming the onrushing tide, or of causing Christian leaders to change their position. Having committed themselves publicly, the examples of past history warn us that pride will keep them from making the humbling confession that they have erred. But we have a hope that some who have been under the influence of twentieth century Antinomianism will have sufficient spiritual discernment to recognize the truth when it is presented to their notice;”