The Sabbath


Systematic Theology – Church
The Sabbath
Dr. R.J. Rushdoony

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Yes. Well, let us bow our heads now in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we come to thee rejoicing that thou art the Lord, that the heathen rage against thee in vain, and thou who sittest in the circle of the heavens doth laugh. Thou dost hold them in derision. Grant, O Lord, to thy saints thine heavenly laughter, boldness of faith, and confidence unto victory, that we may overthrow the powers of darkness and establish thy Lordship, thy Kingship over men and nations. Bless us to this purpose, in Jesus name. Amen.

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You know, I quite like this prayer.

I like it a lot.

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Our subject today, as we continue the Doctrine of the Church, is The Sabbath, and we shall look at the Ten Commandments, first of all, in Exodus 20:8-11, and then Deuteronomy 5:12-15. First of all, Exodus 20:8-11. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

Turning now to Deuteronomy 5:12-15. “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.”

The Sabbath is commonly called a church day. In reality, the church is a Sabbath creation and institution. It is the Sabbath that created the synagogue and the church. The central meaning of the Sabbath is rest, but not rest in the sense of leisure or free time, but rest in redemption.

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God’s friends get to rest.

God’s enemies don’t.

This is broadly true even today, if we remember to tie Rest to Obedience to God, even the obedience of the pagans as they turn away from murder and theft.

(Partial obedience is incapable of bringing anyone to the Eternal Sabbath of Christ… but it can bring some level of rest in this life, even for the pagans on this world.)

And the rest given to those who fear God is going to be a lot more comprehensively true in the future, even as we come to the end of the age on this earth.

Naturally, the True, Eternal Sabbath will be granted to God’s people in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

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Now, we have a different statement concerning the Sabbath in Exodus than we do in Deuteronomy. They complement each other. In Exodus, we have the pattern of creation set forth as the pattern of man’s life for work and for rest. Even as God created heaven and earth in six days, man is to reserve six days for work, and the seventh is to be a Sabbath. The seventh year, of course, is to be a Sabbatical year.

Now, this is the pattern that God created, that God ordained in the beginning, and we have to say of God’s law that it is the natural pattern for life. Whenever man has attempted to displace God’s pattern, he has paid a price for it. The Soviet Union abolished the Sabbath, but they found that it did not work. Man needed a pattern of work and rest. They abolished then the seven-day pattern for a ten-day pattern, the tenth day, but ultimately, they had to come back to a seven-day pattern. They worked then to obviate the need for a Sabbath by saying that one group would work six days beginning on Tuesday, another on Wednesday, and so on, to eliminate the Sabbath day.

As I said, the pattern is ordained by God and as a result, it is a natural pattern. God’s law gives us the natural cycle for the life of man. Now, the biblical Sabbath pattern is that every seventh day is to be a day of rest.

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Evil fools are evil fools.

Instead of walking down the fools path of poverty, oppression, sterility, and death, let’s follow God’s way instead.

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Then, there are a number of Sabbaths throughout the year for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for the Passover, for the Feast of Ingathering, and so on. Then, every seventh year was to be a Sabbath the entire year. The interesting fact is that when you take the Sabbath pattern, the biblical one, and count up the number of days in which a man was required to rest, and then you take the modern pattern of the five day work week, and all the holidays, plus the two week’s vacation, you find that there is a very close correlation in the number of days in seven years that modern man rests. As a matter of fact, it’s a little more for modern man. But there is not the same rest, because in the biblical pattern, there was an entire year given over to rest, and it created a totally different pattern of life. Moreover, in the biblical pattern, the rest is in the Lord. It is not merely a stoppage of work. It is a religious rest. It is a fundamental thing that affects the life of man in a far-reaching way. Thus, man has come back to the biblical pattern in terms of days and hours, but not to the religious pattern, because the modern pattern has a stoppage of work without rest, and rest in essence, is a religious peace. It requires justification and atonement.

Now the Hebrew Sabbath is inseparable from sacrifice and from the peace with God which rests on sacrifice and atonement. The centrality of sacrifice confronts the believer at every turn when we go through the Old Testament and its doctrine of the Sabbath. This is why modern Judaism has seen such a dramatic change, because there is no sacrifice. Sacrifice, which is so basic fro the Old Testament pattern, is absent in Judaism today. Now, the two central facts in modern Judaism are circumcision and the Sabbath, but circumcision and the Sabbath are signs of the covenant. They do not set forth the covenant peace, merely the outward signs of the Sabbath. The covenant, thus, is warped in Judaism.

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I think it would be very profitable, for Christians to seriously investigate the Biblical Sabbaths.

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Now, when we turn to Deuteronomy, instead of being told that we are required to rest on the seventh day because this is the pattern as it is given by God in the creation week, we are told it sets forth a meaning, God’s redemption. It commemorates their deliverance from Egypt, and the Sabbaths are dated from the time of the Passover. Not from the seventh day of creation, but from the Passover, their salvation, and this is why our Sabbath is dated from the Day of Resurrection, because it is the day of our salvation, our Passover, Christ our Passover being sacrificed for us. The Christian Sabbath, therefore, is basic to the life of the church, and the church worships, and the church is built around the resurrection, and the Day of Resurrection, because it means peace with God through the finished work of Jesus Christ. We can rest from our labors in the finished work of our Lord. Paul says in Romans 5:8, “God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” and so the Sabbath celebrates rest and the atonement, rest from the power of sin and guilt, freedom from the power of sin and guilt.

This is why the manipulation of men through guilt, real or unreal, is so evil, and it is so bad when the church works to create built, and some churches do. All too much preaching is aimed at making people feel guilty when they leave the church, and that frustrates the meaning of the Sabbath, and the meaning of the church, because the church meets on the Sabbath because the Sabbath represents victory over sin and death, freedom from guilt, and therefore, the whole mission of the church, the preaching of the church should be to proclaim release. “If the son of man make us free, then we are free indeed.” “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

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Guilt-riding without the road to restitution, repentance and forgiveness – an enduring forgiveness – is quite destructive. Men, once restitution has been made, are to be set free.

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Thus, the atonement is inseparable from the true Sabbath rest, and on the Sabbath we are to rejoice in our freedom from guilt, from sin, and from death, and we are to come as Peter says, “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you,” or as Paul says in Ephesians 2:14, “He is our peace, who hath made both one and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” This is the glory of the Sabbath, and this is the meaning of the life of the church, to proclaim release, to proclaim freedom, and not only freedom, peace, release, but access to God, and the Sabbath is the celebration of that access, and the church proclaims that access through Christ. The church is the fellowship of the celebrants of access with God. Paul says in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” We have access to the very throne of all creation.

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I wonder when Christians will take this access seriously.

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Moreover, it is a family access. When children are hurt or afraid, they run immediately to the arms of a loving father. Now, whether that father is a great man or not, makes no difference to the child. What he knows is he’s in the arms of love, in the arms of care and providence. So, too, when we are hurt, afraid, or in need, we know that we have access. We run to the Father in Christ to be comforted, strengthened, and healed. We are his children by the adoption of grace, and the church is the celebration of that access. It is not the mediator. It is not the channel, but rather the celebrant of that access. But still more.

In Isaiah 58:13-14, we read concerning the Sabbath, and I shall read from the Berkeley version because I think it makes the meaning a little more plain, “If you do not tramp upon the Sabbath by doing your business on my holy day, but call the Sabbath an enjoyment in order that the Lord might be sacredly honored, and if you honor it by not doing your business nor seeking your own pleasure, nor talking idle talk, then you shall find your delight in the Lord and I will make you ride on the highways of the earth. I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

We are here forbidden not only of making the Sabbath a day of work, but of planning for work. Now, there are people who absolutely refuse to work on the Sabbath, but they sit down and do a lot of their planning for the week, but that’s work, too, and so we are told very clearly here, that we are not in so doing, to tramp upon the Sabbath, to defile it, but it is not to be a day of gloom, but we are to call the Sabbath an “enjoyment,” the Berkeley version says.

It is to be a day of rejoicing, and from time immemorial, from Isaiah’s day at least, for countless centuries, it was held that the Sabbath was a day of rejoicing and feasting. As a matter of fact, in Old Testament times, to the present day, among orthodox Jews, and for a long time among Christians, the Sabbath meal was the banquet of the week, the Sunday dinner. Many of us remember that tradition. It’s all but disappeared. Now true, the strict families in Israel and, when I was a boy, in the churches, would prepare that Sunday dinner, or that Sabbath feast the day before, before sundown, and among the orthodox Jews, the Sabbath feast is celebrated, to this day, on the night before the Sabbath, and then the leftovers, because they cook enough to have two big meals out of it, are eaten the next day. So strictly was this regarded that the Old Testament believer would eat very, very lightly the day before the Sabbath dinner, or the day of the Sabbath dinner, if for some reason there had to be a wedding that day, and he was at the wedding at noon, he would eat very lightly at that wedding banquet. A lot of cheapskates, of course, would schedule the wedding for the noon before the Sabbath feast, because it meant you did not then have to provide too much, because every devout person would only pick to save their appetite for the holy festival.

Moreover, it was a time when you invited the poor and the needy, and the wayfarers to your Sabbath feast. We have, by the way, an account of our Lord at a Sabbath festival, a dinner. In Luke 14, the entire chapter is given to it.

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Christians should bring back the tradition of the Sabbath feast.

Even better, if it is combined with the Lord’s Supper, as Jesus illustrated for us to emulate.

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Now, it is interesting that in Old Testament times and it persisted for centuries among the Jews, it was a practice to bless God before reciting any law, so that before the Ten Commandments were recited by a child in school, they would bless God for giving the law, and before a law was cited to any person, or to a child in the process of being disciplined, they would bless God for the law that they were going to cite. This was especially true of the Sabbath. Every time there was a reference to the Sabbath, God was thanked for giving man rest. It was not only a day to thank God for, whenever you thought of it, but also a day to praise God. This, too, must be the nature of the church, to rejoice in the Sabbath, to see it as a day of rest because we rest in God’s victory through Christ. It is a day to rejoice because we know whatever we’re going to face during the week, we face it with the God of victory, and it is a day in which to stress the note of victory, because we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ.

The Sabbath, we are told, was made for man, and our Lord says he is the Son of man for whom the Sabbath was made. As a result, we must see that the Son of man, our Savior, is the Lord of the Sabbath. It was made for him, and for us in him. It sets forth the great Jubilee Sabbath that is to come. Therefore, the church of the Sabbath must proclaim rest in Christ’s redemption and victory through his sovereign reign. This is the calling of the church, to make it a day of rejoicing, to send people out with confidence, because they are the people of victory. If the church fails to stress victory, it denies the Sabbath. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank thee that thou hast given us the Sabbath, and thou hast called the church to rejoice in thy victory, thy peace, and the rest that is ours in thee. Make us mindful as we face the problems of the week, that we are the people of the Sabbath, and we are members of the Sabbath church, the people of victory, the people of triumph in Christ. Give us, therefore, a holy boldness and joy in thy service as we face all things, knowing that we can cast our every care upon thee who carest for us, and that thou wilt undertake for us unto victory. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

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The Sabbath is a blessing for the world.

And especially for God’s people.

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[Audience] You said that a Christian is not to pursue pleasures on the Sabbath.

[Rushdoony] No, no. They are. They are to rejoice. It’s to be a day of enjoyment, not a day of gloom.

[Audience] Yes, I understood that, but I thought before you got to that part, you said that {?}

[Rushdoony] Oh yes, what Isaiah says. It’s not to be a day to catch up on all our trifles, our personal small talk, and so on. This doesn’t’ mean it isn’t to be a day of happy rejoicing, but it’s not a day to catch up with purely irrelevant, Idle nonsense.

[Audience] And what about doing something around the house, fixing up something that needs fixing, things of that nature? What’s that considered?

[Rushdoony] No. Now, the Sabbath year was for that. During the Sabbath year, you caught up on all kinds of things, and as a matter of fact, I was very deeply moved to learn that the Amish say that it was John Calvin who taught them to spend the Sabbatical year painting their barns, drawing beautiful designs on them, indulging in handcrafting, and doing a number of things to beautify their place, so that it was not to be work. It was to be a rest, and to improve things, and to rejoice in doing it. So, that type of task was basic to the Sabbath year.

[Audience] But not Sabbath day.

[Rushdoony] No.

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An interesting way to rest.

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[Audience] Well, in light of that, what should our response be since we obviously don’t observe a seventh year sabbatical?

[Rushdoony] Yes. What do we do since we don’t observe the Sabbatical now? Well, if you have certain types of government jobs, and you’re a university professor, you still do, but not in any Christian sense. I think what we need to recognize is that there is something in our beings that requires a Sabbatical year. It’s a natural pattern. It’s a God-ordained pattern, and we need to work for a society which will reestablish it, and as far as possible, to try to reorder our lives to make it possible, somehow to get a real Sabbath in. In once encountered a man who had a unique plan that his company permitted. He allowed vacations to accumulate every year. Now, he didn’t do it because he had any real knowledge of the Sabbath, but he felt it was better that way, and I think he recognized some kind of natural pattern here. He allowed his Sabbaths to vacations to accumulate for five years, and took them all at one time. So that he had an extended vacation, and he said it was much better that way and he was glad the company permitted it, because he said when you get a two week’s vacation, you’re driving, in a hurry to get some place, you’re traveling in a hurry, and you come back exhausted, but when you have a long one, it’s a very relaxed pace, and he said it’s a real rest that way.

Now, we need to work towards something like that and do what we can because God, having made us, created the pattern for our life and set it forth in his law, and when a society abandons it, it pays a price. I don’t know beyond that what to say, because I’d certainly like to have a Sabbath year, and I don’t know how I’m going to get one short of heaven. Yes?

[Audience] Why do we think the church preserves the Sabbath day but drop the sabbatical year {?} it’s in church history. I don’t know when this would have occurred, how far into, was it before the {?} settled and after, or whatever. Do you have any thoughts on that, or research?

[Rushdoony] Yes. It was the most poorly kept aspect of the law in Old Testament times, too, and you remember Jeremiah told the people they would be seventy years captive to make up for the Sabbath years they had not kept. So we are able to determine how long it had been since they kept a Sabbath year. Now, the Sabbath year requires a particular kind of person, a very provident one. God tells us he blesses the people who keep it, so that they get a better harvest and so on, but it also requires a provident person, because if you’re going to plant your fields six years, or work six years, you’ve got to provide for yourself a seventh year. There are some regions of Oklahoma, and here and there across country, where they do allow the land to fallow every seventh year, and they find that productivity is increased, and they’re economically better off, and yet, people do not follow that pattern who see it in their area. Why? Because to do so requires some providence. You’re going to be better off. You see someone living near you who fallows his field every seventh year, but he still has to be provident enough to have something to live on then.

Now, too many people are Existentialists at heart. They live for the day only, and they will not say what they want today they’ve got to buy, and they will not put something aside. When you read Poor Richard’s sayings, Benjamin Franklin’s proverbs which he culled from various sources including Cotton Mather, you find how remote his mentality is from our time today. He is made a hero because he was a deist of sorts, and something of a rascal, and therefore they like him, rather than a Christian man, but Franklin’s “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and other such proverbs sound ridicules to modern man, because it goes totally contrary to his mentality. He has no desire to be thrifty, or to be provident. His answer to all these problems is social security, or some kind of state agency, taking care of his future. So, the idea of a Sabbatical year is very alien to modern man. He’s not capable of it. Yes?

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Those believers who plan for the future, can also plan for a year of rest for the future.

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[Audience] You talked before about training children. Do you have any ideas on teaching your children the meaning of the true Sabbath?

[Rushdoony] Yes, I think the essence of teaching children the meaning of the Sabbath is to stress that this is the day we celebrate what our Lord has done for us, that it is his work that saved us, not ours, and therefore, we rest. It’s a holiday, or a holy day. A holiday and a holy day have, you see, a very close connection. We think of a holiday as a day of celebration, and the reason is because holy days were once seen as days of celebration. Now, I’m going to be dealing with this subject in one of the forthcoming Easy Chair talks. When Puritanism began to develop in the 17th century, one of the things that made the Puritans enormously popular in England was precisely their stress on the Sabbath. Christopher Hill has written beautifully on that. The Puritans were the workingman’s friend. They freed him from the round of continuous labor that had been his life. The sad fact is that in the 19th century, in this country at least, and to some degree from what I know, in Great Britain as well, many working men were driven out of the church by a different emphasis on the Sabbath which made it a day of gloom, a day of rigid regulations, what you could and could not do. So it was not the aspect of rest and rejoicing, a holiday that was stressed. It was something else, strict regulations.

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Unbiblical, fake-pious Traditions of Men.

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On top of that, one of the things that marked the change was that, let us say a man was a boss. The word came in about that time, in New York, let us say, in the 1830’s. One of the things that marked his Sabbath was that his workmen would celebrate with him. They would eat with him, the Sabbath meal, and go to church. So, the Sabbath in terms of the Old Testament requirement, that the poor, the wayfaring, your manservant and your maidservant rejoice in the Sabbath with you, was a very important factor, but once they separated the working man from the boss, and the boss as the church officer, which he usually was, said, “Now this is what you’ve go to do,” and there wasn’t the fellowship, it broke it. The whole of the Sabbath became a kind of a harsh day, a rigid day, or the law being laid down as to what you could and could not do. Employees are expected to do thus and so on the Sabbath. It wasn’t a day that brought them together.

Well, it was also a day of rejoicing for the children in that the pleasure of going to church was a very important one in America at that point, in that most people were rural, and think of the joy and the fellowship there was on the Sabbath when all the families got to see each other, and the children saw each other, and after the service, there was a lot of playing and so on, and very commonly they did what we do. They had a common meal together because they came from some distances. So, it was a holiday. Among the primitive Baptists in the South, depending on the church, they worshiped twice a month or once a month, and in some parts of Georgia, they still maintain the once-a-month Sabbath, because originally, it was so difficult to get through the woods and the swamps to the meetinghouse. Now, of course, their highways, they can get there in a few minutes. It was once very difficult, but some of the groups of primitive Baptists I have encountered in the South still meet once a month, and it’s a festival. The come from all over. They meet, they eat together, the children play together, they rejoice, they have some more meetings, and studies, and youth meetings, and they go on all day long, but the day of joy is stressed. It’s a day of rejoicing. “Day of all the week the blest, emblem of eternal rest.”

Well, we have a little bit of a problem with children now a days in getting that across to them, in that we don’t have the same cultural discipline which makes children disciplined by the time they’re two and three years old. So, it’s a little slower in coming, but it can be brought about. Any other questions or comments? Yes. Well, let’s bow our heads then in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we thank thee for one another, for thy so-great salvation, and our fellowship in thee. We thank thee that we can come to thee, casting our every care upon thee who carest for us. Bless us always in our fellowship, in our service, and in our praise. In Jesus name. Amen.

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