Page images

to them his holy sabbath by the hand of Moses*, this doth not, according to the use of like phrases elsewhere, prove, that they were totally ignorant of it before: much less, that their forefathers were. And when Moses in Exodus, before the delivery of the law, tells them, to-morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord†, it appears both from the words themselves, and the time of speaking them, that they are an admonition concerning the revival of an intermitted observance, not an institution of a new one. For why should a commandment be first given in this manner separately then, which was in a month after to be promulgated with so much greater solemnity among the rest of the ten, upon mount Sinai? But if on the contrary it was from the beginning, it might be very proper to remind the people of that, before they heard it joined with the rest by the mouth of God himself. And indeed the other nine being as old as the creation, and obligatory on all men, it seems extremely probable from thence alone, that this, the fourth in number, was so too.

However, the nature of the appointment is more explicitly set forth in Exodus, than in Genesis. Not only sanctification of the day in general, but rest in particular is enjoined ; and the injunction is extended not only to servants, but the very cattle. Several reasons for it are also there assigned. The first is the original one, because God rested on the seventh day: that is, he ceased from his work, it being accomplished. For the Creator of the ends of the earth, as the prophet Isaiah justly teaches, fainteth not, neither is weary. And as worshipping no other deity, than the Maker of all things, was the great article, that distinguished the religion of the Jews from the pagan;

* Neh. ix. 14.

+ Exod. xvi. 23.

Isa. xl. 28.

and as the sabbath was a principal instrument of preserving and exercising this worship: it is therefore said to be a sign between God and them, throughout their generations*. A second use of the sabbath was, to be a memorial, in future times, of the happy exchange, which they had just then made, of a state of servitude and labour for one of liberty and ease. 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 he commanded thee to keep the sabbath day t. And it hath been thought by some learned men, that the time of keeping it was then changed in such manner, as that the primitive and patriarchal sabbath was restored, when afterwards that day, on which our Lord rose again, was appointed to be observed. But without examining into this, I proceed to the third motive, assigned for the appointment of the sabbath, which was mercy and humanity: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid and the stranger may be refreshed §. And because that perverse nation would otherwise have been likely, both to explain away general rules to almost nothing, and indeed to slight all rules: therefore to the prohibition in the commandment, Exod. xxxi. 13. + Deut. v. 15.

Wollius, Act. Er. 1745, p. 694, thinks, that the seventh day of the creation being the first full day of Adam's life, it would be not only his sabbath, but the first of his week; and that being afterwards turned to the worship of the sun, God gave the Jews the seventh of the week instead of it, but that Christ restored it. But Vignoles saith the beginning of the year was not changed at the exodus: and that the day of it was Thursday. Others think, that the sixth day of the patriarchal forgotten week, being that of the Jewish exodus, was made their seventh and sabbath: whence the patriarchal seventh would be their and our first.

§ Exod. xxiii, 12.

particular ones of such and such work were added, in other parts of the law *; and the whole was inforced by the penalty of death †: whereas people of better dispositions might have been trusted farther, and punished less rigorously.

On this footing things remained, till Christianity appeared: which being in itself a complete instruction and rule of human duty, no precepts given to mankind before, under less perfect dispensations, continue any farther obligatory, than they are either plainly confirmed by it, or in their own nature moral and unchangeable. This not only the reason of the thing shews, but St. Paul hath fully and repeatedly declared it: and especially concerning the observation of the seventh day of the week (which was the Jewish sabbath) by name, in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Colossians: where having first laid it down, that Christ hath blotted out the hand-writing of the former ordinances, he infers: 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 §; which words are comprehensive enough to repeal the patriarchal sabbath-day, as well as the Jewish, (which however was doubtless chiefly intended,) if indeed the former was different from that, which Christians

* Of ploughing and harvest-work, Exod. xxxiv. 21, of kindling fires, Exod. xxxv. 3. Indeed this last seems almost in effect prohibited before the law, Exod. xvi. 23. Nor might they buy or sell. Neh. xiii. 16.

+ Exod. xxxi. 14.

According to the Cambridge MS. of the Gospels, our Saviour had declared it, in this point, before him. For at the end of Luke vi. 5. it hath these words, both in the Greek and Latin: "the same day, seeing a certain man working on the sabbath, he said to him; Man, if thou knowest what thou dost, thou art blessed: but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed, and a transgressor of the law."

§ Col. ii. 14. 16. Concerning this text, see Mede, Disc. 15. p. 57.

now observe. Again, the same Apostle, blaming the Galations for desiring to be still under bondage to the weak and poor elements of the old dispensation, saith: Ye observe days and months and times and years. I am afraid, lest I have bestowed on you labour in vain *. This passage, in its full latitude, (which there appears no necessity of restraining,) implies, that all preceding appointments of this kind were under Christianity null and void.

Still we read in the history of our Saviour's sufferings, that the women, which had followed him, returned after beholding his sepulchre, and rested the sabbath-day, that is, the seventh day of the week, according to the commandment t. But this by no means proves, that resting on the Saturday was to continue as much a duty after his death, as before: though doubtless it was a duty as yet, with respect to them, and probably the rest of his disciples too; because the abolition of it was not as yet made known to them. Nor indeed would it have been allowable for them, if they had known it, to offend the Jews, at so critical a time, by a seeming transgression in so favourite an article. It must be owned also, that our blessed Redeemer directs his followers, when the approaching troubles of Judea should come on, to pray that their flight from them might not be in the winter, neither on the sabbath-day ‡. But he did not mean, that it would be unlawful to fly on the latter, more than in the former; but inconvenient only, which it certainly would: because the Jews, who had sought to kill him for doing miracles on that day, would assuredly, when his disciples travelled upon it, though for the preservation of their lives, afford them no accommodations; but impute, and, if they could,

Gal. iv. 9, 10, 11. + Luke xxiii. 55, 56.

Matt. xxiv. 20.

punish it as a crime. It must be owned lastly, that the Apostles frequented the synagogues on the Sabbath, that is the Saturday but only with a view of converting the Jews to Christianity, not at all of conforming themselves to Judaism, otherwise than by way of prudent condescension. From the same motive, and from a spirit of abundant piety, no small part of the primitive Christians also continued for some ages paying honour to the Jewish sabbath; yet declared expressly all the while, that they looked on the obligation of it as totally expired with the rest of the law on which account, though they held religious assemblies on that day, yet they worked on it too.

But though the positive and ceremonial part of the Mosaic law is abolished, yet the moral and natural precepts remain in full force. And the ten commandments being delivered in a manner so peculiar to themselves, and having such peculiar notice taken of them both in the Old Testament and the New, have been always deemed in the church of Christ a summary of moral duties. Accordingly, our church hath placed them as such, both in the Catechism and Communion service; the latter of which directs us, after the recital of the fourth, as well as the rest, to say, Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law. But some will ask, if we are bound to keep it, why are we not bound to keep the day specified in it, the last of the week? The answer is, that two things are to be considered: the general intention of the commandment, and the particular means, by which it appoints that intention to be executed. So far as its general intention goes, which is to set apart from worldly business a competent portion of time for religious uses, it was ever discoverable by

« PreviousContinue »