From the Apostles’ Days, Christians Consecrated The First Day Of The Week

R.L. Dabney, The Christian Sabbath: It’s Nature, Design, and Proper Observance, pp. 536-541:

“We now add the uninspired testimony of the early historians and Fathers, showing that from the apostles’ days Christians understood this matter as we do, and consecrated the first day of the week.

But let us explain in what sense we use this human testimony. In our view, all the uninspired church testimony in the world, however venerable, would never make it our religious duty to keep Sunday as a Sabbath without God’s own commandment. We use these “Fathers” simply as historical witnesses. Their evidence derives its sole value from its relevancy to this point, whether the apostles, who were inspired, left the command and precedent in the churches of observing the Lord’s day as the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. If they said, “We Fathers command you to observe Sunday,” we should reject the authority as nothing worth. But when, as honest and well-informed witnesses, they testify that the apostles taught the

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churches to observe Sunday, we regard their testimony as of some value.

Our first witness, then, is a learned pagan, Pliny the Younger, a high magistrate under the Emperor Trajan. He says, in a letter written a little after the death of the apostle John, that the Christians were accustomed to meet for worship on a “stated day.” This was the Lord’s day, as we see from other witnesses.

Ignatius, the celebrated martyr-bishop of Antioch, says, in his Epistle to the Magnesians, written not more than twenty years after the death of John, that “this is the Lord’s day, the day consecrated to the resurrection, the chief and queen of all the days.”

Justin Martyr, who died about A. D. 160, says that the Christians “neither celebrated the Jewish festivals, nor observed their Sabbaths, nor practiced circumcision” (Dialogue with Trypho). In another place he says that they were “all accustomed to meet on the day which is denominated Sunday, for reading the Scriptures, prayer, exhortation and communion. The assemblies met on Sunday, because this is the first day on which God, having changed the darkness and the elements, created the world, and because Jesus our Lord on this day arose from the dead,” etc.

Tertullian, at the close of the second century, says: We Christians “celebrate Sunday as a joyful day. On the Lord’s day we think it wrong to fast or to kneel in prayer.” It was a common opinion of the earlier Christians that all public prayers on the Lord’s day should be uttered standing, because kneeling is a more sorrowful attitude and inconsistent with the joy and blessedness of Christ’s day.

Clement of Alexandria, a very learned Christian contemporary with Tertullian, says: “A true Christian, according to the commands of the gospel, observes the Lord’s day by casting out all bad thoughts and cherishing all goodness, honoring the resurrection of the Lord, which took place on that day.”

Perhaps the most valuable, because the most important and explicit, as well as the most learned, witness, is Eusebius of Cæsarea, who was in his prime about A. D. 325. In a commentary on the ninety-second Psalm, which, the reader will remember, is entitled, “A psalm or song for the Sabbath day,” he says: “The Word” (Christ) “by the new covenant translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the morning light, and gave us the symbol of the true rest, the saving Lord’s day, the

538 THE CHRISTIAN SABBATH:

first of light, in which the Saviour gained the victory over death. On this day, which is the first of the Light and the true Sun, we assemble after the interval of six days, and celebrate holy and spiritual Sabbath; even all nations redeemed by him throughout the world assemble, and do those things according to the spiritual law which were decreed for the priests to do on the Sabbath. All things which it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s day, as more appropriately belonging unto it, because it has the precedence, and is first in rank, and more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath. It hath been enjoined on us that we should meet together on this day, and it is evidence that we should do these things announced in this psalm.”

These citations from the pastors of the early church might be continued to great length. Not only individuals, but church councils, added their sanctions to the sacred observance of the Lord’s day. Thus the Council of Leodices (A. D. 363) commanded Christians to rest on the Lord’s day from all secular labors except those imposed by necessity. Many other councils during the fourth century ordain that public worship and the sacraments shall be observed on the same day. It may be asked, If this sanctification of the Lord’s day was of divine appointment through the apostles, why do we not hear of earlier councils enacting its observance nearer the days of the apostles? The answer is very simple: During the ages of persecution, which only ceased with the accession of Constantine, councils could meet rarely and with great peril, and the persecutors busily destroyed their records.

Those who are familiar with else controversy about the Lord’s day are aware that quite a number of writers, especially those of prelatical views, are in the habit of roundly asserting that the “fathers” held the fourth commandment to be abrogated; that they grounded their observance of the Lord’s day, not on God’s authority, but on comity, convenience, and church authority, like the other feasts, and that no “father” bases the observance of the Lord’s day on the fourth commandment expressly. They are very fond of quoting the great Augustine, for instance, as teaching that the fourth commandment alone among the ten was “partly figurative,” and so abolished with the other types. The arrogancy and dogmatism with which these assertions are made by

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prelatic adversaries of God’s law are offensive to every fair and reverent mind. Those who are best acquainted with these fathers will be least disposed to attach importance to their assertions, whether concurrent with or against God’s truth. Had these prelatists, for instance, the honesty to quote all that their favorite Augustine says in that same exposition of the Decalogue, the sensible reader would feel the contempt for his opinions on this subject which they deserve. We should see this great father expounding each of the ten commandments as typified in the “ten plagues of the Egyptians,” and gravely running a fanciful analogy between a given precept and a given plague! The fact is, that even the more learned fathers (Augustine had little Greek and no Hebrew learning) were prevented by certain valid causes from taking a point of view whence they could properly appreciate the relations of the old dispensation and the new. The reasons were these: A good knowledge of Hebrew was rare. Judaism was only known to the Christians of those ages in its worst phase of Phariseeism, because all truly believing Jews, of the type of Simeon, Anna, Matthew, etc., had gladly acceded to Christianity and been absorbed into the Christian church. Hence it was a natural mistake to confound the true Old Testament religion to a certain extent with the apostate Judaism they witnessed around them in these professed advocates of the Old Testament, and to misconceive the divinely-established worship of the old dispensation according to the spurious forms to which it was now perverted after its fulfillment in the new dispensation. It was easy for Christians, witnessing the typical worship only in these spurious anachronisms, to overlook the fact that there had been a time when it had been of divine appointment, spiritual and evangelical. Again, the Christians knew of Jews only as the murderers of the Lord, as stubborn and embittered opponents of his gospel, whether as revealed in their own Old Testament or in the New, as systematic slanderers of the church and as instigators of pagan persecutions. This odious attitude of all the professes advocates of the Old Testament could not but prejudice the Christians’ apprehension of their scriptures. To these causes must be added also the perverse, metaphorical and mystical plan of interpreting Scripture, and especially Old Testament Scripture, which the fathers so soon imbibed, and which they saw carried to such extremes by the rabbinical scholars.

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When we consider these causes, we cease to wonder that the early Christian writers misconceived the proper relations of the Old Testament to the New, or that they uttered on this subject many ambiguities and errors.

If, now, a father is found saying that the apostles “abolished the Sabbath,” he is to be understood, not as meaning that the apostles abrogated the fourth commandment — statement which can be found in no respectable Christian writer — but he is thinking only of the rabbinical seventh day, with its senseless and unscriptural superstitions. This is the simple key to all these patristic citations.

Some of the prelatic enemies of our Christian Sabbath, lay much stress on the assertion that none of the fathers expressly trace the Christian observance of the Lord’s day to the fourth commandment. What if they do not? This is, after all, only negative testimony, which proves nothing positive. We point, on the opposite hand, to the fact that none of the fathers deny the continued authority of the fourth commandment in its essential substance. We hear the wisest of them asserting that the sanctification of one-seventh part of our time in the observance of the first day is of divine authority through the apostles. We hear Eusebius, the most learned of them all, say that Christ, by the new covenant, translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the first day, or Lord’s day, and that all the Christians in the world accordingly have the Sabbath duties to that day. Is not this virtually saying the essential thing, that the sanctification of the Lord’s day is the Christian’s compliance With the fourth commandment?

A comprehensive view of these testimonies sufficiently shows what was the opinion and what the usage of the early Christians. As the Dark Ages approached, sound knowledge of the Hebrew literature became very rare; few could read the Old Testament in the original language, and the embittered and sinful prejudices of the Christians against the Jews had their influence in making the former indifferent to the Hebrew Scripture. Hence, great ignorance of the old dispensation and of its relations to the new sprang up. It was natural that the grounds of Sabbath observance should then be misunderstood. Superstition was then rapidly increasing, and saints’ days and holy days of human invention first rivaled and then surpassed God’s own day in the veneration of

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the people. When the great Reformation came, many of the Reformers remained under the error which confounded the Lord’s day with the church’s superstitions holy days, and when they threw off the trammels of superstition, unfortunately they cast away the divine obligation of the Sabbath with them.

When we see some of the Protestant churches and divines of Europe deliberately defending worldly amusements (after public worship) on the Lord’s day, we should not do injustice to the piety and conscientiousness which many of them show in other things, nor should we condemn errors which they justify to themselves by arguments which they sincerely, though erroneously, believe, as severely as the profane abuse of the Sabbath committed by some in our country against their own clear convictions. Yet the deplorable fact remains, that these unscriptural views about the divine authority of the Sabbath have been the bane of Protestantism. They cause and perpetuate much of the irreligion and skepticism which deform Protestant Europe in many of its parts. It is historically true that the vitality and holiness of the church are usually in proportion to its reverence for the Sabbath. The Sabbath-keeping churches and generations have been the holy and zealous ones.

~Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics:

Source: http://www.puritanboard.com/showthread.php/67617-Early-Church-amp-Sabbath, Comment 2

See also James Gilfillan’s review of the early evidence:
The sabbath viewed in the light of reason, revelation, and history, with sketches of its literature (source from Comment 4 of the above-mentioned thread)

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