Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Is the Sabbath binding for the new covenant age?

     Recently, I have been reading the works of A.W. Pink. I was first introduced to his material as I was preparing for a study on the attributes of God for a youth group several months ago. The first book of his that I read was "The Sovereignty of God." Ever since my first acquaintance, I have been going back for more of his wonderful writings. He does a great job explaining his scripture drenched beliefs.

     Pink's "The Holy Sabbath" has been my latest journey. Again, he pleased me with his writing style. He shook me up a bit when it came to my own views of the Sabbath. My views were very similar to New Covenant Theology, and I say "were" because Pink has made me question the credibility of my previous views for the reasons listed in this note.

     It is not my purpose to discuss the different views of the Sabbath (Seventh Day, Lord’s Day etc). I just want to share what makes me think that there is some kind of continuation of the Sabbath during the new covenant age. You can find "The Holy Sabbath" by Arthur W. Pink here.

Sabbath before Mount Sinai

The Sabbath was observed before Mount Sinai. The observing of the Sabbath before then would prove that it can operate with or without the law given to Israel at Mount Sinai. Pink gives the following examples from the books of Genesis and Exodus to prove this point.

Cain and Able

“And in the process of time (at the end of days) it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD; and Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock” (Gen. 4:3, 4). The very fact of Cain and Abel coming together, and this for the purpose of presenting an offering to the Lord, intimates that the time when they were thus engaged was a stated one, known to and recognized by them both—otherwise, what had induced the jealous Cain to unite with the pious Abel in this action? The bringing of offerings by Cain and Abel was the formal recognition of God: it was an act of devotion. Moreover, it is expressly stated that they worshipped God “at the end of days,” the Divinely appointed season.

And when was that? Exactly what is signified by “the end of days”? Surely the unprejudiced reader who comes to the Scriptures in childlike simplicity, desiring to learn the mind of God, will form only one concept here. He will naturally say, Why, the end of days must be the end of the week, and that, of course, is the Sabbath.

But can we prove what has just been advanced? Yes, by an appeal to the context. If the first three chapters of Genesis be read through, it will be found they mention one “end” and one only, and that is in Genesis 2:3: “On the seventh day God ended His work which He had made.” Now as Scripture ever interprets Scripture, as its terms are defined by the way in which they are used in other passages, and as the law of the context is whatever fixes the meaning of any given clause, so here in Genesis 4:3, the “end of days” can only mean the end of the working week—the Sabbath. Thus this passage teaches us four things. First, that previous to the days of Cain and Abel a Sabbath had been instituted. Second, that this Sabbath came at the end of a week of work. Third, that it was recognized and owned by the sons of Adam and Eve. Fourth, that it was set apart for sacred use, namely, the worship of God.
Israel in Egypt and before Mount Sinai

There is yet another trace of the Sabbath in the early ages of the world to be found in Exodus: a most striking one it is, though it seems to have quite escaped the notice of those who have written on this subject. One reason for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt was that they might be free to keep the Sabbath and to offer those sacrifices and observe those ordinances which were connected with it. “

Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness” (5:1), “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (9:1). Do not these words clearly imply that while sojourning in Egypt the Israelites had been prevented from observing their religious ordinances? Their merciless taskmasters had blotted out their Sabbath and made their life one ceaseless round of toil and misery. This is clearly confirmed by the words of Pharaoh to Moses and Aaron: “And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let (hinder) the people from their works? get you unto your burdens. And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them (not “cease” but) REST from their burdens” (Exo. 5:4, 5). Evidently one of the first things the intrepid Moses did when he returned to Egypt was to insist that his brethren keep the Sabbath, and hence Pharaoh’s objection.

In order to bridge the small gap between this and the last chapter, we must ponder a very striking passage in Exodus 16, from which we may learn some facts of deep importance concerning the existence and observance of the Holy Sabbath prior to Israel’s reaching Sinai. That chapter records God’s giving of the manna as Israel’s daily food while they were in the wilderness. First, “Behold, I will rain bread from Heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My Law or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily” (vv. 4, 5). From these verses it is unmistakably clear that a Divine Law was in existence before the Ten Commandments were inscribed on the tables of stone, and from what follows it is equally evident that the observance of the Sabbath was part of this self-same Law: in no other way can these words of God to Moses be explained.

The Lord was about to give His people a daily supply of manna, and made it known to Moses that a double supply should be furnished them on the sixth day—to make up for none being given them on the seventh. In this respect Exodus 16 is parallel with Genesis 2:2, 3, inasmuch as once more we see the Creator condescending to be the Exemplar of His creatures: Jehovah manifested His regard for the Sabbath by withholding manna on that day. “We may here observe three miracles in honour of the Sabbath, and to secure it against desecration were wrought every week before the promulgation of the Law at Sinai. Double the quantity of manna fell on the sixth day. None fell on the Sabbath. The manna preserved for that day did not corrupt” (Robert Haldane).

Next we are told, “And it came to pass on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses” (v. 22). Now note very particularly the definite language of Moses in reply, “This is that which the LORD hath said, Tomorrow is the Rest of the Holy Sabbath unto the Lord” (v. 23). This is the first express mention of the “Sabbath” in the history of Israel, and the terms in which it is here introduced utterly precludes the absurd idea that the Sabbath was then, for the first time formally and legally instituted. No candid mind reading this chapter for the first time would ever conclude that here was a most important religious ordinance, quite unknown before, now given to the people. Rather is it not obvious to any careful reader that throughout the whole of this narrative two facts (unnamed) were in the mind of the writer, without regard to which the account is unintelligible: that a Divine Law was binding on the people (by which they were to be proved afresh), and that they had a sufficient knowledge thereof as to be expected to keep the Sabbath.

Tables of Stone/Heart

When the law was given to Israel there was a book of the law but there was also the tables of stone. The tables of stone contained the ten commandments, including the Sabbath command. According to 2 Cor 3, the commands of the tables of stone are said to have become implanted in new covenant believers as tables of the heart. Pink speaks on this topic with the following.
Tables of the Heart

In proof of our contention that the Sabbath obtains for the Christian dispensation, we appeal first to, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the (spiritual) house of Israel, and with the (spiritual) house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they break, although I was a husband unto them, saith the LORD. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the LORD, I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:31-34). That the new covenant here mentioned is that brought in by Christ is expressly affirmed in the eighth chapter of Hebrews, so that there can be no doubt of this being one of those prophecies which had immediate reference to the Gospel economy.

Now the leading characteristic of this New Covenant, as contradistinguished from that which was made with carnal Israel at Sinai, is that God’s Law is now written on the hearts of His people, whereas it was formerly written on tables of stone: in this the Law is transmitted internally, in that, the Nation had it externally. Yet, let it be said emphatically, it is identically the same Law: the Moral Law, not the ceremonial, for so far from that being exalted into a higher place by Christ, it was in Him abolished, passing away like the shadow when the substance comes. Nor is the ceremonial law ever designated absolutely “the Law of God,” and least of all could that be meant when the Law and the Covenant are viewed (as they are here) as in great measure identical. That which is pre-eminently called “the Law” in the Pentateuch and which formed exclusively the old covenant, was simply the Ten Commandments—those wholly and those alone.

It was the Ten Commandments, then, which the Spirit of Prophecy (through Jeremiah) foretold should one day, namely, in the Gospel dispensation—be inscribed by the finger of God upon the hearts of His people. By a miracle of grace being wrought in them, they would, after the inward man, delight in and serve God’s Law (Rom. 7:22, 25). It could not be otherwise, for God has predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29)—initially so now, fully so in Glory. If then the Head could say, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy Law is within My heart” (Psa. 40:8), so in their measure can the members of His mystical Body say the same. Yet there is this great difference—for in all things He has the pre-eminence: Christ was born (“that Holy thing”: Luke 1:35) with God’s Law in His heart, whereas it is only written in ours at the new birth.

Sabbath was Made for Man

One more thing that shook me up was the fact that Jesus Christ said that the Sabbath was made for man, not just Israel. The Sabbath is just like marriage in that it was instituted in the beginning for every man to obey. Why single out marriage for humanity and the Sabbath for Israel? The Sabbath is not dependent on the law given to Israel but on the “Lord of the Sabbath” who instituted it in the beginning before the fall of man.

Made for Man

“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:2, 3). Before commenting upon these verses perhaps it is well to make a few preliminary remarks thereon. First, let us point out how emphatically they repudiate the error of those who declare that the Sabbath was an institution peculiar to the Jews. More than 2,000 years before the Lord entered into covenant with them at Sinai, the weekly day of sacred rest was appointed and consecrated by the Creator. Instead of its origin dating only from the time when the Ten Commandments were written on the tables of stone, its inception carries us right back to the very beginning of history. As we shall see (D.V.) when we come to examine Exodus 20, the Lord Himself there declared the Sabbath was as old as the world itself.

Not only is it a glaring mistake to suppose the Sabbath was first instituted at Sinai, but it is equally wrong to insist that it is binding on Jews only. The reasons which Jehovah gave in Exodus 20:8-11 why the Sacred Day must be observed are just as pertinent to and incontestable for the Gentiles as they are for the Jews: the original occasion of its appointment and the design thereof hold good with equal respect for the entire human race. Nor is this any arbitrary assertion of ours. Nothing could be plainer than the words of our Redeemer: “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27) and not merely for one small fraction of mankind. “The weekly day of rest is one of two things that were ordained in and have come from a sinless Eden. The Sabbath was before Moses, before Abraham—the only other relic of the primitive Paradise is marriage—ideal marriage. As well make marriage a matter of Mosaic legislation as the Sabbath law, since both of them were instituted and ordained for man in Eden” (A. T. Pierson).


These are not arguments that you will hear in New Covenant Theology or Dispensational circles and I am glad to have found the works of A.W. Pink. Though I don’t agree with everything Pink says in “The Holy Sabbath”, I think he does a good job trying to prove the validity of his beliefs from scripture. Also, he touches on more topics than just the ones I presented but these are the ones that stood out to me. Pink discusses difficult passages in the New Testament and much more. A complete reading of his work is necessary to gain a complete understanding of his Sabbath beliefs. As you can tell, I am still working on mine.