"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 they son, nor they daughter, thy manservant, nor they 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." Ex. 20:8-11.
If a person who had not previously known of the ten commandments should suddenly come face to face with them, he would at once be struck with their reasonableness and good sense. As he read the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," he would agree that it is a good commandment. So with the commandments, "Thou shalt not kill," and, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." He would doubtless observe that most nations had similar laws and had found them necessary and good. He would be unable to find any fault with the law of God.
One thing, however, might be puzzling to him. Why should the seventh day be considered holy? He would be able to see reason for the other commandments, but the Sabbath commandment would seem arbitrary. From a health viewpoint every fifth or sixth day, or eighth or tenth day, would serve as well. And anyway, why select the seventh day of the week rather than just one seventh part of the time? The other commandments are reasonable, he would think, but the Sabbath commandment is of a different nature. It is not grounded in nature or human relations, but is an arbitrary decree without sufficient reason for obedience or enforcement.
The writer once had a conversation with a person in which the arguments here set forth were advanced. The person in question was well educated. The conversation turned upon the law of God, especially the Sabbath commandment. His argument ran somewhat as follows:
"I appreciate the contribution your denomination is making toward law and order. In an age such as this, in which crime and lawlessness prevail, we must depend on the churches to stand stiffly for righteousness. I am sorry to note that some of the churches are not doing this. They are making light of the law of God, and this cannot but react in civil affairs. If God's law can be ignored with impunity, it is easy to take a like attitude toward civil law. I am glad, therefore, that you are preaching the law as well as the gospel. Both are needed.
"There is one thing, however, in which I believe you are mistaken. You are keeping the seventh day, and you believe that God requires you to do this. Though I honour your belief and think you are honest, I also think you are mistaken. I have given some study to the question, and I believe that God's will and intent could be served just as well by your keeping the first day of the week as by your keeping the last; and it would be a great deal easier for you, and your influence would be enhanced. While I personally believe that it is immaterial whether I keep one day or another, or no day at all, I honour those who do. But I do think you are mistaken in believing that you must keep the seventh day. God does not require it of you. The most He could expect would be for you to keep one day in seven.
"The Sabbath commandment is of a different nature from the other commandments. The fourth commandment stands alone in not being grounded in the nature of man as the other commandments are. If a group of men who had never heard of the ten commandments were to live together, they would soon evolve a series of laws for their own guidance. Heathen nations and savage tribes have rules against stealing, killing, and adultery. I believe that such primitive peoples would after a while construct a code of laws in conformity with the ten commandments; but I do not see how they could ever evolve a Sabbath law. There is nothing in nature that could guide them in such an undertaking. This I believe proves my contention that the Sabbath law is not founded on natural law, is not grounded in man's nature as are the other commandments, and that men sustain to that commandment a different relation from what they do to the others. I consider the other commandments binding, but not the Sabbath commandment."
To this, answer was given along the following line:
"Without admitting the truth of all your contentions, let us grant that the Sabbath commandment is on a different basis from that of the rest of the commandments, and that man unaided by revelation could never arrive at a belief in a seventh-day Sabbath.
"That the Sabbath commandment occupies a unique place in the law of God is, I believe, conceded by most students. It is the one commandment that deals with time. It has the distinction of declaring certain things right if done at a stated time, and the same things wrong if done at another time. It creates wrong and right by definition without any discernible reason grounded in nature. In that it is different from the other commandments.
"It was this commandment which God selected in olden times to be the test commandment. Before the law was publicly proclaimed at Sinai, 'Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: and the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into the wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.' Ex. 16:2,3. The situation was critical. Something had to be done. 'Then said the Lord unto Moses, 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.' Verse 4.
"The gathering and the preparation of the bread which the Lord sent from heaven constituted the test for Israel to 'prove them, whether they will walk in My law or no.' Every day they were to gather enough for the day's need, but on the sixth day they were to gather twice as much, so as to have enough to last them over the Sabbath. While the manna ordinarily would not keep fresh more than one day, on the sixth day God miraculously preserved the manna from corruption. So 'On the sixth day they gather twice as much bread.' Verse 22. 'And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake today and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that today; for today is a Sabbath unto the Lord: today ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none.' Ex. 16:23-26.
"Some of the people were not satisfied, however. They went out 'on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep My commandments, and My laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the Sabbath, therefore He giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.' Verses 27-30.
"Of all the commandments God chose the fourth as the test commandment. When He wanted 'to prove them, whether they will walk in My law or no,' He told them to gather manna each day sufficient for their need, twice as much on the sixth day, and none on the seventh. That was the test. When they disobeyed, it was not merely the Sabbath they broke; it was the whole law. 'How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws?' God said. Not, 'Why do ye not keep the Sabbath?' The question was larger than that. It involved the whole law. The keeping of the Sabbath was the test. If they kept that, they were obedient. If they broke it, they broke the whole law.
"It is to this and to later experiences that Ezekiel has reference when he quotes God as saying in the wilderness: 'I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.' Eze. 20:12. The statement is here made that God's Sabbaths are a sign of sanctification. In verse twenty the Lord's Sabbaths are called 'a sign between Me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.' In the first verse quoted the Sabbaths are called a sign of sanctification, in the second a sign 'that I am the Lord thy God.' In both they are called signs.
"It is interesting to note the connection in which these statements are made. The elders of Israel had come to inquire of the Lord, but the Lord declared emphatically that He would not be inquired of by them. Eze. 20:3. He had spoken to them so many times, and they had not hearkened. Why should He communicate with them, when they refused to do what He commanded them? They were like their fathers, God said. The fathers had not been obedient, neither did these show any inclination to hearken. When Ezekiel feels inclined to plead for them, the Lord commands him to tell them plainly wherein they have failed. 'Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers,' the Lord says. Verse 4. This Ezekiel does by recounting to them the difficulty the Lord had in bringing Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land, and in getting them to keep His commandments, especially the fourth.
"While they were still in Egypt, God had commanded them to cast aside all idols. This they had not done. Nevertheless, God brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness and proclaimed to them His law. In that law He points out the Sabbath, saying that it is His sign of sanctification and that He wants them to keep it holy. 'But the house of Israel rebelled;... My Sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I will pour out My fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.' Verse 13. God, however, decides not to consume them. On the other hand, He feels that He cannot 'bring them into the land which I had given them,...because they...polluted My Sabbaths.' Verses 15,16.
"God pleads with them: 'Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgements, nor defile yourselves with their idols: I am the Lord your God; walk in My statutes, and keep My judgements, and do them. And hallow My Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.' But 'the children rebelled;...they polluted My Sabbaths: then I said, I will pour out My fury upon them, to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness.' Verse 21. God decides that He will 'scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; because they had not executed My judgements, but had despised My statutes, and had polluted My Sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols.' Verses 23,24.
"Twice the statement is made that the children of Israel 'rebelled;...they polluted My Sabbaths.' God at last decides to 'purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me,' and to see to it that 'they shall not enter into the land of Israel.' Verse 38. The connection between 'rebels' and those that pollute the Sabbath seems quite intimate.
"No one can reverently read this chapter without coming to the conclusion that God makes much of the Sabbath, that it is a test, a sign, that it is selected above the other commandments as a proof of obedience. 'I will prove them,' God says, 'whether they will walk in My law or no.' The keeping of the Sabbath is the proof. It is the sign of sanctification. It is the sign that 'I am the Lord your God.'
"Just why did God select the Sabbath commandment as a test rather than one of the other commandments? Admitting the contention that the Sabbath rests upon a 'Thus saith the Lord' only, special prominence and significance is thereby given to it. The other commandments are founded not only on a decree of God, but also in the nature of man, a part of the elemental or natural law. One commandment is singled out from the rest, to stand as a test, a sign, that if a person obeys that, he is in harmony with the whole law.
"It is as if God should reason thus concerning the other nine commandments: I have given them My law. I have written it upon their hearts; it is traced in every fibre of their being. They know instinctively what is right and what is not. Their own conscience witnesses to the truthfulness of My law. There is one thing needful, however. The law is so plain, it is so evident to all that these basic commandments are necessary to existence, to peace and life, that men might fail to accept them as of divine origin. Some will contend that the nine commandments are so vital and evident that unaided by any divine direction, the people would of themselves be able to make a law comparable to Mine. They will boast that through the passing of the ages men have through experience arrived at the conclusion that it is not good to steal or lie or kill, and have evolved appropriate laws concerning such matters, and that these laws are not of divine origin, but are the result of human experiment and are definitely ingrained in the race. They will point with assurance to tribes and races who for centuries have been out of touch with civilisation and yet have rules covering many points in the law. They will claim that this is proof that man unaided by any divine power can duplicate My law. They will assert that the law is not of divine origin, that men are simply following a law which their own experience teaches them is for the good of mankind.
"God continues: I will make one provision in My law that is not based on elemental or natural law; that does not have any correspondence in nature; that will be a definite command, and for which they will be unable to find any reason aside from My command. For the other commandments man can see a reason. They appeal to his good sense. But for this commandment there will be no other reason than My word. If they obey it, they obey Me. If they reject it they reject Me. I will make that commandment a test, a sign. I will make it a test of whether they will keep My law, or no. I will make it a sign that I am the Lord.
"I will make the Sabbath and ask them to observe it. There is nothing in all the world to indicate a sabbath of rest. If they keep the Sabbath commandment, it will be because I command it. I will make it a test and tell them so. This will prove whether they will walk in My law or no. The Sabbath will be My sign, My test of obedience. The seventh day, not one day in seven. Whoever keeps it, obeys Me. Whoever rejects it, rejects not only the Sabbath, but the whole law. More than that, when they reject the seventh day, they reject Me. The keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath is a sign that they accept Me as their God.
"In course of time there will arise men who will claim to be religious, but who in reality are leaning to their own understanding. Many of them will reject the story and the God of creation, substituting their own theories of how things came to be. While they were not present at creation when I spoke things into existence, they will pronounce learnedly of how it was done, rejecting My testimony as to the event. Some of them will definitely reject Me. Others will claim to believe in Me, and yet when it comes to a conflict between My word and their findings, they will reject My word and accept their own theories. Rejecting the story of creation, they will naturally reject the memorial of creation, the Sabbath. They will not accept that which they cannot reason out. Their own mind is their final source of authority. I will give them a test which will show whether they believe in Me or not. I will prove them, whether they will really walk in My law or no. If they accept My sign, My test, My Sabbath, they acknowledge in that acceptance a mind higher than their own. If they reject My Sabbath, they reject Me, My word, My law. I will make the Sabbath the test.
"Men will understand the challenge. They will not be able to evade the issue. They will clearly see that in the acceptance of the Sabbath they must and do accept My word by faith, rather than by their own reasoning. The keeping of the Sabbath rests upon faith only. Men cannot reason it out upon the basis of human experience or research. If they accept the Sabbath at all, they accept it because of their faith in Me. "The evil one, My adversary, will make every effort to destroy the faith of My people. He will attempt to counterfeit My work. He will advocate a spurious day of rest, and make it more convenient and popular than the day I chose at creation. And he will succeed with a large number of people who will accept him in preference to Me. He will challenge My day of rest and rally the people under his banner. The people will have a clear-cut issue before them. It will be a question of My Sabbath and My word on the one hand, and the spurious Sabbath of My adversary on the other hand. I have My sign. He has his. It will be for each one to choose under which banner he will stand.
"Knowing the end from the beginning, I have deliberately chosen the Sabbath as the test, to prove whether men will walk in My law, or no. This is why I have placed it in the bosom of the law. This also explains why I have chosen not to connect it with natural law. It stands absolutely alone and rests only upon My word. I have made it the test commandment."
It is not our contention that God passed through such a process of thought as is here suggested. He knows all things. For good and sufficient reasons He gave the Sabbath as a sign, a test. We believe we can see some reasons for this. It behooves us to place ourselves wholeheartedly on God's side in this important matter.
The Sabbath commandment has a vital bearing on the atonement. It was with reference to the transgression of the law that the blood was sprinkled in the sanctuary service. It was when one had done "somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord" that he needed atonement. Lev. 4:27. Does the transgression of the Sabbath commandment constitute "somewhat" against one of the commandments? Numbers 15 contains a lesson in point.
The Lord, speaking to Israel, says: "If ye have erred and not observed all these commandments which the Lord hath spoken unto Moses,...it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; seeing all the people were in ignorance." Num. 15:22-26.
Any sin which Israel or the stranger might do ignorantly should be forgiven. "Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them." Verse 29.
If a man sinned wilfully, he was treated differently. "The soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken His commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him." Verses 30,31.
An illustration follows as to what is meant by sinning "presumptuously:" A man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. The leaders were uncertain what should be done, and so "they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him." Verse 34. The Lord did not long keep them in suspense. "The Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses." Verses 35,36.
God had proclaimed to Israel His commandments. He had told them to remember the Sabbath day. He had announced that it was His test whether they would walk in His law or no. There was no excuse. When the man went out gathering sticks on the Sabbath, he was not in ignorance. He was rebellious. He "despised the word of the Lord." He broke the commandments. There was but one law for him. He had sinned presumptuously.
It is one thing for men on earth lightly to think to change the day of the Sabbath. It is another thing for them to touch the eternal law of God, which is the foundation of His throne in heaven above. These commandments constitute the basis and ground of the atonement. A copy of them was kept in the sacred ark in the most holy place in the sanctuary on earth. None but the high priest could ever enter the most holy. The law was the very foundation of God's throne and government. When on a certain occasion a man touched the ark, he was immediately smitten. 1Chron. 13:9,10. What would have happened should he have put his hand into the ark and attempted to change God's writing on the tables! Yet men impiously consider such a possibility! They forget God's holiness and the sacredness of the law, not to mention the impossibility of changing that which is engraved in stone, and that by God's own finger!
Is it possible that the law which is the ground of the atonement and which necessitated the death of the Lord, has been changed? If the Sabbath commandment has been changed, have others also been changed? Did Christ die for one thing in the Old Testament and for another in the New? Did God demand the death penalty for wilful transgression of the Sabbath commandment the day before Christ died on the cross, and not the day after? Or was there a "neutral" zone as to the death penalty? There may be differences among Christians as to many things. Can there be any difference of opinion as to the need of atonement? Is Christ still our High Priest? If so, for what does He atone? Is the law still beneath the mercy seat in the ark?
Without the law the atonement becomes a farce, Christ's incarnation a pious fable, His death a miscarriage of justice, Gethsemane a tragedy. If the law -- or any of the commandments -- can be transgressed with impunity; if the law has been abrogated or its precepts changed; if the law as given by God Himself has ceased to be the standard in the judgement, then Christ's death becomes unnecessary, the Father Himself ceases to be the embodiment of justice and kindness, and Christ cannot escape the charge of being party to a deception. Let all Christians cry out against such doctrine! If the law is destroyed, the atonement is not needed, nor is Christ. Let the facts ever remain clear in all minds: Christ lived, suffered, died, and rose for us. We had sinned, transgressed the law, and were doomed to death. Christ saved us, not by doing away with law,--for then He would not have needed to die,--but by dying for us, thereby forever establishing the claims of the law. He now ministers His precious blood for us in the sanctuary above. He is our Advocate, our Surety, our High Priest. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. By faith in Him we are saved.