Two Rules For Keeping The Sabbath Day Holy

Family Worship

J.C. Ryle:

What then appears to be the will of God about the manner of observing the Sabbath Day? There are two general rules laid down for our guidance in the Fourth Commandment, and by them all questions must be decided.

One plain rule about the Sabbath is that it must be kept as a day of rest, All work of every kind ought to cease as far as possible, both of body and mind. “Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” Works of necessity and mercy may be done. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us this, and teaches also that all such works were allowable in the Old Testament times. “Have ye not read,” He says, “what David did?” — “Have ye not read that the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” (Matt. 12:5). Whatever, in short, is necessary to preserve and maintain life, whether of ourselves, or of the creatures, or to do good to the souls of men, may be done on the Sabbath Day without sin.

The other great rule about the Sabbath is, that it must be kept holy. It is not to be a carnal, sensual rest, like that of the worshippers of the golden calf, who “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exod. 32:6). It is to be emphatically a holy rest. It is to be a rest in which, as far as possible, the affairs of the soul may be attended to, business of another world minded, and communion with God and Christ kept up. In short, it ought never to be forgotten that it is “the Sabbath of the Lord our God” (Exod. 20:10).

I am no Pharisee. Let no hard-working man who has been confined to a close room for six weary days, suppose that I object to his taking any lawful relaxation for his body on the Sunday. I see no harm in a quiet walk on a Sunday, provided always that it does not take the place of going to public worship, and is really quiet, and like that of Isaac (Gen. 24:63). I read of our Lord and His disciples walking through the cornfields on the Sabbath Day. All I say is, beware that you do not turn liberty into licence — beware that you do not injure the souls of others in seeking relaxation for yourself — and beware that you never forget you have a soul as well as a body.

I am no enthusiast. I want no tired labourer to misunderstand my meaning, when I bid him to keep the Sabbath holy. I do not tell anyone that he ought to pray all day, or read his Bible all day, or go to church all day, or meditate all day, without let or cessation, on a Sunday. All I say is, that the Sunday rest should be a holy rest. God ought to be kept in view; God’s Word ought to be studied; God’s House ought to be attended; the soul’s business ought to be specially considered; and I say that everything which prevents the day being kept holy in this way, ought as far as possible to be avoided.




2 thoughts on “Two Rules For Keeping The Sabbath Day Holy

  1. Hi Meg,

    I wanted to reply to this subject with this article. I believe Christians are in error in regards to keeping the Sabbath, and this article lays out my reasons very well. Blessings sis!

    Freedom from Sabbath-keeping

    Some today insist that Christians must keep the Sabbath day, that those who worship on the first day of the week (Sunday) are in great error. They reason that “Sun-day” comes from the pagan worship of the Sun god, that Jesus and Paul kept the Sabbath day as an example for us to follow, and that the Roman Catholic church is responsible for the change in the day of worship. Those who continue to worship on Sunday will receive the mark of the beast.

    Let’s briefly look at these arguments. First, nowhere does the Fourth Commandment say that Christians are to worship on the Sabbath. It commands that we rest on that day: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work . . . 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” (Exodus 20:8–11). Sabbath-keepers worship on Saturday. However, the word “Satur-day” comes from the Latin for “Saturn’s day,” a pagan day of worship of the planet Saturn (astrology).

    If a Christian’s salvation depends upon his keeping a certain day, surely God would have told us. At one point, the apostles gathered specifically to discuss the relationship of believers to the Law of Moses. Acts 15:5–11, 24–29 was God’s opportunity to make His will clear to His children. All He had to do to save millions from damnation was say, “Remember to keep the Sabbath holy,” and millions of Christ-centered, God-loving, Bible-believing Christians would have gladly kept it. Instead, the only commands the apostles gave were to “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.”

    There isn’t even one command in the New Testament for Christians to keep the Sabbath holy. In fact, we are told not to let others judge us regarding Sabbaths (Colossian 2:16), and that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was given as a sign to Israel (Exodus 31:13–17); nowhere is it given as a sign to the Church. Thousands of years after the Commandment was given we can still see the sign that separates Israel from the world—they continue to keep the Sabbath holy.

    The apostles came together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). The collection was taken on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). When do Sabbath-keepers gather together to break bread or take up the collection? It’s not on the same day as the early Church. They tell us that the Roman Catholic church changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, but what has that got to do with the disciples keeping the first day of the week? That was the Roman Catholic church in the early centuries, not the Church of the Book of Acts.

    Romans 14:5–10 tells us that one man esteems one day of the week above another; another esteems every day alike. Then Scripture tells us that everyone should be fully persuaded in his own mind. We are not to judge each other regarding the day on which we worship.

    Jesus did keep the Sabbath. He had to keep the whole Law to be the perfect sacrifice. The Bible makes it clear that the Law has been satisfied in Christ. The reason Paul went to the synagogue each Sabbath wasn’t to keep the Law; that would have been contrary to everything he taught about being saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). It was so he could preach the gospel to the Jews, as evident in the Book of Acts. Paul had an incredible evangelistic zeal for Israel to be saved (Romans 10:1). To the Jew he became as a Jew, that he might win the Jews (1 Corinthians 9:19,20). That meant he went to where they gathered on the day they gathered.

    D. L. Moody said, “The Law can only chase a man to Calvary, no further.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law so we are no longer in bondage to it. If we try to keep one part of the Law (even out of love for God), we are obligated to keep the whole Law (Galatians 3:10)—all 613 precepts. If those who insist on keeping the Sabbath were as zealous about the salvation of the lost as they are about other Christians keeping the Sabbath, we would see revival.

  2. Glad to hear from you!

    This article sounds like a mix of Seventh Day Adventist teachings (that the RCC changed the Sabbath day to Sunday, which is false, although they do claim that they did so — Christians originally met together on both Saturdays and Sundays and then eventually only on Sundays after they were driven out of the synagogues) and antinomianism. It seems to assume that people keep the Sabbath as a means of trying to obtain salvation, which is not what the historic Protestant/Reformed position on the Sabbath/Lord’s Day is. I would encourage you to read what the Protestant Reformers had to say on this topic in order to more fully understand historic Protestant thought on this (look at the difference between the moral and ceremonial components of the law. The ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath have passed away, but the moral aspects are still in force, as is the rest of the moral law which is summarized in the Ten Commandments). Interestingly, even up into the 1980’s the Sunday Sabbath was observed by law in my part of Canada.

    Here are a couple posts to get you started:
    Why Do Christians Eat Shellfish and Wear Mixed Fibre Clothing
    Christians Want to Stone Homosexuals and Adulterers
    You can also click on the “Sabbath” tag to read more posts from Protestants on the Sabbath.

    Do you attend a church that meets together every Sunday? If so, how did it come to choose Sunday as the day for Christians to meet together? Or does your church forbid people from meeting together to worship God on Sundays since this article seems to imply that doing so would be wrong? Where does the Bible say that worshiping God on Sundays is a sin? Is he not to be worshiped every single day of our lives, whether alone or with other Christians? Since this article rejects the continuity of the 4th commandment, would your church also teach that it is now okay to dishonor parents (5th commandment), take the Lord’s name in vain (3rd commandment), and murder (6th commandment) since we are no longer “under the law,” as I hear many now saying?

    As for the mark of the beast stuff, that is straight SDA teaching. As a Protestant Historicist, I reject the SDA understanding of the mark of the beast in favor of the historic Protestant view (no surprise there :-)). I do find it interesting, though that the article claims that Sunday worshipers will receive the mark of the beast while also claiming that we should not judge each other regarding the day on which we worship (I do not agree with the interpretation of Scripture being advanced here but decided not to write a treatise on that — a look at Matthew Henry or any other worthy commentator can explain things better than I — but notice the article skipped over Acts 15:21. Give some thought as to what that says.). It’s a bit of a contradictory position to take, is it not?

    Well, hope that helps! I pray that the Lord will bless your search for truth and that in some small way I have helped you on your journey.

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