[Editor’s Note: Some P&P Contributors hold to the 1689 Confession, some are Calvinistic dispensationalists that do not, and one rowdy contributor isn’t even a Calvinist – the horror. We may not all agree on the sabbatarian nature of the Lord’s Day, but we would all like you to enjoy this day of rest and worship in Jesus Christ]
How are you spending this fine Lord’s Day? As I’m writing this post, I’m reminded of my own observance as I write this out on Saturday afternoon, so the post will go up automatically on Sunday so I don’t have to labor on the Lord’s Day. Lord’s Day observance is pivotally important to our Christian faith, generational faithfulness, and the continuity of our covenant faith. Consider these words, explaining the history of Sabbath in our own nation…
[Robert Baird] wrote in 1855 that there was no subject on which American Christians were more happily united than that of the proper observance of the Sabbath [i.e., Sunday]. He found that every state in the Union had made laws in favor of proper observance of the Lord’s Day, because the whole economy proceeded on the principle that America was a Christian country and because the courts had pronounced Christianity to be “part and parcel of the laws of the Land.” He said that he uttered the language of every American Christian when he said: “Woe to America when it ceases to be a Sabbath respecting land.” (George M. Stephenson, The Puritan Heritage [New York: MacMillan Co., 1952], 181)
Although Christians practiced Sabbatarianism throughout pre-Civil War America, New England Christianity exemplified this tradition more than any other region.
The New England Sabbath always began at sunset on Saturday night and ended at the next sunset…. [Activities] prohibited on Saturday evening… were allowed on Sunday evening. (Ibid., 181-2)
All the New England clergymen were rigid in the prolonged observance of Sunday. From sunset on Saturday until Sunday night they would not shave, have rooms swept, nor beds made, have food prepared, nor cooking utensils and table-ware washed. As soon as their Sabbath began they gathered their families and servants around them…and read the Bible and exhorted and prayed and recited the catechism until nine o’clock, usually by the light of one small “dip candle” only…. Sweet to the Pilgrims and to their descendants was the hush of their calm Saturday night, and their still, tranquil Sabbath, — sign and token to them, not only of the weekly rest ordained in the creation, but of the eternal rest to come. (Alice Morse Earle, The Sabbath in Puritan New England [New York: Scribner, 1909], 254, 257)
Contrast the Puritan past with modern Christianity’s near-total disregard of the Sabbath. A Christian today who observes any day as a Sabbath is increasingly rare (source link). And then, more on the Baptist tradition of Sabbath observance…
During the civil war, the army that fought in the name of the presbyterian-controlled Parliament became dominated by more independently minded Christians, including many Baptists. When the rebels executed Charles I and established Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, Baptists found themselves free to promote their faith.
Though Cromwell was of Puritan persuasion and would have preferred ruling with a tight hand, the post-civil-war Parliament restricted his powers. Among its more important laws was one granting liberty in Christian worship, with the limitation that it “not be extended to Popery and Prelacy, nor such as, under the profession of Christ, hold forth and practice blasphemy and licentiousness” (Don A. Sanford, A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists[Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992], 55).
Because of this freedom, the decade of the 1650s became a time of Baptist expansion. It also was the decade in which Sunday Sabbatarianism gained a centuries-long foothold in English culture and law. Yet, after becoming culturally established and socially acceptable, Sabbatarians lost much of their zeal. The Sabbatarian war had been won.
Seventh-day Sabbatarianism never became established. Though supposedly protected by the newly legalized religious freedom, old social prejudices remained. The English still looked on Jews with suspicion and bigotry, even though under Cromwell Jews eventually could legally return to England for the first time in centuries (source link).
Oh, my. How things have changed. I recently spoke to my own city council, along with two other pastors, petitioning them not to repeal a long-standing ordinance prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sunday mornings from 8AM to noon. Strongly pushed by the Tavern Association and alcohol lobby, the measure passed in spite of our opposition six to one. I felt a tad odd about opposing the repeal, considering I’m a tad libertarian and not a tee-totaler. And although there were several compelling reasons not to repeal that ordinance, one important reason is the setting apart Sunday as a day holy unto the Lord.
Regardless of how you set apart the Lord’s Day (other than the mandates of corporate worship and rest) as holy unto the Lord, I pray that you learn from our spiritual ancestors and see the importance and rich reward.
[Contributed by JD Hall]