What is the first day of the Week,
“Remember the sabbath-day, to keep it holy.” — Exodus 20:8.
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body in of Christ.” — Col. 2:16, 17.
It may be well to give one word of explanation as to my object in writing the following paper. I had noticed, in the present day, on the one hand, a strong legal tendency — a positive imposition of the Sabbath as a matter of righteousness — and on the other, a carelessness and indifference about the Lord’s day. I feel it necessary to say, that I have no sympathy, either with the Judaizing, soul-destroying doctrine of the former, or with the cold infidelity of the latter. If I hear any one presenting the shadows of the law, (of which the Sabbath was one,) as the ground of salvation, it is quite clear to me that he knows not the gospel, but is one of those spoken of in Gal. 1:7, — a perverter of the gospel of Christ; and, at the same time, if I see one professing the name of the risen Son of God, doing his own things, seeking his own pleasure, and gratifying his own will, on the Lord’s day, I have reason to fear that such an one neither knows the joys nor the claims of a risen Christ.
But having found much blessing to my own soul, (and others in different places having in some measure shared that blessing with me,) in tracing through scripture the use of the Sabbath as a shadow of rest in Christ, I was urged to publish what the Lord has taught me in His word on this deeply interesting theme.
I would ask the reader to remember that, in the first part of this tract, there is not one thought of the Lord’s Day. It treats simply of the typical import of the Jewish Sabbath. And even as to this, the gospel aspect only is dwelt upon; my object being chiefly to lead doubting souls to Christ.
Dispensationally, the earthly seventh-day Sabbath points forward to the earth’s millennial rest, just as the first day, or eighth day, points to the eternal state. It is also clear to me, that a seventh-day Sabbath will be observed again on earth, when the Jews are restored. But into these views of the subject I do not enter here.
What was the Sabbath?
Without having the least desire to share in the human strife and controversy on the question of the Sabbath, I do consider it to be important to know what God’s thoughts are on this, as on all other subjects. I ask, then, the reader’s attention, not to my opinions, or the opinions of other men, but to the word of God. The Lord give the demonstration of the Spirit, that Christ may be magnified.
The first mention we have of God’s rest, is in Gen. 2:2, 3: — “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all 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.” We are not told that man was brought into this rest; neither is there one word in the narration of the fall, or of God’s judgment consequent thereon, to imply that the Sabbath had been imposed as a command.
The fact that God sanctified it, is no proof that it was instituted for man, or even then made known to him. He who was from eternity sanctified by the Father was not sent into the world, until the fulness of time came. (John 10:36.) But whether the Sabbath was given to Adam or not, it is most certain that Scripture is silent as to it, from Adam to Moses, a period of more than two thousand years. Now viewing the Sabbath as a part of the moral law, as commonly understood, in the sense of eternal and universal obligation, this silence would present a serious difficulty. But when seen, like all the rest of the ceremonial law, to be a shadow of Christ, this silence is not only no difficulty, but a key to the whole subject.
Sin came in, and man was driven out. He is still out — and God has only one way of bringing him back. That way is Christ. Now as the death of Christ is the only way of bringing the sinner into the real rest of God, so also, if the Sabbath were a shadow of God’s rest in Christ, man could not possibly be brought into this typical rest, until the shedding of the blood of that paschal lamb, which pointed to the great sacrificial Lamb of God. Accordingly the lamb is slain — the passover blood is sprinkled — the Lord brings out His redeemed people — the song of redemption is sung — the manna from heaven is given — and then, and not till then, is the Sabbath expressly instituted. “This is that which the Lord hath said, To-morrow is the rest of the Holy Sabbath unto the Lord.” (See Exodus 16:22-30; also Neh. 9:14, and Heb. 4:6.)
Now, as a shadow of rest in Christ, two things were most necessary — that it should be given consequent on redemption — on that very ground; and that it should he given only to those thus redeemed, as the mark or sign of their redemption. And however these principles of interpretation may cross and offend human thoughts, they are God’s thoughts; and nothing could be more striking than the care the Holy Ghost has taken to present these two facts. In chapter 19, which unfolds the ways of God preparatory to the giving of the law, we have in the 4th verse — “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.” In the very giving of the law, God spake these words and said, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The ways of God are very precious; God must be true to Himself; obedience was not commanded that they might be redeemed, but because they were redeemed; but God says of Israel, “They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.”
It was to this redeemed people the command was given, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” This is still more clear in Deut. 5:15 — “Remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence, through a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm; therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.” Could language be plainer than this? That blood which had separated them from Egypt, and brought them typically to God, and that mighty power which He put forth in bringing them out, were the ground on which God says, “Therefore the Lord thy God commandeth thee to keep the Sabbath day.” Now, had God made known His Sabbath to all men, and given it to them, this wondrous connexion with a complete redemption would have had no meaning in it. But He did not, as Nehemiah bears witness. (Neh. 9:9-14) There, we have first God’s redemption, and then, “and madest known unto them thy holy Sabbath.” How striking is this type! The real rest of God can only be known by those who have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. The Sabbath was most strictly a sign between God and His redeemed Israel. “Speak thou unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you,” etc. (Ex. 31:13.) This is again repeated in the 17th verse — “It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever.” (See also Ezek. 20:12.) The history of redemption is there recounted, and then we read, “Moreover also 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.” Do not mistake by supposing that they were to keep the Sabbath to get sanctified. No! it was God’s sign that He had, by the death of the lamb, sanctified, or separated them from Egypt to Himself; and they were to keep it as a sign that they were thus separated to God. It would be a contradiction in terms to say, that this rest was given to the world, and then to say, it was given to a people as a sign that they were sanctified from the world to God.
How strikingly this holds good in the antitype. It is a fact that none have this sign upon them — that is rest of soul, or peace with God — none enter into His rest, but they who believe; none can be brought nigh to God but through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Did you ever meet a man that had peace with God? That man believed on God “that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead: who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The poor Romanist, and many others, will not believe God’s testimony about the death and resurrection of Christ, and therefore never can have peace with God — never! No, never do they know “the blessedness of the man” “whose transgression is forgiven;” never once can they give thanks to the Father, knowing that in Christ “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Read Col. 1:12-14.) No! in all the religions of man this fact is the same: he never can by works enter into rest; to cease from works is the only possible ground of entering into rest. God ceased from His works of creation, and entered into that rest, all being finished; the last thing He did was to build the woman — type of the Church — then He rested from all His works. And did not Christ finish the work of redemption? And has not God raised Him from the dead? “Who, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high.” Is not this proof enough? All heaven owns that the work of redemption is done; the Redeemer has sat down; and God has crowned Him with glory and honour. All heaven shouts, Worthy the Lamb! Reader, wilt thou dare to lift up thy unbelieving head and say, “No! that finished redemption is not enough; it alone can never give me peace with God; I must add my good works, my righteousness.” Remember, God calls thy righteousness filthy rags. Big as the bundle may be, all that thou hast, all that thou art, bears the stamp of sin, and demands thy death. Christ has met this claim, and was swallowed up of death. “He was made sin for us.” In Him was life; death had no claim on Him; yet was His soul made an offering for sin. He bowed His head; He cried, “It is finished;” He gave up the ghost. Now, if God did not raise Him from the dead, and thus prove and declare the work that justifies, that sanctifies, that glorifies the sinner who believes on Him; I say, if God has not raised Him from the dead, then are we yet in our sins; even we who have believed, have believed a lie. But now is He risen. God has declared redemption finished. “He whom God raised from the dead saw no corruption.” “Be it known unto you therefore, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” May God open the heart of the reader to receive this precious peace, thus preached to him, through the blood of Jesus.
To return to the Sabbath, as a shadow of rest in Christ. If there be this controversy between God and man, as to the real rest, God giving it only in Christ, and man determined to add his own filthy works; and if he really is so determined to carry the burden of sin, more or less, I doubt not we shall find instruction as to both these points expressed by the shadow. For the first point, turn to Numbers 15:32, where we have the case of the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. As the Sabbath was only just made known, enquiry was made, what should be done to him; and the Lord said, “The man shall surely be put to death.” Men may presumptuously deny the testimony of the Holy Ghost to the finished work of Christ. They may think it a light thing to break that Sabbath, that rest, by only gathering a few of the beggarly rotten sticks of their own works. Ponder this solemn lesson. If the shadow was thus guarded by the penalty of death, what will be the consequence to the soul that dares thus sin against the Holy Ghost, by despising the great salvation, the eternal Sabbath of rest in Christ?
Again, as to the second point, the desperate struggling of unbelief to carry the burthen of sin, how distinctly is this forbidden in the express command of God as to the shadow, in Jer. 17:21: “Thus saith the Lord, Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burthen on the Sabbath day,” &c. Does not the Spirit in this speak to us now? “Take heed.” Is not unbelief the besetting sin of every believer? No doubt the remembrance of sin should and will humble us to the dust. What soul that knows the Lord has not felt this, and wept bitterly? But doubt not, therefore, the efficacy of that “precious blood which hath made peace.” Take heed, beware of that heart of unbelief, that would doubt the forgiveness of God. Reader, have you pressing on your soul, the burden of sin? Oh! take it to the blood of Christ. It is Himself that says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Oh precious words! oh precious Jesus! whither could I go, but to thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life. Oh believe Him! Oh! “taste and see that the Lord is good.” He says, “My peace I give unto you.” Christ is the rest of God. Cease from works: enter into His rest.
Were it not that it would extend this paper far beyond my purpose, I might take up every line in, the word of God respecting the Sabbath, and we should find it a shadow expressing God’s thoughts of Christ; and indeed, when our understandings are opened, we are astonished to find both in the “Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, the things concerning himself.” This we may say — no command was more strict; no manner of work must be done on the Sabbath, nor even the kindling of a fire; and certainly nothing gave greater displeasure to Israel’s God, than the pollution of His Sabbath. (Read Jer. 17:20-27, and Exodus 35:2, 3.) Now is there not something very peculiar in the prohibition of all manner of work on the Sabbath? Here the wages of works is death; not only is the wages of sin death, but if works are done; yes! if any manner of works are done for salvation, for rest, for peace, the wages of such works will be everlasting death. (Gal. 2:16-24, 3:10.) This is the gospel, though so little known, because Christ the only rest of the sinner is so little known. Can anything be so wicked before God, so cruel to one’s own soul, as to bring in some other gospel of works for salvation, and thus deny the gospel of the grace of God? Can anything be so insulting, so displeasing to God, as thus, by any manner of works, to deny God’s Sabbath of rest in Christ? How striking a figure, then, of Christ, was the Sabbath in every aspect. Think for a moment what Christ has finished — oh, the glory of the cross. I ask, Can God allow that glory to be despised? It was fearful guilt to put the Son of God to death by wicked hands; but God could bear this; for whilst it manifested the cruel sin of man’s heart, the death of Jesus was the exhibition of the love of God. But what was the sin of putting Him to death, not knowing what they did, compared with the deeper, yea, deepest of all sin, that of rejecting forgiveness through His precious blood? The gospel was preached to the murderers first; but the gospel rejected, the works of righteousness preferred, then they must perish for ever. The Jews were not cast off for the murder of Christ, but for the sin against the Holy Ghost, in rejecting the glad tidings of forgiveness through the slain and risen Son of God. They would go about to establish their own righteousness. Reader, you have either submitted to the righteousness of God — “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth,” — or you are, even whilst reading this paper, sinning the deepest of all sin, going about to establish your own righteousness, and sealing thus for ever the ruin of your soul.
It may be added, that redemption through the blood of Christ would not alone meet the sinner’s need, nor yet forgiveness of sin; precious as these are, still, they would not enable one dead in sin to enter into rest. We may illustrate what we mean thus: Suppose a redemption price could be paid for a poor criminal already executed, and a pardon to be sent from the throne, this would be of no avail to the dead man without a new life. This is the sinner’s condition before God; and what can meet it, but pardon and life in Christ Jesus? not only pardon but a new life? Man cannot possibly be brought into God’s rest in Christ, but through the redemption-blood and risen-life of God’s precious Son. How clearly this was before His mind, in the institution of the Sabbath as a shadow of Christ. Not only, as I have said, must the work of redemption from Egypt, by the blood of the typical Lamb, be triumphantly finished, but the express type of life from heaven must also be given; and then after that gift of manna, the Sabbath is for the first time made known. (Comp. Exodus 16:4-31, with John 6:31-51.) “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man shall eat of this bread he shall live for ever.”
This is God’s order — redemption, life, rest — and no man can reverse it. The cross of Christ is first in God’s thoughts; and what but infinite mercy as shown in the cross can meet lost men?
Let us now pass on to the New Testament, and we shall have no difficulty in discerning whether the Lord Jesus regarded the Sabbath as a part of the moral law, eternal and universal; or merely as a shadow of Himself. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus presents Himself as the true Sabbath or rest: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” and at that time we find Jesus leading His disciples, on the Sabbath day, through the corn. Surely this is plain, as that when the sun is risen, the shadow must flee away. Again in John 5:8-18. Here was one whose case could only be met by the Son of God. And what was true of His body, is also true of all men as to the state of their souls before God. Now the Lord Jesus in this case not only says “Rise,” but also “take up thy bed and walk.” The man had lain exactly the same number of years as Israel had withered away in the wilderness — Deut 2:14-16; and as God in grace gave them possession of the land, when all the men of war were consumed, so grace meets the poor man’s full need, when his strength was gone and he had none to help. Jesus meets him in the dignity of divine power, and the Sabbath as a shadow is shown to be gone. That very same Lord who, in Jer.17:21, had said, “Bear no burden on the sabbath day,” now says, “Take up thy bed and walk.” The same thing is seen in the case of the man born blind, John 9:6; one word, and his sight would have been restored, but the Lord must again set aside the shadowy Sabbath, by making clay, etc. Observe that nothing so often filled the Jew with madness as this treating of the Sabbath as a shadow. True, they “sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also, that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” To my own soul the teaching in all this is most solemn. Man spiritually is in an utterly lost and helpless state; Christ alone, in the fulness of His work and risen power, can save him; and in doing this, the law, of which the Sabbath was a part, engraven on those stones which were the ministration of death, must be utterly abolished as a means of obtaining life. That this is fully proved in the epistle none can deny. (2 Cor. 3:7-11; Gal. 2:24.)
As the Sabbath day shadow would admit of no burden and no works, so Christ the substance — God’s rest — must stand alone. Reader, have you been brought to rest in Christ alone? Or are you bewildered with works and Christ? Oh cease from works! break not the true rest in Christ, by your burdens or your works. It was terrible to break the old Sabbath, which pointed to Him that was to come, but, oh! how much more fearful is it to despise Christ.
But to return to the case of the impotent man. What could the Sabbath do for him? More than nineteen hundred Sabbaths had passed over him, and he was still withered; but, oh! when Jesus came, He to whom those Sabbaths did but point, one word “Rise!” “and immediately the man was made whole.” What a contrast! Do ponder this. Nineteen thousand Sabbath days could never heal you — still the withered bondslave of sin — yea, and if you could keep them all, and at last break one, and that by only one sin, you would be guilty of all, and never enter into rest. But what a change when the sinner owns himself a ruined sinner; so ruined that the holy law of God could only condemn him, and that for ever. For such an one, sabbath-keeping or law-keeping can do nothing, because he can do nothing. Oh! let this be owned; when nothing can help, then is the time that God reveals the real rest of the soul in Christ. At that moment, one word “Rise,” and the soul is created anew in Christ Jesus. God takes up that soul on entirely new principles: so entirely new, that to go back to the old dispensation of shadows is to deny the gospel, and to bring in another which is not another, but a net of bondage. This is fully discussed in the Epistle to the Galatians. How solemn are those words, “How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” And again, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” In the face of such plain scripture, is it not most sad to think, how many are seeking to be righteous before God, by the legality of Sabbath-keeping; and at such a time as this, when such effort is being put forth to lead the very sheep of Christ into this legal bondage, it is well to be really established in grace. In this sense, how full of meaning is such a word as that in Colossians 2:16, 17: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Or again, Romans 14:5, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Surely one need only compare this with Numbers 15:32-36, (the case of the man who must be put to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath,) and it must be seen that the principles of the two dispensations are as different from each other as light and darkness. In the past dispensation, the Sabbath once commanded, must be kept on pain of death. In this dispensation, the Sabbath is not once commanded, either in the teaching of Christ, or the apostles after Him; nay, more, to return to any part of the law for righteousness, is to deny Christ altogether, and those that thus bring it in are accursed. (Gal. 1:8.)
The hallowing of the seventh day, was the expression of God’s rest in a finished creation, and a type of God’s rest in a finished redemption. Now, reader, what part had man in creation? Just so much could he have in redemption. He was but a creature, brought in to everything made ready to his hands: so it is in the new creation. In the case of Israel, too, redemption was God’s own work. The sending of bread from heaven was God’s own work; and as the recipient of God’s grace, the Sabbath was then given to Israel. In no other way can you be brought into God’s rest in Christ, but as a debtor to the boundless grace of God, that spared not His only begotten Son. Oh! gaze at the wondrous cross of Christ! Behold, in God’s raising Him from the dead, God’s own testimony that the work of redemption is finished — finished with glory! glory to God! glory to Christ! Oh, the glory of the cross! Oh, the eternal efficacy of that peace-speaking blood! Can there be any wonder that souls seeking peace by the old beggarly shadows of the law should be kept in darkness and bondage? Ah! how beggarly, compared with the glory of the cross. (See 2 Cor. 3:7, 18; and 4:3, 6.) Yes, the ministration of death “is done away,” “it is abolished.” To one who desires to be subject to the word of God this is enough. To one who has not ceased, and will not cease from his own works, these thoughts will be really shocking. To speak of the Sabbath as a past shadow, could not be endured by any but such as have been brought into God’s present and eternal rest in Christ.
If these lines should fall into the hands of such as have long wearied themselves in seeking justification by the works of the law, and are beginning to find that by the works of the law none can be justified, let me beg such to cease from works, and, as lost and guilty, look only to Christ. Just as the bitten Israelite looked at the brazen serpent — just as the dying thief looked at Christ — do you, dear reader, look and live. Thousands and thousands have heard the gospel of redemption through the blood of Christ, and have received forgiveness of sins, justification, and eternal life. Yes, they heard, they believed, they entered by faith into the true sabbath, perfect and eternal rest in Christ. Even so may the reader believe and enter into rest. — Amen.
What is the first day of the week, or the Lord’s Day?
There are those who can see no difference between the seventh day, the Sabbath, and the first day of the week, the Lords day, except the mere change of the day. What should we think of the intelligence of a person who could see no difference between a corpse and a living man? Just as blind must that man be who sees no difference between the ministration of death, and the present dispensation, which is after the power of an endless life; in which all is perfect and eternal; and of which the Lord’s day is the joyful expression. The offerings of the former, the dispensation of works, could never take away sin; could never give the conscience perfect peace. The work of its priesthood was never done. But in this dispensation of grace, “after he (Christ) had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:1-22.) Now, as there is such an immense contrast between the dispensation of works by Moses, called the ministration of death, and the dispensation of the fulness of life eternal, by Christ Jesus, so the Holy Ghost has most carefully distinguished between “the seventh day” of the one, and “the first day” of the other. Indeed, to take in the full range of God’s thought, would be to see the one as the last day of the old creation, and the other as the first day of the new. God’s rest in the old creation was broken by sin, since which the whole creation groans. God’s rest in Christ, the head of the new creation, can never be broken. We might as easily mingle light and darkness, as the principles of the two dispensations; and hence the necessity of seeing the former to be utterly abolished by the cross of Christ, before we can have the least apprehension of the present in the power of resurrection. Everything in the past is on the principle of obedience to a carnal commandment. Everything in the present springs from the power of a risen life. Oh! that we did but know more fully “the power of his resurrection.” (See Phil. 3:1-12.) This will account at once for the striking contrast between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian’s first day. The one was strictly commanded, and legal obedience enforced on pain of death, to those who had engaged to keep the covenant of works. But to believers, as sons, there is no command at all to observe a Sabbath. Obedience in them is that of sonship. There is nothing in common between the two; all is contrast; and not only so, but the one can only begin, on the ground that the other has really come to an end.
Turning to Matthew 28:1 we read, “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” & c. It was then the angel of the Lord said, “He is risen.” So in Mark 16:1, “And when the Sabbath was passed,” the glory of the resurrection at once burst forth. The shadow of the Sabbath passed over the sepulchre of Jesus and disappeared; it vanished before the glory of the risen Son of God. It is very remarkable that Jesus remained in the silent tomb until the Sabbath was fully come to an end; and not only so, but until the dawn of the first day of the week very early in the morning. The night seems to have been pieced on, as it were, in perfect keeping with the fact that the Church has to wait a little while; the night of which is now far spent. The dawn of the resurrection morn shall soon break forth. The sun of the new creation shall soon arise, in all his strength and glory, to set no more.
The Sabbath, as a shadow, having thus served its purpose in pointing to Christ, and now having passed away, let us inquire what there is in the word of God respecting the first day of the week. Great as was that work of creation from which God rested on the seventh day, yet infinitely greater was the work of redemption, from which Christ rested, and which God declared accomplished and accepted, by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
On the first day of the week “He was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” “He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.” “God raised him from the dead.” “As it is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” (Acts 13:23-39.) “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner,” & c. The epistles also are full of the glory of the resurrection of Christ. The whole question of our salvation hangs on the resurrection of Christ. Now it was on this first day of the week that Christ arose, the first-born from among the dead — the first-fruits of them that slept. (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5.) “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:22-25.) The question is, On what day did God take up from the dead His rejected stone, and give Him this glory? Plainly, on the first day of the week. This, then, is the day of all days which the Lord hath made; and without a command, those are glad and do rejoice in it, who are one with Him that is raised from the dead. I know this passage looks forward to Israel, as to the time of the manifestation; but faith sees in the resurrection of Christ the pledge and assurance of all that is yet to come. “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also by Jesus.” As Jesus was the first-fruit pledge of the coming harvest, so that day on which He arose is a foretaste of the eternal peace and joy at His right hand in the glory.
It was on that first day, that Jesus opened the scriptures, and showed His disciples how He “ought to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory.” (Luke 24 — see the whole chapter.) It was on that same day at evening, being the first day of the week, that Jesus, for the first time, declared the glad tidings of peace through His broken body and shed blood. “Peace be unto you,” and He showed them His hands and His side. Oh, what a gospel of peace, in the wounds of Jesus alive from the dead. And, again, the next first day, He came with the same message of peace. Who can tell the deep joy of the soul which has long been tormented with the awful sense of sin — when, for the first time, “Peace be unto you,” is heard from the lips of Jesus, and conscience is for ever satisfied, because God is glorified by the wounds on the risen body of Jesus. Surely, that soul will rejoice on the day, the first of all days, when God raised up His Son from the dead.
But the disciples, though thus blest, were commanded to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father — the Holy Ghost. (Acts 1:4-8.) Now, it is most remarkable that the Holy Ghost did not come until the day of Pentecost was fully come. (Acts 2:1.) “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place, . . . and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” Surely there must be some reason why the Lord Jesus remained in the grave until the Sabbath was so fully past, and the Holy Ghost remained away until the Pentecost was so fully come; for the Pentecostal scene — like the resurrection — began early in the morning of the first day of the week. The institution of this Pentecostal feast in the 23 of Leviticus, will throw much light on this part of our subject. The sheaf of the first-fruits in the 11th verse, “He shall wave before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath.” Now the morrow after the Sabbath must be the first day of the week. Christ was that first-fruit sheaf, which was waved in resurrection acceptance on the morrow after the Sabbath — not on the Sabbath, but the first day after the Sabbath was past — on the very day the Jewish priest waved the literal sheaf, Christ arose from the dead. 15th verse, “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven Sabbaths shall be complete: even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath, shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat-offering unto the Lord.” To my own soul the typical instruction in this is very full. The waving of the first-fruit sheaf was on the morrow after the Sabbath, and the two wave-loaves are also offered on the morrow after the seventh Sabbath, or first day after the Sabbath. How wondrously everything met in Christ. On the very night the passover was slain, Jesus was offered, the Lamb of God without spot. On that very morrow after the Sabbath, when the wave sheaf was waved, on that very first day of the week, Jesus, our Surety, was raised from the dead, and accepted for us. Seven Sabbaths had to pass away, and the morrow after the seventh must be fully come — the Pentecost — before the Holy Ghost could be given, to baptize the disciples into one body, the Church of the living God. Then was the Church, answering to the two wave-loaves, to be taken from Jew and Gentile, presented before the Lord. The sweet savour offering connected with the sheaf of the first-fruits, & c., contrasted with the leaven baked with the loaves of these first-fruits, is full of solemn instruction as to the perfection of Christ, “Who hath loved us, and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour,” (Eph. 5:2,) and the leaven of imperfection that is found in the Church. As to itself, it is only as seen in Him who loved it and gave Himself for it, that it is without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, (ver. 26, 27.) But why, I ask, were they to wait? and why did the Spirit delay until the Sabbath was seven times past, and this first day of Pentecost was fully come? Was it not to show that the Sabbath, with the whole economy of the law, must be seven times past, utterly past, before God could begin to build the new-creation Church? It may be necessary to notice, for some, that the Church had no actual existence before the day of Pentecost. When Jesus told Peter about the Church, He did not say, On this rock I am building, but on this rock I will build my Church. Now, that Peter afterwards understood this to refer to resurrection is very clear. (Acts 4:10-12; 1 Peter 1:34; 2:4-9.) Surely, as living stones we are not built upon a dead Christ, but built up in Him who is alive from the dead. Unless Christ raised from the dead is seen to be the foundation of the Church, the Church of God is not seen at all. That there may be churches or assemblies of men without any connexion whatever with the resurrection of Christ is very certain. But that the Church of God is risen with Christ is also quite as clear; “for he is the Head of the body, the Church; who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead.” Alas! resurrection is beyond man’s thoughts altogether. But it is God’s thought, and that which is the marvellous contrast to everything that is earthly.
Should the reader wish to see more of this, let him turn to the Epistle to the Ephesians. The resurrection of Christ in mighty power is seen in chapter 1:18; the Church is then seen as His body, raised up with Him, in chapter 2 and thus built upon Him the chief corner stone. Chapter 3 shows this mystery to have been kept hid from ages.
To return to Pentecost. On this first day, the glad tidings of salvation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed, for the first time, to the wondering multitude. Three thousand heard the word, received it gladly, and were baptized; “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” When God formed man of the dust of the ground, all his members were fashioned, but he was not a living soul until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Even so, it is quite true, the disciples of Christ were gathered together, but they were not a living temple of the Holy Ghost, until He descended on the day of Pentecost. What a change! a timid band of fearful men now stand forth in the mighty power of God; and this great event took place on the first day of the week, even the morrow after the seventh Sabbath. Surely the believer needs no command to remember, with gladness, such a day.
Let ins now notice Acts 20:7, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them,” & c. It does not say, when the disciples met to keep the Sabbath; no, the word Sabbath is never once used in scripture to denote the first day of the week. But they were disciples thus met, and their object was not even to hear Paul; — no, the preaching of Paul is secondary to “breaking bread.” What was this “breaking bread,” that was thought so much of by the early disciples, not on the first Sunday in the month, or the second, but on the first day of the week? The first Sunday in the month has no meaning in it, except as it expresses man’s self-will, to do as he likes for his convenience. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Cor. 11:23-26.) This passage in full of solemn instruction as to what it is for disciples to break bread. It is the Lord’s redeemed people, remembering their Lord’s death, and showing it forth until He come. This was the object of the disciples when they came together on the first day of the week. Am I a disciple? Have I redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of my sins? Then with solemn, holy joy, let me eat of that bread, and drink of that cup, on the first day of the week — that is the memorial of His broken body, and of His shed blood; let me thus confess and show forth that my salvation is not by works, but entirely of Christ. Thus may I be turned from every idol to serve the true and living God, and to wait for His Son from heaven. But let us beware of making the Supper of the Lord, either a mass, or a sacrament of works for salvation; no, it is the commemoration of that finished redemption which is the eternal salvation of every one that believeth. It is for those who believe God and are saved (not for those who doubt God’s testimony and hope they may, partly by works and partly by Christ, be saved) thus to show forth the tokens of this finished work; and though truly blessed for the Lord’s believing people at any time to break bread, remembering His great love, yet how very fitting, on the day of His triumphant resurrection, to come together to break bread in remembrance of His death. This is no matter for human choice. If a child delights to do its parent’s will, simply because it has discovered its parent’s pleasure; much more surely, in the true spirit of sonship, shall we delight, yes, rejoice, in the first day of the week; and loving Him because He has so loved us, we shall, with longing hearts, desire to do the will of Him who has thus saved us by His grace.
Christ loved to reveal Himself to His disciples on the first day of the week; and faith will still count on this.
The Holy Ghost was pleased to use the preaching of the gospel on the first day of the week; faith will count on His still loving to bring many souls to Christ on that day, and of course at all other times.
Disciples came together, then, on the first day of the week to break bread — disciples should love to come together now to break bread. Disciples then made collections for the poor, on the first day of the week — they should love to do the same now. Oh, how thankful should we be that we have such an opportunity — such a privilege — on the first day of the week to meet together, to break bread, to preach Christ, and to care for one another, none molesting or making us afraid. Shall we lightly esteem such a favour? Oh no, God forbid. How can they who are not their own, but bought with a price, even the precious blood of Christ — how can such say, “I am not a servant, but a son, therefore I will do my own pleasure; I will go here and there; I will do my own will?” Ah, this savours more of Satan, than of the spirit of adoption and love. Oh! my brethren, we need more to feel the claims of the mercy of God, and more yielding of our bodies to God. (Rom. 12:1, 2.) If we have become dead to the law by the body of Christ, surely it is that we should bring forth fruit to God. It is the tree that bears fruit, not the fruit that bears the tree. Christ is the vine and we are the branches: without Him we can do nothing. If the reader is not a branch in that living vine, he can do nothing. If we are in Christ, we can do all things through Christ strengthening us.
One word as to Revelation 1:10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” This is the only passage in which “the Lord’s day” occurs in Scripture, and I doubt not it means, as commonly understood, the first day of the week — the day which the Lord has made. The sum of it all is this: — the Lord’s people, on the Lord’s day, remembering the Lord’s death, and preaching the gospel to the world.
But, it way be asked, is there nothing to the world about Sabbath keeping now? Nothing, I answer, but to hear the gospel, believe and live. Man never could enter into rest by works. Peace and life are God’s free gift. Every act of obedience must spring from life in Christ. “We are created anew by Christ Jesus, unto good works.” Jesus said, “My peace give I unto you.” “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, (that is the Jew under law, and the Gentile without law,) and hath broken down the middle wall of partition; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments, in ordinances.” “And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.”
In conclusion, should the reader be one of those who has long and anxiously desired this “peace of God that passeth all understanding,” this assurance of perfect rest in God, and has never yet found it, let me ask, Have you not sought it by the works of the law, Sabbath keeping, or what not, instead of looking simply to Jesus? Are we not told, that He hath “made peace through the blood of his cross,” and that since Christ hath been set forth crucified, “as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse?” You cannot possibly have both. If you cling to the law and try to do the best you can, you let go Christ. (Gal. 5:4.) If you cling only to Christ, you magnify the law, for all its condemnation fell on Jesus — its ministry is abolished and you are free, you are justified, you have peace, you cease from works, you enter into rest, even the true Sabbath of God. The love of God fills your soul, the Spirit of God bears witness that the blood of Jesus has cleansed you from all sin. The Lord’s day will no longer be a day of bondage and sin, but a day of thanksgiving and joy. You are a new creature in Christ Jesus — old things are passed away — all is new. This new nature will as surely delight to do the will of God, as the old nature is contrary to Him.
If you have ever compared the present state of the Church with what we find in the New Testament, you must have been struck with the sad contrast as to the certainty of peace with God. Every believer then had peace with God and could say, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” “He is our peace.” But, now you may meet with a hundred Christians, and not three of them can say, with confidence, “We have peace with God.” Why is this? Converse with them a little, and the reason is plain enough. There is confusion about the gospel. Christ is not the alone Sabbath of rest to the soul. There is not that real giving up of self as utterly lost in sin. There is a trying to mix up works — a secret commending of self to God; and never being able to do this, the soul is perplexed, now looking at Christ, with a little joy and brightness; again, looking at self, and all is darkness and doubt. Oh! this is not the gospel of the grace of God! Cease from works; cling only to Christ.
I have no doubt whatever that the tendency, in our day, to go back to ordinances is, above all things, the cause of the great spiritual dearth amongst Christians. Oh, Protestants! if you would be used of God in stemming the tide of Popish delusion, awake, awake! search the scriptures; preach Christ or do not preach at all; better never preach, than preach law and Sabbath-keeping.
May God grant that many may yet be sent forth, full of the Holy Ghost; that the name of the Lord Jesus may be magnified; and may the tossed and perplexed children of God find and enjoy their full Sabbath of rest in Him.
Let no one suppose that it is as a licence to sin that the ministry of the law is shown in this paper to be abolished. — “God forbid!” Ponder the sufferings of the Son of God, and may the cross of Christ forbid the thought. If I found a child bound by a chain, and a serpent assailing it, should I deliver the child from that by which it was held, that the serpent might devour it? Oh, no! but that the child might escape the serpent. (See Rom. 7:4-6; 8:2-4.) Nor do I speak of the law as abolished in regard to God’s moral government in the world. (1 Tim. 1:7-10.) But what I mean is this — that for righteousness before God — for salvation — for peace — for life — for justification — the law is utterly abolished by the cross. The precepts of the New Testament are invariably given to those who are saved — never once to any man to be saved by keeping them; and yet this is what thousands are trying to do, and hoping to be saved at last. This is utterly, fatally wrong. Salvation — life and peace — first, and obedience as the result of union with Christ risen from the dead.
As the old Sabbath was God’s sign to Israel, so peace, the real Sabbath of rest in Christ, is God’s present sign that we are His redeemed ones; and, as surely, uncertainty about salvation, is a distinct sign that it is sought by the works of law. Do you say, What shall I do then to be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” C. S.