Covenant Grace Church is a Reformed (or Particular) Baptist church. This means that we subscribe fully to the system of truths set forth in the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, often called the 1689. However, among the doctrines set forth in the 1689, we, the pastors of CGC, find it necessary to clarify and explain our stance on the last paragraph of chapter 22 on the Sabbath. We fully agree with the first seven paragraphs of this chapter but we do take exception to the specific language and terminology of the eighth.
So what does CGC believe about the Sabbath. First, we should note that we fully agree with the theology of 22.7 in the confession:
As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God's appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he has particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord's Day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.
There are some important things to take note of here:
The command to set aside one day of the week for the worship of God is according to the law of nature. We typically think of the Sabbath as part of the 10 commandments. And so it is. But the 10 commandments didn’t create the Sabbath command. It codified it and set down specific rules and ways in which it should be observed. The command itself comes from the very creation of the world when God finished his work of creation and “rested” on the seventh day.
The Sabbath is a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment. Positive means that the day itself, the seventh day, isn’t part of the moral law but is given by express command of God. If God were to change that day it wouldn’t change the morality or binding nature of the commandment. Moral means that it is the duty of all men in all places at all times to seek the Lord and worship him one day every week. Just as it is a moral commandment to not take the Lord’s name in vain or to honor our father and mother, it is also a moral commandment to worship the Lord weekly. And it is perpetual. This means that the command didn’t cease when the people to whom God gave the command (ethnic Israel) and the covenant under which it was given ceased.
The command to worship on the last day of the week was to honor the Lord as the creator of all things and as the creator of the people of Israel (the Exodus is a type of creation). However, when Jesus rose from the dead he finished his work of new creation and rested from his works (Heb. 4:10). After this work the church in the New Testament no longer sought to gather on the last day of the week but on the first in remembrance and celebration of the resurrection and new creation work of Christ. This day is referred to as the Lord’s Day throughout the New Testament and refers to his dominion and ownership over that specific day (Matt. 12:8).
Practically, this means that we hold the Sunday gathering of the people of God as obedience to God’s moral law and command and should be prioritized by his people in all times and places. However, we would take exception to some of the language of the eighth paragraph:
The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe a holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
As the pastors of Covenant Grace Church we believe that the Sabbath, this new first day of the week given to us by Christ, should be kept holy by his people. We should approach the worship of God with preparation and reverence. We should enter this day with rejoicing as we look back on the rest from our works accomplished by Christ and the rest we will enter into in the presence of God and in the New Heavens and New Earth. We also believe that one of the primary purposes for the Lord’s Day after the gathered worship of the saints is to seek to do good to others out of love for God and neighbor (Is. 58:13-14). This takes the shape of what the confession calls duties of necessity and mercy. As Matt. 12 sets forth we should seek to help both man and beast in their distress and to meet the immediate needs of those around us (including hunger). Sundays are a day for worship, rest in Christ, and mercy to others.
So what do we disagree with in this paragraph? Simply stated we disagree with the categorical language employed in it. The confession demands a fast from worldly employment and recreation and from being engaged with our own works, words, and thoughts. We believe this language binds the consciences of God’s people beyond the requirements of the Word of God.
The theocratic nation under which this command was given is no more. This means that we may work for people who do not permit us to rest from our employment on this day. Thus, the gathered worship of the people of God (unless providentially hindered) fulfills this command. A person hasn’t sinned against God if their employer requires them to return to work after worship or doesn’t allow them to take that day off. However, it should be noted that if a person is able to take time for the worship of God and chooses not to they may have made an idol out of something else.
Worldly recreation and enjoyment can be done to the glory of God with the people of God. Throwing a frisbee or taking a hike does not mean a person has ceased from the worship of God. Taking a nap can, and should, be an act of worship.
The purpose of the command is that we would cease from our works, worship Jesus, gather with his people, and seek to love one another out of love for God. If this is being done from the heart the external actions are of lower importance.
The point of the Sabbath is to point us to Christ’s fulfillment of it. He obeyed the law, he suffered the penalty we deserved, he was buried and suffered death. And he finished his work and rose from the dead conquering death itself so that we could have rest in him. We need to see more fully our own personal weakness. We are in desperate need of rest. God has given us one day a week to worship the God who gives us rest and to seek our rest in him knowing there is a final rest coming, and then there will be unending Sabbath. So seek the rest to come, set your minds on Christ, gather with God’s people as often as you can on that day, and rejoice in the Savior who came to give us rest.