Home > Calvinism, Christian Authors, church history, church life, Covenant Theology, sanctification, Theology > Reformed Baptists (1689) and the Christian Sabbath

Reformed Baptists (1689) and the Christian Sabbath

Through study of the puritans and church history, and online reformed Baptist theology discussion groups, I am now more aware of the differences among various types of Calvinist Baptist groups, even among non-denominational, “reformed Baptist” type churches. Some “Sovereign Grace” (Calvinist, baptist) type churches, for instance, adhere to New Covenant Theology with its rejection of the three theological covenants – whereas other churches profess agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession, with its teaching of the theological covenants and reformed, confessional thought, beyond the basic Doctrines of Grace.

One especially new idea (to me): the Christian Sabbath teaching as expressed in the 17th century confessions, the Westminster Confession and the similar 1689 London Baptist Confession. I had read references to the Sunday Sabbath from classic writers such as 19th century preachers Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, and recall the description of the practice in 19th century pioneer America, through the young-child perspective from author Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Yet I was not aware of the actual teaching itself, the doctrinal basis, or that it is practiced (and how) in modern times by at least a few evangelical Christians, especially among reformed Baptists.

The Sabbath statement in the 1689 Confession

8. The Sabbath is kept holy to the Lord by those who, after the necessary preparation of their hearts and prior arranging of their common affairs, observe all day a holy rest from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreations, and give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.

The local NCT (New Covenant Theology) church has only briefly addressed the issue, insisting that the Sabbath was for the OT Jews only, it was on the 7th day and thus there is no reason for the church to observe it on Sunday instead; and their (Jews) Sabbath was not only the seventh day but many other ceremonial days – and thus anyone today wanting to observe a “Christian Sabbath” is being legalist and actually unable to observe the Sabbath because it means all those extra Jewish ceremonial feast days.

Yet from what I’ve read so far, the Christian Sabbath position sees the Sabbath as a “creation ordinance,” with its source in the Genesis creation, when God Himself set aside the seventh day; in Exodus the Sabbath commandment is given to the Israelites shortly after their exodus from Egypt and before the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Christian Sabbath practice follows the “spirit” of the law from creation, rather than the “letter” of the law, without the specific rules and regulations of the Mosaic covenant Sabbath. Important to the Christian Sabbath are 1) the clear switch in the New Testament church, from meeting on the seventh day to the First day of the week, the Lord’s Day – a fact well established from passages in Acts and elsewhere in the NT regarding the day the church met; and 2) key verses including Mark 2:27-28 (“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”), while seeing the context of Colossians 2:16-17 as referring to the Jewish ceremonial laws and not related to the Sabbath-from-creation.

I am still studying this issue, and need to read and study the 1689 Confession itself. Thus far, I am not convinced that the 4th commandment is directly set forth in scripture, but see it as certainly a good idea for overall Christian life and practice, in general terms of setting aside time, as much as possible, for public and private worship on Sundays, and part of the believer’s ongoing sanctification.

Several resources of interest:

Dr. Peter Masters, Sword and Trowel (2009), Remember the Lord’s Day

John Piper, Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy

“The Christian Sabbath” — Sermon summary from Andy West; includes quotes from Voddie Baucham and others, plus general Sunday and Sabbath history

Blog posts with resources for studying the Sabbath:

This last one has a somewhat different approach, pointing out the example of Sabbath from our Lord as sufficient, in the absence of a direct command:

Early Christians justified Sunday worship on the basis of Christ’s resurrection. This makes perfect sense since Jesus’ resurrection is his enthronement (compare Ps. 2:6-7 with Acts 13:33; see also Phil 2:5-11). Because divine enthronement is linked with Sabbath-rest, Christians are justified in keeping Sunday as a Sabbath on the basis of Christ’s example. In other words, just as God’s example of resting on the seventh day was sufficient warrant for man to follow his Maker’s example, so Jesus’ example of resting on the first day is sufficient warrant for the new humanity to follow its Re-Maker’s example.  So I don’t need a direct NT command to keep Sunday holy. I have Jesus’ example to follow.

  1. August 20, 2014 at 8:10 am

    I have been enjoying this blog. In regard to God resting after creation, I would say Moses is pointing out to the Jews why they keep the Sabbath just like later on when Moses points out about man leaving his parents to join his wife. We do not see the patriarchs observing the sabbath. It’s when the law began with Moses when we see Israel observe the Sabbath to make a distinction among the Gentiles. The principle is right that we set our time to spend with the Lord on a day but I don’t see a specific ordinance though I see what you are saying about the new creation. Yet we are in transition right now. We have an earthly body with the old nature but being renewed day by into the new nature. When we dieing and are resurrected, we will have truly entered what Christ has

    • August 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Daniel, and a good point about our transition regarding the new creation. And yes, as I see it there are two separate issues, one about the actual practice of spending time with the Lord, and then about any specific ordinance.

  2. August 20, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    1. Not all of the 17th century confessions exhibited the sabbatarianism of the Westminster Standards or the 1689 LBCF. Compare the 1644/1646 London Baptist Confessions of Faith: 1644 on The Hall of Church History: Theology From a Bunch of Dead Guys, posted by Phil Johnson at http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/creeds/bc1644.htm [accessed 20 AUG 2014]; 1646 on The Reformed Reader at http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/1646lbc.htm [accessed 13 OCT 2010; 20 AUG 2014].

    2. The English Reformation was much more sabbatarian than the Continental. Read Calvin on the fourth commandment. This historical theological development is thought by some to be a step backwards due to the growing influence of what we now know as Covenant Theology, among other factors.

    3. It is quite preposterous to countenance a change of the Law being required by a change of the priesthood (Heb. 7, esp. vv. 12 and 18), and then to propose a change of the day while retaining a sabbath “principle” as A. A. Hodge and other Covenant Theologians have done, and persist in doing. Quite a bit more than a “jot or a tittle” change of the Law (Mt. 5:18; Lk. 16:17) is involved in this insistence! To retreat from the “seventh day” to a one day in seven “principle” while insisting on it as a “creation ordinance” (see #6 below) tied to the seventh day of creation is…well, to avoid using the word preposterous again I will resort to ludicrous!

    4. It is quite inconceivable to me how anyone can imagine Rom. 14:5-6; Gal. 4:10-11; and Col. 2:16-17 being written under the Mosaic administration of a sabbatarian system enforceable by capital punishment, to say nothing of the exposition of the significance of the Sabbath itself in Hebrews 3-4. When the sabbatarianism of the English Reformation is examined in the light of these passages (and others) it fails the test of Scripture.

    5. Perhaps the finest work on this subject was the one edited by D. A. Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999). In the interest of full disclosure I must confess that I was given this as a gift by a friend at the John Bunyan Conference in 2002, and Dr. Carson was gracious enough to autograph the title page! FYI: “This book began as a research project on “Sunday” sponsored by the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research in Cambridge, England, in 1973.” Op. cit., pg. 11, s.v. “Preface”.

    6. Finally, on the notion of the sabbath as a “creation ordinance” here is a question I responded to almost four years ago on this issue:


    My response:

    I am not sure where you are going with this question. There is a variety of numerical “patterns” repeated throughout Scripture including 40 days, 40 years, etc. You appear to have neglected in your list above the references to “seven years”

    Genesis 29:20; 29:27; 29:30; 41:26-27; 41:29-30; 41:34; 41:36; 41:47-48; 41:53-54; Numbers 13:22; Deut. 15:1; 31:10; Judges 6:1; 6:25; 12:9; 2 Samuel 24:13; 1 Kings 2:11; 6:38; 2 Kings 8:1-2; 11:21; 1 Chron. 3:4; 29:27; 2 Chron. 24:1; Jeremiah 34:14; Ezekiel 39:9; and Luke 2:36.

    The “seven year” pattern is found in the Mosaic Sabbath legislation along with the “seven day”:
    Leviticus 25:8 – And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.

    This “pattern”, however, may not be linked to the creation account like that of the “seven days”.
    At the end of the day, if I take the implication of your question correctly, this “pattern” does not establish in any sense a Sabbath command or a Sabbath precedent from creation. All that we know about the “seventh day” prior to the Sinai legislation is found in Genesis 2:2-3 – “[2] 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. [3] 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.” God ended his work of creation and rested on the seventh day. God blessed and sanctified the seventh day.

    What we do not have here, or anywhere else prior to Exodus 20, is:

    1. Any record whatsoever of God commanding man to do likewise (rest on the seventh day) from Eden to Sinai;

    2. Any precedents in any of the historical accounts recorded in God’s revelation of any of His people observing “rest” on the seventh day in obedience to a command of God;

    3. Any penalty invoked or imposed for failure to do so from Eden to Sinai.

    This silence may not legitimately be used to dress up the “seven day pattern” as a “creation Sabbath” after the fashion of the Covenant theologians who follow the Puritans rather than the Continental Reformers. To do so is to go beyond the bounds of Scripture, to practice eisegesis, and to handle the teaching of God’s Word in an extremely cavalier manner. That dog don’t hunt!

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    John T. “Jack” Jeffery
    Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel
    Greentown, PA

    • August 20, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks for the info, John. I have wondered also about the differences between the creeds, such as the 1644 and 1689, and this gives some answer to that, as well as more of the history to consider.

      • August 20, 2014 at 12:35 pm

        You are welcome! FYI: There are those like Jim Renihan, Richard Barcellos, Sam Waldron, et al. who have attempted to address this and other differences in the 17th century Baptist confessions, but not to my persuasion or satisfaction. Also, there are those who will either ignore or minimize Calvin’s treatments of the fourth commandment in order to get him across the drawbridge into their sabbatarian fortress, but again, such proposals fail to satisfy and persuade unless you are already within the walls.

    • John Bennett
      February 19, 2021 at 4:04 am

      Does the silence regarding one man and one woman marriage till the time of Christ in any way diminish the importance of the creation picture of marriage? Does it “go beyond the bounds of Scripture, to practice eisegesis, and to handle the teaching of God’s Word in an extremely cavalier manner” to say that God viewed it as important from the beginning?

      From the beginning God had a day (Gen 2.1-3) He has a day in the New Covenant (Rev 1.10).
      The Old Testament form of God’s Day was abolished. (That’s what Galatians 4.8 Colossians 2.16 and Romans 14 are talking about).
      The Day was kept differently in different stages of redemptive history (like honouring you parents was kept differently under the Law of Moses as it is under the Law of Christ) but the substance is the same. The substance of both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day is the Lord Jesus Christ.
      The best book is actually Ryan McGraw “The Day of Worship”
      He demolishes NCT on the Sabbath.

  3. August 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    The Heidelberg Catechism is exemplary and unique in:
    1) extending the principle of rest to every day (“all the days of my life”),
    2) seeing it fulfilled in resting from our fleshly works by dependence on God’s work in us by His Spirit, and,
    3) seeing the “everlasting sabbath” (not yet) as the focus with all of the above as applying this reality (already; based on Heb. 4:9-10).

    Heidelberg Catechism, Lords Day 38
    Q103: What does God require in the fourth Commandment?
    A103: In the first place, God wills that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained,[1] and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church [2] to learn the Word of God,[3] to use the holy sacraments,[4] to call publicly upon the Lord,[5] and to give Christian alms.[6] In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting sabbath.[7]

    1. Titus. 1:5; I Tim. 3:14 15; 4:13 14; 5:17; I Cor. 9:11, 13 14
    2. II Tim. 2:2, 15; Psa. 40:10 11; 68:26; Acts 2:42, 46
    3. I Cor. 14:19, 29, 31
    4. I Cor. 11:33
    5. I Tim. 2:1 2, 8 10; I Cor. 14:16
    6. I Cor. 16:2
    7. Isa. 66:23; Gal. 6:6; Acts 20:7; Heb. 4:9 10

  4. August 20, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    I noticed that the question I was responding to in my first comment above under point #6 did not make the trip apparently due to the marks I had enclosed it in (double arrows opening and closing). Here it is:

    Hello, I’ve come out of lurking as the matter of whether there is any sabbath practice before the Exodus intrigues me.
    Has anyone ever given time to consider the references to ‘seven days’ in Genesis and the beginning of Exodus:
    Seven days between dove flights (Gen. 8:10; Gen. 8:12); seven days between marriages (Gen. 29:27–8); seven days journey (Gen. 31:23); seven days mourning for Jacob (Gen. 50:10); seven days after the Lord struck the Nile (Exod. 7:25)

  5. Neil Schoch
    August 20, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    It is a very interesting topic to study. I heard someone preach recently on “the Christians Sabbath observance.” He was not advocating keeping Saturday or Sunday, for that matter, in any legalistic sense, rather the importance of taking time to rest physically and devote time to worshiping the Lord and studying His Word.
    While some good points were made I was unable to agree with it all.
    Thanks Daniel; Lynda and particularilly johntjeffery for so many good thoughts on this topic.
    It is also good to see someone post something longer than I have. Just joking John!
    I have debated in our home with some “Sabbath observers” for many hours over several days on this topic and it is sad when you see many other errors creeping in as a result.

    Above all else our desire should, and always will be, as we learn to love the Lord more and more, to spend as much time as we possibly can in loving and learning from the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

  6. September 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Noting here for future reference for this post: follow-up regarding the evidence from creation and early human history, the knowledge retained by various people groups that spread out from Genesis 11.
    Also this section of “The Covenantal Sabbath — Chapter 3, B. The Sabbath Outside the Covenant” http://www.dr-fnlee.org/docs3/covsab/Covsab_chap3.html#IIIB. gives several pages of detail concerning early civilizations and their observance of the seven day week period and significance of a seventh day.

  7. September 8, 2016 at 8:00 am

    I believe Paul directly addresses the issue in Rom 14:4-6. Confessions are representative, not authoritative.

    • September 9, 2016 at 11:27 am

      Agreed. Even the confessions themselves explain this, the authority of scripture. The confessions are good summary doctrinal statements, of what the teaching of scripture is.

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