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A Critical History of the Sabbath and the Sunday in the Christian Church

A Critical History of the Sabbath and the Sunday in the Christian Church

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Reforms, like apples, have their time to ripen. When they are ripe, the harvest must be gathered. Wishing cannot hasten that time, nor fear delay it. The Sabbath question is ripe for re-examination and restatement. It is at the front. It has come to stay. We must grapple with it. The first key to its solution is the authority of God's Word. The facts of history are the second key. Eternity is an attribute of God, and time is one measured part of eternity. Results in history are the decisions of God. In testing theories and practices, the historic argument is ultimate. It is the embodiment of Christ's words: "By their fruits ye shall know them." Theorizing can never go back of this test, nor set aside its decisions...
Reforms, like apples, have their time to ripen. When they are ripe, the harvest must be gathered. Wishing cannot hasten that time, nor fear delay it. The Sabbath question is ripe for re-examination and restatement. It is at the front. It has come to stay. We must grapple with it. The first key to its solution is the authority of God's Word. The facts of history are the second key. Eternity is an attribute of God, and time is one measured part of eternity. Results in history are the decisions of God. In testing theories and practices, the historic argument is ultimate. It is the embodiment of Christ's words: "By their fruits ye shall know them." Theorizing can never go back of this test, nor set aside its decisions...

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11/02/2014

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DIRECT REFERENCE TO SUNDAY,

AND THE RISE OF NO-

SABBATHISM

The middle of the second century marks the beginning of a new era in the
Sabbath question. The first direct and indisputable reference to any form of
Sunday-observance by Christians is made it this time, and simultaneously
and by the same man the no-Sabbath theory is propounded. Up to this time,
the Scriptures had held the better part of the church to the Sabbath as
taught in the Decalogue. Polytheism and heathen philosophy ignored this
idea, and openly proclaimed a type of no-lawism and absolute no-
Sabbathism. It was a part of the fruitage which came from the corrupting of
the church and the gospel by admixture with heathen fancies and
speculations. Under the sway of these loose ideas, Sunday, already a
festival among the heathen, found gradual welcome at the hands of the
semi-Christianized leaders in the church, and final recognition by a still
less Christianized form of civil government during the third and fourth
centuries. Justin Martyr stands as a prominent representative of this no-
Sabbathism, and also as an apologist for Christianity, who sought to soften
the fury of the heathen persecutors by claiming a similarity between
Christianity and heathenism. The entire passage concerning Sunday is as
follows; only a part of it is usually quoted by writers who claim that
Sunday is the Sabbath:

"And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the
wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all
things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His
Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called
Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place,
and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as

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long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president
verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then
we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is
ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like
manner offers prayers and thanksgiving, according to his ability, and the
people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a
participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who
are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do,
and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited
with the president, who succors the orphans and widows, and those who,
through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in
bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of
all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our
common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having
wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus
Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For he was
crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday), and on the day after
that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles
and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to
you also for your consideration." (The First Apology of Justin, chapter 67.
Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. 2, pp. 65, 66.)

The foregoing extracts will be better understood if the reader remembers
that the author was a Grecian philosopher who accepted - we dare not say
was converted to Christianity, after reaching the age of manhood, and who
retained many of his heathen notions and sympathies through life. The days
referred to, Saturn's and the Sun's, are designated only by their heathen
names, and the reasons which are given for meeting on Sunday are at once
fanciful and unscriptural. The passage shows Justin in his true place is an
Apologist, who sympathized with both parties, and sought to soften the
feelings of the Emperor by indicating those points in which Christianity
and heathenism agreed. The following extracts from the same author show
that he could not entertain any idea of the Sun's day as being in any sense
the Sabbath, or even a Sabbath. In his Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, the
differences between Justin's theories of Christianity and Judaism are
strongly set forth, and the Sabbath is frequently referred to. In the 23d
section of the Dialogue he says:

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"You have no need of a second circumcision, though you glory greatly in
the flesh. The new law requires you to keep perpetual Sabbath, and you,
because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning
why this has been commanded you; and if you eat unleavened bread, you
say the will of God has been fulfilled. The Lord our God does not take
pleasure in such observances: if there is any perjured person or a thief
among you, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he
has kept the sweet and true Sabbaths of God. If any one has impure hands,
let him wash and be pure." (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. 2.
Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 12, p. 101.)

In another place he says:

"But if we do not admit this, we shall be liable to fall into foolish opinions,
as if it were not the same God who existed in the times of Enoch and all the
rest, who neither was circumcised after the flesh, nor observed Sabbaths,
nor any other rites, seeing that Moses enjoined such observances; or that
God has not wished each race of mankind continually to perform the same
righteous actions; to admit which, seems to be ridiculous and absurd.
Therefore we must confess that He who is ever the same, has commanded
these and such like institutions on account of sinful men, and we must
declare Him to be benevolent, fore-knowing, needing nothing, righteous
and good. But if this be not so, tell me, sir, what you think of those matters
which we are investigating. And when no one responded:

"Wherefore, Trypho, I will proclaim to you, and to those who wish to
become proselytes, the divine message which I heard from that man. Do
you see that the elements are not idle, and keep no Sabbaths Remain as you
were born. For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of
the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts, and sacrifices, before Moses; no
more need is there of them now, after that, according to the will of God,
Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung
from the stock of Abraham." (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. 2.
Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 23, pp. 115, 116.)

Be it here remembered that the Sabbath is often referred to in Justin's
Dialogue, and that in the passage just quoted he is answering a charge
which Trypho brings against Christians, who, he declares, "differ in
nothing from the heathen in their manner of living, because they neither

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observe festivals, nor Sabbaths, nor the rite of circumcision. (Dialogue,
chap. 10.)

Justin's reply seeks to defend himself against the charge by showing that
such things were not required of men under the gospel. In this way, Justin
shows that he did not predicate any observance of Sunday upon the Fourth
Commandment, or upon any transfer of the "Jewish" to the "Christian"
Sabbath. He does not link Sunday with the former dispensation by any such
claims. In the forty-first section of the Dialogue he gives another fanciful
reason in addition to those given in the Apology for giving Sunday a
religious pre-eminence. This reason he expresses in the following words:

The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise
the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by
which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose
from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord
Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all
the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the
days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first." (Ante- Nicene Christian
Library, Vol. 2, p. 139.)

Thus it appears that Justin is at once the first of the "Fathers" who makes
any authentic mention of the pre-eminence of Sunday among Christians,
and the first exponent of absolute no-Sabbathism. It is also pertinent to
note, as Dr. Hessey has done, (Sunday, p. 43, sec. 11,) that Justin always
uses sabbatizeiv "with exclusive reference to the Jewish law," and that "he
carefully distinguishes Saturday [Sabbath], the day after which our Lord
was crucified, from Sunday upon which he rose from the dead." In the face
of these facts, it is manifestly unjust to claim Justin as an advocate of the
sacredness of Sunday in any sense. It were better to let him stand in his true
place as the exponent of semi-pagan no-Sabbathism.

What we do learn from Justin, inferences and suppositions aside, is this: At
the middle of the second century, certain Christians held some form of
religious service on Sunday. All that Justin says is compatible with the idea
that the day was not regarded as a Sabbath, and his silence concerning any
sabbatic observance is strong negative proof, of the absence of any such
idea. His no-Sabbathism is added proof of this. It is further apparent that
since be undertook to describe the things which were done on Sunday, and

43

to give the reasons therefor, that had anything like the modern theory of a
Sunday Sabbath then obtained, he must have mentioned the fact. Domville
sums up the case as follows:

"This inference appears irresistible when we further consider that Justin, in
this part of his Apololgy, is professedly intending to describe the mode in
which Christians observed the Sunday. ... He evidently intends to give all
information requisite to an accurate knowledge of the subject he treats
upon. He is even so particular as to tell the Emperor why the Sunday was
observed; and he does, in fact, specify every active duty belonging to the
day, the Scripture reading, the exhortation, the public prayer, the
Sacrament, and the alms-giving: why then should he not also inform the
Emperor of the one inactive duty of the day, the duty of abstaining from
doing in it any manner of work?

If such was the custom of Christians in Justin's time, his description of their
Sunday duties was essentially defective. ... But even were it probable he
should intend to omit all mention of it in his Apology to the Emperor, it
would be impossible to imagine any sufficient cause for his remaining
silent on the subject in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew; and this whether
the Dialogue was real or imaginary, for if the latter, Justin would still, as
Dr. Lardner has observed, "chose to write in character.'' The testimony of
Justin, therefore, proves most clearly two facts of great importance in the
Sabbath controversy; the one, that the Christians in his time observed the
Sunday as a prayer day, the other that they did not observe it as a Sabbath-
day. (Sabbath, Examination of the Six Texts: p. 274, seq. London, 1849.)

Such is the summary of the case at the year 150 A.D. No-Sabbathisrn, and
a form of Sunday-observance were born at the same time. Trained in
heathen philosophies until manhood, Justin accepted Christianity as a
better philosophy than he had found before. Such a man, and those like
him, could scarcely do other than build a system quite unlike apostolic
Christianity. That which they did build was a paganized rather than an
apostolic type.

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